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More or Less Church

Joanna Depue "DJ/Deacon J" writes original songs and liturgies, does daily Farm office work and records Barbara's eMos on The Geranium Farm. A singer and dog trainer she utilizes healing touch in her private massage practice. PLEASE share YOUR original ideas for worship, special liturgies, prayers, songs, sermons and noteworthy blogs right here.
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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Proper 24 (RCL) Sour Grapes or Honey?

This essay may be used by teachers and preachers with a simple accreditation. No further permission is necessary.

Jeremiah 31:27-34; Psalm 119:97-104; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8

There are more receptors on the human tongue for sweet tastes as opposed to bitter or sour ones. According to scientists, we are predisposed to seeking out those things which are sweet, even as we first emerge from the womb.

How many of us has heard the term 'sour grapes' (often on a little league baseball team)? My interpretation of the expression was 'sore loser'. That interpretation clashes drastically with the passage this morning from Jeremiah. In the Torah when someone evoked the wrath of God by sinning, that sin and its shame was passed from generation to generation. It has a vague parallel in karma and reincarnation: if you really messed things up in this life you would be paying for it in the succession of your next lives.

The prophet Jeremiah passes on some very good news to the peoples of Israel and Judah that, simply put, your sins were your own and would not be passed on to anyone else. If you ate sour grapes, the bitterness stayed in your mouth; this bitterness need not be spread to your children. God changed the letter and the spirit of the Law. There would be more justice, more kindness. Instead of viewing the Law of God as a yoke or burden, God instead would write His Law on their hearts. It would become a yearning, a longing to follow rather than an oppressive regimen. God's Laws - including forgiveness - would be known and accessible to all, not a chosen few. The love of God was abundant and available to all.

The Psalm for today reflects the love for God's revitalized Law - the very words of the Law 'are sweeter than honey to my mouth'. Following the Law of God was becoming a labor of love and enlightenment rather than an imposed obligation.

Paul's letter to Timothy resonates with the psalm and enriched by the teachings and guidance of Christ. The New Covenant through Jesus should be viewed as constructive, informative. With Christ as the cornerstone of faith, new converts were to proclaim the love of Jesus Christ with conviction, encouragement and patience. As Paul knew from personal experience, the work of an evangelist was not easy yet was a profound and solid ministry. He also warned the early teachers to be consistent. There were false prophets and teachers around who, through saying what people wanted to hear rather than what they needed to hear would gain converts based on flimsy doctrine.

Finally, from Luke's perspective, persistence reaps its rewards whether with an 'unjust judge' or God himself. God will grant ultimate, true Justice - which is the jurisdiction of God alone. That being said, Jesus asks a telling question to His contemporary disciples and to each of us today: When Jesus comes to us, we He find faith on earth? Will the Law of God, once written on our hearts, be evident in our practices? Will we count on God alone for our salvation and forgiveness, not on our deeds or our 'goodness'.

Keeping the faith alive and well is not the job of a chosen few. Through our Baptismal Covenant with God, it is our job as well. Will He find us grumbling due to the sour grapes taste of resented obligation in our mouths, or will He find us content, savoring the sweet taste of wisdom, knowledge, patience and love?

The commission was His; the response is ours alone. What will it be...sour grapes or honey?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

'I Feel the need, the need for speed!'

This phrase, from the 1986 movie Top Gun starring Tom Cruise and an Anthony Edwards (with hair and before TVs ER), is well known. In fact, it was voted number 386 in the American Film Institutes 400 most memorable movie quotes.

Few, if any, of the people reading this column have gone through Navy air combat training. I imagine about the same percentage drive on the NASCAR circuit. That being said I CAN imagine a larger percentage of readers (including myself) have either driven over the posted speed limit or have been pulled over by an officer of the law for violating the speed limit.

Placing a great Karnac turban on my head I see that many of us may have done the following:
1) Grumbled while standing on a long checkout line clearly marked '10 items or less' while a man was unloading an overloaded shopping cart onto the express belt;
2) Gritting our teeth while the same man is fumbling through all of his pockets for enough money or the missing credit card;
3) At the nanosecond the traffic light changes we attempt to make a left hand turn in front of oncoming traffic;
4) Roll eyes while in back of a disabled person 'blocking' our exit from an elevator;
5) Become frustrated while teaching someone to do something because they are not doing it 'right' or fast enough;
6) Interrupted that same trainee to finish it yourself so as to waste no more time.

We, as a culture, have the unsubstantiated expectation that habits/addictions such as smoking, inappropriate eating,learning a language or skill can be overturned overnight. Advertisers play on this underlying expectation with pills, patches, appliances, gum, powders, shakes, schemes and substitutions.

To paraphrase Pete Seeger's famous song, 'Where has all the PATIENCE gone?'

You can go to your garage or basement, dust off all the fitness equipment, Berlitz courses, boxes of nicotine patches or the intact cardboard box with a month of NutriSystem and see how you have fallen prey to the instant gratification bug. How much time and money did you invest in these speedy shortcuts?

As part of your/my spiritual discipline, I pose the questions: how much patience do you have? How have you invested in increasing your patience quotient? Name the last time you showed someone else the gift and grace of patience?

In developing a new habit I know it won't come instantaneously. On the contrary, I will most probably fumble and fall back from time to time into the insane pace of my geographical surroundings. At the end of the day I can lay it all before Jesus and ask for the help to strengthen my patience threshold. I will ask, also, that you may be strengthened in this endevor as well.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Life of Language: Keeping the Story Alive

Long before things were written, before drawings were made in sand, stone, wood or on cave walls tribe by tribe of the known world developed language.

Stories of the success of days hunt traded between clan members grew into a primer of tools to make for different purposes, how to hunt, plant, learn the traits of animals and plants, their coming and going, those fit to eat and those to avoid, the paths to take on the turning of the seasons, the ways to make shelter or covering of the body for protection from the elements and later for protection from beasts and than human adversaries. Among the most revered persons in any tribe was the storyteller. This person was the tribes walking encyclopedia of knowledge and repository of the history - not only of that clan, but of battles with other clans.

Looking to our Jewish roots, how many times in what became the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) does God tell his chosen leaders and dictate messages through the prophets to remind the people to tell the great works of the Lord to their children (and their children's children) so that those great works would never be forgotten? Countless times.

Jesus preached, told stories, parables, made analogies, drew crowds to him by the personal magnetism he surely possessed. He spoke, taught, and eventually instructed his chosen apostles (pupils) to tell the ageless story of God's love, forgiveness and boundless compassion to everyone - even to the ends of the earth.

For years and years that is exactly what happened. Eye witnesses to the teachings, activities and power of Jesus Christ spread this Good News translated to Gospel by word of mouth. From person to person. Over a meal, while working, during quiet times, during community gatherings. At appointed times the people would then gather and, with a chosen leader to preside present, these people then recreated His last worldly supper word for word in early Eucharists. It wasn't until later that written language entered the arena of history.

All of these reflections went through my mind today while I watched a program on The National Geographic channel. To my shock - and even to the knowledgeable scientists dismay it is estimated that in approximately twenty (20) years, a full one half of the languages spoken on the earth today will die: become extinct and only faint memories. No one will be left with the knowledge or even the mental recall of the way their native language sounded or what it meant.

Being a storyteller, this cuts me to the quick. How much history, knowledge, ritual, tradition will be lost forever - like the tides of the ever-growing world wide water levels coming up the shorelines only to drawing more land into itself as it if it had never been. Fortunately, I learned in the same program about The Enduring Voices Project sponsored by National Geographic as well as another organization, Living Tongues Institute For Endangered Languages which is venturing into places where native languages are being replaced by English, French, Spanish, Chinese or Russian.

I can recall not so many years ago hearing that no one was left on the earth that could speak the Aramaic language that Jesus spoke. Oh, what it must have been to hear him speak and understand his every word. We have translations, first Greek followed by Latin and other languages bearing a written testimony, but only God knows how many fingers have been into the pot on that stew.

Wouldn't it have been wonderful to have - in our own day - the great great umpteenth great grandchild of an eyewitness and contemporary of Christ whose major function had been to convey the vital verbal history of Jesus' actions and teachings, word for word - practicing them over and over again until the biographers, each in turn, became the historical legacy of the life and work of Jesus Christ.

We do not, in hindsight, have this luxury. We have, however, been blessed with teachers and mystics through the ages who found a way - on paper - to pass on the spiritual legacy of the life and love of Christ.

While we may strive to interpret the Eucharist and its meaning to todays generations, it is important to honor the language of earlier versions of the Bible, the Psalms, the Books of Common Prayer. Written language struggles both to balance and convey the relevance and transcendence of God, which is a difficult task indeed. Perhaps that is why we are currently seeing a renaissance of sorts of the Fine and Lively Arts in our cathedrals and individual parishes. It may be the best way we have of respecting the life encapculated by language - and keeping the Greatest Story ever told truly alive.

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