Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Fair Rain Of Blessing; The Reign Of Justice

Last Sunday we heard Jesus ask, "Who do you say that I am?"
Then Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
A week ago Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.
This week we hear Jesus say to Simon Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are not setting your mind not on divine things..."
Last week Jesus called Simon son of Jonah a blessing and a foundation stone for the Church, and proclaimed that he must have had a revelation from God to have come to the profound understanding he had shown of his friend as Messiah.
It seems it's not enough to recognize the goals of the Jesus Project. It is not enough to agree with its purposes, for Peter got the names right, first time he was asked. Like most of us, he was eager to get the title right (as we learn quickly in our churches to call the preacher "Doctor" or "Father" or "Reverend Mother", according to the venue). But Jesus wants us to get the game right and not just the name right. It is not enough to call Jesus, "Lord", or any other title, if you haven't thoroughly enlisted in the Way, in the Style, in the Method, and in the Means by which his liberation, his freedom, his justice is to come in human civilization.
So when Jesus begins to explain the implications of the tasks set before them, Peter has another way of looking at things. Perhaps it was precisely because Jesus had named him Rocky, "the hard-headed one", the tough guy, that he now says, "God forbid, Sir. You have nothing to worry about now. I'm the Rock, and no suffering and no risk of death are going to come your way. I'll see to that."
Jesus disciples went up to Jerusalem to see the great glory but Jesus got strung up like a common criminal and these followers cut the scene like rabbits
Remember the authorities didn't crucify Jesus because his followers had clubs and cudgels in hand with a good supply of cobblestones to throw in their cart. That's how the authorities spun the story. Paul, however, pretty well sums up what Jesus was pushing that really worried the folks on top: Justice.
"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. … "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
You could expect, were folks to live like this, things would change greatly for those on top.
Let me say this another way: God freely rains blessings upon us and expects us to find an honorable, effective and fair way for everyone to share in these blessings. What irked the leaders was the audacity of Jesus to suggest that the reign of justice and the fair rain of blessings weren’t happening.
Let me get more to the heart of this reflection on justice citing Rabbi Edward Bernstein.
Each day, Rabbi Bernstein reminds us, a Jew prays the Shema
It begins:
"Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One.(Deut. 6:4).
Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity.
You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources."
No problem here says Rabbi Bernstein but in paragraph two we find trouble. The reward-and-punishment theology unnerved many through the past decades.
"It shall be, that if you obey My commandments that I command you this day to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all Your heart and with all your soul, then will I send the rain for your land in its season, the early [autumn] rain and the late [spring] rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil."
However: "Be careful that your heart be not tempted and you turn away to serve other gods and bow to them. For then God will be furious with you and will block the heavens and there will be no rain and the land will not yield its produce, and you will perish quickly from the good land that God gives you."
Roughly summarized: "Obey God and prosper; disobey God and suffer." You and I and Rabbi Bernstein know that is not how the world works. Often the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper. It would seem you'd need to be rather simplistic or primitive to make this your religious creed.
So the modern Jews did what Anglicans have often done throughout the ages they've spun compromises.
The early American Jewish Reform Movement omitted this passage from their prayer books. Mordecai Kaplan founder of Jewish Reconstructionism dropped the paragraph from his prayer book saying "I cannot believe that the process of meteorology is dependent on man's moral behavior." He said, "I cannot believe that the process of meteorology is dependent on man's moral behavior."
Other Jews kept this second paragraph in the liturgy but while they proclaimed the first and third paragraphs loudly in song, they read this the embarrassing second paragraph silently
But, “my my”, Rabbi Bernstein notes, with this global warming stuff it looks like our moral choices are beginning to affect the “Meteorological Processes"!
Much to the surprise of the Rabbi Mordicai’s among us the process of meteorology do seem to be affected by affected by our moral behavior – called Global Warming.
How we choose live, whether in a spendthrift and profligate fashion or careful, conserving way is a moral choice.
And yes, “the calculus of reward and punishment articulated in Deuteronomy and the Shema may be too simple and ultimately inaccurate, but it does nail the central aspect of our belief when it insists starkly (even it too starkly) that God is ultimately just. Somehow justice is an inherent part of the world and of God; and since God is the model for human beings, the possibility of justice must be inherent in us as well.” (Rabbi Elliot Dorff)
Had I been Peter's adviser, which I wasn't, I would have slipped him the last paragraph of the Rabbi Bernstein’s article. "You know Peter this will get you in less trouble. So Peter would have said to Jesus:
“Yes, Lord lets go to Jerusalem and make it happen! For
"When a whole society does the right thing," quoting Rabbi Bernstein now, "behaves in the right way, learns to love God and love their neighbors, the overall quality of life for everybody gets better. If everybody lived such a life we would all feel the reward."
That's what Peter should have said.
And Rabbi Berstein concludes:
"In our day environmental stewardship and society's virtues are intertwined with each other. My hope is that humanity will heed the call of this ancient Scripture to clean up our planet AND restore justice to the world."
Thanks to
HOMILY GRITS Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost Year A September 1, 2002 Copyright Grant Gallup
Rabbi Edward Bernstein: Recovering Ancient Scripture To Face Modern Challenges

Lessons for Sunday closest to August 31, Year A Proper 17, RCL

hp17a082511 Delivered at St. Andrews Episcopal Church Cloquet, MN 8/28/2011