- Published on Monday, 19 July 2010 22:31
Today, as we reflect on the well-known drama recorded in 2 Kings 5, can we identify with one or more of the six very different characters? Each is confronted with potentially life changing choices when on the set? Most make just one or two appearances (the king of Syria, the young girl from Israel, Naaman's wife who is a silent witness, (and I use an anglicized pronunciation of the name Naaman) the king of Israel, a messenger of Elisha, and Naaman's servants). Or might we be an Elisha, who keeps cropping up in the plot? Or do we recognize ourselves as the main human character (Naaman) who begins with tragedy, finds a glimmer of hope, moves to thwarted rescue, and ends in deliverance and restoration.
As the curtain rises on Act 1, we, the audience are presented with the dilemma. Despite respect and status, wealth and even success attributed to the God of Israel or the God of his enemy, actor Naaman, is a chronically ill male. He is so desperate that he acts on the advice of an inferior female in the service of his wife. The young servant or attendant declares that her prophet in her land will heal him. I would venture to guess this is the result of her experience as well as an ongoing relationship and a deep trust in her God. With permission from his superior, the king, Naaman travels to enemy territory with an excessively large reward for services (748 pounds of silver, 200 pounds of gold and ten sets of garments). He also has a letter of recommendation from his king (unnamed in this drama, but thought to be Ben Haddad I) to the now subservient king in Israel (also unnamed, but possibly Jehoram). The curtain for this act falls on Jehoram in despair and anger, claiming ruin, because he chooses to rely on his own strength that has limits, though he implies a head knowledge of the God of Israel who is creative, life giving and all powerful. While we are not told how Naaman felt, I wonder if he wasn't walking off the stage shaking his head and saying, “It was too good to be true! Can't trust the claims of these Israelites! Is there really a god of life?”
As the curtain rises on Act II, the prophet or spiritual leader, Elisha rescues the suspicious and frightened Jehoram by reiterating what the young maid said, “Let him come to me and let him know there is a prophet in Israel.” (2 Kings 5: 8) Then this man of God, disregarding diplomacy, social norms, even the obvious gift to be gained, merely sends instructions for Naaman to perform an action with the promise of restoration – an action that really makes no sense to the patient and is blatantly unexpected.
- Published on Monday, 21 June 2010 21:07
En route to Jerusalem, James and John decide that the time for violence is long overdue.
Residents of a Samaritan village refuse to welcome Jesus—after all, he’s headed for the principal city of the Samaritans’ religious rivals—and the disciples sometimes called the “Sons of Thunder” see violence as a natural response. “Master,” they ask, “do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”
It is interesting to ask just what they had in mind. When I first read about the violent, apocalyptic fantasies of the members of the Qumran community, who gave us the Dead Sea scrolls, I assumed that they believed God would actually rain down death on their enemies from heaven. Divine miracles would annihilate the Romans and those who collaborated with them, along with the impure and unholy. And perhaps that’s what they had in mind. But I’ve realized that when the biblical prophets talk about God’s action in history, they’re thinking of mediated action, action occurring in and through the acts of human beings. So I have come to wonder whether the War Scroll of the Essenes might not have depicted what the Essenes themselves hoped God would do to their enemies through them. They may truthfully have believed that they were referring to God’s work, while understanding that the work would be performed by human hands. They may well have understood their apocalyptic language as metaphor.
- Published on Sunday, 02 May 2010 14:16
Identification, even when hidden is important. So there is turmoil in early Christianity when Jesus has left. He no longer is there to direct who belongs to the group and who is an outsider. Not that he was into exclusivity; but people still liked an official word on the matter. It was also somehow nice to be part of a group in which some people, like the Pharisees, were not allowed to be important or even really join.
The Jews that followed this new way have vivid memories of the passages on what not to eat. On how to be a special people. On how Israel is to be set apart for the Lord. Leviticus 20:22-26 (CEV):
22Obey my laws and teachings. Or else the land I am giving you will become sick of you and throw you out. The nations I am chasing out did these disgusting things, and I hated them for it, so don't follow their example. I am the LORD your God, and I have promised you their land that is rich with milk and honey. I have chosen you to be different from other people. That's why you must make a difference between animals and birds that I have said are clean and unclean --this will keep you from becoming disgusting to me. I am the LORD, the holy God. You have been chosen to be my people, and so you must be holy too.
- Published on Monday, 14 June 2010 07:42
Note: Due to a mix-up with the emails, this homily was on the texts for June 26, 2010 (the texts listed here).
Title: Where is the Lord God of Elijah?
Topic: Spiritual Inheritance
Theme: God’s default position: his normal mode of action
Thesis: God’s spirit is granted to those who are receptive to the call and faithful to the task of being creative agents of grace and justice.
Transitional Question: How can this story be meaningful to the myriads of humans who will never encounter chariots of fire?
Get in Line for the Chariot Ride
Melody and verse give tribute to the story of Elijah’s fiery chariot ride. The American Spiritual musical composers invoked those “horsemen of Israel” when they sang “Why don’t you swing down sweet chariot stop and let me ride” or the more famous “Swing low sweet chariot coming for to carry me home.” Elijah’s fiery taxi ride to heaven funds our imagination with pictures so powerful that we dare not hope against their truthfulness. The musical witnesses resound in song that warning that we should not bet against this story being true. So then, I want to believe the story. I want to believe it in detail. I want to believe it as a testimony to the power of a righteous life. I want to believe it as a testimony to the power of the God of Israel. I want to believe it as a trustworthy record of the history of salvation.
- Published on Thursday, 01 April 2010 06:39
It is traditional on Easter to give sermons and homilies aimed at people who aren’t Christian (or at least aren’t regular church attenders) with the aim to bring them to Christ. This is often a good strategy, as many people attend on Easter but no other day.
When I started working on this homily, I decided to go different direction. I figured that, given the difficulty in finding us today (what with the different location and the challenge of finding a way through the locked gates and the maze of streets), few would come who aren’t regular attendees. So this homily is written as a reminder of the Christian message, not for those thinking of joining, but rather for those who are “in the fold.” I’m focusing on some parts of the Christian message that are easiest to forget when you are comfortably in the fold. But I will not be saying anything new, and in fact will be ending with a reading that is quite old.
Before I begin with the reminders proper, let me start with a preamble: Religion is about meaning-making, not about explaining, at least explaining in the scientific sense. As Terry Eagleton (a literary critic) says in Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate in in his defense of Christianity against the new atheists, religion is not “a kind of bogus theory or pseudo-explanation of the world.” This is like “someone who thinks that a novel is a botched piece of sociology, and who therefore can’t see the point of it at all.” I am not here to address the facts of the Jesus narrative—my comments are about the true meaning that can be found in the narrative, rather than the truth of the details of the narrative.