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5th Sunday of Easter, Year B
May 6, 2012
May 6, 2012
Psalm 22:26-28, 30-32
1 John 3:18-24
Have you ever been “the new kid on the block” (age aside) in your new neighborhood, town or workplace, at school, even church, or other environment?
No one knows you as the person you really are, nor are you recognized for any achievements, and your identity is little known. Why, you’re practically anonymous!
Who among us hasn’t experienced a situation like that at some time? For various reasons, you need to establish a presence and credibility. For now, it is zero, zip, and zilch!
Ouch! That can be painful, unless you prefer to remain in the background.
But for any who desire to accomplish something, dependable relationships often need to be established and developed. You need to prove yourself, show what you can do, relate who you are, reveal what you’re made of, exhibit character, and so on.
And that takes time, perhaps years, and that requires patience. (Recall that people didn’t know who Jesus was either!)
Now, imagine arriving with a reputation that’s unacceptable by those in that new place. Imagine how the apostle Paul (formerly known as Saul) felt when he was a relatively newborn Christian going to Jerusalem for his first time.
In our reading from Acts, we’ll hear, “When Saul arrived in Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple” (Acts 9:26).
Not believing that he, of all people, was a disciple?! His presence practically terrified other faithful Christians who knew of him only as a persecutor of Christians.
Oh really. Yet here was a man who was profoundly changed by his encounter with the risen Jesus Christ. Here was a man who would be so esteemed in two thousand plus years into our own times. They just didn’t know.
It took but one fellow Christian, Barnabas, well-known in that Christian community, to verify Paul’s credibility with the Apostles and the disciples.
Now protected by the community and freed from their former, severe judgment, Paul could circulate easily among his brothers in Christ. Paul held on to his trust in that place and in those disciples even though he was rejected at first.
Paul had never personally heard Jesus proclaim, “I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you” (John 15:5), but that is exactly what Paul did.
He remained in Jesus, his vine, trusting, despite whatever outcomes that meant for his life. How difficult that can be for us, to trust in outcomes whatever they may be. We don’t have a crystal ball and neither did he.
His strength was in Christ, but also in allowing the “branches” to be his refuge for a time. His strength came from, well, “remaining,” not only remaining in Christ, but remaining in community.
Paul did not disown his community for its momentary error.
Union with Jesus Christ and his community, the Church, protects us and frees us to move on. We need that kind of strength. Remain in Him. Trust. Be patient...be free... but remain in community.
Jesus recognizes who you are — his child — age aside.
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Reaction to the Trayvon Martin shooting
When I first became aware of the Trayvon Martin shooting, I signed the petition circulating the Internet. As the petition indicated, I was concerned about the way Martin’s shooting death was being handled.
At the least, the circumstances of the shooting warranted further investigation. A native Floridian, I grew up near Sanford. The Trayvon Martin killing felt close to home. I paid attention early on.
I was disturbed when Martin’s attire and background (his wearing a hoodie and having been suspended from school) were brought up as a way to create doubt about Martin.
Would details like that suggest Martin was responsible for his own death? If so, then my own son as a teenager fit that profile.
Except, of course, my son is white.
While I didn’t know if Zimmerman’s story was accurate, I didn’t trust it. George Zimmerman clearly disobeyed the authorities by confronting Martin. Why not follow their instructions to stay in his car?
And why use a gun, shooting to kill, when his teen victim was unarmed, carrying snacks he purchased from a nearby store?
I was greatly relieved to learn that the state’s district attorney decided to charge George Zimmerman with second degree murder in the killing of Trayvon.
Watching the press conference, I was moved by the response of Angela Corey, the district attorney who decided to charge Zimmerman, and the demeanor and comments of Martin’s attorney and family. While not a fan of Rev. Al Sharpton, I give him credit for his part in the press conference. He acknowledged that, although he’d been initially skeptical, he came to realize that party affiliation didn’t affect the search for justice.
A Republican governor showed compassion and intervened on behalf of the Martin family, and a decision was reached, not because of public pressure, but because the renewed investigation proved to warrant that George Zimmerman be charged.
As a country, we are at our best when we are brought together in the interest of pursuing what is socially right and good. If we can put aside our prejudices and our biases and allow truth to enter in, we are able to work together for good.
Too often we are quick to judge one another. Too often we base our opinions on fear and distrust.
While we cannot learn the outcome of the trial for some time to come, we can learn from what has transpired up to now. Here are the lessons, as I see them:
1) Innocent young black men are at risk of being targeted as criminals and troublemakers. Imagine if your teenage son was deemed a threat solely because of the color of his skin.
Those of us who cannot relate to this experience at least have an obligation to be sensitive to the experience of black men who do. For more about what that’s like, read the article “Black Men in Public Space” by Brent Staples. First published in Harper’s Magazine in 1986, the article rings as true as ever. It can be found easily through an Internet search.
2) Vigilante justice is dangerous and should never be encouraged. Neighborhood watches all over the country need to use this case as an example of what not to do when suspicious of an individual.
We should always rely on the law enforcement to pursue suspects when no one is imminently threatened. And white people should pause to remember that a person’s skin color or ethnicity doesn’t make him dangerous.
Strangers in a neighborhood are simply strangers, not criminals.
3) A proliferation of weapons and some bad laws (Stand Your Ground, most obviously) make our streets less safe. The tired line “guns don’t kill people; people kill people” is an empty argument. People with guns kill people. To compare, automobiles don’t kill people.
But people with automobiles kill people. Because they can be dangerous in the wrong hands or used irresponsibly, we have laws restricting access to automobiles – by children, by drunks, by the unlicensed and untrained, by people who don’t carry insurance.
We have safety regulations, traffic laws, speed limits, and seatbelt laws. More regulated than guns, automobiles are not designed to shoot and kill, yet guns are.
Why do we continue to allow the National Rifle Association and its powerful lobby to compromise the safety of our citizens, our children?
4) Finally, we can learn that political persuasion, socio-economic status, and race don’t have to create divisions between us. When it comes to safety, justice, and truth, all people of good will can unite to bring about change.
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Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit
In today’s economy, I doubt few families have gone untouched by the current unemployment situation and ours is no exception.
Within the past six months, one of our sons-in-law and one of our sons had been let go from previous jobs. In both cases it had been unexpected since they had been getting high performance reviews.
Fortunately both were well connected in their respective communities and found better jobs than they had been forced to leave, but that still meant dealing with a period of uncertainty during the transition period.
Last week during a mini-family reunion in the mountains of North Carolina, the two men were discussing what it was like for them during that period of unemployment.
Although both had received support from family, friends, and colleagues reassuring them that with their skills, they would find a job quickly, they found little comfort in the words.
While they knew the assurances offered were genuine and well intentioned, by their own admission, they did little to raise their confidence level.
Until each had a job contract securely in hand, they remained conflicted and doubtful about their future, even as they tried to remain hopeful.
Now, as they looked back on the experience, they both agreed that being let go had been a good thing since both are much happier in their new jobs.
As they toasted their future, the description of their experiences stayed with me and this morning as I read a passage from the book, “Sounding Solitude,” it once again came to mind.
In writing about the solitude of loss, the author, Sister Mary Paul Cutri, OCD explained that an experience of loss gives us a glimpse into our own innate poverty. She went on to note that it’s easy to shun our personal poverty. We tend to hide behind our talents, creativity, intelligence and imagination.
We are, after all, very gifted people, but unless we attribute our giftedness to God, we are at risk of falling prey to a culture that equates a person’s worth with their ability to produce.
Once those gifts, which are based on productivity, are called into question, we come face to face with our personal poverty. Unless we seek wholeness in God, self-confidence that was based on personal talent is easily threatened.
In that case it is little wonder that reassurances from others fall short. External voices cannot compete with our interior voice which reminds us that we cannot always control the events of our life and that we may not be as capable as people think we are.
Life’s struggles remind us of our inherent poverty, but this need not be a source of discouragement for people of faith. When we fully embrace our dependence on God, we can also accept and even embrace our limitations since they no longer pose a threat to our sense of well-being.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.” We see this in the person of Job, who, when he lost everything, placed his trust in God regardless of the circumstances or what other voices were telling him.
The weekend before he was about to begin his new job, our son David was visiting us and called my mother to thank her for her prayers. As soon as she heard he was out of a job, she began storming heaven on his behalf, and that’s another thing about poverty of spirit.
Sometimes our energies may be so depleted or otherwise directed that even prayer becomes difficult and so we need to lean on the strength of others, even depending on their prayers if we are no longer able to pray.
Much like the sick who depend on care givers to get them through the day, it is helpful for those who are wading through the waters of grief and loss, suffering or personal deprivation to own their own inability to pray and lean on the strength of others, understanding that we are all in communion as the family of God.
In truth, not only do we need God, but we need one another. Often we do this without even being aware of the deeper significance.
To become poor in spirit is a process that weaves its way through life’s tragedies, and therefore is a grace that often goes unrecognized.
How fortunate we are that life provides multiple opportunities to instruct us in the ways of God. Both David’s and Kirk’s job searches resulted in happy endings, but that’s not always the case.
Things don’t always work out as we had hoped, as when a loved one dies or disaster strikes and yet, each situation invites us to recognize our personal poverty and come to a deeper appreciation of what it means to be poor in spirit.
And... to become poor in spirit is to become the beauty that God sees in us, based not on what we do, but on who we become in the process.
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