Today, the day of yet another tragedy here in Colorado, this one at the hand of someone who somehow became “overcome by evil,” read the Office reading for today Romans 12:9-21. As with all the tragedy those of us who inhabit this world at this time have witnessed, perhaps fallen victim to, it just doesn’t make any sense. In this portion of his letter to the Christians of Rome, Paul writes: “Love genuinely, hate evil, hold on to good and one another“ … and this, its tough, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.” What happened to the shooter, what evil did he fall victim to that he would in turn imagine and set loose more evil rather than crushing it under his foot and choosing the path toward good … what did evil do to him? Those of us saddened and sympathetic, wishing to be affectionate and compassionate as we go about our day … we can honor good in the face of evil by “Rejoicing in hope, be patient in suffering, and persevere in prayer.
Daily Bible Study
Here, at the height of summer, with many of us taking or preparing to take vacations or some sort of simple pleasure, unscheduled daily down-time, things are “bright and beautiful, the living is easy,” this day’s daily Office reading is Matthew’s telling of how Jesus’ human existence began to fall apart (Matthew 26:1-16). Jesus has bombarded his disciples and anyone with ears to listen with a barrage of last minute teachings, parables, prophecy, farewells, endings and returnings. They must have began to feel a bit pestered with Jesus … if not, why would they have become “angry” when the woman anointed Jesus after hearing of his imminent death. Perhaps they were not actually concerned about the cost of her gesture, but the reckoning of what her token meant. It seems she prepared Jesus’ body for burial prematurely, but she knew he was as good as dead … he was not turning away from his pre-ordained purpose, and she wanted to thank him for giving his life then and there. They, the disciples, didn’t get it … again. Judas Iscariot got it though. Sensing that the disciples were “fed-up,” the authorities were ”geared-up,” and the crowds were “whipped-up” enough to see just how far Jesus would go he wondered how much they were all willing to pay and he started with those who were most likely willing to pay cash. What a story! Jesus was delighted with his anointing; the woman’s token proclaimed good news. Her love for him was far more precious than an alabaster jar of very costly ointment. That, we must never forget.
“What then are we to say about these (wonderful) things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31). “Jesus said to the crowds and his disciples, ‘But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!’” (Matthew 23:13). I can imagine Paul, and Jesus, almost raving, becoming unglued, waving their arms and pointing their fingers at their listeners as they try to make their point(s); Paul is worried that some feel as though they are not “good enough” for God’s wonderful grace and Jesus blames the religious authorities of his day for that separation. He claims that the “law,” which the Pharisees hold more highly than God’s “love law,” shuts the door to God’s grace in the people’s faces. Unfortunately, through the ages, the Church has also shut its doors, locked away its blessings, and sent some folks packing. Fortunately now, and hopefully throughout the age to come the Church will open its doors wider, perhaps even remove the door’s lock and hinges and bring everyone of us into honest and lasting “justice, mercy, and faith.”
“The truth is, the tax collectors and prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matthew 22:31). There he goes, Jesus, getting the priests and elders all worked up again. Better hide that bit of truth from church folk today, that God seems to favor the least and ”not so good” of society, lest they begin to wonder what’s the use in going to church, let alone the purpose in maintaining its current structure. ”Surely God wouldn’t let those people in ahead of me after all I’ve done for my church.” Jesus questioned the Temple keepers and what the Temple was up to quite often. I don’t feel as though he necessarily wanted to do away with the places of worship and their leadership as much as he wanted to make sure they understood what they were actually supposed to be and do. Imagine the leadership of your church, or The Church, huddling together to discuss a situation or challenge only to emerge and announce, “We do not know,” (verse 27). Imagine the leadership of the Episcopal Church, huddled in Indianapolis right now (for General Convention) deep in their discussions about “restructuring” the church only to emerge and proclaim, ”We do not know!” Actually, that could be good for us all given many of us in the church cling to the greater authority of the church above the authority of our life in Christ. Dismantle the authority and structure of the church and everyone, both sinners and the righteous, will see only Christ Jesus and suddenly remember “what we do not know.”
“… we boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance” (Romans 5:3). I am not going to repeat Paul’s two-sided reality of faith and Christian understanding to the young couple who just received the news that their first child suffers from a rare genetic disease that will delay her development all her life, or the young couple whose infant son continues to struggle to keep his earthly life intact following brain surgery … nor will I repeat Paul’s seemingly flippant assurance of the benefits of suffering to the parents and young wife of a recent West Point graduate (this month) an Army Ranger, deployed to Afghanistan only 3 days ago, now dead … another victim of a roadside bomb that annihilated a “bomb proof” vehicle and all who were in it on patrol … I would not offer empty sounding promises of future glory to the more than 30,000 persons here in Colorado who wait to hear if their home and belongings have been reduced to ash in the wildfires; the news of these sufferings delivered to me within the past 12 hours. No. I will not tell them that their “suffering will lead to endurance, character, and hope.” Their suffering is too raw, to real, unfair, uncalled for … unacceptable. How exactly does one empathize with that kind of suffering … “I’m so sorry, I’ll pray for you,” seems hardly enough. Jesus Christ assures us that we are accepted by him, and in his promise we live and learn and become more like him. We bear the status of “Christ in the world,” yet we fail. We enjoy the peace and grace in “God is near us,” yet we face suffering; sometimes unbearable suffering. If we remember these two-sided realities of the Christian life we will cross over to the other side; we will know hope in the face of suffering. There is a sure and certain power available to us in Christ Jesus … he lives in us through the Holy Spirit. We can endure … yes, we will.
“Will you not give us life again, that your people may rejoice in you? (Psalm 85:6, Benedixisti Domine). Today is the summer solstice; the longest day of the year and the shortest night. Every living plant is being brought to full life here in the Northern Hemisphere because of the Earth’s slight tilt toward the Sun, even though we are farther away from the Sun during the summer than in the winter. Some will find that hard to believe with several days of high 90 degree temperatures forecast for Western Colorado next week. It is hot and dry and water is in short supply, but the summer flower garden at home is going to burst into full bloom any day now. Recalling how the garden looked last winter, dead, matted to the soil, and without the slightest sign of life its return is nothing short of resurrection, new life, and glory; its a magical time, summer is. I’ve always imagined the earth coming to a skidding halt in its Northern tilt on this day, groaning under its own weight and the force of gravity to reverse its tilt back to the South, shortening the length of day and lengthening the nighttime hours … winter will come again. The garden will bloom, drop its flowers, strengthen its bulbs and roots with what green part of the plant remains until it also gives out; God is gracious to the land and its people. Life is here, life is fleeting, life is gone, life will come again … rejoice in this day, rejoice in this God.
” … go to the sea, (Peter), and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin” (Matthew 17:22-27). Poor Peter. As if giving up his life as a fisherman to follow Jesus around wasn’t enough, now Peter discovers that some fish have a coin in their mouth. I’ve always said fishing is really about “being out on the water.” Actually catching fish is a bonus. Yesterday, while fishing some local water along the Colorado River, I happened to hook and land an unusual catch for the second time in my life; a fishing rod, complete with reel, line, and lure. The first time occurred some years ago while fishing along the Shenandoah River (Virginia) with my brother and his two (then) boys; that catch was a “bait caster,” and yesterday’s odd catch yielded an ”open faced spinning reel.” Neither were in the mouth of a fish … I just happened to snag them on the line of my fly rod. Walking back to my car I met a young man from Mississippi working here in Glenwood Springs for the summer. Telling him about my luck he offered to buy the rod and reel from me, hoping to do some fishing himself. “Five bucks and its all yours,” I said. He allowed me to take his photo, handing me five dollars while holding the rod … the photo is for my brother, he’ll never believe I did it again. Under other circumstances I would have been happy to just give my new friend from Mississippi the rod and reel, but we were both so amazed at the prospects of catching two fishing rods I suppose we just had to pay “tribute” to the story. “You and me … we’ll tell this story over and over,” I said. Jesus could not define his life human life any better than purposely paying ”the temple tax” that was no doubt levied on everyone in Capernaum; render unto Caesar, indeed. But he added a divine twist by assuring Peter he would find the tax payment for both of them in the mouth of a fish … I wonder if Peter told the temple tax collector where the money came from. I didn’t bring any fish home yesterday; I released a couple. I didn’t add the rod and reel I landed to my collection. On my way to the river I stopped by the local fly fishing shop to buy something. It cost me five dollars, plus the tax.
“Lord, have mercy on my son … he suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and water” (Matthew 17:15). Although the focus of this story of Jesus’ healing of a “boy with a demon” is the disciple’s inability to cure the boy themselves, what caught my attention (this time) is the father’s telling that the boy falls into fire and water often as if the “demon” is purposely casting him toward danger. Here in Colorado this summer both fire and water are very much the topic of conversation and concern; too much of one, and not enough of the other. The lower than normal snow-pack this past winter has cast fairly the entire state (and beyond) into peril from wildfires and drought. Many towns have water-use restrictions and there’s talk of releasing “extra” water into the Colorado River from far-away reservoirs mostly to protect fish species not to mention town’s water supply; the situation has gotten that bad quickly. A large fire has already destroyed 181 homes, more than ever before in Colorado history from one fire. The spirit of the concern and conversation is our collective vulnerability … all seem to sense imminent threat. In our ”prayers of the people” at St. Barnabas we pray for ”those who serve to protect us,” specifically fire-fighters, weekly. We recently added a prayer for “moderate rain.” This week we plan to heighten our plea(s) to God and add specific prayers for protection from wildfires. Are we of ”little faith,” (vs. 20), or are we just plain scared? Probably a little of both, depending on whether one is cast in the fire’s path, or out of the path of the water. In all of it, God is very near us … assuring us that keeping our eye on God, at least a little, will save us.