Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sidelines, onlookers, and meditants

Looking for the readings for Sunday July 14, 2013?

Find them right here

If you ever happen to visit an Episcopal Church for worship, and have been in Christian worship in other protestant denominations, there is something in our ritual which you may not expect. Don't worry, no snakes involved. Nothing bizarre or strange, at least not according to my range of experience. But there are movements and processions which carry meaning to those who gather.

The form and order of our Sunday liturgy, which is found in the Book of Common Prayer is a service of both Word and Table. Every week, unless an unusual situation exists in the congregation. The readers of the lessons (Old Testament and New Testament) are members of congregation. This is a ministry fulfilled by the laity, both female and male. Typically the readers come forward to the lectern to read and then return to their seats within the congregation. What I think you would be quite surprised by, if you first came into the church via another protestant denomination or independent congregation is the following: When the Gospel lesson is read, the reader, either a deacon or the priest, will "process" to the center of the congregation. High ceremony is to have a Crucifer lead the process, two torch bearers carrying lit candles, another person to carry the Gospel Book elevated high, and the Deacon/Priest following. The symbolism of this process seems quite obvious to me but I won't assume you already get it. So here is what it means to me. 1) This procession acknowledges the importance of the Gospel, our center or, as some professors of homiletic are fond of saying, our canon within the canon. 2) It also literally helps the congregation focus on the incarnation as present reality. Within our worship community, at the center, we can imagine Christ being "in our midst". The life of Jesus as handed down through scripture, is God's way of continually revealing Godself and speaking to us in the present age. Gods' word moves amongst us.

One other thing you might be surprised at, is the brevity of the act of preaching in most Episcopal Churches. Typically 12- to 15 minutes, and most focus on the Gospel.

The readings for this week are all wonderful words worth spending time reflecting on. I may even make time to write on more than one this week. But for now, let's read, mark and inwardly digest the Gospel for this Sunday, July 14, 2013. It is a familiar passage for most Christians. and often also referred to in our American secular culture.

"Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, `Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."  Luke 10:25-37

Yes, this is the story of the Good Samaritan. It's the ancient text that informs the concept of the Good Samaritan Law. The idea that one has a duty to respond to someone injured and in return is offered protection under lawsuit for the actions that are performed in good faith.

One of the ways in which I use scripture as a spiritual practice is  to look at a Gospel passage to imagine the cast of characters. I meditate upon the word as a living drama, unfolding across time and ask God's guidance in placing myself within the story in some way. This process is modeled after a form of Spirituality devised by Ignatius of Loyola. [You might want to learn more about Ignatian Spirituality. It can be practiced in community or with one other to guide you in the meditation, as you begin this spiritual practice. ]

So, this week I have been marking this story using that practice.

Here is what I noticed as I did so.

There are two casts: There is the interaction cast, and the parable cast. You might be guided to become a member in either of these stories. You might even find you move from one place of imagination to the next, moving deeper into the enfolded story.
The Scene: 
Jesus : Jesus
Lawyer :lawyer
casual observers- people surrounding the interaction (HOW MANY?)
disciples also surrounding

The Parable Cast
Victim :A man
Priest :a priest
Levite :a Levite
Samaritan Traveler :Samaritan
Innkeeper :innkeeper

Using the imaginative process you may find yourself in the shoes of any one of the characters. Even Jesus. Ignatian Spirituality presents a request for guidance from the Holy Spirit to help one imagine which of the characters would be most instructive to the individual for spiritual growth and self-discovery. Entering into the process of this reading can be immediately fulfilling, or any range of emotions.

This week this passage really irks me. I realize, as I entered into the story that it evokes frustration when I look at the news of the current week.

I hope, that if I go into the details it will not forever shut down our relationship, cyber though it may only be,  because the frustration is a reflection upon the national politics regarding benefits (aka "entitlement" programs) to assist those at margins of economic stability.I'm also really frustrated with the outcomes of the Zimmerman Trial.

Lawyers :-(
Legislators aka Rule Makers { a Levite}

I personally feel like a bystander - a fairly powerless bystander at the moment.
I want to know where is God in this unfolding story of my life of politic and citizen responsibility, and what am I to do to correct this sense of powerlessness.

To heck with the question "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

I'm not worried about entering heaven, because I already know within myself what my relationship is with God. God's grace has already answered that question.

What I want to know is what can I do to proclaim and fulfill the unfolding and spreading of the Kingdom of God here and now? 

People I don't personally know ( are they "Samaritan" or "fellow citizen"?) are being left to go without. The measure that I see Jesus putting before this "lawyer" is a measure of compassion. Jesus invokes the relationship of God to all creation as the measure of who is one's neighbor. Mercy and compassion are the standards of care. Jesus didn't say anywhere in that story that the Samaritan checked to see if he might be repaid for the expenses incurred. The Samaritan pledges his own resources to care for the victim on the road.

But what seemed to be true in the story then seems to be true still today. The lawyer was looking for a way to do the least amount necessary. Could that be why, the latest Pew research shows lawyers are perceived as contributing the least to society?

The question the Lawyer placed before Jesus seemed so important at the beginning, but actually all the lawyer wanted to do was try to trip up Jesus. A device used in courts; seek clarification. But Jesus will not let that be the result of that exchange, so I also prayer, yes PRAY, that God doesn't let be the final result in the present day.

So, for me, as I've marked and meditated, inwardly digested the content of this passage, I'm left with questions and not solid answers for the present. I feel myself caught in the background of the story not yet capable of being engaged in the full work of caring and tending.

Where are you in the story?

Are you left feeling more uncertain than certain about the entire subject of "inheriting eternal life"?

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