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Head and hands

by davesandel on May 10th, 2020

Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 10, 2020            (today’s lectionary)

 

Head and hands

Their widows were being neglected. But the apostles did not want to neglect the word of God “to serve at table.” And they chose seven reputable men to do this so they could devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. Everyone was pleased.

I wonder if Jesus would have been pleased. “Give the people something to eat,” Jesus told his disciples, and his disciples, now “apostles,” distributed five loaves and seven fishes, and then picked up seven baskets of leftovers. Now these workmen are closeted away to pray, and rarely touch others except to heal.

We have deacons, and we have elders, we have food kitchens and we have monasteries. My favorite title for an organization is Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation, because the title acknowledges our need as individuals to participate in both.

Earlier in Acts, in the most idealistic chapter of the Bible, the apostles taught while the new believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon every soul. All who believed were together and had all things in common. They received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God. And the Lord added to their number day by day (Acts 2).

But still. I imagine the ancient rarely challenged hierarchy, white collar above blue, quickly appeared even in this God-centered commune. Too bad. And so far, nothing has changed. In one of the endless news stories about COVID-19, the reduction of janitorial staff at hospitals caused by illness was finally noticed. They are also on the “front lines,” even as they are poorly paid and universally ignored.

Eric Hoffer was a philosopher who worked for twenty years as a longshoreman in San Francisco. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1983. He wrote, “The real Antichrist is he who turns the wine of an original idea into the water of mediocrity.” Jesus turned the water into wine. Would his apostles unwittingly now turn that wine into water?

Not so fast, not so fast. But if not the apostles, then how about their disciples, or the followers of their disciples, or the followers of the followers of their disciples? As generation after generation fall further and further from the source, without the crucifixion, without even our own martyrdoms, how can I keep the wine from turning sour? How can we sing King Alpha’s song in a strange land?

I am amazed at my ability to take anything and everything for granted. A most positive take on that is, “I can get used to anything.” I’m necessarily in the center of my life, and whatever it takes for me to stay in control, stay stable, I will find it. This is not a bad thing, but it has its own set of mousetraps.

Antidote? For me, for the social worker, for the monk, for us all? I think a Rule of Life helps a lot, a simple one, a “post-it note” Rule of Life. Mine reminds me in the morning and reminds me in the evening to open the doors and take a look at my insides. See if there is any mold growing around the edges. Let some sunshine in.

Read

Write

Listen

Pray

Every

Day

Let your mercy be on us as we place our trust in you. Exalt, give thanks, chant, praise, fear him, hope for his kindness. Those are the verbs describing our activity in today’s reading from Psalm 33. The verbs for God’s work are deliver and preserve. God’s character is described with adjectives: upright, trustworthy, just, right, kind.

We say in our theologies that God is unchanging, and that he flows in and out of the difficulties of our lives with his own kind of awareness and aid. We get caught in contradictions because our time is not God’s time; therefore his thoughts are not our thoughts, and our plans can crumble quickly in the face of the unchanging nature of God’s plan.

Peter calls Jesus a living stone rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God.” This beautiful image calls on us, says Peter, to let ourselves be built into a spiritual house. Christ is the cornerstone, and we set ourselves upon him, brick by brick, and thereby discover the meaning of life, the power of Christ in our life, the joy of salvation. Settled in to our place in this spiritual house, we will no longer stumble.

Of course we are not easily settled into a brick-like formation, because we aren’t really rocks. Jesus didn’t say, “In my house are many bricks, and you are one of them.” And in truth we slither off the altar time after time, at least I do. But that’s why a Rule of Life matters so much. Every day, whether as a brick or a slitheren, my life is meant to announce the praises of Him who called me out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Jesus did say, In my Father’s house are many mansions, and I go to prepare a place for you, for YOU, just for you.

Don’t try to do this for yourself, David. Slither on back here, slide up back onto the altar and settle yourself. Cross your hands. Breathe again and again, your mind will become quiet, and joy will come in the morning. It’s not all bad to be a brick.

Let the beauty of the Lord our God come upon us and establish the work of our hands for us. Oh, yes! Establish the work of our hands.

Neither he who plants nor he who waters, but only God, who makes things grow.

I pastured the flock marked for slaughter, especially those afflicted. And I took two staffs, one called Beauty and Favor, the other Union. (Zechariah 11:7)

Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

The steps of a man are ordered by the Lord and he delights in it.

I run in the path of your commands for you have set my heart free.

 

The word of the Lord.       (Acts 6, Psalm 33, 1 Peter 2, John 14)

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One Comment
  1. Susan Jakoby permalink

    Yesterday, my pastor, Miriam, spoke about Mary and Martha – Luke 10. And that story has bugged me since I was a little girl. (Stay with me, this does relate to your post.) I was taught that Mary was the good guy in that story and Martha was the less good guy. Basically, Mary loved Jesus more. But our rule of life back then was clearly Martha’s. Namely, “get off your butt and do something productive.” That contradiction always bothered me, and I’ve said multiple times in women’s ministry conferences and discussions: “Yeah, but if you have a house full of company, someone has to make lunch.” And I’ve never heard anything more satisfying than: “Yes, well, it was Jesus – man can’t live on bread alone.” As if they wouldn’t have fed Jesus if he sat in their kitchen. At least once a week, my grandma wouldn’t let the mailman go off empty handed, and the mailbox was thirty yards from her house. But she taught my second grade Sunday school class that focusing on Jesus was more important than anything else – even school, even work – with a straight face.

    But Miriam had it right. Martha’s sin wasn’t the work, and it’s possible Mary should have gotten up to help. And it’s possible Lazarus should have gotten up to help. But Martha’s problem was exactly her martyrdom – her comparison of herself to her sister. Her problem was her failure to take joy in her God-given competence and gift for hospitality. I don’t think she really considered what role God played in her rule of life. And maybe Mary was just lazy or boy-crazy. Who knows? But Jesus seemed to perceive more of God in her rule of life.

    So the apostles play Mary in today’s reading. (Told you I’d get there.) They choose the “one thing,” over “being distracted by all the preparations that have to be made.” And now, today, I’m putting the stories together in my mind and wondering about their motivation. In general, I think their hearts were in the right place, and if the deacons accepted their role as vital and God-given, they probably had a healthy, holy rule of life too. But don’t you figure at least a few deacons took the job thinking it was a stepping stone to the really important job? I wonder. So putting the stories together, my rule of life – at least my intention – will be:
    pray to get thankful

    pray to figure out what’s mine to do

    pray to check for resentment and figure out why

    repent

    get off my butt and do something productive

    repeat

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