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Becoming Peace – reflecting Clare’s Example

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Aurora weeps for her dead; Binghamton grieves like a widow; Blacksbury mourns the loss of her innocent; Burlington shakes her head and asks, why?

Today’s reading from Lamentations brings before us a particular genre of sacred text. It is one of five writings which mourn the fall of Jerusalem to the violence of Babylon.

Charleston cries bitterly in the night; Chatanooga can find no comfort; Colorado Springs knows no rest in her streets.

These were likely used as songs, sung as part of liturgies for grieving during fast days.

Columbine has become a vassal for violence; Edmond is desolate; Fort Hood groans with pain.

Although scholars generally agree that Lamentations was written after Jeremiah was carried off to Egypt, often it is attributed to him, known as “the weeping prophet”.

Isla Vista can no longer feel the sunshine; Kileen sits alone and exiled; Minneapolis finds herself in distress.

The people of Jerusalem continued, for decades, to process their grief and to search for answers and healing.

Newton has no one to comfort her; Oakland, once proud, grieves it’s young men; Orlando knows no joy.

Today we often read these Lamentations, in English, during Holy Week, at Tenebrae and on Good Friday.

Roseburg still cries; San Bernadino is bowed down; San Ysidro waits for salvation.

The poets of Lamentations used a typical, three strophe pattern, each stanza beginning with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

Santa Monica has become desolate, Tucson lies waste; Even Washington, our capital city, mourns the blood on her streets.

22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet; 22 American cities that have experienced mass shootings and gun violence. We continue to mourn, and to ask “why”?

Still, as faithful people we also continue to hope; we continue to believe, along with the writer of Lamentations, that “the Lord’s mercies are new every morning”. And. If we are to rekindle the Spirit of God about which the Apostle Paul gives thanks, a spirit “not of cowardice, but of power and of love and of self-discipline”, what else might we do?

Paulo Friere, the revolutionary educator who helped bring liberation to South America, promoted the idea of “Praxis”, whereby our reflections and our actions meet in a cycle. He said: “It is not enough for people to come together in dialogue in order to gain knowledge . . .  They must act together upon their environment in order critically to reflect upon their reality and so transform it . . “

We engage in this cycle of “praxis” in our Sunday morning Bible study, by reflecting not only on the context and meaning of Sacred Texts, but also on what actions they might call us to take. Today we (will) study (studied) the parables in Luke that refer to the practice of slavery, something that was a sad reality in the society of the Ancient Near East, as well as in our own American history. We (will) examine(d) the class structure of the Roman empire, and the violence and exploitation used to enforce obedience among the lowest class of “slaves”, along with the revolution of servant leadership and forgiveness promoted by Jesus.

The Romans believed that one was born into a particular social class through the power of Fate. Still, even Roman philosophers maintained that men had choices to make about how they would treat their fellow human beings. In today’s parable, Jesus lays such a choice before his listeners: they could follow the practices of many, who mistreated their slaves to prove their superiority over them, forcing them to stand and watch them eat after a long day working in the fields. Or, they could “turn the tables”, acting in solidarity with those of that social class, and sit and eat with them. Once again, we behold the possibility of the Heavenly Banquet of welcome, and are challenged by it.

Our lectionary leaves out verses 3 and 4, which set the context for the apostle’s comment about “faith”. In these verses Jesus warns: “Be on your guard! If another disciple[a] sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” The parable, therefore, is told to illustrate preparing for the final judgment, and to emphasize the importance of forgiveness. Forgiveness, which is the root of humility: remembering that we all have sinned, and are forgiven, levels the playing field. By studying, we may come to better understand the Parables. What else are we called to do? What actions based on our reflections – might Jesus be asking from us? And what further learning might occur through such a praxis?

Today, we celebrate not only the feast of the well known St. Francis of Assisi, but also we remember his dear colleague, Saint Clare. Like Francis, Clare was born into a wealthy, aristocratic family. When she was 18, Clare heard Francis preaching during Lent; on Palm Sunday, she left her family way of life, cut her hair, and traded in her gowns for simple robes. She and eventually her sister came to stay in a simple dwelling near San Damiano, the church Francis had rebuilt, in what would become the contemplative order of the “Poor Sisters”. Clare became their abbess in 1216, and she lived 30 years beyond Francis, continuing to pray and work and serve based on the Franciscan theology of “joyous poverty”.

Through their actions, Francis and Clare expressed konosis, or surrender to God and to Love. They chose kindness and forgiveness and lived in solidarity with poor. The kind of solidarity that flows from a deep sense of humility; from knowing that we are all connected, in God’s love. Such solidarity connects us with those who are impacted by violence and oppression, and lifts us all up together.

We affirm this in our Baptismal promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as (our)selves”. And when we act on this promise, it has the power to affect and transform all lives, like ripples upon the water, in a continuing cycle of praxis. St. Clare encouraged her followers to, “reflect the Glory of the Lord . . (and) transform your image into that which we reflect . . . then you will know what love is.”

Just so, the work of Clare and Francis lives on today. It lives in the work of the Poor Clare’s monasteries, and in the Little Sisters of St. Clare, represented here at St. James Church. These women reflect Clare in their respect and love for all creation, in their prayers, their simplicity, and in their care and consideration for others.

Paulo Freire says that “those who authentically commit themselves to the people must re-examine themselves constantly …  Conversion to the people requires a profound rebirth.  Those who undergo it must take on a new form of existence; they can no longer remain as they were.” In Phillipeans, Paul says that Jesus “took the form of a slave”, using the Greek word, “morphe”, which means more than in appearance, but refers to the whole person. Jesus allowed himself to be transformed, and so we too are called.

Whenever we engage in ministry – which is a kind of praxis – it causes not only a transformation in those whom we serve, but also in ourselves. So that we begin to recognize those we previously considered as “other” – using terms such as “the homeless”, “the poor”, “the disabled”, “the victims”– as like ourselves, and we recognize ourselves in them. St. Clare said, “We become what we love; who we love shapes what we become.” May we, as a people, begin to truly love Peace, and in our actions and reflections, become that which we love. AMEN.

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