Tuesday, September 20, 2011

APBA Lections 14th Sunday after Pentecost

Exodus 16:2-15

2The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” 4Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 5On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” 6So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” 8And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but” against the Lord. 9Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’“ 10And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12“I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’“
13In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.

Philippians 2:21-30

21All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22But Timothy’s worth you know, how like a son with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. 23I hope therefore to send him as soon as I see how things go with me; 24and I trust in the Lord that I will also come soon. 25Still, I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus—my brother and co-worker and fellow soldier, your messenger and minister to my need; 26for he has been longing for all of you, and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27He was indeed so ill that he nearly died. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, so that I would not have one sorrow after another. 28I am the more eager to send him, therefore, in order that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29Welcome him then in the Lord with all joy, and honor such people, 30because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for those services that you could not give me.

Matthew 21:23-32

23When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

28“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ten Years Ago: Notes From An American Abroad in Melbourne, Australia A Few Days After September 11, 2001

Yesterday we took the tram out to the American consulate on St. Kilda Road here in Melbourne. Several other people got off the tram at the same time and walked in the same direction. You could see the building from the intersection, a modern low rise building, modest architecture, unremarkable except that people were walking around the small pattern of box hedges that marked the front entrance and which bloomed with bouquets of cut flowers in paper wrappings, with plants and sprays of roses, with candles and cards and letters printed and written on red, white and blue papers and addressed to the American people from the people of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. “Our hearts are with you,” “You are in our prayers,” “We send our love.” I watched a young teenage girl leave her mothers side to put a bouquet of daisies on the ground at the foot of the massed flowers and I went over to speak to her: “Excuse me,” I said, , “but as an American who feels very far from home right now,” and the tears started again, “I just wanted to say thank you very much.” I felt a touch on my arm and turned to see her mothers wet eyes as she smiled at me and said, “That’s OK.

That clock radio clicked on at 5:00AM that first morning and there was heard a segment of the first press conference held by the Mayor of New York. It made no sense at first; then facts filtered in, contexts drew lines, and there was a wavering instant when you hoped that it was some kind of fictional radio drama, “Orson Welles and the War of the Worlds,” but this was all true.

Two jets crashed into the twin towers of the 110 story World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. First one and then a second plane crashed into the towers, flames and fuel spilling into and through and down the building, trajectories and shards of wreckage and bodies falling down into the streets of New York like fireworks, and then the buildings themselves pancake down to the ground and thousands are killed. At the same time another plane flies into the Pentagon - 800 estimated killed - and a fourth plane crashes in a Pennsylvania wood, perhaps in an aborted attempt to crash into the White House. More deaths, and more waiting to see what is next.

After the 7:15AM Mass, which turns into a requiem, we spend the rest of the morning in dumb witness in front of the television. Most of the local broadcasting is curtailed as CNN, CBS, ABC, beam in directly from the east coast of the US with more news and pictures, the same pictures from different angles, over and over again, as the death toll rises, as suspicion points to a fundamentalist in Afghanistan. The day goes on and the flags over the Parliament building next door go to half mast, a report comes that people are putting flowers at the doors of the American consulate which has closed for the day, a service is scheduled at the Anglican Cathedral. I worry that I will cry too hard in public and be unable to stop.

Where does this begin and where will it end? Where does God meet all this? In the sad and angry tears of people left behind? In the graceful acts of courage, reconciliation, redemption: the firemen walking into the collapsing building, the doctor with a face dusted like a shroud continuing to care for the wounded and dying? In the dying victims: the two month old child carried by his father on the plane, the same father who decided to stop the hijackers, who in turn believed that this was Gods will for them? In the chaplain killed in giving the last rites to another victim. In the widespread pain of people waiting for word of a partner, a child, a parent, a friend, waiting and perhaps praying across this little fragile linked up world where we all are nerved together in the shocking light of this new holocaust. What does God mean here?

Perhaps the answer to all this is only in the attention, the listening, the very surrender necessary in prayer. Maybe there some peace is found; not certitude, not any kind of answer except that maybe God is big enough to reconcile all this somehow. There may be such love over all. But that does not ease.

In the afternoon my friend John and I drive to a meeting in Gembrook, a new retreat center an hour away from Melbourne. The people there have just gotten the news on the radio and want to talk about it, but I can’t hear more and go out for a walk on the grounds. John joins me after awhile and soon Tom, another trustee of the place, comes down the hill from the main house, crying hard himself, and the three of us end up sitting on a fallen log at the edge of the vegetable garden, empty now at the end of a dry Australian winter, and the beginning of an uncertain spring, and after some more talk and tears we end in silent prayer again.

And I remember what happened in December 1986, when an American plane flew into a mountaintop in Greenland the week before Christmas and several hundred people were killed. I was the acolyte at the midweek Eucharist at a local parish, nobody else was attending, I asked the celebrant if this Mass could be dedicated for those killed earlier in the day. And as the service went on I knew - could almost see - that they, the dead, were there; the very same ones who had been ripped out of the sky were somehow with us, that (and this is very hard to write) there was a tear in the world and the people who died could see us through the torn fabric of the cosmos, and could take comfort, solace, nourishment in our prayer, pain, remembering of connection with them, even though that very awareness came at the time when the connection was lost. And I knew with deep certitude that they were being fed with our tears, and that what we were doing and feeling mattered and made sense on a greater level than I had understood before.

Thursday we went to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The building was crowded and we sang Amazing Grace, and there were readings of Paul at his best from Romans and the Twenty third Psalm and the Beatitudes from Matthew and then the Consul General spoke briefly about how touched he was by all the flowers and tributes placed in front of the American consulate by the people of Melbourne. And at the end a soloist sang, American the Beautiful: “Thine alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears.” And so many of us cried for what had been lost and what we held dear and for what we didn’t know. And then we took the tram out to the consulate and I saw the little girl and the flowers.

After that John and I walked to the Botanical Gardens a few blocks further on St. Kilda Road. We stopped at the Shrine of Remembrance on the way, a memorial for the dead of WW1 and WW2, a tall stone building with plaques and books open to the names of people who died in Europe and the Pacific, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Far East: all the places of heroism and holocaust, places where the best and the worst of human nature was seen. From the balcony on the upper floor you can see the skyline of Melbourne and the water of Port Philip Bay, and at the foot of the monument, the eternal flame for the Royal Australian Air Force, and a small statue of a man leading a donkey loaded with a wounded soldier. The mans name was Simpson and he and the donkey tended to the wounded and dying in the midst of the battle of Gallipoli in WW1, taking water to the troupes and bringing back the wounded from the front lines for several weeks until they too were killed.

And I know that we do not need more wounded soldiers, we do not need another donkey carrying the victims of war and hatred and violence. We do not need to seek vindication of any kind. We have been there, we have done that, it does not work.

We walked into the Botanical Garden around three in the afternoon on this early spring day. Trees and flowers are starting to bloom, the weather was fine and across the pond from the tea house there was a wedding with a bride in white, men in dark suits, women in big flowered hats. Outside of the tea house we spoke to a man with three shy, grinning greyhounds named Bill, Ernest, and Wilma. In the line to be served a family in front of us - a grandmother, father and two sons around 10 and 12 - were making jokes about how much tea and how many cookies they could eat. We took our food and went to sit on the terrace outside overlooking the pond and it was a very peaceful place.

Listen: there is no reason to hate, there is no profit in anger, there is no glory in inflicting death or in dying for that matter. There is too much to love, too much to lose, too many who are worth far too much. And all we can do is keep the world open, keep our hearts open for the wideness of Gods mercy, for the depth of our connection to one another, to the constant surprise rising up of the fragility and the strength of love which does endure and will succeed. And this is heartbreaking work, but it must be done, so that we can remember again and again, how much there is to lose, how much to gain.