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Proper 12: Resurrected Into Presence
Hosea 1:2-10; Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 85; Colossians 2:6-19; Luke 11:1-13
The orthodox Elves have a field day with this “Proper” in Year C. In Hosea, God disowns Israel as a whore; in Genesis, Abraham bargains with God to save Sodom for the sake of 10 righteous people; and the writer of Colossians warns against being misled by “human tradition” and “the elemental spirits of the universe.” Improper sinners, listen up! Your only hope is that your “father” in “heaven” forgives your “trespasses” without “leading you into temptation,” says that collaborator Luke. But thanks be to God, writes pseudo-Paul, “when you were buried with [Christ] in baptism, you were also raised with [Christ] through faith in the power of God who raised [Christ] from the dead.”
Who can make sense of any of this in a post-modern world? We might do better to find a good quote from Rumi or Maya Angelou for this Sunday.
Rumi: “I called through your door, ‘The mystics are gathering in the street. Come out!’ ‘Leave me alone. I’m sick.’ ‘I don’t care if you’re dead!’ Jesus is here, and he wants to resurrect somebody!” The Essential Rumi, Coleman Barks (Harper SanFrancisco, 1995), p. 201.
Maya Angelou: “You, created only a little lower than the angels, have crouched too long in the bruising darkness, have lain too long facedown in ignorance, your mouths spilling words armed for slaughter. The Rock cries out to us today, You may stand upon me; but do not hide your face.” On the Pulse of Morning, Maya Angelou (Random House, New York, 1993).
Luke and the Elves want to force the lectionary readings into demonstrating how God answers the prayers of the righteous. But Jesus actually talked about three very different conditions or ideas: God’s imperial rule (God’s kingdom of distributive justice-compassion); hospitality; and trust.
1) In the “Jesus prayer,” Jesus is likely to have said only the first two lines: “Abba-Father, may your name be revered. Impose your imperial rule – [in opposition to Rome’s].”
2) Luke’s Jesus probably did tell the story about the friend demanding assistance in the middle of the night, but it’s about hospitality, not how God answers persistent prayer. In The Five Gospels, the translation has Luke’s Jesus say, “I tell you, even though you won’t get up and give the friend anything out of friendship, yet you will get up and give the other whatever is needed because you’d be ashamed not to.” God’s answer to persistent prayer has nothing to do with it. The point that Luke misses is people acting with distributive justice-compassion and out of the essential hospitality that assured that life could be lived in such stark times.
3) Luke’s Jesus probably did also tell his followers “Rest assured: everyone who asks receives, everyone who seeks finds, and for the one who knocks it is opened.” But again it’s not about petitionary prayer to an interventionist God. It’s about trust in living out the ongoing work of restoring God’s distributive justice-compassion. Jesus likely said it to reassure those who went out as he did into itinerant ministry.
Pseudo Paul also misses the point of the authentic Paul when he writes about baptism as burial. In Romans 6:3-5, authentic Paul is making the point that baptism is the symbol that those who choose to participate in the ongoing work of restoring God’s distributive justice-compassion are “dead” to the empire, and dead to the temptations of the normalcy of civilization. Pseudo Paul has literalized the metaphor and as a result has contributed to the heresies of the human tradition he rails against that have culminated in 21st Century Empire, corporate greed, and the ravages of global warming – or in the words of John Dominic Crossan, “American Christian fundamentalism’s divine ethnic cleansing and transcendental cosmicide.” God and Empire (Harper SanFrancisco) p. 200.
The writer of Colossians has a point: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit . . .” Orthodoxy and tradition have rendered us dead to the natural world and trapped in the illusion of past and future. We are indeed sick, and want only to be left alone in our unconsciousness. So long as we are stuck in the triumphs or the tragedies of the past, we either anticipate or dread the future, and entirely squander the opportunities and responsibilities of the present moment. The Jesus prayer asks only for the bread we need “day by day,” not tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. A better reading to pair with Luke’s Jesus prayer might be Exodus 16. The bread that fell from heaven on the Israelites in the wilderness only lasted for one day – except for the double portion provided on the Sabbath. Anyone who tried to hoard it found that “it bred worms and became foul.”
Jesus is here to resurrect us into presence, to remind us to trust the process we have signed onto – if we have indeed signed on. Only then are we invited to stand on the Rock.