Saturday, October 22, 2016

His Name Is Zacchaeus and Mine Is, Too: Lectionary Reflections on Luke 18:9-14

From 1956 to 1964, Karl Barth preached among those incarcerated in Basel. In many ways, these sermons most faithfully capture the vast volumes of theology Barth wove throughout the twentieth century. At the center of each homily, which began with prayer and concluded with the Eucharist, was the confession that all of us stood in need of God’s grace. Here is where Barth found common ground with those he considered fellow congregants. 
“Has [God] really made things right for all of us? Even for the most miserable, the most afflicted and the most embittered of human beings? Yes! Even for the most grievous offenders? Yes! Even for the godless- or those pretending to be godless, as may be the case with some of your fellow-prisoners who declined to be with us this morning? Yes! Jesus Christ has made things right for them and for us all. He is willing to do it time and again” (Ascension Day 1956).* 
Barth recognized the mercy and grace of God were the great equalizers and levelers for all of humanity. In confession, he recognized each of us plays some part in the world gone rogue. The forgiveness of Christ then sets us free to view our neighbors, whether they are behind bars, a political debate podium, or this blogpost, through the lens of the gospel and God's promised reconciliation of all things. 

In Luke 18, Jesus illustrates a likely foundation for this theological and practical center through the contrasted prayers of a Pharisee and an unnamed tax collector. The piety of the Pharisee elevates the self at the expense of neighbor and constructs a faulty religious wall of ignorance, "God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector."

But he was just like them. And so are we.

So Jesus shares the contrasted prayer he may have personally heard from an unnamed tax collector, "God, be merciful to me a sinner." 

The humbled other confesses his need for God's intervention in the midst of human brokenness. The "sinner" confronts his participation in dysfunction only able to be remidied by the One whose mercy overcomes even the worst of human dealings or politics. The unnamed refuses to compare himself to his neighbors or to Caesar, who was at the helm of the corrupt socio-economic policies that underwrote his vocation. Instead, the unnamed confessor looks to be made right and whole so he can participate in a better economy and more just reign than that which has framed his lifework. 

If we have the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and jump a chapter over in Luke's gospel, we just may notice this tax collector “standing far off” has a name- Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10).  After much contemplation and confession, Zacchaeus has ventured from temple to tree, climbed down from his elevated perch, given reparations for his unjust and oppressive deeds (i.e. repents), and identified with the poor he once exploited. It is only after this sort of repentance that Jesus says salvation has come to this son of Abraham. Said differently, salvation in the economy of God happens in our concern for, identification with, and solidarity alongside the poor, oppressed, and neighbors on the margins. As Luke says elsewhere, "blessed are you who are poor…woe to you who are rich" (6:20,24); "some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last" (13:30); "for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted" (18:14). 

Zaccheus was only able to do this as he shifted his narrative from one of "us and them" and treatment of persons as collateral to one of solidarity with neighbor and those exploited by systems bent towards the rich. In a sense, his prayer in the temple was fully realized as he ventured to the streets of Jericho. Here he would find jubilee, reconciliation, and salvation. 

In the midst of the hostile rhetoric that consumes all arenas for public and personal discourse, the witness of Zacchaeus dares us to embrace a sobering narrative that binds us all together and see one another through the lens of God's mercy and grace. Zacchaeus' temple prayer combined with his offering of reparations in Jericho, point to salvation coming when we as the church, versus any presidential candidate, are willing to come down from our privileged perch in the tree and make amends with brokenness of the world we have allowed to happen.  After all, we are not only contributors to the fracturing of God’s world, but also paradoxical agents of wholeness, hope, and redemption. 

Each of us are mirrors of the sinner and saint whose name is Zacchaeus. 

This is likely what sent Karl Barth into the Basel prisons. 
May we make similar confessional journeys from sacred spaces to whatever cities, communities, neighborhoods, digital spaces, God calls us. May we do so aware we are all wrapped in the love and grace of Christ able to reconcile all things- even each of us. 

*Read the collection of these sermons in Deliverance to the Captives. The most pertinent sermon for this lectionary text would be the one delivered in September 1957, "All!"

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

On Psalm 66 and Contentment of Creation: A Lyric for Seasons of Angst and Uncertainty

“All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name.” (Psalm 66:4)*

without fear
worry nowhere present
only worship in the air
creation not naive
the earth fully aware
still content, unwavered
assured of God’s tender care 
listen to the birds
consider lilies in the fields
amidst chaos and confusion
not phased by despair
each tree a proverb
landscapes as parables
wisdom in their spoken words
if we listen, they are there
fear not
fret not
God is here

*This was the lectionary Psalm for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Proper 23 of Year C. Photo taken at the Colombia River Gorge in Portland, OR after the 222nd General Assembly. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Lord's Prayer for Days Such as These

Written after reading Julia Esquivel’s, "Lord’s Prayer from Guatemala" in Threatened with Resurrection.  Esquivel's contextual and liturgical expansion of Jesus' prayer provides a framework and formative praxis for individuals and communities called to prayer in the midst of the varied human struggles and related incarnations of the gospel. Work through each movement of the Lord's' Prayer and add what the Spirit may draw to the forefront of your heart and imagination...

Our Father of the human family
whose image is reflected in every person
young and older
here and there
across all nations, neighborhoods, colors, and class
Be near.

Our Father of children who walk into schools each day,
of teachers who guide and instruct them
of youth who do not have access to quality education
or the arts
vulnerable to a life of less and not enough
Be near.

Our Father of those who only know of violence and war
who flee countries
mothers and children
looking for refuge in a land not their own.
Bear near.

Our Father of those who know guns are too readily accessible 
whose loved ones have been killed
their bodies lay in the streets 
taken by weapons purchased with great ease
to others profit. 
Be near.

Our Father of First Nations People
those who have been forced to live as strangers 
Water Protectors who care for creation
more than oil, innovation, and profit margins
Be near.

Our Father of those who fear the red and blue lights 
who have to speak with greater caution when stopped
afraid they will be perceived as threat because of their pigmentation 
many slain by those called to serve and protect
in front of their children
Be near.

Our Father in heaven
your name is not hallowed on this earth.
But the names of the fallen are.
The endless names attached to hashtags and movements
headlines and calls to action
Hallow your name in the wake of their suffering.

Hallowed be your name through the witness of the persecuted church
the faithful present and in ages past
who have remained true to the call
even at the expense of their very lives 
claimed by those whose god is Terror
whose faith is Vengeance
whose doctrine is Hate. 

Hallowed be your name through the bodies of the oppressed
the wounds of the neglected
the cries of those who have struggled for far too long 
in neighborhoods quarantined from opportunity 
fenced off from privilege
brushed under the rugs of the elite.

Hallowed be your name in young people who struggle with visions of the future
who take on debt just to keep up with the new normal
youth who are uncertain about what is to come
yet know what is cannot remain
Hallowed be your name in their voices that long for change
seek a better way.

Hallowed be your name in the work of teachers and activists
doctors and lawyers
pastors and church leaders
theologians and contemplatives 
social workers and peacemakers
artists and writers
protesters and community organizers
leaders in political office who dare to see their work as truly serving the public good. 

May your kingdom come where there is malnourishment in the developing world
and in our own nation
where food banks have surplus in preservatives and nutrition comes at a high cost
May your kingdom come through urban gardens
Your will be done in community dinners.

May your kingdom come in calls to peace
your will be done in non-violent means to conflict resolution
May your kingdom come through the church willing to surrender old programs and paradigms
as we develop holistic initiatives that benefit those beyond our buildings
your will be done in faithful use of the arts alongside those in recovery
others re-entering after years of imprisonment

May your kingdom come in parts of the earth
Baton Rouge
San Diego
Mexico City
Tel Aviv
As it is heaven.

Give daily bread to those hungry for medical care
steady employment
fair treatment
women who long for equal pay and equal opportunity
immigrants looking for housing, employment, and full-inclusion as citizens in this nation.

Give daily bread to those unable to make mortgage payments
who fear foreclosure
cannot make rent
others whose families are torn by addiction and infidelity.

To children who wonder their worth
sit alone at lunch
whose mothers or fathers are absent
Give them their daily bread of love and comfort
adults who will remind them they are valued and mean something to somebody
to You.

Give daily bread of freedom to those who live under surveillance
hear sounds of war out their bedroom windows 
who have lived under the thumb of dictators and leaders thirsty for more power
protect us from the threat of tyranny.

Give daily bread of liberation to those who have remained behind closet doors
in house
where orientation is used as yet another means to exploit
exclude, and rob another of their dignity. 

Give daily bread to those who truly need a slice of bread
or fruit
or fresh vegetables
that many of us waste without conviction
Give them our daily bread when we have weeks worth of sustenance 
taken for granted and left to rot. 

And forgive us when we ignore the cries and concerns of our neighbor
forgive those who have not heard us when we have been in need
move us towards the day when debts do not lead to another’s capital gain
Forgive us for the way we have constructed systems fueled by debt
worked by indentured servants
who go from earned degree to endless streams of bills never to be fully paid. 
Forgive us our debts.
Lead us to jubilee rooted in more than enough for all. 

Lead us not into the temptation of individualism 
separating ourselves from your call to the common good
to the needs of our neighbor
Deliver us from the evil of hoarding what we have for ourselves 
Deliver us from the evil of us and them language
from religious language as undergarments of political systems, 
legislation, and powers bent on the privileged
quests for empire expansion
Deliver us from the myth of national security that leads us to build higher walls
wield more weapons of war
and label persons of varied ethnicities and religions as perceived threats.

Deliver us from the evil of greed and rhetoric that bullies our opponents 
those with whom we disagree.
Deliver us from the temptation to seek the destruction of our enemies
versus pursue reconciliation, redemption, and diplomacy
at. all. costs. 
Deliver us from divisions in church and home, 
neighborhoods and nations. 
Lead us out of the temptation to despair alone. 

For yours is the kingdom of dreams and new possibilities
welcome and universal love.
Yours is the power that leads others towards wholeness and hope, 
not leveraged at the expense of another.
Yours is the glory that draws all towards a brighter day when all will have enough 
when the one human family will gather together
to worship
to work
to embrace
to celebrate
that our labors were never- not for one instant
in vain.
All will be well.
All will be right again.