Thursday, August 27, 2009

Unclean Clean Good and Bad

OK... first of all, my apologies for a late post this week. I stopped using the lectionary about a year ago and forget that I need to check here! As I look at the Gospel lesson from Mark for this week, my first reaction is... I love it when Jesus is a rebel! When someone chastizes me or others for shaking things up, going against the grain, doing something "we've never done before!" or looking at things differently I think, Jesus was a rebel, too! Thanks for the compliment.

But, of course, the Gospel goes on to deal with issues of what is unclean and clean. The decisions about what is clean and unclean are human decisions, and Christ emphasizes that it isn't external things, or things we take into ourselves that make us unclean or unclean, but more what comes out of us that can be unclean or make us unclean. How interesting that we are so good at deciding what is clean and unclean, or what is good or bad. We are especially good at determining that for OTHERS more than for ourselves. The 'log in our eye, splinter in others' syndrome. But how do we determine that? And how often do the things we look at as being 'bad' turn out to be 'good' in the long run? 25 years ago I went through a horrendously painful time that I thought everything that was happening was bad. I even prayed for God to turn things around and make them 'good' again. But it didn't. For awhile I wondered if God had turned away, but I know now that God was just helping me get through because something really good would come of all the bad. In our adult study class at the Parish, we were talking about death and someone said, "Why do we always look at death in negative terms? I think God looks at death in a loving, positive light." We are very quick to put labels on things, situations, rituals, and people...especially labels of good and bad or clean and unclean... based only on our own experiences and thoughts. But if God created us and all around us and saw that it was good... why are we so quick to deem it bad or unclean?
There are many folks in this small town I live in who are unchurched, living below the poverty level, not related to anyone else in town, not involved in anything in the town, spend time at the local bar... and a myriad of other things that the 'regulars' in town use to deem them 'bad' and not worthy of their time, friendship, or care. And yet these 'misfits' are the ones that are reaching out to others, especially other 'misfits', sharing what they have, and the first to respond when help is needed. I know some of the 'church' folks question when I help them, sit with them at the park, or am in any way a part of their lives. But I think that it is exactly what Jesus calls us to do... to stop determining what WE deem to be good, bad, clean, unclean, worthy, unworthy, and see people and situations as God might see them... as basically good, worthy of our care.... and if we want to put a watchguard out for the negative, put it out in front of ourselves to make sure that, before we are so quick to judge others, that what comes from us is not bad, unclean or unworthy of God's glory and what comes from us is essentially good and that we are a conduit for the light of God.
So... in the midst of this prestigious group of folks with whom I have a high respect for... there's my 2 cents worth. Oh yea... and go out and be a rebel for Christ!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Who has the authority?

Going with the Roman Catholic passage...

Ephesians 5:21-33

21Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. 24Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. 25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, 27so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. 28In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30because we are members of his body. 31“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. 33Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.

I've chosen this Ephesians passage because I think it all too often gets used inappropriately. I once attended a wedding in which the bride was told that according to the law of God, she would be sinful if she did not submit fully to the desires of the groom. Of course nothing was mentioned to the groom about loving the bride as he would love himself.

That, and interpretations like it are dangerous, to say the least.

Immediately my mind jumps to asking what was going on in Ephesus that lead the writer of Ephesians to comment on household relationships (he also goes on to discuss children and slaves).

This section might be better understood in the larger understanding of how first century households were to be ordered. Among that, Paul describes the nature of the relationship of Christ to the church, as if to use the example of the household to teach his first readers about how they should look on the purpose of the early church, and the relation of the believers to the teaching of Jesus.

So what about the misuse of v. 22-24? This reading really should focus on v. 21,"Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ" (NRSV). This verse is the foundation for what comes next, and gives meaning to the discussion of how women and men should relate to their spouses. Without this verse being included in the reading (as often is the case in some weddings I've attended), the language about women submitting to their husbands clearly can be misdirected.

But focusing on how we can be subject (servants) to one another out of respect for Christ brings back the language of Jesus about the last being first and the greatest among us being the servants. So what does this look like in a selfish and individualized western capitalist culture?

And the idea of the husband being the head of the household simply was the legal understanding of the time. Women, children and slaves could not own property, and therefore the Ephesians writer uses this understanding to set up Jesus as the "head" of the church, meaning it is Christ who is to be the one who has established the 'house'.

Do we still set up Jesus as the head of the church? Have we replaced his teachings with self-help programs and a generic faith, based on common morality but ignores justice, healing and community connection?

How do we encourage healthy households which might not be of the standard described here? Single parent homes, same-sex homes, extended family households? How does this passage apply to other forms of modern households?

Happy homilizing!