July 21, 2019
The Fifth Sunday after Trinity
(Colossians 1:24-28; Luke 10:38-42)
B.I.B.L.E. = Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth
Woody Allen once said that if Jesus could see what people have done in his name, he would “never stop throwing up!” I suspect he is correct.
Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, churches, both Protestant and Catholic, were pushing quite heavily a neoconservative political ideology calling it “conservative family values” while giving little to no voice to biblical community values. It seems that we have come full circle to this again in our day.
These same groups seem to support war, torture, oppose environmental protection, encourage racism and serving the rich while not relieving the poor from poverty. They speak of big government as being evil, while they increase the national debt at the same time. Big corporations get the tax breaks that the poor should get. They see the potential immigrant as evil and must be stopped at all costs, while children waste away in squalor. While pushing to completely eradicate abortion, they ignore the people who are homeless or living in poverty.
They will say that the LGBTQ “agenda” damages families and undermines (heterosexual) marriage. What an irony to equate the LGBTQ people wanting equal rights and having won the right to marry that such somehow causes heterosexual marriages to crumple without any help from anyone claiming to be LGBTQ. (Incidentally, the Pew Research Center states that statistics of divorce show no noticeable increase since 2015 when the Supreme Court ruled same-sex couples have the right to marry. So much for ruining family values!)
Females are finding themselves being pushed beneath men once again, while men can’t seem to keep their hands off of women who are not their wives. Muslims are increasingly on the offensive from being the scapegoats to what anything that is wrong in our country, the same country in which they are a minority. All this they seem to push, or condone, with their silence while considering themselves the true “Christians.”
If Jesus were to come back today, what would he call these “Christians” that push these “values?” Are they the modern day Pharisee? Jesus associated with many a people who were the pariah of the day and even cured, healed and helped them. Yet, we are back to denying Communion to a person because of a vote they made to a cause that is outside of the desired “Christian” equation. Have these modern “Pharisees” lost touch with the world that is not within their four walls?
Part of our problem, I think anyway, is that we have been attempting to rise up since the fall of Adam. Keep in mind that nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures is there a theological treaties on “Original Sin.” Now, I am not arguing that the theological teaching of “Original Sin” is wrong or that it isn’t real, however what I am saying is, that the Hebrew Scriptures do not address it. Much like the doctrine of the Trinity is not directly addressed, but we know it true.
That said, since Adam, our Heavenly Father has been trying to get his people on the correct path. Whether it be through Abraham, Moses, or David, the Father has been trying to get us on a path. During this path, we have learned some things and adapted to others. Certainly the non-Jewish people had some influence on the Jewish Old Testament practices and beliefs.
All this leads to Jesus. The Son of God comes to us from paradise to try and straighten this out and he has to address his people and teach them in ways that correct all the straying from the path of righteousness up to his time. The Law of God has been handed down, rewritten, reinterpreted and adapted to the needs of God and man. Jesus comes to try and get them back on track. To help people to see the Law as not one of restrictions, but one of generosity. So, we rise from the fall of man to the pinnacle of a pyramid, if you will. The Law got a bit watered down here, and a bit too complicated there. Jesus wanted us to learn to focus on smaller scales - to focus on our brother.
Then after Jesus Ascends, we start another fall of sorts. We have many Church Fathers, Saints and even Popes who have tried to keep us at the pinnacle, but all we seem to do is fall down the pyramid on the other side. We go from Original Sin to heresy to sacrilege. Theology to philosophy and back again. Once again, we have made the rules so difficult that left on our own, instead of God’s grace, we would never make it into heaven. We are probably no better off than where we started from. From one extreme to another I suppose.
Brian McLaren, in his book, A New Kind of Christianity (a book I highly recommend) puts it this way:
“God’s [Elohim’s] story, it seems to me, unfolds as a kind of compassionate coming-of-age story. Imagine that a father has a daughter whom he loves with all his heart. When she comes of age, Dad gives her a beautiful sports car. Dad tells her to drive safely and stay in her lane, but soon she crashes into a tree and totals her vehicle. Dad gives her a stern lecture, and a few months later replaces the sports car with a modest economy car, more of a starter car, you might say. Then she takes her new vehicle car off-road and gets stuck in a muddy field. Dad pulls her out and requires her to take a driver’s ed class before she can drive again. She finishes the class and then a few weeks later she speeds around a corner, recklessly loses control, and drives herself into a river, and the economy car is totaled. At this point, Dad decides she isn’t ready for a car and gives her a bicycle instead. Then she crashes her bike into a tower and breaks her arm. God [Dad] again comes to the rescue and rushes her to the ER. In each case, what does the father do in response to his daughter’s foolishness? Disown her? Lock her in the dungeon? Condemn her to eternal conscious torment? Not even close!”
McLaren uses this story to talk about mankind in the Book of Genesis. I liken it to the whole human history. If you think about it, you will know I am correct. Let’s face it, we do it for our children; we do it for the drug addicts; we do it philandering husband etc. At least, a small few do. And our Heavenly Father does it for us. The greater majority would turn a blind eye; say tough luck, too bad; prison is the best place for you; you don’t belong in our country. Much like our parable from last week’s Gospel about the Jewish man beat and robbed and left on the side of the road and the Priest and Levite pass on the other side of the road. But not God. Not only do we not learn, but we don’t even try to follow his mercy with mercy to others. “You’re going to Hell if you don’t change!” they say. I am glad the neoconservatives are not God, because they would have everyone condemned to eternal torment by now.
Many would say that the Bible has an answer for everything, and indeed it does to some degree, but not in the manner in which they mean, because it does not have direct and explicit answers to many of today’s issues. Abortion, Communism, Socialism, systemic racism, climate change, genetic science, pornography, sexual orientation or just-war theory, just to name a short few of many. True, we can take some of what the Bible does teach and try to translate it into ways to help these topics, and we do, it’s called theology. However, the problem here is using passages that are so out of context that we end up condemning instead of helping - instead of loving.
McLaren likens this to reading the Bible as if it were a “constitution.” We can use the Bible to condemn or sanction anything imaginable. Since we seem to be in a flux in our country over real and imaginative enemies, let’s use the Bible to tell us what we should do about our real and/or perceived “enemies.”
First, we are told to love them. Matthew 5:44 - “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you…”
We are told to do good towards them and not seek revenge. Romans 12:17-21 - “Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, on your part, live at peace with all. Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Rather, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.”
We are told to endure the suffering they bring to us and be an example towards them. 1 Peter 3:13-17 - “Now who is going to harm you if you are enthusiastic for what is good? But even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.”
We are told to throw their children against the rocks. Psalm 137:9 - “Blessed the one who seizes your children and smashes them against the rock.” (The entire chapter must be read to understand the context of this one verse. But, that’s too much work, so off with the children! Ugh! I make a jest, but surely you get the point.)
We are told to hate them. Psalm 139:19 - “When you would destroy the wicked, O God, the bloodthirsty depart from me!” (Also must be read in its entire chapter for context.)
We are told to destroy them. Deuteronomy 7:1-6 - “When the Lord, your God, brings you into the land which you are about to enter to possess, and removes many nations before you—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and powerful than you and when the Lord, your God, gives them over to you and you defeat them, you shall put them under the ban. Make no covenant with them and do not be gracious to them. You shall not intermarry with them, neither giving your daughters to their sons nor taking their daughters for your sons. For they would turn your sons from following me to serving other gods, and then the anger of the Lord would flare up against you and he would quickly destroy you. But this is how you must deal with them: Tear down their altars, smash their sacred pillars, chop down their asherahs, and destroy their idols by fire. For you are a people holy to the Lord, your God; the Lord, your God, has chosen you from all the peoples on the face of the earth to be a people specially his own.”
We are told to call fire down onto them. 1 Kings 18:38-40 - “The Lord’s fire came down and devoured the burnt offering, wood, stones, and dust, and lapped up the water in the trench. Seeing this, all the people fell prostrate and said, “The Lord is God! The Lord is God!” Then Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Let none of them escape!” They seized them, and Elijah brought them down to the Wadi Kishon and there he slaughtered them.”
However, be careful because in Luke, we find condemnation for such kind of thinking. Luke 9:51-56 - “When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, and he sent messengers ahead of him. On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?’ Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village.”
There are a whole host of rules and laws on many topics. Yet, we need to keep in mind the context of which these writers wrote. They were writing for the people of their time, not for people 3,000 years and 4,000 miles removed from them. There were specific issues of their time that which God inspired them to write. Some of these issues are still prevalent and others not. Even the ones still prevalent have variables in modern time that were not then.
Also keep in mind that in Biblical eras, there was no “Bible.” In fact, the average person did not know how nor needed to know how to read. So, to McLaren’s point, the Bible we have was not written to be like a constitution, so much as a record of their understanding of God and his people. It is not even much of a history lesson, so much as a tool to guide God’s people. It has a lot of rules, but some really wouldn’t apply today, not that it stops the neo-conservatives from plucking one to use to suit their needs all the while ignoring another in the same paragraph.
Sadly, we are creeping into areas that we fought long and hard to change - the various social issues that we were making progress on, we are falling back into. Ideas such as anti-Semitism, chauvinism, homophobia, environmental havoc, apartheid, genocide, racism and maybe even witch burning. I wouldn’t put anything as too outlandish from the direction we seem to be headed.
The Bible is a great guide and it is our manuscript for what we believe, no doubt about that. But, it is not strictly meant to be used by churches to create doctrinal statements, so much as a textbook, of sorts, like we used in grade school and high school to prepare us for our lives ahead. It was meant more to give us a liberal arts style of learning of how to be people of God. We cannot apply all things literally, but neither can we live without its wisdom. To do so is to go down a road of demise. Demise of civilized humanity?
Let us review Job as an example. When you get to the later part of Job, what does God say? He says that what Job and his friends said was false and nonsense. But, wait a second here - isn’t the Bible completely and utterly inspired by God? And now God tells us that much of Job and his friend’s statements are false nonsense, what are we to think? Inspired does not mean written by the hand of God. It means that like anyone today, we receive inspiration to write or do something, but there are gray areas that we fill in with our human intellect and understanding of what we see and/or what we are proposing.
(We are not even certain how the writers of the Old Testament were inspired. The New Testament were witnesses - historical people who actually existed. Farther back in the Old Testament, however, it becomes a bit harder to ascertain who the writers were and how they were influenced. Here we rely on the oral Tradition handed done by the various Jewish leaders and Rabbis of old. We also relied on the Apostles of Jesus to hand down their understanding of the Jewish religion from that time.)
But, Job’s friends were quoting from Deuteronomy, someone will argue. So, to say that the first two-thirds of Job is nonsense, are we to say Deuteronomy is nonsense, or that God changed his mind, or that worse yet, there are two God’s? No, not hardly. Keep in mind that Job’s friends were doing the same we do today - picking verses out of large texts. Some of these texts were very probably used out of context, just as many are today, to justify the poor treatment of many groups of people.
As another example, we read in the Gospels that the “Jews” killed Jesus. Now I ask you - did the “Jews” literally kill Jesus? Did all the Jews in all of Jerusalem get together and vote on a ballot to kill this supposed God impersonator? Did all these supposed “Jews” carry Jesus to the cross and nail him on it? No! The Gospels used the term “Jews” as a representation of the High Priest, the members of the Sanhedrin, etc. These few men were responsible for convincing the powers to be - Pilate - that Jesus should be killed. Anti-Semitism has been a huge error and problem since this time as a classic example of reading the Bible and taking verses out of context. They say we should treat the Jews horribly because of what they did to our Lord! That is - I am sorry, but I must say it - down right idiotic! Yet, believe it or not, there are some who still push this errant view.
The Word of God is very much within the Scriptures, but we must be careful when we take a verse here and there and use it for our own intentions, because that might very well not be what was meant by the verse at all. As Catholics, we do not ascribe to the term “sola scriptura.” Scripture alone, ever since the reformers starting teaching this, it has gotten well-meaning people into difficult situations.
We Catholics do not believe the Bible was ever written, or intended to be used in this way. For that matter, I suspect most other non-Christian religions are similar, in that there is much theological background, understanding and oral Tradition that is handed down. Jewish and Christian faiths both have these. And even all these still will occasionally fall short. Did God answer all of Job’s questions? No. In fact, God asked Job a lot of questions without even providing the answers. To me, that tells us that God wants us to not only seek out the answers, but that he is less concerned with constitutional doctrine than he is with how we live out our lives with him and toward others.
However, all said, the Bible does not answer all questions we have, but it is a good collection of literary about God and his people and the interactions and conversations they have had. It is great library to help us get to the answers we need. Additionally, as you have heard me say before, the Bible is not about how Heaven goes - but about how to go to Heaven. It doesn’t have all the answers to all our questions, but it certainly is a good library to help. And don’t take what I say to the opposite extreme. The Bible is indeed a sacred collection and it is indeed the major force behind our faith. Never forget that. It does give us many rules and answers, when read correctly.
Suffice to say, we know the Scriptures were/are inspired by God, however we also need to accept the fact that human hands wrote them and sometimes the messiness of their lives had an influence on their outlook and thought process in regard to God. As an example, in some of the Old Testament passages we seem to see a God who loves violence and war. If human beings who produced those passages were violent in their own temperament of life, it is only natural that they would see God through that same lens. How many of these violent wars were really sanctioned by God versus how many were merely men who thought God wanted them to go to war and they, through good battle skills, fought and won? Does Nazi Germany and WW II mean God was mad at the Jews? Not even remotely.
Since Easter, and the announcement of my ascending to the chair of Presiding Bishop, I have been speaking a lot about a theme I want our denomination to have. A new way of believing, if you will or to use McLaren’s book title somewhat differently, a new kind of Catholicism. As we all know, we are part of the Liberal Catholic Rite Movement. Meaning, we are a Liberal Catholic Rite Church and thus we are Liberal Catholics. I want us to get past - and I want potential new members to get past - the “stigma” of the word Liberal. I want us to be progressive left leaning Liberals. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, I boldly believe that this is exactly what Christ has wanted for his followers all along. Why? Because of another phrase I have been pushing the past couple of months - the radical love of Jesus!
The radical love of Jesus is indeed liberal. I know that might cause scandal to some, but it should not. We see in the Gospels the people Jesus would associate with, the outcasts, sinners, tax collectors and non-Jews. He turned no one away and dealt with the worst of people with compassion, mercy and love. We as a church must do the same. We must build a new name for ourselves and radically love too. It doesn’t mean that we believe “anything goes,” but it does mean we learn to live in the radical love of Jesus. We are careful to not use scripture out of context and that we know there is more than sola scriptura.
To wind down, in McLaren’s book, he speaks about St. Paul. He speaks on how St. Paul taught that the church - the believers - were the body or embodiment of Christ. St. Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 12:31, “Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts. The Way of Love. But I shall show you a still more excellent way.” The speaking tongues or using of spiritual gifts; a radical concern for social justice or willingness to be martyred are all nothing without love. So, McLaren says that if St. Paul were here today, his letter might go something like this:
“Though I interpret the biblical text with state-of-the-art hermeneutics and preach sermons with flawless homiletics, though all my theologies are systematic, all my books, blogs, and podcasts scrupulously orthodox, and my books always best-sellers, without love I am static on a radio or an error message on a computer screen. Though I can show decadal church growth in the double digits and raise millions of dollars in building funds, though I have files full of testimonials from people saved, healed, delivered, and blessed through my ministry, without love I’m just another clever, two-bit purveyor of goods and services in religious-industrial complex. Though I have worldwide impact, traveling by private jet and broadcasting on cable, satellite, and the internet, though my budgets balance and my seminaries are bursting with beautiful and handsome valedictorians (all of whom are above average in every way), and though presidents invite me to the White House and consider me a “key person,” without love I am nothing.”
I will leave you with one last thought. I wrote this over a span of the week, but on Thursday morning during morning prayer, the Gospel reading for the day was from Matthew 11:28-30. I have always liked this passage. However, it can be applied to our branch of Catholicism specifically. It reads as follows: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
I like to think this particular passage is just as relevant today as it was when Jesus actually said it. As a Liberal Catholic church, our views on various teachings, dogma, etc. are a bit easier to swallow sometimes. The handed down oral explanation of this passage is broke down as follows.
Who labor and are burdened - are those who are burdened by the law as expounded by the scribes and Pharisees.
Take my yoke upon you - means in place of the yoke of the law, complicated by scribal interpretation, Jesus invites the burdened to take the yoke of obedience to his word, under which they will find rest.
For us, the modern equivalent, at least by some people’s estimation, these scribes and Pharisees would be neoconservative theologians, Roman Catholic bishops, or hellfire and brimstone Evangelical ministers. Not all, of course, but we could all name a few.
In some quadrants of the younger generation, they have left conservative branches of the church because of the modern day variation of the scribes and Pharisees. Although, they are certainly not the only generation, however. The point I am working toward is that some have left the Catholic Church as well as some Evangelical/Fundamentalist groups for teaching certain passages of Scripture in literal and absolute ways and or dogmas that are too restrictive. In our branch of Catholicism (Old Catholics, Liberal Catholics, etc. since the 1800’s), I feel we have taken Jesus’ example and focused more on the two greatest commandments. Our teachings and dogma tend to be derived from these. So, when we come across a passage of Scripture that seems like it would not apply either by Jesus’ example and/or the context it was written is not applicable for modern times, we teach it with what we believe is obedience to his word, not the yoke of the (old) law.
I like to think we Liberal Catholics don’t induce Theological Indigestion! There are just some theological topics that we tend to think are superfluous, and others more worthy of spending our energies on.
Therefore, like today’s Gospel, Jesus is telling us, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” Let us focus on our Blessed Lord - especially in receiving him in the Holy Eucharist - and we shall not veer too far from the path. Many a miracle has taken place in regard to the Holy Eucharist. Let us open our hearts, minds and souls to the beauty of Christ as we receive him at Holy Communion today and each time we can. You might be surprised what may happen to you one time or more!
Let us pray.
Jesus reminds us that too often we worry and fret about many things which really don’t matter. We pray that we be more like Mary and that we choose to listen to the word of Jesus and follow his ways rather than those of the material and selfish world. We pray to the Lord.
That societies all over the world support education opportunities for all of their people regardless of race, gender, class, or disability. We pray to the Lord.
That those overcome by burdens and anxieties hear the voice of the Lord inviting them to rest in his love. We pray to the Lord.
That all gathered here might find time everyday to listen in contemplative silence to Jesus and his life-giving word. We pray to the Lord.
That all the fallen away Catholics, those who stopped practicing their faith, or those who merely feel the Church has not caught up with the times, that they find our humble chapel where our Traditional Liturgy with modern understanding of Christ can make them reconnect with God. We pray to the Lord.
For those who perished in the devastating arson fire at Kyoto Animation studio in Kyoto Japan. May they rest in the peace of our Lord Christ and may the family and friends of these victims find some comfort after this tragic incident. We pray to the Lord.
For all who seek comfort that the Holy Spirit will surround them with love, peace and answers to their prayers; and that God may hear the intentions found in our parish prayer list. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Gracious God, you have chosen to dwell among us in unexpected, surprising ways, most especially in the person of your own Son, Jesus. Give us open and fearless hearts and minds that we may welcome you however and whenever you appear. Lord, the design of your universe is one of flux, ebb and flow, birth and death, spring- time slipping into summer with the same, quiet inevitability that children come of age. Let us not run away from change or cast an apprehensive eye on things just because they’re new to us or strange. Let us see that standing still can be the start of stagnation. Let us be thankful for the twists and turns that make each day full of adventure. When we long for something steadfast and familiar, remind us that in this whirling world there is always for sure one place of total steadiness — You, Lord. We ask all this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor - St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA