Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Rich Young Man and the Leper

Once upon a time there was a rich young man. He wanted to be a knight - but he was a commoner. He wanted to be a crusader - but he was a clothing salesman.


His father’s business was importing fine fabrics from France.


His father gave him fine clothes to wear so he could impress all his rich young friends with his fashionable clothing made of imported fabrics. His father gave him a fine horse to ride.


His father gave him money so he could keep up with the fast crowd and impress them even more with his stylishness.


But then one day the rich young man was out riding on his fine horse in his fine clothes.  On the side of the road he saw a beggar. Not just any beggar - a man with a skin disease. A leper!


Stay away! That was the standard protocol of the time. Don’t come near them - you might catch the disease. And look at them. They have open sores on their bodies. How could you touch them anyway?


We don’t know the name of the man with the disease. But he might as well have been Jesus.


For the rich young man leapt from his horse, went up to him, embraced him, and kissed him.


Not so much the attitude of the man in the Gospel story. What was the difference? Maybe this rich young man had heard the Gospel story. Maybe he just knew he wasn’t so different from the other man. Not deep inside.


For they were both of infinite value in the sight of God.


We have seen things like this in our own day. In Sacramento General Hospital in the summer of 1983 when I was working as a trainee chaplain, someone found out I came from Berkeley. And that was near San Francisco. And you know about San Francisco. Stay away from him! He might have that disease. You know the one. (They didn’t know what to call it yet.) And so the teasing went on - sick, cruel, cased in fear.


Fear. Shunning the unknown, the different.


Our young man, by the way, wanted to be a crusader. He got as far as to get the gear (Dad paid) and the horse and start on his way. But he encountered another poor man, this man a knight (a real one) but destitute, without armor or spear. And the young man in a fit of compassion gave him what he had. And went home rejoicing. Dad was furious.


And then came the last straw. One day the young man went into a church. It was in ruins. So he went back into town, to the warehouse where all the fine fabrics were kept, loaded his horse up and rode to the next town. He sold the fabric and the horse, brought the money back to the church. He tried to give it to the priest. Who wouldn't touch it. Hw wouldn’t have any part of this escapade.


So the young man in a fit of youthful pique tossed the money - now filthy lucre - into a corner of the church and went away. He didn’t get very far. His father was furious. And threw him into the basement of their house. For a month. Or a week. And then he drew him out, dragged him in front of the bishop, right in the town square, and demanded justice. This son of mine has squandered my wealth. Get him to give me back everything he has had from me.


All right, said the young man. You win. And there and then he gave back to the old man everything he had had from him. Every. Last. Stitch.


Naked in the public square.


The bishop threw his cope around him and led him off.

(Later he found a castoff gardener’s garment and wore that. His new life had begun.)


By now you know, or have guessed, the name of the rich young man.


Extraordinary. Singular. Unique. Admirable - but a tough act to follow. You wouldn’t expect, for example, a pope to name himself after that young man, would you?


But there was something about him. Something ennobling - no, better than ennobling, humanizing - about him. Something compelling - because unlike the wealthy man in the gospel story, he didn’t see his status as something to be grasped and held onto. In fact he gladly gave it up for another.


And in fact hard as his act was to follow, some of his rich friends, his father’s customers, well, former customers at this point, followed him into his new life.


They embraced the gospel without fear.


They embraced charity as eagerly as the young man had embraced the leper.


They embraced poverty as if it were the fairy princess in a fable, and they were the heroes, fallen at her feet.


They embraced a love of the world and all that is in it. They served the people, rich and poor, and sang to them of God.


They embraced obedience - to the gospel - even when it was hard. Take up your cross and follow me.


And they went on their way rejoicing.


We have a prayer we can say, inspired by their story (#62, BCP, 833):


Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.



2016 September 25


The Book of Common Prayer, 1979, 833.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Tucson. Sunday, September 25, 2016. JRL+


© John Leech 2016. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Rich Young Man and the Leper

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The Rich Young Man and the Leper


Once upon a time there was a rich young man. He wanted to be a knight - but he was a commoner. He wanted to be a crusader - but he was a clothing salesman.


His father’s business was importing fine fabrics from France.


His father gave him fine clothes to wear so he could impress all his rich young friends with his fashionable clothing made of imported fabrics. His father gave him a fine horse to ride.


His father gave him money so he could keep up with the fast crowd and impress them even more with his stylishness.


But then one day the rich young man was out riding on his fine horse in his fine clothes.  On the side of the road he saw a beggar. Not just any beggar - a man with a skin disease. A leper!


Stay away! That was the standard protocol of the time. Don’t come near them - you might catch the disease. And look at them. They have open sores on their bodies. How could you touch them anyway?


We don’t know the name of the man with the disease. But his name might as well have been the name of the man who gave us this morning’s parable. He might as well have been Jesus.


For the rich young man leapt from his horse, went up to him, embraced him, and kissed him.


Not so much the attitude of the man in the Gospel story. What was the difference? Maybe this rich young man had heard the Gospel story. Maybe he just knew he wasn’t so different from the other man. Not deep inside.


For they were both of infinite value in the sight of God.


We have seen things like this in our own day. In Sacramento General Hospital in the summer of 1983 when I was working as a trainee chaplain, someone found out I came from Berkeley. And that was near San Francisco. And you know about San Francisco. Stay away from him! He might have that disease. You know the one. (They didn’t know what to call it yet.) And so the teasing went on - sick, cruel, cased in fear.


Fear. Shunning the unknown, the different.


Our young man, by the way, wanted to be a crusader. He got as far as to get the gear (Dad paid) and the horse and start on his way. But he encountered another poor man, this man a knight (a real one) but destitute, without armor or spear. And the young man in a fit of compassion gave him what he had. And went home rejoicing. Dad was furious.


And then came the last straw. One day the young man went into a church. It was in ruins. So he went back into town, to the warehouse where all the fine fabrics were, loaded his horse up and rode to the next town. He sold the fabric and the horse, brought the money back to the church. He tried to give it to the priest. Who wouldn’t have any part of this escapade.


So the young man in a fit of youthful pique tossed the money - now filthy lucre - into a corner of the church and went away. He didn’t get very far. His father was furious. And threw him into the basement of their house. For a month. Or a week. And then he drew him out, dragged him in front of the bishop, right in the town square, and demanded justice. This son of mine has squandered my wealth. Get him to give me back what he has had from me.


All right, said the young man. You win. And there and then he gave back to the old man everything he had had from him. Every. Last. Stitch.


Naked in the public square.


The bishop threw his cope around him and led him off.

(Later he found a castoff gardener’s garment and wore that. His new life had begun.)


By now you know, or have guessed, the name of the rich young man.


Extraordinary. Singular. Unique. Admirable - but a tough act to follow. You wouldn’t expect, for example, a pope to name himself after that young man, would you?


But there was something about him. Something ennobling - no, better than ennobling, humanizing - about him. Something compelling - because unlike the wealthy man in the gospel story, he didn’t see his status as something to be grasped and held onto. In fact he gladly gave it up for another man - men.


And in fact hard as his act was to follow, some of his rich friends, his father’s customers, well, former customers at this point, followed him into his new life.


They embraced the gospel without fear.


They embraced charity as eagerly as the young man had embraced the leper.


They embraced poverty as if it were the fairy princess in a fable, and they were the heroes, fallen at her feet.


They embraced a love of the world and all that is in it. They served the people, rich and poor, and sang to them of God.


They embraced obedience - to the gospel - even when it was hard. Take up your cross and follow me.


And they went on their way rejoicing.


We have a prayer we can say, inspired by their story:


Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.


2016 September 25




The Book of Common Prayer, Prayer 62, page 833.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

full of hops


Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


It’s harvest time in the Yakima Valley. Right now they’re harvesting hops. Brewers send their managers a long way to be there now. They are commissioned to commit to exclusive contracts to get the most desirable hops, now and in future years.


Imagine you buy hops for a brewer, or a brewer’s agent. If the crop comes in, you’re all set.


But what if you’re caught up short? Say, 80 measures short, for this year’s batch of brewing? You need to make arrangements.


And the manager for another supplier steps in. Tell you what, he says. I’ll fix you up now if you fix me up later. I’ll let you have 80 measures from this year’s harvest, on account; you give me 100 from next. OK?


You’re over a barrel. It’s not fair dealing. It’s twice the going rate. But what can you do? So you sign the I.O.U.


It’s a tidy profit for that other manager’s company...or maybe the manager, on the Q.T., takes this as a side business…


Next year is coming. What if you can’t make good? It’s a lot of hops!


And then in the meantime something happens. The other supplier finds out that his manager (agent) has been squandering - mismanaging - his business. So he calls him to account.


That “manager of dishonesty” - that unjust steward - is going to be out of a job, and soon. So he acts now to secure his future well-being.


Take your IOU back, he says, and write it up for 80 instead of 100.


Is that legal? Does the owner know? Is this guy your new best friend? Are you really going to ask these questions? How could you pass up this deal?


And so in this way the shrewd (but dishonest) steward makes a place for himself, if not in the hearts, then in the books, of those owing his master.


Maybe he’ll become an industry consultant. Whatever.


The owner then does a surprising thing. He praises the dishonest steward - for one thing: his shrewd dealing.


The dishonest steward has foregone short-term interest for long-term security. Good - for him.


What do we make of this?


Luke offers some lessons to ponder.


What do we do with what is entrusted to us? And when do we recognize that we are not owners, only stewards, and that an accounting will be due from us?


How do we use the resources entrusted to us - the opportunities for kindness, the chances for charity, the days and nights when the well-being of others is in our hands?


Are we aware of the earth as a wealth of resources loaned to us on easy terms? Perhaps not: the Arctic ice pack is on the way to a new low; the forests are wasting away - due to fire, insect, and overeager harvesting. The water in the Colorado is overcommitted - there’s not enough to go around the states in the pipeline, much less Mexico.


At the end of the reading Luke quotes a saying of Jesus: no servant can be a slave to two masters. That gets us on track for the big question: Where do you look for security?


When you’re anxious for tomorrow - what shall I eat, what shall I wear, will there be a roof over my head - to whom do you turn?


Who would you serve? Who would you be willing to indebt yourself to, if you were in a jam - like that brewer’s agent in Yakima? Would you let yourself become a servant to wealth? To ill-gotten gain? To the American idol we call prosperity, the tempting god of wealth we are so drawn to worship - under the name of Mammon, or just plain money?


You’ve gotta serve somebody!


And no servant can be a slave to two masters…


Whom shall you serve? Where will your security lie? Will you be a slave in a payday loan shark’s pocket? Trapped in high-interest loans?


That new best friend is happy to fix you up - but he’ll be back to collect.


Or do we serve the Lord?


Justice, mercy, peace - these are the heavenly things of the ultimate harvest time. These are what is due the master when collections are due. These are the fruits of the harvest that we will rejoice in tomorrow - if we invest our hearts, and our hands, and our lives’ well-being, today.


If we prepare the ground, nourish the growth, and let the Spirit go to work, we will be in at the harvest. Rejoicing - not sorrowing. Glad.


Congratulations, you poor!
God’s domain belong to you.
Congratulations, you hungry!
You will have a feast.
Congratulations, you who weep now.
You will laugh.


(Luke 6:20b-21)

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.



2016 September 18

Sources & Resources - Year C

David Adam,
Clouds and Glory: Prayers for the Church Year: Year A (London: SPCK, 1998)
Traces of Glory: Prayers for the Church Year: Year B (London: SPCK, 1999)
Glimpses of Glory: Prayers for the Church Year: Year C (SPCK, 2000)

Fred B. Craddock, Luke. Interpretation. (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990)

Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker,
Preaching Through the Christian Year: Year C (Harrisburg, Pa.: Trinity Press International)

Philip L. Culbertson et al., New Proclamation: Year C, 2010: Easter through Christ the King (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009)

Christopher Irvine, The Pilgrims' Manual (Glasgow: Wild Goose, 1997)

Timothy J. Mulder et al., New Proclamation: Year C, 2009-2010: Advent through Holy Week (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009)

Keith F. Nickle, Preaching the Gospel of Luke: Proclaiming God's Royal Rule (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000)

Herbert O'Driscoll, The Word Today: Reflections on the Readings of the Revised Common Lectionary: Year C, Volumes 1, 2, 3 (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 2001)

Michael F. Patella, The Gospel According to Luke. New Collegeville Bible Commentary, New Testament, vol. 3 (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2005)

Sharon H. Ringe, Luke. Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995)

Thomas W. Walker, Luke. Interpretation Bible Studies (Louisville: Geneva Press, 2001)

Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone (London: SPCK, 2001)


+

Massey Hamilton Shepherd, Jr. The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary. New York: Oxford University Press, 1950.

A. E. Harvey. The New English Bible: Companion to the New Testament. New York: Oxford University Press & Cambridge University Press, 1970.

Amy-Jill Levine. Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi. New York: HarperCollins, 2014.

John Barton and John Muddiman, eds. The Oxford Bible Commentary. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Frederick Carl Eiselin, Edwin Lewis, and David G. Downey, eds. The Abingdon Bible Commentary. New York and Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1929.

James L. Mays, ed. Harper's Bible Commentary. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988.

Joseph A. Fitzmeyer, S.J. The Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to Luke. (X-XXIV). New York: Doubleday, 1985.

David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Year C, Volume 4.  Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010.

John Henry Newman. Loss and Gain. 1848.

Dale Carnegie. How to Win Friends and Influence People. 1936.

Michael D. Coogan, ed. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Daniel Boyarin. The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ. New York: The New Press, 2013.

Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar. The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus. New York: Macmillan, 1993.

JRL+

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Butterfly and the Border Guard

Exodus 32:7-14
Psalm 51:1-11
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10


Having, losing, seeking, finding, rejoicing and making merrie.


Once a friend of mine was a singer in a band. Their tour took them across the top of the country, and of course it meant late nights and then pile into the bus to travel to the next gig. One night long after the show was over, and the bus had been traveling through the night for some hours, one of the musicians looked out the window and asked, why are the highway signs in kilometers instead of miles. And everyone knew. They’d strayed north of the border. They were in Canada. And they would have to cross back to the United States, at a legal port of entry. And there were some things on the bus that would not pass inspection. So out the window it all went. And the singer was a little happier because she knew that for a few weeks the band members would all be healthy. And then they came to the border. And they had some explaining to do. And it wasn’t going well, so my friend jumped up from the back of the bus and offered to explain it all. No, please sit back down, her bandmates said, you are dressed as a butterfly. And the explanations of a nineteen year old girl dressed as a butterfly on a bus in the middle of the night might lack some credibility to a border guard.


Borders were easily crossed back then. They just missed the sign. Or bumped over a change in the pavement. And there they were. Wrong side of the line. Oops sorry officer.


Not any more. Borders are not so humane anymore - though Canada’s still comes close.


Jesus dealt with some inhumane borders himself. Look at the line the experts drew in the law. They were grumbling among themselves, like the people of Israel grumbling about Moses’ absence - but rather than build a golden calf they built an idol out of rules. They said, he seeks them out! He receives them and welcomes them! Sinners! Even tax collectors! And we have to eat with them. For there they were listening to Jesus along with the rest, ready to hear what he had to say. And all were welcome at the Lord’s table. And this is what he said to them:


Ever lose something? Ever lose something and look for it really hard? Ever felt that desperate pang in your gut knowing that you’ve lost something - and may not find it? Ever give up?


God never gives up. God never gives up on you. God never gives up on anybody. God goes on searching.


Like a woman in a little house, no windows, dirt floor, dim light, who lights a lamp and searches and sweeps, until she finds at last the little coin, the glimmer of coin, that was rolled into an unlikely place. Or a shepherd of unusual extravagance - or confidence - who leaves ninety-nine perfectly good sheep standing in the wilderness to go after one - only one - woolly head beast that has got itself lost.


The Maine game wardens have a chaplain. She comes along on search-and-rescue missions. And sometimes they find the one they are looking for. And sometimes they are not in time.


Once a man, whose sister’s body had just been found, sat in the car with the chaplain. His sister had committed suicide. And he was wondering, will my sister go to heaven? Will she be welcome there? Would God give up on her?

I placed my authoritative hand on the console between our bucket seats as if it were a pulpit. “Dan,” I said. “Look around.” Obediently he peered through the rain-washed windshield, up the road toward the blurry outlines of half a dozen green trucks…. I heard my voice take on the sure and certain cadences of preaching: “The game wardens have been walking in the rain all day, walking through the woods in the freezing rain trying to find your sister. They would have walked all day tomorrow, walked in the cold rain the rest of the week, searching for Betsy, so they could bring her home to you. And if there is one thing I am sure of - one thing I am very, very, sure of, Dan - it is that God is not less kind, less committed, or less merciful than a Maine game warden.


(Kate Braestrup, Here If You Need Me, New York: LIttle, Brown, 2007, 112)


God always searches. God never gives up.


This is what it means to be human, in a way: to be sought by the one who seeks all.


What do the great religions of the world have in common? An elderly Sufi from Pakistan asked me that, one bright afternoon in the Berkeley Rose Garden. And I thought to reply: We are all seeking the same thing - and the same thing is seeking all of us.


Borders are human; what makes a border humane? It is human, all too human, to draw lines - us/them - the tribalism that infects our bones. And yet God crosses borders as blithely as a butterfly.


But knowing full well what he is doing.


Jesus breaks the rules. Jesus crosses the boundaries. He walks through the wilderness - until he finds us.

And then he gathers us in, scribe, Pharisee, tax collector, sinner, disciple: for we are all welcome at the Lord’s table.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Onesimus

Preparing for Sunday...

God grant me the words and wisdom to hear your Word and preach it to your people. That they may be free, and know they are beloved by God, and to share that freedom with others. Liberate us Lord to teach and hear and live your message. May we all be free. In Christ. Amen.

Paul asks Philemon to look on Onesimus in a new way: as a brother in Christ; not as a subject of a dominant “power over” social order, with its economic and political dependence on unequal relationships.

In the kingdom of God we are all sinners. Philemon and and we are all including Onesimus beloved children of one Father.

Welcome him as a brother (and send him back to me) rather than reclaiming a runaway, or judging him as a renegade. [...or if you sent him freely, simply keeping him for your own purposes]

It seems to me that part of what the Gospel is about, part of what Paul seeks to achieve with Philemon, is to create [is the realization of] a new context in which the new relationship can emerge.

Once Philemon looks without blinders - looks with different eyes, Gospel eyes - he will begin to perceive in Onesimus his brother, not a run slave found out and fetched back.

In such a way such agencies as World Concern seek to alleviate poverty and to eradicate human trafficking, one of the slaveries (and slave trades) of our own day, by transforming a village (in this case in Laos) from a sink of poverty, lack of education, excess of disease, dearth of employment, without hope or prospects locally for the young to work to benefit their families, to a place where there is work, health, schooling, and the possibility of freedom from the entrapment by the up-and-down dominance system of relationships that Jesus so long ago and through his followers right now seeks to overcome.



Where else in the world today do we see need to release others - our brothers - from bondage?

In our personal relationships, are we carrying resentment into holding something over someone?

In our work, do we treat employees, customers, co-workers, bosses, as seeing them first as the beloved brothers and sisters they are?

In our social and political relationships, do we work for freedom, not just freedom from, but freedom to - freedom that includes a developing confidence in a hopeful future for one's self, one's family, and all the children of God?