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Proper 28 (November 14, 2010)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Malachi 4:1-21; Ps. 98; II Thess. 3:6-13; Lk. 21:5-19
We are making final preparations for a two-month home leave, Nov. 15 – Jan. 15. We will be swapping houses with a couple from Harrisonburg, Va., who will be based in Amman and traveling throughout the Middle East. We’re excited about spending Thanksgiving and Christmas with family and friends in the U.S.
This past week, Cindy visited Jordanian partners and Daryl visited with MCC partners in Gaza. It was the first time we have received permits to enter Gaza since January. While more food and humanitarian supplies are finally entering the Gaza Strip, construction materials are still prohibited.
In the region this week, additional Iraqi Christian families were targeted for violence in Baghdad. Shi’a Muslim groups have also been targeted in recent weeks. Christian-Muslim relations have historically been quite strong – and for the most part continue to be so. But in light of recent attacks by fringe groups and the threat of additional attacks, Christians throughout the region are expressing a growing sense of vulnerability.
The Common Lectionary readings this week focus on God’s ultimate justice in human affairs.
In the Old Testament reading, Malachi prophesies about a coming day when “all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble,” while all who revere God’s name will experience justice and healing (Mal. 4:1-2).
The psalmist declares that God “will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.” (Ps. 98:9)
In the Epistle reading, Paul urges his readers to “not be weary in doing what is right” (II Thess. 3:13) – even of those around them fail to do so.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus describes the hardship and persecution that faithful followers will experience. “By your endurance,” Jesus promises, “you will gain your souls.” (Lk. 21:5-19)
For those who currently suffer at the hands of arrogant and violent people, these texts offer assurance and comfort that God will ultimately hold all persons accountable for their deeds.
Proper 26 (October 31, 2010)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Is. 1:10-18; Ps. 32:1-7; II Thess. 1:1-4, 11-12; Lk. 19:1-10
This week Cindy visited the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf, one of MCC’s Global Family partners in Jordan. The Institute provides a quality education for students who are deaf (and, in some cases, also blind).
Daryl accompanied a small delegation to northern Iraq to visit food security projects that are sponsored by Canadian and U.S. farmers. In addition to political insecurity in many parts of Iraq, small farmers have struggled in recent years due to drought. Many Iraqis (especially in the suburbs of Baghdad) also do not have clean drinking water. The MCC-supported projects focus on water conservation and reducing water-borne diseases.
The Common Lectionary readings this week remind us that repentance is the first step toward doing good and seeking justice.
In the Old Testament reading, God expresses frustration with hollow worship rituals, while injustice abounds. “Even though you make many prayers, I will not listen,” says God, “(because) your hands are full of blood.” (Is. 1:15) God challenges the people instead: “Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (v.17)
The psalmist admits that, while he kept silence about his sins, his body wasted away and his strength was dried up (Ps. 31:3-4). But when he acknowledged his sin, God forgave him, lightened his load and led him in a better direction (vv.5-11).
In the Epistle reading, Paul says that those who persecute the righteous will be held accountable (II Thess. 1:3-10). Still, even amid persecution, God is able to strengthen people of faith to remain steadfast, to increase in love and to do God’s work (vv. 4, 11).
In the Gospel reading, Jesus visits the home of Zacchaeus, a rich tax collector with a history of cheating people. (Lk. 19:1-10) After their encounter, Zacchaeus announces, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” (v.8)
The readings this week offer hope that, when we turn away from self-centered behaviors that are hurtful toward others, God is able to use us in ways that advance God’s justice and peace in the world. May we find our calling in doing good, seeking justice and acting for the well-being of vulnerable people.
Proper 25 (October 24, 2010)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Jer. 14:7-10, 19-22; Ps. 84:1-7; II Tim. 4:6-8, 16-18; Lk. 18:9-14
This week we made final preparations to host a delegation from the Food Resources Bank (FRB) and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB). Members of both groups plan to visit projects they are funding in Jordan, Iraq and Palestine. Canadian and U.S. farmers donate grain to these banks, which is then sold and the proceeds used to support food security and water projects around the world.
We also enjoyed a short visit from John and Chris Lehman, Cindy’s uncle and aunt from Florida.
In the region this week, a humanitarian aide convoy, with activists from some 30 countries, entered Gaza with some $5 million of supplies. The parents of Rachel Corrie, a peace activist who was killed in Gaza in March 2003, began a civil trial against the Israeli government. Corrie was run over by an Israeli bulldozer while protesting a home demolition in the southern Gaza Strip.
Israeli settlement construction has resumed in full force after a partial freeze ended September 26. An U.N. human rights specialist issued a report stating that the continuing growth of the settlements will likely make Israeli occupation of Palestinian land “irreversible.”
Iran announced that it will try three U.S. hikers accused of spying. The trial is set to begin, Nov. 6.
The Common Lectionary readings this week are about human attitudes and the actions that spring from them.
In the Old Testament reading, God says of the people: “Truly they have loved to wander, they have not restrained their feet.” (Jer. 14:10)
The psalmist, on the other hand, writes, “My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.” (Ps. 84:2)
In a similar vein, at the end of his life, Paul writes, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (II Tim. 4:7)
In the Gospel reading, Jesus compares the attitudes revealed by the prayers of two men (Lk. 18:9-14). A religious leader prays, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people,” then goes on to detail the sins of others and to extol his own virtues. A tax collector, by comparison, prays simply, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
We choose our attitudes and actions – whether to be arrogant or humble; whether to wander or to keep the faith. These choices affect our relationship with God. They also have dramatic impact on whether our lives are invested in serving or exploiting others. Will we keep the faith?
We are back in Amman after attending MCC Representative meetings in Strasbourg, France and speaking in several Mennonite churches in Switzerland.
A particular highlight was speaking at Sonnenberg Mennonite Church, for which a congregation is now named in Cindy's home community in Ohio. Mennonites in Europe have recently participated in collecting school kits and relief kits for MCC partners in Iraq.
Below is a devotional reflection that Daryl shared during MCC Rep meetings.
Before the Iraq war in early 2003, I did an extended fast. Each day during the fast I wrote letters to U.S. President George Bush, urging him to consider alternatives to a military attack on Iraq.
Nine months earlier, I had traveled to Iraq with several MCC workers. We talked with MCC partners in Baghdad about the implications of a possible U.S. attack – and heard from them that the consequences could be catastrophic. (Indeed, as a result of the war, nearly half of the Christians have left Iraq.) I’ll never forget the words of one Christian leader in Baghdad, who told us, “The U.S. will do what the U.S. wants to do, and we will trust God.”
I am not a foreign policy expert, but it seemed clear enough to me in early 2003 that, if the U.S. attacked Iraq, all hell could break loose. Furthermore, by going to war pre-emptively and without U.N. authorization – which is what President Bush was planning to do -- the United States was setting an extremely dangerous precedent for other nations.
It was an unsettling time -- a time when fear was recklessly driving U.S. policies; a time when chaos seemed to have the upper hand.
The fast had a powerful way of slowing me down, of reducing my anxiety and of focusing my mind. One of the biblical texts that I found most reassuring during that time of fasting was from Psalm 75 – verse 3 -- which reads: “When the earth totters, with all its inhabitants, it is God who keeps its pillars steady.”
When the earth totters: when chaos seems to prevail; when injustice abounds; when violence is rampant – God holds the earth’s pillars. In other words, God contains the chaos; God places limits on injustice; and God sets boundaries on violence.
The Bible offers these seemingly paradoxical images:
On one hand, God is sovereign; God is all-powerful; God oversees the affairs of the nations.
On the other hand, humans are free agents – with wide latitude for making choices --even choices that are counter to God’s ways; even to the point of killing God’s son.
Indeed, God gives humans a great deal of freedom. We have the capacity to love each other, to serve each other, to do kind things for each other and to work for justice.
But we also have the capacity to hate, to hurt, to do harm, to treat each other unjustly, to act violently and to declare war. Like it or not, our sovereign God allows choice and permits chaos.We purchased a 90-year-old cowbell from this gentleman in Switzerland. The bells make beautiful music as cows graze in the fields.
Still, there are limits to human freedom:
• Adam and Eve stepped across the boundaries of human freedom by eating fruit from the forbidden tree. They were expelled from the Garden of Eden.
• In the days of Noah, human violence exceeded the threshold that God was willing to tolerate.
• The injustice among the Israelites was so great that God exiled the people to foreign lands.
God’s interventions were not so much vindictive as they were attempts to bring people to their senses and draw them back into right relationship.
One cannot work in settings where there is so much injustice and violence without asking very hard theological questions:
• Why is God so slow to bring an end to injustice?
• Why doesn’t God intervene more quickly?
• Why doesn’t God simply stop violence in its tracks?
In one of the Common Lectionary readings for this past Sunday, the prophet Habakkuk cries out: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?” (Habakkuk 1:2-3; NRSV and NIV)
These are not new questions. They have been around a long time -- in many forms:
• Why did God allow the children of Abraham and Sarah to suffer as slaves for 400 years before delivering them from Pharaoh’s grip?
• Why did God allow African-Americans to suffer as slaves for hundreds of years in the United States before they were freed?
• Why did God allow Aboriginal people in Canada and Native Americans in the United States to suffer under the hands of European immigrant groups?
• Why did God allow the Jews to suffer persecution at the hands of Christians for many years and then endure the horrors of the Holocaust?
• Why has God allowed the Palestinian people to suffer dispossession and occupation for more than 60 years?
These are questions that no one can fully answer. Still, we ask, “Why doesn’t God intervene more quickly and decisively?”
1) Perhaps it has something to do with God exercising utmost patience with the perpetrators of injustice and violence – giving them every opportunity to repent from their harmful ways.
Thomas Jefferson instinctively knew that slavery was wrong. And yet he owned slaves. But it troubled him -- deeply. One of his quotes, inscribed inside the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., reflects his turmoil about slavery. It reads: "God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, (and) that his justice cannot sleep forever.”
So perhaps God doesn’t intervene more quickly because God is waiting for the perpetrators of injustice to repent:
• Perhaps God is waiting for occupying powers to relinquish their control.
• Perhaps God is waiting for those who make war to lay down their weapons.
• Perhaps God is waiting for sex traffickers to release their slaves.
• Perhaps God is waiting for the rich to share their resources.
We should perhaps be glad that God is patient with the perpetrators of injustice because sometimes they are us.
Why doesn’t God intervene more quickly and decisively?
2) Perhaps it has something to do with God’s desire for people of faith to step up to the plate and take bold actions for justice and peace. Just as Jesus modeled a nonviolent way to confront injustice in his day, perhaps God is asking, “Why don’t humans get it? When will they ever learn that, in the face of injustice, indifference and violence are not the only two options?”
• So perhaps God is waiting for people of faith to challenge occupying powers by refusing to purchase goods produced in settlements.
• Perhaps God is waiting for people of faith to not cooperate with those who make war by refusing to pay the military portion of their taxes.
• Perhaps God is waiting for people of faith to be creative and sacrificial in their nonviolent resistance in the face of injustice.
Ironically, while we are waiting for God to act, God is waiting for us to act.
We cannot be sure at what point God will intervene because humans have exceeded the limits of human freedom. Would an Israeli or U.S. attack on Iran cross the boundaries of human freedom? I shudder to think about the regional and global repercussions if such an attack were allowed to take place. Would an attempted nuclear attack much larger than the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki cross the boundaries of human freedom? Are their limits to how far God will allow humans to trash the environment?
Of this much we can be sure:
It is always appropriate for us to pray and act for justice and peace. Jesus called upon his followers to act justly. Jesus called the peacemakers blessed. So let us act daily and boldly for justice and peace. Even when we do not see quick results, let us not grow weary of doing what is good and just. Violence and injustice will not have the last word in God’s enterprise – they are not the last chapter of the story. They are doomed to fail.
God’s character and commitment are without question. Again and again, the Bible offers reminders of God’s promise to bring justice for the oppressed; of God’s concern for vulnerable; of God’s commitment to lift up those who are downtrodden; and of God’s promise to care for the widow and orphan.
God holds the big picture firmly in place. God may not intervene as dramatically or decisively or quickly as we would like. But God has not forgotten the world’s suffering. God sets limits on chaos and injustice and violence. Indeed, “When the earth totters, with all its inhabitants, it is God who keeps its pillars steady.” (v.3)
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