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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Moral Stasis

What keeps us from saying and doing the right thing at the right moment? I mean, human beings have a tendency to do things we should not do. At other times, we underestimate when the time comes to do what we should. Examples: The recycling of waste is for the good of all. If everyone in the world recycled we would save millions of acres in the world in landfills. Not only that we would spend less energy, and would eat less in materials. A gesture as simple that would make a tremendous benefit to the planet. I have another example. If all who drive cars cease to use their phones when driving their cars, it would reduce the deaths of tens of thousands of people die in car crashes every year. Yet another. If all auto passengers would fasten their seat belts, the rear passengers as well as the front, there would be a drastic reduction in deaths and injuries. I have more. The secret to a long and healthy life depends on three things: refrain from smoking, eating healthy and exercising daily. Confess all of you now and tell me, how many of you here do all three literally every day? It’s funny to think that there will be always some who knowing this will go out at the end of this service and go buy a ham and cheese sandwich with extra mayo with a bag of chips. I have many other examples but I think you know what I mean ... All this goes to the point that I intend to explain. We are always constantly losing the opportunity of doing good, as well ignoring the chance to do good. Not necessarily because we are bad people or insensitive, simply because our subconscious governs most of our behaviors and until an emergency arises, our conscious side also fails to capture the problem. Consider this, if ever you walk into the corner of Broadway and Havermeyer, and as you turn the corner the smell from the MacDonald's at lunchtime you’ll consciously realize too late that you’re ordering a Big Mac knowing that you are diabetic and will suffer the consequences of a sugar high later that night. Despite all that, you make an order and will even ask for a "Super size" only because a regular portion won’t quell your hunger. Perhaps the same happens in church; you might notice on a particular Sunday that the brother or sister who comes every Sunday for more than forty years is not present, but there is another sister who joined the church two or three months ago who also wasn’t there. Or maybe she came but even then you didn’t notice her as you did the other brother or sister. In all these cases, this is what social psychologists refer to as moral slumber. I call it moral stasis. It is not a personal or character flaw but a very common, human, normal behavior. If we look carefully at the Gospel passage notice that Luke sees the relationships within the home of Martha as not so positive. Martha is the owner of the house and we can infer that Mary being the younger sister is receiving shelter in the house of Martha. As happens in many poor and broken homes the awful economy of poverty monetizes even family relationships, then everything is measured economically. Parents during that time would consider economic standing as an important criterion for choosing husbands for their daughters. Or maybe spouses have many children to be sure that they would be taken cared of in old age. If you receive a sister it’s because she is single and has no where to go, but her duty as a visitor at least is to help Martha with the household duties. Subconsciously Martha does not look at her sister as her family but as an employee who owes money for giving shelter without realizing it. Possibly this was the relationship between Martha and Mary, according to Luke. I think Martha was morally asleep. Her moral stasis clouded her judgment from seeing that her sister also has the right to choose what to do with her life. Many times you and I fall into this trance of sleeping morally and fail as a husband or wife, a parent or child, supervisor or employee. Constantly we grant the decisions to our subconscious which works on default mode and does not change things unless it perceive danger, when required. Let's reflect on our moral stasis. Many times the Church is in a moral stasis lacking an urgency of mission and has not as of yet changed its mission and the local context continues to change, no need to change things in this ministry, no urgent financial problems nor even use our sacred space more creatively. What's the difference? Notice Jesus' response ... He praises Mary because she did not to fall into the temptation of moral stasis but to seek to do good by beginning to hear the voice of Jesus and his teaching. That is to choose the best part. I'm sure it is difficult to pick our best part. Our facilities are primarily a tool for mission and not become a religious social club. Coming to worship in the temple is good, but it's important to follow what the voice of Jesus in the temple dictates. The fellowship is good, but not an end in itself. Many times that voice takes us to places we never think or imagine. In your home you have to choose the best part. But it requires you to open your imagination to possibilities of things that previously you would not dare do. Maybe it requires to face our greatest fears: the fear of losing the church, fear of offending your husband fear that your children leave home. The fear that your sister leaves of the house because Jesus asks something of you other than household chores. Sadly we overvalue what we had in the past (which in reality is not the big deal we thought it was) while undervalue, despise and discard what we can achieve in the future. "Leave it," says the subconscious. Not wanting to make a decision is a decision. Martha did not want Jesus to change or hinder the economic balance in his house so she makes her claim to Jesus. Indeed Martha's complaint was not with Mary, it was that Jesus had changed the economic balance of the house. What's good we perceive as bad and instead what really is bad we perceive it as something good. Sadly when we behave well, we can’t try new foods, we can not dress in another style to improve our appearance, we can not see another way to improve relations, nor understand that there is another way of being the church that God wants us to be. "Awake, thou that sleepest, arise thou from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." "Arise, shine, for thy light has come." And you, have you chosen the best part? And we, have we chosen the best part? Christ invites us to do the right thing.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Don’t be afraid, it’s good news!

Luke 2:1-18
Thank you for joining us here on this Christmas Vigil. We honor this day not because it is precisely the date of Jesus’ Birth in the historical sense, but rather it that we have chosen a day within the context of telling the story of the coming of Jesus Christ to earth and through that life proclaim a message of Good News!
Interestingly enough, the phrase Good News is used by Luke in a unique and particular way. Rather than limiting the phrase in describing a literary church genre, Luke uses it in this passage in its original manner and intent (more on that later). It’s an announcement, a calling out, or better yet, a public sharing of the gift of God to all people.
So that’s what we are here for in the sharing of the gift. That is why we will conclude with Lord’s Table, for throughout Jesus’ life, even in his birth, it was all about God imparting great gifts of friendship, justice, peace and love. In that same spirit we share what Jesus shared with us.
You have heard this passage read publicly time after time. I don’t know about you, but for me there is something that mystifies me about it; particularly that there is always some different aspect of this account that grabs me by the throat. Yet all the while it is connected to memories of Christmases past. I still remember the Charlie Brown Christmas special when Linus recites this passage in their pageant rehearsal with a spotlight placed on him centre stage. Let me share with you what’s been taking my attention about the birth of Christ this year.
First there this simple historical setting the Luke gives us. He starts by naming the ruler of the known worlds of his day, then the regional context and finally zeroing in on Bethlehem, the city of the house of bread. Through layers of concentric circles as if we were landing on planet earth and looking for a particular landing point we go from a view of the globe, to a small town, and finally a feeding trough in a stable behind a crowded inn.
Without any reason Jesus is born and comes to us anonymously, in the most inconspicuous way, right under our noses. The rulers that Luke mentions have no clue that Jesus was born or that there was even a Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary, descendent of the Royal house of David. These rulers didn’t even care!
Yet in sharp contrast the people who found out about the Jesus’ birth were men of livestock, rustic, sheep-stinching men who were just minding their business while they were working the nightshift. It’s as if there were these guys working at a bakery, a factory, security guards, bus drivers, any of these in the middle of the night and some strange cat appears out of nowhere to give them an announcement. Just imagine an angel delivering you some Western Union or UPS parcel that says on the cover of the box Good News- for your eyes only!!!
The angelic vision that these shepherds experienced was in the form typical of the News couriers in Roman times, particularly when public reports of a battle front were delivered out loud. These couriers were called Heralds, and whenever the news came he would identify the ruler who sanctioned that message and share his ‘good news’. Whenever it came from the Emperor himself it was announced that it came from the people’s Lord and Savior, the Emperor. Notice how Luke turned the language of ‘good news’ on its head. By the way it is Luke the first to identify Jesus as Savior connecting his hebrew name to the redemptive work of Jesus. Jesus is described as of the House of David, Savior, Messiah (annointed one) and Lord. All of these are attributes the person of Jesus Christ.
What is different from the angelic herald’s announcement from an imperial herald is the fact that there is no news from a battlefield but rather there is a choir singing a song of peace. “Peace on earth,” we hear from the choir, the other part of the song have some translation problems. For the most part it is a hymn of peace is translated for all humanity, to whom God offers good will. In a way it is a similar good favor as it was in Mary’s call. Rather than a message of conquest it is a message to usher in an age where peace is the prime directive for humanity. Not peace through war, not war to preserve peace, and neither it is preserving the peace by aggressively preempting our foes. It is a song of peace for humanity but that God is the center and the author of that peace. Divine peace is imparted to us in the temporal realm in places where we cannot understand.
Meanwhile, back to the shepherds. So we have an awe inspiring episode that they experienced, one that was originally intended to be reserved for the knowledgeable and powerful, is now offered to the humble and meek. Jesus’ birth is already turning the tables on social status by sharing the excitement of his birth with people who possibly were not power-brokers, or agents of the government. The coming of Christ is for simple, weak, sick, lame, broken people; those who are incapable of fully participating in the cultic life os Israel are made a new Israel by the power of God, in the plane of a new social order.
So this tells us, friends, that as we wait on the coming of the Lord to us we should not receive God’s message in a position of privilege, but in places that perhaps we can deem as crucified and poor. This message of one who takes the language and status of Empire, undermines it, and converts it into a message of peace to create something that never existed before: a new social order, forged and shared for/by people of everyday life so that history can be transformed.
We are to take the political language and convert it to God-language, to convert the language of war and divisiveness to one of peace where all can share but to bring that new language and order to the places where the privileged few are least expecting. Who would have thought about that? So we shouldn’t be haunted with fear, but with awesome thanksgiving to look at the age of peace that God wants you and me to usher in.