Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Word From Ezekiel (Reflections on Lent 5, Year A)

Image result for images of ezekiel

Inspired by Ezekiel 37: 1-14

Good morning, students.

I know. You’re asking yourselves, “What’s this alter kicker going to tell us today that we don’t need to know?” Well, I’ll tell you, boychicks: Today I will talk about our history. Not the ancient history of us as the Jewish people—this you should know—but the recent history of our mishpocha here in beautiful Babylon. So no more with the shpilkes! Settle down and pay attention.

None of you bubbelehs are old enough to remember our beautiful city of Jerusalem. Most of you were born here. But let me tell you, our home was magnificent. A city on a hill. Oy! I get farklempt when I remember the gorgeous temple of King Solomon which rested majestically on Mt. Zion. I was a priest, you know, so I had a great love for that most holy place. It’s all gone now, of course.

So how did we come to live here in Babylon? To be honest, it wasn’t so much our idea. But let’s start with some review. Of whom did our Lord promise to make a great nation..? Anyone..? Yes! That’s right, Yitzak! It was our blessed ancestor Abraham whom the Lord led to a land flowing with milk and honey, a place promised to our people through all generations. But when famine claimed the land, our blessed ancestor Joseph made us safe in the land of Egypt. And when the Egyptians treated our people harshly, whom did our Lord inspire to lead us back to the land we had been promised..? Good, Shlomy! Our great prophet Moses, who led us through the Red Sea out of slavery, through the desert for forty years, and gave us the Ten Commandments.

But, oy vey! What a bunch of kvetches our people were! Always complaining, never giving real thanks for what the Lord had done for us. And our leaders—such a bunch of shmedricks! Do-nothing hypocrites who kept the letter of the Law and ignored its spirit. They cheated the widow and the orphan, cared bubkes for the poor, ran after false gods, and put their trust in military treaties but not in the Law of the Lord.

Now, if I were the Lord, I might say, “Enough with this meshugass, already! Time to wipe them out and start over like in the days of Noah.” (Good thing I’m not in charge.) So what does our merciful Lord do? He sends the prophets to preach the truth and put the people back on the right path even though we sinned. Now: Who can tell me what a prophet is..?

That’s correct. A prophet is one who speaks for the Lord. And how do you know you’re listening to a prophet? Nine out of ten times what he tells you you don’t want to hear!

Now if we’re sinners, does the Lord still love us? Of course! Just as I may love my son, yet if he’s naughty I impart some wisdom with my hand to his tuchas! This is another form of prophecy.

In my day there was a great prophet named Jeremiah. Such a mensch! He warned our King Jehoiakim against going to war with Babylon. He told us that the Lord may have called us his chosen ones, but He would not protect us against the consequences of our own arrogant stupidity. Day and night Jeremiah preaches this. But does the king listen? No. A great politician was this Jehoiakim, but a great leader? Not so much. How can a man be a leader if he can’t be told when he’s wrong? The schmo starts a war he can’t finish. The armies of Babylon surround our lovely city. They cut off our food supply until the people were half starved to death. You boys are lucky you weren’t born yet. Oy gevalt! They tore down our walls, butchered our defenders, and destroyed our most holy temple. Such a sight of violence you should never see. And then they rounded us up—me and your parents and grandparents and brought us to this place.

Now maybe you’re saying, “So what’s so bad about this? We have plenty to eat. They treat us well. What’s there to complain about?” But I ask you: Did the Lord part the Red Sea, give us the Ten Commandments, lead us through the wilderness, and give us Moses and Elijah and Isaiah and Jeremiah just so we could be a bunch of fat, complacent shmegeges in a foreign land?

This you should think about.

I had a dream recently. Well, not so much a dream as a vision. I was standing on a great plane covered with the dead, dry bones of our people. Then I hear the voice of the Lord say, “Ezekiel, do you think these bones can live?” So who am I to give my opinion to the Lord? So I answer, “O Lord, you know better than I do.” And he says, “Prophecy to the bones, Ezekiel that they may live.”

I think this is meshuga, but I prophecy anyway. “Get up, bones,” I say. “Why are you lying around when there’s work to be done..?!” And I hear the bones rattling. And they join together. And the flesh comes upon them, and they rise. Yet they look dead, with no life in their eyes. So the Lord says, “Speak to their spirit, Ezekiel!” So I speak.

“Listen,” I say. “People of Israel. You are chosen by the Lord for a purpose. You are loved and fashioned and molded and hardened to be a blessing to the nations! Trust in the Lord. His anger lasts but a moment. In his favor is life! Sorrow may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning!”

You know, sometimes a prophet gets to give good news.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Word From King David (Reflections on Lent 4, Year A)

Inspired by 1 Samuel 16:1-13

Dear and loyal subjects, may peace be upon you! You may be seated.

We have summoned you here today to offer our royal thanks for the loyalty, steadfastness, and courage you have shown us during the recent rebellion. Please know how deeply and sincerely grateful we are to acknowledge your sacrifices and your efforts to restore Israel to peace once again. May God hear our prayers and grant us a spirit of forbearance and reconciliation to mend the divisions which have riven our nation, and may we be united again as God’s chosen people.

We also wish to express our confidence in our loyal sons, the Princes Adonijah and Solomon. It is our hope that in years to come you will all be as loyal to them as you have been to us.

Now. If I may speak candidly. During the recent civil unrest there have been a lot of things on my mind. It’s hard to believe, but I have been king over Israel and Judah for almost forty years now. And some of you have served with me nearly as long. Where does the time go? It doesn’t seem but a few weeks ago that our great prophet Samuel came to my father’s home in Bethlehem and announced that God had told him to anoint a son of Jesse as the next king of our nation. We thought he was crazy. Saul was our king—and a pretty good one at that.

But Samuel was led by God to christen the one God had chosen. God, mind you. I didn’t choose kingship. God chose it for me. And no one thought that I would be the choice, either. I was still a boy. Just a teenager looking after my father’s sheep. What did I know about leading a nation?

You’ll remember we were at war with Philistia at the time. My three oldest brothers were in the army, and my father sent me to the front to bring them some provisions. The Philistines had this soldier named Goliath from Gath. Huge man. Big as a mountain. He’d stand behind their lines and insult our troops, challenging anyone to fight him single-handed.

I suppose you’ve all heard this story.

You know, I wasn’t really such a hero. As a shepherd I’d had to kill predatory animals with a sling so I knew I could kill a man with one. I just got off a lucky shot that day, and I’ve been a soldier ever since.

Saul loved me for that. And I loved him too—just as if he were a second father. Of course he was my father since I married his daughter, Michal. And during all the trouble we had together, I don’t think I ever hated him. At least I hope I didn’t. When I think of him now—four decades later—it’s with great fondness and pity. When he was killed at the battle of Mt. Gilboa (along with his son, Jonathan, who was a close friend of mine), I actually cried for him. I don’t think he was an evil man. I just think the power and the adulation went to his head.

Power and adulation. It certainly went to my head, too. I suppose that’s what I’ve really wanted to say to all of you. I trust that when the time comes for me to sleep with my ancestors that you will be honest about me. You may say that David defeated our enemies, brought the Ark of the Covenant to Zion, and established Jerusalem as our capital.  You may say his reign was, for the most part, peaceful and prosperous. But please remember that I have made mistakes and sinned before the Lord.

You all know about my transgressions, so we don’t have to bring up the details. You all know them. Perhaps the gravest consequence of my misdeeds was that they left me without moral authority in my own home. My sons Amnon and Absalom and my daughter Tamar all suffered because I failed as a father. Our nation has also suffered, and this current civil strife, which has caused all of us so much pain, is entirely my fault. For it, I take full responsibility. Please be sure that this is recorded in the scrolls of history. I was blinded by my own success, but now I think I see God’s justice more clearly.

We have been very prosperous these past forty years as a nation. But, I wonder if we have become rich in the things of God..? At least I feel that, in spite of all my mistakes, God has been kind and forgiving to me. The anointing I received at Bethlehem has never been washed off, and for that I am grateful and humbled.

I believe that’s all I want to share with you now. Excuse me as I retire to my quarters. I’ve felt very chilly lately, and I just can’t seem to get warm.

Oh..! I don’t know why I think of this. Please indulge me just a minute more. You know, in my youth I used to be something of a songwriter. Lately I’ve been remembering a prayer-song I wrote some years ago. Part of it went like this:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free spirit.

I still pray that a lot. Perhaps we all should.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Word From Moses (Reflections on Lent 3, Year A)

Image result for Moses
Inspired by Exodus 17:1-7

People of Israel! This is a solemn assembly before the Lord!

That means you, Hebrews! Move, you sons of Jacob. If I don’t see your Chosen-by-God butts out here in front of me and solemnly assembled by the time that cloud covers the sun, you are going to be one sorry, thirsty, miserable bunch of worthless Egyptian slaves!

Alright, you people, avert your faces. I said avert! Don’t you eye-ball me ‘cause I’m ashamed to look at your pathetic mugs.

I’ve just had me a little talk with the Commander. That would be Adonai Eloheinu the Lord Our God Almighty Creator and Ruler of the Frickin’ Universe. And He is not happy. And if He is not happy, I am not happy. And if I am not happy, you whiney sissies—sure as the Red Sea is wet—aren’t gonna be happy. As your prophet and deliverer, I will personally guarantee your misery.

You people have been complaining, grumbling, quarreling, whining, crying, belly-aching and guff-talking long enough. And it’s gonna stop. You don’t like me..? Well I’m not in love with you either. You’re one stiff-necked bunch of people, but you’re gonna learn some flexibility in a by-God quick hurry. We’re on a mission from God here, and we’re going to complete it or die trying.

I don’t have to be here, you know. I volunteered for this mission to save those worthless stiff necks of yours. I was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter. I was raised in a palace as a flippin’ prince, but when I saw one of my Hebrew comrades being mistreated, I stepped up and did my duty and took out the Egyptian low-life who was doing the mistreating. Then I had to lamb it out to Midian to keep from being killed. I could’ve stayed there, too. I had a wife and flocks and herds to tend. But God called me up, and when God calls, you do your duty.

I was out watching over my livestock when I heard a voice call to me. “Moses! Moses! Take off your sandals, for you’re standing on Holy Ground.” And then I saw it—a bush on fire, but not consumed. Think of that, you bunch of sniveling whiners! God appeared as a living thing, giving off the source of all life. Heat, Light. Energy. Yet never being diminished at all. Not even a tiny bit.

I asked Him to tell me his name, and he just said, “I Am.” That’s right. God IS. From everlasting to everlasting.

So I accepted the rescue mission. It was dangerous, but I said “yes” because it’s my duty to be here for you people. Was I scared? Heck yeah! We’re all scared, but that’s why we all have each other’s backs.

This isn’t about me or what I’ve done. This is about what God has done. This isn’t your Ra-Ra Egyptian sacrifice-a-cow-so-the-Nile-doesn’t-flood sun god. This isn’t some golden statue. This is the God who called your ancestor Abraham to leave his home and find the Promised Land. This is the God who used your ancestor Joseph to save our people from famine. This is the God who inspired Egyptian midwives to stand up to Pharaoh and save you all from genocide. This is the God who rained ten of the un-godliest plagues ever known down on the heads of your oppressors and set you worthless slaves free from slavery. And this is the God who, when we were backed up against the Red Sea, parted the waters and wiped out the entire cavalry and infantry of the enemy. And if that wasn’t enough for you, this is the God who has provided your rations of manna and quail here in the wilderness.

Now just what more does God have to do for you before you learn to trust and obey Him?

Tomorrow we move out and advance to Mount Horeb where we will make camp and re-supply ourselves with water. We will also wait there to receive new orders (I believe there will be about ten of them). And let me remind you, these new orders will not be requests. They will not be suggestions. They will be the Commandments of God and you people will follow them, understood?

And a word about the water you’re going to get tomorrow: I guarantee you, you will be thirsty again. We’re in a desert, people, so you better make up your minds here and now to eat, drink, sleep wake, cough, sneeze, scratch your heads, and relieve your bladders in the trust of God. You will march ahead, or you will die as a people here in the wilderness.

Any questions?

Good. I’m delighted to see that the Children of Israel have such a large capacity for understanding the concept. You are dismissed.

Dear Readers,
I hope you’re having fun with my little flights of imagination during the season of Lent. I’ve actually written these fanciful monologues to be performed as sermons, as I believe that the wonderful characters of the Hebrew Scriptures have in their stories messages for the Christian Church today. Adam reminds us of God’s great forgiveness. Abraham, whose faith was reckoned as righteousness, still doubted as often as any of us. Moses, whom I was inspired to fashion as a military leader (I got the idea from my daughter, a US Army veteran), reminds us to trust in God by remembering what God has already done and continues to do for us. I will also be creating words for King David and Ezekiel too. As I read the stories in the Bible, I realize that they are still our stories, and are as contemporary as tomorrow.

A blessed Lenten season to you all. Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A Word From Abraham (Reflections on Lent 2, Year A)

"The Sacrifice of Isaac" by Caravaggio

Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ So Abram went, as the Lord had told him. (Genesis 12: 1-4a)

Hello, Honey.

I brought you something. It’s the shell you picked up by the Great Sea all those years ago when we were in Egypt. I’ll leave it here so people will know that I came to visit you.

I have some good news: Isaac is getting married. Yes! She’s a nice girl from Nahor. Her name is Rebecca. I sent Eliezer to find her. She watered all of his camels for him—think of that! And she loves our Isaac, I think. The way you loved me. I think she’ll be good for him. You know, he misses you so much.

To be honest, I don’t know what he thinks of me. I think he’s still upset that I didn’t stand up for him and refuse when God told me to make him a sacrifice. I don’t know how I could ever make that right. But what kind of god is this! What god would ask this of a man..? Who could sacrifice his only son?! I followed God all my life. I obeyed him, but I never understood him. I see now that he was testing me with our Isaac, but I don’t know if I passed the test or failed. Should I have refused..? He never meant the boy to be hurt. I don’t know. There’s so much I still don’t understand.

God made a lot of promises to me, Sarah. He just never explained any of them. His ways are still a mystery. He told me to leave my home and go to a land he would show me. Who goes on a journey when they don’t know where they’re going? But we went. And when we got to Canaan, there was nothing to eat.

So God sends us to Egypt. That was terrible. I was so afraid. And you were so beautiful then. I thought for sure they’d kill me to have you. I’m sorry I made you lie about not being my wife. I put you in danger to save myself. I should’ve trusted God, but I was weak. I’m so sorry about that, Honey.

And I’m sorry about Hagar, too. God said we’d have a child. I thought, maybe, we’d raise Ishmael as our own, but I should’ve known there couldn’t be two women in the same house. But I never loved her. I only loved you. You know that, don’t you? It’s just that we waited so long to have our child. Why would God do that..? Why would he make a promise and drive me to despair waiting to see if he’d make good on it..?

And now, after all of the struggles, I wonder if it was all worth it. And you. You just laughed. But you were more faithful to me than I was to God. You trusted. I worried, but you trusted.

I still don’t know what’s going to happen. I think the kids will be alright. This Rebecca will make a good wife for our boy. She seems a little bossy, but that’s probably what he needs. As long as she loves him. That’s what matters. As long as he’s happy and faithful to God.

I miss you, Sweetie. But don't worry. I'm old. We’ll be together again soon.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A Word from Adam (Reflections on Lent 1, Year A)

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’ Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. (Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7)

Hi, God.

It’s been a while since I’ve talked with you. You have to forgive me—of course, you’re good at that—but I’ve been kind of busy. I really like this snow that you’ve made. It’s cold, but it’s kind of pretty and we never had it in Eden. Of course, we never had to shovel it, either, but hey! You do what you’ve got to do, right?

You like my new outfit? Eve made it. Who’d have thought—you take the wool off of a sheep and then you wash it and spin it around and it becomes long and stringy and you just sort of weave it in and out and you can make all kinds of stuff with it. Not that there was anything wrong with the garments of skin you made for us—heck of a lot better than those dumb fig leaf aprons we made, right?

Well, I guess I’ve been okay. The work is kind of hard but you said by the sweat of my brow I eat bread, you know? It’s actually fun sometimes, too. I mean, I like herding the animals and tilling the ground. It makes me feel like I’ve done something important. And the boys help out a lot, too. Of course they bicker all the time, but I guess that’s how brothers are. I wouldn’t know. You never gave me a brother. Not that I’m complaining..!

I guess I just wanted to say hello and to tell you again that I’m sorry. I’m not sorry because I have to work. I think work has made me a better person, don’t you? I’m just sorry I hurt you because I miss you. You don’t ever come walking among us at the time of the evening breeze like you used to. And sometimes I just feel very far away from you.

And, not for nothing, I’m kind of mad at you sometimes, too. I mean, why did you put that friggin’ tree in the garden in the first place if you didn’t want us to eat it? And why did you make that talking snake who told us everything would be okay if we did eat..? So, okay! I know good from evil, but I wish I didn’t if it means I don’t get to know you.

Look: Nothing’s really been the same since I messed up. You don’t come around any longer, the environment and I don’t get along—there’s snow in the winter and weeds in the summer and snakes that don’t talk who I have to watch out for and rats and bugs that eat the crops and the boys fight all the time and the wife’s always on my butt! Of course I don’t really blame her for that. I guess I shouldn’t have blamed her for that whole fruit-eating thing. I probably need to apologize to her for that.

But, listen, I just want to thank you for giving me another chance and not striking me dead when I disobeyed you. That was very merciful of you. I guess now that if you hadn’t given me the choice to trust you or disobey you, I never would’ve known what it means to really trust you. Or love you. And I do love you, God. I want you to know that. Sometimes I think the worst thing I’ve ever done was the best day of my life.

Does that make any sense? Well, anyway, I have to get back to work. Good talk