Homily for Sunday, May 31, 2015

Readings for Today

In a way, to think about Trinity Sunday is to simply acknowledge that God is love. To try to do even more than that can cause us to run the risk of getting it wrong about God. Three persons, one God. On the surface it seems easy enough, but in reality, it is a mystery beyond our ability to comprehend. God is love. But if we are to really understand even a little what it means to say God is love, we have to consider what love is. That is probably more true today when the word is used for so many things.

In the English language, love is such an imprecise word. We use it to describe the way we feel about objects, even those that are not terribly important. We can say we “love it” when someone says something funny or interesting. Even when we speak the words to another person, we can be saying something that we really do not mean. We might say “I love you” as a way to get what we want. Sadly, the way which we use the word can be far from what it meant when love is used in its truest sense, to describe God.

Consider first some examples of human love that give us a glimpse of divine love. Think of the case of a parent and child. When we see that in action, when we sense the deep love of a child for father or mother, or a parent with love for a son or daughter, there is something really beautiful about that. When two people fall in love and get married, we get a glimpse of something holy and divine. When we see the passion of someone really following a dream to make the world a better place, such as a doctor or nurse committed to serve the most vulnerable, it is not difficult at all to see goodness.

Unfortunately I need to look no farther than my own life to see that I do not really love as often as I might think I do. I want to do heroic things. And even with those persons I love, such as my mother or my brother, I do not always seem to be able to love in a consistent and truthful way. Sometimes I allow unimportant things to take over my desire to seek always the good, namely God, and the good for the creatures he has made.

But at the same time, sometimes I do love. I can consider the good and the dignity of another and meet them in helping them in their needs. Sometimes I can set aside my selfishness and give something of importance to another. Sometimes I can even make a sacrifice for the good of another.

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Some thoughts on Ferguson and Race

It seems that in so many ways, whether it is in society, or in the church, or in politics, or on the athletic field, we like to pick sides. And once we have picked our side, it seems increasingly unlikely that we are able to consider a different point of view. But it is not simply a case of picking sides that is so challenging for us. Once we pick sides, in any of these areas, we typically also pick the ways in which we will think about these sides, what we will read about our side and the other side. In fact, it seems our whole world is shaped by the side we have chosen.

This is become clear in a variety of ways. The latest example has been the situation that occurred in Ferguson,  Missouri when Officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown. Almost from the first moments, one was either on the side of Michael Brown, and by extension the side of minorities all over the country who have experienced harsh treatment of the hands of police, or, one was on the side of Officer Darren Wilson, and by extension all of  the police officers, pointing fingers at the deep crime that exists into many of our neighborhoods in this country. It was very difficult, and in many instances remains so, to be in a position where the complexity of the situation makes taking a side preferable, if not, quite frankly, impossible.

Perhaps it is this very reality, that life is simply too complicated and complex, in this day and age, that makes it more likely that we want to see the world in very stark terms. We want to see the world as only giving one possibility of what is right, or another of what is wrong. Anything that challenges this worldview is discarded simply as a piece of “propaganda” from the other side. Discussions that have occurred since this tragic incident, have only tended to make this line of demarcation even worse. One is either pro-police or anti-police. One can either recognize the pervasive racism present in our country, or simply sees all persons of color as criminals and thugs that are ruining our cities.

While certainly there is right and wrong, the problem, of course, is that life is rarely the simple. It is clear that no one person knows exactly what happened on that day. It does appear there was some struggle in the police car occupied by Darren Wilson, one of the results of which was a shot being fired. This apparently led to Michael Brown running away from the police car, but it’s not really clear what happened other than the fact that Michael Brown was shot. And we don’t know what happened that could provide us with some type of context for all of these events. Did Michael Brown steal cigars? The  video certainly makes it look bad for Michael Brown, but of course we don’t have sound, and as a result, the event  cannot be placed in any type of context. Did he charge Officer Wilson? What exactly happened? Why did officer Wilson get out of his car? Did he call for any backup, and would prudence have dictated waiting until they arrived? As with Michael Brown, we do not have answers, or any context for these actions. And because we are tending to see things only as an issue where one side or the other must be right, we are not able in general, to have certain and complete answers.

The problem of course, is that people want to draw general conclusions from one particular instant. Also, people can see every particular incident as supporting a general conclusion, whether it does or not. This is not a new problem in our country. But it is particularly important for us to acknowledge in this instance because neither every particular instance nor every generalization can be true. For example, it certainly is possible that Michael Brown committed a crime and the Darren Wilson responded appropriately as a police officer charged with protecting the community. And it is also possible, the people of color in this country, experience far too often, harassment that is unfair, and treatment under the law that is not consistent or accurate. These two possibilities do not preclude the other being true.

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Homily for Sunday, October 19, 2014

Readings for Today

As we get closer to Election Day, it becomes more and more clear that parsing words and giving answers that really are not answers are an art form. How many times do we hear a politician get asked a question, only to say after an answer is given that they really did not answer the question at all. In fact, there are those who are paid a lot of money to create these “spin” answers.

When I had one of my media classes, I learned that the art of answering a question on television is to believe the question itself was irrelevant. Simply give the answer that you want to give. It does not take long before this can be learned and used, I am a little ashamed to say.

While Jesus’ answer to the question about the relationship between religious practice and civil law (“Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?“) he gives a wonderful answer, since it preserves his religious priorities without placing himself in a difficult position with civil authorities where he could be accused of treason. How does he do this?

It is all in the proper understanding of his answer. “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Why is this answer so clever? Because it understands rightly the appropriate relationship between Church and state. How would the people who were religious have understood Jesus answer?

First, it is important to remember that in a very real way, everything belongs to God. So in the answer that Jesus gives, what belongs to God is literally everything, and so God is worthy of our true allegiance. At the same time, Jesus acknowledges the role of the state. He is not worshipping Caesar (as the emporer) but is recognizing the appropriate role civil leaders have in government.

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