Friday, 26 September 2014

Proper 21 - Year APentecost 16
Matthew 21:28-32

In Sunday's Gospel reading Jesus explains that the tax collectors and the prostitutes are getting into heaven before the Pharisees and the Scribes because they have seen the light and changed their ways.

I was staying with former parishioners from Montreal in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  They were out and I was reading a book.  A  campaign robocall came in on the telephone and was picked up by the answering machine.  An election of some sort was going on.  The candidate's recorded message was clear about the shortcomings of his opponent.  There were the usual over-the-top assaults on character but I particularly remember that opposing Candidate X had also offended by "flip-flopping" on Proposition Ten or Twelve or something.  I have no idea what the issue was but it was clear that flip-flopping, in itself, was a very bad thing.

Flip-flop.  Verb.  Je flip-flop, vous flip-floppez, il faut que nous flip-floppions.  Once upon a time, Candidate X had an opinion.  Now he has another.  He is not the man he was before.  I, on the other hand, have not changed my mind. Vote for me.

What has candidate X done?  Has he read a few more books on the subject?  His bright young intern has brought along the latest research on the topic to the morning meeting.  Candidate X has talked to his constituents and realized the economic and political consequences of Proposition Ten.  His changing opinions have even strained his relations with members of his own party.  A good Democrat or a good Republican would be the sort to believe in something like Proposition Ten.  Candidate X, though, has changed his mind.  He now believes Proposition Ten to be a complete dog.  It should be opposed.  

Bring on the flip-flopper, I say.  There's someone I can trust.  Where did we get this belief in the immutability of opinion or in the goodness of people behaving like Newtonian solids traveling through space in never-ending straight lines?  Biographers are forever trying to present consistent pictures of their subjects.  The greatness of the man and woman was somehow present in embryo from the earliest years.  In the words of Dylan Thomas

The oak is felled in the acorn
and the hawk in the egg kills the wren.

You have the right to change your mind.  Jesus is asking men and women to change their minds.  Evidence of such would be that you no longer do quite so well as the men and women you were before.  Your opponents will have a heyday.  Your wineskin no longer fits.  Those who love you will worry.  Your children may regard you with uncertainty.  But it is no weakness on your part.  It may be your greatest strength and the source of your (and others') liberation.

Why have you not changed your mind?  Are you simply not listening?

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Exodus 16:2-15 

The Old Testament readings from the Book of Exodus have been quite fruitful these last three weeks.  This week’s reading is no exception.  The topic is the anxiety which the Israelites feel in the midst of their wanderings through the desert after a dramatic escape from Egypt. Moses and Aaron are feeling the full weight of the individual and familial angst. The task of leadership becomes difficult as hitherto forbidden questions begin to be asked: Was the life we led as slaves back in Egypt really that bad?  Was there not bread back home - occasionally even meat in the pot?  We might die out here in the desert.  It could all go so wrong.  

We might recognize an undercurrent of anxiety in our community here in Clermont-Ferrand.  Topic headings might well include:   

- The distance from family members - both young and old - who must face life transitions far away and without us.  
- The loss, in some cases, not only of an income but frequently the vocational world of one spouse who must retool and mourn the loss or suspension of one of the things upon which his or her self-worth was based.  
- Places which were strange, foreign or incomprehensible were once seen on television or in National Geographic.  Now they are all around us.  Our children’s education is in a different mode, perhaps even in a different language.  We don’t understand how the bureaucracy works or even, for that matter, how the shops are set out.  How are we going to find what we want to eat? 

And so there are a few (slightly stretched) analogies between the way some of our lives feel and those of the people of Israel in the desert.  What the heck are we doing here, anyway?  Do we know if it’s even going to work out?    

In Sunday's passage from Exodus the challenge is addressed by Moses and Aaron.  Recourse is made to faith in what God promises: The people will eat both bread and meat because God can provide even in out-of-the-way places.  The second point is a challenge: The people will need to change their diet.  Quails and Manna is the plat du jour.    

God is faithful.  We will have enough.  God provides, but the people must learn to delight in the food which he gives.