Saturday, September 10, 2005

Katrina again

Hurricane Katrina, Biloxi

Last Saturday I posted Boundless Community intertwined with some thoughts on Katrina; here are some reflections about a couple of the RCL texts from last Sunday—a sabbath-day majorly in Katrina's wake:
Matthew 18:15-20

15 "And if your brother sins against you, go and reprove him, just between the two of you. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' [Deuteronomy 19:15] 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses to hear even the church, let him be to you like a gentile and a tax collector.

18 "Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you abolish on earth will have been abolished in heaven.

19 "Again truly I say to you, if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in the midst of them."

Romans 13:8-14

8 Owe no one anything else except to love one another, for anyone who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not covet," [Exodus 20:13-15, 17; Deuteronomy 5:17-19, 21] and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this word, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." [Leviticus 19:18] 10 Love does no evil to a neighbor; therefore love fulfills the law.

14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and give no thoughts to gratifying the aimless desires of your flesh.
Put on the Lord Jesus Christ! From Paul himself we know our baptismal clothing is Jesus' death and Christ's resurrection, leading to the demise of our false, unconnected selves and subsequent living in the reconciled community that in Christ Jesus is born, lives, breathes and keeps on dying and rising for the life of others—both in our own nearby communities (church, neighborhood, family, school, workplace) and those others geographically distant and/or culturally faraway from wherever we are, others we've never met and possibly never will meet. Paul insists we owe, we "ought" the love of Christ to every one another; the extravagantly unbounded love for us God demonstrated in Christ Jesus obliges us to return that love to every person we encounter and to all creation. Within the church community and in our imagined more-private interactions, love becomes the energetic power flowing through our community and keeping us joined together in the Spirit—maybe especially in times of discord and disagreement.

Paul compares love for others to a debt - an ought that we owe them - and summarizes all the commandments into one single directive: Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. To understand the obligatory nature of a debt and the ensuing fallout when we don't attend to repaying that obligation, a person does not need to have reached anything resembling chronological maturity. In the Bible's economy and worldview, sin and debt essentially are synonymous.

Via Matthew, God calls upon us (the church, yep, we are the church!) carefully to care for one another radically and graciously, even vis-à-vis—especially in the face of—sin, offense or disagreement; Matthew tells us, the church, to begin by privately addressing the person with whom they are in conflict, next to seek impartial mediators [probably members of the church's governing board] to help resolve the situation, and then, it sounds as if the entire congregation needs to intervene. Matthew quotes Jesus' pledge that his gracious, loving presence will be the power reconciling and uniting the two, the three - or the many - gathered together. The Matthean text disparagingly mentions "gentiles and tax collectors," but that reference probably did not come from Jesus of Nazareth; most likely it's Matthew the former tax-collector's gloss regarding interactions and conflicts within his own local church. By the way, Matthew is the only gospel-writer who uses the term "church," or ecclesia!

Both of these passages are about maintaining the fragile-appearing web of connectivity among church members, and I'd definitely carry it through to the entire world (right now in particular I'm thinking of New Orleans, Mississippi, Alabama and the entire Gulf Coast region), since our Father-God, Christ Jesus the Son and our brother, in the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit connect, reconcile and enable our interresponsibility for one another and for all creation. But for us - particularly in the churches of the Reformation, who tend to live as intellectual people of the Enlightenment, too often acting and thinking as "individuals" more than we do as members of community - what about the inevitable strain between perceived individual rights and necessary local and global community solidarity?

The dialogue partners in The Gospel in Solentiname, my favorite gospel commentary, propose regarding this text,
  • "The publicans or tax collectors were the ones who collaborated with the Roman occupation, and the religious Jews considered them excluded from the Jewish community just like the pagans. But here Jesus isn't concerned with religious questions. He's saying that if somebody does evil and doesn't reform he ought to be excommunicated from the community. The unjust person (and not the person of another religion), that's the one that ought to be considered by us as 'pagan' or 'publican.'"
  • "Which is like saying the oppressor or the collaborator of the oppressor. ...He has removed himself from the community. He's outside, but we have to fight to get him back in."
  • "For Christ the ones who don't believe in God are the ones who don't love their neighbor, the ones who don't want to live in harmony with their companions."
  • ..."You mustn't accuse anyone to the police judge in San Carlos. It's the community that must judge."
I tell you the truth; what you tie in this world will be tied also in heaven, and what you untie in this world will be untied in heaven."
  • "This means that everything the community decides will be ratified by God. ...all of us here are in agreement, God's also in agreement with us. ... You could almost say they're like the three Divine Persons. And the three Divine Persons are like a single true God. And the three persons who are in agreement would be three who are united with God." ...

    "The people's verdict is the verdict of God, says Christ."

    "...And Christ is there with them even though they don't realize it."
Because wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
  • "...in the language of the Bible 'name' doesn't mean the name of a person but the person himself, or also what we now call the character of a person. When Christ speaks of gathering in his name he doesn't mean that they're going to be mentioning his name but that they'll be gathered in his spirit, in agreement with his teachings and his message. That community will have such great power because he will be in the midst of them."
  • from The Gospel in Solentiname, volume 3, pages 152-158
Back to Katrina for a moment: within our own local churches, sometimes the air is so thick with irresolution and conflict, newcomers and visitors actually can feel the tension, so they drop out very quickly. The last section in the post I linked to at the beginning of this one includes:
God mightily acts to overcome the division between our old, solitary, disconnected existence and our new lives in the fullness of community. Baptism obliterates the boundaries and the unimportant distinctions between us and God and between us and every other facet of creation, human and not.

...because of our irrevocably entwined lives, Katrina's wounded and broken are all of us, and the responsibility of every one of us, but especially those of us who live in Jesus Christ as The Church, who every day live aware we are the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. God calls us, and in the Spirit God empowers us, to be a crucified and resurrected presence among all people and all creation. As the Church and the churches, may we be, live and act as God calls us and the Spirit enables us: to be his presence, to live in trust and to act in compassion!
Long, long ago, I read, reread and then read over again, I and Thou by Martin Buber. I don't know if the words are from that book, or maybe they were on a poster I once owned or noticed in a gallery, but the quote is from Buber:

Love is the responsibility of an I for a thou.

Speaking of posters, maybe some of my readers know about the Benedictine Conception Abbey's Printery House? At once point in time I owned a bunch of them, but most poignantly a couple remain stuck in my memory: the first, with a quote from Harvey Cox, "Not to decide is to decide"—that one hung on the wall in my kitchen in Boston's North End, and when a mini-flood trickled down the wall from the kitchen above mine, it kind of like soaked the poster, which I decided wasn't in sufficiently optimal condition to take with me to my next sojourn in time and space. I have no clue what happened to the other, which featured a train whirring through the night on its way to wherever; that one read, "Life is a journey, not a destination." So much for asides!

Continuing about Katrina: I cannot say more than endlessly to reiterate that all of us form a single created and redeemed community and to wonder at the non-humanness of the Federal government's leadership and also wonder if part of it is not sheer ignorance? When I heard folks locally and on TV ask why the literally left-behind in the city - transformed from site of civilization into situation of devastation - by Katrina's wrath did not heed counsel to get out of town, I had to believe the people who asked that question were by no means uncompassionate or generally ignorant but they did not realize that too many Americans cannot jump into their SUV or related trophy vehicle, gas up and flee from the path of whatever physical or metaphorical storm that's about to hurtle into their territory because they lack the financial, psychological or whatever resources to do so.

Love is the responsibility of an I for a thou.

This blog began about last Sunday's lectionary texts...how can it be possible for any of us to bear and live out our responsibilities for each- and one-another? For all of us to live in community, thriving as citizens of a planet increasingly interconnected but also more and more fragmented in close to every imaginable way, we all must learn to perceive others' situations and needs as they really are. Is it possible for any of us to move beyond stereotypes and assumptions? You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

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