Monday, February 6, 2012

When You Get in Bed With The Devil…

Roman Catholic bishops and institutions have in the last several months vocally opposed the new mandates from the administration in implementing the new healthcare law.

As currently crafted the policy would mandate Catholic universities, hospitals, and charities to provide insurance for their employees covering contraception. This, say church leaders, is a conflict pitting law against church teaching and conscience, which they see as a violation of their religious freedom.

James Carney , press secretary for the White House states the government’s position clearly; In a recent press briefing he is quoted as saying;
“The administration believes that this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious beliefs and increasing access to important preventive services…”.
Catholic leaders in letters to be read by every priest at weekend celebrations see the mandate in a different light to be sure! It is a government intrusion into their religious liberty! Among other things the letter states;
"Never before has the government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience."
Let me be clear on this! As a Christian in a free society I do not agree that the government should dictate policies that force religious institutions to go against their deeply held beliefs! As an Episcopalian, contraception for me is a matter of personal choice, one which many Catholic women choose despite their church’s doctrinal stance. However, it is one thing to disagree with your church’s teaching on a subject matter, quite another for the government to seem to infringe on a religious institutions right to practice their faith and do business accordingly.

Many years ago, when working with a particular church community which desired to open a safe house for families in transition, the pastor and leadership of that community rejected federal grants that would have made it easier for that project to be accomplished! Even as I voiced my complete opposition to that stance, someone made clear their position with the words;
“…when you go to bed with the devil, you may wake up scorched…”.
The concern in that story was that money from the government comes with strings attached! To this small church, even though engaged in a purely social program, there was a risk of their mission being compromised or restricted by accepting funds from a government agency.

It was hard to see then, but seems a lot clearer now! I do not see the governement as the devil,but clearly there are times the imperatives of a given administration can come into conflict with the tenets of a religious community! Catholic institutions have accepted money from the government to fund part of their charitable endeavors, now there are demands placed on how they exercise their mission!

It is a sad day when a religious institution has to choose between its deeply held beliefs and its mission in order to comply with a government mandate! Hopefully the administration will relax its rules and allow religious institutions to be exempted. On the other hand, churches may need to bite the bullet and to be true to mission and faith , forgo government funds altogether. The ability they have to offer services to those in need will be limited but there will certainly be less risk of …waking up scorched!



Sunday, February 5, 2012

Jesus comes to Capernaum

Jesus is at Capernaum with his disciples and, when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue to worship.

I wonder if the synagogue was a little bit fuller that day as happens in churches where there is a guest speaker, especially one who is new and a bit controversial? Maybe some of the curious among the Jews of Capernaum, who were not frequent attended decided to come. Others may have hear Jesus teach or seen the miracles that he performed. Then again, maybe some of the usual Sabbath attendees decided to stay away that day! They had to time for the horde of newcomers nor were in the mood to listen to a carpenter turned preacher! Specially someone of such bad repute; after all it was said that he hung around the worst classes of people, tax collectors, loose women, and ill educated fishermen. For some perhaps this was just a regular day of rest. They were not too in tune with the gossip of the town, their lives were busy enough! There was little time to mind religious matters as they went about the business of living and working! They would not have noticed nor recognized the young rabbi and his followers ! Yet, on this Sabbath Jesus accompanied by his closest followers enters into the synagogue, the place of gathering, the place of worship!

How would it be for us if this was the synagogue at Capernaum that received Jesus on that morning? What kind of welcome he would find? Would he be noticed in our gatherings? Would he find a friendly face, a smile and a gesture of welcome? Would we welcome his presence?

It is said among Christians that Christ, comes to us often in guises we do not recognize, and, that as we receive and welcome a child, we welcome him! As we extend our hand of greeting to the needy, the friendless , the rejected we welcome him! It is said when we receive someone in the name of Christ that He is welcomed and that as two or three gather in his name , He is right there in the midst of them!

Are we conscious of the presence of Jesus here on this day of gathering and worship? Are we conscious of him in the faces and hearts of our brothers and sisters gathered here, are we conscious of his ever present Spirit when we, leaving all behind focus our attention on His nearness? Are we conscious of His presence as we handle his very body and blood around the Table this morning? Do we welcome that presence, that person, the person of Jesus Christ the Lord?

I would love to say that it is always the case that we welcome Christ in our midst! However, growing up in church I have seen otherwise on more than one ocassion! I remember going to a very large church, famous for its worship and miracles, and to my dismay found all seats had been reserved! As I looked around aimlessly contemplating whether I should leave, I was rescued by a kindly lady who offered me the seat at her side…alas it was another visitor, a Presbyterian come to the church for the first time! The music was wonderful; people seemed to be focused on the invisible presence of God but there was little to show they cared much about the presence of God in others! Then again, we have all been to services where it seems Jesus would not be missed at all! It is a choreographed performance from beginning to end; up and down , sign of the cross, pass the peace and don’t turn around! Like going to the symphony or maybe a pub but not as fun…. Jesus could be present but He would be utterly ignored!

Jesus comes to Capernaum on a Sabbath takes his place in the worship of the day and begins to teach! Would we welcome HIs words? I love it when it says Christ teaches with authority and contrasts him with the preachers and teachers of the day! He teaches them as one as having authority, not just knowledge….! It is interesting that the apostle Paul in the portion from Corinthians read this morning speaks about the difference between knowledge and love…;knowledge puffs up, love builds up! The Scribes and religious teachers of the day had a lot of knowledge about the requirements they saw in the law; Jesus had the authority which is given by love!

Of note is the fact that many of the places where it is said Jesus taught with authority are places in Scripture where He challenges the presuppositions of the religious culture of his day! Jesus challenged them and us to go beyond the mere acceptance of suppositions about religion, the memorizing of rules and rituals to a life united to God , a life of love to God and our fellow man! Christianity is not just about learning things, its not just about reminiscing about God, nor reading how once upon a time Jesus did his thing! It is about living in connection to that truth and allowing the very love of Christ to speak with authority into our lives and change us!

Where Christ is present, where his words are spoken, where his teaching plain things change!!!! I wonder what the reaction of the people in Capernaum’s synagogue was to the cry of the man oppressed by evil in their midst? Maybe it was a stranger or visitor, but more likely it was someone they knew! For us Episcopalians, maybe he was a respected member of the vestry of sung in the choir, led Bible study…yet he was a man afflicted! RELIGION HAS NO POWER TO EXPOSE DARKNESS, NOR DOES IT HAVE THE POWER OT FREE A SOUL, ONLY GOD CAN DO THAT! ONLY LOVE can do that….! Would we welcome His power?

There is no peace between Christ and all that would destroy people! Christ has come to destroy the works of the enemy! There are many places in Scripture that document the confrontation of Jesus with forces of evil!

* Woman who came to Christ to seek cure for her oppressed daughter!
* The man whose child was oppressed since infancy!
* Peter himself as he tried to dissuade Christ from his mission!
*Judas as he with betrayal in his heart took the bread from Jesus hands.


“…The devil tries to disrupt our hope in Christ and our love for Him in many ways. Inwardly he brings afflictions on the soul aided by evil spirits or he fills it with foul thoughts, or he stirs up the memory of former sins so as to make us sluggish and despair or our salvation. Or else he brings us suffering and tribulation by means of other people, but the more he does this, the more we must enkindle our hope in God…”

Jesus’ presence and words, like light in a dark place reveal and discover areas of darkness in our very souls, in our religion, in our lives; but even as we fear, wonder, despair He has the power to free us!

There are some in our postmodern societies who scoff at the idea of evil, or devils…who even as they approach the Gospel would divorce it from all what is “mystical or supernatural". Myths they say of a pre scientific era….! The poor guy at the synagogue that fateful morning was just a man with Tourettes’s syndrome, some would say! A soul caught at the wrong place at the wrong time.

I have a dear friend that wrote to me asking, why must we Christians believe in a Jesus who heals the sick who confronts the devil, who does miracles and walked on water…? How about a moral teacher come from God? My respectful answer was; sorry that is not the Jesus at the synagoge in Capernaum, it is also not the Jesus we need! I do not need another philosophy professor, nor another moral guide…! I do not need a tame , sanitized 21st century version of Jesus, whose words had to be approved by scholars! I need a guy whose words have authority and can touch me in my need!

I do not need just a friend and teacher or a role model, but a deliverer! I need a Jesus who can turn water into wine, walk on water! I need to welcome the Jesus that can face and dispel death, one that did not stay defeated in the grave…! I need the Jesus who speaks from the pages of Scripture and whose presence, words and power came to the rescue of the oppressed man in the synagogue at Capernaum!

Jesus we welcome you this day; your presence, your words spoken with authority, your power !