MEDITATIONS FOR PENTECOST 7. Jerusalem has been around for a long time. The name of the city first appears in

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1 MEDITATIONS FOR PENTECOST 7 Isaiah 66:10-14 Jerusalem has been around for a long time. The name of the city first appears in Egyptian texts some 1900 years before the birth of Jesus. The name Jerusalem is often mistranslated as foundation of peace, which is surely not a good description of the place for most of its history; the name means foundation of Shalem. Shalem was a god before the Hebrews showed up with YAHWEH, perhaps the god of the Venus-Star. By the time Isaiah is writing some 1300 years later, Jerusalem was the center of Jewish life and the site of the Temple, the most sacred city of the Jews and later of the Christians and later still of the Muslims. Our reading for today comes at the very end of the Book of Isaiah. We read that leaders of the Jews have returned to Jerusalem from exile. The former glories of the city have faded, but Isaiah looks ahead to a new day and renewed prosperity with Jerusalem becoming the religious center of the world, presided over by the servants of God. There is an ironic sense in which this actually has occurred with the result that the religions have been fighting over Jerusalem ever since. Given its history, it is strange to me that anyone would think of Jerusalem as a holy city, this place where so much blood has been spilled, this place that has been the center of violence and hatred. What makes for Jerusalem s holiness? That it is old? That faiths that read their heritage back to Abraham each believes that it is a place favored by God? I would have hoped we were beyond all that sort of thing, you know, the notion of local deities who are tied 1

2 to one place where a shrine has been erected to them. I would have thought that when Moses learned the name of God and understood that God is the God of all times and all places that the days of shrine-making, at least on the part of Israel, were over. But apparently not, and in our day Jerusalem is a problem for us all, anything but a place of peace, and not a very holy center for the so-called holy land. Isaiah writes that God will extend prosperity to Jerusalem, but I think we might hope for something larger than this, indeed, that all would enjoy prosperity no matter where they live or worship. Galatians 6:1-16 Paul tells the Galatians that they are to bear one another s burdens and in so doing they will fulfill the law of Christ, which is the law of love. But then, a couple of verses later he says that all should carry their own loads, which is a little confusing, though he may mean that we should bear our own burdens and bear the burdens of others as well, when they cannot. He goes on to say that we reap what we sow, but this seems way too simplistic, since what we sow depends on what we have to sow and what we have to sow with. And then he is back to the topic of circumcision yet again. It is important to remind ourselves that Paul is writing letters mostly to people he knows, addressing particular situations of which he is aware in churches with which he has a relationship. Occasional letters is what they are. Paul has no idea, could have had no idea that people us, for example would be sitting in congregations 2000 years later puzzling over things he wrote, reading his writings as we would the writings of the prophet Isaiah. It is understandable that there would be places in his letters where the reasoning was less than 2

3 clear or where some of his own peculiarities would slip in. The circumcision business concerned a problem raised in the Galatian church by certain members who thought Gentiles could not be Christians until they had first become Jews, indicated by the men subjecting themselves to a nonsensical ritual that helped preserve the patriarchal notion that the tradition of godliness was passed on exclusively by men. This is made even weirder by Paul s tendency to contrast flesh and spirit. It sometimes seems as if Paul s principal concern is with flesh as sexual vice, and this has contributed greatly to unhealthy notions pertaining to sexuality in the history of the church. But essentially, flesh means selfishness, seeking my satisfaction regardless of your satisfaction, as opposed to spirit, which means generosity and which is a quality of the person who is prepared to bear the burdens of others. Another point to keep in mind is that when Paul says the world has been crucified to him, he is not talking about the physical world but rather the moral world that is characterized by selfish striving; in other words, the world we are living in, where we are told we must take care of ourselves first and fence out those who need our help, every man for himself, as for example in reducing state aid in New Jersey to kids in poor school districts to the same level that kids receive in rich school districts. That is the world that Paul despises, the world which he says has been crucified for him with Christ, and a world which seems increasingly with us today. Luke 10:1-11, It is interesting to think about the size of Jesus following during his lifetime. There are numerous stories that suggest his following was quite large the sermon on the mount, the 3

4 feedings of the 5000 or 3000 or the multitude, or all those times when he has to make a getaway by boat or retreat to the mountains to get away from the crowds. And in our Gospel for today he has 70 of the faithful he has assembled to send out to the towns, like Buddhist monks of Mormons, to pass the peace of Christ to others and teach that the realm of God is near. If these delegations are welcomed, he instructs them to do good things; if they are not welcomed, they effectively speaking to leave behind a curse. This sounds a bit harsh coming from Jesus. What was he hoping to accomplish in these towns? Let me suggest to you that he was seeking to cultivate a spirit of hospitality in the people of the towns, a spirit of generosity and welcome. Isn t that the message of the gospel, that the love of God is ours to share with one another and that there is peace in the sharing of this love? What else do the 70 have to offer? And isn t that we have to offer as the church, the spirit of generosity and welcome, the peace of Christ? I suspect that I am not the only one who detects a sense of anger and resentment in our nation in this election year. Some of this anger arises from the experience of people who feel they have been left behind, left out, that they have played by the rules but the world is passing them by and leaving them in the lurch. They want more for themselves and their kids. Some of the anger in the nation arises from people who feel that injustice is rampant in our society and understand themselves in solidarity with those who are disenfranchised and impoverished and generally left out. In the first case, the anger often seems born of resentment often racist and xenophobic of others who want to be included. In the second instance, the anger is born more of a sense of community with all, especially those who have been traditionally excluded and who struggle for a decent life in this fabulously wealthy land. As people who have heard 4

5 the word of peace and cherish the spirit of generosity and welcome, the spirit of grace, Christians belong with this second group. And should allow ourselves the righteous anger that rises when the realm of God is rejected and victims are blamed and the structures that make for inequality are left unquestioned, when the peace that comes of justice and compassion and is known in the name of Christ Jesus is denied. Amen. 5

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