Tell that Fox

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Most every day I get up around 4:30, go downstairs, brew a pot of coffee, and begin to percolate. The percolations always sound about the same. With one difference. Coffee doesn’t stew. I do.

Looking in from the outside, you might say “You can take a man out of the pulpit, but you can’t take the pulpit out of the man,” and you would be partly right. But I have no desire to stand in a pulpit. I loved the early mornings when a sermon began to percolate — pausing over a biblical text while world events swirled around my head. I still do. You can’t take that part of the pulpit out of the man.

SWIRLING AND STEWING

The world is always swirling, but these days the swirling feels different. More like a tornado. I go to bed with the news storming in my head and I get up early with it still swirling. But, no matter how ominous the news is, I know I can always take time out to get a better grip, to settle the spinning, to go into the eye of the storm I have become. 

Some mornings, it’s a word that pops up to hold my attention. Yesterday it was two words: serpents and doves. This morning there are three: serpents, doves, and a fox. Stay with me. Views from the Edge is my pulpit in retirement; it’s my pulpit, and I’ll cry if I want to! But this morning the words don’t lead me to cry. They inspire hope and define the way forward.

It began yesterday with serpents and doves. “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves,” says Jesus to his disciples. 

“WISE AS SERPENTS”?  

Get yourselves educated. Become intimately familiar with the world you’re walking into. Be wise to the culture of cunning.” 

“INNOCENT AS DOVES”? 

Become like the dove that brings the olive branch back to the ark; work on whatever is not peaceful in your own hearts.”

Then this morning, along came the fox. “Go and tell that fox. . . ,” says Jesus to those who have come to warn him. 

“GO AND TELL THAT FOX”?

It’s not quite what it seems. The word is hard to render in English. In the culture of the times, it was a derogatory term, a slap in the face, according to biblical linguist Randall Both. Sort of like ‘pipsqueak’. Or small-fry, usurper, poser, clown, insignificant person, cream puff, nobody, weasel, jackass, tin soldier, peon, hick, pompous pretender, jerk, upstart. 

The ‘fox’ is Herod Antipas, the despised tetrarch, a Jewish national who feathered his own nest, a turncoat who served at the pleasure of the Roman Emperor Tiberias. He had ingratiated himself to Tiberias by changing the name of the Sea of Galilee to the Lake of Tiberias and by building a new city with a lush vacation palace on the site of a Jewish cemetery. Herod was a turncoat to his faith and his country. Herod was a usurper. 

“Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow . . . .”

“DEMONS AND HEALING”?

The ‘demons’ in the New Testament are not creepy little creatures, although they are creepy. They are twisters of goodness and truth, liars and tricksters who take possession of a person or a society. Sometimes they hold power and authority, building palatial palaces and private clubs, ingratiating themselves to a foreign power by changing the name and language of a local treasure. The demons make us sick. Healing comes as a result of throwing out the demons to end the demonic occupation. Driving out demons and healing is the continuing work of the community gathered around Jesus.

Like I said, you can take the man out of the pulpit, but you can’t take the pulpit out of the man. Sometimes in the storm that is America today, a word pops up and percolates with the coffee: serpents, doves, and foxes. Five minutes before going back upstairs for my afternoon nap, I hear the words with which Jesus often ended an obscure parable:

“Let those with ears hear.” Хорошего дня.

–Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 30, 2018.

Epiphany 2018

One day in advance of Epiphany, we bring you a reading from an unauthorized revision of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) Gospel according to Matthew 2:13-23, which some call the GCS Translation:

Now after the wise men from Iran had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to José in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Canada, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then José got up, took the child and his mother, Maria, by night, and went to Canada, and remained there until the impeachment of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Canada I have called my son.”

The Round-Up of the Infants

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men from Iran, he was infuriated, and he sent orders to round up all the children in and around Charlottesville who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

The Return from Canada

After Herod had been impeached, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to José in Canada and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go back to the U.S.A., for those who were seeking the child’s life are no more. Then José got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the U.S.A. 

But when José heard that Pence was ruling in place of Herod, he was afraid to go there.

Nazareth TX statue of liberty

Statue of Liberty in Nazareth, Texas

And after being warned in a dream, he withdrew to the high plains of the Llano Estacado of Castro County in the State of Texas. There José made his home in a town called Nazareth (pop. 311), so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

 — GCS, Chaska, MN, January 5 (the Eve of the Epiphany), 2018.

 

Finding America

In a time like this it helps to take a deep breath. Just stop for a moment. Breathe deeply.

But stopping to breathe isn’t easy.

This morning I jump out of bed to get the latest news reports of the dispute over the President’s travel ban executive order: Judge Robart Rules’s Federal District Court ruling in Seattle staying the travel ban; President Trump’s tweet calling Judge Rules a “so called” judge; the Ninth District Court of Appeals’ delay in responding to the Justice Department’s request to immediately restore the travel ban.

Where and how will it stop? How do you take a deep breath when the things you value and the things you fear are colliding as fast as atoms in a super-collider?

Stepping outside this little moment of time for some perspective helps me to stop and breathe. The story of Herod and the Wise Men (Gospel of Matthew 3:1-23) comes quickly to the mind of a retired preacher.

After a long journey to Bethlehem from their foreign country, the Wise Men (the Magi) “returned to their own country by another way”–which is to say, they refused to return to Herod who had sought to deputize them. They did not accede to Herod’s disingenuous, anxious request that they return to inform him of the whereabouts of the newborn child who would threaten his rule. “They returned . . .  by another way.”

The Wise Men were returning to a different country, thought to be Persia (our Iran). They had been wise to come; they were wise to return . . .  by another way than Herod’s. Although the rest of the story is gruesome – the slaughter of innocents before the death of Herod – the good news is that the world did not belong to Herod then, and it doesn’t now.

The story of the Wise Men helps me stop, take a deep breath, and find hope for the America I feel I’ve almost lost. If we “return to [our] own country by another way,” we may yet find American democracy again.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 5, 2017.

 

 

Heeding the dream in 2017

Today is a day of searching for wisdom. This period between the November 2016 American election and January 20 presidential inauguration is what Carl Jung called a pause moment. An interruption of the normal to seek a deeper wisdom.

This year two calendars converge. It’s the first day of a new year on the secular calendar, which coincides this year with the First Sunday after Christmas on the Christian liturgical calendar.  This coalescence invites the kind of pause of which Jung spoke. Here’s an excerpt from the assigned Gospel reading for today from the Gospel of Matthew.

 

Now after [the Wise men] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. – Matthew 2:13-16

Several things leaped out from the text this year:

  1. The wise men “tricked” Herod. The Greek word translated here as “tricked” derives from sports – the wise men sported, played, mocked, or made a fool of Herod. Whenever Herod sends out agents for the children, wise people find a way to play him.
  2. These “wise men” – magoi in the Greek text – are foreigners from the East. These foreign visitors with a different religious tradition (astrology) are outsiders to the myths of religious and national exceptionalism. They bring gifts for the Christ child before “returned to their own country by another way,” side-stepping Herod and his agenda.
  3. Joseph’s dream and flight into Egypt reverses every expectation. It was from Egypt that Moses and the Hebrew laborers had fled. Now it to Egypt that they flee from Herod, the puppet king of Roman occupation, who had made a mockery of Passover and Exodus. In this pause of 2017, perhaps the angels will forgive updating the text:”Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Canada (or) Mexico, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the children to deport them.”
  4. The Holy Family become refugees.

Interpreting biblical texts is a dangerous thing, and sometimes the interpretations go a bit to far! Though that be the case, this Gospel of Matthew text for the First Sunday after Christmas and January 1, 2017 offers an interesting opportunity to do what Carl Jung suggested. Engage the pause. Join the wise. Refuse cooperation with agendas that mock the good news. Take time out from the collective madness to be found again by what is holy and sane.

Grace, Peace, and a Blessed New Year,

Gordon

 

 

 

They departed…by another way

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“And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, [the wise men] departed for their own country by another way.” – Gospel of Matthew 2:12