S _ _ T Stirrer

Luke 13:1-9 – The third Sunday of Lent – for March 3, 2013

“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way that they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?” (Luke 13:2)

Remember this encounter from the 1994 film Forrest Gump*?

Bumper Sticker Guy: [running after Forrest] Hey man! Hey listen, I was wondering if you might help me. ‘Cause I’m in the bumper sticker business and I’ve been trying to think of a good slogan, and since you’ve been such a big inspiration to the people around here I thought you might be able to help me jump into – WOAH! Man, you just ran through a big pile of dog shit!

Forrest Gump: It happens.

Bumper Sticker guy: What, shit?

Forrest Gump: Sometimes.

It does happen, doesn’t it?

In the fanciful Forrest Gump, the dialog above depicted the life-is-like-a-box-of-chocolates Gump as the inspiration behind one of the enduring phrases from the twentieth century:  shit happens.

Oops! Aren’t I supposed to be circumspect and convey the offensive word through dashes like s _ _ t?

But it does happen, doesn’t it? In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus mentioned the death of eighteen people killed by the collapse of a tower in Siloam. Didn’t shit happen to them? In my family, my father’s dementia could’ve been categorized as shit. At a church I served in the 1980s I had an awkward chat at lunch with someone convinced gay men deserved AIDS . . . in other words they deserved the shit they caused.

0214-Carnival-Triumph-passengers_full_600Recent news highlighted the dismal situation for the thousands of passengers aboard the crippled Carnival Triumph. Their luxury toilets didn’t work and soon a whole lotta literal bad shit happened. What’d they do to deserve such a mess? Immeasurably worse—though it rarely makes the news—are the 2.6 billion people (according to the World Health Organization) that “lack even a simple ‘improved’ latrine” the 1.1 billion people without “access to any type of improved drinking source of water.” Are those billions being punished? Continue reading →

This Was A Wilderness Road

Acts 8:26-40 – 5th Sunday of Easter – for Sunday, May 6, 2012

“…then Phillip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus…” (Acts 8:35)

Who will you meet today on the way to . . .?

Abraham and Sarah journeyed toward the land of milk and honey. Exodus is the name of a book of the Torah and a description of what the Israelites did for forty years as they fled slavery. Jesus told the tale of the man on the “road to Jericho,” beaten nearly to death and cared for by the unexpected Samaritan. Paul had his road to Damascus experience.

Once, according to Acts 8:26-40, Phillip was on the way from Jerusalem to Gaza where he met an Ethiopian eunuch. The NRSV translation includes a wondrous foreshadowing of events through parenthesis in verse 26:

. . . the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. (This was a wilderness road.)

Ah, a wild road: dangerous or adventurous or both?

One on that wild road is a follower of Jesus, the other an influential member of a royal court. We can gaze through the lens of history and appreciate the vast difference between these two, remaining calm and scholarly as their spirit-led encounter unfolds.

We can also, here in the twenty-first century, view this meeting as an enduring and transformational moment. The “court official,” enthralled by reading Isaiah, ignorant of Jesus’ ministry, has an opportunity to learn from Phillip. The one seeking enlightenment, the one who is treated by Acts’ writer as a positive “role model,” would seem to be a black man (Ethiopian), wealthy (the treasurer of a court) and a person of a particular sexual orientation (a eunuch). Our modern wide-open eyes can witness this event and celebrate its inclusiveness, its unabashed challenge to our ongoing contemporary tensions.

Here and today, racism roils our society. Right now I could write about Trayvon Williams. Almost twenty years ago, I could mention OJ Simpson as a cultural lightning rod for racism. Do you think there’ll be incidents tomorrow or in the next decade to provide new examples about the clash of culture, faith and racism? I fear so.

Here and today, there are haves and have-nots. The royal treasurer comfortably rides his chariot—how different is he than Donald Trump or Warren Buffet in a Cadillac? As someone who’s not rich, I love Jesus’ statement about how tough it will be for the rich to get into heaven—like a camel through the eye of a needle—and yet there’s that damn rich Ethiopian being helped by poor Phillip. Why let the rich get richer—though in this case, it’s the “wealth” of faith.

Here and today, we live in a post-don’t ask, don’t tell era. Everything’s just fine and fair with issues about sexual orientation. Right? Not! And yet, is it appropriate for the eunuch to be a mirror for our modern quandary about queers? I think so. Someday, same-gender marriage will be accepted from left to right coast, and all United Methodist churches (my tribe) will welcome gays with open hearts, open minds and open doors. Some. Day. For everyone–everyone–who’s not “normal,” some day still hasn’t appeared as one of the days of week. Continue reading →