Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Hypocrites & Church or Hypocritical Church?


When I was growing up, the critiques I heard most often of church were that the church was a hypocritical place and that so and so could not be a part of an institution that was inherently hypocritical. Most of the time, these critics had nothing more to say other than that Jesus told us to help the poor and instead we were busy maintaining shrubbery and fixing leaky toilets.  Or sometimes people would mention how Christians were not very Christian—I remember one Catholic friend telling me that as soon as the Mass ended there were people swearing at each other as they tried to jockey their cars in the line out of the parking lot. Nothing like going in peace to love and serve the Lord... Now how Christian is that she asked me? But, not once did anybody cite the passage about the Pharisees that we are offered today.

mark warns us explicitly about religious leaders who use their authority for notoriety and abuse of the vulnerable that the Gospel and the whole witness of Scripture heeds us to care for and protect. In fact, one commentator remarks that the use of the commas makes it look like all Pharisees are guilty of walking in long robes and have the best seats in the synagogue and devour widows’ houses.  Rather, the text should be read as beware of those particular scribes who are guilty of walking in long robes and have the best seats in the synagogues and devour widows’ houses.  I believe this is an important distinction as this reading indicates that not all the religious leaders behaved in that way.  But for those religious leaders who did behave in this way, Jesus has a sharp condemnation. However, when we read this passage without those commas, it also reminds us that the scribes are not those people over there, very far removed, from us. Rather, the passage reminds us that any one of us can slip into the habit of wearing long robes and devouring widows’ homes in the name of our faith.  Any of us can slip into the habit of being hypocrites.

And yet, I think there is a distinction between the broad strokes of hypocrisy and the specific type of religious hypocrisy that Jesus is referencing here.  None of us can live in this society without a degree of hypocrisy. Do you care about children in developing countries?  Yes, well do you wear clothes made from Old Navy in a sweat shop?  Do you care about a sustainable environment? Do you drive a car to work?Some may call this hypocrisy or another word for this would be structural sin. Any human being, and any Christian for that matter, needs to have a robust understanding of sin. If we know that in addition to sins that we commit as a matter of our ongoing and repeated failure to be at unity with God, we also all live with the reality of structural sin. Structural sin is a part of the sin that we participate in by virtue of our existence. And, as Christians one way we contend with that reality is by realizing our need for God.  Our whole baptismal liturgy recognizes that we must drown to self, so that we can reborn into God’s redeeming love. And by participating in a faithful vision of the church, we live with the reality that we need ongoing redemption for the brokenness of this world and this creation.

Jesus has very harsh words for religious leaders who misuse and abuse their power. As he should. But, his words are also meant to remind us that the church we proclaim is fundamentally here to restore all people to unity with God and each other.  The hypocrisy my friends have referenced is really minor when compared to missing the boat for our life with God.  It used to be that belonging to a church like the Church of the Redeemer was a prerequisite for status in the Main Line; it went hand in hand with membership at places like the Cricket Club.  And certainly there were people who treated the church like an institution that would propel them and their bloodlines into the market place where they could wear long robes and devour widows’ homes.  But, those days, according to Pew  Religion reports are largely over.  So, as we lament the loss of our prestige and our cultural authority in the present age, we are graced with great opportunities.

I think that we are given opportunities to proclaim as an authentic faith as we can.  People are learning that coming to church is not about clinging to a code of conduct, but learning how to develop a particular fidelity to God within a community. People are learning that coming to church is about worshipping God in that space beyond measured time. People are learning that coming to church is about listening for God’s nudge when it comes to remembering the widowed and the orphaned.

And I found this on a blogpost written by a fellow female priest, “Church is the place we go to be reminded of who we are and how deeply we are loved, despite our life’s circumstances. There is a balm in Gilead. And it not going to be found in the noisy onslaught of life. As a child, I learned that it was to be found on a quiet cushion-less church pew. Where I heard every week that I was a sinner saved, a lost lamb found, and a broken heart comforted.”

Our Book of Common Prayer reminds us in a very profound way that the church will never be perfect.  After all, Martin Luther famously said, “the church is a hospital for sinners.” But even without perfection the church can be a place of solace, hope, and joy.  We do not have to prove we are not hypocrites. Rather, we are reminded that in worship and prayer, we sinners become shaped into God’s holy people.

Many of you know this prayer gem from the Daily Office:

And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days…

The religious authorities of Jesus’ time were great with lip-service.  God calls us, through the church, to transform the words of our lips into the meaningful work of our lives now and into the ages of ages.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Adelaide Elected Mayor of Minionville

The second grade classes have a social studies unit on communities.  They build buildings from shoe boxes, they each choose to have a profession, they study maps and go on walking tours of our community, they learn about other communities in our area, and they name their own community and elect a mayor.

This year, Adelaide decided to run for mayor of her community. As a mayoral candidate, she had to write a campaign speech.  In addition to describing their personal attributes that would make them a good mayor, they had to also offer ideas about how to deal with a snowstorm in our town. Adelaide's campaign speech reads as follows:

I am Adelaide, and I'm smart, intelligent, and athletic. I can help you with something. It would be my pleasure. If you being bullied, I will take care of that. And if you're hurt, I will try to help you. So, if you want vote for me!

Now in response to the snow problem she writes: On TV radio, phone and newspaper, Get lots of food and warm stuff, there is going to be five feet of snow. Cancel all dinners out. Put on warm A/C in your house. Clear your chimney. Get lots of wood, so you can put on a fire. Put salt on the ground. I will use taxes to pay for this.

Having lived a childhood filled with feminist leanings, I feel so proud to hear Adelaide articulate some of her strengths--albeit spelling them all wrong. But as a grown woman, I also cringe hearing her assert herself in such confident ways.  After all, we women are not supposed to boast-- especially about ourselves ever. Yet, as I heard Adelaide begin to define herself a bit more, I saw her move from describing some attributes to seeing how she could fit into a schema in which she would have a role as a leader. And, she seemed to understand leadership comes with the responsibility of helping others.  As a mom, it is refreshing to see such a confident little girl for I know that all too soon she will be a tween and she won't feel smart, athletic, or intelligent.  I do hope that as I raise this girl into a woman, she will hold fast to understanding her God-given talents and learn to use them for the good. I also hope she will always have the chutzpah to proudly state who she is.

Sometimes I worry that life comes too easily for this kid. And, I know that's not entirely fair to her as she follows behind the one who seems to have struggled with so many things along the way. But, maybe her ease and comfort with most things she attempts will only serve to strengthen her when she encounters the inevitable tough bumps of life.

Soon Adelaide will be sworn in as mayor of Minionville; may she be up for the task.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

More Fall Visitors!

We had three soccer games, fun playing in the leaves, trying on Halloween costumes,and adorning ourselves in new pajamas with Gaga and Pop-pop this weekend. Thanks for the fun time!