Monday, October 24, 2016

That Wee Little Man – 30 October 2016 – 24th Sunday after Pentecost/ Lectionary 31/ Proper 26

Where in our world today do we see the sort of faith or desperation displayed by Zacchaeus: hungry just to glimpse love and mercy and willing to be ridiculed for displaying the need? “He was trying to see who Jesus was...” Is that not also our cause?

Luke 1:1-10

Apparently Zacchaeus' wealth didn't count for much when it came to getting a front-row seat. Despite (or maybe because of) his being a representative of the Roman government, the crowd does not part so that Zacchaeus can see Jesus. The cultural mores of the time expected men of position to always maintain their dignity in public. They did not hitch up their robes, expose their knees and run through the town. But Luke tells us that love impelled the father of the prodigal son (chap. 15) to do all those things. Nor did men of status climb trees. Can you imagine the laughter and taunts of the crowd when they saw such a spectacle? But Zacchaeus would not be deterred; he lets nothing stand in the way of his seeing Jesus. – Joseph McHugh

One of the fascinating aspects of this story is that Zacchaeus asks nothing of Jesus. His goal is just to see this man he's been hearing about. He figures if he scurries up a tree, then when Jesus passes by, he'll get his look. Just a look; that's all he's after. But what prompts him to only want to look? . . . [H]e couldn't imagine a holy man such as Jesus was reported to be to paying any attention to him at all. The very religious were those most likely to shun him and deal with him only because the Roman law required it. – Jerry L. Harber

Isaiah 1:10-18

The prophet denounces a shallow religion that knows all the proper forms and rituals but is lacking sincerity of heart and purity of life. We can actually hear the disgust the LORD feels: “I have had enough of burnt offerings”. . . “incense is an abomination to me” . . . “I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.” And the reason for the LORD's loathing is the chasm, the great abyss between what the rituals represent and what the lives of the worshipers truly reveal. Offering “many prayers” (v 15) will not gain the LORD's attention when the hands of those who pray are full of blood. Rather, the Lord requires both the cessation of sin—“Remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good”—and the living of virtuous lives—“Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” – Joseph McHugh

2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12

When Paul talked about Jesus coming into a life, he said, the result would be to produce such a change that the person had to be described as a new creature. . . It would be a noticeable difference to all who knew this person, but perhaps even more important, it would be noticeable to the person to whom it happened. This is the mark of restoration—that like Zacchaeus, we behave differently.

So here we are today, looking for Jesus, much as Zacchaeus did. And here we will encounter him and he will invite us to sup with him. What will we do in response to that affirmation and acceptance? Will we surprise anyone? – Jerry L. Harber

Jerry L. Harber, a retired United Methodist pastor, has served as campus minister at Univ. of Tennessee, faculty member at Memphis Theological Seminary, couples counselor, and clergy staff of Church of the Holy Communion, Episcopal, in Memphis, Tennessee.

Joseph McHugh is a freelance writer from New Jersey, and a former weekly newspaper columnist writing on lectionary readings whose writing includes a revision of Rev. Melvin L Farrell’s Getting to Know the Bible (ACTA Publications, 2003).

Homily Service 40, no. 12 (2007): 21-33.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Liturgical Participation as Means Rather than End

E. Byron Anderson’s essay in Liturgy 31, no. 4 (2016) on how liturgical participation enacts God’s mission takes issue with an over-emphasis in our churches on getting people “involved” in worship in a way that seems to indicate the participation itself is the goal. He refers us to Don Saliers’s concern that ritual involvement not become something members of the body of Christ do “on our own terms, but in and as the church.” (Saliers, Worship as Theology) In other, more colloquial, language: It’s not about me or you; it’s about Christ in our gathering and who we become because of the Trinity.

Mark Searle also begins with ritual participation and then describes how it is related to two other forms of participation. . . . At the level of ritual participation, Searle resists the question of personal “ownership” of the liturgy; we do not do it “our way,” making it our own by “remodeling it to reflect [our] particular identity.” (Searle, Called to Participate, p. 18) Rather, we “participate in an activity whose shape and meaning derive from a tradition … [that] belongs to a community larger than the individual, larger even than the assembly gathered to celebrate.” (Such an understanding is easier to see in ecclesial traditions that prescribe rather than encourage the use of particular liturgical materials.) . . . Such work is grounded in our baptism into Christ and renewed at the Eucharistic table as we offer ourselves in union with Christ in praise and thanksgiving. Finally, participation at the level of the divine life “means nothing less than full, conscious, and active participation in the life of grace, lived and manifested individually and collectively, as union with God and communion with all humanity.” 
 The purpose of liturgical reform, then, is not for the sake of ritual participation, as much as such reform was and is necessary, but for the sake of our participation in God and in God’s saving work, in God’s mission of redemption and restoration, in the world. Liturgical reform, including the reform of our participation in the liturgy, is a means rather than the end to our formation for and participation in God and God’s mission.
If part of the difficulty in thinking about liturgical participation has been a misunderstanding of the purpose of that participation, another significant difficulty is that many in our churches, certainly in my own United Methodist Church, mistakenly believe that the church’s mission is and should be defined by the church itself, like an independent social service agency or corporation, rather than by God’s mission to the world. That is, we mistakenly believe that Christian people are called to serve a church-created and church-initiated mission without regard to how that mission is given to the church through Christ in the Spirit rather than created by the church. Such a misunderstanding of mission has often led to the churches’ collaboration with the forces of colonization and to missionary societies that were indistinguishable from the hegemonic forces of governments and industries. 
 . . . But, when we (re-)discover that God is the one who gives the church its mission, that God calls us to participate in God’s mission for the world, that God sends us into the world, we also discover that our participation in the liturgy is necessarily participation as church, a community defined by its participation in the paschal mystery of Christ’s dying and rising. Through such participation the Spirit draws us into life in and with God, and by means of such participation God sends us out in the Spirit’s power in Christ’s name.

E. Byron Anderson is Styberg Professor of Worship at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Illinois. He served as president of The Liturgical Conference from 2003–2015.

E. Byron Anderson, “Liturgical Reform: For Participation and/or Mission,” Liturgy 31, no. 4 (2016): 11-18.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Prayer that Transforms – 23 October 2016 – 23rd Sunday after Pentecost/ Lectionary 30/ Proper 25

We might well pray every day: Lord, teach us to pray. The practices are many. We learn about prayer as silence, movement, art, and words, as contrition and thanksgiving, as praise and begging. And Luke’s Gospel story of the Pharisee and the tax collector sets the goal as the same whichever mode of prayer we engage. It is humility.  

Luke 18:9-14

The Pharisee and tax collector of this parable represent two stereotypical polar opposites of character-types familiar to a first-century Jewish-Christian audience. The Pharisee is described as prayerful, faithful, generous, devout, and ascetic. . . in short, a religious person held in high esteem. The tax collector, on the other hand, represents the worst kind of person, the most hated to a first-century audience. The stereotypical tax collector collaborated with foreigners to extort from his own people. To Jesus' listeners, the tax collector would be the one to be ignored by God. . .

To the surprise of Jesus' listeners, however, it is the tax collector, not the goody-goody religious hero, whom Jesus says is “made right” before God, simply because of the taxman's heartfelt contrition. In contrast, the pious yet smug religious person leaves his prayer without having been right in God's eyes at all (v 14, dedikaiōmenos). His religious practices, for all their praiseworthiness, only end in isolating him from his neighbor.

There is a warning here: if we isolate ourselves from our neighbor, we isolate ourselves from God as well. Hence, Jesus insists that prayer, if it is to be genuine, must bring about a transformation of our hearts. It is much more than pious practice or religious duty. On the contrary, without genuine conversion, even the most admirable pious practice and prayer risk becoming empty and meaningless. – Lisa Marie Belz

Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22

Taken in its larger context of Jeremiah's condemnations of his people's arrogance (13:9,17) and rampant injustice on the eve of the Babylonian invasion (13:17), the drought described in this passage is symbolic of something equally as grave as a lack of adequate rainfall. Although the people of Jeremiah's time are deeply religious, engaging in various religious practices (13:10), their religiosity nonetheless leaves something to be desired. It is based on a lie (13:25, sheqer, “deception,” “lie,” “falsehood”). They do not worship as God intends, and so their society is rife with violence and injustice (v 7). God is in their midst—they even bear the name of God (v 9)—but God “does not accept them” (v 10) and will not do for them what they will not do for themselves (v 19). Only authentic worship, that which combines religious observance with the construction of a truly just society, can remedy the spiritual drought and dryness which afflicts them. – Lisa Marie Belz

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

Here Paul is, facing certain death, yet he knows himself to be delivered from “every work of evil” (v 18). No one can harm him now, not even death, since he lives in Christ and for Christ. In so giving himself repeatedly over the years, he has become like Christ: reduced to nothing (v 6/Philippians 2:7), forgiving his enemies (v 16/Luke 23:34), yet all the while encouraging, exhorting, consoling. The life of the Risen Christ has long been at work in him; now all that remains is its fullest consummation. – Lisa Marie Belz

Lisa Marie Belz, an Ursuline Sister from Cleveland, Ohio, is assistant professor of religious studies and graduate ministry at Ursuline College, Pepper Pike, Ohio.  

Homily Service 40, no. 11 (2007): 43-52.