in Harvey’s aftermath, a Christian prayer

hurricane eye

O God, the Author of creation, thus, Nature’s wind and rain, and Source of our solace and strength; now that Hurricane Harvey hath done horrific harm, we pray You, by and through Your Spirit, to grant perfect peace to the dead, patience and perseverance for all who suffered loss, the power of purpose for all – local, regional, and national governmental agencies and charitable organizations – in the administration of timely and necessary aid, and for all of us, the promise of prayer that You hear and heed our cries for Your grace and mercy; through Jesus Christ. Amen.

a lesson learned

Epiphany 1-22-17a sermon, based on Matthew 15.10-28, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, August 20, 2017

I am a man. Though, as an African American intimately, painfully familiar with the societal deprivations experienced by people of color, both in human chronicles and in my own history, I, however sensitive and sympathetic I may and can be, cannot know firsthand the strivings and sufferings of our sisters of our human family who, from time immemorial unto this day, have had their dreams deferred and denied.

For women, in every arena or field of endeavor – athletics and the sciences, politics and the military, commerce and the church, medicine and the law, the entertainment and service industries – patriarchal hegemonies remain; pay equity still an ideal and glass ceilings still firmly in place, some hardly clear, but rather cloudy, opaque, leaving the women below unable to behold as possibilities the riches of opportunities long relished as realities by the men above.

This comes to my mind and heart, my soul and spirit as I reflect on the encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman.

Christ and the Canaanite Woman, Ludovico Carracci (1555-1619)

Jesus enters the district of Tyre and Sidon. Her territory. And she, with the urgency of gravest necessity, greets him with a shout, “Lord, Son of David!”

Incredible!

This non-Jewish woman recognizes who Jesus is, demonstrating a greater awareness of his messianic identity than his disciples have shown so far…

Even more, she, for the sake of her love for her daughter, captive in the thrall of demonic-possession, dares beg the mercy of this Jewish messiah; her very request expressing her belief that he can do something and hoping he will

Still more, she, as a non-Jew and a woman, in the audacity of her appeal has stepped over, kicked over the even then ancient barriers of race and gender, status and authority that bar her from receiving any help.

Jesus, a Jewish man and rabbi, observing those time-honored boundaries, says nothing, need say nothing. His disciples, men, no matter their societal stations – most as fishermen, one a hated tax collector, another a religious zealot – surely standing higher than she, beg Jesus to “send her away.” Jesus answers, and it’s not clear he is speaking to her, sharing only his ultra-exclusionary understanding that his mission and ministry are intended only for Israel.

She persists, adding to her words of respect, “Lord” and “Son of David” a universally understood deed of deference, kneeling at Jesus’ feet; again asking, begging, “Lord, help me.”

Jesus responds with a demeaning word of cultural difference and distance, likening the woman and her daughter to dogs hungering underfoot at the table.

She persists, voicing her belief, her confidence that even a crumb of the mercy of Jesus can conquer the demon laying claim to her daughter’s soul.

Jesus, praising her faith, finally grants her desire.

This encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman is a bold witness to the persistent power of faith, especially in response to the rejections of silence and dismissal of the status quo.

I also see that even Jesus, who taught that what is internal, not external, bears the fruit of wickedness, had to be shown how not to fall prey to his perspectives, his prejudices about the outward features of culture and class, race and gender. Bless you, Jesus, for having the humility to listen and learn.

May all who follow Jesus, in every arena and field of endeavor, athletics and the sciences, politics and the military, commerce and the church, medicine and the law, the entertainment and service industries, no longer look on “the other” as “other” and, thus, no longer offer crumbs of mercy, if even that, but rather invite all to have a chosen seat at the table.

 

Illustration: Christ and the Canaanite Woman, Ludovico Carracci (1555-1619)

Of life in the still-Christian South (a retired cleric’s occasional reflections)…

Keep Calm and…

I love T-shirts. I’ve never been flashy (save, perhaps, for an emotive personality!) in dress; preferring an über-casual mien. And now, in retirement, except for Sundays and special occasions, rarely will I so much as don slacks and a laundered shirt; favoring jeans and, yes, again, T-shirts.

And though tending toward an understated appearance, eschewing the display of labels or slogans, this T-shirt, showing all the signs of repeated wearing and washing, is my favorite.

my fav T-shirt

For a variety of reasons…

It plays on the theme of the British government’s World War II word of inspiration, Keep Calm and Carry On; meant to bolster the morale of the English people under the gravest threat posed by the German aerial blitzkrieg. Nowadays, multiple are the words following Keep Calm and…, ranging from the wondrously sublime to the supremely humorous; all advocating a serene and steely perseverance in the face of trial and tribulation.[1]

And it bears the image of the fish; long a symbol for Christianity.[2] As such, it proclaims to others without my having to say a word that I am a Christian.

And it completes Keep Calm and… with Love Your Neighbor, which, further in keeping with the Christian lore I hold dear, is the second part of Jesus’ summation of the Law, generally, the Torah and, specifically, the 10 Commandments.[3] As such, it expresses my daily conscious intent to love[4] my neighbor, who, in the light of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, is everyone.

And it sparks immediate responses and impromptu conversations with my neighbors, whether known or unknown, of all manners of humankind and in all places where I go…

I’ve been approached by Jews, Muslims, and Christians who, in a variety of ways, remark of their theological and ethical identification with the summons to love neighbors rooted in the Torah, the Koran, and the Bible…

I’ve been asked by some what I believe it means to love my neighbor, which, on one occasion, in a grocery store aisle, led to the inquirer’s confession of his struggle to love and forgive a relative whose words and actions had inflicted grave harm…

I’ve been hailed by folk, all strangers, walking by me on the street, once from a lady, smiling and waving to me, driving by in her car, with this astounding (at the first occurrence, but, now, it’s come again and again) greeting: “I love you, too!”

I treasure each and all of these encounters and interactions, especially given my awareness and sensitivity to what I consider the bitter-and-blaming-difference-disparaging-either-you’re-for-me-or-against-me zeitgeist of our days and times.

As T-shirts and banners of self-declaration go, Keep Calm and Love Your Neighbor is my favorite.

 

Footnotes:

[1] For example, Keep Calm and…Be Honest, Be Yourself, Call Batman, Dab On ‘Em, Dream On, Eat A Cookie, Game On, Go To Hogwarts, Hakuna Matata, Innovate, Just Do It, Make A Change, Never Grow Up, Party All Night, Press CTRL ALT DET, Stay Strong, Use The Force… The possibilities are endless!

[2]The fish (or, in the Greek, ichthys) was adopted as a Christian symbol prior to the 2nd century of the Common Era; some suggest as a secret sign of identification during periods of the state persecution of Christians. Through the 3rd and 4th centuries, as it grew in popular recognition and use, the letters (i – ch – th – y – s) were viewed as forming an acronym for the phrase, Iēsous Christos, Theou Yios, Sōtēr, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.

[3] A lawyer asked Jesus a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22.35-40).

[4] By “love”, I do not mean my expression of kindly affection, which arises from how I feel about others, but rather, for me, always something more spiritual and substantial; that is, exercising my Spirit-bestowed power in active benevolence toward and for others. Do I fail in doing this? Yes. Usually when I am hurt and angry, and then allow my not-so-considerate-feelings toward another to get in the way of my loving that person. Nevertheless, Jesus’ call to love my neighbor ever rings in my mind and heart, soul and spirit, summoning me to act.

a-Lenten-prayer-a-day, day 30, Tuesday, April 4, 2017

my-hands-2-27-17Note: As a personal, spiritual discipline, I write a prayer for each of the forty days of Lent; each petition focusing on a theme, truly, relating to a care or concern weighing on my mind and heart, at times, vexing my soul and spirit…

On willing one thing (again): O Lord, I see more clearly, though not…though ne’er perfectly, what Your Son Jesus taught and meant by “striving first for Your Kingdom and Your Righteousness.”[1]

Still, O Lord, You, Who hast made and sustains my life in this world, know the frailty of my flesh – my susceptibility to the interruptions and distractions of my days, the corruption of my perceptions in my fixation on the thing in front of me, which rarely is of ultimate importance, and, foremost, I must confess, my passions for my self-directed will and self-interested ways.

O Lord, grant me, by Your Spirit, perseverance at all times and in all times of prosperity and adversity, wellness and sickness, strength and weakness to want and to will the one thing of seeking to do Your will. Amen.

Footnote:

[1] Matthew 6.33

a-Lenten-prayer-a-day, day 21, Friday, March 24, 2017

my-hands-2-27-17Note: As a personal, spiritual discipline, I write a prayer for each of the forty days of Lent; each petition focusing on a theme, truly, relating to a care or concern weighing on my mind and heart, at times, vexing my soul and spirit…

On waiting and persevering in prayer: O Jesus, Word of God, Word of Life, continuously, rhythmically, I call out, I cry out to You with every pulsation, exhalation, and contemplation; and I, as my heart for the next beat, my lungs for the next breath, my mind for the next thought, wait for You, trusting, by faith that as Your Word stands forever,[1] that as You are forever, You will answer. Amen.

Footnote:

[1] My reference to Matthew 24.35: Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away.”

persevering hope

Washington Diocese of the Episcopal Church

a sermon, based on Luke 21.5-19, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 26th Sunday after Pentecost, November 13, 2016

Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem, the Holy City. They stand near the temple, God’s House, the most revered site of ancient Judaism. Some look up, marveling at its majesty.

a-model-of-the-temple-of-jerusalem

The temple, history testifies, was magnificent, yet laden with terrible contradiction. King Herod the Great, a despotic puppet of the Roman Empire, spent massive amounts of capital to build and to beautify the temple. Thus, as a testament to the grandeur of God and Herod, the temple, all at once, was hallowed and unholy.

Jesus prophesies its destruction, alarming those who hate Herod, yet revere the temple and, even more, the God it glorifies. In anguish, they ask, “When will this terrible moment be and how will we know?” Jesus breathlessly speaks of natural calamities, political and social chaos, internecine warfare, betrayals, persecutions, martyrdom, and then, strangely, a promise of peace amid the strife…

This last, a reminder of the necessity of perseverance in trying times…

An indispensable message for our day…

This past Tuesday, we, the American people, elected our 45th president. Or did we? Was it not only some of us? For this election was the culmination, perhaps only the next stage of a historically divisive campaign season, distinguished, tarnished by shocking elements of the vilification and demonization of persons and positions, the shattering of relationships among families and friends, neighborhoods and communities, the splintering of any façade of national unity, and perchance, for some, by some, whether in praise or in protest, setting aside our vaunted inauguration traditions of upholding our world-respected peaceful transition of power. Though not on the cosmic scale of Jesus’ prophecy, nevertheless it was, is deeply disturbing, highly destructive with long-lasting (unending?) consequences.

I fret, I fear for America. As I pray for our perseverance and the preservation of our national fabric, I find solace and strength in scripture.

the-destruction-of-the-temple-of-jerusalem-1867-francesco-hayez-1791-1882

Reading on in Luke’s gospel, Jesus continues, speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem, all fleeing in terror, yet imploring his listeners, as God’s faithful people, to lift their heads in expectation of their redemption.[1]

simeons-prophecy-to-mary-1628-rembrandt-harmenszoon-van-rijn-1606-1669

Reflecting on the beginning of Luke’s gospel, I recall that moment, eight days after the birth of Jesus, when a thankful Mary and Joseph, according to custom, brought their infant son to the temple. Two aged souls, Simeon and Anna, having waited long for the fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation, witnessed, welcomed the presentation of Jesus as a sign that the time had come.[2]

Throughout human history, Simeon’s and Anna’s faithful, hopeful watching for the coming of the Lord has been emulated, particularly when the horizon was dark with the gloom of disaster, the doom of defeat.

I think of generations of slaves who died longing to breathe free, who left a legacy of hope fulfilled by those who tasted the fruit of the Emancipation Proclamation, and who gave birth to Martin Luther King, Jr., who, on the night before he was assassinated, spoke of his hope for something yet to be; a hope not then, and not yet fully realized: “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop…I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But…we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land! So I’m happy…I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”[3]

I think of generations of our Native American sisters and brothers who for centuries have decried the long-on-the-books liability of the dignity of human equality charged and yet unpaid against the account of American justice. Still, those of this day, continue to hope.

I think of the words of one of my favorite anthems that give glorious voice to the exquisite anguish of waiting in ardent hope for something not yet come: “Lord of feasting and of hunger, give us eyes to see your bread in the miracle of wonder, till all tables will be fed…See the silent ones who wait when the blessing seems too late.”[4]

Whenever the day is dark and the night darker still, Jesus calls us to lift our heads, look around, and see, yes, our fears, yet also that “great cloud of witnesses”[5] who lived and died in hope of beholding their salvation. Thus, we know that we never hope alone!

 

Photograph: me preaching at The Washington National Cathedral, Friday, January 27, 2006 (by Walt Calahan)

Illustrations:

A model of the Jerusalem Temple

The destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem (1867), Francesco Hayez (1791-1882), Accademia of Venice. Note: In tragic fulfillment of Jesus’ prophesy, in 70 CE, the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman army during the First Jewish-Roman War.

Simeon’s Prophecy to Mary (1628), Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669). Note: Mary and Joseph appear surprised when Simeon tells them, “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel…” (Luke 2.34). The prophet Anna, “at that moment…began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2.38).

Footnotes:

[1] See Luke 21.20-36, especially verse 28.

[2] See Luke 2.21-38.

[3] From I’ve Been to the Mountaintop, delivered at Mason Temple (Church of God in Christ Headquarters), Memphis, Tennessee, on April 3, 1968.

[4] From Lord of Feasting and of Hunger, Herbert F. Brokering (1926-2009)

[5] The Epistle to the Hebrews 12.2, referencing the models of faith, specifically, in the Hebrew Bible (mentioned in Hebrews 11) and, generally, all those of past generations.