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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Gospel Pearls

Today's post is a string of thoughts from the past few days organized under some themes from today's Gospel lesson:

The realm of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls who when finding a pearl of great value sells everything and buys it. Matthew 13:45-46

Is God the merchant here? If so, what and where is the realm? From whom does God buy it? Are we, God's children, the realm in that we will one day populate it? Is the transaction redemption? Or are we the merchant? Are we to sell everything for the sake of the realm and reign of heaven? And then do what? Buy our way in?

The realm of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened. Matthew 13:31

Here Baker-Woman God is creating the heavens with her bare hands. Here in Jerusalem, this text can be heard with specific regard to the Christian presence and ministry in the Holy Land, (as suggested by the preacher this morning). There are only about 8000 indigenous Christians in Jerusalem, a city of some 500,000. Yet like yeast, the work that Christians do here permeates the city and beyond, changing the surrounding world, for good. The preacher reminded the congregation here that the Diocese educates nearly 9,000 children, many if not most are Muslim. And our hospitals provide care to  many thousands more. Our work for the realm of God is not hindered by our numbers.

Other pearls on the string:
Jerusalem is Israel's largest city and the religious center of the nation and the religions that call it home. Jerusalem is also a prism through which the rest of the country is seen in one light, apart from which the rest of the country can be seen in other lights. The religious complexity and intensity that characterizes Jerusalem does not exist in the same way in other parts of the county. Tel-Aviv is visibly distinct from Jerusalem in the virtual lack of ultra-Orthodox families as a visible presence. There are also significantly more African Israelis in Tel-Aviv. Haifa and Netanyah also have their own characteristics. (Not to mention the Galilee region.) It is easy to forget how much else there is to Israel when based in Jerusalem. Some times the world to come is described in terms of a new Jerusalem, other times in terms of a whole new creation. There are days here when a whole new start sounds like just the ticket, and others when I would like to think that we can change the world with God's help, even here.

$18,000 a peice
That is the figure that peace activists here cite as the combined US contribution to Israel on an annual basis in soft and hard money. Even if the sum is apocryphal or inflated, it is a starting point for reflection and discussion. We are wrestling with our own debt issues and supporting governments around the world in small and in significant ways. As we honor previous commitments and make new ones are we willing to target our investment in ways which reflect our own values? Should our aid be completely disconnected from the peace process? Do American citizens know or even care what governments and what governmental policies we support with our tax dollars? Particularly when we are cutting education, social services, fire and police and libraries on the local level and services for the poor, indigent and elderly. What are we doing with our pearls, our treasure, and why?

Voice and Vote
While there is no single group in the US who speaks with a single voice on any one issue, some voices are louder, better funded and have greater access to policy makers than others. Are Americans so jaded by our political system that we just let folk make decisions for us, in our names that do not correspond to our views because we don't want to - or don't see how we can - take on a political behemoth? In our system of government, our votes are as precious as pearls. Yet so many squander them.

Christian Zionism
Christians have contributed to the shape of community, government and discourse in Israel since the Virgin brought Jesus to be circumcised and dedicated in the Temple. Some of what Christianity has done here in the Name of Jesus has been despicable. And one does not have to go as far back as the Crusades to find examples. Christians have helped contribute to the xenophobia that lurks behind every stone here, augmenting the xenophobia of some Orthodox Jewish communities calling for the eradication of the Arab presence in Israel by any means necessary. The irony being that for these Christian Zionists, the next step is the eradication or conversion of the Jews for the second coming of Christ. Even with that caveat, there are Jewish agencies that take their money. It is hard to find a gospel pearl in all of the muck that is passed off as a shared treasure in those conversations.

The Gospel lesson talked about a single pearl of great price that stood out among the all of the very fine pearls. I've been ruminating on a string of pearls assembled from my experiences and reflections here in the past week. Having found or acquired the pearl treasure of knowledge or experience or any other thing, what does one do now?

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