Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Third Move

In the order of service for the congregation where I preached today there was an invitation. It was before the prelude, and it invited worshipers to transition "from getting here to being here." A congregation where I preach regularly includes time following the benediction and choral response to sit quietly in their seats, reflect on worship and prepare to leave worship with intention. Those are the three moves: getting to worship, being in worship, leaving worship. Though all three moves are mentioned, the gospel reading for Proper 25C/Ordinary 30C (Luke 18:9-14) focuses on two of those moves.

In the very familiar text, two men go up to the Temple (getting to worship), and they each offer a prayer (being in worship). This is often where artists stop in their depiction of the parable. Two men are near each other, but they have very different body language. One stands upright, gesturing grandly toward the other. The other may be kneeling or leaning over with body language that is closed.

The moment shown is the moment of the two prayers. Two very different prayers. Don't be like the overly proud prayer, Jesus says. The end.

But that's not the end.

Jesus' story and summary continues. It follows the two prayers from the Temple to their implied journey home. It's an important conclusion, one sometimes forgotten or overlooked or downplayed. This part of the story is worth another look, though, because it implies that what we do in worship has something to do with what happens after worship.

Dutch artist Barent Fabritius painted a series of three works, each focusing on one of Jesus' parables. The three paintings were commissioned by and hung in the Lutheran Church in Leiden. This week's gospel reading was among them.

Fabritius divides the picture space into four sections. In the center sections, the pharisee and the tax collector are each shown at prayer. The Pharisee's face is lifted up and  illuminated as he kneels before an altar. His gesture points toward himself and to the "other." The tax collector stands behind a column, in shadow, his face turned down. It is a pretty typical composition so far. But on each side of this painting are two other sections, divided from the Temple setting by large square pilasters. In each of the settings are the two prayers leaving the Temple, presumably returning to their homes and lives.
Barent Fabritius. The Pharisee and the Publican. 1661. Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum.
On the left the Pharisee leaves the Temple with a rather smug expression on his face. He is preceded from the Temple by a horned and winged devil who carries a mask. The mask is an obvious symbol for the deception that is the world's perception of the Pharisee. By contrast, the tax collector leaves the Temple overseen by an angel. One of these men leaves the Temple justified, Jesus says. Fabritius has left no doubt which man that is.

The third move - leaving worship - is worth thinking about.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Ourselves in the Story

The persistence of the widow in Luke 18:1-8 (Proper 24C/Ordinary 29C) ultimately got her what she sought. What she sought was justice. The judge - admittedly uncaring about much of anything including justiceand therefore unjust - ultimately gives in. Not because he cares about her or her cause or justice but because he gets tired of her constant nagging. It's a little disheartening as an example of human judicial process. It's more disheartening to realize that human nature may have changed little since this gospel was written.
Symeon Shimin. "Contemporary Justice - the Child". 1940. Tempera. Washington DC: Department of Justice.
The tempera painting above hangs in the Great Hall of the U.S. Department of Justice. The artist, Symeon Shimin (1902-1984), illustrated more than 50 children's books, writing two himself. Though the subject was probably assigned as part of a series of paintings in the building, Shimin's affinity for the subject of justice in relation to the child makes sense.

Don't lose heart, the parable tells us. Don't lose heart even when the system is broken. The widow doesn't give up; she keeps petitioning the judge. She doesn't change from her course. The judge doesn't change either, but the widow eventually gets what she has been seeking. God's justice will come, sometimes through human judicial processes...and sometimes in spite of them. 

The 2016 National Observance of Children's Sabbaths is set for October 21-23. Congregations are 
encouraged to "stand tall within our communities and push our nation to keep our promises of love and justice, equality and dignity for all." (Children's Defense Fund; 

This painting reminds us of the promises of justice that we make to our children. What we, as people of faith, must ask ourselves as we consider this story (and the state of our nation) is whether, in relation to our children, we are the widow persisting in our quest for justice or the unjust judge.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Keeping Their Distance

Only one said "thank you." That's the bottom line of the gospel reading for Proper 23C/Ordinary 28C (Luke 17:11-19). I think the story is more evocative in the imagining than in the text. The traditional composition shows nine men in the distance, often leaping for joy as they run back to their families. In the foreground, Jesus usually stands over one man who kneels at his feet, expressing gratitude and praise to the one who made healing possible.

Because the literal interpretation of the text is not particularly visually interesting, this week's blog post will link you to photographs of leper colonies. Because the colonies are officially closed, what you will see is what is left. Think about the lives lived in these places. Think about the people - human beings - who were forced to live apart from their families because of this disease. And not just "down the road" apart, but colonies that were established on islands to make sure that they were well removed from the general population. After all, these people, too, were forced to keep their distance from the general population.

The leper colony called Lovokomeio on the Greek island of Chios, was opened in 1378 as the first leper colony in Greece. On the island is a church dedicated to St. Lazarus, patron saint of lepers. The colony was officially shut down in 1957, after a cure for leprosy (Hansen's disease) had been found.
 Photos by Kelly Katsarou. For additional images from this colony, see: For additional work by Kelly Katsarou, see:
In the U.S., the National Leprosarium in Carville, LA, includes two cemeteries. Shown above is the second, with the first burial in 1922 and the last in 2014. Patients often used false names so that their families could avoid the stigma of having a relative with leprosy. The tombstones may be carved with a real or false name as well as a case/file number. Only those patients quarantined by law can be buried here. For more on Carville, see:
On the Hawaiian island of Molokai, the Kalaupapa community served as the leper colony. Now a U.S. National Park, the community was located on a peninsula that is separate from "topside" Molokai. Opened in 1866, Kalaupapa was the mandatory location for any Hawaiian suffering from leprosy until 1969, when the state lifted its mandatory exile law. More than 8,000 people died at Kalaupapa. For more, see:

Jesus' healing of these men changes their lives, changes the possibilities for human interaction, changes everything. We can understand the joy that would supersede all other thoughts after being healed. Certainly those nine men were anxious to return to families and lives from which they had been separated since the onset of leprosy symptoms. Still, it's a lovely moment when one returns to thank Jesus.