Monday, August 29, 2016

"TRADITIONAL FAMILY" APPROVAL OF OTHERS: "Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

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Who's Watching Who

My former parish in Tucson was located on a very busy street where thousands of cars passed every day.  The parish had what we called a "prophetic sign," about 6 x 8 feet facing that street.  Everyone passing by could see its message, but the message was one that was meant to also challenge our parishioners to live the Gospel.  The messages over the years were "It's a Sin to build a nuclear bomb," "Jesus was a refugee," "Either we are all God's children or no one is," "Cancel the debt of the poorest nations," "Overcome evil with Good," and currently the sign is focusing on the immigration issue:  "Welcome the Stranger."

Now, as I said, all of these prophetic messages were derived from our listening to Jesus in the Gospels.  The messages "bubbled up" from the church community and then the Rector of the parish made the final decision of what would be put on the sign.  If there is a common thread running through all the messages it would be that all the peoples of the earth make up one human family brought into being by our Father in heaven.  Jesus has revealed the Father to us, others might believe another revelation, but as followers of Jesus we can still see and accept everyone as our brothers and sisters.  Maybe someday everyone may realize this, but for us it is now.

One human family.  There has been a lot of talk these many years about "traditional family values" especially in the political arena.  Candidates, usually Christian, standing up for "traditional family values" often times win their elections.  But sometimes, followers of Jesus have a hard time with this kind of rhetoric about "family values."  Why is this?  It's probably because, deep down, we feel that so-called "traditional family values" exclude certain people, who don't make the cut, so to speak, and can't really belong to the family.  When you talk family, you can't exclude anyone, especially if you see God as Father of the human family!
You see, there is a gnawing sense, when you speak about "traditional family values," which sounds so wonderful, that some aren't included in the "family" they're talking about.  Excluded are those from other cultures who hold different values than the more dominant cultures we belong to, those who are judged to be outside a "traditional" mold, and/or who are different or judged morally dificient in some way.  Traditional family values can't deal with any sort of "strangeness."

Speaking of strangeness - The theme of welcoming the stranger is found throughout the bible and underlined today in our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews:

Let mutual love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

This is part of the concluding verses of the Letter written to Jewish converts to Christianity, some of whom were frightened by growing persecution and the need to throw in their lot with strangers.  For them, their "traditional" family values were challenged to the limit.  They had to be reminded to love each other, excluding no one, and accept others/strangers as real brothers and sisters.  Following Jesus required a lot from them.  It's the same for us.  Jesus forces us to challenge our deeply held "traditional family values," with a much broader vision of the world.

This vision includes the willingness, for example, at a dinner party, to take "the last place" and be content, until we are "called up higher" by the host.  In "traditional family values," everyone kind of "knows" where certain people should sit.  The Pharisees of Jesus' day were the safe keepers of traditional "family" values.  They were always inviting Jesus into situations to see if he upheld their values, and, if he would uphold their same well-reasoned exclusions.  Jesus didn't.

Jesus saw how people tried to receive "glory" from the approval of others.  In the New Testament "glory" (doxa) in its root sense meant a person's reputation.  In a worldly sense we get our "glory," reputation, and recognition from others.  I like you and I like what you're doing.  Sounds good, and we like it, but Jesus offered an alternative way of receiving our "glory" and recognition:  from God.  Not from humans with their mutually reinforcing opinions of us, but from God, who by the way, actually has a bad reputation, being counted, in Jesus' case, with the "transgressors."  To really receive true "glory" you have to be prepared to lose the approval of others, not playing the victim, but being the victim!

So who is watching who?  The Pharisees think they are watching Jesus for some slip up, but at that dinner party, it is really Jesus watching them!  He witnesses the struggle of the guests to gain the approval and attention of others.  But, as he says, Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.  The Pharisees upheld the laws and rule of purity, based on ancient laws requiring sacrifice, and Jesus required that only one person be a victim, himself.  Jesus upheld only one rule:  the rule of love and compassion.

Jesus spoke of being in the world and not of the world.  The Good News Jesus brought frees us.  We can get our "I" from God and not the world and its opinions of us.  Jesus, counter to what many think, is suspect of what are called "traditional family values" unless everyone is included in the family.  Jesus, as we heard last week in the Gospel, came not to bring peace (as the world gives), but division (so the human family can reunite).  Jesus' way is true peace for us, living without fear of loss of reputation (doxa), seeing/treating everyone as a real brother or sister.  We've chosen to follow Jesus!  

St. Alban
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.
The Reverend John Smith, Vicar

5235-6674 cell telephone (502 country code)


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