On Tuesday morning the pastors of Lutheran Saints in Ministry gather in Fairborn Ohio to discuss the texts for Sunday.

These are the contributions that are brought to the table.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Dividing by Zero

The second kind is the worship of admiration and desire which we give to God on account of His essential glory. He alone is worthy of praise, who receives it from no one, being Himself the cause of all glory and all good, He is light, incomprehensible sweetness, incomparable, immeasurable perfection, an ocean of goodness, boundless wisdom, and power, who alone is worthy of Himself to excite admiration, to be worshipped, glorified, and desired.  — John of Damascus

 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3: 34-35)  Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary[a] and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us? (Mark 6:3) 
We all have “history.” Something in the past has a hold of us in unseen ways. We open our mouths and sounds emerge. There is a “brogue” a turn of the tongue, a use of peculiar phrases and we unveil part of the tapestry that is us, our recent sojourn and even our origin. You can complain about: “Being pegged,” or “being stereotyped,” but the things that happen to us, the places we travel and the things we do have a way to make and leave their marks on our body, mind, our voices our habits, and our spirit. It would be best to not loose sleep over this. We are who we are. 
Yet, in America we have a long history (there it is again) of being a place where one went o reinvent oneself. We are a great mass of land with a history of new arrivals settling and shedding old ways. We maintained that spirit of our history as a nation. Since everyone is from somewhere else ancestrally, we all give ourselves permission not to act like those ancestors but at the same time, we are fascinated with the story of where we came from. 
I hail from a place where history has a different pull and sense. I come from a place where some names still carry the history of feudal times and everyone recognizes this. If someone has the old “von” prefix on their name it is not unlikely that they had royal or noble blood. They might otherwise be regular Joes but their name tells of a broader history that precedes their birth and even their family and they will carry that history up front and unveil it every time they say their name. At some level, the connotations of the naming are still recognized.
You might not be different. We choose our children names seemingly freely and often discover names not used in the past. But that is recent. Living generations remember that one need children in line with familiar family names. My wife and I thought we were being clever to search and find a name that was both kind to our older daughter and also not common, even in our own families. The question was asked of us immediately: “Is that a family name?” “No, we just liked it.” That worked until aunt Annemarie wrote to point out that the name had been used with my people in the 17th century and thanking us from recovering it. 
History will not let you go and neither do we let go of it, even when we claim that we do not care. Our own histories tell a story and that story is painted and framed in people around us. We are all part of a larger but immediate whole. Family comes to mind quickly, as does our various associations and communities. Jesus has a family: Mary, James, etc. Jesus has a village: Nazareth. He has history there and he has security there. All he has to do is to be one of them. And there is the rub. Mark reports in chapter 3 and again in chapter 6 that Jesus has broken with village and family. 
Why? The answer is in the very opening of the Gospel of Mark. Jesus has a history that Nazareth does not know and that history is much broader and is kept is in heaven. Jesus is the Son of God. His real name is Jesus Christ, not Jesus bar Joseph. 
It ought to be recognized that as Jesus walks away from family and village that he is walking away from any security on this earth. That is how his time and place worked. We have the illusion that we are free to explore life and leave place and people, seemingly at will, because we are part of a greater organism known as America. It gives us the freedom to make decisions about our life that the ancients did not have. But even as we do this, we merely walk from one association of people into another one. Like it or not, we are always part of one or another association. Within that group, no matter how small or large, there are rules and values to upheld and respected. There are third rails to avoid and conventions to keep. Peter’s admonishment to Jesus in verse 33 is part of that fabric. He is not doing wrong per se. He is saying the right thing but in the wrong association, the wrong family. 
So, which associations do you belong to? How is that working out? Radio host Laura Schlesinger once quipped: “Don’t cling to a mistake just because you spent a long time making it.”  Some of us have a lifetime invested in community that does not lead to life. 
This was the experience of St Frances Assisi. He was hauled before a Bishop because his father hoped to protect the family fortune that Francis was busy trying to give away. All that old man Pietro Bernardone really wanted was to have his son swear in the presence of the bishop  that he renounced any claim to the Bernardone treasure. In a flash of brilliance of insight and Holy Spirit — or plain insanity, you never know with Francis — Francis realized what had been the base value of the family he had been a part of for so long: The family fortune. In that moment he not so much renounced anything even though that was the result but more important he claimed a new allegiance, a new family: He seems to have said something like: “From now on I will truly pray: ‘My Father in heaven.’” He had left the Bernardone family and joined the one offered to him by Jesus. He had denied all that he had been up to then with all its benefits and securities and all its values. In other words, he denied himself, he denied his very essence. How effective does this seem to have been? Ask most people who Francis’ family name was and you will get blank stare, but him everyone seems to know and they even connect him with divinely inspired charity and wisdom.
In mathematical terms, Francis’ life had a singularity. A point where all things momentarily collapsed into eternity only to emerge again on earth on some other side across a gulf that is unfordable by human reason or imagination nor will it leave old and new history contiguous. We in the church might call it conversion. In a way he follows Jesus’ example. Once the voice from heaven said: “You are my son,” Jesus’ old history and old allegiances have met singularity and are no more. Family and village and all the history he had with them are now no longer a tie that binds.
In Jesus’ life there are three “singularities” in my reckoning. One at his baptism, one at transfiguration, and one at resurrection. One changes him, one changes his friends, one changes the world. We read the second one a few weeks ago. It follows six days after today’s episode. It might be seen as the Holy Trinity’s way of driving home to the disciples that through Jesus none other than the God of heaven spoke. They will not attempt to rebuke him again. The relationship has changed. They will however make very human attempts to give this new “family” that does the will of God shape and structure. OK, they will do it badly, but they seem to realize that this is now an all or nothing relationship. They have now: “left everything and followed” him. (Mk 10:28)

As Lent now proceeds, we are asking ourselves: What does “denying ourself” look like? Singularities are the solution to the formula: f (x) = 1/x when x goes to zero. We have all been carefully taught not to let that happen. In a way, denying ourselves, repenting of, well, everything, also requires the gall to dare to do the unthinkable. But to what end? The gulf is unfordable. You must trust. The worse case scenario: Cross and resurrection. 

No comments: