Sunday, August 14, 2011

Who we eat with & why it so important

This morning's gospel is one of those texts that offers listeners numerous opportunities to reflect upon. For example, a person can focus on Jesus' denouncement of ancient Jewish purity codes. He obviously wasn't as concerned with public health issues as the Pharisees but he accurately describes where the root of human evil resides, in a person's selfish, destructive, and degrading vices. Certainly, one could also seek to unpack the basis for Jesus' rude treatment of the Syrophoenician/Canaanite women. Pastor and homiletics professor Barbara K. Lundblad properly states that ... "We’ll do almost anything to make Jesus who we want him to be. But Matthew doesn’t clean up this story. Matthew dares to give us a very human Jesus and he paints a specific picture of this woman. She is a Canaanite woman. She is not one of Jesus’ people."

The point that I became most interested with was (is) the multiple nuances around the term "Canaanite." Canaanites were the polytheistic religious inhabitants of the Levant region prior to the Israelites arrival in the land. Tyre was a cosmopolitan seaport were the Canaanites (Phoenicians) prospered and traded a variety of goods and services with people from all over the Mediterranean Basin, including a unique and costly purple Canaanite cloth. The woman that impacts Jesus' understanding of his mission to redeem humanity is much more complex than a simple peasant woman with a sick daughter. She is conceptually and practically much more dynamic than that imagery. She represents a historical group of people as well as a urban, socioeconomic individual who is vastly different than the Torah observant disciples traveling with Jesus. Her "line of work" may or may not have been suspect.

I mention all of these facts because it's apparent that the people we encounter who differ from us potentially offer the most profound and life-changing lessons for our consideration. It's tough to travel to a different place or neighborhood and comfortably interact with people. It's even more awkward when food is involved. Eating is such a life-giving human behavior and humans have inculcated all sorts of eating rituals and morals. Nonetheless, it's very easy to assume that our way of doing things, including the construction of our theologies regarding God and our "neighbors" are right when we only possess our comprehension of such doctrines and disciplines. We become much more entrenched in our ways of thinking and being when our experience is the only one that we know. Matthew literally has to move Jesus and his disciples out of Galilee and into Canaan in order to get this point across. The question for us remains, will we allow ourselves to be similarly moved.

It's become clear to me in just a couple of days that Cincinnati, is a city of neighborhoods. It's a terrific place to drive around and enjoy. I look forward to meeting people and eating food in Over The Rhine, Wyoming, and Clifton. I'm very much still a visitor. I don't know all of the various cultural nuances in this place. I'm however confident that people who live in one of these neighborhoods may not be familiar with some of the cultural particularities of people who live in another neighborhood less than 10 miles away. Apparently, mistakenly calling a "West-sider" an "East-sider" can be very detrimental to one's career or well being. It's interesting to think about how such rivalries have tormented and degraded relationships between people and groups of differing religious faiths.

The Canaanite Woman instructs Jesus and us that we can expand our perceptions of God and our own purpose a great deal when we are willing to take risks by eating and associating with someone who doesn't come from our neighborhood. We can also be a "change-agent" for others when we invite the Holy Spirit to offer the gifts of kindness, patience, and compassion that exist in our hearts. These are the Spirit's gifts which are best represented by a Christ-centered approach to life that offers communion that is invitational rather than conflictual. It's also important to remember that words often mean more than they seem, especially when they are not our own to define.

Blessings Along The Way,

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Reporting the News

Wow, I haven't blogged in a month. I didn't realize that it's been so long since I last posted some "news" here.

It's true that a fair amount has personally been going on for me in that time. I returned to New Jersey for a week and arranged for my household goods to be packed as well as began my "good-bye" process with friends and neighbors in Asbury Park and at St. George's By The River. My companion and I then traveled to Chautauqua for a "Brigadoon-like" week. We really had a wonderful time listening to terrific speakers such as David Ignatius and James Woolsey. Tony Campolo is a brilliant and humorous preacher. Alexander Gavrylyuk is probably the finest pianist that I've ever hear perform in person. Pink Martini is worth seeing if you ever get the chance as well. I loved all of it, especially when Howie+ and I were able to preside and preach with one another at Chapel of The Good Shepherd.

Then, it was time to come back to the "real world." I had a week where I wrapped up what has been a wonder-full, educational, and cherished time @ St. G's. There are people there that I'm sure I will not see again. Death happens regardless of where our vocations take us. There are other good and kind souls there that I pray I will spend more time with in the months and years to come. My last sermon in that place was heart-felt, emotional, and spoke of my hope that those Christians will continue to share Jesus Christ's gospel there. I love those people and believe that the Kingdom of Heaven will continue to be revealed there.

I next traveled to Cincinnati and towards my new call at St. James - Cincinnati. They are wonderful, friendly, and faithful Christians. Vacation Bible School (VBS) "Beach Blast" was a great success. I'm hopeful that that event is indicative of the energy and resources we're going to place upon our Sunday School and youth activities.
I can't wait to get started! My prayer is that we will feed people, neighbors, and one another even as God feeds us and beckons us to accomplish Christ's work, prayer, and play there. You should get to know and like these Episcopalians too, if you don't already.

Anyhow, that's most of my personal news; information that seems almost irrelevant in comparison to what's going on in the world around us. High Anxiety exists in the markets. Standard and Poors (S&P) has downgraded the U.S. debt despite a $2 Trillion dollar accounting error. The Cincinnati Reds were in a losing streak going into today's game. Seriously, the civil strife and war going on in the Middle East is very depressing. It is, as Howie+ alluded to this morning in his sermon at St. Peter's Episcopal Church - Peekskill, difficult to even pay attention to the headlines anymore.

Such indifference or denial however, does not make the headlines any less "real." The storms of life are as consequential for us as they were for the disciples in the boat on a scary early morning. Perhaps St. Peter provides us a worthwhile way to understand our best means for staying focused on what's happening, whether it be world news or personal transition. Reach out your hands to Jesus and don't be afraid to ask for help. It's impossible to avoid waves of chaos, tragedy, and desperation on the sea of mortal life. However, a person doesn't need to drown. The eternal and incarnational God is constantly present and supportive. Christians believe that Jesus Christ will never leave us "comfortless."

Belief in God, one another, and ourselves is perhaps the greatest virtue that we can possess, especially in times of ever-increasing unemployment, uncertainty, and insecurity. The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton blogged a few months ago: I know that the aphorism "If you always give, you will always have" sounds paradoxical, but I believe there is great wisdom in it. Furthermore, I believe this wisdom is the antidote - the 'honey' - to the caustic brew of fear and primal rage that have combined to pollute our cultural environment.

Giving is not only about charity. It's about letting go as well. It's about understanding that we have some degree of control over what's going on and about us. We don't always have a great deal of control though. We can't make our household goods show up exactly when we want or get the job that we've always desired. We should be grateful and generous when those events do occur. Moreover, We can believe and act as if God possesses a desirable, violence-free outcome for us and all who dwell on this planet. We can reach out our spiritual and physical hands to Jesus with the hope that he and his disciples will come to our aid. We should respond if and when we can when people seek our assistance.

The turbulent seas of life are not the end of life on this planet, at least not yet. I think that we need to set aside our fears as best as we can, climb out of the security of our boats albeit not by ourselves. There is work to be done, gifts to be shared, blessings to be received, and Jesus' eternally strong hands and heart to hold us, especially when we keep our faithful and hopeful eyes on his.

Blessings Along The Way (It's good to be back blogging :-))