Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Opposite of Poverty is Justice (Ash Wednesday 2012)


Isaiah 58:1-12
58:1 Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins.

58:2 Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.

58:3 "Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?" Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.

58:4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.

58:5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?

58:6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

58:7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

58:8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.


58:9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

58:10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.

58:11 The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.

58:12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

Psalm 51:1-17
1:1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

1:2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

1:3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

1:4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.

1:5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

1:6 You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

1:7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

1:8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

1:9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

1:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

1:11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.

1:12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

1:13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.

1:14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

1:15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.

1:16 For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.

1:17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
5:20b We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

6:1 As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain.

6:2 For he says, "At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you." See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!

6:3 We are putting no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry,

6:4 but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities,

6:5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger;

6:6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love,

6:7 truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left;

6:8 in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true;

6:9 as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see--we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed;

6:10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
6:1 "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

6:2 "So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

6:3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,

6:4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

6:5 "And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

6:6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

6:16 "And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

6:17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,

6:18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

6:19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal;

6:20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.

6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

If you follow these readings in careful order, they make a perfect liturgy. The call from Isaiah; the prayer of confession and repentance from the Psalms; the prayer of the people from 2 Corinthians; the lesson from the Gospels that sends that the rest prepares us to hear, and that sends us out into the world where we should go and do likewise.

I like to think about who the prophet is talking to in the books of the prophets. They are often more conversations than directives, less monologues than discussions with God and/or the people of Israel, or sometimes with the prophets themselves. "Shout out," Isaiah says, and I ask myself every time: is this the prophet, speaking to the people? Or is it the voice of God directing the prophet to act? In the distinction there is everything. The prophet speaks to the people. The prophet speaks for God. If that chain doesn't start with God, then the prophet is not a prophet, and the words are meaningless. If God speaks to the prophet, perhaps those words are recorded. And those words are not rebuke and denial; they are justice. The word of God through the prophets is for justice:

"Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?" Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.

58:4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.

58:5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?

58:6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

58:7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

58:8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
There is the call to worship! And it is not a call to worship, but to act! It is not a call for reverence, but for action! It is not a demand for obedience, but a statement of truth and existence! This is a call to smash presumptions and break barriers and eliminate idols and destroy destruction. This is not a call to judge who is a Christian and who is not. This is not a call to wear a smudge on your forehead to show you believe. This is a call to let your light shine forth, and O! what a dangerous call that is!

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
What is the fast of Lent if it is all for you? Why not fast by sharing, instead of fast by denying? There's too much denial in the world already! We're mad for it! We deny ourselves and think we win God's praise! We deny our relationship to others, and think ourselves wise! We deny our responsibility to others, and think ourselves prudent! We deny there is enough for all, and think ourselves far-seeing! We are mad for denial, especially if our denial keeps others from what we think is ours! Is this the fast of Lent, to deny ourselves and keep what we have from this in need? Is this the purpose of Lent, to affirm our houses are our own and hospitality is shown only to our friends, never to strangers? Is this what our Ash Wednesday begins?

1:1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

1:2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

1:3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

1:4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.

1:5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
Yes, you may feel a bit guilty now, but is that what God wants either? Contrition and confession are not acts of self-abnegation. They are acts of self-recognition; they are acts of humility. What is hospitality except humility, except physically giving to another that over which you have control because you realize it is not yours alone, not your possession, but your opportunity to share with those who have nothing? What is a fast when it means giving your food to someone who is hungry because they have no food? If your sin is ever before you, if you recognize you have not been humble and hospitable and your fast has been for you and not a result of helping others, if you see that your hospitality is only for your friends and your convenience, is that a cause for ashes and sackcloth and despair? Is it to despair to hear the truth that you are dust, and to dust you will return? Or is it liberation, to live in the truth and rejoice in reality and to see what you have available to do for others? Shouldn't your confession begin with the truth of what you need to do and have not done, and move on to a confession of what you believe by putting it into action because then you will be the restorer of the breach, then a clean heart will be created within you, then you will be delivered from bloodshed and a new and right spirit with be within you! Then you will "See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!"

Let us not give Paul's words short shrift here, for Isaiah's words come from God, and the Psalmist's plea comes from a broken and contrite heart, but Paul's words are all about "we." We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. We urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. We are putting no obstacle in anyone's way, we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see--We are alive! This is not a day of mourning, a day of marking death as the end, of making death a sacrament or a salvation or a judgment against us! We are alive! But only because, through great endurance, placing no obstacle in anyone's way, keeping the fast by sharing, opening our doors to the homeless, confessing our fears and our weaknesses together so they become strengths, preparing ourselves for this time of cleansing and cleaning and setting straight that ushers in Easter; we will find that we possess everything. Because where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

We can't escape it. It is the way we are made. Our heart is where our treasure is. Where else would it be, what else would be so valuable to us we would call it "treasure"? When my daughter was a child she collected bits and pieces, rocks and pebbles, and called them "treasures," and to this good day we have them, her parents, we have them, because she is where our hearts are, and her treasures are part of our treasure. How could it be otherwise? But that isn't all Jesus means! Oh, not at all. He means we should be humble and private in our praying and in our seeking God, and through our lives the salvation of God should pour forth. Through our living and our being in the world we should be repairers of the breach, not because someone somewhere says we've said the right things, conformed to the right doctrines, used the right words about God and Christ and ourselves. Who cares about that? No, we should be repairers of the breach because we seek the treasure and we keep the treasure that is of true value, and that treasure makes us want to fast by sharing our food, makes us want to be humble by showing true hospitality, makes us want to repair the breach because that is where our hearts are!

You have heard; you have seen; perhaps today you even bear the ashes on your head; perhaps you didn't, or you wiped them off at the church door. It doesn't matter! What matters is what you do, and if you remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return, then you'll realize that we are all dust! And we are all deserving, we are all going down, in the end, to the same place, and it's high time we started sharing the joy of the experience rather than fearing we won't have enough accumulated for ourselves at the end! Where is your treasure? Where rust corrodes and thief steals and moth devours? Get rid of it! Your treasure is in the homeless person you can help, in the hungry person you can feed, in the naked person you can clothe! Your treasure is all around you; now put your heart there, and open the eyes of your spirit, and see it!

Amen.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anti Money Laundering said...

Have a blessed life everyone! It's good to feed our soul with good virtues from day to day.

11:33 AM  
Anonymous LillianMorris said...

Hiya, is that your sole blog or you in addition to that have others?

5:33 AM  

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