That Which We Have Heard & Known

Occasional thoughts of an Anglican Episcopal priest

Category: Sirach (page 1 of 3)

Life or Death; Lawfulness or Sinfulness: Sermon for 6 Epiphany, 12 February 2017

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A homily offered by the Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston on the 6th Sunday after the Epiphany, February 12, 2017, to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The lessons for the day are from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A: Sirach 15:15-20 (or, alternatively, Deuteronomy 30:15-20); Psalm 119:1-8; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; and St. Matthew 5:21-37. These lessons can be read at The Lectionary Page.)

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Moses_Pleading_with_IsraelThe Book of Deuteronomy tells us that when the long Exodus journey of the People of the Hebrews ended, just before they were to cross over into the Promised Land, Moses delivered a farewell address. He was not going to be going into the new land with them.

You may remember that God had been angered by the first generation of wandering Hebrews, what Jesus might have called an “adulterous and sinful generation” (Mk 8:38), who had grumbled against God, had wanted to turn back, and who had eventually been so disobedient that they had fashioned an idol (the Golden Calf) and worshiped it instead of Yahweh, their deliverer.

Furthermore, even when they worshiped and followed God, they didn’t trust God. Not believing God’s promise of the land into which they were to come, they sent spies ahead of them. This angered God, so that God had decreed that none of those who had left Egypt would enter the Holy Land (Numbers, Ch. 14). The Psalmist quotes God:

They put me to the test,
though they had seen my works.
Forty years long I detested that generation and said,
“This people are wayward in their hearts;
they do not know my ways.”
So I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter into my rest.” (Ps 95:9-11)

So Moses was the last of these and, in addition, he himself had been told by God that he would not enter the Promised Land because he and his brother Aaron had doubted God at Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin. God had said to him and to Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” (Num 20:12)

So at the brink of their entry, probably near Moab in the valley of Beth-Peor where he would be buried in an unmarked tomb, Moses gathered the children and grandchildren of the original Hebrews and summarized all that God had done for them and all that God required of them saying, “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity”(Deut 30:15). Follow the laws of God, have life and prosperity; disobey the commandments, death and adversity.

Throughout the discourse, Moses does an interesting thing that we can’t follow in the English translation; he intermixes the use of the plural “you” and the singular “you.” By doing so, he seems to be saying that the obligation to do good, to follow the commandments is both a communal and an individual responsibility. As a whole, the People of God must do these things, but it isn’t sufficient that they do it only as a community. The individual member can’t rely on his or her neighbor to do it for them; he or she can’t rely on the community’s leadership to do it for them. Each member of the community must do it for themselves; the individual needs the support of the community to undertake and accomplish this individual responsibility, but the individual can’t let it slide and just rely on the community to take up his or her slack, so to speak.

Also throughout the course of his speech, Moses makes it clear that though God places this choice of good or bad, life or death, prosperity or adversity, obedience or waywardness before God’s people, God does not underwrite or endorse both equally. In fact, God endorses only one. So, at the end of his address, Moses offers his own advice: “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him” (Dt 30:19-20).

Choose life! I can imagine Moses raising a glass and giving this counsel in the form of the great Jewish toast “l’Chaim!” – “To life!” And given what was at stake, Moses adds, “Hold fast to God,” basically saying, “And don’t mess it up!”)

Several generations later, around 200-175 BC, Shimon ben Yeshua ben Eliezer ben Sira of Jerusalem, a Jewish scribe, echoed Moses’ admonition as he wrote a text which is in the canon of writings called “the wisdom literature.” This body of literature constitutes basically a course of education for young men training for what we might call “the civil service.” The sons of the class equivalent to the “minor aristocracy” of England would be trained to function in the courts of kings throughout the ancient middle east using these writings. We heard this author’s advice to these young men in today’s reading from the Book of Sirach.

The author’s name is Simon, and he is identified as the son of Yeshua, who was the son of Eliezer, who was the son of Sirach, but some for reason we call the book by his grandfather’s, or rather his great-grandfather’s name. I suppose we do that because we think grandfathers are wiser than their sons or grandsons, although I don’t think I’ve convinced my son of that. This book is part of the Christian scriptures we call “the Apocrypha.” It is recognized as canonical by the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches, but not by Protestants. The Jews don’t recognize it as scripture because it is known only in a Greek translation discovered in Egypt; if there was a Hebrew language original (which one would assume since a scribe from Jerusalem wrote it), it has been lost to history. And since the Jews don’t accept it, the Protestants won’t recognize it, either.

Of course, we Anglicans take our usual middle way . . . we won’t based doctrine on it, but we will use it for the teaching of ethics and morality, which is pretty much the way this book has been used by the church through the ages. Another name for the text is “Liber Ecclesiasticus” or “Book of the Church” because it was used throughout the middle ages to teach clergy.

In any event, Simon the son of Yeshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Sirach, offers advice to the trainee courtiers not at all dissimilar to that offered by Moses to the Hebrews: “If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. He has placed before you fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you choose. Before each person are life and death, and whichever one chooses will be given” (Sirach 15:15-17).

Simon the Scribe is a very canny fellow. He uses a metaphor for the choice of life or death, lawfulness or sinfulness; God, he says, “has placed before you fire and water.” At first glance that seems a pretty solid and clear metaphor, destructive fire versus life-giving water; but the metaphor is not all that clear. It’s really rather ambiguous. In some circumstances, yes, fire is destructive and death-dealing, but if you’re freezing to death in a winter storm, fire can be life-preserving; in some circumstances, yes, water is sustaining of life, but if you’re drowning in the sea the last thing you want is more water. Which, then, represents death and which life? One’s choices, Simon the Scribe seems to be saying, are not always clear cut and unambiguous.

And, like Moses, Simon reminds his readers that although the choices may be set before one by God, God does not underwrite or endorse both alternatives. God, he says, has a clear preference: “He has not commanded anyone to be wicked, and he has not given anyone permission to sin. ” (v. 20)

So Moses and Simon the Scribe offer their audiences, both their original audiences and us, this counsel that we have some big, important choices to made: life or death, prosperity or adversity, ethical conduct or sinful behavior. The choice may sometimes be ambiguous, but these are really big matters. And along comes Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and complicates things by telling us that our choices aren’t just about the big stuff. “You’ve heard the commandment,” he says, “‘Thou shalt not murder.’ Well, you’re just as guilty if you think badly of another, if you insult a brother or sister, if you argue with another member of the community. You’ve heard it said, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery.’ Well, even if you just think about about it, you’re guilty!” Remember when Jimmy Carter got into public hot water by confessing in that quaint King James language that despite his long and faithful marriage to Rosalyn he had “lusted in his heart” after other women? (Oh, for the day’s when just that was sufficient to get a candidate or politician into trouble…. )

Jesus extended Moses’ admonition and Simon the Scribe’s advice even further. Yes, there are important choices to be made. Yes, they are sometimes ambiguous. And, guess what? They come at us every day, every hour, in everything we do. Not just in the big things, but in the little everyday minutiae of human existence.

I don’t know about you, but it’s not very often I have to decide not to kill someone (only about once a week), but every day I have to decide whether let a zinger of an insult fly or bite my tongue and hold it back, whether to vent my anger over some upset or just shrug it off and let go of it. It’s not very often that I have to decide whether or not to commit adultery; in fact, never (no one seems to think I’m that attractive). But all through the day I have to make . . . we all have to make . . . these ethical and moral decisions. We have to make our choices, daily, and then stick to them as best we can. As Jesus admonishes us, let our decisions to be “Yes, yes” or “no, no.”

Interestingly, in the koine Greek in which the author of our Gospel lesson wrote, he recorded Jesus doing what the Hebrews scripture recorded Moses doing: mixing plural “yous” with singular “yous” in his discourse. Like Moses, Jesus underscores what we all know to be the truth – that none of us can do this on our own, that we have to have the support of our parents, our spouses, our brothers and sisters, our neighbors, our fellow church members.

There is a story in the Book of Deuteronomy (Chapters 27 & 28) about something that happened after the children of the Hebrews entered the Promised Land. Joshua the son of Nun, who was Moses’ assistant and took over leadership when Moses died, was directed to Moses to lead them into the valley of Shechem, the place where Jacob’s well is. Somehow I seem to recall that there were about 40,000 of them at the time, and Joshua divided them by tribes, sending half of them to the summit of Mount Gerizim and half of them to the summit of Mount Ebal on the other side of the valley. And those on Mt. Gerizim recited the blessings of keeping the Law, while those on Mt. Ebal recited the curses that came with disobedience.

I have this vision of Joshua reading the commandments, not just the “big ten” that Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai on the stone tablets, but the other 603 mitzvoth (or “statutes”) that got added to them and as he would read each one, the folks on Mt. Gerizim would shout “Obey this law and you will be blessed” and those on Mt. Ebal would shout “Disobey and you will be cursed.” Can you imagine how 20,000 voices shouting on one side of valley and another 20,000 voices shouting in response on the other side would have echoed throughout the land? Those voices also would have echoed down through time as a reminder that obedience is a communal thing, but also a personal thing, an individual obligation in which one is support by the community.

But even that is not enough. We humans individually are unable to stay in the narrow way and we are also unable to do so as communities, as churches, as nations. As our opening collect says, “in our weakness we can do nothing good without you” (BCP 1979, pg 216) and as St. Paul reminded the Corinthians it is “only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor 3:7). If we choose, we can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of our own choice; but we can only stay the course if we are aided by our community and upheld by God.

Today and every day, the choice is before us, good or evil, obedience or sinfulness, life or death. Choose life! – l’Chaim – and rely on God (don’t mess it up)!

Amen!

(Illustration: Moses Pleading with Israel, an illustration from a Bible card published 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company.)

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Thank God, I’m Not Like Him: Sermon for Pentecost 23, Proper 25C, Track 2 (23 October 2016)

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A homily offered by the Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston on the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, October 23, 2016, to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The lessons for the day are Proper 24C of the Revised Common Lectionary: Sirach 35:12-17; Psalm 84:1-6; 2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18; and Luke 18:9-14. These lessons can be read at The Lectionary Page.)

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Woodcut for Die Bibel in Bildern, 1860For the past couple of weeks in the Daily Office lectionary and today in the Sunday lectionary we are reading from the Wisdom of Yeshua ben Sira, some times called Sirach, sometimes called Ecclesiasticus, one of the books of the Apocrypha, those books recognized by the Roman and Eastern Orthodox churches as canonical, but rejected by Protestants. Anglicans steer a middle course and accept them for moral teaching, but not as the basis for religious doctrine. The text is a late example of what is called “wisdom literature,” instruction in ethics and proper social behavior for young men, especially those likely to take a role in governance.

Ben Sira was written early in the 2nd Century before Christ by a Jewish scribe named Shimon ben Yeshua ben Eliezer ben Sira of Jerusalem. The Jewish nation was then under domination of the Seleucid Empire, a Greek-speaking kingdom centered in modern day Syria. Society in Jerusalem was very polarized: powerful vs. weak; rich vs. poor; Jew vs. Gentile. Ben Sira sought to guide his students through socially ambivalent times.

Among the topics he addresses is the proper forms and attitudes of worship. The Seleucid governors had involved themselves in the affairs of the Temple and, therefore, many people (especially the precursors of the Pharisees) believed that Temple worship was comprised and invalid. Furthermore, for many of the city’s wealthy participation in Temple rituals was a matter of show to advance themselves and their agenda; they offered mere lip service to God while oppressing the poor and helpless.

In this social milieu, Ben Sira offered instruction on the nature of worship, sacrifice, and prayer in Chapters 34 and 35 of the book. In Chapter 34 he describes worship that is not acceptable to God:

The Most High is not pleased with the offerings of the ungodly, nor for a multitude of sacrifices does he forgive sins. Like one who kills a son before his father’s eyes is the person who offers a sacrifice from the property of the poor. The bread of the needy is the life of the poor; whoever deprives them of it is a murderer. To take away a neighbor’s living is to commit murder; to deprive an employee of wages is to shed blood. When one builds and another tears down, what do they gain but hard work? When one prays and another curses, to whose voice will the Lord listen? If one washes after touching a corpse, and touches it again, what has been gained by washing? So if one fasts for his sins, and goes again and does the same things, who will listen to his prayer? And what has he gained by humbling himself? (Ben Sira 34:23-31)

He follows this up with the advice we heard in our reading today: “Be generous when you worship the Lord, and do not stint the first fruits of your hands. With every gift show a cheerful face, and dedicate your tithe with gladness. Give to the Most High as he has given to you, and as generously as you can afford.” (Ben Sira 35:10-12)

Ben Sira’s wisdom would have been well known to the people of Jesus’ time. Portions of the book were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, and a nearly complete scroll was discovered at Masada, the Jewish fortress destroyed by the Romans in 73 AD. In addition, there are numerous quotations of the book in the Talmud, and the Anglican scholar Henry Chadwick (1920-2008) cogently argued that Jesus even quoted or paraphrased it on several occasions, including in the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.

In our gospel lesson today, Jesus told the parable of two men praying: a Pharisee, who worships strictly in accordance with the law of Moses but whose life may not reflect that, and a tax collector, whose life is criticized by everyone around him but whose worship is as open and sincere as it can be. Jesus’ original audience would have been very familiar with Ben Sira’s advice about worship and would have thought of it as background for the story. They would have known that Jesus was referring back to a concern about hypocritical worship, about worship that is merely for show, about worship coming from a life that does not honor the commandments, a concern dating back many years. They would have known who Jesus was condemning, just like we do! They knew that Jesus was not talking about them, just like we know that Jesus is not talking about us! Thank God that we are not like the bad people who pray with self-righteousness and contempt for others . . . .

Oh . . . wait a minute! You see what Jesus has done? He’s trapped us! He’s tricked us into judging the Pharisee, to regarding him with contempt. And by judging the Pharisee we have become like the Pharisee; in order to get Jesus’ point we have to point to the Pharisee and his sin. By pointing to someone else, to “thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even . . . this tax collector,” and to their sins, the Pharisee condemns himself; by pointing to the Pharisee and his sin, we condemn ourselves.

Clever, sneaky preacher, that Jesus! How do we become more like the tax collector and less like the Pharisee? Ben Sira instructed his students to look worship with the eyes and understanding of God, with humility and without partiality.

So here’s an exercise . . . look at the other people all around you in church today. You know most of these people; some of them are in your family; some of them are your friends; you go to breakfast with some of them every Sunday. You may not know others; some are people you see here on Sunday but don’t otherwise socialize with; some may be people you don’t know at all. But about all of them, you do know two things. First, you know that God loves them; God loves every single person in this church today. God made them; God knows them; God loves them.

The second thing you know is that nobody in this church today is perfect. The religious way to say that is that every one of us is a sinner. Each one of us says and does things that hurt others; each one of us says and does things that hurt ourselves; each one of us says and does things that hurt God. Sometimes we do that intentionally; more often we do it negligently. But the simple truth is, whatever the reason for it may be, that we do it.

And here’s a third thing you know, and this you know about yourself . . . that the two things you know about all these people around you in church are also true of you. These are the two central truths of the Christian faith: that we are sinners and that God loves us anyway.

Now I’d like to ask you all to stand, as you may be able.

Raise your right hand, palm cupped up. Receive in that hand the truth that God loves you, that God loves all of us. Now raise your left hand, palm cupped up. Offer from that hand to God the truth that you are not perfect, that you are a sinner. See how your right hand is still holding the first truth; the second doesn’t change it at all. Not about you, not about anyone!

This, by the way, is called the orans position, the ancient position of prayer, standing with one’s hands up-raised, open to God; it has a rich tradition in Jewish and Christian practice, one’s body representing the spirit open to God’s grace.

The Pharisee in the parable failed to be fully open, fully honest with God or with himself. He was willing to raise the one hand to receive God’s blessing, but was unwilling to raise the other, unwilling to admit that he was imperfect, that he was like the thieves, rogues, adulterers, and tax collectors, that he was like us.

Jesus, clever, sneaky preacher that he is, tricks us into acknowledging that we are like the Pharisee. Like Ben Sira before him, he encourages us to place ourselves fully before God, fully open to God, praying with the tax collector, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

You might say that Jesus is encouraging us to live generously. And that brings us to R____ S_________ who would like to say a few words about our Living Generously Annual Fund Campaign and his personal story of stewardship.

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Banquet Seating: Sermon for Pentecost 15, RCL Proper 17C (28 August 2016)

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A homily offered by the Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston on the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 28, 2016, to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The lessons for the day are Proper 17C of the Revised Common Lectionary: Sirach 10:12-18; Psalm 112; Hebrews 13:1-8,15-16; and St. Luke 14:1,7-14. These lessons may be found at The Lectionary Page.)

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placecardOur first lesson today is from a book with the wholly amazing title The Book of the All-Virtuous Wisdom of Joshua ben Sira, usually (and mercifully) shortened to Sirach. It is accepted as part of the Christian biblical canon by Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, and most of the Oriental Orthodox churches. In our Anglican tradition, it is not accepted as canonical, but we do read it “for example of life and instruction of manners;” however, it cannot be used to establish any doctrine. (Article VI of the Articles of Religion, 1801) The book is in the tradition known as “wisdom literature;” basically, it is a collection of ethical teachings closely resembling the canonical Book of Proverbs, and serving the same function.

This material in general does not deal with the “big questions” of life; it does not try to fathom the ultimate meaning of life or to answer the problem of evil or to explain why bad things happen to good people. Rather, the wisdom literature deals with the smaller issues of day-to-day life. “How should I handle my financial affairs? How should I relate to friends and colleagues? What about relationships to the opposite sex? What can I do to maintain a healthy marriage? How should I treat the widow, the orphan, the poor, the stranger, the aged? These are the sorts of things that [the wisdom literature] addresses.” (James Limburg, Working Preacher Commentary on Proverbs 25:6-7) They were important questions in a society where social standing was based on an unwritten but rigid system of honor and shame. They are still important questions.

Sirach, written perhaps 150 to 200 years before Jesus’ time, is somewhat more theological than Proverbs, however, and in the passage we heard this morning does address the question of why some nations fail; the author’s answer is simple, “God’s judgment.”

The Lord overthrows the thrones of rulers,
and enthrones the lowly in their place.
The Lord plucks up the roots of the nations,
and plants the humble in their place.
The Lord lays waste the lands of the nations,
and destroys them to the foundations of the earth.

What is the reason for this judgment? The pride and arrogance of their rulers and governors. To us, that may seem a bit harsh. But, as commentator Rich Procida reminds us, “These words as used in the Bible are not about feeling good about yourself and your accomplishments. They are not even about being conceited or immodest. The Book of Sirach describes arrogance as a form of hate, the devaluation of others in relation to oneself. Once devalued, evil is more easily done to others.” (Think Impunity: Understanding Arrogance and Pride in the Bible) Thus it is that Joshua ben Sira declares, “the beginning of pride is sin, and the one who clings to it pours out abominations.” Those are strong words in the honor-and-shame social milieu of the Greco-Roman world!

While the Book of Proverbs does not go as far as ben Sira does to give the credit to God, it sounds a similar note declaring, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” (Prov 16:18, KJV) Thus, in giving counsel about those day-to-day issues, about relating to friends and colleagues, Proverbs offers this piece of advice: “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.” (Prov 25:6-7, NRS)

That should sound familiar. In today’s Gospel lesson, Luke doesn’t tell us that Jesus is quoting from Proverbs, but his “parable” – a word Luke uses that we should make special note of – about being a banquet guest is clearly derived from this bit of wisdom.

Proverbs‘ and Jesus’ advice are about much more than etiquette, more than “example of life and instruction of manners.” As I said, they deal with how one got along in and how one advanced one’s social standing in the honor-and-shame society of the Greco-Roman world of which First Century Palestine was a part. In a nutshell, it worked like this: suppose I throw a dinner party and I invite ten people to that party, all of whom come. Those ten people are now indebted to me and must reciprocate by inviting me to a similar affair in their homes. If I have been paying attention, I will have invited at least one if not two or three persons who are of higher social standing than myself. So when I am invited into their home, my social credit is advanced; I gain social standing. At least, I do if I can figure out where to position myself in the banquet hall. Hence, the advice of Proverbs: don’t “stand in the place of the great,” otherwise you will be told to go to a lower place and you will be shamed. It is better to sit in Coach and be invited into First Class, in which event you will be honored. And, believe me, there were the local, then-popular equivalents of Hedda Hopper or Matt Drudge, The National Enquirer or People Magazine to make sure that one’s honor or shame became well known in the community.

Of course, we don’t behave this way today, do we? We don’t worry about where we sit at dinner parties or banquets, right?

Wrong! Of course we do. There are “life coaches” out there making a bundle teaching entrepreneurs and business executives and even clergy how to “network,” how to jockey for position at business lunches and conferences, doing for us exactly what the writers of the wisdom literature were doing for the young courtiers of the ancient world, young men seeking a position in the courts of kings and emperors.

And if you don’t believe that there is still worry and angst about where people are seated at banquets, then you have never sat with a bride and her mother figuring out where and with whom and how far from the head table wedding reception guests should be seated. The thing about these banquets in the Greco-Roman world is that there wasn’t anyone making the seating assignments; no bride or mother of the bride filling out place cards and making the decision where you would be placed. You had to figure that out for yourself, hence the jockeying for places, and thus the advice in the Book of Proverbs.

And Jesus’ counsel sounds a lot like that advice, too, doesn’t it? The wisdom literature, especially Proverbs, was written to teach those aspiring young courtiers how to behave in order to advance. Jesus’ takes that advice, applies it to everyone, and does so as a “parable.” Remember I said we needed to take special note that Luke uses that word to describe what Jesus says to his host and the other guests. A parable. So what is a parable?

Simply put, a parable is a type of analogy; it is a short, didactic story or statement in which one thing is used to illustrate or explain some other thing. And what is always the “other thing” in Jesus’ parables? The kingdom of heaven, the eternal and abundant life to which he as God Incarnate is constantly inviting his listeners.

So what does Luke mean by calling Jesus’ counsel a “parable”? And what is Jesus saying about the reign of God with these words? Is he suggesting that life in the kingdom is like the jockeying for position that goes on at dinner parties in the honor-and-shame culture of the Greco-Roman world? Of course not! Because Jesus’ parable differs from the advice of the wisdom literature in one significant detail.

Proverbs tells the young courtier to not take the seat of the great; in other words, its advice is to be careful during that jockeying for position that goes on at state banquets. What it does not say is what Jesus says: take the lowest ranked seat available! Jesus’ parable, his counsel to his host and the other dinner guests turns the conventional wisdom literature on its head. Proverbs is saying, “Don’t be too prideful, but take the position to which you are entitled.” Jesus is saying that no one is entitled, that in the kingdom of heaven everything is given as grace, as an invitation from God to come up higher.

This is typical of Jesus’ teaching: he often takes an accepted notion and extends it to make his point. Most often he does this with notions of sin – The accepted teaching is that adultery is sinful; according to Jesus, even thinking about it is a sin! The accepted teaching is that one should not murder; according to Jesus, don’t even get angry! The accepted teaching is to not break one’s oath; according to Jesus, don’t swear at all! (See Matthew 5:21-48) So here . . . the accepted teaching of the wisdom literature is to be careful about jockeying for social position; according to Jesus, don’t jockey at all! Take the lowest place! For sure, taking the seat of the great is prideful; for Jesus, taking any seat higher than the lowest is prideful and, as Joshua ben Sira wrote, “Pride was not created for human beings.”

Jesus tells his parable and then drives home his point when he turns to the host and says, “You really shouldn’t be throwing dinner parties for those who can repay you. You shouldn’t be playing this social networking game at all! When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

I love the way Dr. David Lose, the president of the Lutheran seminary in Philadelphia describes this story:

Jesus [is] telling the guy who’s invited him to his home for supper – how gauche! – and who also just happens to be a leader of the Pharisees, that his (and our) pecking orders aren’t worth squat. More than that, Jesus is inviting this guy (and us) to defy the pecking order, to actually turn it on its head. (Dear Working Preacher, More Than Good Advice)

The Australian theologian Bill Loader says that Jesus’ words were “totally absurd and . . . meant to heard that way.” (First Thoughts) “It was a crazy idea,” he says, “designed to subvert the games being played. . . . . Jesus is subverting the whole enterprise which was driving his culture and its values.” Of course, his host and his fellow guests are the ones who are invested in that culture and its values; they are the winners in the pecking order so they are going to have to put Jesus to death. If his way of looking at things catches on, they are going to be toast!

Kill him they did, and his crazy idea hasn’t caught on quite yet; brides and their mothers are still making those seating decisions for wedding receptions; entrepreneurs and executives and clergy are still jockey for position at conferences. So, as Dr. Loader says, “we (and those with whom we work) may benefit from re-examining” our own behavior; Jesus “crazy idea . . . has huge application for today.”

The Bible’s condemnation of pride, whether in the wisdom literature or the prophets or the gospels or anywhere else, is not an insistence that we abandon self interest.

People who claim to be acting . . . without any self interest are frequently in a state of denial, so much so at times that they fail to recognise [or] to control their self interest – to their own harm and that of others. The gospel is not an appeal to abandon self love, but to believe in being loved and loving and to engage in it fully in all directions, including towards ourselves. [This] invitation to love is an invitation to life, made from the premise that life’s greatest reward is to live in love and that to do so is to participate in God’s being and to best fulfil our own. (Loader)

Remember that this is more than advice from a Book of the All-Virtuous Wisdom; “this is Jesus, God’s Son, and he will come back, lifting his scarred hands in eternal blessing and benediction, inviting us [as he invited his host and the other guests] to a new vision and way of being where there is no first or last, no honor or shame, only each other, bound to one other in God’s abundant love and grace.” (Lose)

Amen.

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Just Get Along – From the Daily Office Lectionary

From the OT lesson for Saturday in the week of Proper 5B (Pentecost 2, 2015)
Sirach 46
7 And in the days of Moses [Joshua] proved his loyalty, he and Caleb son of Jephunneh: they opposed the congregation, restrained the people from sin, and stilled their wicked grumbling.

One wonders if it is mere coincidence that group organization is the theme of the Daily Office readings recently. This praise of Joshua, son of Nun, assistant to Moses, is paired today with Paul’s admonition to the church in Corinth: “Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” (2 Cor 13:11) My week has been filled with organization and reorganization and failure of organization, preparing for hosting a bunch of overnight guests, the (probably) last vestry meeting of the summer, and heading off (in nine days) for the two week legislative extravaganza that is the Episcopal Church’s triennial General Convention. I’ve done a bit of “wicked grumbling” myself, forgetting Paul’s admonition to “put things in order” and “live in peace.” So … I repent. I hope those I may have upset will forgive me and I extend the hand of peace to those who have rubbed me the wrong way. In the famous words of Rodney King, let’s just all get along!

Anticipating an Ordination – From the Daily Office – November 7, 2014

From the Wisdom of Jesus, Son of Sirach:

The leader of his brothers and the pride of his people
was the high priest, Simon son of Onias,
who in his life repaired the house,
and in his time fortified the temple.
When he put on his glorious robe
and clothed himself in perfect splendor,
when he went up to the holy altar,
he made the court of the sanctuary glorious.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Eccesiasticus 50:1,11 (NRSV) – November 7, 2014)

Ordination and First Mass of Saint John of Matha by Vincenzo CarducciTonight, as my diocese begins its annual governing convention in traditional fashion with a celebration of the Holy Eucharist, we will doing so in the context of an ordination – two ordinations, in fact, one to the diaconate and one to the presbyterate. This morning’s reading from Ben Sira is lengthy description of the glories of the ceremonial priesthood. One might have expected the church to have made this one of the potential readings for a presbyteral ordination, but in its wisdom, it has not.

My personal religious background is as the child of an inactive, not-quite-thoroughly-unchurched mixed marriage of a Disciple of Christ and a Methodist, the disinterested products of two decidedly American expressions of protestant evangelical Christianity. Until I was in high school my church attendance depended on which set of grandparents I was visiting; at home, church was out of the question. My grandparents’ churches were proudly non-ceremonial; the closest anyone came to wearing a vestment was the Methodist pastor’s doctoral gown.

In high school, I encountered the Episcopal Church in an Anglo-Catholic diocese. Bells, smells, chants, rich vesture . . . I knew I had come home! As I read the entire lesson today from Ecclesiasticus, I can almost remember every detail of that first encounter with the ritual of religion.

But the rubrics of the ordination service for a priest of the Episcopal Church do not permit or recommend Ben Sira’s soaring description of ceremonial liturgy and priestly elegance! Instead, we are given these choices from the Hebrew Scriptures:

  • Isaiah 6:1-8, in which the soon-to-be-commissioned prophet cries, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips,” and has his lips seared with a burning coal; or
  • Numbers 11:16-17,24-25, in which Moses is instructed to recruit seventy elders to “bear the burden of the people along with you so that you will not bear it all by yourself.”

And then there are the choices from the Psalter:

  • Psalm 43 in which we ask, “Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul? and why are you so disquieted within me?” or
  • Psalm 132:8-19 in which we beg God “do not turn away the face of your Anointed.”

In the New Testament readings, Peter reminds us, “Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock” (1 Pt 5:3), a rather different vision than Ben Sira’s description of the magnificent Simon, son of Onias. Paul warns us through his words to the Ephesians to not “be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph 4:14), and in his admonition to the church in Philippi he instructs us, “Let your gentleness be known to everyone.” Again, a contrast to the picture of priesthood in this morning’s reading.

Don’t get me wrong! I love the ritual and the ceremonial. I love great vestments, incense, chant, trumpets, the clanging of bells – it’s all great show and great fun and adds to the experience of religion for me. But the priesthood is much, much more than all of that.

In my vesting sacristy hangs a simple frame with a printed copy of an address by an Englishman who was a bishop in Africa in the early years of the 20th Century. The Rt. Rev. Frank Weston, Bishop of Zanzibar, in his concluding address to the Anglo-Catholic Congress of 1923, finished with these words:

If you are Christians then your Jesus is one and the same: Jesus on the Throne of his glory, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus received into your hearts in Communion, Jesus with you mystically as you pray, and Jesus enthroned in the hearts and bodies of his brothers and sisters up and down this country. And it is folly – it is madness – to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the Throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children. It cannot be done.

There then, as I conceive it, is your present duty; and I beg you, brethren, as you love the Lord Jesus, consider that it is at least possible that this is the new light that the Congress was to bring to us. You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.

Every time I put on my fine silk vestments from Whipple or Almy, the hand-made stoles and chasubles commissioned from private tailors, or the humble offerings created by members of the congregation, I read those words. The priesthood is not about Simon’s glorious robes and perfect splendor; it’s not about trumpets and thuribles and magnificent altars. That’s just the fun stuff we are privileged to enjoy. As the ordination readings and Bishop Weston remind us, priesthood is about serving God’s people in whom we find the living Jesus.

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

====================

Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Singing of the Senate – From the Daily Office – November 6, 2014

From the Wisdom of Jesus, Son of Sirach:

Let us now sing the praises of famous men,
our ancestors in their generations.
The Lord apportioned to them great glory,
his majesty from the beginning.
There were those who ruled in their kingdoms,
and made a name for themselves by their valor;
those who gave counsel because they were intelligent;
those who spoke in prophetic oracles;
those who led the people by their counsels
and by their knowledge of the people’s lore;
they were wise in their words of instruction;
those who composed musical tunes,
or put verses in writing;
rich men endowed with resources,
living peacefully in their homes —
all these were honored in their generations,
and were the pride of their times.
Some of them have left behind a name,
so that others declare their praise.
But of others there is no memory;
they have perished as though they had never existed;
they have become as though they had never been born,
they and their children after them.
But these also were godly men,
whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten;
their wealth will remain with their descendants,
and their inheritance with their children’s children.*
Their descendants stand by the covenants;
their children also, for their sake.
Their offspring will continue for ever,
and their glory will never be blotted out.
Their bodies are buried in peace,
but their name lives on generation after generation.
The assembly declares their wisdom,
and the congregation proclaims their praise.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Eccesiasticus 44:1-15 (NRSV) – November 6, 2014)

I don’t usually set out the entire text of one of the Daily Office lessons in these morning ramblings of mine, but long before I had read and appreciated the rest of the Book of Ben Sira, I knew of these “hymn to the ancestors.” Twenty-one years ago, as a fledgling priest with just two years of presbyteral ministry under my belt, I was called upon to cobble together a grave-side service for the burial of my older brother, Richard York Funston, a dis-churched former member of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. I chose to use this as the only reading from Scripture because it seemed to suit both the occasion and the person.

Rick had been a professor of political science and, at the time of his untimely death at age 49, the Dean of Faculty and Academic Vice President of a major west coast university. He had studied the famous and the forgotten political figures of our American political past, those “whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten,” and whose descendants (you and me) ” stand by the covenants” they have made over the generations of the republic.

He loved politics as much as he loved sports; presidential debates and election night coverage were as much entertainment to him as the Super Bowl or the NCAA basketball championships. I often wonder what he would have made of the rise of the “Tea Party.” His specialty was the study of the U.S. Supreme Court and its impact on electoral politics – what would he have thought of Citizens United?

Anyway, in the aftermath Tuesday’s election, my older brother was on my mind and it seemed more than serendipitous that this text should be the Old Testament lesson for today.

One of the things Rick and I once talked about was the nature of the Senate and how it has changed over the decades. Senators were originally selected by State legislatures, but the Seventeenth Amendment approved in 1913 transferred that decision to the popular electorate. Once that was done, the politics of the Senate changed in the sense that the Senators became much better known to the people within the states they represented. The advent of mass communication – radio then television and now the internet ¬ has made them better known to the nation as a whole. For example, I now know at least as much and possibly more about Joni Ernst, the Senator-elect from Iowa, than I do the Senators from the state in which I live! (I might, perhaps, wish that I didn’t!) Senators now seem to play on a national stage to a national (possibly even international) audience with more concern for their egos and their personal agendas than for the people of their several states or even the people of the nation!

US Capitol Dome with Clouds

They are well-known now, but how many will go down in history to be remembered even a decade from now if they are defeated in their next senatorial election. How many will stay multiple terms to make a significant mark on the American political landscape? Since the founding of the republic there have been 1,950 Senators. How many can you name? I can’t name very many, of them “there is no memory; they have perished as though they had never existed.”

Remembered or forgotten, however, their predecessors have and they will contribute to some extent to the political tenor of this country and to its future. We may fear what some of them would do individually but the theoretical beauty of the system is that the legislative body is wiser than any individual in it; the collective group-think of the hive-mind tones down the outrageous outspoken craziness of some and amplifies the softly spoken cool-headedness of others. The assembly may momentarily “declare the wisdom” of the individual, but eventually it is the wisdom of the assembly than prevails.

My late brother the political scientist had great faith in the system. He always insisted that, in the end, when the system works, it works well, and that when it works badly, there is hope for change. I pray that he his faith was not misplaced! The Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church includes this prayer for the Congress; I have said it daily for the past several weeks leading up to the election. Now that we have its results, I plan to continue it as a daily discipline:

O God, the fountain of wisdom, whose will is good and gracious, and whose law is truth: We beseech thee so to guide and bless our Senators and Representatives in Congress assembled, that they may enact such laws as shall please thee, to the glory of thy Name and the welfare of this people; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 1979, page 821)

I hope that we will be able to praise these famous people, those who are remembered and those who are not, because for good or ill their deeds will not be forgotten. Ben Sira was right about that!

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Political Rainbow – From the Daily Office – November 4, 2014

From Ecclesiasticus:

Look at the rainbow, and praise him who made it; it is exceedingly beautiful in its brightness. It encircles the sky with its glorious arc; the hands of the Most High have stretched it out.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Sirach 43:11-12 (NRSV) – November 4, 2014)

Today in the US is the midterm election. I live in a decidedly “red” state with very little chance than any state office or congress seat currently held by the GOP will go to another party, partly because the Democrats chose a less-than-stellar gubernatorial candidate, partly because of gerrymandering, and partly because the Republicans simply predominate in most of the rural ad small-town electorate. Nonetheless, I will go to the polls and cast my “progressive” ballot and hope that elsewhere in the country things may be different.

What I hope most (and pray for) is that at some time in our national political future there will be a rainbow! That there will be an end to the rancorous, uncivil, winner-take-all, scorched-earth, no-compromise politics that has characterized this country for the past two decades, or longer…. When did it start, this deluge of polarization? I think it’s probably always been there at the fringes, but it seems to me it began moving to the center during the Nixon administration, arrived center-stage during the Clinton years, and has simply parked there ever since, the way a weather system can park over an area for days (in this case decades) at a time, bringing wave after wave of torrential downpour.

One of my favorite poems about rain is The Rainy Day by Rabindranath Tagore, who paints a dismal and scary picture of a village in monsoon season:

Sullen clouds are gathering fast
over the black fringe of the forest.
O child, do not go out!
The palm trees in a row by the lake
are smiting their heads
against the dismal sky;
the crows with their dragged wings
are silent on the tamarind branches,
and the eastern bank of the river
is haunted by a deepening gloom.
Our cow is lowing loud, tied at the fence.
O child, wait here till I bring her into the stall.
Men have crowded into the flooded field
to catch the fishes
as they escape from the overflowing ponds;
the rain-water is running in rills
through the narrow lanes like a laughing boy
who has run away from his mother to tease her.
Listen, someone is shouting for the boatman at the ford.
O child, the daylight is dim,
and the crossing at the ferry is closed.
The sky seems to ride fast upon the madly rushing rain;
the water in the river is loud and impatient;
women have hastened home
early from the Ganges
with their filled pitchers.
The evening lamps must be made ready.
O child, do not go out!
The road to the market is desolate,
the lane to the river is slippery.
The wind is roaring and struggling
among the bamboo branches
like a wild beast tangled in a net.

My feeling is that our monsoon of incivility, our rainy season of political polarization has had a similar effect on our national village; our sky is sullen, our roads are desolate, our lanes are slippery, and madly rushing political “rain” has made the river of democracy loud, impatient, and dangerous. My hope and my prayer is that it will end and we will see a rainbow.

My main thought for the day is contrary to Tagore’s, however: “O child, do go out!” Go out and vote!

Rainbow over Farm Landscape

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

====================

Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Stewardship Smiles – From the Daily Office – November 1, 2014

From Ecclesiasticus:

Be generous when you worship the Lord,
and do not stint the first fruits of your hands.
With every gift show a cheerful face,
and dedicate your tithe with gladness.
Give to the Most High as he has given to you,
and as generously as you can afford.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Sirach 35:10-12 (NRSV) – November 1, 2014)

Stewardship Sermon by Jay SidebothamIt’s about to come to an end, the annual appeal to church members everywhere to turn in a card saying how much they plan (hope, anticipate, expect, guess) to give in offerings in the coming year. Clergy everywhere are breathing both a sigh of relief that “stewardship season” is nearly done, while also wondering if there will be enough income to sustain the parish’s budget for another year. Congregational governing boards, treasurers, and budget committees are poring over the books and making plans – in some parishes they are adding new programs and new staff; in most, I suspect, they are trying to cut “fat” out of budgets already cut to the bone. I would guess there are more frowns than smiles being generated in the process of annual church budgeting.

And the Daily Office lectionary gives us this, Ben Sira’s admonition to cheerfulness and gladness in connection with first-fruit offerings and tithes . . . .

In my “Rector’s Reflection” column in our parish newsletter this month, I made note of the annual campaign and its coincidence with Thanksgiving Day:

How exactly do we give thanks to God? Primarily, it is through our songs of praise, our prayers of thanksgiving, our participation in worship. Secondarily, it is through sharing the blessings we have received. Most of us, I’m sure, are familiar with the phrase “time, talent, and treasure.” Those three “buzzwords” have been a staple of annual parish pledge campaigns for decades. They underscore that stewardship (a word we mistakenly often apply only to sharing of wealth) is a life activity, not simply a financial activity. We share all that we have been given, including our time and the talents with which we are blessed, not simply a portion of our income. But this time of year we focus on that financial piece as the church begins the process of budgeting for the next fiscal year. I will be the first to admit that we should do a better job of teaching about whole-life stewardship the entire year ‘round.

Perhaps there would be more smiles and fewer frowns, less stinting and more generous giving if we did less annual fund raising and more year-round stewardship education in the church. Let’s give that try.

In any event, smile . . . whatever this year’s outcome, it’s about to come to an end.

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Dreams of Samhain – From the Daily Office – October 31, 2014

From Ecclesiasticus:

The senseless have vain and false hopes,
and dreams give wings to fools.
As one who catches at a shadow and pursues the wind,
so is anyone who believes in dreams.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Sirach 34:1-2 (NRSV) – October 31, 2014)

Samhain IllustrationThe shadows tonight will be full of dreams moving from house to house, door to door, seeking handouts of candy or toys or whatever with a cry of “Trick or Treat!” We hope the wind will stay away, at least until America’s children’s annual celebration of the ancient Celtic feast of Samhain is completed.

As much as I like Ben Sira, I think he is too dismissive of dreams in this passage. He’s right to sound a note of caution against self-delusion (or buying into the fantasies and fallacies of others), but dreams are also the stuff of hope and aspiration. Young Joseph, son of Israel, became overseer of Egypt because of his ability to correctly interpret dreams. Another Joseph received the message that he would be foster-father to the Son of God in a dream. Dreams can be substantial!

So, parting company with Ben Sira, I say, “Believe in your dreams! Chase them!” Yesterday I wrote about using our imaginations and playing with metaphors to better understand the words of Scripture. Following our dreams is a further exercise of imagination. Imagination, as I see it, is our only way forward; without dreams and imagination we have no way to envision the future.

Forty-five years ago, when I was in college, I read a newly published book by Scottish anthropologist Victor Turner entitled The Ritual Process in which the author explored the idea of liminality, the experience of standing on a threshold leaving behind a known, accepted reality and entering into an as-yet-unknown, new reality. (I was reminded of that book this week when I found it cited in the footnotes of another, a text on the use of imagination in biblical exegesis and preaching.) That threshold is the place of shadows and wind; it can be a frightening place. To stand at that threshold demands that we dream and imagine; otherwise, we will never move through it.

Ben Sira is right, dreams give wings, not just to fools, but to everyone. Have the imagination and the courage to take those wings and fly! Fly through the threshold of shadow and wind into the unknown future.

I hope that is what the costumed children, the living dreams wandering the shadows tonight will do.

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Metaphors – From the Daily Office – October 30, 2014

From Luke’s Gospel:

Jesus said, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy.”

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Luke 12:1 (NRSV) – October 30, 2014)

MetaphorsI often wonder what (if any) thought went into the construction of various lectionaries, particularly the Daily Office lectionary of the Episcopal Church. Are the sometimes strange, sometimes enlightening, often puzzling juxtapositions of texts planned or simply fortuitous?

Today Jesus uses yeast as a metaphor for what he considers to be the corrupt teachings of the Pharisees. Meanwhile, over in the Old Testament department (actually the Apocrypha department these past several days) we have a note from Ben Sira about wine; although he admonishes his reader not to get intoxicated and quarrelsome, he praises wine in moderation saying:

Wine is very life to human beings
if taken in moderation.
What is life to one who is without wine?
It has been created to make people happy.
Wine drunk at the proper time and in moderation
is rejoicing of heart and gladness of soul.
(Sirach 31:27-18)

Yeast, of course, is necessary for the creation of this good wine. In fact, wine makers are often very protective of their particular yeast strains. (Once when I was in college, my roommates and I decided to brew some beer. One of my roommates had a friend who worked for a very famous maker of California champagne – yes, I know, it’s just sparkling wine if not made in France – and was able to obtain – illegally, I admit – a quantity their proprietary champagne yeast. We thought that we’d be super-cool making beer with champagne yeast, that our beer would be magnificent; we weren’t and it wasn’t. But I did learn about proprietary wine yeast.)

So the metaphor of yeast is, like all metaphors, an ambiguous one, as is the metaphor of wine which is also used as a symbol of teaching in the Bible (consider Jesus’ parable of new wine and old wineskins). While Jesus uses yeast here to represent to corrupt teachings of the Pharisees, and Paul will later use it as a symbol of sin and malice (I Cor 5:7-8), Jesus also uses leaven as parabolic of the kingdom of heaven (Mt 13:33; Lk 13:21). Metaphorical ambiguity is the name of the game!

And as a game is how metaphors should be approached. I tell my Education for Ministry students to play with metaphors. Look around the room, pick an object (just on my desk this morning there are a pair of eyeglasses, a stapler, a coffee mug, and a concert ticket, for example). Now say, “The kingdom of God is like [that object]” or “Beware the [object] of the Pharisees,” and begin to explore what that might mean: “The kingdom of God is like a concert ticket” – “Beware the eyeglasses of the Pharisees.” Play with that.

Whoever put together the Daily Office lectionary probably had no intention to link “bad” yeast with “good” wine, but using our theological imagination to play with the metaphors, we can do so. I think we should: we should explore and have fun with biblical metaphors and, in the process, learn something.

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

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