Faithful Citizens Have No Choice

As we catapult toward the end of a nasty and divisive election cycle there is much healing that needs to occur.  Will we be instruments of this healing or further division? Do citizens of good faith have an alternative?

I preached the following homily at our church on Sunday.  It was based on the story of the Pharisee and the tax-collector in Luke 18.  I offer it here as one contribution to the ministry of reconciliation to which we are called:

So, which one are you? The much maligned Pharisee? Or, the humble tax collector? With whom do you spontaneously connect? Such resonance is a good indicator for how God wants to engage us.

So, let’s dig a little deeper… Like us, the Pharisees were good, God-fearing people – generous, committed, devout. This particular Pharisee has reason to express gratitude — he’s got it good, better than the majority of other people. He knows it. He’s grateful. Like us, he lives his faith; he gives back – tithing time, talent, treasure.

What God is up to becomes more apparent when we dig as well into the character of the tax collector – the humble, honest, honorable tax collector. Do you catch the irony – Honest? Honorable? …Tax-collector? The oxymoron still packs a punch after 2000 years.

It’s said that Rabbi Simcha Bunem carried two slips of paper, one in each pocket. On one he wrote: “For my sake the world was created!” On the other: “I am but dust and ashes.” The Rabbi would take out either slip of paper as necessary, as a reminder for himself.

Yes, we are imagio dei, created in the image of God, created for relationship, capable of great things. Our faith also counsels, “Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return.” And if we need any reminder, we don’t need to look too far to see just how ungodly, fractured, and capable of incivility we can become.

So, “Which one are you, Pharisee or tax-collector?” — good to ask at times. However, this is NOT one of those times! With the devout rabbi we recognize we are not one or the other — we are BOTH! Perhaps the more relevant question is: “WHO are we?” And even more: “WHOSE are we?” TO WHOM DO WE BELONG?

Look around…! We’re a little depleted on MEA weekend. But to all who are visiting, Welcome! We’re really quite a friendly, likeable bunch. Whether you’ve been here for 50 years or this is your first visit, you’re at home here. You belong! We’re an odd mix of saint and sinner — so we pride ourselves in “open communion”. Knowing who we are, we recognize ALL are welcome at the table Christ sets. God wants all of us to be in communion.

Today, the pairing of the Pharisee and tax-collector challenges us to go deeper, to discover and embrace this radical communion to which we are called. Yes, open communion is great for making our Catholic or Methodist relatives feel welcome when they visit. It’s may even assure “seekers” and the “unaffiliated” they will find spiritual companions among us.

But what happens if we learn the person ahead of you will be cancelling out your vote? Are we open, inviting? Are we truly respectful of those who hold differing opinions …even about the NRA? …or Planned Parenthood? WHO are we then? Around WHOSE TABLE are we gathering then?

Remember the pairing of Pharisee and tax-collector . Remember the rabbi’s wisdom. Gospel truth, the truth of our lives — mature faith — is never a matter of either/or; right or wrong, yes or no! In Christ, it is always BOTH/AND; always bigger, always more inclusive then we could ever muster on our own.

Look around …who do you see? Who are we? We’re more homogenous than many of us would prefer. Yes, we’re mostly like-minded, but we are hardly clones. We must never become a cozy enclave – comfortable and complacent has nothing to do with the One around whose Table we gather.

Look around! Who do you see? We are Episcopalians – not to the exclusion of others but with and amid others. As Episcopalians we come with distinguishing gifts, a certain identity – not better, but needed; not to the exclusion of others, but for the benefit of others. Within Christ uniformity stifles, differences enhance! All are welcome; everyone has something essential to share.

Never in my recollection, rarely in our nation’s history, have we been so fractured as a people. As Episcopalians we are not set above or apart from any of this. But we do come with certain DNA that distinguishes us from others within the Body of Christ.

At times it’s stressful, painful. Maybe even excruciating. But it’s not in our DNA to build walls – we prefer bridges! We don’t shut out tough conversations – we initiate them. That’s who we are! We’re wired to see Both/And rather than Either/Or! Pharisee and tax-collector are polarities within which we live.

Are these not the precise gifts our nation desperately needs? – the gift of holding the tension, living in the gap, walking into chaos, embracing differences, taking on our collective brokenness? This is the gift of our communion in Christ.

When we come to this table, we come with our particularities and our peculiarities, our giftedness and our poverty. In breaking bread together, in sharing one cup, we are changed, healed, reconciled, restored as one human family.

Like proud Pharisees we thank God for our good fortune. Like the awe-struck tax collector, we pray: “Lord, have mercy!”

Our church has served this nation well. The gifts we have been given are needed now as much as ever – provided we are faithful to WHO we are, WHOSE we are, and who we BECOME when we come here!

AMEN!

The Moon is Always Full

The moon is full even when we only see a crescent.  Seeing is a matter of perspective, of alignment with the light.  Again, the moon is always full!

I’m still at the hermitage and this wonderfully insightful and illuminating image may be the most indelible gift, among many, I take home later today. It comes from something I was reading by Cynthia Bourgeault, a modern day mystic, Episcopal priest, writer and internationally recognized retreat leader.

Bourgeault was speaking of the human conscience. Surely few concepts from childhood religion raise more hackles or bring up more resistance than conscience. It’s given a bum wrap! It’s not the stern voice accompanied with a wagging finger admonishing us for our faults. It’s lightyears beyond memorizing a rule book and conforming our behavior to its prescriptions.

Rather, Bourgeault would say, the mature well-formed conscience is “the heart’s own ability to see the divine hologram in any situation, no matter how obscured, and to move spontaneously and without regard for it’s personal well-being in alignment with that divine wholeness.”

It brings a sense of “obligation” that arises out of both a willingness and mysterious ability to do whatever is consonant with the good. Our felt obligation becomes a desire, an impulse, to align our being and doing with what is right, true and beautiful.

It’s as if we recognize the full radiance of the moon even when only a sliver is visible. The mature, well-formed conscience not only enables us to see but to, in fact, become visionary.

Bourgeault suggests this is what enabled Francis of Assisi to embrace the leper. We cherish this image because at some deeply human level we recognize — Bourgeault calls it “the eye of our heart” — that only that gesture would restore the image of God in the brokenness of that situation. She further suggests this moral alignment, this ability to see fully, enabled Jesus to accept death on a cross rather than meeting violence with violence.

Eons away from the wagging finger of stern elders, lightyears from conforming behavior to a list of commands, we are enticed to live freely and spontaneously in the full and free embrace of the Light.

It’s a matter of alignment and perspective — of seeing that even a slice is sufficient.
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My source is “Seeing with the Eye of the Heart” by Cynthia Bourgeault in Evidence, Oneing: An Alternative Orthodoxy, vol. 2, no. 2 (2014), pp. 41-48; a publication of the Center for Action and Contemplation. The article is an excerpt from Chapter VII of Bourgeault’s book, The Wisdom Way of Knowing, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003.