November 26, 2023 “Reign of Christ”
+ In the Name of God who loves us all.
I know that many may be taken aback by my choice of the Indigenous translated New Testament over the New Revised Standard Version for the Lectionary.
I didn’t make this choice lightly. However, I did make this choice passionately. You see, this Sunday’s readings in the traditional lectionary were, well, uninspiring.
This Sunday is called the ‘Reign of Christ’. It is the end of our Liturgical year. Next Sunday we begin our new year looking with hope to the future. A future that holds the birth of Jesus, the birth our new beginning. New beginning, new future, new hope.
But first we must end our time looking back at all that took place in the year – the birth of a child, the growth and development of the child, the teachings of the child and then the man, the betrayal of the man, and the murder of the man, and the resurrection and ascension of the Messiah to a place in God’s realm with power over all in Creation.
Today’s readings kinda set us up with a bow on top.
I understand that a number of clergy do not like this Sunday to preach on. I understand why some clergy feel this way. When you read the Gospel and Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in the New Revised it is all about power, God coming down on the humans that fail, and the reward of righteousness. I dislike that word. It has been used to beat down so many under the judgements of money, gender, choice, and dominance.
I wanted to find a better way to relay how we can see ourselves using the power that we know God holds, but I truly do not see God beating us with. I wanted writings that would breathe life into the ways we were shown by Jesus as He lived God’s word here on earth. I believed such writings will aid us in bringing others to the path of God, using the power of God.
So, I scanned the section of my bookshelf holding different Lectionaries that I’ve gathered, purchased, inherited over these last three years. My eyes landed on the Indigenous translation. And I read. I thought. I prayed.
Both readings came to me as so much more positive in what the power of God can and should do.
In making the request to change lectionaries to Lisa, I wrote:
First, I love the way the natural language flows. I believe it helps in hearing and absorbing the words and their meanings. The First Nations’ version is meant to be read and heard by the people, not just ‘the learned’ or the leaders’. The Indigenous oral tradition meant that the stories and the teachings were to be shared throughout the community, to learn from and to know. The bigger mission was to have this knowledge shared and passed on to keep the culture alive in the best way to reflect the Great Spirit.
– Remember the Bible wasn’t printed due to the claims that so many were not literate. Why print if no one can read it. And don’t worry, those in power will be here to explain it to you. Well, that really translated to if we don’t share the knowledge, we have the power.
I feel the homily coming through to me easier from the First Nations version than the NRSV. While the feast day is meant to reinforce the ruling power of God/Christ, the Indigenous version of Ephesians reads to me as God is not beating anyone down, but walking with us, reminding us there is a path, and inviting us on the path. Ultimately, we can do all things through God and God’s power. God’s power is meant to be used for good, and we should use it as such, too.
I mean how can the translation of Paul to the Ephesians be any more inspiring and exhilarating than:
This is the same power he used when he brought the Chosen One (Jesus) back to life from the dead and gave him the seat of honor at his right hand. This is a high spiritual place greater than all rulers, authorities, and powers. It is a place higher and stronger than all names that can be named, not only in this world but also in the one that is coming.
This is how he brought all things, seen and unseen, under his loving power and made him the elder of his sacred family. This sacred family is his body on earth, made whole by the one who gives everything and everyone their full meaning and purpose.
Power rooted in love and in care of each other on this plane and the next. No one is excluded, all made whole. The law of this land may reflect God’s teachings, but those that made them are not above God in any way. Does this make you want to get up, get out, and bring others
together to feel the good God’s power will do if we all embrace it? To live in your full meaning and purpose?
The New Revised version:
God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
For me, it read as a CV version of God’s power.
In reading the Indigenous translation of Ephesians, I felt invigorated. God’s power is from a place of safety, strength, and purpose.
And I turned my attention to Matthew. This is hard, because it is the end where all stand before Christ for judgement. Again, end of our year – how would our year stand in judgement by Christ? Would we be righteous?
In a discussion on various issues, Rex asked how the homily was coming. I said Lisa cleared me to use the Indigenous version of the writings. He asked why I wanted to. I explained my reasoning for Ephesians, which you just heard.
Then, I raised that I don’t care for the use of the word ‘righteousness’ in Matthew because of the damage that word can/has caused. Rex did ask if I did a full etymology on the word, as he remembered it is a pastime so to speak in my home. I hadn’t. So, I did.
In Old English – was rightwis; sinless, conforming to divine law
Current English – right in a moral way
In Hebrew – Tzadik; one who is straight (laced) and does not depart from the way of God. Full disclosure, in Hebrew there are many ways that Tzadik is used to represent a positive action in living according to teachings. I am using the one that is closest to the English we know, if English is your fist language.
To me these explanations show that ‘righteousness’ was meant to define one who keeps one’s path closest to the teaching and lives as such. To be a positive way of recognizing someone.
But, as with many things in life, we humans turned it into a description of being better, holier than others. It is not used in a positive light most times. This is why at the end of Matthew in the New Revised version; the sheep are walking in righteousness leaving some of us wondering if we want that.
Now, in fairness, the Gospel between the Indigenous translation and the New Revised are close in God’s praise of the sheep and admonishment of the goats.
I do feel bad for goats. I wonder if the sheep should have been the ones to be seen as following the evil trickster snake. We humans define those we see as following blindly to be sheep. But I digress. A homily for another time.
The sheep are praised for committing the same acts that Jesus did when on earth: feeding the hungry, caring for the lonely or imprisoned, sheltering the homeless. And it is great when we see someone doing an amazing action in the care or uplifting of another.
Remember this past summer when $20 bills were distributed to be given with a purpose. That was an uplifting moment for many here at St John’s. You felt the positive energy. So many are helping in securing housing for those in need, feeding those in need, educating those in need – while drawing many of us in to be part of the power making the good happen. We feel the positive energy to want to repeat that action when we have the chance.
Committing these actions with the positive energy and power we feel from God, leads the sheep to be in beauty and harmony for eternity. Far more relatable and I believe desirable than righteous.
We have the sheep as the example to follow on the path that will lead us to a peaceful end, + however you may view your resurrection or life with God.
And yet, how should we consider the goats? I agree they are being judged at the end on the life they lead. They were in league with the evil trickster snake, and there is a price to pay.
But, should more be done for the goats on the earth now? Do we try to draw a goat that may cross our path back onto the path of God?
Do we do this in our lives? Do we look at another and think well you brought this on yourself? If that goat wanted to change it would. As a recognized ‘Judgy McJudgy’, I am very good at that.
But, rather is this the time that we use the power we feel through the life we are to live using God’s power to help that person find a way back to the path?
Could we be held accountable when Christ asks us but why didn’t you try to help? You were on the path, why didn’t you hold your hand out and say, let me show you the power and good we live and work with by being on God’s path?
Every day, we need to be on the look out for that person that may need to learn, or be reminded, that the power and good of God is with them
and in them. It is never too late. And when we stumble, okay get back up, ask for forgiveness, and breathe the power in.
We should consider our last year as we prepare for the new year. New beginning, new future, new hope. Let’s be made whole by the one who gives everything and everyone their full meaning and purpose.