Monday, September 29, 2008

God(dess) Gathers the Outcasts

Matthew 21:33-46

This is a very bloody parable indeed - well that is if you take it only as it is written here in Matthew. Surely Jesus and those who talk about this story were well aware that it is actually an illusion to a very well known story in Isaiah 5.

And surely if everyone in the conversation knew that Jesus was talking about the story in Isaiah, they would have also known that in the very next Chapter God(dess) sends a prophet to come and remind people that they are to maintain justice and care for the poor and widows. This is the same work Jesus was doing. While and strange and bloody way to say it, Jesus is using the Jewish stories that he loves to proclaim that he is a prophet who has come to bring justice for the poor.

The Good News is that we are not being called to plan, lobby or create new ways to make the world more just. Isaiah 56, calls us to: "Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed."

Did you notice the word "maintain"? God(dess) has already established justice, it is our job to maintain what God(dess) has done/declared. More bluntly, it's our job to try not to screw up G0d(dess)'s justice. This is much different than asking ourselves: What am I doing to create justice in the world? Instead we ought to ask ourselves: What we are doing to oppress others, to prevent our neighbor from having their daily bread or from being able to walk a step closer to God(dess)

I wonder how the world would change if we tried to work on our own inner oppressor. Namely, if we stopped judging others and telling them how they should be more just, and we work on being more just ourselves. This is afterall the true path to nonviolence.

Of course the story doesn't end there. Isaiah 56 says this is exactly what God(dess) is doing, by revaluating the ways God(dess) is oppressing others. In verse three it says: "Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say, 'The Lord will surely separate me from [God(dess)'s] people'; and do not let the eunuch say, 'I am just a dry tree.'"

This text is specifically talking about those the scriptures say are cut off from God(dess). Here God(dess) reverses course and declares they are in fact NOT separated from God(dess). This models the transformation in the book of Hosea when "Not my people" become "My people" and is also repeated in Ruth's love song to Naomi.

While used more broadly in other texts, here in Isaiah 56 it is explicetly tlaking about about the eunuchs, transgender individuals and those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and queer. It means that none of these groups should have to prove they are worthy of God(dess)'s love because of how they love or transform their body. Rather all other Christians ought to be reaching out to them and giving them pastoral care and sharing words of grace with them to remind them that they are not seperated from God(dess).

It seems we've gotten it all backwards these days! Isaiah is clear God(dess) is more concerned with our faithfulness and our desire to maintain jusitice.

And though it is through the lens of Isaiah that we can understand Christ, this week's Matthew text is just one more of the many times that Jesus is proudly proclaiming the "the Lord God[(dess)], who gathers the outcasts of Israel" and proclaims that G0d(dess) "will gather others to them besides those already gathered." (Isaiah 56:8)

Proper 22A/Ordinary 27A/Pentecost +21

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

By whose authority?

Matthew 21:23-32

By whose authority? I get asked this question a lot while I'm on street retreat, while I'm working at the church, by people who wonder why I'm in the men's bathroom, or who wonder how I can wear a clergy collar and have breasts. The easy flip answer is that nothing I can do can ever separate me from the love of God(dess) and I am called to sin boldly.

But underneath that flip answer is probably the much more honest, much more human: "by my own authority."

It would of course be more fun to say with solid certainty that I am acting on God(dess)'s authority. But I can't. Yes, I know it's ironic that it is my full time job it to share the word of God(dess) and to admit that I can never be sure that I know the word of God(dess).

This is not lack of faith, rather it is a constant wrestling and yearning to continually ask myself if my actions follow the will of God(dess). This acknowledges that God(dess) may call me to do something for God(dess)'s sake that seems to go against the written word of God(dess). As Dietrich Bonhoeffer discovered, when he found himself called to participate in a plot to assasinate Hitler, despite knowing that it was against God(dess)'s commandments to kill.

It may seem unusual to some that Jesus tells the faithful that the tax collectors (known for being violent and often unfair) and the prostitutes (who persuade people to covet and commit adultery) will go ahead of them in heaven. In fact, Jesus says that the sex workers will be first in heaven more than any other group. Perhaps this is because those who are the most vulnerable and stand in the widest intersections of oppression tend to have God(dess) in their gut in a way that others can never truly understand.

This is why the Exodus texts talk about the vulnerability of the wilderness. If the only stable thing you have in your life is God(dess), or you really are praying mightily each day for your daily wage, daily bread or daily water - then you get faith in a different way. It's not better, it's just more from the gut and less from the brain or book of confessions.

This may explain why Jesus never answers the question. How can someone living from their gut, answer from their head. If you know deeply in your bones that you are called by God(dess) to do something, or when working for justice seems so clear that you could do no other, why would you stop to bother to answer questions of authority.

By whose authority? How could you ask such a question when it is so clear that people deserve homes and food and water and a name and dignity and hope and life.

Proper 21A/Ordinary 26A/Pentecost +20

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Whiners get Bread from Heaven? I will Go and Do Likewise!

Exodus 16:2-15
What is the lesson from this text? Can it really be that if you whine to God(dess) you will get what you want? Perhaps. Lutherans believe that we always get more from God(dess) than we deserve - this is grace.

While there is a part of me that cautions against the simplistic understanding that if you pray for things you will get them like a genie waiting to provide wealth and fortune, if you but believe. While I do have had powerful experiences in my own life and in those I love of times when prayer heals bones, mends broken lives, heals addiction and other diseases, I also know a number of very faithful people who have prayed mightily and have not found relief from what plagues them.

It is too easy to say just pray harder, or that prayer doesn't work if you don't believe "enough." My Lutheran charisms always remind me that I am never "enough" for the "more than enough" that I get from God(dess).

I think this text and many of the angriest Psalms give us a better idea than prayer. Our God(dess) promises to be for justice, and yet sometimes we need to yell, scream and whine at God(dess) to help God(dess) remember and honor those promises.

This means we need to be yelling, screaming, whining advocates for justice on earth, not only in our prayer lives, but in our sermons, our letters and our interactions with those in power.

The Exodus text tells us that we must whine as we advocate to end hunger (our own and our neighbors).

If you pair this reading with the
Philippians (1:20-30) we have good reason to believe that this whining, screaming and yelling can also be applied to our physical needs, our health and wholeness in our bodies. Certainly, the physical distractions that make it hard for people to be able to think, pray and advocate for themselves are issues that we need to care about as Christians if we want to help are neighbor be able to live a life that is worthy of the Gospel.

Note that I arguing that we make it possible for others to live the life they believe is worthy of the Gospel. I am not saying that we need to tell our neighbor what that means for them. As a community of faithful we can hold each other accountable, but ultimately we are better off when others have freedom (free for and free from their neighbor).

Lectionary Cycle B: Proper 20A/Ordinary 25A/Pentecost +19

Monday, September 15, 2008

God(dess)'s Employmnent Non Discrimination Act

Learn more about the Employment Non Discrimination Act

Matthew 20:1-16

This text provides not only an argument for a minimum wage, one that is based on how much someone actually needs to live rather than hourly amount that people should earn, but it also provides a biblical argument for a maximum wage.

Remember while in today's day this tends to fall down political lines, this text seems to make it clear that Jesus does not believe in a "trickle down economy." Beyond this it seems that God(dess) is also concerned that everyone have to opportunity to obtain their daily wage.

God(dess)'s employment strategy is beyond any non-discrimination policy. Notice that there is no mention of the age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or presentation, skill level, mental health status or immigration status. Only a clear understanding that all people require a fair wage - despite their ability to work at equal levels.
People often say the homeless, mentally ill or disabled are not "entitled" to the same daily wage as others. I invite anyone who thinks that you do not have to work to be homeless, or to obtain social security benefits to sit in a social security office for an hour and observe people. Or check out my blog of my experiences from my yearly street retreat.

Try collecting enough cans from garbage cans to pay for one meal or panhandle $20. Then you will know just a portion of the work that the homeless do on a regular basis. Then imagine accomplishing any of this without a good nights sleep and a sore aching body from lying on a hard concrete bed.

Often the people who are making the smallest amounts of money in the United States are the same individuals who face discrimination each day. How is it fair that those who are doing the most labor intensive jobs, at the lowest hourly rates are also the ones who are experiencing the additional strain of discrimination? Think of what a fair rate of pay would be for the back breaking work of picking strawberries everyday or for unloading a moving van. How much extra should we also pay for the social stigma and discrimination we also make these same workers endure?

Perhaps if people had to pay those they discriminated against they would stop discriminating. But, often those who are trying to rise above poverty or opression often oppress others. This is a lot like the complaining of those who had worked the longest. Is there any wordly way out of this cycle of abuse?

It seems that nothing short of total economic reform in addition to providing daily protection for all is needed. While this may seem overwhelming, we can work one organization, one employer at a time or one city or state at a time.

We need to become people who are honest about our power, honest about our part in economically keeping others down and the ways that we stand in the way of others having their fair wage. Then we need to hire others as we are able, advocate for better daily wages for all and for equal employment opportunities.

Lectionary Cycle B: Proper 20A/Ordinary 25A/Pentecost +19

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

more than ammunition for a sling shot

Romans 14:1-12

This text has the obvious message that we should not judge our neighbor. But even more to the point, it urges us to be glad that our neighbor (who may be acting in all sorts of ways that we would not approve of) is in the care of God(dess). This text is more than ammunition for a sling shot for the powerless to sling at those with power and privilege. It calls us all to respect the faith of the "other."

This is why I always ask those who try to tell me about how my life sits in the eyes of God(dess) to pray for me. I can't know what they pray for when they pray for me. But still, I seek to honor their faithfulness to God(dess) and to recognize our kinship.

My work is to continue to remove the barriers that prevent all people from sharing the same communion table. Sometimes this means taking the bread (or the crumbs) from the table, outside church walls to all who are hungry. Othertimes it means restraining my tongue and my judgements, so that even those who I disagree with the most strongly can see my table manners and eat with me.

Lectionary Cycle B: Proper 19A/Ordinary 24A/Pentecost +18

Monday, September 8, 2008

By any other name...

Matthew 18:21-35

Certainly, this text calls us to remember that we are all equal in our need for forgiveness. Beyond that, it also reminds us that the road for one is not the same road for all. God(dess) calls some to be pastors, some to be construction workers, some to be parents, some to be queer, some to be single.

For some people, bisexuality is a part of their journey towards identifying as gay or lesbian. For others it is their identity. For some, being in a space of gender non-conformity is a step on the path to a more gender conforming space. And for others gender non-conformity is their identity.

Sometimes we want others to feel the same relief that we felt when we were able to identify in a way that brought us understanding and fuller sense of self. Sometimes our desire to share what worked for us, provides a road block for others who are seeking that same privilege to self identify.

Whether you are someone who has felt the blessing of being named and claimed by God(dess), experienced the joy of claiming a new name or someone who has taken for granted the privilege of naming your self, please give other people the gift of naming themself, their identity and their gender pronouns.

Before I was born, my name was Ryan. In those days they determined the sex of a baby by listening to its heartbeat. And in my heart I was a boy. When I was born, the first words uttered were "opps," because when the doctor saw the skin between my legs he forgot what my heart had told him. For three days I was called, "baby girl Rohrer." Then my parents named me "Megan."

I don't believe what that doctor said. My birth was not an "opps" and either were any of my names. Now, I go by Ryan or Megan, acknowleding that my heart and the folds of my skin tell two different stories.

Our bible is full of stories about names. You can tell so much about someone by their name. There are many stories in the bible that also tell the story of how interacting with God(dess) changes people (and their names).

What is the story of your name? What are the names in the bible that speak to you?

Prayer: Psalm 103

Lectionary cycle B: Proper 19A/Ordinary 24A/Pentecost +18

Monday, September 1, 2008

Treat your enemy... to a meal?

Matthew 18:15-20

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector."

Progressive Christians that I speak to often talk about their disdain for this text. Perhaps its because it seems like the only people who are following through with their Christian obligation to hold our kin accountable for our actions are the ones who are believe that God(dess) has a more restrictive plan for the world.

I certainly have had my own share of individuals who, out of their Christian love for me, have sought to let
me know the numerous reasons they feel I've diverted from the path the folk at A Blaze for Christ and Shellfish have been the most vehement.

I can tell you that it is not fun to have these admonitions, but it is helpful. It gives me a forum to share with others the study, discernment and prayer I have put into the choices I have made in my life. It also guides my words and deeds as a pastor seeking to walk with others as we seek to take each step, as one moving us closer to God(dess).

I love the end of the text, stating that if aperson doesn't listen to you, you should treat them as a Gentile or a tax collector. In Jesus' case that meant that you ate with them, you listened to them, you healed them and you were ministered to by them.

It does not say that you try to exercise their demons, legislate prohibitions, shame them in public or cause scandal for them (all things people have tried to do to me). I purposefully use the word scandal here, because in the Greek the word scandelizomai means "cause to sin."

One way this text has been useful to me in my work has been with some of our homeless guests who are Schizophrenic. When I am speaking with guests who are declared mentally ill or "disabled" solely because they hear the voice of God(dess), I often remind them of this text.

While I could never know if the voices they hear or visions they see are coming from God(dess) and can share with them the ways that their visions/voices match or differ from the ways God(dess) speaks to me, this text can be comforting for someone who has been told their whole life that the voice of God(dess) they hear is a delusion. And, it can also be gentle reminder that just as G0d(dess) speaks to them, so to God(dess) speaks to others and the church is the community of faith that holds us to a higher level of accountability.

I hope that all people will seek to discover how God(dess) is calling them to live and interact in the world. So to, I hope that all people will share God(dess)'s calling with others and seek the council of their kin. And in the times when we disagree, I hope we will choose to eat with each other, to heal each other and to be ministered to by the "other."


See my previous writings on the text:
"Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."