Saturday, February 08, 2014

War and Peace; Our Choice

Let Your Light Shine

The choice between war and peace is always before us. Which will we choose today?

In today's Gospel, Jesus says; 
“You are the salt of the earth
You are the light of the world.
Let your light so shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
~Matthew 5:13-25

And in today's first lesson, the prophet says;
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.”
~Isaiah 58:6-8

The biblical narrative consistently connects the inner light and our radiance in the world, to the manner in which we treat those among us who happen to be in want or in need. And so it is, that when talking of fasting and prayer, the prophetic tradition and Jesus see that our faith and our servant ministry become inextricably bound up together. So shall our light shine into this dark world.

On Tuesday of this week, the New York Times published an article by Roy Hoffman, a journalist and novelist from Fairhope, Alabama. He writes of a time he found himself jogging. He has done well in life, has known of life’s joys and sorrows, has a good job, and a great family. He is in good health. And here is what he wrote.

“On this day, I sprint up a hill and come to a promontory looking out to the sweep of the bay, the horizon red and orange, and another impulse comes up in me. It is not enough to take a photo, call a friend, jot a line in my notebook, be philosophical. Like the light, the feeling is orchestral, a welling-up of emotion. I want to speak in a way that used to be easy for me as a child: silently, intensely, embracing the mysteries.
I want to pray.”

He had become a casualty of the national trend of newspaper layoffs and found himself on the religious beat and even against his doubt and skepticism, he found himself increasingly fascinated by the world of faith, until one day he rediscovered his own. He had been a rebellious youth and renounced his father’s faith. He rebelled against authority in many forms as a youth. But now he had grown older and more aware of his own vulnerability and yes, his mortality. He began to look at life a bit differently and began to wonder more about the mystery of it all.

He had seen faith divide people like a cudgel. But he also saw faith bring people together such as in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti when every church, synagogue and mosque in town came together in a united prayer service to raise funds for those in need. He began to see the value of what we in the world of faith do day in and day out to make a difference in this old, dark world.

He began to see the light shine such as the prophets speak of in the holy writings. And then one day he found himself at prayer. It was essentially a silent prayer, but when he put words to it he found himself tracing the intricacies of his inmost heart. This was his prayer.

“Dear God, Whatever we call you
Wherever we find you
in the laughter of our children
the tenderness of our parents
the strength of our brothers and sisters and friends
the closeness of our companions and husbands and wives. 
In the arc of the pelican
the leap of the mullet, 
the perfect sunny day
or incoming storm
In whatever ways we understand you, 
in a church or synagogue or mosque, 
or on a beach beneath a starry sky, 
we offer gratitude for this day.”

It is a profound human impulse to worship, to pray, and to fast. Often it is on a long walk with the dog or for the more hale sorts among us when out jogging, we become aware of the bite of the wind, and our breath making ghosts in the air, and something deep within us makes us aware of the mystery of it all.

And then it goes to a growing appreciation to an ages long connection we have with those ancient rituals that gather us together as they have for millennia. The reading of holy writings, the singing of ancient songs, the breaking of the bread, the drinking of wine. We cozy up at the altar as one people, we brush up against one another and listen to ancient words and our heartbeats connecting us now to the heart of God.

The noun “worship” means “a feeling or expression of reverence and adoration of a deity”. The verb similarly references “ a show of reverence or adoration of a deity; to honor a deity with religious rites.”

The very idea that God needs us to tell him or her how good s/he is, misses the mark to me. Why would God need us for that? We are merely creatures created in God’s image, male and female, the scripture says, he made us and thank God for that! ~Genesis 5:2
But what does it mean to be created in the image of God? It certainly doesn’t mean we look like God.The Catechism says; “It means that we are free to make choices: to love, to create, to reason, and to live in harmony with creation and with God.” ~The Catechism, page 845, Book of Common Prayer. 

Thus when we come together for worship, we come to learn, to listen, to rehearse the ancient rites of the church and not so much to tell God how good God is, we come to understand how good God wants us to become.

We come here first to confess, and give ourselves the chance to be honest to God about who we are. The degree to which that honesty rings true will determine the degree to which God can then forgive us. Likewise as we confess to one another the truth of who we are to one another. God is then able to effect the essential salve of reconciliation which makes the present and the future possible among us. The work of reconciliation helps us to choose peace over war. It is a ministry we must never flag in pursuingThus you and I respond to love God and one another, which is the whole of the Law and the Prophets summed or as Jesus said; “Love God. Love one another.”

It is noteworthy that the New York Times would become interested in religion once again. After all, years ago, many of our great dailies dropped the religion section. Now we have headlines, the world, the nation, metro, business, sports, the obits, and the comics. No religion section? Just the occasional article? Maybe a bit piece on Saturday in our town papers? 

Do you think we’re missing something here? When religion is mishandled, dreadful things can happen. Religion in the wrong hands is a very dangerous thing. No doubt religious warfare or jihad can cost thousands upon thousands of lives. We are part and parcel of the darkness of religion in our own national experience in the thousands who died on 9/11 and the hundreds of thousands who died in the two wars we’ve waged since in the subsequent fourteen years. Killing in the name of God is the ultimate blasphemy, the ultimate darkness.

The times in which we live are not all that different from other times, other epochs in human history. The sad chronicle of religious warfare is well documented.

But Jesus said; “you are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world.
Let your light so shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

It is how we handle our faith in bringing us together as one people, a whole smorgasbord of color, texture, type and taste. Yes, we are a kaleidoscope of creation. God delights in us. It is God’s call to us to shine with this very light in every color of God’s rainbow.

You are doing exactly that. Stay on message, my friends. Shine on with the Light of Christ.

God bless you all,
Fr Paul

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