God of mercy, help us to see your son, Jesus Christ in every refugee, in every person who is fleeing from injustice, war, persecution or famine. Help us to open our hearts and our minds so that we may provide places of haven and rest for all who are in need of our help. Let us welcome each stranger as we would welcome Christ himself so that all may know the love and compassion of your people. Through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen
Jesus told the disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant…
“And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.”
Why do we expect to be forgiven if we have not forgiven the people who have hurt us? Forgive and you will be forgiven isn’t a quid pro quo. Forgiving others puts us in the right frame of mind to accept forgiveness. It’s hard to acknowledge that we are forgiven if we ourselves are holding grudges or simply not letting go of an old injury caused by another. When we forgive we are setting ourselves free from the power that the person who harmed us has over us. Forgiveness can be a gift to the person who has been forgiven, but it is always a gift to the person doing the forgiving. If we want to be fully able to accept the forgiveness of the Lord we need first to forgive those who have wronged us, if not for them, then for ourselves and for our spiritual wellbeing.
You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid them!
This list of evils that affect and infect people could have been written at almost any time in human history, but it seems to me to be especially relevant today. If only we could avoid people who possess the qualities Paul lists here. Alas, the current republican administration seems to be made up entirely of people such as these. Most of us will have the good fortune never to meet any of them in person, but their actions will affect us all. We are witnessing this administration sink deeper and deeper into a bottomless pit of amorality. Their greed, cruelty and lack of human decency will leave a mark on our country for years to come. In order to maintain our own righteousness we must participate in resisting what we can and remain true to our own values. We must never sink to the depths in which they dwell. It is our sacred duty to protect the vulnerable. I have hope that the fight for justice, peace and equality will eventually progress, but the struggle will be a long and arduous one.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
After Jesus was baptized he went into the wilderness and was tempted. We might not all be tempted by Satan for forty days in the wilderness, but we are tempted throughout our lives in one way or another. Temptation isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because we can learn from our mistakes and grow into more understanding, more mature people of God. We can also be strengthened through resisting the urge to make wrong choices. No matter what the temptations are that we face or our success rate in resisting them, we can count on two things, one is that we can, through repentance, grace and Jesus Christ’s great mercy, be forgiven, and the other, is that we will at some point slip up again. We should always strive to be the best people we are capable of being, but there has only ever been one man who was completely without sin.
I’m the grandson of a man who fled the virulent antisemitism and pogroms of Rumania in 1920. He literally walked across Europe to Paris, where he worked until he had raised enough money to pay for passage on a boat to America. By 1938 he was married, had a son and with my grandmother, owned and operated a luncheonette. It was in 1938 that as an American citizen he brought my father and grandmother to the town where he was born. The purpose of this trip was twofold. The “cover” reason was that he wanted his own father to be able to witness the bar mitzvah of my father in the synagogue of his youth. The more important reason was that he wanted to convince the many members of the family he had left behind to return with him to New York. Neither his father nor any of his six siblings who remained in Rumania made the trip. My grandfather returned to New York fearing for the safety of his family in Europe. Within just a few years most of them would be slaughtered by the Nazis and their collaborators, many of whom were neighbors. The entire Jewish population of the town of Yedenitz was corralled in the synagogue and then marched out of town where they were forced to dig a large pit. They were all shot and buried in the pit which they had been forced to dig. The story was recorded by witnesses and by two Jews who, miraculously lived through being buried alive after the shooting had stopped and somehow managed to survive the remainder of the war.
I tell this horrific tale, not to shock or upset anyone, but as a reminder that the worst can happen. Our president elect has chosen for his “chief strategist” a man who is best known for providing a platform for the alt right movement. He is a white nationalist (supremacist) and an ally of the American Nazi Party and many other dangerous right wing organizations such as the KKK which make up the alt right movement. This alone might not be evidence that there is evil afoot. There is also the fact that the president elect has made this choice and has not condemned the recent hate crimes perpetrated in his name against members of minorities and churches and synagogues by people who sympathize with these groups. They have defaced houses of worship with swastikas and slogans including, “Heil Trump.” We can add to that the fact that the woman who managed his campaign has warned the press that legal action will be taken if they criticize the president elect. All of this in combination begins to sound to me a lot like the birth of fascism in this country.
When I say that I am afraid of and saddened by this new reality, I don’t think that I’m overreacting. When I have been told to “get over it.” and to “deal with it.” I am infuriated. I have a right to my feelings and I will not be silenced nor censored. I know what it is like to be discriminated against as do all gay men of my generation. I grew up in a country that deprived me of my rights and where it was acceptable to bully me and belittle me. We had come a long way in the fight against racism, but now it’s returning with a vengeance. There is more and more intolerance of anyone who is not a straight, white, Christian, male. I do not want to return to those days. I don’t want to see the progress we’ve made toward equality for all people lost to the reactionary forces that have taken hold of our country. I am forced to wonder if there is a future for me here. I wonder if it’s too soon to consider emigrating to a place where my husband and I will feel welcomed. I lament the fact that we are being made to feel this way and what we don’t need is to be told that everything will be OK. We don’t know if everything is going to be OK. Given the signs that I’ve mentioned we all have good reason to suspect that everything will not be OK. We need to wake up to this new reality and resist, or we will be complicit in the destruction of our democracy and our nation. The alternative is to flee to another country and begin a new life abroad, but that solution is not practical nor is it possible for many of us. Prayer has been my refuge, but prayer alone is not a solution to this problem. Action is required and we must summon the strength to act.
“Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
This is one of those stories that is so full of humanity that we can see ourselves in each of the characters at different times. Upon the prodigal’s return we can sympathize with the responsible brother who dutifully stayed behind and honored his father. The father of course, is so full of love that we cannot help but love him. Then we have the prodigal, we can see him as a young, brash and reckless fool, but one who has learned his lesson and in all humility has repented of his wrongdoing. Where do we fit in? It depends on the day, doesn’t it? It is heartening to know that we have a Father who rejoices when we return to him.
“’These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’”
This is good news to those of us who have come late. Jesus offers the same salvation to all members of his flock whether we were baptized at birth and raised in the church or we have come to the faith as adults. The generosity of the Lord is limitless to all who are willing to accept it. Our life in Christ can begin at any time; no matter when we come to follow Jesus, early or late we will be his for eternity.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and himalone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”
It’s both difficult and important for us to learn to be direct with our friends, family and fellow parishioners. When we have a problem with someone the healthiest way to handle it is to talk to that person directly and not to talk about that person to someone else. We can build strong relationships when we’re direct. A lot of misunderstandings can be avoided simply by speaking up. Gossiping about a person who has committed a sin against us is destructive not only to us but it also harms our family, group of friends or parish family. When we treat ourselves and those around us with respect and love, everyone benefits.