Friday, June 19, 2015

A History of the Samaritans: A Reflection on the attack on Emanuel AME Church

A History of the Samaritans: A Reflection on the attack on Emanuel AME Church

(Please understand this is written in the same vein as “Paul’s Letter to American Christians”)

This morning I woke up, and found a first century non-sectarian scroll entitled, “A History of the Samaritans” on my kitchen table. This is the translation. If it sounds more Halversonian than Hebraic, I am to blame. The brackets are portions of the text that are missing and I have restored.

A History of the Samaritans
            After today’s [at]tack on the Samaritan Temple, it’s worth considering their history and our own.

            [Th]ey did not come here escaping Phar[aoh]—seeking a promised land. In fact, their journey here is quite the reverse. They came from the nations of the East, drug here in chains by the Assyrians after their own cities were conquered, just as the 10 northern tribes were conquered and dispersed. On that journey from there to here, that MiddlePassage, many of them died, all of them were devastated. They were placed on foreign soil so they would be away from their gods and their land, familiesspit up, nothing familiar, rendered helpless so that they might be used in the fields.
            [They soon] converted to a form of Judaism. They did this for their safety; lions were eating them and they believed these attacks were the work of the god of this land. So they called upon him in their distress and were saved. For this conversion under pressure, we called them “Lion Jews,” those Samaritans. We claim their priests are deficient, their traditions insufficient, their religion suspect. But, I wonder, if we do so out of jealousy. Essene, Sadducee, and Pharisee all agree that they are more pious than us. They lack the history and tradition going way back (though some say they too were monotheists, some even go so far as to say they too were Jewish, like us. They claim we simply didn’t listen to them when they arrived, that their otherness began with our rejection of them—rejection of our siblings of the faith), but the Spirit is with them in ways that it seems we can only pick up second hand. Perhaps many of us lack the existential level of trust in the LORD that comes from being saved from Lions and finding temple as the last safe space in a world that is rarely safe.
            [The thi]ngs we did to them in the Maccabean period, LORD, have mercy. The slightest interaction between Jew andSamaritan brought torture and death. Accusations of rape led to so many of them hanging on trees, accu[rsed.] Their temples attacked, worshippers attacked.

            [These days w]e say those strugglesare done. These days we say with Rome’s boot upon our necks, those differences are secondary. We say these things until radicals push us. Radicals like that the Pharisee, Jesus, who told stories about Samaritans, saying they and we are neighbors, and spent time with them. Then again there are rumors he and hisfollowers were Samaritans, he was from Galilee after all. They all have at least one drop of Samaritan in them, and for most that’s still enough.
            [For that] matter, we say it’s “all good” between Jew and Samaritan, but the things they say about Herod the Half Jew, our leader. The ways the Zealots talk about “taking our country back.” It’s not “all good.”
            Again, I think about the attack of yesterday. This man, flesh of my flesh, of the same faith as I, did this thing—killing those 9 Samaritans. It’s not an event that materialized out of thin air.
            Think of it. That particular templehad been attacked in the Macc[abean] period too. There is a long history of violence on our part against the Samaritans. He accused them of rape—pointing back to the Judas Maccabeus and his band. He talked of taking his country back. If you stand on any street corner in Jerusalem you can hear someone saying it “take our country back.” It’s a watchword, so common we don’t even hear it, even when it comes out of our own mouths.
            Even if the man who did this deed was possessed by a demon, that demon fed on our past and present, which we refuse to acknowledge or address.

            Over these things I weep,
            My eyes gush with tears upon tears.
            My soul and my belly and my bones,
            All cry out with sorrow.

            Oh Comforter, be not far from the mourners
            Oh Merciful LORD, draw near those in deepest need.

            Look not on our iniquities
            Make us look upon them
            Turn us in our tears
            Turn us from our sins
            They are many and great
            As the stars are many
            As the deep is great
            So is the depths of all of this
            Cleanse us with the most hyssop
            Allow us to rebuild the walls
            That all may be inside

            Comfort O Comfort my people
            He is Defender of the lowly
            Our LORD, Caretaker of the widow and orphan

            My soul fails
            My heart is distressed
            All people groan
            All cry for mercy

            All cry “Lord, how long?”

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sermon: Salt, Light, and Hands

            Today’s questioner tackles a tension they see in scripture—a tension between two commands of Christ.
            The question is this: “Explain how one should not “hide your light under a basket” and yet not “let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”
            As with many passages in scripture, there are contradictions—some real, some imagined.
And this shouldn’t surprise us—the record of God’s actions among God’s people strewn over a dozen centuries and 3 continents is going to contain some tensions.
            But, the questioner might be a little worried, because this seeming contradiction—between revealing light and hiding actions—comes from Jesus’ own lips…
more than that, in one instance it comes from the same speech, the Sermon on the Mount, in the same Gospel, Matthew’s!
            So, in order to answer how we can reveal light and hide hands, we will have to answer a few prior questions.
“What light is supposed to be revealed?”
“What is Jesus getting at with these two commands?”
and finally,
“How do we do both?”


1.         The first thing to note is that Jesus’ command to not “hide your light under a basket” is found in two gospels
—the light not to be hid signifies different things depending on what gospel we are reading.
            In the earliest of the two gospels, Mark
—Jesus is describing what a parable does to a person. It wraps up a truth, but the more we ponder the parable, the story, the more the truths encapsulated in the story come out.
A parable is like fuel to the fire of truth.
Soon enough the whole house is alight with it.
            It’s like I always say about Parables:
 You are meant to chew on them, until they start to chew on you.

            Matthew’s Gospel, in contrast, places Jesus’ admonition about not hiding your light under a basket within his Sermon on the Mount. He starts preaching immediately after healing those who come to him. After that healing, he blesses “poor, mourning, meek, hungry, peaceful, persecuted, people.” Then he states, “You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world
—you can’t be hid,
the lamp goes on the lamp stand and gives light to the whole house.”
            Think about that setting…
            “You’re healed now. You were poor, mournful, hungry, etc,” now you’re rich, joyful, and filled… don’t misuse that gift, don’t hide that fact. “Let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.”

            So, Mark’s account is describing the fiery strangeness of Parables.
        Matthew’s Gospel  describes the proper response to being healed
—the way in which grace
—the gift of God
—is a calling upon our life, it makes us to be people who point to our healing
 and work for the healing of others,
all to honor God.

2.     Let’s go with this second use of do not “Hide your light under a basket,” since it’s the one found in the same speech as do not “Let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”
        Sat next to one another, we quite quickly we see the difference between the two—the point at which the seeming contradiction breaks down.
        Shine forth your light so they can give honor to God.
        Don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing—give alms in secret—because otherwise you are “practicing your piety before others in order to be seen.”
        See the difference? Pointing to God, or pointing to yourself.
-The first, is like the Olympic torch, it’s lit by a previous torch and points backward toward an original one—that first Olympic game shrouded in mystery and myth.
-The second, is personal pyrotechnics—blowing something up so everyone turns their attention toward you for a moment.
It’s Humility versus Hubris.
It’s a question of intention
Jesus’ point is that the inner purpose behind our actions shapes shape their meaning
—with our actions, do we intend to point to God our to ourselves?

3.     And that sounds good—but how can you tell the difference? Sure, it’s easy to interpret it in other people—humans are social animals and can usually sniff our hubris pretty well… but how about within ourselves?
How can we tell when we’re lighting a torch instead of blowing something up?
How can we protect ourselves from hubris?
How can we make sure our intention is to point to God?

        Through practice.
        Think of the two examples of this light we have in Matthew and Mark’s Gospels
—as a parable that burns you up inside and eventually appears on the outside pointing to a formerly hidden truth,
—and as thanksgiving to God for the blessed healing they’ve received through Christ Jesus.
        That’s part of the reason we all come to Church
—at least I hope it is…
we’re practicing stories so true that they burn us up inside
and practicing giving thanks for all that is from God.

We do this for many reasons, but one of them is to work on our intentions. To transform our hypocrisies and hubris into humility.

        How can we not practice our piety before others, yet shine forth our light in such a way that it honors God?
        We change our intentions by :
Letting the strange and powerful stories of God shape us
And by seeing what God has given us and giving thanks.