Forgiving someone once is one thing, but are you going to give him a third chance? Wouldn’t that make you feel like a ninny? Would that make you co-dependent? How about seventy times seven times? Come on?
There are plenty of people who seem to have the foresight to see catastrophes coming. Some of them are scientists and some are religious prophets of one sort or another. The question is, do we have the will to work together and do something to limit the damage that is coming in this era of aging infrastructure, and inadequate sea walls, and building codes that can’t stand up to what we might be facing in the years and decades ahead?
Many years ago I had my daughter Margaret in tow. We were visiting the Portland zoo, one of our favorite places. We were standing before the huge glass cage that was part of the home of the orangutan family. It was a cool fall afternoon, and we watched as the baby ran to it’s mother to cozy up – get warm. The mother took a large wool blanket, perhaps her only possession, shook it out like any mother would do, and then swung it around her shoulders as gracefully as a Martha Graham dancer. She pulled it down around her little one and sat there looking at us as we stared back. Any thought I ever had that these creatures might be of less value than human beings evaporated away that afternoon.
Here they were, women who lacked the only honorable distinction given to women in their day, to give birth, but through the madness and fear of a king, they found themselves in a unique position of power. And they used that opportunity to make a difference. They played the only part they could play, but it was one that would change the world, setting the stage for the liberation of an entire people from a tyrant.
The story starts so small. Joseph is merely on an errand for his father. He’s sent out by his father to locate his brothers – make sure they are okay. That part of the story means very little – it’s just kind of ironic. And he is about to go back home, because he can’t find them, when a nameless man happens along and tells him that he overheard his brothers say that they were on their way to a place called Dothan. That’s it. But it makes all the difference in the world.
The remarkable writer, James Baldwin has said, If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving.And let me add a corollary: the concept of God should never ever make us smaller, stubborn about needed change, or more judgmental. It should open life up and our hearts up too – not close them down
This is one of the great consolation passages in the Bible. The greatest. And as much as I revere the wisdom I find in other religions of the world, you know, there’s nothing like this in any of them. Other religions, like Buddhism for instance, give you techniques to deal with suffering – effective ones, but they don’t wrap you in a blanket of sheer love like this passage from the mouth of Jesus. Nothing else comes close.
A year ago I worked with one of our young scouts on his Duty to God badge. We looked intently at the teachings of Jesus, and this was one of the verses we discussed. With no introduction to it, I asked my young friend what he thought of those words on face value. And he said, “It makes Jesus sound kinda braggy.”
I had to agree. It makes Jesus sound arrogant, and exclusive. “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
The family story that we, in my family, are most proud of is the story of a cousin of mine who is now 87. She’s more like an aunt, really, and I go out to Sacramento to see her a couple of times a year. Without going deeply into her story I will just say that, at the age of fifty, living in a jungle in one of the regions of the Amazon River, she lost her husband and only child, a daughter, to a terrible strain of malaria, a strain which she also contracted and survived. Then, all alone, she survived for 5 more months until those who regularly supplied the family with staples, found her, having been unaware of her plight. I will add to that that she was legally blind and legally deaf since childhood. My daughter grew up with that story as an assurance that there was a vital strength in our family line, and people to be fiercely proud to call your own.
Somewhere in the gospels a man traditionally known as “the rich young ruler” comes to Jesus, and trusting that Jesus is someone who teaches with profound authority, he asks him a question that haunts him. He must fear, to some degree, that his riches mean that he has already received his reward in life, and that heaven may be a slim prospect, so he asks Jesus, “What must I do to be saved?” Those are the words he uses, but what he, in fact, is asking is, “What is the minimum requirement I have to do for God to smile on me?” Or, to use a variation of the title I adopted for the sermon, “How good do I have to be?” It’s an honest question, and one that all of us could benefit from asking from time to time – especially in these times when people go about toting guns in the name of some unholy cause they believe gives them purpose in life.
You know, it takes four years for light from the nearest star, Sirrus, to reach us. It takes centuries for light from Orion to reach the earth. That thought just makes the relationship my daughter and I struck up with those stars all the more charming; forging a bond of sorts with all that light we saw that is so much older than we are, and that is still traveling on now and will continue on after we both are gone from this earth, and her daughter, too.
Fear of abandonment is also called, separation anxiety, and it is the context of a passage of scripture that is paired today with the story of Jesus’s ascension. The occasion is the last evening of Jesus’s life. Jesus and his disciples are at table, at what would be their Last Supper. It is time for summing up. The occasion is pregnant with significance. in a long prayer, Jesus asks God to protect his friends, to keep them together, to give them joy, and to send them into the world in his name. The line he says that touches readers the deepest is this, “I will not leave you orphaned.”
In today’s scripture Paul has been travelling all over the Mediterranean, preaching. He’s been pretty successful but can the good news of Jesus get a hearing in a university town? I mean, among sophisticated people? Thinking people? Will it play in a town with the highest percentage of PhDs in Utah. I mean, Greece?
There’s more than one way to be a martyr, and you don’t even have to be particularly religious. I think of Senator Edmund Ross, the deciding vote in the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson, held in 1868. No Senator in the history of our republic has known the pressures he bore when it came time to a floor vote. He didn’t like president Johnson, successor to Abraham Lincoln. He didn’t respect the president, but he also didn’t believe that Johnson was guilty of an impeachable offense. As Edmund Ross said later of the moment when his name was read and it was his turn to vote, “I felt I was looking down into my open grave.” He followed his conscience, and as a result, lost his Senate seat, but he would not sell his soul.
I wonder if anyone in our government, or the congress, the Department of Justice, or the F.B.I, might, in the next months, maybe, face a similar choice – to follow his or her conscience or bow to pressure. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.
The Christian churches of the day were little communities made up of women without husbands, slaves without masters, and foreigners living in someone else's country. They were viewed with suspicion and hostility by many of those around them – all except the Christians whose churches dotted the urban Mediterranean world. Fact is, the Christian Church was initially established because of the fact of the twin facts of migration and homelessness that were ever-present realities in the first century world
On the last night he had a mouth to eat with, Jesus sat down with his disciples to enjoy a meal. He took bread in his hands and broke it and said something they found puzzling. He said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” He was talking about meals they would eat later without him, and the fact that the simple act of breaking break and giving it to one another has in it the possibility of bringing him back. Like running your hand along a fence you ran your hand along fifty years before can bring back the smell of your grandfather’s beard. Sacred moments . . .