Monthly Archives: August 2022

Choosing The Way of Life


Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Psalm 1

Philemon 1-21

Luke 14:25-33

Prayer of the Day: Direct us, O Lord God, in all our doings with your continual help, that in all our works, begun, continued, and ended in you, we may glorify your holy name; and finally, by your mercy, bring us to everlasting life, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“Happy are those
   who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
   or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
   and on his law they meditate day and night.” Psalm 1:1-2.

The Didache[1] is one of the oldest pieces of Christian literature outside the New Testament. Most scholars agree that this ancient text served as a catechetical instruction manual for converts preparing for baptism. It begins with these words which echo the sentiments expressed in our Psalm for this Sunday: “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways.” Binary declarations like these tend to grate on our modernist ears. We are accustomed to believing that there are many ways to the good life. That is, in fact, true. Goodness, beauty and truth are not the sole possession of any one person, religion, philosophy or culture. It does not follow, however, that these three things, goodness, beauty and truth are all relative. Neither goodness, beauty nor truth exist merely “in they eye of the beholder.” Genocide is not good, no matter how many sophisticated religious and philosophical arguments are put forward in its defense. A woman’s beauty is not measured by male fantasies. An “alternative fact” is just a plain lie. Both the psalmist and the anonymous author of the Didache insist that moral choices between right and wrong must be made and that there are life and death consequences riding on those choices.

This dire warning is important precisely because most of the choices we make throughout any given day do not seem to be matters of life or death. But appearances are deceptive. Contrary to much popular folk lore, the devil does not win souls through any single transaction. The devil wins a soul one white lie, one slightly dishonest act, one failure of compassion, one small theft at a time. I have learned from personal experience how all of this works. In my career as a lawyer, lying was part of the job. Understand that my lies were not violations of “legal ethics.” I never lied to a judge, withheld evidence or encouraged perjury. My lies were all told in the acceptable context of settlement negotiation. As a defense attorney representing a person or entity assigned to me by an insurance company, I typically was given settlement authority up to a certain amount-with the understanding that I was to seek a settlement as far under that amount as possible. That meant, of course, that when presented with a settlement demand from the opposing attorney, I would represent that I had only X dollars in authority when, in fact, I had Y. When the opposing attorney lowered the settlement demand, I would pretend to make a phone call to the insurer and then come back with a higher offer that was closer to the demand, but still well within my settlement authority. So it went on until the case settled-or not.

Of course, I tried to convince myself that this was all morally above board. Nobody was really being deceived. Every half way competent plaintiff’s attorney knows that defense attorneys, like me, are trying to settle as low as possible and that we have or can get more money in our pockets than we are letting on. So, too, defense attorneys know that plaintiffs’ attorneys always make demands well above their clients’ bottom lines. We both understand that there is wiggle room in our respectve positions. We have all done this little dance many times before. Bluffing, posturing and, yes, lying are all part of the way the game is played. I was never successful, however, in justifying all of this to myself. It was all the more unsettling that, over time, I got rather good at it. If I could get comfortable with lying in this context, I wondered, how long before I could get comfortable lying in other areas of my practice? How long before I could get comfortable lying to my wife? Would I ever arrive at the point where I lie reflexively? Would I ever reach the point where I start believing my own lies? Would I finally become unable to distinguish lies from the truth?  

I am thankful that, throughout my eighteen years of practicing law, I remained part of a community that valued truth, honesty and integrity. I am thankful that I left Sunday worship with words like St. Paul’s admonitions “do not lie to one another” (Colossians 3:9) and “putting away falsehood, let everyone speak the truth with his neighbor” (Ephesians 4:25) ringing in my ears. I would like to think that my participation in a community that values, proclaims and practices truthfulness limited whatever damage professional lying did to my soul by keeping me properly uncomfortable with that unholy practice. My church community saved me from straying too far down the way that leads to death. You could even say that my church saved my soul from death.  

The Didache goes on to say, “the way of life is this. First of all, thou shalt love the God that made thee; secondly, thy neighbor as thyself.” As in the gospels and Paul’s letters, these “great” commandments are the polestar for discipleship. They are, in fact, one commandment. The only way to love God is to love and serve the neighbor made in God’s image-the only true image we have of God. Any religious belief or practice (Christian or otherwise) that leads one to harm a neighbor is contrary to the way of life and leads to death.

Our lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures also implores us to choose life over death. Deuteronomy 30:19. That choice, however, is not a one time decision. It is a daily struggle against the pull of race and class biases bred into our minds and built into our schools, workplaces and government. It is a daily struggle against the pull of consumerism that is destroying the air, water and soil we need to live. It is a struggle against the false promise of peace through violence fueling global conflicts, gang warfare and the endless parade of mass shootings in our schools, parks and shopping malls. To choose life is to choose the wellbeing of our neighbors over the claims of nation, tribe and even family-no matter what the cost. Choosing life is not a struggle we can win on our own. We need the love, support, discipline and correction God offers us through the community committed to taking up the cross and following after Jesus. I am thankful God has always led me to such communities of faith that have kept me on the way of life.    

Here is a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge speaking of the struggle to choose life over the way of death.


Gently I took that which ungently came,
And without scorn forgave:–Do thou the same.
A wrong done to thee think a cat’s-eye spark
Thou wouldst not see, were not thine own heart dark.
Thine own keen sense of wrong that thirsts for sin,
Fear that–the spark self-kindled from within,
Which blown upon will blind thee with its glare,
Or smother’d stifle thee with noisome air.
Clap on the extinguisher, pull up the blinds,
And soon the ventilated spirit finds
Its natural daylight. If a foe have kenn’d,
Or worse than foe, an alienated friend,
A rib of dry rot in thy ship’s stout side,
Think it God’s message, and in humble pride
With heart of oak replace it;–thine the gains–
Give him the rotten timber for his pains!

Source: This poem is in the public domain. Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772- 1834) was an English poet, literary critic, philosopher and theologian who, with his friend William Wordsworth, was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England. He also had a major influence on American poet and philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson. He was known by his contemporaries as a meticulous craftsman and perfectionist who was rigorous in the careful reworking of his writings. Throughout his adult life Coleridge had crippling bouts of anxiety and depression.  He was physically unhealthy, suffering the ill effects from a childhood bout of rheumatic fever. He was treated for these conditions with drugs that helped foster a lifelong addiction to opiates. Despite these impediments, Coleridge was enormously prolific as a writer and critic. You can read more about Samuel Taylor Coleridge and sample more of his work at the Poetry Foundation website.

[1] Didache, Translated and edited by J. B. Lightfoot.

We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Table


Proverbs 25:6-7

Psalm 112

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Luke 14:1, 7-14

Prayer of the Day: O God, you resist those who are proud and give grace to those who are humble. Give us the humility of your Son, that we may embody the generosity of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:12-14.

The 2-4-6 dinner, so named because that is the address of the Methodist church in which it is held, was one of many unfortunate casualties of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was a weekly occurrence throughout the winter months here in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. Organized and run by a consortium of civic leaders, church members and volunteers, the dinner was hosted each Tuesday evening in the church basement welcoming as many as two hundred people. No reservations were necessary. There were no conditions nor any requirement to demonstrate need. Though there were plenty of food insecure folk who came to us regularly, they were not the only attendees. Many senior folk, who live alone and experience severe isolation during the long winter months here on the Outer Cape, found company and friendship. Young AmeriCorps workers housed in various settings throughout the forests of the National Seashore welcomed the opportunity to gather and socialize under one roof, a luxury where most of the local bars, restaurants and clubs are closed for the season. There were musicians who graced us with music on the church’s ancient piano as lively conversation was had at each table. Of course, welcoming a crowd of this size in close quarters was out of the question once the pandemic set in. Though 2-4-6 continued to provide food assistance via take out, it was not the same. Now with vaccines and effective treatment for Covid, we are seeking safe and responsible ways to re-start the dinner.

My experience with 2-4-6 stands in stark contrast to other feeding ministries with which I have been involved. At my last congregation, we prepared meals on a monthly basis for the Walk In dinners at the homeless shelter in Hackensack, New Jersey. In addition to persons staying at the shelter, the dinner was attended by people from all over Bergen County experiencing food insecurity. We did all the preparation at the church and brought our food to the shelter. The dinner was managed by shelter staff. Guests stood in line outside until the dinning room opened. Staff ushered them indoors and we stood behind a counter with food warmers, glass sneeze barriers and a steel shelf on which to place plates of food. On the other side of that divide were the recipients. We would dish up a plate of meat, potato and vegetable for each person. Deserts were at the end of the line monitored by staff. Though we always greeted each person and did our best to personalize our work, we did not otherwise interact much with those we were feeding. Giving “seconds” was strictly forbidden under the rules of the center. I have to confess that I broke that one more than a few times, for which I was reprimanded by the staff. “Pastor, I know you mean well. But when you make exceptions, you make it impossible for us to maintain order here.”

I do not wish to denigrate the fine work of the staff at Hackensack Shelter for the Homeless. They are some of the most faithful, committed and compassionate people I know. They provide life giving aid to people in desperate circumstances, serving meals to families with small children barely able to pay their bills as well as homeless women and men . Among those served are a few folks that are mentally ill and emotionally disturbed. The rules strictly enforced by the staff help to ensure that the Walk-In dinner is a safe place for everyone. I want to emphasize that feeding the poor and sheltering the homeless is everyone’s responsibility and the duty of every humane society. But I also believe that Jesus asks much more of us than that. Jesus calls us to invite the poor, the hungry, the lonely and neglected to be honored guests at the Messianic banquet. Jesus never simply provided food. He prepared a meal, a blessing and an opportunity for community to develop and grow.

Understand that a meal is something quite different from “grabbing a bite,” “raiding the refrigerator” or “grab and go.” Meals are meant to be shared. They bind families together. Old and corny as it might be, the shopworn saying is true. “The family that eats together stays together.”  Meals are where stories are told and retold, where important events are celebrated, where we get to share and hear about each other’s day. Potlucks, picnics and repasts are occasions for building, strengthening and repairing community. Through shared meals the tendrils of compassion extend into the lives of all who partake in them and everyone they touch. Meals are the glue that holds families, communities and churches together.

Jesus understood the importance of meals. Sunday’s gospel takes place in the context of a meal. That is common place for Jesus, particularly in Luke’s gospel, where it often seems that Jesus is either at, going to or coming from a meal. He eats with outcasts and sinners. He goes to dinner at the home of prestigious religions leaders. When Jesus speaks of the coming reign of God, he often describes it in terms of a wedding feast. Most important, Jesus’ final evening together with his disciples was a meal in which he vowed to be present with them whenever the bread is broken and the wine poured. The meal is what makes the body of believers the Body of Christ. Through the community created by the eucharistic meal, God aims to bind up the cracks, crevices and divisions that threaten God’s good world.

One line in the Twenty-Third Psalm has always intrigued me: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Psalm 23:5. In a psalm that is comforting over all, that verse strikes a dissonant and disturbing chord. I don’t think I would have much appetite if I had to eat dinner surrounded by enemies. I would much rather be surrounded by family, friends, people with whom I feel comfortable. But Jesus does not afford us that comfort. He instructs us to do quite the opposite. Invite the poor, the crippled and the lame. Invite people who might well be your enemies. Perhaps God sets a table for us in the presence of our enemies because it is the only way God can make us understand that the table we set for ourselves and our loved ones is too small. Perhaps God sets a table for us in the presence of our enemies because God knows that the table is the only thing powerful enough to overcome our fear, hatred and prejudices toward one another. Maybe the beginning of a new heaven and a new earth comes by asking a stranger to dinner-and recognizing in the breaking of the bread the presence of Jesus.

Here is a poem by Joy Harjo speaking elequently to the formtive power of the table. It is force that I believe God would have us extend to the ends of the earth. But for that, to borrow a phrase from the movie Jaws, “we’re gonna need a bigger table.”

Perhaps the World Ends Here

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

Source: The Woman who fell from the Sky (c. 1994 by Joy Harjo, pub. by W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.) Joy Harjo (b. 1951) is an American poet, musician, playwright, and author. She served as the 23rd United States Poet Laureate, the first Native American to hold that honor. She was also only the second Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to have served three terms. Harjo is a member of the Muscogee Nation. In addition to writing books and other publications, Harjo has taught in numerous United States universities, performed internationally at poetry readings and music events and released seven albums of her original music. Harjo is the author of nine books of poetry, and two award-winning children’s books. You can learn more about Joy Harjo and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

Unmasking the Republican Party

“Why don’t we just kill them? Every last democrat, down to the last man, woman and child?”

“It’s time for the day of the rope. White revolution is the only solution.”

Responses to Donald Trump’s December 16, 2021 call to come to Washington on January 6th.

Sometimes you have to call a thing what it is. Sometimes you have to speak the truth no matter how ugly it is, no matter how divisive and polarizing it is, no matter how organizationally disruptive it is and no matter how many family get-togethers it spoils. And here it is. The Republican Party has become a vector for the darkest angels of our national character. It has become a haven for hateful ideologies, vile prejudices and paranoid conspiracy theories. As such, it is a force dangerous not only to our democratic traditions and institutions, but to the very lives and well being of many American citizens.

It is long past time for viewing the G.O.P. as benign political party with a lunatic fringe. The lunatics are now firmly in charge of the asylum. If that was not clear from the moment Donald J. Trump won the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, it became crystal clear on January 6, 2021. On that day the Republican Party demonstrated that it will employ lies, propaganda and racist screeds to incite killing in order to stay in power. A year and a half later as I write these lines, Republican politicians are vilifying the FBI following its entirely legal search of Donald Trump’s Mara Logo home to recover illegally retained government documents, some of which have the highest classification of secrecy. Their rhetoric has instigated at least one violent attack on FBI headquarters, protests in front of FBI buildings by groups armed with military style guns and death threats against FBI agents and employees.

These and other violent threats and attacks against government employees, election officials and people who have done no more than testify to what they have heard and seen stem from the “big lie” of the “stolen election.” That lie is still being propagated by Donald Trump and his loyal followers. Though this narrative is not supported by a single shred of evidence and has been debunked by numerous courts, audits and investigations, Republicans continue to propagate it-or remain tactically silent as their colleagues do so. The strategy has proven as effective as it did for Adolph Hitler, who famously said, “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” A solid majority of Republicans have been convinced that the lie is true. These are not simply “hard ball” political tactics. They are the acts of a party bent on seizing power and imposing it by any means necessary, including lies, intimidation, slander and violence. The Republican party as it exists today is a fascist organization.[1]  

Am I being too harsh? Is this just more inflammatory rhetoric that is unhelpful and only further polarizes our society? Judge for yourself. Trump himself is reported to have said he wished his generals were as loyal to him as Hitler’s were.[2] Revisit the remarks of Republican Marjory Taylor Green in a recent podcast interview. Ms. Green compares Democrats to the British colonial government during the revolutionary period of our country and suggests that true Americans might have to use their Second Amendment rights to maintain/restore American freedom. Huff Post, January 11, 2022. Or replay a speech given on May 27, 2021 in which Republican Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, told his audience that “the Second Amendment is about maintaining within the citizenry the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against the government if that becomes necessary.” New York Post, May 27, 2021. Finally, consider Oklahoma GOP Chair John Bennett, who is running for Congress, referring to Democrats as “communists” who “stole” the 2020 election and with whom “we are at war.” Huff Post, April 27, 2022. And recall the cheers from his audience, when he called for the execution by firing squad of Dr. Anthony Fauci. When Mr. Bennett says “war,” he means the literal sort. The kind in which people are killed. As is evident from the violent reactions and threats of Trump’s mob, this rhetoric is doing exactly what Republicans want it to do-incite violence and terror.

People like Gaetz, Taylor Green and Bennett may be outside of the Republican party’s traditional mainstream. But the traditional mainstream is no longer the engine driving the party. Who is driving the party? Consider that nearly every high ranking Republican absolutely refused to censor Donald Trump-even as he praised Vladimir Putin whose rockets are daily bombing orphanages and hospitals. Consider how the Republican leadership, to a member, refused to hold him responsible for propagating the “stolen election” lie and refused to criticize him for promising to pardon all those who violently attacked our Capital Building on January 6, 2021 in the unfortunate event he wins another presidential term. Despite all this, Senator Lindsay Graham still insists that Trump is the “leader” of the Republican party. Senator Mitch McConnell has stated his intent to support Donald J. Trump if he is chosen in the primaries as the Republican presidential candidate. Even “moderate” Senator Susan Collins will not rule out supporting his presidential bid. These “mainline” Republicans know on which side their bread is buttered. They don’t care about the Constitution. They don’t give a damn for all the high minded principles they once espoused. They could not care less about the standing of their nation on the world stage. They want to keep their party in power and that means standing with their strong man. If keeping one’s congressional seat means placating a man who stirs up the lowest, ugliest, most hateful, bigoted and violent underbelly of the U.S. population into a frenzied mob, so be it.

Donald Trump might be a failed businessman, cowardly draft dodger, adulterous philanderer, sexual predator and incapable of forming, much less carrying out coherent policy. Nevertheless, like all good fascist leaders, he knows how to whip up a lynch mob. He knows the buttons to push that get a crowd on its feet and screaming for blood. If you want to understand the Republican party, you need only examine the anatomy of a lynching. There are the few that actually do the dirty work of murdering the victim. There are several more in the forefront cheering them on. There is a much larger group that might find it beneath their dignity to get their hands dirty with such crass brutality, but are secretly glad that somebody else is. Others might have some misgivings about the methods but figure that, as this is a battle for the soul of America, the ends justify the means. There is a large group that might disapprove of the whole affair, but because the victim is not one of “their people,” they decide that it isn’t any of their business and not worth risking the ire of the mob. There is a group of people with a semblance of conscience who slip away in horror, go home, shut their doors, draw the curtains and pretend the whole terrible event is not taking place. But whether by action, encouragement, tacit approval, inaction or cowardice, all are participants. All are enablers. All share responsibility for the crime.

So here’s the deal. Your choices are no longer between the competing political philosophies, priorities and policies of two parties equally committed to the electoral process. Your choice is between an imperfect, sometimes corrupt, frequently inefficient and often inept democracy that has nevertheless given us freedom and opportunities that are the envy of much of the rest of the world, or a regime built on the foundation of mob hatred governed by criminals, extremists and the opportunists riding their coat tails. You don’t have to like Democrats, their policies or their candidates. But if you want your democracy to survive, you had better get out and vote like hell for them as if your life depended on it-because it does. The Republican party has given you fair warning that lethal violence is not outside the scope of what it will do, encourage, tolerate or ignore to advance its agenda. To be clear, most Republicans are not inherently violent people. You can be certain that most Republicans will never raise a violent hand against you. But you can be just as certain that they won’t lift a finger against the rest of their tribe who have promised you in no uncertain terms that they will. If you are not wearing a MAGA hat, that should scare the crap out of you. More importantly, it should inspire you to use your voice, use your witness and use your vote to dump Donald Trump and his party into the dust bin of history along with George Wallace, Lester Maddox, Bull Connor,  Joe McCarthy and all the rest of our nation’s embarrassments.

[1] “Yes, but the Democrats…” I have nothing to say in defense of the Democratic Party. I am not a Democrat myself and have no interest in becoming one. I know very well that the Democratic Party is just as beholden to corporate donors, special interests and lobbyists as are Republicans. That being said, there were no Joe Biden flags at the January 6, 2021 insurrection. There are no Democrats that I know of invoking the support of the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers or KKK organizations, referring to them as “very fine people.” To be fair, there has always been a deep seated strain of racist hate, anti-intellectualism, misogynism and xenophobia in the American DNA, often legitimized by bastardized expressions of American Christianity. On February 20, 1939 the dark side of Americana was on full display at Madison Square Garden. There the German American “bund,” a pro Nazi organization established in 1933 held a rally attracting over twenty-thousand participants. The Bund’s youth members were present that night dressed in uniforms identical to those of the Hitler youth, as were the “Ordnungsdienst,” the group’s vigilante police force dressed in the style of Hitler’s SS officers. Banners hanging in the auditorium had messages like “Stop Jewish Domination of Christian Americans” and “Wake Up America. Smash Jewish Communism.” See “When Nazis Took Manhattan,” All Things Considered, NPR (February 20,2019).  From the birth of our republic, politicians, both Democratic and Republican, have exploited these darker angels of our national nature for their own purposes. In my own time, they had names like George Wallace, Lester Maddox, Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms. These men drew their support and their ability to thwart the advance of civil rights from a deep pocket of white rage against a changing world and white resentment against feminists, racial minorities, liberals and communists who  were believed to be taking the country away from its rightful owners. But I think it is more than fair to say that no leader in the history of the United States has succeeded so thoroughly in marshalling the seething pots of white resentment into a national political movement than Donald J. Trump.

[2] In all fairness, this statement was reported by General John Kelly. During his short tenure as Trump’s chief of staff, Kelly’s own loyalty led him to lie about a member of congress in defense of his boss. Now, from the safety of his retirement, he has decided to speak up and play the elder statesman by warning us at this late hour about the danger Trump poses to the republic. It is therefore more than reasonable to question the validity of anything the general has to say. All that being said, however, this statement attributed toTrump is thoroughly consistent with the man’s fanatical demands for loyalty and I have no reason to think he wouldn’t make such a statement.  

Honoring Sabbath-It’s More Than Going to Church


Isaiah 58:9b-14

Psalm 103:1-8

Hebrews 12:18-29

Luke 13:10-17

Prayer of the Day: O God, mighty and immortal, you know that as fragile creatures surrounded by great dangers, we cannot by ourselves stand upright. Give us strength of mind and body, so that even when we suffer because of human sin, we may rise victorious through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
   from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the sabbath a delight
   and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
   serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
   and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
   for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 58:13-14.

For most of us protestant Christians, honoring the Sabbath is nearly synonymous with going to church on Sunday. Some protestant churches continue to prohibit work on Sunday in honor of the Sabbath. Strictly speaking, however, the Sabbath is not about worship. It is about rest. Rest from labor for everyone, from princes at the pinnacle of society to the lowliest servant. According to the Hebrew Scriptures, animals were also to be given rest from work on the Sabbath. The land itself was to receive a year of sabbath from cultivation every seven years. In essence, the Sabbath is a labor law designed to protect humans, animals and the earth itself from ruthless exploitation.  

The command to rest was the first one God gave us when, at the completion of creation after six days, God rested. I saw recently a clever poster featuring a photograph of the earth from outerspace and this verse from Genesis: “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.” Genesis 2:1-2. Underneath were the words, “So, tell me again about how busy you are and how you just can’t afford to take a break from all your important work.” A rabbi under whom I studied Hebrew while in college told us that “God commanded us to rest because he knew that, left to ourselves, we never would.”

Work is a good gift of God and a blessing-or at least it is supposed to be. But work has a way of getting out of hand and taking over the rest of life. When I first began practicing law, the hours were long and difficult. When the work day ended, however, I got into my car and enjoyed a relatively easy commute back home, listening to music and decompressing. When I walked through the door into the house, the office was behind me and I was confronted with a fresh set of domestic challenges. If I didn’t have a complete day of rest, at least I got to enjoy little islands of rest protected from the reach of my job.

With the advent of the cell phone, I lost the comfort of knowing that, while driving from place to place, I could enjoy a period of peace where no one could reach me. E-mail extended into the sanctuary of my home the reach of anxious clients eager to know the status of their cases, senior partners needing a legal memo asap and associates with pressing questions about their assignments. More recently, the covid-19 pandemic accelerated this trend by blurring altogether the distinction between home and work through normalizing the practice of “working from home.”[1] It has become increasingly difficult to enjoy any sort of Sabbath, that is, time altogether free from the demands and obligations of work.

In Jesus day, the Sabbath itself had become a laborious burden. Instead of providing an oasis of peace for rest and rejuvenation, Sabbath had become an onerous network of rules to be observed. The ruler of the synagogue in our gospel lesson goes ballistic when Jesus heals a woman bent over from a chronic back condition. “There are six days on which work ought to be done;” he tells the people. “Come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” Luke 13:14. It sounds reasonable enough at first blush. After all, this woman’s ailment is hardly a medical emergency. She has lived with the condition for eighteen years. All she has to do is wait another few hours until sundown.

Jesus, however, takes a different view. He reminds his audience why God gave us the Sabbath. It isn’t as though God created an elaborate set of rules and then, as an afterthought, decided to create people so that there would be someone to follow all of these wonderful rules. As Jesus has told us elsewhere, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath.” Mark 2:27. The Sabbath was designed to ensure that human beings are given rest from their labors. As all of us who suffer from back pain know, it is hard to get any rest when your back is killing you. Jesus is simply opening the door of Sabbath rest to this woman whose pain had been excluding her from it for eighteen years. What better way to honor the Sabbath than to expand its reach to those who need it most?

The Sabbath and its limitations on the scope of labor for the protection of the earth and all its human and nonhuman inhabitants stands in stark contrast to the values of late stage capitalism which exploits all for the sake of profit for a few. This false religion of profit permeates our educational institutions, which are designed to produce workers and professionals meeting the needs of corporate America. When speculating about a person’s wealth, we are typically heard making remarks like, “So what do you think she’s worth?” We compensate and value individuals based on how much value can be extracted from their labor. In the view of capitalism, the world is not God’s creation, but merely a ball of exploitable resources to be used in generating profit. Small wonder, then, that the earth is scarred with deforested wastelands, contaminated waters and dying cities filled with the ruins of factories and poverty stricken people capitalism has left behind after extracting everything it could use.

Sabbath points us to a different kind of economy. It is an economy driven by human need rather than human greed. It is an economy designed to create and nourish community rather than exploiting and then abandoning communities in the interest of cheaper labor and greater efficiency. A biblical economy treats the earth, its habitats and inhabitants with reverence and respect rather than as a treasure trove of resources to be mined ruthlessly for generating profit. A biblical economy seeks to build a society in which all people can live meaningful and productive lives rather than seeking to mold people into productive units to be used by corporate industry until obsolete and then summarily discarded. Honoring the Sabbath is a whole lot more than simply going to church. To honor the Sabbath is to pursue justice and ecological renewal passionately and relentlessly.

Here is a poem by Denise Levertov that speaks eloquently to what I believe can be characterized as Sabbath, both as presently experienced and as anticipated with passionate hope.        

To Live in the Mercy of God

To lie back under the tallest
oldest trees. How far the stems
rise, rise
before ribs of shelter

To live in the mercy of God. The complete
sentence too adequate, has no give.
Awe, not comfort. Stone, elbows of
stony wood beneath lenient
moss bed.

And awe suddenly
passing beyond itself. Becomes
a form of comfort.
Becomes the steady
air you glide on, arms
stretched like the wings of flying foxes.
To hear the multiple silence
of trees, the rainy
forest depths of their listening.

To float, upheld,
as salt water
would hold you,
once you dared.

To live in the mercy of God.

To feel vibrate the enraptured

waterfall flinging itself
unabating down and down
to clenched fists of rock.
Swiftness of plunge,
hour after year after century,
O or Ah
uninterrupted, voice
To breathe
spray. The smoke of it.
of steelwhite foam, glissades
of fugitive jade barely perceptible. Such passion—
rage or joy?
Thus, not mild, not temperate,
God’s love for the world. Vast
flood of mercy
flung on resistance.

Source: Sands from the Well (c. 1996 by Denise Levertov; pub. by New Directions Publishing Corporation) Denise Levertov (1923–1997) never received a formal education. Nevertheless, she created a highly regarded body of poetry that earned her recognition as one of America’s most respected poets. Her father, Paul Philip Levertov, was a Russian Jew who converted to Christianity and subsequently moved to England where he became an Anglican minister.  Levertov grew up in a household surrounded by books and people talking about them in many languages. During World War II, Levertov pursued nurse’s training and spent three years as a civilian nurse at several hospitals in London. Levertov came to the United States in 1948, after marrying American writer Mitchell Goodman. During the 1960s Levertov became a staunch critic of the Vietnam war, a topic addressed in many of her poems of that era. Levertov died of lymphoma at the age of seventy-four. You can read more about Denise Levertov and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation Website.

[1] I know that many people find working from home to be liberating. I can understand that. It spares them the time, cost and aggravation of commuting to a distant office. Working from home allows one greater freedom in setting one’s own schedule, thereby enabling them to participate more fully in the life of their spouses and children. But my own experience has been that trying to get work done at home does not make me a better spouse, father or person all around.  

Interpreting the Times


Jeremiah 23:23-29

Psalm 82

Hebrews 11:29—12:2

Luke 12:49-56

Prayer of the Day: O God, judge eternal, you love justice and hate oppression, and you call us to share your zeal for truth. Give us courage to take our stand with all victims of bloodshed and greed, and, following your servants and prophets, to look to the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” Luke 12:56.

I have to confess that my sympathies here are with Jesus’ audience. I have never had much success interpreting the present time. The “signs” of the time have always seemed contradictory to me. While I was growing up in the late 60s and 70s, hard won gains for women and people of color seemed to point to a brighter future even as tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union threatened thermonuclear doom. Ultimately, the Soviet threat evaporated while a more conservative Supreme Court began the work of dismantling affirmative action, the Voting Rights Act and protections for reproductive rights-a job the current Supreme Court is poised to complete. Fascism, once thought to have died with Francisco Franco, is on the rise globally and has commandeered one of our nation’s two major parties. Russia has re-emerged under Vladimir Putin as an empire hungry to expand. The future of democracy and human rights is at stake. Nevertheless, if the direst predictions of climate scientists are accurate and the paralysis of world leaders in addressing them persists or the superpower proxy wars turn nuclear, none of that will matter.

Yet as I write these lines, the United States Congress is poised to approve a bill addressing climate change in a significant way. Voters in the state of Kansas overwhelmingly defeated an attempt to role back women’s reproductive rights and the House Committee Investigating the insurrection of January 6, 2020 is slowly but surely chipping away at the pervasiveness of the “big lie” of the stolen election. In spite of efforts by reactionary forces to turn back the clock, time marches on. The sight of interracial couples walking down the street holding hands, a sight never seen in my childhood, is so common today as not to merit a second glance. Same sex couples, who throughout most of my life have had to live in the shadows, now live openly as families and are increasingly gaining acceptance. As dark as the future sometimes seems, today is in many respects a better day than the one on which I was born. That is not to say that tomorrow will be brighter still. Many once great civilizations have fallen into ruin, leaving in their wake ages of barbarism and violence. The jury is out on the future of our current global order. So, on balance, I cannot say where the signs of the times are pointing.

Or perhaps my way of reading the signs of the time is all wrong. Maybe Jesus is not directing our speculative gaze into the future at all. After all, Jesus has warned us more than once against trying to cobble together from scriptural passages and current events God’s timeline for bringing the world to its end and ushering in the reign of God-as though there were such a timeline. Jesus himself denied having such knowledge. That alone should cast more than doubt about anyone who claims to have “cracked the biblical end times code.”

These warnings should also caution us against becoming too shrill and bombastic in our declarations about what God wills or where God is taking us or what constitutes progress toward God’s coming reign. Can we be so sure that “saving American democracy” is God’s priority? What if God means to dissolve the whole world order, the United States included, to make way for something new? Can we be so certain that our frantic efforts to turn around the steady decline in church membership and support is consistent with God’s intent for God’s church? Could it be that God, not secularization or any of the other culprits we blame, is responsible for the modern church’s decreasing numbers, loss of prestige and influence? Could it be that God is looking for a small, poor and marginalized church that has only the Word to sustain it-which is, of course, all that it ever really had to begin with. Perhaps the signs of the times are meant make us aware of how little we understand our own time, how incomplete is our comprehension of what God is doing and how careful and humble we ought to be in speaking those fearful words, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Still, Jesus does assure us that God is at work in the messiness of human life bringing into existence something new. Jesus tells us that what often seem like death throes are in fact birth pangs. Before its birth as a people, Israel was incubated four hundred years in slavery. Before its return to and rebirth in the promised land, the people of Israel languished for seventy years in exile. Jesus lay for three days in the darkness of a sealed tomb-which might better be characterized a womb. As it turns out, God does God’s best work in the dark. That is good news for people like me who are in the dark about most things most of the time!

In the final analysis, the cross and the resurrection are key to interpreting the present time. Birth does not happen without pain, rending of flesh and bloodshed. The new creation implies the death of the old. The new heaven and earth is pushing its way into the old, but the old is not going down without a fight. To welcome the new creation, one must be willing to relinquish one’s hold on the old. Even the intimate ties of family must give way to the embrace of God’s reign. The temptation to do just the opposite is more powerful for those of us who have known mainly the comforts, privilege and influence this world affords. We who cling desperately to what we deem ours by right and imagine God’s future reign as nothing more than an eternal continuation of our past benefits are bound to be sorely disappointed. The signs of the times should serve as a warning to us that our attachment to wealth, power, blood, soil, nation or whatever else we deem eternal is bound for dissolution. Hell might be nothing more or less than one’s realization that one’s life has been wasted on a whole lot of what doesn’t matter.   

Perhaps that is what the “signs” are intended to remind us. The events of our day, random, threatening and chaotic as they might be, are nevertheless given meaning by the cross and resurrection of Jesus and the biblical narrative bearing witness to it. In Jesus’ faithful life, obedient death and glorious resurrection we are invited to see in our lives and experiences signs of God birthing a new thing in the midst of an old and tired world. We may not know all that God is up to, but we know that God is at work for our redemption in the midst of our messy existence. We have no idea exactly what that will look like, how it will emerge or when it will reach completion. Yet, whatever it turns out to be, it is sure to be more wonderful than anything we could have imagined. That isn’t all we might like to know. But it is enough.      

The following poem by Alli Warren invites us to interpret the present time. Though she suggests that events, great or small, are bearers of meaning and significance, she leaves much for us readers to supply. Her poem functions in many respects the way Jesus’ parables function, seeking not to answer our questions, but rather to solicit from us better questions.

Something is Coming Toward us

Flaunting in the atrium, ostentatious at the gates

I saw a shooting star thru a window on Alcatraz Ave

& cladding struck up against those who demand

We stomach the stick and tend the commode

They’re selling trees in the paint store! trees in the paint store

Datebook chips in the soft skin of our wrists

On NBC, CNN, and NPR broken windows are weeping

We’ll have 35 apples and shrieking in the thickets

Aloft in the air golden and golden the dial among the mounds

So much is stunted in understanding of what a light can be

They storm the scrimmage line and clear-cut bran and germ

We want the petal unto itself, the unalterable vessel

The arc end of the precipice grows 1.9% annually

What was popular music like before the crisis?

Source: I Love It Though, (c. 2017 by Alli Warren;  pub. by Nightboat Books). Alli Warren is an Ameican poet and author. She was born in Los Angeles and now lives in the Bay Area of San Francisco. Her writing has been published in many venues, including Harpers, Poetry, The Brooklyn Rail and Feminist Formations. You can find out more about Alli Warren and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation Website.