my miscellany

Pentecost 24, 2016 — 30 Oct 16

Pentecost 24, 2016

RCL C Proper 26 Complementary
Isaiah 1:10-18, Psalm 32:1-8, 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4 and 11-12, Saint Luke 19:1-10

The Gospel today takes place in Jericho, a city along the Jordan River, situated in a vast grove of palm trees. It is an oasis in the desert, the place where the children of Israel crossed over the Jordan into the Land of Promise.[1] It is the greatest fortress protecting the Land of Promise and the site of Joshua’s great victory when the walls came tumbling down.[2]

And in the Gospel today, Jericho is the site of another great victory for God. It is where salvation comes to Zacchaeus, the chief publican or chief tax collector who is rich.

Last Sunday, Jesus told us a parable about another tax collector who went to the temple to pray. He throws himself on God’s mercy, claiming to be a sinner, and Jesus proclaim that this tax collector went home justified. Zacchaeus does much the same thing.

He starts off as a lurker, but look what happens. Jesus calls him by name. Zacchaeus just wants to see him, but Jesus calls him by name. That moment when Jesus looks up into the sycamore tree on the street in Jericho is a great victory for God.

Not one of us can say that God has not searched for us, found us in our self-imposed distance, and called us by name. God is like that, seeking and saving the lost, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel.[3]

What does God have to do to get us, you and me, to come down out of our tree, and do what God wants us to do? Many of us are, like Zacchaeus, lurkers, hanging on at the fringe, wanting to see him, wanting to know a little more about him, and wanting to hear him say our name, to recognize us and to bless us.

In the Name of Jesus Christ, God does these very things over and over again at every Eucharist. He shows himself to us in his self-offering on the cross and in the memorial of it in the sacrament. He reveals himself to us Sunday-by-Sunday in the good news that is his Gospel. He calls us each by our name in our baptism and confirmation, and when he calls us to be his people in a confused and confusing world desperate for meaning. We have only to give him an affirmative answer: do his will, accept his forgiveness, or walk in the paths of good works he strews around our feet.

When Jesus looks up at Zacchaeus, he shows him the tenderest love. And that tender love when met with Zacchaeus’ coöperation makes him, in the words of the great hymn that we sang today, “ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven.”[4] Our coöperation, meeting that same tenderest love, produces the same results. What else could we ask for?

[1] Joshua 3:16.

[2] Joshua 6.

[3] Saint Luke 19:10.

[4] Hymn 410, Stanza 1.

A Priestly Word for 28 Oct 16 —

A Priestly Word for 28 Oct 16

Wherever we are in our spiritual lives or journeys, we are free to redefine ourselves however we may decide to do so. We can take a step in any direction and arrive closer to God if that is our desire. I commend this spiritual freedom to you, for our identities are partially hidden from us though God knows them well. Growing and maturing involve becoming ever more what we were born to be and what God intends us to be. In Christ we become more fully ourselves.

Typically Christian ways of redefining ourselves may easily be named. Examples of them are giving thanks, repenting, forgiving, and turning the other cheek when we have been mistreated or disadvantaged.

The quality binding these examples together, however, is taking an action. We think of defining as speaking or writing words. But our words alone cannot redefine us, because we are both minds and bodies. We have to practice what we preach (or say) in order to redefine ourselves. Saying “I forgive you” alone does not redefine us, but saying “I forgive you” along with restoring a person to the same relationship as before completes the redefinition as a forgiving person.

I write these things to you so that the actions you take will lead you to God by way of Jesus Christ who claimed, “Whoever enters by me will be saved…I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Saint John 10:9-10).

Pentecost 23, 2016 — 23 Oct 16

Pentecost 23, 2016

RCL C Proper 25 Complementary
Sirach 35:12-17, Psalm 84:1-6, 2 Timothy 4:6-8 and 16-18, Saint Luke 18:9-14

We have a sharp contrast in the parable that is the Gospel today. The contrast is effectively drawn from the point of view of the characters’ interior. Their innermost thoughts, even unto their prayers, are brought out into the light of day.

The contrast could hardly be sharper. We see a Pharisee, a professionally-religious person, who gives a tenth of his income, who fasts, but who fails to have the right attitude about himself and about God. He misses his own sinfulness and thus his dependence on God’s graciousness. And, further, his sinfulness, unknown to him, he projects on to the tax collector.

That tax collector, a sinner by definition of not keeping the Law of Moses, knows he is a sinner and abjectly puts himself in God’s gracious hands. He has trust in none but God. Is it any wonder that Jesus says of him that he went home justified?[1]

The parable gives us a black and white choice. There’s no gray area in which to plant our feet.

The preacher is tempted, I think, to ask which he is and which the parish is. But I do not want to do that. I want to ask of myself and of you a different question. Which of the two do I and do you want to be?

On one hand do we want to follow the religious rules and condemn those who do not follow them, like the Pharisee? Or, do we want to recognize our shortcomings and rely on God’s graciousness, like the tax collector? For in Christ we have the choice. We are free to be either one. We can change our spots if we wish. God’s power and God’s graciousness make it so.

Only we can type-cast ourselves. Others cannot do it, and God doesn’t do it. The Pharisee tries to type-cast the tax collector and fails. God, as we see, accepts the tax collector.

And in the Gospel next week, we shall see an even greater thing. We shall see a sinner, a tax collector, repent and return to God.

At every moment of our lives, we stand on a single point of physical and spiritual ground. But around that point, wherever it is, lie 360º degrees of possibility. We have the freedom to take a step in any direction we wish. And the deeper truth is, that whatever step we take, that step leads to God. We are blessed whenever and however we decide to put ourselves in God’s hands. We are blessed whenever and however we decide to follow him.

[1] Saint Luke 18:14.

%d bloggers like this: