Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Meditation on Acts 10:28

"God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean."
Acts 10:28

Reading for The Daily Office, Thursday, Proper 16

In Peter's conversation with Cornelius he provides another clear definition of what it means to be a believer, a follower of Jesus. As his followers, Jesus tells us over and over, and in many ways, that to follow him we must love ourselves, neighbors and enemies all. 

It is not our place, nor in our capacity, to refuse God's fellowship to anyone. Peter's words also echo the psalmist who wrote, "The Lord is loving to everyone, his compassion covers all his works." The psalmist didn't write "The Lord loves everyone", but "The Lord is loving everyone", which means God is acting in the present tense, that is right now, for everyone, all his works. 

As surely as the sun shines and the rain falls on us all, in our each unique lives as righteousness, and at times unrighteous persons, so does God's love shine and pour on us all. 

There is no one whom the Lord doesn't love, not one of us who is not covered in God's loving compassion. God is the source of all being, born out of the expediency of God's own love, therefore God is the source of all love, which means it is not our's to withhold or to expend, but only ours to refuse or to share. This means it is impossible to withhold God's love from anyone as God simply loves according to God's own nature and purpose, as God's love "is constancy and peace".

Can I stop the sun from setting or the moon from rising, how can I stop these elemental forces of nature from ceasing? Then how can I reasonably expect to stop love, the elemental nature of the cosmos? How can I say to love, the first cause of being found in the Spirit of the love of the Father and Son, you cannot be?

If I should attempt to withhold God's love from another, by judgement or threat, I invite disaster and suffering upon myself and those I associate with, as there is no greater disaster than to withdraw from love, the disaster which can cascade into great suffering of my own and into sufferings I may then cause others in my loveless carelessness: I risk myself to evil and its agencies, I begin to take myself from God and into the first steps of suffering's hell of my own making.

And for what, to seek to withhold the power of the cosmos from taking its natural course? I might as well tell the sun to quit shining.

If I want to do more than survive, I need more than food and water. If I want to live abundantly, that is with health, fullness, happiness, satisfaction and peace, then I must do so by loving more abundantly. This is the call of Jesus; to live more abundantly in love, and to live more abundantly in love is to be more vulnerable to love, which is loving all those requiring love in their poverty of mind, body and spirit; in their diseases of mind, body and spirit; in the lonely abandonment of their mind, body and spirit.

Peter knew this. We in Christ know this. We know this in the breaking of the bread and in the passing of the cup. We know this in the compassionate eyes of Jesus which see all humanity as the same. We know this in the vulnerable body of Jesus: broken to feed us, everyone, all the same. We know this in the vulnerable Jesus whose blood was willingly poured out to save us everyone, all from ourselves, and to heal us all, everyone.

Everyone is loved in God's compassion, and in Jesus to whom no one is profane or unclean.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Beyond Fear Into the Joy of Vulnerability

Last Sunday's gospel reading told the famous story of the young man who had lived a perfect life according to the law, according to what was expected of him. I suppose he had spent sometime listening to Jesus preach and had some knowledge of his teaching. I suspect he felt confident as he approached Jesus. I suspect ultimately the man was anticipating confirmation as he told Jesus that he had lived the perfect life, which was expected of him, in living rightly according to the laws of his faith. I suspect the wealthy young man was being a bit ironic, and maybe a little cocky, when with maybe a confident smile on his face, he asked Jesus, "Master, what else do I need to do to enter paradise?" We know the answer.

"Give away everything you own to the poor." Jesus told him, I suspect with a quiet voice, barely above a whisper and with a little smile on his face.

Had I been the rich man, I too would have been greatly sad and thunderstruck in Jesus's whispered answer. I would have said to myself, "I was afraid Jesus was going to say something like that."

I know how the rich young man felt. It's not that I fear God in the sense of "wrath of God stuff" or eternal punishment for my sins. No, I trust in Jesus, my transgressions are forgiven, as he promises, as I begin to live in the new life, the New Creation birthed in the shadow of the cross. Unlike the young man I have never come close to living the life expected of me, but Jesus has for me. I trust Jesus in this.

So if I'm not fearing wrath of God stuff, then what is it I fear about God?

I fear what God will ask of me. I fear what God will ask of me beyond the expected. I fear what God reveals to me about myself, about both the things I feel good about and about the apprehension I have about myself. I fear those things I too must give away, surrender, in order to fully realize my humanity. I fear the vulnerability true love requires, the vulnerability which is reflected in God's vulnerable love born on the cross. 

I fear the vulnerability which compassion requires, the vulnerability for my own weakness and sorrow, I fear the willingness to embrace my suffering in God's compassionate love, to be healed and transformed from a person self-absorbed in fearfulness and woundedness, into a compassionate companion to self, humanity and creation. I cannot truly embrace the suffering of the world unless I first embrace mine in the healing salvation of the embrace. 

When I deny my suffering, I conveniently too deny the suffering of the world. It's not enough to do what is merely expected, but I have to extend myself, into my heart and soul, towards the truth of who I am: sorry, mistaken, weak, in pain, hopeless and sad, yes; but also to acknowledge myself as one who is much more in the hope of God's love, one who is also living the future hope, now, as one forgiven, relieved, healed, made whole, and knowing the real joy of love.

There is real joy to be found in vulnerability. Real love requires willingness for vulnerability in the face of human struggles, sorrows and tribulations, which are more in number than in all the stars above and around us. We have to have a willingness to be vulnerable in order to more fully love, and be vulnerable to be more fully loved.This is the way to joy, to be abandoned in love. This is the Way of Jesus, the Way of the living God: upright, vulnerable, arms stretched out, chest and belly exposed, awaiting the sweet vulnerable embrace of the world.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sometimes a Person Just Needs a Fish

"Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime."

Today again I had this old argument of fishing thrust upon me. It is a good argument as it is a convenient argument for which I could take if I want my conscience to feel better. Honestly on the surface as an adage it makes sense, until you apply it to real life.

What good is it to teach a man to fish if he doesn't have a fishing pole, line, hooks or bait? What good is it to teach a man to fish if the lake is empty? What good is it to teach a man to fish if he has no arms or hands to hold the pole or land the fish? 

There are times like now where people want to work, are trained to work, and are willing to work, but for whom there are no jobs or no connections. There are people who are working hard every day but are poor and need help because their jobs don't pay a living wage. And there are legitimately some who simply aren't able to work.

Even Jesus, after an afternoon of teaching parables would "be moved with compassion, for they were hungry" and would sit the crowds down and feed them bread and fish. He would feed them without question just because they were hungry. And then the people would feed each other and there would even be leftovers.

Sometimes a person just needs a fish. 

Compassion. God calls us to compassionately give to those who need help. God calls us to help, not judge, nor patronize, nor to take the easy way, condescendingly offer adages. God calls us to act with compassion and mercy.

Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, cut over 400,000 jobs in his tenure. He once said the perfect factory would be built on a barge which he could tow from impoverished community to community, working them to exhaustion, for pennies on the dollar, then weigh anchor and move onto the next. 

Given his way he would mine the community, and strip away its human resources, leaving nothing but ruin behind. Strip mining human resources. 

Humans aren't resources. They are treasures, to be valued and preserved above all else.

Jack Welch has admitted to what scripture been saying all along. Poverty is a construct of human greed and hoarding. It's not nature. It's not an accident. Poverty is the willful intentional construct of suffering and injury of one people upon another.  Poverty is violence and a crime against human rights and the human spirit. Poverty is a transgression committed by one people upon another as it disregards God's call to live God's loving will. 

We Christians are called over and over again; through the Prophets, through Jesus Christ and through the history of apostles and holy people everywhere; to care for the poor, the sick and the suffering. This is what we do, and if we're not, then we should wake up and do so. And as the Prophets demanded their royal governments to care for the suffering, and to end the injustice of poverty, we should do likewise.

By denying the suffering of others we may deny the suffering we know in ourselves. Or we can acknowledge our shared sufferings made as a sacramental offering of our lives to each other, as God did through Jesus, through the compassion "which covers all his works". 

Through our suffering, transformed by God's love in us into compassion, we can end the suffering and violence of poverty. We can have the courage to treat poverty for what it has always been and always will be, a crime of injustice. God's promise is that we can be healed our helping in the healing of others, as we are healed in Jesus. This is how compassion works.