…she persisted…

I wrote this to find my way through a text that has particular importance at this point in our history.  Jesus’ encounter with a Canaanite woman in Matthew 15 is the point at which we see that his mission is to bring the whole world into a new relationship with God and with each other.  The Gospel is not for few chosen folks who have the right look, the right language, the right culture or the right anything.  The Gospel of Jesus and the promises therein are for all of God’s children.  All.  Those who seek the exclusion (or worse) of others based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and whatever else seems to them unacceptable are ultimately on the wrong side of Jesus’ love.  Thankfully for them, Jesus is gracious and forgiving and does not give up on anyone.  Remember, he told us to pray for our enemies and those who persecute.

Ram Lopez

20 August 2017

Yet, she persisted…


Who can blame her?

  Who could fault her efforts?

     If he is good; if he is of God

        Then he can deal with this demon;

           This god-awful demon tormenting

              My love, my child, my life…


“Show mercy!  Have pity!

  Dear messiah, Son of David, salvation!

     Help her!  Dear God – please, sir, help.

        Release her from this torture,

           Set her free, break the unseen chains

              Of this heinous, diabolical oppressor.”


“Send her away now!” yell his own.  “No longer

  Let us be bothered by her self-inflicted poverty.”

     “I was sent,” utters He, “to the lost sheep of Israel,

        To God’s chosen ones, who for many generations

           Have yearned for this sacred time of freedom.


Yet, she persisted…


“All we need, sir, is just some scraps;

  Scraps of your power, scraps of mercy.

     All my daughter needs is a small portion

        Of the unused grace, of love taken for granted,

           Of peace abandoned by those whom

              You seek to feed and save.”


“Great is your faith!” says He.  “Love fills you, wells up

  In your heart, pouring out through you to many,

     Filling the hearts of many others, ushering boldly

        Into this wounded, warring world a renewed mission

           A vision of all people and nations finally gathered together,

              God’s children resting in my arms of gracious salvation.”


Yes. She persisted.


And where stand I among these ancient players?

  And where stand you among the beloved redeemed?

     Do you hear her cries and seek her silence in favor of comfort?

        Maybe I am a small Canaanite woman persisting greatly in prayer?

           Or, can we be Him – who hears her deep, unrelenting cries for help,

              Who finally takes her side, to free her from the oppressor’s yoke?


This world of walls, unchanged amid centuries of change,

  Still excludes, still seeks to silence the crying voices of the shunned.

     No more do His followers seek after only the lost chosen children.

        He gives us eyes to see sheep, alone, harassed and helpless.

           His heart, beating through our own, is still moved by persistent cries.

              Godly love, flowing from us, swallows division, makes the world whole.


And so, we persist…

The Fierceness of Love

Love.  Good.  Holy.  Omnipotent.  Father.  Creator.  Caring.  Provider.  Almighty.

These are some of the adjectives we use to describe God.

Let’s reflect on others:  Fierce.  Wild.  Intense.

To speak of God’s love in this way is to break out of the thinly walled compartments in our minds that limit love, limit God to our own notions, easily reduced to what we are able to fathom.

But God’s love is not limited, is not reducible to cliches or intellectual sound bites we can easily digest.  God’s love is, frankly, as God is – boundless, expansive, reckless, mysterious, fierce, wild, intense.  These words open us to experience what Brennan Manning calls “the shattering truth of the transcendent God seeking intimacy with us.” (The Furious Longing of God, page 24)

God’s love is reckless (cf Luke 15, especially the story of the prodigal).

God’s love is both boundless and yet specific:  embodied in Jesus in ancient Palestine and present now, we believe, in the sacrament of His body and blood at the Eucharist.

God’s love is mysterious to both believer and non-believer alike.

God’s love is fierce – ready to face and embrace the cross to once and for all defeat the rule of death in this world.

Rule of death.

This is a peculiar phrase.  It can refer to the powers and principalities which “seek to corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.” (BCP, page 302).  A menacing statement, to be sure, but also nebulous.

If we were to take that phrase with the same understanding as we mean when we say “rule of life” we might see in a way less nebulous and more specific.  A rule of life, if you are not aware, is a listing of intentionally used spiritual practices meant to deepen and strengthen one’s faith.  Thus, a rule of death would be a list of intentionally used spiritual practices which have the opposite effect.

The rule of death, in this sense, is practiced and expressed in anger which is a deep, unspoken fear of others, of the unknown.  The antidote for this is faith, meaning trust, in God and in God’s sovereignty in the world.  Fear and anger drive us to strike out, strike back.  Faith allows us to to wait as God works everything out to God’s purposes on God’s time.

The rule of death is practiced in greed which is a habitual seeing and acting from a place of “scarcity,” that is, the “deficits,” that exist in our lives, our finances, our world.  It feeds fear that we will not get what is ours – there is not enough to go around.  That we are not enough.  (This is why you will never hear me use the word “deficit” in describing our budget.  And why you will receive a theological lecture from me should you use that word in my presence.  It is not a Kingdom word.). The antidote for scarcity and the greed it festers is generosity.  It is to practice the Biblical tithe as a way to change our scarcity perspectives to a vision of God’s abundance for our lives.

The rule of death is practiced through division, which arises out of a particular fear of others twisted in with a scarcity mindset.  Division is bred in the petri dish which contains all the limiting thoughts humans apply to God.  Division is meant to build both literal and figurative walls between ourselves and others.  Division means since there is not enough of anything, God included, that one of us is good/chosen/right and one not.  We can see how this feeds our human propensity to demonize others, to perpetuate and justify cultural violence, and feeds all sorts of unhelpful ideology which encourages partisan thinking.  The antidote for division is practicing forgiveness, engaging in mission and service to others, having reconciliatory conversations and seeking out partnerships among those who are different.

Yesterday, I was blessed to participate in our Middle School’s annual Seder Meal.  It is an opportunity to connect the dots – so to speak – about the commonalities between Jewish faith and Christian faith.  In the midst of that meal it struck me how much the Jewish people throughout history have suffered at the hands of others.  I remember critiques by biblical scholars who cautioned that care be taken in preaching John in light of the tragic acts of Christians of various ages who have used John’s gospel to vilify “the Jews” and justify so much hatred and violence towards Jewish people throughout the centuries.  Participating in the seder meal provided a ray of hope that by teaching the common roots Jewish and Christian faith with our students we might break down the dividing walls, helping to prevent further walls as we find a way forward in making peace and reconciliation among all people.

This time spent with 150 of my middle school friends also provided a moment of clarity as I reflected on the rule of death.  When the human habit of limiting of God, or to paraphrase JB Phillips’ words in his seminal book – we make God too small – is mixed with the practices of the rule of death – anger, fear, division, hatred, greed, scarcity – they become a volatile movement which time and again has left brokenness and death in its wake.  It is always awful when this activity happens in the world around us.  It is tragic when people of faith, when Christians, participate.  And Christians are no less guilty than Muslims or Jews or any other group in “drinking the Kool Aid” that the rule of death offers as it promotes violent, divisive behavior as “holy” when it is in fact a perversion meant to further an agenda.

Jesus never partnered with power brokers.  Jesus trusted in a powerful God he called Father.

We would do well to pay attention to Jesus.  The rule of death has but one logical conclusion – death.  The story of the Cross is tragic.  Life and Love Incarnate – the innocent Son of God sent to save us from the power and rule of death – is nailed to the hard wood of the Cross.  Love is rejected. God’s Love is rejected by God’s beloved.  Relationships, including our relationship with God, are reduced to transactions.  Blame, not grace, abounds.

Jesus is nailed to the cross.  Jesus dies on the cross.  Life and Love Incarnate is crucified.  He who is both perfectly human and Divine is nailed to the cross.  The rule of death, the powers and principalities of death defeat the rule of life.

We often say that, “Jesus died for our/my sins.”  We mean that Jesus substituted himself to pay the penalty of our sin, by which we mean “wrong-doing.”  This is a very useful, traditional theology to remember today.

We might also consider that Jesus’ death is “for” us meaning on “behalf of” or for “the benefit of.”  We are beneficiaries of his suffering on the cross.

For us and for our salvation, Jesus bore the wounding of all that which festers in the dominion of death.  He bears on his body the devastating marks of anger, violence, division, greed, fear, hatred, one-sided ideology and partisan acting.  He endures all their wounding and the logical outcome (death) of the spiritual practices of the rule of death.  But Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection mean we are freed from that rule.  The power of death to “corrupt and destroy the creatures of God” has been exposed for what it is and does.  It has been soundly defeated by Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Evil and death lose.  Life and Love win.

Our challenge is that we still live in a world that bears the wounds of the rule of death.  We still hear the subtle invitations to pick up the spiritual tools of greed, division, fear and anger which lead to death.  Embracing the cross of Jesus and the victory of the Empty Tomb is our sole hope, our sure defense, our strength.  We live as people who have already had the war won for us yet continue daily to extinguish the desperate skirmishes of our vanquished opponent.

Listen to these words from William Dixon Gray:  “The resurrection breaks all the rules. Everything is shattered. Of the former structures there is nothing left. Not really. Of course things look the same. There is still death, and law, and government, and banks and times and seasons; but this is like an old skin being shed, a holdover while a new creation is being established. … The point is to get wise to this and stop acting, thinking, talking, and feeling as though a resurrection had never happened.” (From April 12 emailed edition of Synthesis Today, a free service that provides quotes for the upcoming Sunday Sermon based on the Revised Common Lectionary.  Learn more at http://www.synthesispub.com )

The reckless of love of God still seeks us.

The fierce love of God in Jesus burns away the rule and power of death on the cross.

The wild love of God runs free in our lives having shattered the bits and bridles we use to harness God.

The boundless love of God breaks into our world one transformed heart at a time.

The mysterious love of God invites us on this day to live out the rest of our lives embracing the reality of Jesus’ victory over the cross; to bear witness that no despair or darkness can hinder the present and coming resurrection life as it blossoms and bursts forth into new creation.

Maundy Thursday Reflection 2017

In my office are three angels which have been with me since I began ordained life at St. Alban’s, Harlingen. They came to me as a gift. Throughout the years, they have journeyed with me, living on bookshelves and desks in my various offices . One of the little old angel guys has his hands straight up in joyful praise of God. The other two are doing different activities: one, ringing bells, and, the other, feeding birds with a bag of bird seed in hand. They share one thing in common.

Each has one foot up raised in a high-kick position.

Some days I imagine them dancing along to the rocking, celestial sounds of the Kingdom. Today they seem to be walking. Taking a big, first step on a journey of joy-filled movement; carrying with them a joyful message. They are about to move forward – full of hope – stepping out in faith – walking towards whatever comes next. Their old, wrinkled faces glowing, eyes closed, hearts full of unspoken praises to their God, a whole, lifetime on a journey – beginning to end – that is a continuous act of praise.
I wonder – where have those old angel feet been? For what joyful purpose has God sent him? Where will God send those feet sooner or later?

What about our feet?

Are we ready to engage our feet in joyful movement to carry a joy-filled message? Do our feet move in hope towards the future? Will they step out in faith? Are our feet moving us toward God and whatever comes next? Do our feet move along in a continuous act of praise?

Have you considered all the places your feet have been? For what joyful purpose has God sent your feet and you? Did you go? Or did your feet wander off the path? Did someone or something lure you away or stomp on your toes? Did your feet freeze in fright at the size of God’s task before you? Where might God guide your feet sooner or later?

Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment that you love one another…as I have loved you.” (John 13.34)

“…as I have loved you…”

Jesus has just finished supper, the last one in this life with his twelve disciples. After supper he washes their feet. He kneels in front of his students, now friends, and washes their feet. I cannot imagine it was any more comfortable for them than it was for Jesus. But there are just some things only someone who loves us dearly can do. And Jesus loves deeply.

And Jesus is doing more than just showing love. He is showing them what love expressed through action looks like. Jesus models for them the future of their ministry. John’s Gospel portrays Jesus as one who lovingly serves others.

Wrapping a towel around his waist, Jesus takes in his hands each of his disciples feet and washes them. He washes away the dust of many days of traveling and teaching. He washes away the grime of worn out ideas and unhelpful notions about God. He cleans off the muck of prejudice and contempt of others who are different. He wipes away the soil of bitter disagreement and disillusionment.

What the disciples do not know as Jesus washes is that soon their own fear and betrayal will muddy their feet as they run and hide as Jesus hangs on his cross. They do not know that the Empty Tomb about 72 hours away will be a moment of cleansing, not just of feet, but of the whole being of every human. Jesus washes their feet not just to wipe away the past. Jesus washes their feet to prepare them for the joy-filled journey ahead. Jesus washes their feet to prepare them for a journey of carrying a joy-filled message to the ends of the earth. Jesus washes their feet to prepare them for a life of serving others as an act of praise.

So it is with us.

Jesus washes our feet to cleanse away the sins and hurts of our past travels. Jesus washes our feet to remove our worn out ideas and unhelpful notions; to clear away our prejudice and contempt of others who are different; to wipe away bitter disagreements and disillusionment. Jesus washes our feet to refresh and prepare us for our joy-filled journey ahead. Jesus washes our feet to prepare us for a life of serving others as an act of joyful praise.

Jesus washes our feet so that we will wash the feet of our brothers and sisters, sharing the grace and comfort of Jesus in ever-widening circles in our human family.

Let us pray:

Jesus wash our feet.

Wash away the pain inflicted by others on the road with us.
Wash away the shame of our mistakes and hurtful choices.
Wash away the stubbornness of our hearts that keeps us lost.
Wash away the pride and prejudice which limits where we let our feet take us.
Wash away the fears which cause us to flee.
Wash away our unfaithfulness.

Help us, Jesus, to take a big first step on this next stage of our journey of joy-filled movement; taking with us a joyful message. Help us, Jesus, to move forward – full of hope – stepping out in faith – walking towards whatever comes next. Our old, wrinkled faces and young, smooth faces glowing, eyes closed, hearts full of unspoken praises to our God. Teach us, Lord, to see our whole lifetime – from beginning to end – as a journey, a continuous act of praise, loving others as Jesus loves us.