If you’ve been around me much you may know of my affection for the Book of Sirach, sometimes called Ecclesiasticus, an apocryphal book not always included in English translations of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. It’s a very practical book of wisdom, one ancient mind’s interpretation of Hebrew Law and faith for those outside of Israel or those within who wish to study deeper into God’s instruction.
As an ancient book and being set entirely in an ancient worldview and mindset, there are many things which do not immediately resonate with us. But even across the thousands of years, there is so much to learn from these words. In the passage we’re reading today the writer of Sirach prepares us to gossip less, be more forgiving and less judgmental, and to seek truth in our relationships, to give the benefit of the doubt and to extend grace to others. Check it out…
4 One who trusts others too quickly has a shallow mind,
and one who sins does wrong to himself.
5 One who rejoices in wickedness will be condemned,
6 but one who hates gossip has less evil.
7 Never repeat a conversation,
and you will lose nothing at all.
8 With friend or foe do not report it,
and unless it would be a sin for you, do not reveal it;
9 for someone may have heard you and watched you,
and in time will hate you.
10 Have you heard something? Let it die with you.
Be brave, it will not make you burst!
11 Having heard something, the fool suffers birth pangs
like a woman in labor with a child.
12 Like an arrow stuck in a person’s thigh,
so is gossip inside a fool.
13 Question a friend; perhaps he did not do it;
or if he did, so that he may not do it again.
14 Question a neighbor; perhaps he did not say it;
or if he said it, so that he may not repeat it.
15 Question a friend, for often it is slander;
so do not believe everything you hear.
16 A person may make a slip without intending it.
Who has not sinned with his tongue?
17 Question your neighbor before you threaten him;
and let the law of the Most High take its course.
As we move into 2017 this can become a worthy intention for us all, especially in this day of social media and internet driven false-news. When inflammatory things are said of anyone, give the benefit of the doubt. This is a faithful and graceful practice for our immediate neighbors as well as those in public office and service. Can you relate to the metaphor of a fool hearing some juicy gossip and suffering birth pangs until it’s repeated? I can.
I believe 2017 needs just a bit more chilling out and listening and a lot less freaking out and screaming from me and from you, from all of us. Because, as this ancient writer reminds us, we can all make mistakes, often without even realizing it.
I was blessed to be asked to preach again at St. John’s Episcopal Church this past weekend. Heres’ the transcript, with a warning that it’s a bit longer than my usual posts. =)
Sermon of June 12, 2016, St. John’s Episcopal Church
Any prepared sermon is going to be undeniably challenged by a tragedy the likes of which we have witnessed in the past 24 hours. So as we begin, we also stop. We’ll take a moment to pray for those who have died and been hurt in Orlando, Florida, and their grieving friends and families.
“God of the Dance, God of Love and God of Life,
Our hearts break at these tragic deaths
and this horrible glimpse into the darkness.
Welcome the souls of all those who have died needlessly
in Orlando this past night, by an act of humanity’s deep
and dreadful love of violence, hatred and division.
For their souls we ask a place at your feast table,
at your home of light and life and love, forever.
For survivors, their families and friends we pray peace and comfort,
that your Spirit and your people will surround them,
hold them, and heal them in their rending grief,
and that they may know joy and healing in the coming days.”
“Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so
move every human heart in this our broken and needful society,
that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear,
and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed,
we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.” BCP pg. 823
Tonight’s Gospel Reading from Luke 7:36-50…
36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus[j] to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii,[k] and the other fifty.42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus[l] said to him, “You have judged rightly.”44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Maybe you’re not like me and don’t have stories from your childhood which embarrass you. Maybe you matured faster than I did and you avoided the worst of decisions and moments we often experience as forming people, but I had some real doosies.
Tonight I’m thinking of 7th Grade Todd, and a time when I was at my worst. I was in the Art Club, and our much anticipated field trip to the Zoo in Dallas had arrived. We were going on a sketching trip! I was fired up, until we started assigning seats with parents to drive to the Zoo. My closest friends were all in one car, and I was assigned to ride with someone else and his mom. Now, this other guy… he was not a friend. In fact, he was a bully at whose hands I had occasionally suffered some hurt and harassment. He wasn’t smart, either. This is back in the day when they divided our seventh grade class into groups from the most smart to the least smart; our groups were labeled 7:1, being the smartest, all the way down to 7:6, being the least smartest. And this guy was a bit behind me and my friends. I’m also pretty sure his family didn’t go to church anywhere, and we know those things in a small town. I loudly proclaimed my horror at riding with him and his mom, “I don’t want to ride with him! Why is he in Art Club anyway?” I was told to quiet down and get in his mom’s truck, and I’d get to ride home with someone else. It was a tense, joyless ride to the Zoo.
And on days when I read stories like the one from Luke 7, I’m reminded of the lesson so painfully illustrated by 7th Grade Todd. Like Simon, I was the one who would invite Jesus over to supper, not the other person. I was the one who would be most likely to have Jesus over for supper (at least in my way of thinking), not them. I was the one, not them… I’m “the one most” (fill in any other descriptors you want): deserving, good enough, forgiven, allowed, expected, invited. But in a Gospel view of the world they are the one who is welcomed, grateful, forgiven, closest to Jesus.
Oh, Simon. I get it. I really do. Imagine working so hard to be ready for Jesus to come to dinner, making sure the right people are present, the food is perfect and you look your best. And then this sinner crashes the party. That word sinner says it all, huh? This sinner takes center stage. This sinner becomes the focus of discussion and begins to take Jesus’ attention and energy from your dinner party. Why is she here anyway? Wouldn’t a prophet know she doesn’t belong?
It’s easy enough to say that Jesus loves everyone. What takes a little more energy is really digging into Jesus and getting a hand on his way of seeing people, God’s way of seeing people. It differs so dramatically from the way I have so often viewed people. Did you notice in the words of Jesus that this sinner seems to be both responding to forgiveness and also still waiting to receive it? He says that her act of love flows from having much forgiven, and then afterward says to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
She seems to be responding to a forgiveness that has yet to be articulated, maybe even yet to be sought after, but that has totally consumed her. She teaches us something of how God sees people: forgiven before even asking. in the story she is returning a love that Jesus has yet to express directly to her. She’s an inspiration. Of course, Simon’s not all that inspired, because he only sees her as needing to be forgiven, while Jesus seems to have forgiven her before the first tear, before the anointing.
There’s a really good old theological term for this: prevenient grace. This is an term that states, in various ways in differing Christian traditions, that God’s grace and forgiveness pre-exists our seeking it and in fact enables us to seek it and understand it. This concept doesn’t in way lessen our turning to God and experiencing grace in repentance, but it does help us with taking what scripture teaches about forgiveness and form a daily Way of living with that understanding. So scripture teaches that Christ died while we were still sinners, that God predestined us, elected us, chose us before… these statements are familiar to biblical students, and they point us to way God sees us, viewing us in our intended beauty, in our intended state of grateful love, in our very best and deepest place of love and dignity. I especially like this as a counterpoint to the idea of Original Sin, that instead we are born into a state of Original Forgiveness. Perhaps, we are born into a state of Indelible Grace.
Wouldn’t that bring us to the feet of Christ, too? Do you think that maybe just hearing Jesus teach in the marketplaces and streets, maybe preaching on a mountainside, this woman got it, she understood, and that grace brought her to her tears? The story reminded me of times when scriptures instructs against partiality, judgement…
“1 My child, do not cheat the poor of their living, and do not keep needy eyes waiting. 2 Do not grieve the hungry, or anger one in need. 3 Do not add to the troubles of the desperate, or delay giving to the needy. 4 Do not reject a suppliant in distress, or turn your face away from the poor. 5 Do not avert your eye from the needy, and give no one reason to curse you; 6 for if in bitterness of soul some should curse you, their Creator will hear their prayer… 22 Do not show partiality, to your own harm, or deference, to your downfall.” (Sirach 1:6 & 22)
“2 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? 8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors… 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:1-9, 12-13)
And Jesus in Matthew 7:1-2
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”
I don’t think these passages are only good teachings in times of economic disparity, but must be applied to a broader sense of partiality which threatens to divide us, blind us and to honestly make fools of us. Simon seems to have had some justification for knowing that the woman was sinful. But Simon is intimately shown that he doesn’t understand forgiveness and his own love-debt to God’s grace. This sinner does. Simon is ultimately shown a new definition for “sinner,” which he may think means “undesirable” or unforgiven, but in actuality means deeply beloved and sought after.
After our trip to the Zoo I was relieved to be informed that I would get to ride home with my two closest friends. I crammed happily into the back seat with them, and then began one the of longest hour and half rides of my life. My friend’s mom figured that I didn’t go to the right kind of church, wasn’t good enough. So for the next hour and a half she illumined me on my impending damnation and sinfulness. To top it off, after I was dropped off at the school, she later called our home to accuse me of stealing a class ring from their car, a ring later found to have slipped between cushions and into the trunk of the car. Oh, Simon. You and me, brother. Some of us must learn the hardest lessons of life in the hardest ways to sink them through our hardest of skulls and into our hardest of hearts.
I will probably continue to fail at this, but I hope that every time I am confronted with someone I imagine to be the least forgiven, the least lovable, the least worthy, Christ might help me see them in their prevenient beauty and grace. I pray that the next time I feel so unworthy and believe the worst of myself, I will hear that call of grace, and my tears will be a thank offering for all the love and forgiveness God has already intended to lavish on me. 7th Grade Todd was not prepared to understand Martin Luther’s poignant exclamation, “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.” 7th Grade Todd wasn’t ready to get it, and I can only hope I am before I’m 70.
Once more little gem from the Book of Common Prayer, one more cry to heaven…
“O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us
through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle
and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth;
that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you
in harmony around your heavenly throne;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” BCP pg. 815
I’m just having some morning coffee, meditating on the day and thinking of all the discord in our country with the presidential debates and fighting, the violence in our streets and wars around the globe… leads me to pray for our species.
And it leads me to renew a vow that:
Today, I will speak with more civility, express myself with more genuine love and welcome for others, and I will speak and act to impart dignity to all people, especially those least like me or least liking me.
The Book of Common Prayer (and it’s online if you don’t have a copy) provides many helps to assist with daily prayer, often giving good words to the hurts and hopes of the heart…
28. In Times of Conflict
O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us,
in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront
one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work
together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus
Christ our Lord. Amen.
BCP pg. 824
And of course, our prayers often begin to be answered in our own lives, in our words and actions. If we’re going to ask God to increase peace in the world, then we are rightly reminded to acknowledge that we will have to be part of the increase. It begins with our hearts and the overflow of our hearts into the things we say and things we do.
How can you increase peace in the world, today? Is there a personal conflict with someone you can resolve? Is there a good greeting to practice giving others? Is there a need you can meet? Is there a friendship to renew or develop?
The day is ours, a gift of God. Let’s begin it well, seek the best that we can achieve in it, and in the last give all thanks to God.
It’s the second week of Advent! Woot! At Church in Bethesda this past Sunday we dug into the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel to explore his introduction to Jesus. Matthew begins with a lengthy genealogy of Christ (which we’ll skip over for now), but he then moves into a birth narrative, the subject of our discussion this week. Let’s take a peek at that in Matthew 1:18-25…
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Matthew stands alone as the Gospel writer giving us the story of the annunciation to Joseph, something we usually associate with Mary (and which we’ll see in Luke’s Gospel). Joseph stands in a similar situation to Mary in that his marriage plans and future marital hopes seem to be coming apart at the seems… his betrothed has turned up pregnant. He would be understandably upset, angry and hurt. He would understandably feel betrayed, and most of us would lash out at Mary in our hurt and anger.
But Joseph is a good man, a righteous man, and that leads him to grace instead of disgrace in his dealing with Mary. He’s a righteous man. The Greek word there means that Joseph is a keeper of law, both human and divine, and is as he ought to be. And that leads him not to judge or to disgrace Mary, but to move in a way that protects her from any further hurt or harm. The circumstances look about as bad as they could be for Mary and as hurtful as they could be for Joseph. She’s not yet fully married, but now unexpectedly pregnant, and Joseph moves to shield her from further trouble.
When it says that Joseph did not want to expose Mary to public disgrace the word in the Greek does mean to put on display. Isn’t that what we so often do to deflect any blame or wrong-doing that might be accredited to us? Isn’t this what we do to punish people when they hurt us? We usually make sure everyone knows who deserves disgrace and blame. Joseph shows us a better way, a way of grace.
Still, Joseph does plan to divorce her, right? He does plan to end their betrothal. I’m glad he is a righteous man and plans to do so quietly, but I’m even happier that God steps in and expands on the grace Joseph would show Mary. When God enters the picture Joseph is called to greater faith and less fear. He is called to courageously embrace the very circumstances which had caused him pain and embarrassment, and to love Mary without fear.
This Advent Season let us remember that the arrival of Jesus is shrouded and immersed in grace, grace shared between people. Can we become a people who daily advent grace into our lives and communities? Oh, yes. We can choose to put aside a righteousness that demands others be judged and demeaned and choose a righteousness that honors others and protects them, even in the worst of circumstances.
Choose grace. That is our Advent message for the week. Choose to look past the circumstances and be not afraid. Protect those around you, even if they seem to deserve worse than they are getting.
God of no fear,
and God of greater love…
May we not ever be a people of disgrace,
but a people who plant a seed of grace
in the worst circumstances of life,
and then watch you it into grow a beautiful thing!
May our righteousness always be a gift
to those most in need of our best.
People are worth the effort and the cost,
now and ever more, world without end. Amen
It’s hard to say goodbye to someone who has been an integral part of the American experience for so many years, and yet someone the vast majority of us did not really know. Robin Williams was a comedic genius who gave us so many voices to enjoy. He could make us laugh with only a facial expression, but when he opened his mouth, and who knew what was going to come out, we would all be giddy and goofy with anticipation. What a soul! He will be missed in this life, and cherished and loved for his gifts.
He was also a human being, and had all the flawed brokenness that is so endemic to our daily struggle. Like many others, he was not immune to depression because of money, fame or success. Probably the money, fame and success were some of the things that could exacerbate his depression. I’m not doctor, so I don’t speak from medical training. I’m just someone who has grappled with depression my entire life, and I can relate to the reality of the best times bringing on the worst. If you have asked, “How could he be depressed with all the money and fame?” then you’re probably not someone who has struggled with chronic depression. For you this could an opportunity to realize how difficult it has been for that friend or family member to deal with their depression. It defies logic. It is very real. It is not chosen.
So while we mourn and look around and listen to one another, there were a few things I’m not always hearing and I wanted to make sure got clearly said…
1) Depression doesn’t separate you from God’s love. No one should assume that struggling with chronic depression is in any way necessarily an indicator that someone has rejected God, lost God’s love or is trying to live life without God. There is no scriptural basis for that kind of judgment or condemnation.
2) Depression is never bigger than God’s grace and love. That goes for anyone who attempts suicide, succeeds at suicide or is a survivor left by a loved one who commits suicide. To be reminded that God’s grace is bigger than suicide is not to say that suicide is ok. Suicide is painful, hurtful and devastating for the survivors. And yet, suicide also flows from some of the deepest pain and anguish that we carry as humans. As our hearts are moved and made raw by the anguish of suicide, can we believe that the heart of God is any less moved? There’s no scriptural basis for saying that suicide is an instant separation from God… that’s a traditional teaching that needs to be corrected.
3) Beware the isolation. I’m not speaking here specifically to Robin Williams’ experience, but in a broader sense… don’t go it alone. Chronic depression and the feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and shame that it engenders will move you to separate yourself from others. Please don’t. Seek people. Start with a doctor who can help you determine if there’s a medical need that requires treatment, and get with a healing community… your friends, family, church, synagogue, temple, mosque, etc.
4) Don’t help isolate people who are depressed! Please, don’t turn away from someone who is struggling with a depression that you don’t understand. Help create a community of hope and healing where you live. Read, study and pray to be prepared to be a healing presence for someone in need. Be prepared to love and to help as much as someone will let you.
5) For my fellow followers of Christ, if a “Christian” blogger or group speaks of suicide in a judgmental, accusatory fashion, lacking the grace and love we expect from Jesus, then for the love of Jesus DO NOT SHARE THAT BLOGGER! Why is it that the worst opinions and perspectives I have seen on the death of Robin Williams have been from “Christian” groups? This is not as it should be, and the solution is ours to enact. I refuse to link to them and expand their influence by sharing their hate and/or ignorance, even to refute and disown their words. Please, please, please be discerning.
If you’re up against that wall, when depression and it’s crippling grip have a hold, I’m yours. Email me, ok? We’ll chat. I’ll give ya my email, in code so the spammers can’t get in the way… it’s reserve7 @ gmail. com. Squish that together without the spaces and you got me. We’ll walk some road together. If you don’t like me, find someone else! We’re in this together.
“But no matter what comes, we will always taste victory through Him who loved us. For I have every confidence that nothing—not death, life, heavenly messengers, dark spirits, the present, the future, spiritual powers, height, depth, nor any created thing—can come between us and the love of God revealed in the Anointed, Jesus our Lord.”
For some, there are days that are hard earned, when holding on takes every bit of faith and hope… celebrate the victory! Luka Bloom celebrates that in his song, You Survive.
Here are a few other resources…
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 24/7: (800) 273-8255
The Trevor Project for our LGBTQ youth,
and for our veterans… Veterans Crisis Line.
Colossians 4:5 & 6, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
It might be easy when reading the scriptures to fall into an us and them attitude when thinking of how we ought to behave, speak and act. The scriptural writers, especially when we’re reading Paul, Peter and James, are very concerned with helping a new community in it’s formative first generation. This leads to a lot of us language, but it doesn’t have to be to the exclusion of them. Us and them thinking can lead us to disparaging them and us defaming them, us devaluing them and us disenfranchising them. That is not our calling.
God’s grace, as it is lived and shared, and as it forgives and builds up, is not just for Christians to lavish on Christians. When we speak to someone who is not a person of our faith we do not do so with distaste, condescension or incivility. Their dignity remains intact and it is part of our responsibility to recognize and defend it. We should speak to anyone who may be “outside” as we speak to anyone who may be “inside.” We speak with grace, seasoning our speech for the well-being of the listener. When we speak with graceful seasoning those lines drawn up to separate us from them just seem to disappear.
Not to mention the simple fact that I can be a horrible judge of who may be inside or outside. We can all come to certain conclusions about what the classical or orthodox theological positions of Christianity should be, and we all know that there’s a broad field of doctrine being taught and lived across the earth. Some will self-identify as Christians, some will self-identify as another religious affiliation, or none. People with whom we interact may be very much like us, or not like us at all. The constant in all our conversations will be God’s grace, and that grace is the constant flavoring in our all conversations, all our “answers.”
My favorite example of this kind of grace is found in Acts 17:16-34 when Paul speaks to the people in Athens, Greece. At the time Paul sees a lot of idolatry, the idols lined up in the city are very real, very immediate. This disturbs Paul’s soul and he wants to share the message of Christ with the people, so he begins his address in the Areopagus (Town Hall) by complimenting them. Whoa, what? Yes, he starts by affirming their religious devotion and the thorough nature of their religious practice. He quotes their own poets to affirm all people’s place as God’s children. See how he speaks a blend of us and them? He recognizes an “us” aspect with his hearers. With this kind of foundation he unpacks his message. All the people won’t believe him, but they sure heard him. He delivered his message seasoned with grace. And it’s no wonder that our verse today is from his letter to the Colossians. How many times today do we see Christians rationalizing their way into beginning their gospel presentation with some form of, “How’s that road to hell going for ya, sinner?” or some other form of turn or burn harness that begins with stripping a perceived outsider of dignity and respect?
When feelings of condescension rise up in me I must renounce them and find a new footing. When my conversation becomes animated by distaste instead of grace I must stop and change my heart. When my speech is flavored by bitterness it’s not what my hearer needs. When I’m loving us and not loving them I’m playing the wrong game all together.
1 Peter 4:8-11, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If you speak, you should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If you serve, you should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
I am a steward. You are a steward. What a great word! It means that you and I are the operating agents of God who manage and dispense the “properties” and “affairs” of God in the world. Peter is helpful enough to name exactly what we are stewards of: God’s grace.
In speaking and serving others, using whatever gifts and abilities with which we have been blessed, we dispense God’s grace and cover sins with love. Amazing. The word really encompasses a lot about us. In the Greek an oikonomoi was a household servant, the servant who apportioned things, managing affairs and resources of the household on behalf of the master of the house. In this case, in 1 Peter 4, we are the faithful servants apportioning God’s grace in love to cover sins and to serve joyfully the people around us. The passage above is quoted from Today’s New International Version, and in the Common English Bible oikonomoi is translated to be “manager.” We are managing God’s grace and gifting in our lives to the benefit of the people around us.
Here’s the catch… we aren’t just apportioning grace to the deserving, but also to those who have sinned or in some way become less deserving. This where we find the biblical truth of the day to teach us something of our civility. We aren’t meant to be walking talking dispensers of God’s wrath for people, punishing sins, withholding grace and replying to incivility with incivility. We are meant to be the people who dispense grace when needed to cover sins, love and service to the least deserving, faithful to the God who employs us in the household of the earth.
The point of all this is to give glory to God in Jesus Christ. Our faithful stewardship, our service to others, our love and absence of “grumbling,” all of it accrues to the glory of God, showing God’s greatness in this world. Incivility probably breaks in through me most when I begin worrying about my own glory or begin to hold back the grace I am sent to share.
Saving God, let grace flow through me
unimpeded to the people most needing
whether or not they can see
it is your love and grace that drives
any gifts they might receive
filling and quickening our lives
I’m your steward but I pray
for love to cover my own sins
to be kept in your kingdom this day
Proverbs 11:16, “A gracious woman gains honor; violent men gain only wealth.”
I absolutely love this comparison: the gracious woman and the violent man. Is there a stream in the ancient wisdom that recognized what we often make mention of today, that men too quickly turn to violence, either verbal or physical? It was just a few weeks ago that we saw many news stories about the women of the Congress stepping in and helping bring about an end to our Federal shutdown and impasse.
A grace filled person can achieve a much greater “win” than the violent person who takes out of turn, out of season and out of anger. This is one of those truths of what Jesus taught about forgiveness, loving enemies and keeping the heart pure. This truth wars against the apparent domination of the violent, that the violent can seem to seize riches and success at a dizzyingly rapid rate. There’s a better win out there to have.
I feel like making a new saint, a patroness of the gracious. She is Our Woman of Grace. She’s not a saint to pray to, or event to pray with… but a saint to become. She is the leaving of my violence. She is the hope of a better thing to come than my anger and greed can produce. She is me, when I’m at my best, and you at yours.
I have avoided writing or saying much on the Chick-fil-A vs. Muppets squabble. I like Chick-fil-A’s sandwiches and their slaw is awesome. And I like the Muppets, a lot. But since I didn’t even realize they were doing business together, it’s no heartache for me that they broke up. I suppose that I have been most afraid that saying something lends validity to the squabble, but it’s grown big enough to captivate a nation without any input from me (said tongue in cheek, since probably twelve people will read this blog), so here goes…
It’s been common knowledge my whole life that the Chick-fil-A tries to mix it’s owner’s values with the way they do business. They’ve always been closed on Sundays. I’m pretty sure they used to have Veggie Tales toys and prizes, and I am quite sure they have had other kids toys of that tied into Bible stories and characters. That’s who and what Chick-Fil-A has always been. I have to wonder what the Henson folks were thinking when they entered into a business relationship with the group if they weren’t aware of this.
Chick-Fil-A has given money to organizations that promote heterosexual marriage and oppose same-sex marriage. However, I’ve not found any articles or accusations that they have discriminated against people in their hiring/firing policies or broken the laws of our country. I’d be curious to know if they have had such accusations or problems.
Then, there’s the actual quote that this whole broo-ha-ha has grown out of… did you read it yet? Before presenting the quote, I’d like you to do something: Stop thinking about gay marriage! Gay marriage doesn’t seem to have been mentioned in the article, and Mr. Cathy wasn’t asked about it. Try for a moment to step back and let the quote be itself: “‘We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that,’ Cathy is quoted as saying.”
Ok, so this guy is all about the “family.” And he invokes the idea of a “biblical definition” of the family. We can all read different things into that depending on our theology and cultural experience/tradition. We can even safely assume he would include defining family as based on the marriage of a man and a woman. But he didn’t decide to go there. When he expanded on things he said this… “We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives.” What? What?!
I understand that someone reporting on this story may not be up on all the conservative Christian vocabulary that gets thrown around, but I’ve not heard a single friend or Christian writer respond to “first wives.” Now, if Mr. Cathy were Mormon, then maybe he would mean that those men in his family aren’t polygamists. But he’s Baptist, and “first wives” means that they don’t practice the ultimate evil (at least it was before gay marriage supplanted it) of divorce. That quote is a direct slap at divorced people, not gay people, by it’s own explicit content.
Of course, we can assume he would exclude gay marriage from his “biblical definition,” but he chooses to hang his hat on the absence of any “second wives” in his family. I know a lot of Christian friends who have been like “Whoo Hooo, let’s go support Chick-Fil-A!” who are also divorced, the spouses of second wives and even, dare I say it, “second husbands.” Why aren’t they aggravated at the lack of grace Mr. Cathy showed for divorced people? I think it’s because of the great law of media that once a story has been framed one way, it doesn’t get a second framing. A wise friend who spent years in news broadcast around the DC area let me in on that media law, and it’s so true. The story was framed around gay marriage, and there it has remained.
Plenty of people have written on the absurdity of this public debate over eating at Chick-Fil-A or not. I haven’t seen anyone actually pointing out that Mr. Cathy was blithely devaluing divorced people, not gay people. Why not? Because the story was framed about gay marriage, and that framework holds, it sells, it galvanizes, it’s fires people up on both sides of a silly culture war that no one will win. And that framework has no place to process the “first wives” vocabulary.
So, what do I do with the “first wives” thing? I would say to the divorced people out there, the second wives and second husbands, “You’re welcome in my church family!” I say that because my biblical definition of family is inclusive of biblical things like grace, love and humility. We don’t distribute labels in our church family like “divorced,” “first” or “second.” I personally thank God for my wife, not because she’s my first wife, but because I get to share life with an amazing woman. I’ve known many people who felt the same about their second spouses. I’ve spoken with and read things by gay friends who felt that way about their partners and spouses.
What do I do with the whole “gay” thing? I would say to gay people out there, married or not, divorced or not, “You’re welcome in my church family!” I say that because my biblical definition of family, whether we’re talking about my biological family or my faith family, is based on biblical things like grace, love and humility. We don’t distribute labels in our church family like “straight” or “gay.”
Grace, love and humility. God forbid I ever make a move or say a word to win an argument or achieve dominance in any cultural arena of thought, if I have to trade one single opportunity to show grace, love or humility to claim that win. So where’s the grace, love and humility in this whole Chick-Fil-A vs. Muppets carnival? I’ve not seen much on either side of the argument. So, it’s not my argument. I’ll let Chick-Fil-A and the Muppets handle their own fight, after all they’re the squabbling couple. I’ll just keep trying to find those moments when I get to live the grace, love and humility the Bible has taught me. And I’ll pray I’m better at it today than I was yesterday.
Writing about the death of Osama bin Laden is a complex and frightening thing. I was up late Sunday night and caught the earliest rumbles of his demise and then saw President Obama’s comments and official announcement of the operation which found and eliminated bin Laden at his palatial hideaway in Pakistan.
And then I thought about it. I heard of people in the streets just a few miles away at the White House having an impromptu party. Come Monday morning I had heard of the same kind of celebration at Ground Zero. And of course, Monday was a day of Facebook and Twitter soundbites back and forth between many varied and nuanced responses to his death.
I posted the first confirmed report of the death I could find late on Sunday night with only one word to accompany it: “Wow.” I’ve not said anything else online about it. And really that was my first and has been my most poignant feeling since I heard the news. I was stunned. It was long coming and overdue. It was world-changing. I can almost trust myself now, after a day and two nights of thought and listening and reflection, to say a few things.
I still have had no desire or impulse to celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden with song and laughter and light heartedness. But I can honestly say that I am glad we now have a world that can spin on without his distorted views and his ability and willingness to impose death sentences upon the innocent and the defenseless. Osama bin Laden was a part of the evil from which so many of us daily ask deliverance, “…but deliver us from evil.” His willingness to kill and to send others to kill necessitated his own death. But I do not want war and death to cross the line from necessity to celebration in my own heart.
It was past time for Osama bin Laden to be gone. I am glad that he has lost the power to kill. I am glad that our world is now without him. I am glad that he is dead. I do not wish he had been arrested. I do not want him to have had a voice any longer than he did. I do not want his stain on our planet to have grown any darker or to have sunk in any deeper. I am glad he is over.
Almost ten years later it is too easy to see Osama bin Laden in a war of ideologies and caught in a contest of competing worldviews. It’s very easy, after ten years of being hunted, to see him in the context of his philosophical arguments. But for those of us who are old enough to have watched the towers fall in 2001, the necessity of bin Laden’s death is not ideological, it is visceral and quite real. From watching the towers fall on live TV, to those earliest tapes of Al Qaeda beheadings of innocent people, we have seen the face of evil in this world. Of course, for the families of those who died his evil is even more real and present.
While I am glad Osama bin Laden is dead, I cannot find it in me to celebrate death, even his. I won’t sing in the streets. That just doesn’t feel right to me. But the women and men of the United States Intelligence Services and Armed Forces have my gratitude and respect. I thank them and I am proud that we have rid the world of that evil. I am glad we persevered in the face of such heavy necessity. Our people who have sacrificed and given so such much in the face of what needed to be done are our heroes and I celebrate them, their courage, their service to our nation and world, and their sacrifice to confront such evil.
I don’t condemn or mean any slight at all to those who are joyfully celebrating in the streets the death of such an evil. I’ve watched threads on Facebook in which people have “unfriended” those who will not celebrate Osama bin Laden’s death with patriotic chants, capital letters and lots of exclamation points. I’ve watched the vilification of many who simply asked something along the lines of, “Wait… am I really supposed to be a happy that death is still the best or necessary option to any problem?” We should not use this as yet another opportunity to divide and feed any hostilities. Whether you or I celebrate the man’s death, or don’t, our need for civility in discourse and conversation is as real as ever.
Here’s maybe the bottom line for many people of faith… we recognize the justice in Osama bin Laden’s death, the justness of it. We recognize the necessity of his death, we feel the relief that he is gone, and we are glad that his hatred and evil have been removed from our world. He earned that death over and over, more than 3,000 times in one day back in 1991, and many times since. But even as we recognize justice, we have been taught to hope for something greater, and that is grace. Our gladness that justice has been served is tempered by regret that grace was missed. Grace was missed so many times in the life of Osama bin Laden. He did not know grace, show grace nor bring any grace to our world.
Our faith has informed us that a better world is possible, and we still wait for it. That better world is forestalled by the evil of creatures like Osama bin Laden and the necessary sacrifice of good people to hunt and kill him.
I pray, from deep down inside, that with the passing of that evil another death dealing prophet will not stand to carry the banner forward. I pray that the great day of peace will come sooner than later for our globe. I pray that we might no longer be a species which produces such a monster and then has to wage ten years of war to find and stop him.