Archive for the ‘Loving Our Neighbors’ Tag

Who Is My Neighbor? Who Is Your Neighbor?   1 comment

Above:  Gustave Dore’s engraving of Jonah at the end Chapter 2

(The Dore engravings are in the public domain.)

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Jonah 1:1-2:1, 11 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

The Word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai:

Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim judgment upon it; for their Wickedness has come before Me.

Jonah, however, started out to flee to Tarshish from the LORD’s service.  He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish.  He paid the fare and went aboard to sail with the others to Tarshish, away from the service of the LORD.

But the LORD cast a mighty wind upon the sea, and such a great tempest came upon the sea that the ship was in danger of breaking up.  In their fright, the sailors cried out, each to his own god; and they flung the ship’s cargo overboard to make it lighter for them.  Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the vessel where he lay down and fell asleep.

How can you be sleeping so soundly!  Up, call upon your god!  Perhaps the god will be kind to us and we will not perish.

The men said to one another,

Let us cast lots and find out on whose account this misfortune has come upon us.

They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.  They said to him,

Tell us, you who have brought this misfortune upon us, what is your business? Where have you come from?  What is your country, and of what people are you?

He replied,

I am a Hebrew.  I worship the LORD, the God of Heaven, who made both sea and land.

The men were greatly terrified, and they asked him,

What have you done?

And when the men learned that that he was fleeing from the service of the LORD–for so he told them–they said to him,

What must we do to make the sea calm around us?

For the sea was growing more and more stormy.  He answered,

Heave me overboard, and the sea will calm down for you; for I know that this terrible storm came upon you on my account.

Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to regain the shore, but could not, for the sea was growing more and more stormy about them.  Then they cried out to the LORD:

Oh, please, LORD, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life.  Do not hold us guilty of killing an innocent person!  For You, O LORD, by Your will, have brought this about.

And they heaved Jonah overboard, and the sea stopped raging.

The men feared the LORD greatly; they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and they made vows.

The LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah; and Jonah remained in the fish’s belly three days and three nights.

The LORD commanded the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon dry land.

Psalm 130 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Out of the depths have I called to you, O LORD;

LORD, hear my voice;

let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.

2  If you , LORD, were to note what is done amiss,

O Lord, who could stand?

3  For there is forgiveness with you;

therefore you shall be feared.

4  I wait for the LORD; my soul waits for him;

in his word is my hope.

5  My soul waits for the LORD,

more than watchmen in the morning,

more than watchmen in the morning.

6  O Israel, wait for the LORD,

for with the LORD there is mercy;

7  With him there is plenteous redemption,

and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

Luke 10:25-37 (The Jerusalem Bible):

There was a lawyer who, to disconcert him [Jesus], stood up and said to him,

Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?

He said to him,

What is written in the Law”  What do you read there?

He replied,

You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.

Jesus said,

You have answered right; do this and life is yours.

Old Jerusalem-Jericho Road

Image Source = he.wiki

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:OldRoadFromJerusalemToJericho.jpg)

But the man was anxious to justify himself and said to Jesus,

And who is my neighbor?

Jesus replied,

A man was once on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of brigands; they took all he had, beat him and then made off, leaving him half dead.  Now a priest happened to be travelling down the same road, but when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  In the same way a Levite who came to the place saw him, and passed by on the other side.

Rembrandt Van Rijn’s Painting of the Good Samaritan

(Also in the Public Domain)

But a Samaritan traveller who came upon him was moved with compassion when he saw him.  He went up and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them.  He then lifted him on to his mount, carried him to the inn and looked after him.  Next day, he took out two denarii and handed them to the innkeeper.  ”Look after him,” he said, “and on my way back I will make good any extra expense you have.”

Which of these three, do you think, proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the brigands’ hands?

He replied,

The one who took pity on him.

Jesus said to him,

Go, and do the same yourself.

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The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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I learn from Newtonian physics that, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  This rule explains much of history, as well.  Thus it came to pass that, in the Persian period of Judean history, a measure of exclusivism and hyper-legalism characterized much of Palestinian Judaism.  This was the opposite of pre-Exilic laxity.

The Book of Jonah, a work of religious fiction, contains much truth.  It is a satire on Persian period exclusivism and hyper-legalism.  On its face it is set in when there were still two Jewish kingdoms and an Assyrian Empire.  God tells Jonah to pronounce judgment on Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrian Empire.  As the narrative progresses we learn that the judgment leads to repentance then God relenting, but let us return to Chapter 1.  Jonah does not want to travel to Nineveh and pronounce judgment, so he attempts unsuccessfully to flee from God and the mission God has for him.

I will return to the story of Jonah in Chapters 1 and 2 after I deal with the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

The Jeusalem-Jericho road in Jesus’ day was a dangerous, meandering road over terrain which dropped greatly in elevation relative to sea level (from 2,300 feet above sea level to 1,300 feet below that standard) in less than twenty miles.  Thus it provided many natural hiding places for robbers to hide.  Sometimes a thief played dead while his fellow brigands waited for a kind-hearted person to stop.  So the safest way to travel this road was as part of a group.  Many commentators have remarked about how foolish the man was to travel this road alone.  Yet, if he was a fool, the same criticism ought to apply to the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan traveler, too.

Yet a Samaritan–a somewhat successful one at that–who knew a certain innkeeper helped the man.  A Samaritan, a member of a despised group, acted out of compassion and placed himself at risk for someone he did not know.  He acted as a neighbor.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said in his final speech that the priest and Levite were too afraid to help the man.  (A Testament of Hope:  The Essential Writings of Martin Luther, King, Jr., edited by James M. Washington, 1986, pages 284-285)  He was correct in this analysis.  They were afraid of criminals, justifiably.  (Yet why were they traveling alone?  Am I overanalyzing this parable?)  They also feared the inability to fulfill the Temple functions to which they had devoted their lives.  But what about the man’s life?

Jesus, by making his hero a Samaritan, scandalized many listeners.  Samaritans were heretics and half-breeds.  Many orthodox Palestinian Jews of our Lord’s time despised Samaritans en masse.  So, to grasp the full flavor of the parable, replace the word “Samaritan” with something else.  Many Europeans harbor prejudices against Gypsies, so imagine the Parable of the Good Gypsy.  It is popular in many U.S. political circles to despise immigrants (especially illegal ones) and people of obviously foreign extraction.  So imagine the Parable of the Good Hispanic, the Good Latino, or the Good Illegal Immigrant.  Islamophobia is on the rise in West, so imagine the Parable of the Good Muslim.  During World War II in the United States the Parable of the Good Japanese-American would have angered many people.  My point is this:  Every person, including one who belongs to a despised group, is my neighbor–and yours, too.  Jesus says to act like a good neighbor.

What did Jonah fear?  Perhaps he feared the loss of identity.  Assyria was a great and feared foe of the Kingdom of Israel.  Imagine a twentieth-century retelling of the Book of Jonah.  God tells Jonah, an American, to travel to Moscow, capital city of the Soviet Union, to pronounce judgment and grant the Soviets a chance to avoid divine retribution.  Would not some professing American Christians, including Jonah, have said, “Let them burn”?

Who are we without our enemies?  How do we understand ourselves in the absence of the others, those who are unlike us?  Are we still good guys when the bad guys repent?  This delicate politics of identity plays a part in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, too.  Yet Jesus offers a new identity:  neighbor.  May we embrace it.  And, when Jesus makes us uncomfortable, may we embrace that discomfort, too.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 25, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARK THE EVANGELIST, MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/04/25/week-of-proper-22-monday-year-1/

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Regarding Devotions   2 comments

Old First United Methodist Church, Seattle, Washington

Image Source = Joe Mabel

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Seattle_First_Methodist_14.jpg)

Confirmation of This Identification Available from The Seattle Times

(http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/thearts/2008895369_zart23daniels.html)

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Methodism began as a revival movement in The Church of England.  Along the way it abandoned The Book of Common Prayer, even though U.S. Methodist Communion rituals prior to the 1989 United Methodist Hymnal were based on the English Prayer Book tradition.  My point is this:  I, raised a United Methodist, converted to The Episcopal Church in 1991 and embraced the Prayer Book.  Yes, as a friend of an acquaintance stated the case a few months ago, I left the church John Wesley made for the church that made John Wesley.  Now, when I say “Prayer Book” to most United Methodists I encounter, I receive mostly confused looks.

The Methodist Church (1939-1968), a predecessor of The United Methodist Church (1968-present), issued its first Book of Worship in 1945 and the second BOW twenty years later.  Each volume was for public and private use, much like the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.  Yet Methodism’s character was already forged; it did not become a Prayer Book tradition.  So the Book of Worship lived in church offices, not pews.  The United Methodist Book of Worship (1992) is likewise a mystery to many, if not most, United Methodists.

Among my many prized thrift-store book section finds is the Companion of The Book of Worship, Edited for the Commission on Worship for The United Methodist Church by William F. Dunkle, Jr., and Joseph D. Quillian, Jr. (Nashville, TN:  Abingdon Press, 1970).  M. Lawrence Snow, then pastor at Community United Methodist Church, Poughkeepsie, New York, contributed the chapter about using the BOW with home and small groups.  Yes, Rev. Snow was a ritualist.  During Internet searches I discovered his fondness for Ash Wednesday ashes here (http://www.nytimes.com/1993/02/24/nyregion/for-more-protestants-new-rite-for-lent-growing-number-congregations-accept-use.html) and his 2009 obituary here (http://www.nyac.com/obituaries/detail/12).   In four paragraphs on page 181 of the Companion Snow analyzed what he considered “Problems of Methodist Worship.”  He wrote:

Methodists especially should not ignore the public implications of their private devotions.  (As already indicated, “public” means both the services of the church and the affairs of the world.)

On one hand, the end of the class meeting and the decline of the prayer meeting in Methodism have further loosed the ties of intimate discipline and personal devotion from the public services (work and worship) of the church.  On the other hand, pivotal events, such as the “wet-dry controversy destroyed in the minds of many supporters of Prohibition any sense of the proportionate importance of social [i.e., public, worldly] issues” other than pietistic ones like abstinence.

One of the consequences in recent times has been a dilution of Methodist notions of worship and particularly “devotions.”  Our devotional literature is deprived; our devotional practices are in a state of disrepair.  They are individualistic, subjective, and faintly effeminate.  They tend to be overly moralistic, “psychological”; sometimes an acrostic of mystical classics.  They seem artificial because they are not public; they are unchurchly and unworldly.  They are private to the point of unreality.

Interestingly, the sermon, which Protestants have come to regard as the most important part of public worship, often mirrors the congregation’s deprived spirituality.  Widely popular preaching deals with how persons can “get along” and “be good.”   These themes narrow the responsibilities of worship and the humanity of the worshiper.  They make God and his world too small.

I am not certain how Methodist worship in 1969-1970 was “faintly effeminate,” according to Snow, nor do I find “faintly effeminate” worship bothersome or offensive.  As for the rest, I conclude that Snow did not find the rise of contemporary worship and “seven-eleven” praise choruses (ones with seven words one sings eleven times) comforting.  I consider them even worse than annoying; they are theological tide pools.

Snow did grasp correctly the shortcomings of pietism and Jesus-and-meism.  The world, you see, is not the enemy camp, the damned domain of Satan for which you and I have no responsibility.  No, the world is our neighborhood.  We and our forebears, by our actions and inactions, have made it what it is, for better and for worse.  We are supposed to be lights to the nations, as well as our neighbors and coworkers and friends and acquaintances, et cetera.  Do we put our lamps under a bushels, or do we let them shine?  Do we focus so much on pietistic obsessions, such as alcohol and sex, that we excuse, actively or passively, economic and racial injustice?  When we say that we love God fully and our neighbors as ourselves, do we try to act accordingly?  Or do we content ourselves with mere words?

I have begun a multi-year practice of writing devotional blog posts, according to lectionaries.  Many of these posts flow from the conviction that we will transform the world, or at least our corner of it, by our actions or inactions, and that we ought to do this for the good.  These devotions exist at three blogs, which, together, cover the church year:  ADVENT, CHRISTMAS AND EPIPHANY DEVOTIONS (http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/), LENTEN AND EASTER DEVOTIONS (http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/), and ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS (http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/).  Pondering texts and writing devotions is a great spiritual exercise for me as I try, with more success on some days than on others, not, in the words of Rev. Snow, to “make God and his world too small.”

As for the current state of United Methodist devotional life, I defer to the judgment of those better informed than I am.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 9, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT COLUMBA OF IONA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY AND ABBOT

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Published originally at SUNDRY THOUGHTS OF KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR