Tuesday, 11 February 2014

lectionary leanings: 'well, that's awkward' - Matthew 5:21-37

Although I'm not preaching this coming Sunday - as I shall be in Israel [she said, casually!] - a conversation in a facebook group prompted some thoughts on the upcoming gospel text for the day: Matt. 5: 21-37. I love being a part of a group who are happy to engage in conversation both casually and deeply about the texts for preaching. I value the variety of approaches and insights - they both feed my soul and stimulate my own thinking. The verses concerned are:
21“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you,24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.27“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. 31“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.33“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one
One of the group had posted a comment observing that she really did not like the text - which, given some of the content, is understandable. In response, another noted that, in sensitivity to some folk who'd be visiting the church that Sunday, the reading would be stripped a little - especially the 'divorce' stuff. Some said 'find another text to preach on, then', while others encouraged a 'don't shy away from the hard texts' approach. A couple noted that by omitting the text, the original poster could be storing up a homiletical problem a little ways down the track when the gospel unpacked some other matters that were based on this chapter. So, a nice diversity of opinion already, with regard to whether to preach on it or not. 

I think that I'm inclined to the view that when these so called 'hard' texts turn up, we should face them square in the eye.  And that it's completely okay to say to a congregation 'you know what, I struggle with this reading.'  Chances are, they do too - it may even come as a relief to know that the minister is also sweating somewhat with regard to the passage.  Given that, if I were preaching this coming Sunday, I'd still go for the gospel text - warts 'n all - and think my sermon title would be 'Well, that's awkward...!', thus acknowledging the difficult sounding stuff in the reading, and also the possible difficulty regarding what on earth to do with it.  However, having taken that communal deep breath with the congregation, I'd also acknowledge that the passage is a massively rich text and there are many ways in which to approach it.
Looking at the passage, my own tendency would be to try and stand back a little to try to see a broader theme and try to avoid the potential of becoming bogged down in the individual offences.  As I read it, this passage is part of a much wider discourse on how to love one's neighbour - the offences mentioned are all potential causes for dispute and disharmony undermining personal / familial/ community/ divine relationships:
murder, anger management, insults, adultery, divorce, false witness.
Thinking of John Calvin [as I often do] and his understanding of the godly community being an harmonious community - ordered and peaceable, and thus potentially at least, demonstrating a foretaste of the kindom of heaven - perhaps I'd invite folk to think about how to live in love/ harmony with one another?
For me, then, the key verses would be:

'23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.'
We are called to be a community of reconciliation - as God has reconciled us in Christ, so we are to be reconciled one to another and as we do so, live into our calling as Christ's body in the world to bring the message of the gospel of peace to the world.  The challenge of preaching upon a 'hard' text is paralleled by the challenge it is to live as reconciled people...


And I am now filing that thought away for the next time the text comes around!! 

Saturday, 1 February 2014

BE 7: boats, bonding, and beignets...or, 'what I did in the holidays'

a rather large boat...
some friendly feet for a pheeto...
beignets in New Orleans




7am Tuesday: the 3rd, and final, plane flew above the darkened Forth. Various signs of human habitation twinkled in the blackness; orange-yellow street lights, occasional twin-white beams from cars snaking along unseen roads, the scattered lights of households preparing for a new day, the glow of a lonely ship upon the river.
Touchdown.
Customs.
A tired goodbye to the last remaining RevGal in the chain; a chain linking back to where the 1st plane had lifted off - New Orleans, a cruise, a meeting of minds and hearts and voices, virtual friends moving from ether to earthy reality, shared pheetos and new friendships made.
So it was that the RevGals BE 7 came and went.
Delighted at last to meet up in real-time with some of the amazing community of women who have been such a support and inspiration over the last 6 years since I started reading the main blog and linked blogs.
Remembering the email from 5 years ago welcoming me into that community of blogging women.
Also remembering wishing folk a fabulous time each year as another BE swung by, while also quietly wishing wistfully that perhaps, one day, I might go and play.

As journey's end so, too, the arrival into New Orleans 9 days earlier was in darkness, followed by a mad shuttle bus ride to the hotel, weary collapse in an oh-so-cosy bed after travelling sitting for so long, and the building anticipation of knowing that RevGals were beginning to converge on the town.
New Orleans by day in sight, sound, and smell:
the Big Easy, bedecked in the green, purple, and gold of Mardi Gras, grooved and hummed to the sounds of street jazz bands, children rat-a-tat-tatting doing tin-can tap for any passer-by willing to throw a buck in a hat.  The occasional blast of a steamer sounded in the distance, while tourists, gator-like devoured the experience, snapping cell-phone cameras.  The wafting, weirdly alluring/appalling smell coming from cigar stores competed with fried oyster and crawfish poboys, beignets and milky coffee from Cafe du Monde, racks of ribs, and alligator being cooked in various eateries.  Eschewing the cigars, I opted for the oyster and crawfish, sampled some alligator and washed down both with copious root beer [ah, the joy of free refills].  Groucho Marx came to mind at one point re. the gator: 'get me an alligator on a stick and make it snappy.'
'Do do that voodoo [burger] you do do so well'
Neutralising bad magic? The BVM and voodoo burgers compete at a cafe in the French Market.
That first weekend was gloriously warm - eating al fresco without winter woollies in January was fabulous.
Sunday and Monday before boarding was spent meeting and greeting and eating with newly arrived RevGals.  We boarded 'Elation', a rather ambitious name, for further meeting, greeting, and eating.  In my ongoing inner life as a musical, the ear-worm of the day was 'Getting to know you'.  We began the process of telling our stories, bonding in laughter at some of those 'really can't tell this anywhere' else anecdotes, sharing deep thoughts and bad jokes.  Initial reserve disappeared quickly and I relaxed in this great company of folk; cue for second ear-worm 'I think I'm gonna like it here'.

Intertwined with the fun 'Galship' was the matter of attending a programme set up for the purpose of continuing education/reflection.  In this instance, we were exploring the Enneagram with Suzanne Stabile.  When it came to our Enneagram encounters, we were a mixed bunch - some were new to the whole thing, some had dipped in, while others were well-acquainted.  In the past, I'd been fortunate to do work on the Enneagram with Dorothy Neilson, so it was good fun to build on that foundation as well as compare two very different but equally fab Enneagram teachers.  Given my previous Enneagram background, this time around I was able to concentrate less on my own traits and characteristics and more on getting a better all-round sense of how it related to others - useful stuff and hopefully it will help as I move into my own congregation, work on committees, chair the kirk session, relate to my parishioners with hopefully more understanding, and such like.  It was not all hard work, however.  Dancing waiters at dinner-time encouraged some of our party to dance 'Gangnam-style' between mains and dessert; jaunts ashore to Progresso and Cozumel that included Margaritas and Pina Coladas served in gold-fish bowls posing as glasses; being gently rocked to sleep by the waves...more conversations, more laughter, stress and tiredness seeping away.

When we docked early Saturday morning, New Orleans was hidden in a cold fog worthy of an Edinburgh haar.  As some of the others shivered, I felt at home in the weather, smiled and put on the thick jumper [sweater!] I'd brought with me from Scotland.  Happily extending some of the 'Galship', four of us travelled across town to enjoy the hospitality of the folks at the Magnifcat House of Discernment - a place where young, post-college aged women are invited to stay and reflect on a possible vocation to the Religious life. Sisters Diane and Carmen were wonderfully kind, and over dinner with some of the discernees present, we pondered the nature of 'calling' and women in ministry both Catholic and Protestant.

Having the use of a car, the next morning, our wee group of 4 pootled up the road to worship at a church currently being pastored by another RG who'd also been on BE 7.  Great fun, and inspiring to see how two congregations, one black, one white, had come together as one.  Equally inspiring was the vote that they had taken the previous weekend to become an 'open and affirming' congregation.  I thought to myself quietly 'people: you rock,' and gave thanks.  After worship, and with RG friend, we decamped to Juan's Flying Burrito for enjoyable, extended food and fellowship.  Farewells to S. followed by a tour around the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Katrina 9 years on.


In the midst of wasteland and desolation were signs of new life and habitation, but it is a slow process.  A signboard on one house commented on the cost of war in Iraq/Afghanistan and wondered when the government might look to helping out its own citizens.  Amongst the new builds, the innovative, sustainable housing of the Make it Right organisation [a.k.a. Brad Pitt's houses] were visually stunning.  Not being comfortable about taking photos of the housing, I opted instead to snap a sign by the levee which gave brief details of what had happened in 2005.  The conversation was somewhat subdued as we drove around the devastation and bit-by-bit regeneration; we wondered how many more years it would take for the area to fully recover...we couldn't help but agree with the sentiments of the sign we'd seen on the house earlier.

A small trip down memory land followed for two of our company - sisters - who had been born in, and spent their very early years in New Orleans.  Having phoned their mother for directions, we drove into the neighbourhood of their childhood; it was filled with cute, matching bungalows all along the avenues.  Our last supper together was had in the French Quarter accompanied by the sounds of raucous jazz coming in off the street.
An early night.
A morning flight, leading to Houston, leading to Newark, leading...home.

It has been a wonderful, wonder-filled, space for refreshment, relaxation and renewal [spot the Star-word!] which did not require the writing of an essay at the end of it.  A time to be and breathe in the company of some particularly excellent women.  Currently still a little jet-lagged, although the on-land sea-swaying seems to have stopped.
If I have the opportunity to go to another BE, I'll be there like a shot if I'm allowed :)
Thanks for the welcome, the hospitality, the fun, and the friendship RevGal sisters - it has been awesome, as are you all.