Monday, August 29, 2011

Sunday, September 4, 2011: Proper 18A

Our first reading is about the Passover, the sacred meal the Israelites had on the night before they were let go from Israel. It is an eire passage as the angel of death slips through the city taking the lives of the firstborn. The Israelites were spared because they marked their lintels with blood, a sign that they were trying to follow the instructions of God.
The Egyptians had enslaved the Israelites for 400 years, but do you think the Egyptians were happy? When they had the children of Israel as their slaves?
Maybe they didn't realize they had a problem, but I think on the deep level they could not have been happy.
I say that because of my experience of the South. I saw recently the movie the Help. It describes the life of black housekeepers who care for little white children while someone else is at home taking care of their own.
The white people thought everything was great, but black people were underpaid, overworked, and treated as second class human beings. White people had a master lifestyle on a craftsman salary because black people did the hard work for very little pay.
White people thought they were happy, but that is not the truth. There was a cancer eating away at the very center of their humanity. Christ teaches us that God is love, and to know God we must love our sisters and brothers. However, many white people did not even recognize their brother and sister around them. The true beauty of humanity as God intended it was becoming shriveled up, black and putrid.
They walked in delusions and ir-realities. They are most to be pitied.
So, No, I do not believe the Egyptians were happy. They thought they were happy. Just like someone who lives in a palace but does not understand that the structure of the house is about to collapse on them and ruin them forever.
No they were, crippled versions, of humanity Something had gone wrong so that they preferred cruelty to kindness, oppression to cooperation. And they even held onto those slaves, despite countless plagues. God showered them with frogs, fiery hail, gnats, lice, locusts. God turned their river to blood, covered their body in boils, and sent darkness to cover the earth.
And still they did not relent, not until they lost their firstborn, sadly representing the truth that our refusal to reform leads not only to our own suffering but to that of those whom we love also.
Sadly I think this is the human condition. We can see the cracks forming in our life as we lead it, and yet we will continue living the same way. It takes a situation where we lose practically everything before we will listen to God, and understand that our life depends on God and that the only satisfying way to lead life is to love.
Paul writes in his Epistle today "Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Now love is not a smile and a sweet "Hello". Love is arranging our lives so that it respects and serves our neighbor. We design our lives so that we seek the good of all people. Love recognizes that we are all bound to one another and that our life as we live it impacts the lives of others.
My purchases help support an economic system which depends on cheap labor in the third world. We could begin to make all our own clothing like Ghandi, or we could work hard to promote justice for the people who make our clothes. Love requires some response.
This is why the church has adopted to support the Millennium Development Goals. These goals were developed by a United Nation commission and have won widespread support from the world's religious communities. They are to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, to achieve universal primary education, to promote gender equality and empower women, to reduce childhood mortality rates, improve maternal health, combat diseases, ensure environmental sustainability, to develop a global partnership for development.
Our parish participates in the Carpenter's kids program which is inspired by these goals. We promote people to support Episcopal Relief and Development buy buying gifts from their catalog such as chickens and seeds and mosquito nets for those in need. And this year our Sunday School is going to raise money towards an ER-D project.
This is how we love. We acknowledge that we are all in relationship in this world, and we try to lead lives that are faithful to those relationships. And we know that we need forgiveness for we are slow to change, and sometimes halfhearted in our attempts to love. It is not easy.
Our gospel reading today talks about a process or reconciliation in the community when there is conflict. When a party feels wronged they are invited to talk to the person. This is something that takes great courage. To go to someone whom you feel has wronged you, and to seek reconciliation. I find this daunting. I come from a conflict averse family. We tend to walk away and never talk to such a person, cowering in anger and fear. But as we try to build a church, a restored humanity in Christ, we must make an effort to resolve our conflicts. Otherwise they work against all we try to do. Hard stuff.
I believe the Civil rights movement lead by Martin Luther King, Jr. was such an effort. Black people confronted white people with how they were being treated and demanded redress to their grievances.
I think the Millennium development goals reflect the same process. Representatives from all over the world asked, why should a baby raised in the West never know hunger, and a child born in another part of the world never have enough? Is this love? Is this justice?
The same is true here in our country. To owe someone love, to be reconciled to our neighbor involves us knowing about our community and our world and finding ways to respond to its needs. That is love.
The night that the angel of death passed through the streets the Israelites shared a sacred meal. The next day they left slavery for freedom. We come here each week bringing to Christ our stories of a world which needs so much love, and fed at this table, we are sent out to love that world. As we do this the heart in our breasts is healed slowly. We begin to be less focused on self, and we can begin to turn our eyes towards others and show them love through our actions and our deeds. This is how we too find freedom.
In the name....