Friday, March 21, 2003

I DID NOT KILL IRAQIS YESTERDAY, AND I DID NOT DISRUPT TRAFFIC, EITHER

I recall when a liberation theology priest from Guatemala came to Boston University School of Theology in 1979, preaching justice and stating clearly that the chapel offering would go to fund the revolution. I said "No," and a fellow student informed me that "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." The solution, of course, was violent.

Yesterday, the forward outposts of the Iraqi Army were annihilated. Translation: we slaughtered some human beings who were shooting their little bullets at our tanks before being blown to shreds. Also yesterday, thousands of people snarled traffic in major cities, including Boston. In San Francisco, windows were smashed. In both cases, people were working for a "solution to the problem."

Yesterday, I got through the snarled traffic to be with a young mom who has just had a tumor removed from her brain. I touched her arm, but she did not wake up. I laid my hand on her arm and called on the power of the Holy Spirit to heal her, strengthen her, and grant her peace. I doubt that it showed up on her monitoring equipment. Then I drove home--total time, round trip, three hours.

How futile. How irrelevant. How "not part of the solution." And yet, the people of my church actually pay me to do such irrelevant things. They seem to think it is a good use of their money, and my time. They appear to be sane. Perhaps we see a different problem, and are working on another kind of solution.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

WHY I AM NOT PROTESTING--TODAY

I am not protesting--today. Today I am praying that President Bush was right all along, and that most of the rest of the world was wrong. I am praying that the Iraqui government will collapse, the Iraqui Army will surrender, the innocent will be spared, and democracy will bloom in the desert. I am praying.

If you read my sermon on "The New Creation," you know that I do not expect governments to operate in the spirit of agape. In fact, there is a limited but vital role to play for governments in God's plan to save the world by love. This is spelled out by Paul in Romans 13:1-- "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God." Not surprisingly, this verse has been used by tyrants in every generation to demand unquestioning obedience to their every outrage. But read rightly, Romans 13 gives us a way to understand the different tasks of church and state.

The state does what those committed to agape cannot, will not do: "execute wrath on the wrongdoer" (Romans 13:4) and thus protect the innocent from violence. Those who serve God's will in this way are not to be reviled because they have refused the Way of agape. They are to be "honored", and taxes to support them must be paid. Jesus, and his followers for 300 years, never imagined that people would claim to be his disciples and try to run an empire in a violent world at the same time. Jesus thought that his people would be "the salt of the earth" (Matt. 5:13), infinitesmally small in number, but saving the whole as salt preserves fish. They would be "leaven in the loaf," a few tiny grains in a great lump of dough, but filled with a power that would raise all and create life in all. Jesus did not judge the many who refused him. Even on the cross he said, "Father, forgive them. They know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). Jesus expected the great lump of the world to remain ignorant, and he loved them nevertheless. The lump of the world needs defense from evildoers.

The nations, therefore, have the God-ordained task of restraining the evildoer and protecting the innocent. Throughout history their tendency has been to go beyond that task to claim godlike status for themselves, pursuing their ends "by whatever means necessary." Since World War II those means have often resulted in the deaths of thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people, from the Japanese rape of Nanking, to the terror bombings of Guernica and Rotterdam, to the Holocaust, to the fire bombing of Dresden, to the nuclear annihilation of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, to My Lai in Vietnam, to the deaths by attrition over the last ten years in Iraq, after the destruction of that nation's ability to keep its children alive in 1991. Nations have a habit of going beyond "restraining the evildoer" to making their own ends the ultimate ethical value.

So I am not protesting--today. I am praying today that President Bush, a devout Christian, meant what he said last night: that every effort will be expended to save innocent lives, and that the United States will honor the limits of its role in God's plan for the world. May the evildoer be disarmed, and the innocent be not only spared, but freed from oppression. Oh God, let it be that your servant George W. Bush was right all along. For this world's sake I pray, amen.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

A REAL PERSON IN BAGHDAD, AND A STORY OF RABBI JESUS

And one of them is telling us what it is like these days to live in Baghdad.. The theology of agape becomes so clear and right once one gets out of the head of being master strategist/politician and looks into the face of the "enemy," the human being created by God in all beauty and complexity and, perhaps by this time tomorrow, blown up into bloody shreds of meat on the sidewalk. Yesterday "Salam" (Arabic for "peace") was in a store when a young woman said goodbye in the traditional way: "See you tomorrow if God keeps us alive." Everyone stopped dead in their tracks. Then she laughed. "Oh, I didn't mean it that way!" They are trying to laugh, because of what we are getting ready to do.

There is a little-known story in the Gospel of Luke, not part of the lectionary and therefore never heard by those millions of Christians who go to church on Sunday but don't open up the Bible at home. It goes this way (Luke 9: 52-56):

"On their Way (the code in Luke for alerting the reader that "this story is about what it means to follow the Way of Jesus"),

they entered a village of Samaritans (not the "good Samaritan". Samaritans were hated by Jews, and vice versa, for reasons going back 800 years and too complex to explain here. That's why the story of the "good Samaritan" was so shocking. It would be the story of "the good Al-Quaeda" today) to make ready for (Jesus).

But they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem (they rejected him not for who he was, or for what he would have taught, but just because he was a Jew).

When the disciples James and John (nicknamed "Sons of Thunder") saw it, they said,

"Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?"

But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village." Then comes this footnote:

"Other ancient authorities add, "You do not know what spirit you are of, for the Son of Man has not come to destroy the lives of women and men, but to save them."

O Lamb of God, who faced and quenched even the fires of hell in perfect love, we do not know the spirit we are of. Save us, have mercy on us, teach us how to "save" our brothers and sisters without burning them. For you reign forever in peace, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

LIKE LAMBS WE ARE BEING SLAUGHTERED ALL DAY LONG

We will pray for a miracle these next 48 hours, that somehow the Lord will move the heart of Saddam Hussein to save his people from a horrific war. It has happened before: In 1962 we bragged that "we stood eyeball to eyeball with Kruschev, and he blinked." By blinking, and saving the war from nuclear war at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kruschev weakened his own political standing enormously. His action was noble, and I will always give thanks for him. Kruschev, like Hussein, was a ruthless man. We can, then, pray with hope for this miracle.

Meanwhile, what does it mean to be a Christian in the United States? Pretty much what it means to be a Christian anywhere else. Our Lord is Jesus, whatever spot on the planet we happen to occupy. And our mission, everywhere, is peace. St. Paul puts it this way (Romans 8: 35-36):

Who then, can separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, or hardship, or persecution, or hunger or poverty or danger or death? As scripture says,
"For your sake we are in danger of death at all times;
We are treated like sheep that are going to be slaughtered."

Please note that Paul takes it as a matter of course that Christians will be the slaughtered ones. They will not be the slaughterers. They will suffer trouble, hardship, persecution, hunger, poverty, danger, and death. They will not inflict trouble, hardship, persecution, hunger, poverty, danger and death on others. Their mission of agape, selfless love, will lead to suffering for themselves, not suffering for others.

And yet, they are to be joyful. Because none of these things can possibly separate them from the love of Christ.

"No, in all these things we are more than conquerors (literally, "super-conquerors", conquerors far more than military conquerors can imagine) through him who loves us. For I am certain that nothing can separate us from his love: neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities and powers, neither the present nor the future, neither the world above nor the world below--there is nothing in all creation that will be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8: 38-39)

We owe the nation and the world our prayers right now. Let's get to it.


Sunday, March 16, 2003

NOW THIS IS HOW TO INVADE A COUNTRY

St. Patrick invaded pagan Ireland with an army of one. His victory was absolute, and his occupation in the Spirit of Jesus Christ continues after 1400 years. Here is the weaponry he took with him for the "Shock and Awe" attack:

PRAYER OF ST. PATRICK

The following prayer, which appears in various forms in countless sources, is generally ascribed to St. Patrick of Ireland.

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendour of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.

I bind to myself today
God's power to guide me,
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to teach me,
God's eye to watch over me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's Word to give me speech,
God's hand to guide me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to shelter me,
God's host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.

I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of witches, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.

Christ, protect me today
Against every poison,
Against burning,
Against drowning,
Against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me;
Christ to comfort and restore me;
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word;
Praise to the God of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Today's sermon connects "The New Creation" with the question of who does the diapers and who does the dishes. I am, after all, a practical theologian.


TO SIT AT HIS FEET1 Peter 2: 9; Luke 10: 38-42
March 16, 2003
Rev. Steve Harvester

“In Christ we are a new creation.” That is our theme for Lent this year, and the theme of our Upper Room readings as we pray and read Holy Scripture together day by day. This day, we look at the story of Martha and Mary. It’s a tough one for many of us, especially many women who cook and clean every day of their lives. As the saying goes, “A woman’s work is never done—or appreciated, or paid for.” In what sense, if any, can this story point us towards becoming a new creation?
In the first place, recognize the fact that when the Bible says, “In Christ we are a new creation,” most of us do a little internal translation. We hear those words and ask, “How can I become a new creation? How can I reach my full potential? How can I achieve my personal best? How can I maximize my self-development? The byword of our culture is, “Be All You Can Be.”
I saw the fruit of this self-potential culture on display last week, at the Norwell High School Talent Show. It was wonderful! I couldn’t believe the level of talent on display: singers; dancers; baton twirlers; jazz musicians; classical musicians; even a bagpiper! The punk rock group I could have done without, but hey…the point is, these kids are developing their gifts and talents in marvelous ways, and we are all enriched by it. A lot of good comes out in a culture where we focus on helping each child achieve their personal best.
The Bible has a different point of view. The Bible understands that each of us is unique and beautiful, but that is only a secondary fact of life. The first fact is this: We were made to love each other. We were made to be in community together. In Christ we are a new creation, the people who find our self-fulfillment in mutual servanthood.
Did you read the Upper Room story for Wednesday? A pastor in Tennessee tells how a 93-year-old woman in his church lost her husband. He had an appointment he could not break, and so he asked a lifelong member of the church to visit her in his place and let her know he would be there that evening. The man explained the pastor’s dilemma and apologized for him. The woman looked up at her old friend and said, “Don’t worry. You’re better than the preacher. You’re the church.”
Pastors love stories like that. They love it when people show they understand that they are the church. The Tennessee pastor chose this text to go along with his story. It’s from First Peter: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” There is no longer a separate priesthood, going through rituals on your behalf and making you right with God. We are the priesthood, “the priesthood of all believers”. And all of us together make the world right with God, by our prayers, our service, and our mutual love.
So what does all this have to do with Martha and Mary? Simply this. If we are to be this new creation together, this royal priesthood, we have to break out of old patterns of behavior. The highest priority must be to listen to the Word. Martha is gently but firmly being told that she has got it wrong. How frustrating and offensive! She was doing the work, the practical caring and in the process giving herself fully to the task - which is then interpreted as fussing around. Poor Martha! It is time for Martha to go on strike!
In fact, it is time for Martha to go on strike. She should go on strike and sit down next to her sister. That’s what Jesus is telling her! For part of the message of the Word is that everyone is to be included and no one is to be left aside trapped in a role that prevents them from participation. Martha is being encouraged to abandon a role in which she is being held captive: to serve the needs of others even at her own expense. She is being challenged to leave behind the stance which says, ‘If I don’t do it, no one else will!’ She doesn’t have to ‘play mother’ any more. As long as she does, some people are not likely to grow up and she will be likely to carry a resentful sense of not being all she can be. Not until she abandons that role will the community be challenged to take seriously that in the kingdom of God, everybody takes a turn doing the dishes, and everybody gets to sit at the feet of Jesus, hearing the Word of life. Workplaces would be better if everyone took a turn making the coffee. Marriages would be better if everyone took a turn with the diapers. But in the kingdom of God this is not an intriguing option. It is the command of our Lord Jesus: “See, I am washing your feet,” he says at the Last Supper. “You do likewise. Wash one another’s feet. Love each other, as I have loved you (John 13: 12-15).”
We then, are becoming a new creation together. We are discovering our full potential by washing the feet, the diapers, and the dishes, for each other. When everyone washes, no one is higher or lower, no one is better or worse. Jesus, the Lord of all, is the servant of all. We are to serve each other, as he has served us. So with all the dishes cleaned together, and all the babies in clean diapers, we can all sit down together at the feet of the Lord who loves us. There won’t be any chores to distract us because we all took on our full share of the chores. We can sit at the feet of Jesus, as brothers and sisters of equal dignity, and equal beauty, to hear what he has to say to us: “You are my chosen ones, my holy nation. Proclaim my Good News to the world, by the way you serve and love one another.”