In our daily prayers God was every manner of image and metaphor and meaning, and always, "God the Father." We never ever prayed to "God our Mother." What were women in the economy of God? The answer was only too painful: We were invisible. I had given my life to a God who did not see me, did not include me, did not touch my nature with God's own....Joan Chittister, "Called to Question"

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Proper 26A

A reflection on Proper 26A, by the Rev. Camille Hegg

Elton Trueblood points out that Chapter 23 of the Gospel of Matthew is the funniest part of the Bible. In the reading for this week, Jesus is accusing the Pharisees: do what they teach, but know, they are hypocrites. “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” Later in that same chapter he says “they close the door to heaven and forget to go in themselves.’
I love the image of Pharisees’ being so convinced, and yet not realizing what they are saying. A lot of people are likewise so convinced of their position that they don’t realize what they are saying. Politically, the speakers say rote things, like that to raise taxes on the rich is class warfare;, but I think they don’t realize what they are saying. They talk about the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ and other cities, as pitting Americans against Americans. What are they saying?

The Pharisees of today are rigid, mean spirited, narrow minded. They adhere to some law that is beyond what most of us assume or can understand. Certainly they are not Christian principles. There is little mercy for the poor, little compassion for those out of work and who have no way of supporting their families. There is little hospitality for the immigrants who have come here for a better life.

That is part of the hypocrisy of today. They don’t see themselves as being hurt by the current economic situation and therefore others should not be affected either. I actually heard some commentator say of the Occupy Wall Street people: “they should just go and get a job.” Where? Police, who have been a target of job cuts and getting rid of collective bargaining, have been used to fight against the people.

The current economic condition of this country has very much to do with Christian principles. Are we about trying to improve the life of all people, or are we not? Are we ourselves so disheartened that we can’t see that that protest is part of what should be our protest? “They put on burdens which they are not willing to lift themselves.”

So, what are we to do? How are we to have hope and live in hope? God has promised that we shall be protected. That God’s everlasting arms are around us at all times. Some of us, (that would be me) have to hold onto that promise. Maybe I need to look upon the current political situation as the whole of chapter 23 of Matthew, according to Elton Trueblood. Jesus looked at the Pharisees as worthy of humor. Serious, but, really, worth a smile at what they were trying to do.

I am going to Occupy Atlanta on Monday. I expect to be inspired, and maybe to give hope also.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Loving My Neighbors

A reflection the readings for Proper 25A by the Rev. Karla J. Miller

Every morning, I walk my dogs through my neighborhood. After hooking up the leashes, my dogs bound out the front porch and take a left to leave our quiet dead end street. Before we get to the busy avenue, filled with rush hour traffic, they stop at the two family house on the corner, to bark, whoops, say hi to the shy pit-bull, Zena, who lives with the twenty-something couple renting the first floor apartment.

We then take a right on the busy avenue, and walk a block. Sometimes, the pit-bull that belong to the scrap collector across the street, are out in their yard, and we “bark” hello. This neighbor drives me crazy, because at least twice a year, he has a huge sign propped up against his tiny house, at least 8ft high, spray painted with the words,
“PiT bULl pUPpieS 4 sALE”. My heart breaks for this momma dog that is overbred, but there are no laws to prevent this treatment of her. And my neighbor, obviously living hand to mouth, is doing anything he can to put food on the table. If I were in his place, would I do differently?

It doesn’t matter. I probably would never be in his place.

As we continue down the block, we round the corner to Pleasant Street. A Near Eastern family rents the three family home on the corner. The grandfather, usually dressed in a dhoti, is very sweet and says hello, not to me, but to my dogs. If his tiny granddaughter is outside sitting on the stairs, she will squeal “doggeeeeees” and point at my canines. I smile and share my good mornings, and hopefully move on. Sometimes, more often than not, my little devil dog, Cooper, takes this moment to pee or poop on the sidewalk right in front of them. I embarrassedly apologize, and clean whatever I can. They just smile and nod at me. I am thankful for their graciousness.

We continue our jaunt. For a few blocks, we simply stop and sniff (well, I don’t) the bushes and lawn ornaments.

We rush by one of the houses because the father of the house has some anger management issues. He once threatened to “kill” my spouse when the dogs ran up on his lawn to greet his dog. It was a little scary. But, it’s the way my neighborhood rolls.

We continue, up one more block, past the Center for Tibetan Buddhist studies, where quite often run into a couple of monks, dressed in crimson robes. Many of my neighbors are from Tibet. I never have visited the center, in spite of my good intentions to do so.

After a brief playtime in the park, we head home. We pass Halo’s house. Halo is a 205 pound spotted Great Dane. His family lives hand to mouth, and I am working on finding a way to get their cat spayed so there are no more kittens coming out that home. The mom, who is a little rough around the corners, said she feels like I am her sister, and is appreciative of my endeavors. I tell her, well, it’s what neighbors do.

We round the next corner, and I wave to my Haitian grandfather friend, and we amble towards our street, and wave to the Italian elders sitting on their stoop.

That’s my neighborhood. It is rich and diverse, full of conflict and old stories of the past, crammed with immigrants and long timers. I know very few of them—with most of them I couldn’t even have a conversation, because we lack a common language.--in more ways than one.

So when I read the Gospel for today, lingering on the words, “Love Shall Your Neighbor as Yourself,” I wonder what that means in my neighborhood. How do I love my neighbors?

Indeed, I am friendly. That’s my general affect. I used to visit at length with one elderly neighbor, until he tried to come into my house, and later I found out he was an sex offender. How do I love him?

How do I love the family down the street, who is getting evicted because they haven’t paid property taxes for the last twenty years? How do I love the family who let their small poodle walk around the streets, despite my urging to keep her safe in the yard?
The dog was killed by a speeding car? Sigh.

Jesus knew what a crazy hard commandment this is. Loving your neighbor as yourself, when taken literally, as I am today, is a deep and difficult command. Some of my neighbors I just plain don’t like. Our diversity creates some conflict, and xenophobia not to mention those generation old grudges some of them carry against one another.

I have learned much, however, from my neighbors. And for me, I have learned that to love them is not to judge them (or at least I try not to) or reject them. To be helpful when I can, and not to carry my own grudges when they make choices that I think are, well, stupid. Indeed, I see Jesus in my neighbors, and when I remember to recognize him, oh, how much love fills my heart.

But seeing and remembering is the challenge. But one thing I know, if I can learn to love my neighbors, then I will know how to love the whole world.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Proper 24 A

A reflection on the readings for Proper 24A:Exodus 33:12-23, Psalm 99, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22 by the Rev. Jacqueline Schmitt

The newspaper headlines Friday morning were scooped, as is often the case, by the radio and internet. It turned out that the Occupy Wall Street protesters were not after all to be evicted from their camp in a park in lower Manhattan. Mayor Bloomberg announced that a deal had been struck; the protesters and the owner of the park would negotiate how to keep the park clean. The newspaper pictures showed earnest, long-haired, tattooed-types pushing brooms on sidewalks and heaving huge plastic bags of demonstration detritus. For the time being, Caesar, or at least Mayor Bloomberg, had been rendered unto. In the words of “the street,” a deal had been done, and the Mayor got what he wanted, apparently a promise of a cleaner park, a mollified property owner, and orderly protesters.

We Americans -- founded on biblical principles since the Puritans came to a reformed England in North America to found a city on a hill, a beacon of righteousness for all the world to see – we Americans have a long history of protesting economic arrangements, from taxes to big banks, that strike us as unfair. The tea in Boston Harbor was neither the beginning nor the end. Andrew Jackson became president on his opposition to the central banks. Nineteenth-century populists nearly elected another president, William Jennings Bryan, who was opposed to putting the currency on the gold standard. Explicitly Christian, Bryan’s famous “cross of gold” speech equated what the banking interests were doing to ordinary Americans with the crucifixion of Jesus.

Nothing is certain but death and taxes, goes the old saying. Just as certain, it seems, is the human propensity to acquire, and the matching propensity for others to rail against the injustice and unfairness of systems which give too much to some, and too little to others. And on top of it all, it seems, Caesar always looms.

As I prepared my sermon, I consulted this piece by Marcus Borg, “What Belongs to God?” published in BeliefNet. My notes below reflect that article.

People in 1st century Palestine paid a lot of taxes. Jews had to pay the Temple tax – 21 percent! Everyone had to pay customs taxes on what goods they traded. If you were a farmer (and 90 percent of the population were farmers), two-thirds of what you earned went to the Roman and Jewish elite, through a combination of how much you were taxed and who owned the land you farmed. In those days, they really ensured that the rich got rich and the poor got poorer.[i]

But it was the coin with the face of Caesar that was deeply offensive to all Jews, who lived by God’s commandment not to make graven images. This coin with the face of Caesar had to be used to pay the tribute tax to the Roman Empire. If you used this coin with the graven image to pay the tribute tax, you were breaking one of the Commandments handed down by God to Moses. If you did not use this coin – if you did not pay the tax – the Romans would lock you up for sedition, and that is much worse than being audited by the IRS.

Just about everyone who reads this passage from Matthew acknowledges that Jesus knows that his opponents are trying to trick him with this question, and so he cleverly avoids the trap. He dismisses the problem with the coin as not a theological one at all: this coin obviously belongs to Caesar, so give it back to him. So what? It’s only money.

Then he lays out the theological problem: Give to God what belongs to God.

In our lives, what does belong to our equivalent to Caesar? In our lives, what does belong to God?

Most of us, most of the time, pay taxes. “Caesar” has to know how much money we have, or how much we spend, in order to tax us, and here in the United States, many people spend a lot of money, both legally and under the table, to avoid paying taxes. A lot of people aren’t even “rendering unto Caesar” but shaving a little (or a lot) off the top before Caesar knows what’s happening.

So what do we do with that money that is NOT rendered unto Caesar? With that money that, in the United States at least, does not go into fixing the roads on which we all drive, or the emergency services we all hope will be there when we need them, or the schools where we learned to read and write? How many people seem to exercise a “preferential option for middle class living over living the gospel?”[ii] If we’re not giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s, are we giving to God what is God’s?

Think about it: What is God’s? What do we owe to God?

In this gospel passage, Jesus raises the question without answering it. But the way Matthew has arranged these latter chapters of his gospel, we are hit with parable after parable that tell us what Jesus has in mind.

Think about the context: in Chapter 21, Jesus enters Jerusalem – the story we read on Palm Sunday. Chapter 26 is the Last Supper. In between, we read parables, speeches, teaching moments, difficult conversations about the world – often illustrated in the stark economic reality of his day – and about how God’s followers should live in place that has clearly become unjust.

Read over these chapters some time. It is easy to see how they are overlooked, misinterpreted. It is easy to see how the church over the centuries has been domesticated, concerned with small things, with being nice, with being proper, with worrying about sexual morality, who’s in and who’s out. It is much easier to put the stuff we “render unto God” into our buildings or staff or heating bills.

But think about it: if this building and this staff and these heating bills are what we render unto God, what are we doing with them, especially when we look at all that we have in light of the urgency Jesus speaks in these last chapters of Matthew?

Yes, it is stewardship time. What we put in the plate is important, but it is only the beginning. If we are only paying for our maintenance, then yes, we are rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But if we realize that what we are paying for – this building, this place, this community, this table – is a launching pad for what Jesus wants us to do in this unjust, unhealthy and broken world, where people are lonely and isolated and poor and hungry and where what we can do can make a world of difference, then yes, indeed, everything we give, we render unto God.

[i] From Marcus Borg, “What belongs to God?”

[ii] From the Rev. Patrick Brennan, “30 Good Minutes,”

Jacqueline Schmitt

Now at St. David's, DeWitt, NY ...
Community Parson

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