August 30, 2015

Check Yourself

Friday afternoon I had the opportunity to meet with a group from a United Methodist Church in Massachusetts that was visiting New York to attend a seminar on global hunger and related issues of mission and social justice. The seminar’s organizers invited me to speak to group about the way in which our Methodist tradition informs and enlightens our approach to such matters, an opportunity I took to share something about John Wesley’s method for encouraging people to live holy lives.

You see, as I tell the groups who visit our church’s museum to learn about our history, John Wesley, Methodism’s founder, isn’t one of the revolutionary figures in history who argued that the Church was teaching the wrong things. He didn’t take on the Church’s Big Ideas like Martin Luther. No, Wesley, for the most part, was okay with what the Church had to say, but he was terribly disappointed with the way Christians of his day were living out the Faith.

Listless, joyless, filled with vice and void of virtue—common qualities like these were antithetical to the beauty and power of Jesus and his Good News, and Wesley intended to do something about it. We can think of him and our spiritual ancestors, then, as people who were committed to experiencing deeply the Gospel in the substance of their daily lives and living in trust that God gave them every gift—every grace—they needed to live in a truly right and loving relationship with God and their neighbors.

I told the group from Massachusetts how Wesley tried to instill an honest desire for the pursuit of these things among his people by encouraging them in the disciplines of introspection and self-awareness.

Wesley wanted the Methodists to love, and to think, and then to love better than they previously had. In order to facilitate that kind of spiritual growth, he often prepared lists of questions or rules for Methodists to consider and to check their hearts and actions against. Today, the most famous of these tools are the series of questions that are asked of every minister in our tradition at the time of his or her ordination and the three General Rules that are to shape everything we do; Do No Harm, Do Good, and Attend Upon the Ordinances of God (which is popularly paraphrased as Stay in Love with God).

However, I want to share a list with you this morning that seems to have been on John’s mind from his days at university until the end of his life. He published variations on these questions numerous times so they seem to warrant our attention. In fact, I share them with you with confidence that they’ll help us dig more deeply into God’s Good News for us today.

Here’s the list of questions that aim to help us live in holiness.

1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?

2. Do I confidentially pass on to others what has been said to me in confidence?

3. Can I be trusted?

4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habits?

5. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?

6. Did the Bible live in me today?

7. Do I give the Bible time to speak to me every day?

8. Am I enjoying prayer?

9. When did I last speak to someone else of my faith?

10. Do I pray about the money I spend?

11. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?

12. Do I disobey God in anything?

13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?

14. Am I defeated in any part of my life?

15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?

16. How do I spend my spare time?

17. Am I proud?

18. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the publican?

19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?

20. Do I grumble or complain constantly?

21. Is Christ real to me?

It’s a probing list of loaded questions, isn’t it, ranging from topics whose importance might seem obvious to us—Can I be trusted? / Am I a gossip?—to those whose association with holiness seems more tangential—Am I getting enough sleep? / How do I spend my spare time?

As interesting and thought provoking as this list is, however, it’s seems to me that the first question really is preeminent as it frames every other response.

1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
Jesus, as you probably know, had a lot to say about hypocrisy, especially when it came to matters of faith. For all the religious barriers that he broke down, Jesus had no tolerance for the person who could go through the motions of piety without engaging the heart. Hypocrites were, then, the targets of some of Jesus’ most pointed invective.

“Hypocrites! You tithe to the penny but you ignore the important things like justice, mercy, and faith."

“Hypocrites! You are so careful to clean the outside of a cup, but inside you are filthy.”

“Hypocrites! You’re like whitewashed tombs. Beautiful to look at, but filled with death.”

“Hypocrites! Why don’t you try taking the 2 by 4 out of your own eye, before pointing out the speck of dust in your neighbor’s?”

These examples are all found in Matthew’s Gospel, but in the seventh chapter of Mark we find Jesus at it once again.

The exchange recorded in this morning’s Gospel lesson speaks of an encounter Jesus and his disciples had with some local religious leaders who took exception to the fact that Jesus’ crew didn’t follow their traditions regarding washing their hands before eating.

Now, keep in mind, the group’s concern wasn’t for public health, like the signs in restaurants reminding all employees to wash their hands. Their concern was religious and the implication of their question was that Jesus and his disciples were behaving in a manner that was displeasing to God.

“You hypocrites!” Jesus began. “The old prophet Isaiah was talking about you when he wrote about people who honor God with their lips, but whose hearts are far away. You’ve ignored God’s Law and substituted your own traditions.”

Jesus then weighed in on one of the hot button topics of his day.

“You tell people that it’s all right for them to tell their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you because I vowed to give to God what I could have given you.”

The practice Jesus refers to here was called corban and, at first glance it looks like a pretty good thing. To make something corban was simply to offer it or to pledge it as a gift to God.

According to Jesus, though, this tradition was being abused. Community leaders were teaching people that they would be absolved of their obligations to care for the needy, in this case their needy parents, if they made their gifts corban—kind of like a spiritual version of a Cayman Islands’ tax shelter.

“Sorry mom and dad. I wish I could help pay for your prescription medicine, but I already gave my money to God, and you wouldn’t want me to cheat God would you?”

The practice Jesus condemned, therefore, was a clear-cut example of trying to maintain a façade of holiness without cultivating the necessary habits of prayer, devotion, and love.

“All of you listen,” Jesus said, “and try to understand. You are not defiled by what you eat; you are defiled by what you say and do!”

Actions always speak louder than words and hypocritical actions completely silence pious words, so it is our intention as disciples both to speak and enact Good News.

That Good News is, in part, the realization that Jesus offers us hypocrisy’s cure, the reconciliation that occurs between our hearts, minds, and our hands (our actions) when all are renewed by the Holy Spirit.

I once heard a personal trainer say, “You can look good without being healthy, but if you’re healthy you will look good.”

I’m sure we could quibble with this statement, but I think it’s on point. It also resonates with the truth of scripture.

We can look like pious people without loving God or our neighbors. We can do a whole bunch of religious looking stuff and say a whole lot of religious sounding things, but without love, as Saint Paul says, we are empty; we are nothing.

However, if we are growing in our love for God and our neighbors, then we will not only look and sound pious, we will be pious, holy, and righteous.

So, friends, are you defeated in any part of your life?

Is Christ real to you?

Are you consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that you are better than you really are? In other words, are you a hypocrite?

Yes? No? Maybe?

Wherever you stand today, the promise of God is that if your next step is toward Jesus, then you will be received with open arms for the love God calls us to share is nothing but the love already showered upon us.

Like our spiritual ancestors, then, we too can be a people who are committed to experiencing deeply the Gospel in the substance of our daily lives and living in trust that God gives us every gift—every grace—we need to live in a truly right and loving relationship with God and our neighbors.

Actions always speak louder than words and hypocritical actions completely silence pious words, so it is our intention both to speak and enact Good News that Jesus offers us hypocrisy’s cure, the reconciliation that occurs between our hearts and minds and hands when all are renewed by the Holy Spirit.

Thanks be to God for this Good News.

Amen.

August 23, 2015

High Society (On Ephesians' Household Code)

Throughout the summer we’ve talked quite a bit about some of the scandals that arose in ancient Israel during the reigns of King David and King Solomon, his son. This morning, though, I’d like to shift our focus a little closer to home and discuss a scandal involving one of John Street’s own. Today I want to talk about the relationship between Reverend Freeborn Garrettson and Catherine Livingston.

Freeborn Garrettson was one of the leaders of early Methodism in this country. Remembered as the movement’s first great American born preacher, Garrettson was a man of peace. He chose to serve time in jail rather than taking up arms during the Revolution. He was also a man of principle who emancipated his family’s slaves, setting an example in word and deed followed by others throughout his native Maryland.

In Methodist circles, Garrettson is best remember for missionary work that took him deep into New England’s northern frontier, even to Canada. However, from 1788 to 89, Rev. Garrettson served for one year as the pastor of John Street Church and, right about that same time, he took a trip up the Hudson River where he met a woman named Catherine.

Catharine Livingston was a daughter in one of the wealthiest, most prominent, most powerful families in this country. The Livingston’s owned almost a million acres of land in the Hudson Valley. Catherine’s grandparents were Beekmans, as in there’s a street in this neighborhood named in their honor. Catherine’s brother helped write the Declaration of Independence and, later, administered the oath of office to President Washington, who was a friend of the family. Catherine attended parties with the likes of Alexander Hamilton and the estate on which she lived, Clermont, still stands as a historic landmark and tourist destination.

Against this backdrop of incredible privilege, Catherine’s heart and life underwent a dramatic change when she was in her mid-30s. First, she experienced a spiritual awakening while worshipping at St. Paul’s Chapel on Broadway and, later, she became active in a Methodist circle in Rhinebeck, NY after receiving an invitation to join from a member of John Street Church, a slave nonetheless.

Catherine met Rev. Garrettson when he visited this group in Rhinebeck. In short order, the missionary and the socialite fell in love and were engaged to be married.

And then came the troubles.

Catherine’s mother refused to give the couple her blessing.

It was one thing for a child of privilege to associate with an enthusiastic religious movement, but allowing her daughter to marry a Methodist preacher was a bridge too far for Mother Livingston.

In this way, Catherine’s mom and many of her peers shared the aristocracy’s greatest concern about the Methodist movement in their era. Methodists simply did not respect the social order and brought together in their services slaves, workers, and the gentry without regard to their station in life.

Her wedding delayed by her mother’s intransigence, Catherine eventually left the family home.

“I have continual sorrow from without, and from within,” [she] wrote to one of her sisters, “I have been cast from my Mother’s affections, and house, and have now no other home than such I derive from the bounty of a kind sister, upon whom I have been thrown.” But her associations with the Methodists had provided [Catherine] with the thing her family had consistently refused her: an autonomous identity. “I declare to you,” she exclaimed to her sister, “I would not be what I once was, if every other thing which the world can bestow or enjoy were at my free choice.” When [Catherine] and [Freeborn] set their wedding date, various friends were still silent on the engagement, and [Mother] Livingston was unreconciled to the marriage. (Andrews, 108-09)
However, in June 1793, the couple married and soon, very soon, thereafter Catherine gave birth the couple’s only child, a daughter named Mary, whose portrait hangs in our church’s library downstairs.

This is one of my favorite stories from our church’s history. It’s a powerful love story in its own right, isn’t it, Romeo and Juliet with a happy ending? But it also serves as a powerful teaching tool to help us understand the radical nature of grace and the message of Good News Christ gives us to proclaim.

Think again of the players here. A woman of immense wealth and an itinerant abolitionist missionary brought together, in part, because a slave spoke up about the redeeming and empowering love of God at work in her life—this is not a common plotline, but it stands out as an example of the Gospel’s impact on human hearts and relationships.

What is this if not the playing out of the Apostle’s promise in the context of 18th century New York’s high society? The promise that,

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
What is this if not the embodiment of the truths we hold dear, the truth that grace is a unifying force that will not respect the barriers society builds, the truth that each is “given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good,” the truth that together, in all our diversity, we are the Body of Christ?

The story of Catherine and Freeborn is beautiful and inspiring and hopeful and it overflows with grace and love, so you’re probably wondering what in Heaven’s name it has to do with the words we’ve read from Ephesians this morning, words that seem to reinforce rigid walls of social hierarchy?

“Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.”

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling…”

It’s fine if that’s what you’re wondering. It’s ok if you’re trying to figure out how we can make sense of these seemingly antithetical witnesses.

I think the process of understanding begins by first acknowledging that the three statements I’ve just quoted from Ephesians—these statements about wives, children, and slaves—have been used to justify all manner of vile and wicked things throughout history.

Verbal, physical, mental and sexual abuse, human trafficking, degradation, disrespect, and oppression—hearts corrupted by these sins have tried repeatedly to justify themselves by appealing to these words from Ephesians, and all too often, people of faith have offered them immunity for these crimes against Christ and his people.

Part of the Church’s failure in these matters, then, is brought about by simply not reading what’s on the page, for while I still struggle with this passage, I think there are some keys parts of it that domestic tyrants have long ignored.

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…”

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

“Masters, [treat your slaves as you would treat Christ.] Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality.”

Now, I’m not going to pretend or tell you that there’s no tension between the relationships described in Ephesians’ fifth and six chapters and the relationships that we call good and healthy and life-affirming today. This is a challenging text, but I’m convinced that anyone who uses these verses to hold down, or hurt, or dismiss anybody else is wrong, just flat out wrong, because the principle at the root of this passage is Jesus Christ.

The household described here is one in which every member is called to and empowered to love others in the manner of Christ as if they were Christ, and from 1st century Ephesus, to 18th Rhinebeck, to 21st century New York City, a household awash in Christ-like love is a place of refuge, and healing, and grace, and hospitality. Such a home is a “haven of blessing and peace,” something we pray for in every wedding ceremony in this Church.

“Be subject to one another,” the scripture says, “[all of you,] out of reverence for Christ.”

So, how does all this fit together and what does it have to do with us?

I think it’s this. The story of Catherine Livingston and Freeborn Garrettson and the household code at the end of Ephesians demonstrate a shared conviction that one’s identity in Christ—that is to say one’s identity as a recipient and participant in Divine Grace—shapes, influences, and gives new life to all other social obligations and expectations.

To the person who has been told that she is worthless, that he has nothing to contribute, these say, “You are loved and blessed and gifted by your Creator and Redeemer.”

To the person who loves the sound of his own voice, who relishes having others fear her, these say, “Look to Christ to understand real strength and true power.”

And to people who simply want to know what an ancient faith has to do with their very modern lives, relationships, and families, these say, “Pray to understand this: that you would love others in the manner of Christ as if they were Christ.”

Let it be so with us.

Let our homes and this church be a haven of blessing and peace. And let us, in all things, give thanks to God for this Good News. Thanks be to God. Amen.

August 16, 2015

Sharp-Minded and Tenderhearted

Would you be surprised if I told you that the politicking and scheming between David’s potential heirs about who would be Israel’s king when he died eventually turned violent?

If you’ve followed along with our summer readings and sermons about David, then this shouldn’t surprise you at all.

The opening chapters of the book called First Kings describe a chaotic scramble for succession. They tell us how one of David’s sons, Prince Adonijah, declared himself king while his father was still alive, only to have his plans undone by the prophet Nathan, Bathsheba, and Solomon, Bathsheba’s son. Then, in a chapter that reads as though it could’ve been the inspiration for the iconic baptism scene in The Godfather, we see how Solomon eliminated his rivals, settled some old scores, and consolidated his power. He even ordered the death of Shimei, the dirt throwing curser of David we met last week. These were the troubling circumstances of Solomon’s elevation.

After these things, Solomon went on to become a mighty king. He established numerous alliances that brought Israel and its leader unprecedented wealth, the kind of alliances in which, for example, a foreign king would give Solomon an entire city as a dowry for marrying one of the king’s daughters. He built a fleet of trading ships, an army of chariots, and, most famously, the Temple in Jerusalem. Solomon truly put his father’s old kingdom on the map.

According to the historian Michael Grant, with Solomon on the throne “for the first time Israel had been brought fully into the mainstream of near-eastern big business and diplomacy, as the accounts (even if exaggerated) of his 700 wives and 300 concubines, many of the foreign, effectively confirm.” (p. 88)

Students of the Bible will also recall that Solomon’s name became synonymous with wisdom. Three books of the Bible’s wisdom corpus are linked to him—Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs—as is a non-canonical book which, appropriately enough, bears the title The Wisdom of Solomon. As we’ve read this morning, Solomon prayed to God for wisdom and, if we were to keep on reading, we would learn that stories of his thoughtful and prudent judgments abound.

Listen to this passage from First Kings 4.

God gave Solomon very great wisdom, discernment, and breadth of understanding as vast as the sand on the seashore, so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else…; his fame spread throughout all the surrounding nations. He composed three thousand proverbs, and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He would speak of trees, from the cedar that is in the Lebanon to the hyssop that grows in the wall; he would speak of animals, and birds, and reptiles, and fish. People came from all the nations to hear the wisdom of Solomon; they came from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom.
Solomon had a gift, of this there can be no doubt. He was intelligent and tuned into the ways of the world and its people, but this gift—like any gift we’ve ever given or received—was subject to abuse, misuse, and being taken for granted.

Like his walking contradiction of a father, Solomon had a knack for pursuing his own desires, rather than God’s purposes. His wealth became disorienting; his alliances a distraction; and, even in the age of polygamy, his sexual escapades a sign of embarrassing excess. Although exceedingly wise, the king often acted very foolishly and his most foolish decisions set the stage for his nation to fall apart when he died.

In all the chapters written about Solomon, no passage depicts his tragic flaw as succinctly as words we’ve read this morning.

Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places.
This is a reference to Solomon’s worship of other gods and idols, a practice frowned upon in the Bible, to say the least. It’s literally the thing forbidden in the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Saying that Solomon loved the LORD, but worshiped other gods, therefore, makes as much sense as saying “Brutus was a great friend of Caesar until he killed him.” or “Judas was a wonderful disciple, only he betrayed Jesus to the Romans.” The end result sort of colors our impression of the whole relationship and, in the case of Solomon, colors our impression of wisdom itself.

Given the circumstances of the wise king’s reign, then, a few questions come to mind.

If Solomon was so wise, how did he get something so basic so wrong?

If wisdom didn’t offer its greatest practitioner protection from such a colossal error of judgement, then what purpose does wisdom serve?

Questions like these lead us to a deeper exploration of the biblical story where we discover that the bonds between wisdom and virtue aren’t as strong as we might think, as we might hope.

Dr. James Crenshaw, the champion of Wisdom Studies at Duke Divinity School for many years, illustrates this point with several examples. Crenshaw notes,

Scattered stories within the Hebrew Bible register suspicion about wisdom, since it can be used to accomplish rather dubious ends. The old story about the crafty serpent who seduced the first woman and man to rebel against external authority demonstrates an awareness of wisdom’s questionable features in ancient times. Similarly, the description of Jonadab as clever enough to devise [the scheme that would allow David’s son Amnon to commit his heinous crime against] Tamar, his half-sister, shows how widespread the knowledge of wisdom’s devious ends had come to be in Israel. (p. 49)
These stories illustrate that our ancient ancestors equated wisdom with knowledge about and an understanding of people—their fears, motivations, aspirations, temptations, and dreams. To be wise was to understand what made people tick, and understanding what makes people tick is no guarantee that one has their best interests in mind.

Think about it. Think about all the energy given to understanding human behavior, all the parties that have an interest in understanding you.

A potential suitor wants to understand you so that he or she can woo you.

A marketing department wants to understand you so that they can sale you something.

I want to understand you so that I can communicate the Gospel to you more clearly.

Others might want to understand you so that they can tune you in or turn you off to a cause or a way of thinking.

In this way, wisdom is simply a tool and it’s up to the wise person to employ that tool to do good or to cause harm; to inspire us to work for justice and to serve others, to convince us that we really need to buy a new product, to distract us from important matters with a never ending parade of click-bait.

As Crenshaw concludes, the Hebrews understood that “those humans who acquired [wisdom] did not always use it to accomplish noble goals.”

King Solomon falls into this camp. He absolutely knew what made people tick and was incredibly adept at motivating them to do his bidding. In many ways, that made him a successful, popular, and rich head of state. He was wise, but when his virtue wore thin, his judgement suffered and he “did what was evil in the sight of the LORD.”

Wise until the end, nevertheless, the Bible says Solomon’s “heart had turned away” from God.

For those who truly aspire to live righteously and honorably before God, Solomon’s story is a sobering reminder of wisdom’s limitations. However, this isn’t to say that Christians should be mindless and ignorant fools. Far from it.

Rather, the news of wisdom’s limitations calls us to recognize that a catalyst—an active ingredient—must be added to life’s wisdom in order to unleash its true potential and give direction to our labor, our judgments, our lives.

That catalyst is love.

When Jesus commissioned the apostles he said, “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

Sharpen your mind and soften your heart for work in God’s kingdom, the Savior seemed to say.

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
That’s how Saint Paul began the passage destined to become the most quoted thing he ever wrote.
And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
But when we pursue love, when love is present—the All-Excelling Love of God—we gain life in the fullest, Good News to proclaim, and a mission of service to a hurting and exploited world.

Solomon had a gift, of this there can be no doubt, but his gift—his wisdom—like any gift we’ve ever given or received— was subject to abuse, misuse, and being taken for granted.

His gift, just as it is with all that we possess, needed a catalyst—an active ingredient—to unleash its true potential and give direction to his labor, his judgments, his life.

That catalyst is love—Holy Love, perfectly revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the love that abides, the love that will not let us go.

So let us be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.

Let us be sharp-minded and tenderhearted.

And let us always give thanks for the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

August 9, 2015

A Heart that is Broken

Two weeks ago I preached a sermon in which I observed that King David is one of the Bible’s most complicated figures. I compared him to Elvis and called him a walking contradiction.

Later, when I posted that sermon online, I included with it the inspiration for that description—a quote from a song called The Pilgrim—Chapter 33, written by Kris Kristofferson.

He's a poet, he's a picker,

He's a prophet, he's a pusher,

He's a pilgrim and a preacher, and a problem when he's stoned.

He's a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction,

Taking every wrong direction on his lonely way back home.

Kristofferson never said he was thinking about King David when he wrote that song—(Dennis Hopper and Johnny Cash, yes, but never King David)—but I stand by the comparison. In fact, this morning, I want to double down on it and share what I believe to be a pivotal moment in David the Pilgrim’s journey “on his lonely way back home,” a moment of heartbreak that resonates within my spirit more than any story of David’s military or political prowess.

But first, in order to give that heartbreak its proper context, we need to talk about David’s relationship with his son Absalom.

Absalom was the third oldest son in David’s royal house, but the Bible tells us more about him than any of his siblings save Solomon who became king. The reason the Bible tells us so much about Absalom is that he led a popular uprising against his father in an effort to grab the crown for himself.

David survived Absalom’s coup, but it exacted a tremendous toll on the king and solidified their relationship as one of Western Civilization’s iconic Father-Son rivalries.

There’s a reason William Faulkner named his novel about a tragic Southern family “Absalom, Absalom!” even though there’s no one with that name in his story.

Absalom’s relationship with David began to fall apart when the king failed to adequately prosecute Crown Prince Amnon for a heinous crime he committed against the Princess Tamar.

Consumed with hatred for his brother because of what he did to his sister, Absalom killed Amnon and fled from the country.

After three years of living in exile, he returned to Jerusalem where the prince made a striking impression on the people.

This is how the scripture describes him.

Now in all Israel there was no one to be praised so much for his beauty as Absalom; from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him.

Having fled as a murderer, Absalom returned as the picture of beauty, style, and virility. He travelled about the town with a chariot and an entourage of fifty men. He was a family man now with a little daughter named after his beloved sister. Absalom and David even reconciled.

What wasn’t to love about this guy?

The homecoming was a ruse, though. Absalom was playing a long game to steal the people’s hearts before taking his father’s throne.

The coup started with a few well-placed observations and second-guesses about his father’s policies in the courthouse and marketplace.

In time, the people got the hint.

“Hey, Absalom,” they seemed to say, “you know everything and understand us a lot better than your father. Why don’t you become our king?”

The plan worked to perfection.

Absalom was so subtle that he basically raised an army and swiped counselors from his father in plain sight, right under David’s nose.

When the time was right, Absalom’s forces struck and the prince chased the king out of Jerusalem, claiming the capital city as his own.

But, as we read this morning, Absalom’s triumph was short lived. Aided by a network of spies, David eventually rallied his troops for a counter attack and, in the inevitable clash of armies, Absalom died at the hand of his father’s leading general.

The story of David and Absalom is just a tragic mess—the whole thing—but there is a pivotal moment on which I want to focus, a scene that captures the sadness, pathos, and drama of David’s life.

It takes place on David’s flight from Jerusalem. There, confronted by the hard truth that his own son turned on him, betrayed him, and sent troops to kill him—realizing that his family and his kingdom were in tatters—David reaches the bottom of life’s miry pit.

It happens as David and the handful of soldiers who remained loyal to him walked the lonely road out of Jerusalem that this guy named Shimei shows up. And Shimei is just letting David have it. He’s throwing rocks. He’s cussing him! He’s screaming that David should’ve never been king in the first place.

He’s being so obnoxious that one of David’s soldiers just can’t take it anymore and offers to go up and cut off the guy’s head, but David wouldn’t let him do it.

Instead, David describes his lowly state.

[“My own son is trying to kill me, so what’s it to me if this guy wants to curse me? Maybe God told him to do it? Maybe the Lord will see this and take pity on me.]

So David and his men went on the road, while Shimei went along on the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went, throwing stones and flinging dust at him. The king and all the people who were with him arrived weary at the Jordan; and there he refreshed himself.

This is a far cry from killing giants. It’s a pitiful moment in which David comes to grips with the mess that is his life while some nobody rains down curses and dirt on him. This is a disaster, and I think it’s one of the most important experiences David ever had.

It’s also one of the reasons David’s story remains so compelling.

Betrayed, defeated, humiliated, heartbroken—David had hit his rock bottom covered in dust and his enemy’s bile, but these circumstances didn’t crush him. These circumstances didn’t define him.

Instead, although he was sinful and sinned against, of these things there can be no doubt, David still called out and reached out to God.

Tradition holds that during his escape from Jerusalem, perhaps along the Jordan River than very night, David wrote the third Psalm.

O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me;

many are saying to me, “There is no help for you in God.” Selah

But you, O Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head.

I cry aloud to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy hill. Selah

I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the Lord sustains me.

I am not afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.

Rise up, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.

Deliverance belongs to the Lord; may your blessing be on your people! Selah

Stories of kings and war heroes fill the Old Testament. David is both, but that’s doesn’t explain his relevance for people of faith today. No, what’s so compelling about David is that he embodies the truths on which our faith stands.

It’s the truth that God’s love, and not our circumstances, define us and tell us who we are.

It’s the truth that mercy and grace aren’t just reserved for the perfectly pious and piously perfect.

It’s the truth that, through it all, God never let go of David, and God will never let go of you. David is a lot of things.

He's a poet, he's a picker,

He's a prophet, he's a pusher,

He's a pilgrim and a preacher, and a problem when he's stoned.

He's a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction,

Taking every wrong direction on his lonely way back home.

David is a lot of things—and many of them are not admirable—but he, perhaps more than anyone else in the whole Bible except Jesus, shows us that a heart that is broken is a heart that this open—a heart ready to receive and share mercy.

There’s one last story from Absalom’s coup that needs to be mentioned.

After the war ended, after David grieved for his son and prepared to rule again, a certain man came to beg the king’s forgiveness. That man was Shimei.

Throwing himself at David’s feet and making quite a spectacle of himself, Shimei confessed how wrong he had been to curse his king. Unimpressed, the same soldier again offered to kill him, but, whereas in his humiliation David accepted the man’s taunts, now, with a heart lifted by God, David offered the same man grace.

‘You shall not die.’ And the king gave him his oath.
Betrayed, defeated, humiliated, heartbroken—David hit his rock bottom covered in dust and his enemy’s bile, but these circumstances didn’t crush him. These circumstances didn’t define him, but God’s love for him did.

A heart that is broken is a heart that this open—open to receive God’s love and open to share it with others, even the curse hurlers and dust throwers we meet on the lonely way back home.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

August 3, 2015

Captive

Last month, the Irish rock band U2 played eight concerts at Madison Square Garden, the last of which was just Friday night. I had the good fortune of attending two of those shows on my recent vacation and, in a development that really shouldn’t surprise anyone, what I saw and heard there has made its way into this morning’s sermon. In fact, I want to go so far as to say that there’s a common thread running from one of the band’s signature songs and through one of the hymns we’ve sung in worship today that leads us to a point of direct contact with God’s Word this morning.

The song is Sunday Bloody Sunday, the hymn is Make Me a Captive Lord, and the point of contact with God’s Word is a subversive, yet empowering message, delivered through the Letter to the Ephesians.

Sunday Bloody Sunday was one of U2’s first international hits. Released in 1983, the song has been a staple of the band’s catalog and live performances ever since. I hesitate to guess how many times I’ve listened to that song in my life—a relationship that goes back to the stereo in my parents’ basement and the tape deck in my first car.

The truth is, I’ve heard this song so many times that I wasn’t exactly thrilled when I heard them play it at the Garden last month. I received it with a been-here-done-this attitude. It wasn’t until I talked about the performance with Laura on the way home from Night 1 and then went back for Night 2 with a new attitude that I really appreciated what the band was up to.

You see, the song has always been a paradox. Its title references some of the darkest and most violent days during Ireland’s sectarian conflict, or The Troubles. With a title like that, pounding-militant drums, and an angry melody, upon hearing Sunday Bloody Sunday for the first time back in the 80s, many assumed it was a call to arms, a rebel song. But this song isn’t a rebel song. It’s Sunday Bloody Sunday, a peace song with a martial beat.

I was slow to grasp how powerfully the arrangement and staging of the current performance brings this original message to light.

It begins with the drummer coming out from behind his kit, carrying only a snare drum and leading the other musicians out on to the stage. It looks like a military parade and as images of 1970s era Dublin move across the screen above the band, it becomes clear that this is a parade through the band’s coming of age during the Troubles and the temptation to violence they faced—a temptation, perhaps, that all of us in every age face.

Opposite the parade, however, stands Bono. He’s singing familiar lyrics, but now, set against these images and sounds, their hopeful defiance comes into focus.

“I won’t heed the battle call. It puts my back up—puts my back up against the wall.”

“The real battle yet begun to claim the victory Jesus won.”

The lyric is subverting the music, wrestling with the music, and taking the rage that often leads to violence and transforming it into the energy of peace and bridge building.

Joe Marvilli, at writer at Consequence of Sound dot net, summarizes the song’s unique perspective.

Rock ‘n’ roll and political protests have gone hand in hand since the dawn of the genre. From the Beatles’ “Revolution” to Muse’s The Resistance, artists have always found ways to point out society’s problems and give a voice to the people being affected. Many of these songs are either a call to somewhat violent change (Rage Against The Machine) or a movement of peace (“Imagine” by John Lennon). However, U2 was one of the first groups to combine the two beliefs into an idea of aggressive pacifism. This idea culminated in the creation of…“Sunday Bloody Sunday.”
Subversive, ironic, looking for connection where none were thought to exist, that’s the stuff of Sunday Bloody Sunday, and the hymn Make Me a Captive Lord does something very similar.

The music is stirring, composed originally for the big Easter and Ascension song Crown Him with Many Crowns. The words, however, are some of the most ironic that we sing.

“Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free. / Force me to render up my sword, and I shall conqueror be.”

“My heart is weak and poor until it master find. / [My heart] has no spring of action sure, it varies with the wind.”

“My heart is like a gun that won’t fire,” “I shy away from life’s challenges.”—this has to be the most upbeat song about human weakness ever written.

But, of course, this hymn is no more about human weakness than Sunday Bloody Sunday is a call to armed rebellion.

This is, ultimately, a hymn about the transforming grace of Jesus Christ that comes to us—weak and frail though we are—and sets us free, empowers us, and gives direction to all our energies.

It plays with the great paradoxes of our faith—that there is strength in weakness, that there is power in the cross, that Jesus saved the world by refusing to save himself.

And in this case, just like the concert at the Garden, the ironic pairing of music and words leads us to a deeper meaning.

The tension contained within Make Me a Captive Lord does something significant. It gets to the essence of our faith and the root of Christian discipleship.

“I sink in life’s alarms when by myself I stand. / Imprison me within Thine arms, and strong shall be my hand.”

This brings us at last to Ephesians.

The Book of Ephesians is a rallying cry. It intends to inspire its listeners to lay aside their divisions and the tools of brokenness, and take up the work of the Gospel.

“Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,” writes the Apostle.

And that calling is to be a community of grace, mercy, life, love, and salvation.

As another passage from Ephesians reads,

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him
God’s love has given us life, raised us up. God saved us by grace—by giving us salvation.

Therefore, “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

Ephesians encourages the Church to sing the song God had given us to sing, the sweetest song on them all: a melody of mercy and divine favor; a chorus in which everyone has a part to sing, regardless of where they come from or what they’ve done; a song whose meter is Jesus and his grace.

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.
This is the Church’s beautiful song of freedom, and it was written in a prison cell. Isn’t that ironic?

It’s true. Tradition holds that Paul was speaking literally when he called himself a prisoner in this letter—that he was, indeed, held captive.

Ephesians, therefore, aims to inspire us to action. It wants to make us move—to move with the hurting and oppressed, to walk humbly with the Lord, to go with Jesus so that we might truly understand the lyric we've prayed, “Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free.”

Like a militant peace song or an upbeat hymn about our weakness, this stirring message composed behind bars requires us to slow down, to check our assumptions and expectations, and to listen attentively to what’s taking place.

And what we hear in Ephesians is the Good News that our circumstances do not determine our value to God, but that our value to God empowers and inspires us to bear, endure, confront, and engage any circumstance because God is merciful, because we’ve received grace, because God loves us.

Dear friends, believe the new today.

Christ died for us while we were yet sinners; that proves God’s love toward us.
Go, therefore, and “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

Thanks be to God for this Good News. Amen.

July 26, 2015

Walking Contradiction

King David was a walking contradiction. He was a man of extreme faith, even giant-slaying faith, but, as king, he turned on old allies, waged aggressive wars, required military service of his citizens, and employed a professional mercenary force.

King David lived a life of extremes. His is a story that has us shaking our heads on one page saying, “Wow, I could never do that,” only to turn the page and gasp, “Oh my God, I would never do that!”

“David was a star,” remarked Bono, “the Elvis of the Bible”—an apt description even if David never played Vegas.

David had an eye for beauty, a passionate soul, and a talent for expressing the wide range of human emotion. He either wrote or had written in his honor some of the most famous song lyrics ever written; lyrics like “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want,” lyrics like, “I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined and heard my cry.”

But, again, David was a walking contradiction.

The same soul that saw God’s beauty and majesty also saw a darkness, and when David gave himself over to that darkness, he unleashed chaos in his kingdom and in his spirit.

David’s dance with the darkness created a scandal that had it all—vile corruption, virtuous victims, lies, treachery, and murder.

We pick up the story in Second Samuel, which tells us that it was springtime, “the time of year when kings go to war.” That particular spring David’s sights were set on a specific enemy, the Ammonites.

A year or so earlier, Ammonite-Judean relations took a turn for the worse when the Ammonite king arrested David’s ambassador to his kingdom, charged him with espionage, and humiliated him by shaving his head—a definite breech of diplomatic protocol.

This political crisis led to a war in which David’s forces gained a decisive advantage by inflicting over 40000 casualties on Ammon, an advantage David hoped would lead to total victory in the New Year.

Now, even at this point in the story, even before any mention of THE scandal of David’s life, we have to admit that the king’s actions are, at best, highly questionable.

Over 40000 human casualties because of a diplomatic misunderstanding? Was this really the kind of leadership God wanted from his anointed one?

The campaign against Ammon, however, merely set the stage on which David’s greatest scandal played out, a scene set in motion one afternoon when the king spied his neighbor Bathsheba and decided that he wanted her for himself.

The Scripture describes the subsequent string of events with disturbing brevity saying simply that David, “sent for her, and when she came to the palace, he slept with her.”

There’s no hint of seduction, only an exercise of the king’s power and depravity.

Afterward, David sent Bathsheba home, but the scandal he had created was just beginning.

Bathsheba soon sent word to the palace that she was pregnant with David’s child. It was the last thing that David wanted to hear; evidence of his infidelity and a potential heir to his throne. His response, nevertheless, was bone chilling.

David quickly called Bathsheba’s husband—a man named Uriah and one of the king’s soliders—back from the battle hoping that a week’s leave would lead to a happy reunion of husband and wife, the kind of reunion that everyone, especially Uriah, would remember a few months later when Bathsheba gave birth.

Bathsheba’s husband, however, proved far more honorable than devious David anticipated. Despite David’s prodding, Uriah would not go home to his wife. He refused to indulge in such pleasures while his band of brothers were looking across the line sat the enemy, and nothing David did could change his mind.

He tried to bribe him.

He tried to engage him in bawdy bar room talk.

He even tried to get him drunk, but Uriah’s virtue never wavered, and he made plans to rejoin his comrades

. David’s cool now turned to panic.

He was already willing to abuse his power and his people—he was willing to base military decisions on how best to cover his own misdeeds—but now he would add murder to his résumé.

David ordered his top general to send Uriah to the front line, and then to withdraw all others from his side, thus ensuring the honorable soldier’s death.

It was a perfect crime.

It’s also a sick story, isn’t it?

On their own, the actions described here are despicable, but to see someone with David’s potential and someone from whom so much was expected sink so low adds exponentially to the scene’s pathos.

Of course, we could keep on reading. We could read about how the prophet Nathan called David to account, how David faced the truth, confessed his sin, ultimately found forgiveness from God in a tremendous display of divine grace, and how he and Bathsheba both found a place in the genealogy of Jesus. That’s all part of the story and part of what makes David such in interesting and complex figure.

But for today, we need to stay right where we are, with David at his worst.

I heard a sermon a few years ago in which the preacher argued that in his crimes against Bathsheba and her husband, David broke everyone one of the Ten Commandments. It was an interesting sermon, and not altogether forced, for David’s actions certainly show contempt for the fundamental principles of loving God and neighbor.

In fact, it’s obvious to me that the only person whom David was interested in loving was himself and narcissism like that always runs counter to God’s desires.

The twisted love of self that leads to wanton consumption stands in sharp contrast to the outward flowing and sharing love God gives and inspires, and in this case, it’s that twisted love that places David in the unenviable company of history’s worst despots, leaders who used their power to line their own pockets and bolster their own list of conquests.

David, God’s chosen king, ultimately behaved like every other land-grabbing, woman-chasing, power-hungry tyrant (and this is the picture that people who liked him decided to write!)

So what are we to do with this?

What does this say about David?

What does this say about us?

I don’t think that there’s any doubt that David’s failure serves as a cautionary tale about our ability to deceive ourselves, to harm others, and to treat others as pawns in order to satisfy our own desires.

David had so much. He had seen God’s promises manifest in his life and he had risen to a position of great power and privilege, but he gave into the temptation to forsake the blessings he had received and to define himself only by what we could take for himself.

If we—who also have so much—can’t see something of ourselves in David’s story, then I think it’s pretty clear that we’re reading it wrong.

The New Testament’s Letter of Second Timothy notes,

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
The story of David’s crimes does this by revealing the truth about our wandering hearts.

Gratitude escapes us, envy has its charms, and David isn’t the only person who sang praises to God one day and hurt and harmed and plotted and schemed and lied on the next.

David was a walking contradiction and so are we.

Prone to wander, though, we, like David, are also anointed and beloved of God. We’re offered forgiveness and mercy and shown the triumph of God’s compassion over our appetite for consumption.

We are blessed to be a blessing, because, in spite of ourselves, God loves us and gives us work to do.

This is the substance of the Good News. Our fundamental challenge, then, is to bring this Gospel message—this love story—to life through our acts of faith and devotion.

This, after all, is the love story about the Creator of all things dwelling within and among each one of us, flawed though we are.

This is the love story about the unimaginable holy hospitality that leads ordinary people like you and me to open our hearts to others even as we’re still learning about the amazing grace God shows to us.

This is the story in which light and life and love have the last word, not death; the story about a Sunday morning, long ago, on which Jesus’ friends found his empty tomb.

Our task as disciples of Jesus Christ is to live out this love story so that anyone who is already convinced about the power of their own failures, but still on the fence about the reality of God’s grace, can get a glimpse and a taste of just how much God loves them, could come to know that Divine Love which excels all others, could experience in the depth of their being the love that is stronger than our sin is foul.

That is our mission. That’s the teaching, reproof, and training David’s story offers us. That’s who we are —a wandering and flawed people, yes, but a people being shaped by and committed to sharing a love that will not let go.

Prone to wander, we, like David, are also anointed and beloved of God. We’re offered forgiveness and mercy and shown the triumph of God’s compassion over our appetite for consumption.

Thanks be to God for this Good News. Amen.

July 12, 2015

Pride Robs Justice

The similarities between Jesus and his recently deceased colleague and mentor, John the Baptist, caused a lot of people to start talking. And when excited people started talking, then as now, the lines between truth and fiction became awfully cloudy.

“Did you know that Jesus is John come back from the dead?”

“No, he’s Elijah, the greatest prophet in the history of our people.”

“No, he’s a new prophet, unlike any other”

On dusty roads and in crowded markets, the people speculated about who this healer, teacher, and miracle worker named Jesus really was.

The Galilean king named Herod Antipas even had an opinion. Herod believed that Jesus was John, whom he had executed, come back from the dead.

Herod, you see, had arrested John soon after he baptized Jesus in that famous scene at the Jordan River. The charge was that John had made the king angry because he dared to point out that good leaders of the Jewish people don’t go around marrying their sisters-in-law, which is exactly what Herod had done, a direct violation of Jewish law and, therefore, a threat to his already tenuous grip on the throne.

Herod wanted John dead, but carrying out a death sentence would have been a political disaster for the king. After all, John was a popular figure known by many as a righteous, just, and holy man.

Herod might have been a homicidal tyrant, but he was still a good politician who knew better than to execute a folk hero.

Unable to eliminate John, Herod kept him around long enough for a new routine to develop. Mark indicates that while John remained a prisoner in Herod’s court, the king granted him permission to speak, and, though Herod obviously missed the point of John’s preaching, he derived enough enjoyment from listening to him to call off his imminent execution.

John was safe, that is a safe as one could be with Herod calling the shots.

Soon the king’s birthday arrived, bringing with it a tremendous feast and throngs of his closest friends, courtiers, and sycophants. Herod’s own daughter provided the entertainment. W

hen his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”
The request deeply grieved Herod, but he had given his word in front of all his guests. Already fearing that power would slip away from him, Herod couldn’t risk the embarrassment of going back on a promise made to his own daughter while a room full of dignitaries watched, so he gave the order for the execution of the righteous, just, and holy John.
Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When [John’s] disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
With this, Mark drops John’s story line and immediately moves to another episode in the life of Jesus. As listeners, however, we find it hard to jump to something new so quickly. We need to linger here for a moment in order to process what just happened.

Why does Mark tell us this story? What’s the point? What lesson, what Good News, can we find here?

I think there’s a lot happening here and many reasons Mark might tell us the news of John’s demise.

First, John’s death foreshadows Jesus’ own and that’s significant because it reveals that the Way of God is not the same thing as the path of least resistance. In fact, doing what is right and good and true might come at a terrible cost. Mark seems clear about this.

One will also note that the circumstances surrounding John’s death also reveal something about the age-old conflict between those who are hungry for power and those with an insatiable thirst for the truth. Truth tellers have always had a way of pointing out the foolishness of tyrants, and tyrants have always had a way of turning truth tellers into martyrs.

Certainly these interpretations are faithful to Mark’s intentions. However, there’s a third point on which I want to focus today.

I want to focus on what Herod’s execution of John says about us—the truth it reveals about the human condition.

That truth is that pride always robs justice of its due because pride—that is believing self-serving lies about one’s self, station, and status—always seeks to obscure the truth. And justice always requires the truth.

We saw this in the scripture last week when the people of Jesus’ hometown just couldn’t get over their elitist attitudes when Jesus began to preach and, as a consequence, how they drove him away.

“He’s just a carpenter,” they said. “He’s Mary’s kid.”

And the people who were too proud to listen to a working class kid named Jesus “took offense at him.”

The Word of God had his sermon cut short because he didn’t have a proper résumé.

Likewise, biblical books like Psalms and Proverbs repeatedly speak of the relationship between the pride in our hearts and our capacity to harm others.

“Pride goes before destruction,” says Proverbs, “and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

Those who “wear pride like a necklace” will be clothed in violence says the Psalmist.

And so it is that Herod’s pride led him to value saving face more than John’s life, giving us one more example of pride’s crimes against justice.

Beyond the scripture, another powerful example of the truth about us comes from our church’s history.

In 1939, the two main branches of the Methodist Church in the Unites States that split from one another prior to the Civil War gathered in Kansas City to discuss reunification. The Uniting Conference, as it is remembered, was a time of celebration for many of its participants, the attitude of which was articulated in the words of the church’s bishops who said, “Methodism in America proclaims to the world today, with great joy, the culmination of one of the most outstanding and far-reaching movements which the Church of Christ has ever witnessed.” It was a warm fuzzy moment in the history of the Church, and Methodists were proud of a job well done.

But there was a problem with the plan of reunion. One of the conditions of reuniting Methodists from the North and the South was that the newly formed church would be racially segregated, a policy that was on the books until the 1960s.

The “most outstanding and far-reaching movement” that got the bishops all choked up was, in essence, Jim Crow’s baptism.

This example from our own church’s history should give us pause.

Perhaps history would have been kinder to the 1939 Conference if the bishops’ assessment had been more modest, more humble, more truthful.

Of course, it would have been a tremendous moment in our tradition and a watershed moment in U.S. history if Methodists from the North and South could have united around the good work of desegregation and equality 75 years ago.

One’s imagination runs wild considering the course the Civil Rights Movement could have charted if that would’ve happened.

But given the decisions that were made, I can’t help but think that it would have been a significant improvement if the church’s leaders could have just acknowledged that their unity plan was, at best, terribly flawed and the tiniest step toward what they hoped would be a more just future.

If only they could have admitted that the plan was a disaster, even if it was the best that they could do, then that would have been preferable to grand and pompous statements.

“The culmination of one of the most outstanding and far-reaching movements which the Church of Christ has ever witnessed.”—no, not at all.

Like John’s execution, the Uniting Conference of 1939 was a clear case of pride robbing justice.

But, in the final analysis, each of us, like the bishops of ‘39, has proven that self-congratulation is much easier to express than the humility that leads to confession.

Like Herod, each of us, with bruised egos, have hurt and harmed our neighbors.

In the practice of pride, we’re all experts.

The truth about us is that our pride always robs justice of its due because pride always seeks to obscure the truth. And justice always requires the truth.

With the Spirit’s help, let us choose a better path—the way of humility and love, the way of the cross, the way of Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God. Amen.