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22 August 2015

A Brief Break

Dear Readers.

Some of you may have been disappointed about the fact that two of my recent psalm posts are still incomplete.

Not only is it summer (when everything slows down because it's so darn hot), but I also have moved this past July. Furthermore, since this afternoon I am officially on vacation.

Be patient, please.

11 August 2015

11.So.n.Trin. / Pentecost 12

Psalm 111

Once upon a time an old Sufi dervish set out to make the Great Pilgrimage to Mecca.

It was a difficult journey under any conditions. This particular year the trek was unusually demanding. The large crowds jostled one another and crowded him off the road. The path was rough and uneven. The sun beat down on the old man's head without mercy.

'I must stop for a while,' the holy one decided.

So he lay down by the side of the road, just outside of Mecca.

He was hardly asleep before he felt himself being shaken roughly awake. 'Sufi, get up,' the imam said. The voice was not kind. The hand was not gentle.

'Some Sufi you are,' the stranger went on. 'You're a disgrace!'

The imam circled around the old man, flailing his hands and shaking his head.

'How dare you lie down at the time for prayer,' he shouted, 'with head turned to the West and your feet pointed toward God in the holy shrine.'

The old Sufi stirred a bit, opened one eye, looked at the man, and smiled. 'I thank you, sir, for your concern,' the Sufi said.

Then he went on, a sly grin playing at the corner of his mouth, 'So before I go back to sleep, would you be so kind as to turn my feet in some direction where they are not pointing at God?'

V. 1
1 Hallelujah. I will give thanks to the Lord wholeheartedly / in the council of the upright and in the assembly.

VV. 2-4
2 Great are the deeds of the Lord, /
Sought out by all who delight in them. 3 Majesty and splendor are his work, / and his righteousness endures for all time. 4 A memorial he has made of his wondrous acts; / showing favor and merciful is the Lord.

VV. 5-9
5 Food he has given to those who fear him; / He will remember for all time his covenant. 6 The strength of his deeds he has made known to his people, / in order to give them the inheritance of the nations. 7 The deeds of his hands are faithful and just; / trustworthy are all of his precepts. 8 They are sustained throughout all time, / to be done in faithfulness and uprightness. 9 Deliverance he has sent to his people; / he has commanded his covenant for all time. / Holy and reverent is his name.

V. 10
10 The beginning of wisdom is
reverence of the Lord; / good understanding comes to all who do it. / His praise endures for all time (NICOT).

[Testing Psm 111; Psm 111 testing; testing]

02 August 2015

“Compassion: When The One Who Saves You Is The One You Hate”

Sermon on Luke 10: 25-37,
preached by Fritz Wendt
on July 26, 2015 (Pentecost 9),
 at Zion St. Mark's Lutheran Church,
New York City

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let us pray ...

My friends,

Charlie Brown runs into Lucy Van Pelt and announces he has something to confess. “I did something stupid,” he says, “and now I hate myself.” “What's the matter?” she says. “I was sitting on the floor,” says Charlie Brown, “working a puzzle, and my little baby sister came crawling over.

She crawled right into my space and messed up the puzzle, so I yelled at her. She started crying, and now I hate myself.” He sighs and adds, “I shouldn't have yelled at her; she's only a baby; I feel terrible.”

Lucy moves a bit closer and says, with great warmth in her voice, “Charlie Brown, I understand what you're going through. Don't forget that my brother Linus was a baby once too. I had the exact same problem. I used to feel the same way about baby Linus the way you do about your baby sister.”

“Really,” says Charlie Brown, "I am so glad someone understands. But what did you do when your little brother got on your nerves?" “Well,” says Lucy, “I solved my problem."

Even as Charlie Brown asks, "But how?", Lucy's brother Linus walks by, reading a comic book. Lucy's voice instantly changes from sweet and compassionate to loud and demanding: “Hey young man, doesn't that comic book you are reading belong to me, your big sister?” As Linus turns around, startled, it is dawning on him that he is being scolded.

But Lucy doesnt give him a chance to respond: “How many times do I have to tell you to leave my things alone?” Linus looks as though he is going to to cry. Lucy roars at him, “If I catch you with another one of my comic books, I'll get you, Linus.” And then she adds with an even bigger roar, “I'll chase you clear out of the country. I hope I am making myself clear.”

As Linus walks off, quietly crying, Lucy turns back to Charlie Brown who's been watching the spectacle in disgust, turns on her smile and tells him sweetly, “As I was saying, I got over it.” As Charlie Brown starts walking away, Lucy shouts after him, “Believe me, I really got over it. Being mad with my brother is not an issue at all.”

The little vignette from the Peanuts cartoon illustrates that talking about love is one thing, and that acting out of love is quite another.  Speaking about love and living love, that is the topic of my sermon text from Luke Chapter 10.

There Jesus encounters a man to whom our translations usually refer as a “lawyer”; the Greek term nomikos describes a scholar of Israel's religious law; it is fair to assume that this would put him into the company of the people who most often oppose Jesus and his teaching, the “Scribes and Pharisees”.

This religion scholar stands up with a question to test Jesus. “Rabbi”, he says, “what do I need to do to get eternal life?” Jesus' answer is simple: “What's written in God's Law? How do you interpret it?” Because this is what the scholar does for a living, he rattles it off instantly, and perhaps with some impatience in his voice, “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence; love your neighbor as well as you love yourself.” 

Again, Jesus' answer is simple, “Good answer! Do that and you'll live.” But the scholar is frustrated; he has wanted to engage Jesus in a public fight.  So he comes back with a reply that would make any lawyer proud: "Who is my neighbor?" In other words: Love my neighbor, you say? ... but Rabbi, how do you define what that is, a neighbor?

Jesus replies by telling a story, a story so well known and so famous that many are tempted to stop listening when it's told once again:

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.  [31] Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. [32] So likewise a Levite ..."

Unlike you and I, who are used to hearing it, for those listening to Jesus telling this story for the first time, it would have been very difficult to take. They didn't want to identify with the priest or Levite, who both seemed like cowards; their only choice would have been to put themselves in the place of the victim, presumably a Jewish man, bleeding and helpless in the ditch, beset by flies, under the killing sun.

As Jesus continues his story, the horror among the listeners only increases:

[33] But then a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. [34] He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. [35] The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”

Jesus' audience is in dire straights now: they have been unwilling to identify with the priest or the Levite, but they were also not exactly willing to identify with the man in the ditch.  Thus, their only hope has been that the savior of the robbed man might be a Jew. But to their utter shock, the hero in Jesus' story is not a well-respected Jew, but an enemy of the Jews: a Samaritan. The enmity between Jews and Samaritans went back hundreds of years.  Well no, they say, we cannot possibly identify with a Samaritan hero.  To do so would damage our reputation.

So just one option is left: to slip into the shoes of that wounded victim. And as it dawns on them that the one who saves them is the one they hate and despise, they look like they are going to be sick.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is not a morality tale. Jesus is not telling us to be “good Samaritans”! Of course that always has seemed like the simplest reading, but it misses the mark; for that to work, the Samaritan should have been the victim.  

We cannot even imagine how utterly shocking it must have been to first-century Jewish-Palestinian ears to hear of a Samaritan in the role of hero.

Jesus, as we see everywhere in the gospels, uses his parables to bring the Kingdom of God to us, in a language we understand but at the same time in a way that profoundly disorients us. We think we know, and then he pulls the rug out from under us.

Whenever Jesus tells a parable, we must be prepared to be told things that we have never thought possible before, things that fundamentally challenge our assumptions about who the good guys and bad guys are, about the way the world works.

The enemy as hero -- that is Jesus pulling the rug out from under us.

And you and I, who came to church this fine morning?  I can see that some of you are quite uncomfortable as we are shown that God is making his divine presence felt in the world by making a hated man the hero.

In making us identify with the victim, Jesus forces us to put ourselves in the skin of the half-dead, the destitute, the despairing.

Before you protest (because you don't want to think such dirty thoughts on a fine Sunday morning), be honest for a moment: You and I, we know a time or two on our own journey between Jerusalem and Jericho where indeed we felt half-dead and destitute and desparate one way or another!

Martin Luther, in one of his sermons on our text, writes in his typical drastic style: 

"The man who here lies half dead, wounded and stripped of his clothing is Adam and all mankind. ... We still struggle a little for life; but there lies horse and man, we cannot help ourselves to our feet, and if we were left thus lying we would have to die by reason of our great anguish and lack of nourishment; maggots would grow in our wounds, followed by great misery and distress."

Helpless even against the onslaught of maggots, at the mercy of a kind man who, as everyone says, is our enemy -- that's where Jesus places us in his story!

Jesus' parable wants to teach us that goodness and kindness come from our neighbors - regardless of whether or not the neighbor looks or believes or thinks the way we want them to.

Yes, it would be much easier had Jesus just told us to find enough grace and goodness in our hearts to love our enemy.

But Jesus knows that people use abstractions to seek safe ground. He aims to get us out of our comfort zone: We're supposed to identify with the helplessness of the wounded victim to overcome our pride, ... and to hope that those we dislike and detest will save us.

The Greek word our translations render as “compassion” is splanchnizomai; literally, it means “to be moved in one's gut”. The splanchna are the inner organs of the stomach.

The enemy, the Samaritan, was “moved, and felt the pain in his very gut”. At that very instant he saw through the illusion that each human being is separate from the other people in the world.

He overcame the barrier of self and other, and the pain of the wounded traveler became his very own. Jumping off the donkey, treating the wounds, making provisions for shelter and care were but the most natural kind of action to follow.

Compassion is something that happens to us when a fellow human being is shaken to the core to such a degree that she or he just has to help us ... and we are not in control. We are not in control when compassion happens to us.  

Jesus then ends his story, reminding us that we are supposed to do this sort of kindness because we have experienced it ourselves.

[36] Which of these three do you think became a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” [37] The expert in religious law said, “The one who showed mercy to him.” So Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”

Compassion, seen this way, is a reflex, something we do inevitably, without much thinking involved. Let me give you an example of a reflex. Think for a moment of what happens when an itchy feeling arises in your right arm; without even thinking, your left hand will move in its direction, your left fingers will start scratching, and when they have done their job by relieving the itch, your left hand will go on back doing whatever it was doing before. And all this would happen without any conscious decision on your end.

In forcing us to see compassion as a reflex -- nothing less, nothing more --Jesus challenges our boundaries. He says that everyone is your neighbor. Everyone is charged with your well-being, and everyone is your charge. Jesus implies that the universe is one, and that all creation is one.

  • We are not to act like the priest and the Levite as they listened to their anxious ego which said, But what will happen to ME if I help him?
  • The Samaritan, on the other hand, had overcome the cravings of his ego and simply asked himself, What will happen to THIS MAN if I don't help him?

Each and every one of our fellow human beings is our neighbor. The universe is one, and everyone is our neighbor. That is a slap in the face of all the Pharisees during Jesus' days and all the Pharisees living today.

Now and then, you meet a Pharisee in church. He or she will say, “Pastor, we feel that she doesn't belong here. He is not like us. She just won't do. We don't like him to come any more.” Martin Luther talks about these “verdrießlichen Heiligen” (the miserable saints) who think they can rely on their holiness and therefore have chosen to avoid the suffering of their fellow human beings.

He says they are convinced that the Lord owes them, and that they don't owe anything to God or anyone. Luther concludes, “In our own affairs we are shrewd; how to scrape together money and goods, how to speak well of God before the people, and how to push ourselves ahead in a masterly manner. But what does God care for this?”

Many people find it odd, peculiar, yes: highly insulting, to have an enemy shoved in their faces as an example of someone they should trust and emulate.

And so, Jesus' Parable of the Compassionate Samaritan is not only a story about active compassion but also one about our habit to judge others.  

We gather in church to be closer to God, but today we are getting so close that it's outright scary.

How do we like being close to a God who loves us enough not to pass by but lingers among us long enough to judge us, to measure us with a standard of judgment that is tougher than the standards by which we measure ourselves, and to tell us, "I expect more of you!"

With his Parable of the Samaritan Jesus indicts each of us.  Deep down we know that Jesus has taken the masks off of our faces: we are all Pharisees.

My fellow Pharisees, it's not easy to bear God's closeness when God comes to judge ... yet we should feel loved and accepted, as we are sent to God's school of compassion.  We are asked to learn to be shaken up. First, by being put into the role of the helpless victim. Second, by remembering the kindness we have received when we encounter suffering, despair and injustice, and to identify so deeply with those in misery that we simply need to act. Everyone can talk of love (especially when things are kept general and abstract), but putting love into action is a whole 'nother thing.

One of the problems with our story is that we don't have Samaritans in our society, and so the story has lost some of its bite.

In one medieval painting the Levite becomes a Catholic monk, and the Samaritan, a turk. The artist knew that the idea of a turk would conjure up fear and anger in those looking at the picture. He put the bite back in.

I think of Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, who suggested in all seriousness to put a stop to letting Muslims come into the US.  He stated this practice should be continued "until the threat is over".

Despised, detested, feared -- a Samaritan during the days of Jesus, a Turk in medieval times, a Muslim in 2015.

There you have it: The bite of the parable is restored immediately when we imagine "The Good Muslim" as the savior of the wounded half-dead man.  Now put you and me in that ditch, bleeding and near death. See, we are being saved by a compassionate Muslim; the bite is back.

In loving everybody, we only imitate our God's love for us. God's love is without conditions.  "God's love is like the sun", we sang in youth group, "it's always there and everywhere".

As we can find a compassionate ear and someone to share our burden all around us, there are people out there who need our willingness to show compassionate hearts and offer our willing shoulders.

We're invited to connect with all God's people (and that's everyone), so others can reflect God's love to us, and so we can love others.  The universe is one, and we are part of this beautiful wholeness.

All of creation is one, brimming with God's love and showing us the way of love.

The old German hymn comes to mind (the translation in blank verse is my own):

Whoever says, “I love my God”
yet hates his fellow humans,
is making fun of God's own truth
and tears it down completely.
Himself true love, God calls on me
to love all people as myself.

Practice compassion, my friends. Love until it hurts, until there is nothing left of you, until you don't know where you end and the rest of the universe begins.  Amen.

And may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

28 July 2015

„Barmherzigkeit: Wenn der der uns rettet unser Feind ist”

Predigt über Lukas 10, 25-37
gehalten von Fritz Wendt am
8. Sonntag nach Trinitatis, 26. Juli 2015, in der Deutschen St. Paulskirche,
New York City*

Gnade sei mit euch und Frieden, von Gott unserm Vater und dem Herrn Jesus Christus.

Lassen Sie uns beten ...

Liebe Gemeinde!

Charlie Brown kommt eines Tages zu Lucy Van Pelt und sagt ihr er hätte etwas zu beichten. Als sie ermunternd nickt, sagt er, „Ich hab etwas Dummes getan, und nun hasse ich mich selbst”.

Als Lucy nachfragt, sagt Charlie leise, „Ich saß auf dem Fussboden und war in ein Puzzle vertieft.  Da kam meine kleine Schwester; sie kroch auf allen Vieren, und sie kroch genau auf mich zu und dann passierte es: Sie zerstörte das Puzzle an dem ich so lange gearbeitet hatte – und da schrie ich sie an.  Dann fing sie an zu weinen, und nun hasse ich mich selbst.”

Charlie Brown seufzt und sagt, „Ich hätte sie nicht anschreien dürfen. Sie ist doch nur ein kleines Kind!  In meinen Augen bin ich ein Schurke!”

Da kommt Lucy auf Charlie zu und sagt mit sehr viel Wärme in Ihrer Stimme, „Ach, Charlie Brown, du Armer, ich weiss doch genau wie das ist. Wie du weißt habe ich auch so ein Geschwisterchen: meinen Bruder Linus. Ich hatte genau dasselbe Problem wie du.”

Charlie Brown freut sich dass ihn wenigstens einer versteht. „Da bin ich aber froh, nur was hast du gemacht als dein Bruder dir auf die Nerven ging?” Lucy sagt, „Ich habe mein Problem gelöst.”

„Aber wie?” fragt Charlie Brown, und in demselben Moment kommt Linus vorbei, vertieft in ein Komik-Heft. Obwohl ihre Stimme noch vor einem Moment warm und freundlich war ist Lucy plötzlich laut und fordernd: „Junger Mann, liest du zufällig ein Heft das mir gehört, deiner großen Schwester?” Linus scheint nur langsam zu verstehen dass sie ihn ausschimpft.

Sie gibt ihm keine Gelegenheit zu antworten: „Wieviele Male muss ich es dir sagen: Lass meine Sachen in Frieden!” 

Nun sieht es aus als wurde Linus anfangen zu weinen. Da fängt Lucy erst richtig an auf ihn einzuschreien: „Wenn das noch einmal passiert, dann passiert dir was, Bürschchen! Ich werde dich wegjagen, nicht nur aus dieser Stadt sondern aus dem ganzen Land. Ist das klar? Nun verzieh dich!”

Als der kleine Linus sich langsam entfernt, und beide ihn weinen hören, dreht sich Lucy wieder Charlie Brown zu, der das ganze Spektakel mit Widerwillen beobachtet hat.

Wie auf Knopfdruck erscheint Lucys Lächeln wieder und sie spricht mit so viel Süße das einer davon zuckerkrank werden könnte: „Wie gesagt, ich habe mein Problem gelöst." Als Charlie sich zum Gehen wendet, ruft Lucy ihm nach: Mit meinem Bruder Linus böse sein – das ist überhaupt kein Thema mehr.”

Die kleine Szene von den „Peanuts" zeigt dass über Liebe zu reden nicht dasselbe ist wie aus Liebe zu handeln. Und darum geht es in meinem Predigttext aus Lukas 10.

Da trifft Jesus einen Mann der auf Griechisch „nomikos" heisst, was so viel meint wie „Schriftgelehrter”.  Er gehört somit in die Gruppe die oft gegen Jesus und sein Lehren standen: die Schriftgelehrten und Pharisäer.

Dieser Schriftgelehrte baut sich vor Jesus auf.  Um Jesus in Verlegenheit zu bringen hat er sich eine schlaue Frage ausgedacht: „Rabbi“, sagt er, „was muss ich tun, dass ich das ewige Leben ererbe?" Jesu Antwort ist einfach: „Was steht im Gesetz geschrieben? Was liest du?“

Weil es das Handwerk eines Schriftgelehrten ist so etwas zu wissen, kommt seine Antwort ohne Zögern, und vielleicht sogar mit ein bißchen Ungeduld: »Du sollst den Herrn, deinen Gott, lieben von ganzem Herzen, von ganzer Seele, von allen Kräften und von ganzem Gemüte, und deinen Nächsten wie dich selbst«

Und wieder ist Jesu Antwort kurz und bündig: „Du hast recht geantwortet; tu das, so wirst du leben.“

Da ist der Schriftgelehrte ärgerlich, denn er war darauf aus sich mit Jesus öffentlich zu streiten. So stellt er eine Frage die jeden Rechtsanwalt stolz machen würde: „Wer ist denn mein Nächster?“  Du sagst ich soll meinen Nächsten lieben, Rabbi, aber wer ist denn damit überhaupt gemeint?

Jesu Antwort auf diese Frage ist eine Geschichte so bekannt und berühmt dass wir oft der Versuchung verfallen nicht mehr zuzuhören.

30 Es war ein Mensch, der ging von Jerusalem hinab nach Jericho und fiel unter die Räuber; die zogen ihn aus und schlugen ihn und machten sich davon und ließen ihn halb tot liegen. 31 Es traf sich aber, dass ein Priester dieselbe Straße hinabzog; und als er ihn sah, ging er vorüber. 32 Desgleichen auch ein Levit ...

Die Leute die dieser Geschichte Jesu zum ersten Mal zuhörten müssen ziemlich perplex gewesen sein. Sie mochten sich nicht identifizieren mit dem Priester oder dem Leviten, denn diesen beiden war Sicherheit wichtiger als Mitgefühl.  Da blieb noch eine andere Möglichkeit der Identifizierung: sich in die Schuhe des Mannes zu versetzen der hier das Opfer ist: es ist wahrscheinlich ein jüdischer Mann der da blutet und hilflos im Dreck liegt, von Fliegen umschwärmt und von der Sonne gestochen. Aber ... wer will denn schon ein Opfer sein?

Als Jesus fortfährt mit seiner Geschichte, da wird der Schrecken der Zuhörer sogar noch größer:

33 Ein Samariter aber, der auf der Reise war, kam dahin; und als er ihn sah, jammerte er ihn;  34 und er ging zu ihm, goss Öl und Wein auf seine Wunden und verband sie ihm, hob ihn auf sein Tier und brachte ihn in eine Herberge und pflegte ihn. 35 Am nächsten Tag zog er zwei Silbergroschen heraus, gab sie dem Wirt und sprach: Pflege ihn; und wenn du mehr ausgibst, will ich dir's bezahlen, wenn ich wiederkomme.

Der Held in Jesu Geschichte ist nicht ein angesehener Jude, sondern ein Feind der Juden: ein Samariter.  Die Feindschaft mit Samaritern bestand schon seit hunderten von Jahren.

Die Zuhörer sind ratlos.  Natürlich sind sie unwillig sich mit dem Priester und dem Leviten zu identifizieren, aber sie sind auch nicht sehr willig sich in der Rolle des blutigen Opfers zu sehen – deshalb haben sie inständig gehofft dass der Retter des beraubten Mannes vielleicht ein Jude ist.

Aber zu ihrem Schrecken ist der ein Samariter. Also nein, mit einem Samariter kann man sich nicht identifizieren. Das geht nicht!

So ist wirklich nur eine Möglichkeit übrig: die Zuhörer müssen sich hineinversetzen in den blutigen Mann … und dann, wenn sie sich überlegen dass der Retter ihr Feind ist, da wissen sie gar nicht mehr wo sie hingucken sollen.

Das Gleichnis vom Barmherzigen Samariter ist keine Moralgeschichte. Uns wird nicht gesagt wir alle sollten nun Samariter werden; obwohl das die einfachste Lesart ist, geht sie doch vorbei an der wirklichen Geschichte.  Wir müssen uns vergegenwärtigen wie schockierend diese Geschichte gewesen sein muss fuer Jüdisch-Palästinensische Ohren im 1. Jahrhundert.

Wie wir überall im Evangelium sehen, benutzt Jesus seine Gleichnisse um uns das Reich Gottes nahezubringen, in einer Sprache die leicht zu verstehen ist, aber doch immer in einer Überraschung endet. Immer wenn wir gerade denken dass wir wissen wovon er spricht zieht Jesus plötzlich den Teppich unter unseren Füßen weg.

Wenn Jesus ein Gleichnis erzählt müssen wir bereit sein unsere vorgefassten Meinungen und Ideen aufzugeben. Wenn immer er sich neue Geschichten ausdenkt, müssen wir uns vorbereiten auf Dinge die wir noch nicht einmal denken können, und auch darauf: dass unsere Ideen von gut und böse revisionsbedürftig sind.

Und wir hier in der Kirche heute morgen?

Jesus zwingt uns, uns mit dem Opfer zu identifizieren. Er will dass wir hineinschluepfen in die Haut von halbtoten, bettelarmen und verzweifelten Menschen.

Gottes Gegenwart in der Welt mit so einem Gleichnis darzustellen, das mag schon den einen oder anderen von Ihnen skeptisch blicken lassen. Sie mögen ja jetzt sogar ein bißchen pikiert sein (denn es ist ja schließlich Sonntag und man will sich doch nicht dreckig machen mit solchen Gedanken!), aber seien Sie mal ehrlich. ...

Es ist doch wahr dass Sie und ich unsere eigenen Reisen zwischen Jerusalem und Jericho erlebt haben: jene gottverlassenen Momente in denen wir uns halbtot und bettelarm und verzweifelt gefühlt haben.

In einer seiner Predigten schreibt Martin Luther in seinem typischen groben Stil: „Der Mann der da am Boden liegt, verwundet and nackend, das ist Adam und die ganze Menchheit ... Das Leben bringt viele Plagen mit sich, aber hier liegen Mann und Pferd, und wir können uns nicht selbst wieder auf die Füße helfen. Wenn wir nun ohne Hilfe blieben, dann wurden wir vor Hunger und Furcht sterben; die Maden wurden in unsere Wunden kriechen, und dann würde unsere Not kein Ende haben.“

Hilflos den Maden ausgeliefert und auf Hilfe hoffend von einem den wir schon immer als Feind eingestuft hatten – da ist wo Jesus Sie und mich plaziert in diesem Gleichnis.

Das Gleichnis vom Barmherzigen Samariter will uns lehren dass Güte und Freundlichkeit von unserem Nächsten kommen – ohne dass es eine Rolle spielt ob dieser Nächste nun so aussieht oder glaubt oder denkt wie wir es gerne hätten oder nicht.  Jeder von uns hat sich das Leben so zurechtgebaut dass wir bestimmte Leute außen vor lassen, Leute mit denen wir nichts zu tun haben wollen.

Ja, es wäre so viel einfacher wenn Jesus uns sagen wollte: findet die Stärke und Freundlichkeit eurem Feind zu helfen; aber darum geht es ihm nicht.

Wir sollen uns hineinversetzen in die Hilflosigkeit des überfallenen Opfers: unseren Stolz zu überwinden und darauf zu hoffen, ja: uns darauf zu verlassen! gerettet zu werden von ebenjenen Leuten die wir nicht ausstehen können.

Das griechische Wort für „barmherzig sein” bedeutet buchstäblich „es geht einem durch und durch”**. Die splanchna sind die inneren Organe des Bauches. Der Feind, der Samariter, war durchgeschüttelt  mit Mitgefühl und wusste dass er handeln musste.  In dem Moment wusste er was wir oft noch lernen müssen: dass die ganze Idee von „den anderen” eine Illusion ist.  Keiner von uns ist separat – wir gehören alle zusammen, ob wir das nun mögen oder nicht.

Barmherzigkeit ist was uns widerfährt wenn es einem Mitmenschen durch und durch geht ob unseres Anblickes, und der dann so durchgeschüttelt ist dass er einfach helfen muss.

Barmherzigkeit ist etwas das uns widerfährt ... und Barmherzigkeit ist eben dann auch das was wir tun sollen. So endet Jesus seine Geschichte:

36 Wer von diesen dreien, meinst du, ist der Nächste gewesen dem, der unter die Räuber gefallen war? 37 Er sprach: Der die Barmherzigkeit an ihm tat. Da sprach Jesus zu ihm: So geh hin und tu desgleichen!

Barmherzigkeit soll ein Reflex werden, etwas das wir wie selbstverständlich tun, ohne viel darüber nachzudenken.

Stellen Sie sich für einen Moment vor dass Sie jetzt einen Juckreiz in ihrem rechten Arm verspüren. Ohne dass Sie jemals darüber nachdenken wird Ihre linke Hand sich auf den rechten Arm zubewegen sodass die Finger der linken Hand Ihren rechten Arm kratzen können.

Wenn der Juckreiz dann weniger schlimm ist, wird Ihre linke Hand automatisch an ihren gewohnten Platz zurückkehren – und all dies wird geschehen ohne dass Sie je einen Gedanken darüber verschwenden.

Indem er uns zwingt Barmherzigkeit als Reflex anzusehen stellt Jesus unsere Grenzen in Frage.  Er sagt dass jeder andere Mensch uns ein Nächster ist.  Er sagt dass alle anderen Menschen für mich verantwortlich sind, und dass ich verantwortlich bin für das Wohlergehen jedes anderen Menschen.  Er sagt dass das Universum eins ist, und dass alles in diesem Universum eins sein soll.

Wir sollen uns nicht benehmen wie der Priester und der Levit; sie hörten auf ihr Ego und das sagt ihnen, „Wenn ich jetzt helfe, könnte ich dabei nicht selber in Gefahr kommen?” Auf der anderen Seite wurde der Samariter seines Egos Herr; er fragte sich nicht wie es ihm dabei gehen würde, sondern wie es dem Überfallenen gehen würde ohne seine Hilfe.

Jeder unserer Mitmenschen ist unser Nächster. Für die Pharisäer damals und heute ist das ein Schlag ins Gesicht.  Es ist doch so viel einfacher wenn man alles gut abgeriegelt hat mit Grenzen und Warnschildern – dann braucht man sich mit gewissen Leuten eben nicht abzugeben.

Ab und an trifft man auch einen Pharisäer in der Kirche – eine Person die allen Ernstes sagt, „Herr Pastor, diese Dame gehört hier nicht her; sie ist einfach nicht wie wir; sie ist hier fehl am Platz; wir mochten dass sie uns verlässt.”

Martin Luther spricht von den „verdrießlichen Heiligen” die meinen sich in ihrer Heiligkeit ausruhen zu können, and daher sich von allem Leid abwenden. Luther sagt diese Leute sind überzeugt dass Gott ihnen etwas schuldet, und dass sie Gott nichts schulden weil sie doch sooo gut sind.  Luther sagt von diesen verdrießlichen Heiligen dass Gott sich um sie sorgt weil sie so verblendet sind.

Und so ist das Gleichnis vom Barmherzigen Samariter nicht nur eine Geschichte über das Erbarmen sondern auch eine Geschichte über unsere Angewohnheit über andere zu Gericht zu sitzen. Es gibt überall Leute denen unser Gleichnis auf die Nerven geht, so wie jenem Schriftgelehrten der versuchte Streit mit Jesus anzufangen.

Bibeltreue Leute, professionelle Gläubige gehen vorbei an dem Opfer – vielleicht denken Sie gerade heute morgen: nun ja, der Priester und der Levit, die mögen gute Gründe haben sich nicht einzumischen!

Aber dann, … dann wird das Opfer gerettet von einem Feind. Und wir sollen uns ein Beispiel an diesem Mann nehmen! Da hört sich doch wohl alles auf!

Indem die professionellen Gläubigen einen Bogen um den Überfallenen machen und nur der verachtete Samariter das richtige tut, kommt das Gericht zu uns: da fängt Gott an über uns Gericht zu halten.

Wir sind heute morgen zur Kirche gekommen um Gott näher zu sein. Aber nun kommt er so nah dass es manchem unheimlich wird.

Wie geht es Ihnen mit diesem Gott der Ihnen so nahekommt dass er über Sie zu Gericht sitzt und Ihnen sagt, „Ich erwarte mehr von dir"?

Mit seinem Samaritergleichnis hat Jesus uns alle überführt.

Sie uns ich, wir sind eine Schar von Pharisäern und Schriftgelehrten, voll von Selbstgerechtigkeit und Selbstzufriedenheit.

Es ist nicht einfach diese Nähe Gottes auszuhalten -- und doch dürfen wir uns geliebt und angenommen fühlen, denn wir sollen ja lernen von dieser Erfahrung: dass die Barmherzigkeit die wir brauchen oft von unerwarteten Ecken kommt, und dass wenn wir durch und durch geschüttelt werden von dem Leiden und der Verzweiflung unter unseren Mitmenschen wir gar nicht mehr anders können als zu handeln.

Von Liebe reden kann jeder, aber Liebe zu tun das ist eine Aufgabe.

Gottes Liebe kommt zu uns heute morgen in Gericht und Herausforderung. Gottes Liebe kommt zu uns in der Aufforderung uns helfen zu lassen von unseren Mitmenschen, und wirklich da zu sein für die die uns brauchen.  Aber unten drunter ist es alles Liebe.

Eins der Probleme mit unserer Geschichte ist dass wir keine Samariter in unserer Gesellschaft haben; das Gleichnis hatte mehr Stoßkraft fuer Jesu Zeitgenossen weil sie Samariter vor Augen hatten, Menschen die gehasst und verabscheut wurden.

In einem mittelalterlichen Bild wird der Levit zum Mönch, und der Samariter zum Türken; weil die Zeitgenossen des Malers vor den Türken Angst hatten, war die Stoßkraft des Gleichnisses wiederhergestellt.

Denken Sie an die Kontroverse um Franklin Graham, von der man sogar in deutschen Zeitungen lessen konnte.  Als der Sohn von Billy Graham neulich vorschlug die Einwanderung von Muslimen in die USA völlig zu stoppen sagte er wörtlich dies sollte geschehen „bis die Bedrohung durch den Islam sich beruhigt hat”.  Da haben wir’s.  

Die Stoßkraft des Gleichnisses ist sofort wiederhergestellt ... wenn wir uns einen Barmherzigen Muslim vorstellen. Sie und ich am Wegrande, nahe am Verbluten ... und dann die Rettung, durch einen barmherzigen Muslim!

Wenn wir jeden Menschen als unseren Nächsten ansehen, dann lieben wir so wie Gott liebt. Gottes Liebe ist unbedingt, also ohne Bedingungen. „Gottes Liebe ist wie die Sonne", sangen wir in der Jungschar, „sie ist immer und überall da" ...

Wir sind eingeladen uns einzulassen auf die ganze Menschheit – damit andere an uns Gutes tun können wenn wir in Not sind, und damit wir anderen Gutes tun wenn sie uns brauchen.

So jemand spricht: Ich liebe Gott! 
Und haßt doch seine Brüder,
Der treibt mit Gottes Wahrheit Spott,
Und reißt sie ganz darnieder.
Gott ist die Lieb, und will, daß ich 
Den Nächsten liebe, gleich als mich.

Das Universum ist eins, und wir sind Teil von diesem wunderschönen Ganzen.  Und dieses Ganze kann immer schöner werden wenn wir Barmherzigkeit üben.

Üben Sie, tun Sie Barmherzigkeit als wenn heute die Welt unterginge. Lieben Sie Ihren Nächsten -- jeden Menschen den Sie treffen. Geben Sie Liebe weg bis Ihnen die Arme wehtun und bis Sie so heiser sind dass Sie kaum noch reden können.

Sie mögen eines Tages feststellen dass Sie gar nicht mehr wissen wo Sie aufhören und wo das Universum anfängt. Denn wir sind ja alle eins -- so hat Gott die Schöpfung gewollt. Amen.

Und der Friede Gottes,
der höher ist als alle Vernunft,
der bewahre eure Herzen und Sinne
in Christus Jesus. Amen.

* An English version of this sermon will appear in a few days in a new post.
**Das griechische Wort ist σπλαγχνίζομαι („splanchnizomai").

23 July 2015

8.So.n.Trin. / Pentecost 9

Psalm 145

Saint Francis of Assisi lay on his deathbed. He was singing, and singing so loudly that the whole neighborhood heard about it.

Brother Elias, a pompous but prominent member of the Franciscan order, came close to Saint Francis and said, ‘Father, there are people standing in the street outside your window.’ Fearing that the last moment of Francis’ life had come, many who loved him had gathered together around the house.

Said Brother Elias, “I am afraid nothing we might do could prevent them from hearing you singing. The lack of restraint at so grave an hour might embarrass the order, Father. It might lower the esteem in which you yourself are so justly held. Perhaps in your extremity you have lost sight of your obligation to the many who have come to regard you as a saint. Would it not be more edifying for them if you would, er, die with more Christian dignity?”

Brother Elias was worried. But not about Saint Francis. He worried about lack of decorum.  He worried about himself and the order. We can almost guess his thoughts: “It will be very embarrassing for us later on. How are we going to respond when the crowds demand to know what happened in the saint's last moments?”

Brother Elias was concerned with public opinion. He wanted to prove his master to be the greatest master, to be the greatest of saints, and he knew only one way to prove it — that he should be dignified in his death. Singing in his mind was as frivolous, as ordinary, as dancing.

But Francis had different priorities. He was a man of the people.  Like it always has been with God's mystics, Francis had conquered his ego; once the ego is disempowered, there are no more dualisms.  For Francis there was no distinction between "dignified" and "ordinary".  As he had been "melting into God" for many years (Sr. Joan Chittister has used that phrase to describe mystics), he had no use for silly quibblers like Brother Elias.

So, Saint Francis said, “Please excuse me, Brother,” “but I feel so much joy in my heart that I really can’t help myself. I must sing!”

And he died singing. There can be no better death. If you can die singing, that proves that you lived singing, that your life was a joy, and that death was the crescendo of it, the culmination.

The voice of the individual psalmist (VV. 1-2)
Āleph 1 I will exalt you, my God the king, / and I will bless your name for all time and beyond. Bêt 2 Every day I will bless you, / and I will praise your name for all time and beyond.

Declarative statements 
by the individual psalmist (VV. 3-9)
Gîmel 3 Great is the Lord and exceedingly praiseworthy; / for his greatness there is no searching out. Dālet 4 Generation to generation will glorify your doings, / and your mighty works they will make known. Hê 5 On the splendor of the glory of your majesty, / and on the words of your wondrous works I will meditate. Wāw 6 And the might of your awesome deeds they will tell, / and your greatness I will recount. Zayin 7 The memory of your great goodness they will utter forth, / and of your righteousness they will sing aloud.  Ḥêt 8 Showing favor and compassionate is the Lord / slow to anger and great of hesed. Têt 9 Good is the Lord to all, / and his compassions are over all his works.

The voices of the individual 
psalmist and the hesed ones (V. 10)
Yôd 10 All of your works will give thanks to you, O Lord, / and your hesed ones will bless you.

Interlude: God’s kingdom 
is for all time (VV. 11-13)
Kāp 11 The glory of your kingdom they will tell, / and of your mighty works they will speak, Lāmed 12 in order to make known to the children of humanity his mighty work / and the glory and the splendor of his kingdom. Mêm 13 Your kingdom is a kingdom for all times, / and your dominion is for all generations.

Descriptive statements 
by the individual psalmist 
and the hesed ones (VV. 14-20)
Sāmek 14 The Lord supports all who are falling / and lifts up all who are bent down. Ayin 15 The eyes of all look to you, / and you give them their food in its time, Pê 16 opening your hand / and satisfying for every living thing its desire. Ṣādê 17 Righteous is the Lord in all his ways / and hesed in all his doings. Qôp 18 Near is the Lord to all who cry out to him, / to all who cry out to him in truth. Rêš 19 The desire of the ones who reverence him he fulfills, / and their cry for help he hears and helps them. Šîn 20 The Lord watches over all who love him, / but all the wicked he will destroy.

The voices of the individual 
psalmist, the hesed ones, and all flesh (V. 21)
Tāw 21 The praise of the Lord my mouth will speak, / and all flesh will bless his holy name for all time and beyond (NICOT).

Psalm 145 ... Testing formatting ... Testing

To be continued.

15 July 2015

Being Honest with God (7.So.n.Trin. / Pentecost 8)

Psalm 89

There once was a King who lived in the far east. He was growing old and it was time for him to choose a successor. He had no children and he did not like his senior officials, so he decided to do something different. He called for all the youths in the land to gather outside the palace on a certain day.

When that day came, all the young girls and boys gathered outside the palace and the King came out and said, “I have decided to choose one of you to be my successor.” The children were all shocked. “I am going to give each of you a seed. You will take this seed home with you, plant it, water it and care for it and in one year from this day bring the plants back here. I will then look at all the plants and choose one of you to rule the kingdom.”

One boy named Ling received a seed from the King, like everyone else. Ling ran home and told his mother. She helped him get a pot and some soil, and they planted the seed. Ling watered the seed carefully and waited for a plant to grow.

After three weeks of watering and caring for the seed, nothing yet had grown out of Ling's pot. Yet, other children were all talking about the shoots that had sprout already in theirs. After four and five weeks the other children were talking about how tall their plants were and yet Ling’s pot still showed not even one sprout. After six months Ling was sure he had killed his seed while the others bragged about having tall trees and plants.

The year quickly passed and the day came for all the children to bring their plants before the King. Ling was saddened and decided he was not going to go at all.

Ling's mother said that he should go before the King and be honest with him. What if the King become angry because Ling didn’t show up, it could be very disrespectful. So Ling sighed and said he would take his empty pot to the King.  He went to the palace with his head hung low.

Upon arriving, Ling saw how all the children had plants, trees, bushes and flowers in their pots. Ling hid behind the tallest person he could find so as to not be noticed. Just then the King came out and everyone clapped. The King walked around and looked at all the plants, smiling. “My, what lovely trees, flowers and plants there are here today.”

Just then the King saw Ling and his empty pot. The king ordered his guards to bring Ling to the front. Ling was terrified.

When Ling got to the King, the King asked him his name and he replied, “Ling.” All the others were laughing and heckling with whispers and chatter.

The King ordered everyone to be quiet. The crowd got quiet. The King then spoke, “Behold your new emperor.” Ling was stunned. He said to himself, "How could I rule a kingdom when I can't even grow a plant?

“One year ago today,” the King began. “I gave you all seeds and asked you to go home and plant that seed and water it and bring it back in one year.

I gave you all boiled seeds, which cannot grow. All of you brought me plants and flowers that you got from another seed because the first seed did not grow.

Only Ling here came forth with the exact seed that I gave him a year ago. Ling was the only one who came here with honesty, and the courage to be honest with his King. Welcome Ling. He is your new King.”

The story about Ling, the new king, is a good introduction to the theme of Psalm 89: Being Honest with One's King.

The relationship of old (VV. 1–4)
1 Of the hesed of the Lord forever I will sing; / generation to generation I will make known your faithfulness with my mouth; 2 for I will declare, “Your hesed is built to last; / the heavens, your faithfulness is established in them.” 3 “I cut a covenant with my chosen; / I have sworn to David, my servant. 4 I will establish your descendants forever; / and build your throne for generations.” Selah

Hymns to the Lord (VV. 5–12)
5 The heavens praise your wonders, O Lord, / also your faithfulness in the assembly of holy ones; 6 for who in the clouds can be compared with the Lord? / Who is like the Lord among the divine beings? 7 God is feared in the council of the holy ones, / great and fierce above all surrounding him. 8 O Lord, God of hosts, who is like you? / O Mighty Lord, your faithfulness surrounds you. 9 You rule over the surging sea; / when its waves rise, you still them. 10 YOU crushed Rahab like a corpse; / with your mighty arm, you scattered your enemies. 11 The heavens are yours and so is the earth; / the world and all that is in it, you founded them. 12 North and south YOU created them; / Tabor and Hermon joyfully praise your name.

The relationship of the recent past (VV. 13–18)
13 You have a mighty arm; / your hand is strong, your right hand is lifted. 14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; / hesed and faithfulness go before you. 15 Happy are the people knowing the festal shout, O Lord; / in the light of your face they walk. 16 In your name, they rejoice all day; / in your righteousness, they are raised up, 17 for the glory of their strength is you, / and by your favor our horn is exalted; 18 for our shield belongs to the Lord / and to the Holy One of Israel, our king.

God’s covenant with Israel (VV. 19–37)
19 Then you spoke in a vision to your beloved ones and you said: / “I have given help unto a warrior.
I have raised up a chosen one from the people. 20 I found David, my servant; / with my holy oil I anointed him, 21 whom my hand will sustain continually; / also my arm will strengthen him. 22 An enemy will not mistreat him, / nor a child of unrighteousness humble him. 23 I will crush his foes in front of his face; / I will strike down those hating him. 24 My faithfulness and hesed are with him, / and in my name his horn is exalted. 25 I will set his hand on the sea / and on the rivers, his right hand. 26 He will declare of me, / ‘You are my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation.’ 27 Also I will make him the firstborn, / most high of the kings of the earth. 28 Forever, I will keep my hesed for him; /my covenant will stand firm with him. 29 I will establish his offspring forever; / his throne will be like the days of the heavens. 30 If his children forsake my torah / and do not walk with my justice, 31 if my statutes they profane / and my commandments they do not keep, 32 I will punish their transgressions with a rod / and their iniquities with plagues. 33 My hesed I will not remove from him, / nor will I betray my faithfulness. 34 I will not defile my covenant / nor alter the words from my lips. 35 Once and for all, I have sworn by my holiness; / I will not lie to David. 36 His descendants will continue forever / and his throne as the sun before me. 37 Like the moon, it will be established forever, / and as a witness in the clouds it is established.” Selah

The current situation 
and God’s reversal (VV. 38–45)
38 But [now] you have rejected, refused, / and become very angry with your anointed. 39 You have renounced your covenant with your servant; / you have defiled his crown in the land. 40 You have broken through all his walls; / you have  made his strongholds ruins.
41 All those passing by plunder him;
/ he has become a revulsion to his neighbors. 42 You have exalted the right hand of his foes; / you have caused his enemies to rejoice. 43 Moreover, you have turned back the edge of his sword; / you did not support him in battle. 44 You have put an end to his splendor; / you have thrown down his crown on the ground. 45 You have cut short the days of his youth; / you have wrapped him in shame. Selah

Seeking relationship with God (VV. 46–51)
46 How long, O Lord? / Will you hide forever? / Will your anger burn forever? 47 Remember how brief my time is; / for what futility have you created humans? 48 What human can live and not see death? / Who can escape from the hand of Sheol? Selah 49 Where is your hesed of old, O Lord, / which by your faithfulness you swore to David? 50 Remember, O Lord, the reproach of your servant, / which I am carrying in my bosom, from all the many peoples, 51 with which your enemies reproach, O Lord, / with which they taunt every step of your anointed.

Editorial addition (V. 52)
52 Blessed be the Lord forever. /
Amen and Amen.  (NICOT)

There is a stretch of almost forty verses that, if reading Psalm 89 were a ride in a car, could be passed through rather pleasantly, with many familiar sights (themes and words) to be admired along the way.

Summarizes Beth Tanner: "The first thirty-seven verses ... offer praise to God for God's steadfast love"; she goes on to say that the psalm's themes "of control of the universe and creation are common in texts that proclaim God's kingship".

But just as we as passengers are tempted to fall asleep, V. 38 makes for a rude awakening.  The car crashes.  As we emerge, bruised and disoriented, we find that the real message of Psalm 89 is announced with an angry "but":

38 But you have rejected, refused, / and become very angry with your anointed. 39 You have renounced your covenant with your servant; / you have defiled his crown in the land. ... 44 You have put an end to his splendor; / you have thrown down his crown on the ground. 45 You have cut short the days of his youth; / you have wrapped him in shame. 

The people around the Psalmist are wondering just how much longer God will be angry.  They feel as though God has abandoned them and withdrawn his promises:

V. 49
אַיֵּ֤ה חֲסָדֶ֖יךָ הָרִאשֹׁנִ֥ים אֲדֹנָ֑י
ay·yêh ḥă·sā·de·kā hā·ri·šō·nîm ’ă·dō·nāy;
Where is your hesed of old, O Lord,

נִשְׁבַּ֥עְתָ ּ לְ֝דָוִ֗ד בֶּאֱמוּנָתֶֽךָ
niš·ba‘·tā  lə·dā·wid be·’ĕ·mū·nā·te·kā
which by your faithfulness you swore to David?

The verses leading up to V. 49, in the paraphrase by Eugene Peterson, give us a good idea of the passion with which the Psalmist hurls her words at God:

"How long do we put up with this, God? Are you gone for good? Will you hold this grudge forever? Remember my sorrow and how short life is. Did you create men and women for nothing but this? We'll see death soon enough. Everyone does. And there's no back door out of hell. (VV. 46-48)

As Beth Tanner puts it, the words of the Psalmist are directed not just TO God, but also, pointedly, AGAINST God.

Things are tough; the Psalmist has decided to stop being nice; her words are bold, harsh and abrasive. She holds God accountable! She is honest with God. Radically Honest.

Continues Tanner: "This psalm speaks of powerful faith, faith that is strong enough to demand that God hear our pain ... that we can accuse God of not living up to God's promises when that is the way we truly feel ... It shatters the way we often 'do' church and says that pain and disillusionment are part of our lives and also a part of our relationship with God".

As you let that sink in for a minute, you know that this is a chance to review your own relationship with God!

Because it stops right before V. 38, the section assigned for this Sunday completely misses the point of Psalm 89. That is unfortunate, as the church is in dire need of Biblical laments, which are, as Walter Brueggemann said in a recent interview, "... an insistence that things cannot remain this way and they must be changed".

He continues, "Such prayers are partly an address to God, but they are also a communal resolve to hang in and take transformative action. Unless that kind of grief and rage and anger is put to speech, it can never become energy".

Biblical laments are leading the way to being honest with God.  As Brueggemann says, when grief and rage and anger are not spoken, when we are afraid of being honest with God, then their power is lost ... to ourselves, and to our relationship with God.

In the field of mental health we know that when grief and anger are not spoken, they will find another way to express themselves, often in medical problems.

Perhaps the modern church, by having become so "nice", is on the way to get sick.

We need to lament more.  We need to be more honest with God.

Think of Ferguson, think of Staten Island, think of Charleston.

We need to lament. We need to learn to take God seriously and to remind God of God's promises.  With great honesty (once we take that risk!) comes the gift of closeness, of intimacy, of a real relationship.

Just like Psalm 88, Psalm 89 provides no answers, but both psalms model how to stay in relationship with God no matter how rough it gets in our lives.

Beth Tanner cites Elie Wiesel who said this when asked whether he ever lost his faith:

“I have never renounced my faith in God. I have risen against His justice, protested His silence and sometimes His absence, but my anger rises up within faith not outside of it.”

08 July 2015

Dreaming of Perfect Balance (6.So.n.Trin. / Pentecost 7)

Psalm 85

Zankei, the son of a samurai, journeyed to Edo and there became the retainer of a high official. He fell in love with the official’s wife and was discovered. In self-defense, he slew the official. Then he ran away with the wife.

Both of them later became thieves. But the woman was so greedy that Zenkai grew disgusted. Finally, leaving her, he journeyed far away to the province of Buzen, where he became a wandering mendicant.

To atone for his past, Zenkai resolved to accomplish some good deed in his lifetime. Knowing of a dangerous road over a cliff that had caused the death and injury of many persons, he resolved to cut a tunnel through the mountain there.

Begging food in the daytime, Zenkai worked at night digging his tunnel. When thirty years had gone by, the tunnel was 2,280 feet long, 20 feet high, and 30 feet wide.

Two years before the work was completed, the son of the official he had slain, who was a skillful swordsman, found Zenkai out and came to kill him in revenge.

“I will give you my life willingly,” said Zenkai. “Only let me finish this work. On the day it is completed, you may kill me.”

So the son awaited the day. Several months passed and Zenkai kept on digging. The son grew tired of doing nothing and began to help with the digging. After he had helped for more than a year, he came to admire Zenkai’s strong will and character.

At last the tunnel was completed and the people could use it and travel in safety.

“Now cut off my head,” said Zenkai. “My work is done.”

“How can I cut off my own teacher’s head?” asked the younger man with tears in his eyes.

Forgiveness is one of the main themes of Psalm 85.

Orientation: Past Forgiveness (VV. 1-3)
1 Lord, you favored your land; / you truly turned  toward Jacob*. 2 You lifted the iniquity of your people; / you covered all their sin. Selah 3 You withdrew all your fury; / you turned back from your fierce anger.

Disorientation: Asking Forgiveness (VV. 4-7)
4 Restore us, O God of our salvation! / Break off your anger toward us! 5 Will you be angry with us forever? / Will you stretch your anger from generation to generation? 6 Will you not turn and give us life, / so your people will rejoice in you? 7 Show us your hesed, O Lord! / Give us your salvation!

Reorientation: Restored Vision (VV. 8-13)
8 May I hear God the Lord speak, /
for he speaks peace unto his people, unto his faithful ones; / but let them not return to stupidity. 9 Truly, his salvation is near to those fearing him, / for glory is dwelling in our land. 10 Hesed and faithfulness will meet; / righteousness and peace will kiss. 11 Faithfulness will sprout up from the earth, / and righteousness will look down from heaven. 12 Indeed, the Lord will give what is good, / and our land will give its produce. 13 Righteousness will go before him / and prepare a way for his steps. (NICOT)

Psalm 85 is one of the Korah Psalms (42–49; 84–85; 87) which are "assumed to have emerged from and been used at the ancient sanctuary at Dan in the north of Israel" (Craigie).

Orientation, disorientation and re-orientation -- all three of the categories introduced into psalm scholarship by Walter Brueggemann can be found in Psalm 85 (see outline above).

The first half of the psalm is characterized by a word play on the Hebrew word שׁוּב (shub; turn).

V. 1
רָצִ֣יתָ יְהוָ֣ה אַרְצֶ֑ךָ
rā·ṣî·tā  Yah·weh ’ar·ṣe·kā;
Lord, you favored your land;

שַׁ֝֗בְתָ ּ שְׁבוּת  יַעֲקֹב
šūbə·tā  šə·būt Yaaqob
you truly turned toward Jacob.*

The word שׁוּב basically means to return to a point or area where one has been before.  In V. 1, the Psalmist uses a cognate accusative to intensify the meaning of shub; literally she says, “you turned with a turning [toward] Jacob.”

When שׁוּב  came up in Seminary for the first time, we learned to translate it as "repent" and while that is one of its meanings, שׁוּב has many more uses throughout the Old Testament.  Our psalm shows off a few of them:

V. 3
You withdrew all your fury; you turned back (שׁוּב) from your fierce anger.

V. 4
Restore us (שׁוּב), O God of our salvation! Break off your anger toward us!

V. 6
Will you not turn (שׁוּב) and give us life,  so your people will rejoice in you?

V. 8
May I hear God the Lord speak, for he speaks peace unto his people, unto his faithful ones; but let them not return (שׁוּב) to stupidity.

The order in which the various shades of shub show up is important as it shows the theological "flow" the Psalmist is pursuing: "It is the ‘turning, repentance’ of Yahweh that enables the future to become the present" (Howard Wallace).

Put another way, the Psalmist looks back on the history of salvation (VV. 1-3) in order to show what is now needed (VV. 4-7): "The people’s only hope is that God will turn around ... and restore the people ... There is no explanation offered or reasons for God to turn, except God’s own history of doing so. The words are direct. The only way back to a relationship is for God to forgive." (Beth Tanner).

In the third section (beginning with V. 8), the Psalmist changes her tone. Whereas in VV. 4-7 she has pleaded with God based on the past, in VV. 8-13 she develops a grand vision of the future.  She introduces her bold dream by speaking of God's שָׁלוֹם (shalom; wholeness, V. 8), יֵ֫שַׁע  (yesha; salvation, V. 9) and  כָּבוֹד (kabowd; glory, V. 9).

V. 10
חֶֽסֶד  וֶאֱמֶ֥ת  נִפְגָּ֑שׁוּ
he·sed we·’ĕ·met nip·gā·šū;
Hesed and faithfulness will meet; 

צֶ֖דֶק  וְשָׁל֣וֹם  נָשָֽׁקוּ
ṣe·deq wə·šā·lō·wm nā·šā·qū
righteousness and peace will kiss.

And the vision continues:  

Faithfulness (אֱמֶת) will sprout up from the earth, / and righteousness (צֶ֫דֶק) will look down from heaven (V. 11).

Says Walter Brueggemann: "The use of the familiar covenantal vocabulary of steadfast love, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace, however, does not remain focused simply on the relationship, but turns promptly to matters of produce, blessing, and fertility ... The practice of justice bespeaks the full restoration of the generosity of creation".

Indeed, the Lord will give what is good (טוֹב) / and our land will give its produce. Righteousness (צֶ֫דֶק) will go before him / and prepare a way for his steps. (V. 12-13).

When heaven and earth are in perfect balance, that is truly שָׁלוֹם, shalom, wholeness.

This is Matthias Jorissen's summary of the third part; the English translation in blank verse is my own.

Die Güte wird der Treu entgegengehn, 
Gerechtigkeit und Friede küssen sich. 
Du, Erde, wirst die Treue blühen sehn, 
vom Himmel schaut Gerechtigkeit auf dich. 
Gott ist uns gut und gießt Gedeihen aus, 
das Erdreich bringt den Segen uns ins Haus. 
Seht, vor ihm her geht die Gerechtigkeit, 
die unser Land mit jedem Schritt erfreut.

So goodness and truth will go to be together,
and justice draws peacefulness into a beautiful kiss. 
Then faithfulness springs from the earth with sprouts and blooms, 
while justice from heaven looks down and watches the earth.
The goodness of God will abundantly pour out his blessings,
so that our land with its produce might feed us all.
Then justice will walk before the Lord our God,
and bless our land with every step it makes.

* The translation of V. 1b is my own.