Bible Sisters ~ Book Review

bible sisters

It has been my privilege and delight to teach a number of Bible study classes over the years ~ as a member of Methodist and Presbyterian congregations, and as a pastor to Presbyterian and Lutheran congregations.  In addition, as a spiritual director to Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish individuals, I am often called upon to provide scriptural references to someone seeking to explore various dimensions of his or her spiritual life.

No matter the context, it’s often a challenge to conduct a discussion on women’s experiences in the Bible.  There are the Big Ten to Fifteen or so (I made those numbers up): Eve, Sarah, Esther, Ruth and Naomi, Bathsheba, Mary the Mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha, the Woman at the Well, the Woman “Caught” in Adultery, the Syro-Phoenician Woman ~ many of whom, my experience tells me, are only dimly recognized by even our most faithful church participants.  And then there are the hundreds of women, often unnamed, referenced only in relation to a man or men or community or activity.

Bible Sisters, compiled by The Rev. Dr. Gennifer Benjamin Brooks and just published by Abingdon Press, makes a start on rectifying the lack of knowledge of women in the Bible which pervades many of our congregations.  It’s a devotional book, with 365 entries, numbered rather than dated (so that readers are not bound to a calendar).  Each entry suggests a short Bible passage, usually only a verse; a brief reflection; and a brief prayer.  I was not able to determine any rhyme or reason to the order in which the devotions are arranged, but there are indices in the back, alphabetically by name of character(s) and chronologically by book in the Bible,  which could be used to organize an individual or group prayer or study time.

This book is designed for ease and solace, rather than for deep study or challenge.  The most controversial events in the lives of women or teachings on the roles of women are either glossed over or avoided altogether.  Bathsheba’s rape is acknowledged, but the consequences are referred to as “the shame of her first pregnancy.” Yael (Jael) warrants two days, but the violence of her murderous action is not depicted.  Mary Magdalene’s discovery of the resurrected Jesus is depicted in a context of her sorrow and weeping rather than her joy and proclamation. Pauls’ admonishment to women not to exercise teaching authority over men makes no appearance at all.  And the brevity of the passages cited means that all context is omitted, so that answers to readers’ questions must be sought elsewhere.

Human lives are complex ~ and that includes the lives of Biblical women.  The layered depths of their lives are missing from this text, so that the reader or group seeking nuance or provocation must look elsewhere. However, with the names of so many Biblical women lost to time, and their frequent appearance as little more than faint shadows along the margins of history, it is a boon to prayer and study that obscure and overlooked women find a place in this book.  This devotional is a good beginning.


 

 

 

 

I received two copies of this book for review purposes, and was not compensated for this review.

Who Is This King of Glory? (Sermon for Christ the King Sunday)

We Americans aren’t on board with the whole king-idea.

If you watch Game of Thrones, you might think of royalty as involving power and wealth, intrigue and property, dynasties and warfare.

If you’re watching the current Netflix show, The Crown, about the British Queen Elizabeth coming to her throne, then you might think of royalty as involving power and wealth, intrigue and power, dynasties and warfare – and Winston Churchill.

If you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, the real King of Glory, then  . . . . how do you think of kingship?  How do you think of royalty?

Today, Christ the King Sunday, the final Sunday of the Church year, it’s incumbent upon us to ponder that question.  Who is the King of Glory?

He was not born in the lying-in room of the local palace. He was born into an impoverished family, his earthly parents not married when he was conceived.

He was not a member of the political elite.  He was born into an oppressed community, a culture far down on the Roman scale of prestige and authority.

He was not secure by birth or status or privilege.  With his parents, he was a refugee in Egypt, fleeing persecution and likely murder before he could even walk or talk.

He did not speak on behalf of the “haves,” the affluent, the powerful.  In his very first sermon, recounted in Luke 4, he proclaimed that “The Spirit of the Lord [was] upon him, [and that he had been anointed] to bring good news to the poor . . . to proclaim release to the captive and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, [and] to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

He did not teach how to win friends and influence people, how to make a million, how to create financial wealth for your descendants.  He taught that those who are blessed, those whose lives are most open to God, are those who are poor, those who are hungry, those who weep.

He did not ridicule or turn aside from those who are ill or injured or disabled, mentally or physically. He did not fear them, or wring his hands helplessly before walking away from them. He walked straight toward them, and  stopped to lift them up and to heal them.

He did not denigrate “the Other.”  He made them heroes of his encounters and his stories: the Syro-Phonecian Woman, and the Good Samaritan.

He did not belittle or ignore women, send them to the kitchen or bar them from roles of authority. He lifted them up, supported them, and commissioned them to preach the good news of his kingdom: the Woman at the Well, and Mary Magdalene.

He did not despair of the rituals and rules and teachings of the community in which he had been formed.  But he did condemn those who were its hypocritical leaders, and said that he had come to fulfill the law,  a fulfillment in which compassion and forgiveness and hope are paramount.

He did not wield weapons or other forms of power to elude the death which came to him, as it does it all human beings.  He accepted humiliation, torture, and the end of life with humility and with a sense of purpose.

He did not follow up on his astonishing resurrection with a claim to secular power, with an amalgamation of political and military forces, with a demand for a crown.  After his resurrection, he went right back to the people he had loved: that anonymous couple on the road to Emmaus, that motley crew of disciples back in their fishing boat.

This is who the King of Glory is: He aligns himself, persistently and consistently, with the poor, the oppressed, the refugee, the imprisoned, the hungry, the grieving, the broken and heartbroken, the disenfranchised, the overlooked.

This is who the King of Glory is: a king of abundant love, of extravagant generosity, a king who molds sinners into saints.

Regardless of who and where you are this morning – whether you are looking forward to a tv commercial-perfect holiday gathering, or to one in which the family has long since crumbled, or to dinner alone; whether you are content with your lot in life or feeling crushed by its demands; whether you are looking forward to good health and energy, or to a renewed round of doctors and hospitals – regardless of who and where you are, Jesus Christ is your king.  Loving you, challenging you, changing you.

And about this king of ours, Martin Luther –, as I learned in confirmation class with the kids last week — Martin Luther said, “Where he is, there I shall be also.”

On this Christ the King Sunday, and in the days and weeks ahead, will you be where your king is?  Will you open yourself to his love, accept his challenges, allow him to change you?

In the name of Christ the King,

Amen.

Come to the Table?

A sermon preached on August 28, 2016 ~

The question mark at the end of the sermon title is intentional.  Welcome to the table.  Welcome to the table?

Are we a truly welcoming congregation?  Are we a radically hospitable congregation?

One afternoon this week, I spent some time sitting here, and then walking slowly through this sanctuary. Which of you were involved with the design and building of this space?  Those of you who were may be aware of things that others of us take for granted – and I bet that Marion is aware of these things as well! —  and I wanted to really take it all in.  The beautifully grained and carved and polished woodwork.  The elegant fabric used for the pew cushions and communion kneelers.  The graceful ship’s hull design of the ceiling.  The beautifully crafted banners.  The stunning windows, with their rainbow of blue hues and their intriguing symbolic designs.  (I didn’t even know, until I came here, that the seashell is a symbol for baptism — and I like the seashell window so much that I photographed it for the illustration on my business cards.)

The windows – take a look at the windows on the back wall.  Do you know, without looking, what they are?  One portrays a cross with a wine chalice; the other, sheaves of wheat and a cluster of grapes.  That means that when you walk forward for communion, you come from the symbols of the Lord’s Table, and then you return to the symbols of the Lord’s Table.  And what I wondered, as I wandered through the sanctuary, was whether we live up to the radical hospitality symbolized by that table?  Do we live up to the beauty of our sanctuary in our overall lives as a congregation?

When we invite Jesus into our congregation, does he fit in easily and comfortably?  Or does Jesus, with his ideas and exhortations and his entourage of the poor and the homeless and the broken, create some challenges for us?

We have a story today that starts out simply enough.  Jesus has gone to the home of one of the Pharisees for a Sabbath dinner.  Jesus is always sharing a meal with one group of people or another, and all kinds of conversations happen at these meals.  That’s pretty much the same in our own lives, isn’t it – we gather over meals, and all kinds of things happen – especially if your family is one of the more complex versions of family.  A lot of us these days have the kinds of families in which some of the people who might be present at a big gathering have labels like “former” or “step” or “half” or “ex,”  and while there are families which handle those situations quite well, others are a bit prone to drama.  Well, when Jesus is present, drama has a way of emerging, albeit for different reasons. And at the particular meal that we’re speaking of today, the Pharisees are watching for it.  Is he going to suddenly reach out and heal someone? Is a woman going to appear with a jar of oil and stoop down to wash his feet? Is he going to call someone out for some reason? It can be a little nerve-wracking, to share a meal with Jesus.

At first, Jesus just watches, and offers a bit of advice.  He watches the guests jostling for position, and then he tells them a story about a wedding banquet, pointing out that, rather than grabbing a place of honor and risking the humiliation of the host asking you to move and make way for someone important, it’s better to take one of the seats in the back. Perhaps then the host will do you the honor of asking you to move forward. Nothing too surprising here.

But then he goes a little further, and proclaims that “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  With Jesus, it’s never just about the meal.  It’s never just about the ordinary events and experiences of life; it’s always about a deeper meaning.  It’s always about the kingdom of God, the kingdom he has come to inaugurate here on earth.  The kingdom which we, too, are invited to proclaim, in the everyday circumstances of our lives.

A couple of weeks ago, several of our youth came in for an event at which we discussed some of the challenges of high school. We had prepared several questions for them to reflect on, one of which was, “What would you do if you saw a new kid sitting all alone at lunch?”  A couple of the young people pretty quickly came up with the idea that they would invite this new kid to join the group at their table, so they’d have someone to eat with and get to know a few people.  Kingdom behavior.  And do you know, at Bible study this week, as we discussed this passage, the same sort of scenario came up – except this time — at church.  What do you do when you notice someone sitting alone at a Soup Supper or another event?

Jesus himself moves pretty quickly from his story about wedding banquet guests to his kingdom message about humility to this even broader kingdom question of hospitality.  When you are a guest at a banquet, take the lowliest seat, so that you will not be embarrassed by having over-stepped your place.  As a guest of God, know that humility is valued over self-exaltation.  And then: when you are a host . . .  when you are a host, “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind” – invite those who are in no position to repay you with a reciprocal invitation.

Now, suddenly, we’ve moved way beyond good manners, or even appropriate recognition of honor and humility.  Now we’ve moved into the arena of radical hospitality.  We’ve moved into the arena symbolized by those windows at the back. We’ve moved into the question of what, and who, are this beautiful sanctuary and this expansive building for?

The Rule of St. Benedict, written over 1,500 years ago as monasteries were being established all over Europe, says that, “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ.”  In an era in which travel was arduous and dangerous and few overnight establishments existed, the monasteries performed a vital function in welcoming travelers of all sorts.   In writing about the sort of hospitality in which Benedictine monks continue to engage today, monk Daniel Homan says

“Hospitality does not focus on the goal of being hospitable.  It is not about the one offering  hospitality.  Instead, it is singularly focused on the object of hospitality – the stranger, the guest, the delightful other.  One of the inherent problem with programs to develop radical hospitality  is the focus on hospitality as  a goal.  Hospitality requires that our focus is on the other rather than attainment of a concept.”[1]

I think our youth in the cafeteria have the idea.  Their immediate focus was on making the new kid more comfortable by welcoming him or her into the group – on relationship.  On “the delightful other.” How do we do this in the church?

The Methodists have a few things to say about radical hospitality, using Benedict’s words 1,500 years later.  They tell us that “ ‘radical hospitality’ requires intentional invitation and welcome. It goes beyond greeters at the door and handshakes during worship to welcome every person as an honored guest.’

Certainly, being a “friendly” church is good. But being in ministry in a confused and hurting world calls for “radical hospitality,” which breathes our core value: people are important to God and to this church.”[2]

And what about Lutherans?  On a website called “Radical Hospitality for the Rest of Us,” I discovered a short blurb about Peace Lutheran in Tacoma, Washington, “a 100 year old church that has successfully transitioned from being a dwindling ethnic German-Russian congregation in the 1960s to a diverse and vibrant congregation that reflects the demographics of the neighborhood and is deeply engaged with the needs of its community. The church is an unusual combination of Lutheran solidity (efficient systems and accountability) with vibrant relationships and an openness to the unexpected. It is a congregation that embodies the best of the Lutheran heritage of service and grace.”[3]

Well, what does all of this mean for us?  We know that as guests we are to exercise humility – ok.  We know that we do in our daily lives, in even the smallest of ways, has the potential to reflect the kingdom of God.  We know that we are to treat our guests as if they are Christ himself.  But how. Exactly, do we make the leap from being a friendly church to a radically hospitable church?

In have three suggestions for us, from small to big to the challenge of leaving our own space.  Small, and this one is from the Methodists: Decide that each Sunday you are going to greet two people you don’t know.  If it turns out that they are long time members whom maybe you should know, that’s ok. (I know that everyone worries about this!) No one gets to be insulted or embarrassed – that’s the humility part!

Big:  Whom might we invite to one of our events – to a Soup Super, or to something new? Students from Tri-C?  Guests from the Knickerbocker?  People from I don’t know where?  Whom might we welcome as the faces of Christ into our beautiful building?

Going out? We are a people sent by God to share the good news of God’s love. Where might we be sent to share that love through hospitality – to help serve a meal, to deliver food, to in some other way give of the abundance we have been given?

This all started with a story about who gets the seats of honor, and who perhaps does not.  But where Jesus is concerned, everyone gets a seat of honor.  Those symbols in the windows at the back, those symbols of bread and wine and cross – they are not just for us.  They are for the whole world and we, like Jesus, are called to be for the whole world.  We all, in fact, sit at the same place.  We are all invited :to sit at the Lord’s table, and there are none who are either too high or too low in status to be excluded.  As the old saying goes, ‘The ground is level at the foot of the Cross.’ “[4]

Welcome to the table is not a question – welcome to the table is an exclamation.  All are welcome – all are welcome by the Host of Love to the community of love.  Amen.

————

[1] Lonni Collins Pratt with Father Daniel Homan, OSB.  Radical Hospitality.  2011.

[2] Poona Patodia, “Is it time to move from friendly to radical hospitality?” http://www.umcom.org/learn/is-it-time-to-move-from-friendly-to-radical-hospitality.

[3] http://www.radicalhospitalityfortherestofus.com/?page_id=71

[4] http://gluthermonson.blogspot.com/2016/08/gods-etiquette.html

Holy Healing

A sermon preached on August 21, 2016 ~

What needs to be healed in your life, I wonder? Or in the life of someone you know? 

We all have our list, right?  The recent injury, the long-term condition, the critical illness, the mental or emotional disorder which so hampers daily life.  And we know how long it can take for a health matter to be resolved – and I would venture that most of us in this sanctuary are covered by good health care plans.  Long waits in doctors’ offices may be a feature, but that’s about as bad as it gets.  We don’t live in a remote part of Africa in which virtually no maternity care is available, or in Aleppo, Syria, being bombed so heavily that almost no medical resources at all are left.  And yet even we, with all of our health care advantages, understand the value of immediate response. In fact, isn’t one of the Clinic’s main advertising slogans these days that you can get “same day care?”  Because “everyone deserves world class care?”

World class or same-day care didn’t mean much for the woman in our story today.  We don’t know – was she a young woman, suffering from a birth defect like spina bifida or a lifelong challenge like scoliosis?  Was she an older woman, bent down by osteoarthritis?  Was she a woman in midlife, crushed by the weight of depression or grief?  What we do know is that for eighteen years she had been bent over, bent so that she mostly saw other people’s feet, bent so that she could not do the simplest of tasks with ease, bent so that she was excluded from conversation, from daily household work, from community life.

And Jesus?  Jesus is on the road toward his destiny in Jerusalem, a journey that takes up several chapters in Luke, and he has stopped by a local synagogue and received an invitation to preach on the Sabbath.   “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy” – we know that commandment, although we tend to think that we are exempt from observing it – we know it, and so did Jesus’ Jewish community.  The Sabbath was a day set apart, a day for rest – because God rested – and a day for celebration – because the Jews had been freed from slavery.  The Sabbath was a day of liberation – for God and human beings alike – liberation from the toil that competes for time and saps energy and distracts us from wonder and awe at the beauty and magnificence of creation. 

And Jesus, according to the critical leader of the temple, has upset that priority, because he has, upon seeing that bent-over woman, reached out and healed her.

Huh?

We don’t want to misunderstand the leader.  He is not an insensitive or cruel person, indifferent to the woman’s plight.  He is simply doing his job as he understands it: protecting the synagogue service and the teaching of faith from disruption.  And, perhaps even more importantly in his own eyes, he is affirming the faith given to the people by God by reminding them that they are to keep the Sabbath holy – set aside, reverenced with their time and attention – and accusing Jesus of violating one of the fundamental tenets of Jewish life with God.  We are so used to hearing this sort of story from our own point of view that we forget how important the laws of observance were to Jesus’ own people, and how they treasured those laws as a gift from God. 

But the synagogue leader is missing something here!  He is missing one of the main points of Sabbath  ~ the celebration of freedom from bondage.    Here is a woman enslaved by her condition, as the Hebrew people were once enslaved in Egypt ~ unable to live into the fullness of life, burdened by a condition imposed upon her and limiting her very movement ~ and Jesus is enacting the experience of liberation right before the eyes of those in the synagogue.

In Bible study this week, someone made a comment right on target about this text.  We remember that Jesus said, “I came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it” ~ and here he is, the embodied fulfillment of the law, serving and healing someone cast aside as one of the least.  Jesus also said that the Sabbath was made for us, and not we for the Sabbath ~ meaning that we were not made for the purpose of being bound to the Sabbath law so that we might be burdened by it ~ as the woman was by her condition ~ but that the Sabbath was made so that we might know a taste of freedom.

Did Jesus have to complete this healing on the Sabbath?  He did not ~ he could have waited until evening.  What difference would another afternoon have made to someone who had been suffering for eighteen years?  That’s the point made by the temple leader: Why disrupt the day, why blatantly pound a chink into the edifice of the law, with an act that would be as effective later that evening?

But Jesus has another point to make.  Jesus is not merely on an errand of mercy; Jesus is on an errand of urgency.  Jesus is here to launch the kingdom of God, the new creation in which all will be healed and whole, in which we will all be divested of the burdens of sin and completely freed for love.   Jesus is here to tell us that the extravagance of God’s love cannot be constrained, even for a few hours, by laws which delay or impose barriers to the healing of the world.

The precepts of Sabbath teaching, the rituals of Sabbath meals ~ all of them are important, all of them serve to ensure that we remember who God is and who we are ~ but in the absence of love for others, they are as nothing.  And if on a Sabbath day the opportunity arises to heal another person and we do not make the most of it, then are we not forgetting that the Sabbath was made for us?

Is there a better way to spend a holy day than by offering freedom to another human being?  Is there a better way to spend the Sabbath than by offering immediate and complete healing to someone damaged in body and Spirit?  Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy ~ remember the Sabbath and love your neighbor.  Amen.

 

If I Had a Hammer

A sermon for August 14, 2016:

 

So . . .  I come back from vacation, and God says that God’s word is like fire, and like a hammer, and Jesus is talking about bringing fire, and division . . .  Couldn’t we have a nice sermon week, with peaceful sheep beside still waters and admonitions to love one another, and reminders that blessed are the peacemakers?  But wait – maybe we do have these things, in disguise? Maybe not the sheep.  But let’s not dismiss these hard texts too quickly.

Let’s start with the prophet Jeremiah, who tells us that God’s word is like fire, and like a hammer that breaks a rock into pieces.  That God’s word is challenging and dangerous.

I have a special place in my heart for Jeremiah.  Jeremiah, we remember, is the prophet who was “forbidden by God to marry or to father children,” whose life which included “imprisonment, death threats, violent beatings, abandonment in a cistern, confinement in stocks, internment in a dungeon, persecution by family members, and confrontation by a false prophet.”[1]  That’s not how we imagine that a life lived faithfully should turn out, is it?  And yet many, many people find that, no sooner have they turned their lives over to God that things start to fall apart, at least from a  human point of view.

But this message of fire and rock?  Fire means many things in the Bible.[2]  Fire is a symbol of God’s presence and leadership – think about the Israelites in the desert being led by a pillar of fire.  Fire is a symbol of the Holy Spirit – think of the flames appearing above the heads of the people on Pentecost.  And fire is a cleansing agent – think of the words of the prophet Malachi, which most of us know from Handel’s Messiah: “But who may abideth the day of his coming? And who shall standeth when he appears? Because he is like a refiner’s fire . . .” – cleansing, purifying, leaving nothing of sin in his wake?

And a hammer – a hammer that smashes rock into pieces – a hammer which breaks apart the institutions, the political and social structures which oppress and destroy,  a hammer which sends the bits and pieces of our priorities flying — until what is left is God alone – is this perhaps the hammer of which Jeremiah speaks?

Perhaps Jeremiah had been meditating upon today’s Psalm, Psalm 82.  The setting is an ancient one, with its Hebrew idea of God sitting in God’s council of lesser gods, but the searing judgment God proclaims applies to the people of Jerusalem during the time of Jeremiah 400 years later and to the people of the world in our own time.  Listen to these verbs and to their objects:

Give justice to the weak and the orphan;

maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.

Rescue the weak and the needy;

deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

How are we doing with all of this?  Are we spending our days giving justice and maintaining the right and rescuing and delivering?  Are we?  Are we looking to the weak and the orphan and the lowly and the destitute and the needy? Are we even imagining the Kingdom of God which Jesus came to inaugurate – the kingdom, the new creation, when, as another prophet tells us —  when “justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” [Amos]?  There might need to be a lot of purification and breaking apart before that can happen.

Can we imagine clearing – purifying – the world of the practices of big agriculture, trade deals gone wrong, markets structured to make the wealthier wealthier – so that the abundance of food produced on this planet can reach all the people who need to eat?

Can we break apart the school funding laws in Ohio, deemed unconstitutional three times by our state’s highest court, so that all of our children, those in the most affluent suburbs and those in our inner cities and those in our Appalachian foothills – all of our children will know what excellence in education means?

Can we even clear our homes of stuff that we don’t use but other people could, and can we even free our own families from the sins of the fathers and mothers, the arguments and grudges so longstanding that we don’t even know what they are about anymore?

No wonder Jesus says that he comes to bring fire and division to the earth.  No wonder!  We cannot have those gentle sheep wandering around in peaceful green pastures and we cannot experience genuine love for one another and we cannot known the blessedness of the peacemakers until the things which divide us are brought to the surface and addressed and until the fire of the Spirit’s presence takes hold and brings justice to the earth.

You know about fire in nature, right?  Years ago, our family took a trip out to Yellowstone, a couple of years after the big fires out there.  We were dismayed, of course, to see huge strands of burnt skeletons of trees where two years earlier we might have viewed vast green forests.  But so many of the exhibits we saw and the books we picked up taught us about the refining power of fire – about the need for forests to be cleared so that soil and grasses and meadows could be regenerated, so that new life could be born.  If Jesus came to bring fire, it could only be the fire of resurrection, because resurrection is what Jesus is all about.  And if Jesus came to bring division – well, we know that only too well, don’t we?  But we are assured that even in our divisiveness – so painfully experienced right now in our own election cycle, in Israel and Palestine, in Afghanistan and Syria and Iraq, on the borders of Russisa – God is working to create a new thing.  And Jesus came to expose it — so that God can be at work to resolve it.

So what do we do?  Paul tells us to turn to the cloud of witnesses – to turn to our foremothers and forefathers in faith, and to take them as our models of courage, of obedience, of steadfastness, of loyalty, of perseverance – in the face of refining fires and rock foundations breaking apart. We all have those people in our lives – not only the figures of the Bible, but the great figures of our own lives.  The aunt of one of my friends, a Catholic nun, died a few days ago, and my friend said that “so much of the woman I am today is because of her.”  Isn’t it interesting that this passage, about “running with perseverance the race set before us” should come up today, in the middle of the Rio Olympics?  We are reminded every day of what it takes to run – and to dive, and to tumble, and to swim – with perseverance, whether we are talking about literal Olympic competitions or about the races of our own lives.  The Olympians themselves, witneses in the diversity of their power and strength and dignity, show us what happens when barriers are broken down and the best of humanity emerges.

We have been presented with a cascade of images today: fire, both destructive and purifying; a hammer splitting rock into pieces; a court of judgment and justice, fire scorching the earth and households divided, a cloud of witnesses, and a race to be run.  It’s a lot to take in.  And in today’s world, as in the worlds of the Bible, some of those images would be dangerous in the hands of people who would hear in them justification for physical violence and destruction. But in the end, all of these metaphors are about the same thing: the love of God, which demands from us clarity, and justice, and engagement, and, ultimately, love for another.

The title of today’s sermon comes from a song which most of you probably know well.  The folksinger  Pete Seeger was a prophet for our time, and we might recognize his song, “If I Had a Hammer,” as a recapitulation of today’s readings.  It popped into my mind as soon as I read Jeremiah –

[First verse]

And God’s justice, God’s love, is a dangerous hammer, isn’t it?  God’s love splinters and burns and breaks apart our complacency, our institutions, our attitudes that further racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, poverty, violence.  We are all complicit, says Jeremiah, we are all attached to the rocks that we hold sacred – and Jesus tells us that he will destroy them, and that where the old festers, he will create anew, in the name of justice and love and peace.

By the end of his song, Pete Seeger is proclaiming that he’s got the hammer of justice, the bell of freedom, and a song about love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land.”

And so, my friends, do we.  So do we.  Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

[1] Alphonetta Wines, Working Preacher. August 14, 2016.  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2949.

[2] David Lose, Working Preacher. August 15, 2010.  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=733.

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