Although our iniquities testify against us,
act, O Lord, for your name's sake;
our apostasies indeed are many,
and we have sinned against you.
O hope of Israel,
its savior in time of trouble,
why should you be like a stranger in the land,
like a traveler turning aside for the night?
Why should you be like someone confused,
like a mighty warrior who cannot give help?
Yet you, O Lord, are in the midst of us,
and we are called by your name;
do not forsake us!
These are the opening lines of this week’s Old Testament lesson, a poem of lament from days gone by. This week we hear an excerpt from a longer passage about the drought that rocked Judah. It is easy at first blush to simply attribute this to an historic piece of poetry about an event in the distant past. It is easy to dismiss the poem as superstitious and naive; to view it as the work of people who believe that God is punishing them for their wickedness.
But the words have stuck with me all week as I have listened with increasing dismay and growing worry to the campaign rhetoric. I wondered as I read over the reports of last night’s debate ( I confess I did not have the stomach to watch) what it might be like, what might “happen” if you will, if we all prayed with the type of pleas we hear in this text. What if we all simply believed that God is in the midst of us, that we are called by God’s name. What if we believed we would not be forsaken?
I know many churches are asking people to pray for the outcome of this next election, for safety in polling places and for a safe and sane transfer of power. What if we “vigiled” for the next three weeks, not asking for our candidate to win or for our platform to seize the day but for God’s presence in this time and place and God’s will to be done in all or creation?
A Lectionary Blog
The Rev. Leslie M. St. Louis
Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, `Grant me justice against my opponent.' For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, `Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'" And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"
Way back when in the late 70’s and early 80’s I worked in a program at the University of New Mexico Medical center called the Child Life Program. Child Life is a program that does play and art therapy with hospitalized children. It was an amazing experience and one from which the interactions and the lessons learned inform me to this day. It was one of those times in life where the gift I received was far greater than any I had to offer.
One of the children with whom I worked was a young girl who was a cutter. You may or may not know that cutting is somewhat more prevalent in girls than in boys. There are many reasons that an individual my cut themselves but often what these children express is that it is a way to feel something when their emotions otherwise are numb or blunted. There are many dangers for individuals who cut themselves but one of the lifelong dangers is that the more they self injure the more scarring builds up and the more they have to cut themselves to feel something. That’s certainly true with lots of things, the more insults are screamed at you, the harder it is to hear the truth; the more times you are demeaned, degraded, and objectified, the thicker your skin becomes. To put it in the words we hear in the Gospel, the more you seek justice and don’t find it, the less likely you are to believe it even exists.
In recent weeks the rhetoric of the presidential elections has become louder and more shrill, as it always does to some degree at this point in the election cycle, but this year there has been the added accost of Donald Trump’s treatment of women. Recently his taped comments of how he views and treats—more accurately, assaults—women as well as his degrading comments of the woman with whom he was about to meet has been played over and over and over again. It is not enough that men like Donald Trump think and act the way they do, our media outlets give them credence by supporting their bad behavior with air time or press because the salaciousness of what they are saying and doing sells.
It’s not that anything Mr. Trump said or has done is new to any of us, in fact, sadly this behavior goes back a long, long way in our society. It is so much the norm that many of the women I have spoken to over the last days and weeks actually had to do a double check on their own thoughts and feelings. Yes, we had to tell ourselves that was really horrible, and yes we had to say to ourselves that really does hurt, and yes every time that tape plays on the television, I do really feel sick to my stomach. And YES I should feel that way. And so should everyone else.
We have all grown so used to the treatment of women in this country, treatment that is demeaning and degrading and objectifying that we no longer realize that that treatment cuts deep. We have all heard about and talked about the glass ceiling for a long time. I have experienced it—in my first interview for a church job the rector told me quite plainly I was more qualified than any man he had interviewed but he would not hire a girl to do a man’s job. I have been told when I asked what my role would be in an important service of the church for which I worked, “Oh this is too big of a deal for you. You just need to stand around and look pretty.” I’ve been told I need to dress this way or that way, cut my hair, grow my hair, and wear higher heels. I’ve had my looks and my body evaluated to within an inch of my life by committees and parishioners and never had those same groups of people say one word about my credentials. And I have sat with those same committees and parishioners and listened to the very different treatment they offer a man with the very same credentials.
The glass ceiling is alive and well. The problem is we all have this idea that it is this smooth glass dome, sort of like a panoramic sunroof over our heads. It’s up there sparkling clean letting the sun shine on our pretty little heads and showing us the brilliant blue sky. The problem is that glass ceiling is razor sharp and opaque with the blood of the women it has maimed. The problem is that glass ceiling and all the bad behaviors that work to keep it in place harm all of us.
Gandhi once said (and Bernie Sanders misquoted) “a true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” Does a society work to move individuals from vulnerability to indomitability, from shame to honor, from objectifying to personalizing? While it is true that some politicians have come out against Trump’s comments, it boggles my mind that there has not been a mass statement from our professional sports teams decrying the characterization of their locker rooms. And while NBC moved swiftly to suspend and then fire Billy Bush, it has not come forward with a strong censure either. If, in fact, we believe in the justice that women have been coming forward and asking for day after day and year by year, then the only response to someone like Mr. Trump is this--“if you are going to speak in this way and behave in this way we will no longer give you any air time.” Period. Done!
The fact that there is not a stronger response says to me that the powers that be aren’t really so upset by the “locker room talk” but by the fact that they got caught and that created an awkward moment. One could make an interesting case study out of the way Billy Bush faired in all of this. Here he was given a job to do--go interview Donald Trump and bring us back a juicy story. Then Mr. Trump starts to behave and speak in a very unprofessional manner, and what is Mr. Bush to do? He seems uncomfortable on the tape but he does not stop or reprimand Mr. Trump. Maybe he felt like he couldn’t challenge a big star. Surely at least one of his supervisors heard the tape as soon as it was edited, but they didn’t come to their employee’s defense. Finally, when the tape is released years later, Mr. Bush is the sacrificial lamb fired for what being abused by a rich arrogant misogynist? I rather imagine this sounds a lot like the world many women live in every single day.
In our Gospel lesson from last week, the widow keeps coming asking for justice, and finally the judge grants her justice not because she deserve it but because he has tired of hearing her. Women in this country have been pounding on the door of justice for so long that they no longer feel the bruises and the blood running down their arms. Yet the powers that be hear them not and so another generation of girls will grow up cut by the jaggedness of a society that neither cherishes, nor reveres them--and certainly does not respect them--and they will wonder along with Christ if there is any faith on earth.
Wandering through the Word
A Lectionary Tease
The Rev. Leslie M. St. Louis
Both our Old Testament Lesson and our Gospel deal with the healing of lepers this week. In our lesson from Kings, Namaan is sent to Elisha to be healed of his lepersy but he fusses and fumes that the great prophet has not paid enough attention to him and given him something too simple to really be a cure. In our Gospel lesson, Jesus heals ten lepers but only one returns to give thanks to God for his healing.
I wonder as I read and reread these texts, what does healing really look like? Do we expect it to come tied up in a package with a big red bow, would we know it if it came quietly alongside us and ushered us into a new way of life? Do we expect that healing means a total remission of whatever is making us ill or might it be accepted as a shift in us about our dis-ease?
I wonder as well just who are the dis-eased in our world today? I am reminded of the TB sanatoriums of the early 1900s and the leper colony on the island of Molokai; how people were separated from society for fear of the diseases. Who is it that we seek to remove from our midst in this time? And what does the healing look like now?
“Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”
These are the words we will gather under this Sunday, let your grace precede and follow us. May we approach those who are in need of healing with the tangibility of your grace and when we leave them may the long flowing shadow of that very same grace hold them.
A Lectionary Blog
The Rev. Leslie M. St. Louis
There is always so much rich fodder in the lessons we have each Sunday and sadly since most preachers only have fifteen to twenty minutes to preach we have to pick and choose what we want to say and where we are being called to go. There are always many, many places that God’s word might be speaking both to and from our hearts. Did you know that in the not too distant past the Episcopal Church was known for its preaching and prophetic witness? Did you know that in a place and time not too very long ago or far away that preachers actually preached sitting down at a very large desk at the front of the assembly and sermons could be over an hour long? Even then I rather imagine that the clergy had a difficult time distilling all that they heard and all that they read and all that they wanted the people to hear and feel and know into an hour sermon.
As part of last Sundays’ lections, if you were in Track 2 of the lectionary, the Old Testament lesson was from the book of Habakkuk and toward the end of the lesson we heard these words:
Then the Lord answered me and said:
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
When I first read this text, my mind wandered to my travels in Israel, to a late afternoon at a rooftop restaurant overlooking the city of Jerusalem--the city that embodies the longing for the justice cried out for in this scripture. Just as the sun began to set and the long, fingered shadows slowly overcame the city, my companions and I began to hear the opening prayers for Shabbat rise up from the Western Wall, shortly after that the call to worship coming from the mosque at the Dome of the Rock, and just as those two prayers intertwined, the bells at St. Mary of the Domitian Lutheran church began to ring announcing the evening prayer service. It occurred to me then, and again in my memory and now as I write these words, how strong the visions, the prayers, and the hopes and dreams for peace and for justice have been in just that place for thousands of years…..and yet.
My mind wanders from that place to the place we live here and now—to the current political campaign, to the pandemic of violence shattering lives across the nation, to a world that is anything but peaceful and just. What might it look like if we all took the time to seek out the vision God has for us, to take a tablet, write it down, and make it plain? Are you a list maker? Most of us are at some point in time, either when things get too stressful and overwhelming for us to keep track of or when we have some goal we want to achieve or something important we want to remember and share with people. Writing it down makes it real. It empowers the idea and us to move in some way.
For the Hebrew people knowing the name of something, speaking it, writing it gave you power over it. Words matter. They have power to convey meaning and to change lives—ours and others. I wonder what might change if we all took our own vision for peace and justice and commanded the language of our hearts to write the story of the end. God’s intended end for us. An end that is about abundance not annihilation, green pasture not deserted wastelands, palaces not prisons.
A Lectionary Blog
The Rev. Leslie M. St. Louis
Sunday we encountered the story of the rich man and Lazarus. It is, I think, impossible in this country to read this text and not feel somewhat of a Biblical finger being pointed at us as the “rich man.” There is truth to that finger pointing for many of us. We have more than most in the world by a large margin. But the text is not condemning because of the riches of the rich man. We know that because Lazarus ends up at the bosom of one of the richest men in scripture. Abraham!
In the book of Deuteronomy, Abraham is humbly described as a Wandering Aramean (Deuteronomy 26:5), but the writer of Genesis describes him as a man who has in his possession “sheep, oxen, male and female slaves, female donkeys, and camels.” Not a man who has given everything he owns away to support the poor. Not a man who, like Lazarus, has nothing to his name. Clearly the possession of wealth isn’t what rules out salvation in Jesus’ view.
But there is more to our discomfort with whether we have or have not that gets triggered by this text. I had a very brave parishioner say to me after we had studied this text “you know, I get frustrated because I don’t feel very rich. I feel as if I have less and less and yet I am expected to do more and more.” I think it is true that, in spite of being the ones’ with “sheep and oxen and donkeys and camels” so to speak, we feel impoverished. I think it is especially true for folks who live on fixed incomes and for those of us who find that our precious dollar buys less this week at the grocery store than it did last week.
I think that sense of feeling impoverished, of having lost something or worse yet having something taken away from us, is exactly the button that is being pushed by so much of the rhetoric of this year’s presidential campaign. We live in this space of certainty that if we don’t have something it is because someone else got it; someone got what we should have. We seem eternally convinced that everything is a zero sum game. We live in fear that we will not have enough, and therefore hold on with both fists to everything we have.
Therein lies challenge of the rich man. You see, it is not really that Lazarus’s poverty is what gets him to his eternal resting place in the arms of Abraham. We find the answer in understanding what his name means. Lazarus is the Latin form of Eleazar, which means God is my help. What should catch our attention about Lazarus is not his poverty nor his poor health nor the fact that he has lain at the gate of the man clothed in purple his entire life. No what should capture us is his ability to look to God for help. Lazarus, in life and even more so in death, embodies of us the knowledge that our true help is in God’s grace and power.
So, this is the struggle for the rich man and for each of us. Is it wrong to have wealth? Certainly not. But wealth has a tendency to be all consuming, doesn’t it? We become convinced that our possessions have the ability to protect, fulfill, and preserve us from all manner of things. We come to believe that we can depend solely on ourselves and in so doing turn inward away from each other and away from God. In short, our focus is drawn away from that careful attentiveness to God’s presence in our lives that our journey in faith demands.
We have all heard the saying that the more we hold on to something the less we can receive what is coming our way. Many years ago as I was preparing to move from Tennessee to Rochester, I was faced with the knowledge that my elderly German Shepherd would not be able to make the move should I be offered a position in Rochester. I was heartbroken to think that I might have to put her to sleep in order to continue the journey to ordained ministry, which she had accompanied me on thus far. I clung tightly and tearfully to her day after day as I waited for both the church, St. Paul’s, and God to provide me with answers to my next steps. In the wisdom of creation, my beloved girl’s health failed to the point that I had to put her to sleep and in those precious moments as I let her go from my hands to God’s arms, St. Paul’s called and the arms of a new community opened to embrace my broken heart.
My prayer for each of us is that we never cling so tightly to what we have in this life that we lose hold of what God has for us in the next.
A Lectionary Blog
The Rev. Leslie M. St. Louis
All of this week’s lessons speak in some way of faithfulness. The Gospel speaks most directly about faithfulness in our lives, but in the Old Testament lesson from Amos, we experience that lesson in the converse. The lesson speaks of the people who want the Sabbath to end quickly so that they can go back to living in their unfaithful, dishonest ways, and we are told in the very last line that God will remember this and presumably not be pleased.
I rather imagine faithfulness is not something we think about very often, and I am going to bet that for most of us it is simply sort of like the air—we just expect that it is present and we are shocked when it is not. I am quite sure that most of us do not think of faithfulness as a practice, just like exercise, that it is something that we must choose to do and choose to nurture.Sometime ago I happened to catch a segment on CBS news about 1st Lieutenant Billie Harris. Harris was a pilot in World War II. He flew his last mission over Nazi occupied France on July 17, 1944, a mission from which he never returned. At first he was listed as missing in action, and his family was later told he had been killed but his remains never came home. Over the years, his widow tried to find his final resting place but no one seemed to know where he was. Some sixty years later his nephew requested Lieutenant Harris’s military records and found that his Uncle was buried in Normandy. The sixty year saga was an impressive story in and of itself but the piece that struck me was the final question that Steve Hartman asked Peggy Harris.
“It’s been 60 years?” He said. “You’ve never moved on, never remarried, why is that?"Billie was married to me all of his life, and I choose to be married to him all of my life," Harris said.
Faithfulness. A choice to remain persuaded to something or in this case someone. In the case of our journey with God a choice to remain persuaded by the divine. To walk on a path that is set by our discipleship and marked by the same.
There are several places in scripture which speak to the covenant relationship we are to have with God. The first two of the Ten Commandments:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.”
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Speak directly of what our relationship with God must be, while the remaining commandments peak of our relationship to one another. One of the most eloquent pieces of scripture about our relationship with God can be found in a short verse in the book of Micah, Micah 6:8:
“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Perhaps it might be an interesting exercise to think about how to live faithfully for the next seven days. As a guide, let me provide a link to an article by Brian McLaren for Sojourner’s magazine. I encourage you to take the challenge he lays forth for the next seven days and let us see where we all end up.
Evocations: A Lectionary Blog
The Rev. Leslie M. St. Louis
It has been an interesting week to ponder the lections in the midst of life. I began the week thinking about returnings. The return of the children to my school, the return of members back to church, how nice it feels to return to a more normal schedule. All of these musings set in the midst of our lections for this week. If you are following track two, as my church is, the place of entry is the lesson from Deuteronomy in which Moses sets before him the words the Lord has given him: “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.”
It would seem to be a pretty easy task to obey the commandments of the Lord. Yet we only have to read a little further in the Old Testament to find the next bit of “wandering astray” that God’s people get into. A habit, of course, that we can track throughout the path of human history.
We move on in our lections from Moses and the Israelites to Paul and his letter to Philemon. Paul is begging Philemon. Begging him to do what? Well, to put it bluntly, to really follow the commandments. Paul wants Philemon to return Onesimus to the status of a free man, someone who holds the very same stature as Paul.
Finally, we find our way to Luke’s gospel in which Jesus rather strongly insists to his followers that they can only have one loyalty, and their loyalty can be only to God if they/we are going to be his followers. Loyalty to the one God who gave those commandments oh-so-long-ago in a land so very far away to a people so unlike us.
What was it Moses said God said? “Here” he said, “I set before you life and prosperity, death and adversity if you obey my commandments.” How intriguing to have these lessons rattling around in my being while encountering the events of this week. On the one end, Colin Kaepernick’s sitting silently on the sidelines as the National Anthem played, a stoic witness to the places where he believes America falls short of the ideals that our constitution proclaims and the flag symbolizes. Then, in the middle of the week, Georgetown University announced that it will treat descendants of the 272 slaves who were sold to save the university from bankruptcy with the same preferential status as large donors and alumni families, attempting to recognize its history with slavery and to begin to make reparations for the damages caused. I wondered as I watched the news if the President of Georgetown had read Paul’s letter to Philemon; I wondered if he felt it had been written directly to him.
It occurred to me that both Colin Kaepernick and Georgetown chose to speak of returning something, healing something, amending something in the midst of a climate that seems to be bent on tearing apart. I wondered what it meant for each of them to take a stand to encounter the oppressed and actively seek to end their oppression, to lend their voices to the song of equality.
I am as patriotic as the next one. In fact, it is not uncommon for me to actually get choked up at the trooping of the colors and the singing of the National Anthem. I stand and belt it out as loudly as I can even if I can’t hit the high notes any longer. But I began to wonder this week about what the flag means to other people and to realize, for perhaps the first time, that it may not mean the same thing for everyone who encounters it. You know, I think most of us associate (at least I do) the Confederate flag with slavery, but this week it occurred to me to think about the long history this country has with slavery. The first slaves were brought to Jamestown in 1619, so the flag they would have known first was the British flag. I wonder what they thought of it? One hundred and fifty-eight years later those slaves who were in the thirteen colonies would have encountered the new flag, the Stars and Stripes flying over a nation seeking freedom from the oppression of the British crown. Not until 1861 would the Confederate Flag begin to fly, and only in opposition to that Confederate Flag would the American flag have begun to be viewed as a symbol of freedom from oppression, emancipation and a new identity as a free person.
I wonder what it means to have your status as a free person taken away? I wonder what that does to one’s sense of being? And I wonder what it means to have your status as a free person returned to you? Does simply saying you are free now take away all that has changed over the years you have been enslaved? I wonder for all of our brothers and sisters whose heritage includes bondage what they would say, and what they would ask for in the returning?
I walk with these wonderings a lot as I wander the grounds of Holy Trinity, an institution whose history is just as steeped in the institution of slavery as is Georgetown. They ride with me as I drive through Levitt Bowie a community that was originally built on the ideal of segregation. What is it that we have to atone for? What offer of returning do we have to make? How do we begin to engage the conversation with our brothers and sisters who find in the flag not the same symbol we have come to adore? How through the focal point of the cross do we choose life and length of days.
“Stop collecting treasure for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them.” (Matthew 6:19)
The first time it happened, I didn’t know what she was up to. I had come home to visit my parents, and as I was leaving my mom stopped me and handed me a box. It was an old cardboard box that was heavy in my arms. When I opened the box, I realized what she was doing. She was cleaning out her closets. This became her custom for the next couple of years. Every time I left, she would hand me another old box. The boxes were filled to the brim with stuff. It was my stuff.
When I opened the boxes, memories would flood over me. One box was filled with all my old trophies. Soccer, baseball, basketball and pinewood derby trophies reminded me of my pursuits when I was younger. Another box held my baseball card collection, the one I pored over hour after hour in elementary school. Another box had photos, another notes and cards, another local newspaper clippings with my name highlighted.
My mother had given me the treasure from my first eighteen years. Surprisingly, it all fit into four or five boxes. Not so surprisingly, the stuff that had been cluttering her closet now clutters mine.
We all have stuff. We have so much stuff that our homes can’t hold it all. But this book won’t be an indictment on stuff. In fact much of our stuff is quite helpful. The couches, the refrigerator, the beds all go to good use. Even the things we think are worth keeping in boxes can hold special meaning. What I’ve learned though, is that those things are not our treasure.
Jesus said we should stop collecting treasures for our own benefit. His words imply that our lives have a higher purpose than acquiring things to fill rooms and closets. This may seem obvious, until we consider where we spend the majority of our time. If most of our time is spent making money to pay for our stuff, then we at least need to pause for moment and consider Jesus’ admonition.
Stop collecting treasure for your own benefit.
Jesus is not condemning stuff. Most of us need the stuff we have and most of us are grateful for reminders of the past we keep in boxes. Instead, Jesus is pointing us to a greater purpose for our lives than accumulating things in the temporary homes we live in. He has more for you.
Jesus wants to redefine what means treasure to you.
O God, I know that you have something to say to me today. Help me hear your voice above all the noise in my life. I search after many things; help me search for you. I have sought treasure in many places; remind me that my treasure is in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
How does today’s scripture intersect with your life? Reflect on this gentle warning from Jesus, and then write down your thoughts.
Take time to get out if you can and walk in this early fall weather and as you walk ponder the fact that in our lives we have the opportunity to collect not just stuff but treasure. What do you treasure? Ask God to give you insight into what you should treasure.
Do you have a collection? What might your collection or valuables say about how you spend your time, energy and resources?
Consider taking time to look through the keepsakes you have saved over the years. Ask yourself why you saved these particular treasures and recall the memories and reminders they hold for you.