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Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Lectionary Scriptures: Job42:1-6, 19-17 AND Psalm 34:1-22 OR Jeremiah 31:7-9 AND Psalm 126:1-6, Hebrews 7:23-28, Mark 10: 46-52

I grew up with a significant extended family. We gathered regularly for special occasions, large family feasts at Thanksgiving and Christmas, for instance. Most of us lived near enough to one another that the cousins played and fished, even double-dated, together. Our best friends were often family members, and even if not viewed as the closest of friends, they were assumed to be part of the regular dynamic of our life. That kind of family connectedness is rare these days, especially as we have become separated by great geographical distance and blended families have become more common.

I also grew up in a small town were it seemed liked everybody knew everybody else. All the business people on main street knew who we were. Only a hardware store owner who knew little 5-year old Jimmie Ogden would understand when he came in to buy a half pint of red paint as a Christmas present for his mother.

We lived on one side of the city park which was two blocks on each side. We knew who lived in every house around that park and the kids met in the middle to swim in the pool, swing on the swings, play hide and seek in the woods.

I’m not sure many grow up with the kind of sense of community today.

Some would suggest that I’m just an old fogey who ignores the movement of community onto the internet. I wonder, though, whether short tweets or text and e-mail messages where one never hears the inflections of voice or varieties of facial expression can fully stand in for the kind of community I have experienced as I’ve connected with and worked and played with various groups throughout my life. Can such a medium bear the weight of human joy and sorrow, hope and despair, handholding and meaning-building that constitute the community many of us long for? While I’m fully ready to aknowledge that the internet has facilitated connections undreamed of a few decades back, rallying people to thought and action in astounding ways, I wonder if it has also contributed to the lack of civility that rants and raves its way through so much of human discourse. I don’t know. I know that the human heart longs for connection. We were not meant to be alone. The popularity of the internet is partly fueled by that desire for connection.

My reflection on that desire is triggered by this week’s lectionary readings and the discussion of them that occurred during the weekly breakfast gathering that brings together some of the Kairos-Milwaukie United Church of Christ folk at Mehri’s Café. They made me think about restoration, reparation, restitution, even forgiveness, which is a form of restoration.

What is the nature of the restoration we seek? In the reading from Job, after his long time of testing and trial we are surprised to find that “the Lord restored” his “fortunes . . . and gave Job twice as much as he had before.” (Job 42: 10) Many biblical scholars believe this account of restoration is the addition of a later editor who just couldn’t stand to have the story end with Job finding some kind of resolution in the midst of his humbled estate. It takes away, in my opinion, from a message which can help people see that the meaning of life is not in the wealth to which they at times cling so tightly. Nevertheless, this added ending points to one kind of restoration.

The reading from Jeremiah speaks of the restoration of a homeland. The scattered people of Israel at brought “from the land of the north . . . from the farthest parts of the earth.” (Jeremiah 31:8) “With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back . . .” (vs. 9) Psalm 126 celebrating the same restoration says, “Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.” (Psalm 126:2)

Land cannot be the last measure of restoration. History traces the movement of peoples into territories already occupied by others, or the exercise of a forced sovereignty over those who have been unjustly treated. How do oppressed and oppressor ever find healing for what happened as Europeans rolled over the natives that occupied the Americas, or to Africans (and others throughout history) who were forced into slavery, or Jews who were victims of Nazi holocaust, or Japanese-Americans who were placed in Detention Centers? Demands have been made and responses have attempted to pay reparations or make restitution, but restoration of trust and relationship and equity is difficult to come by.

The book of Hebrews gives a deep theological interpretation to the whole question of restoration, seeing Jesus as a high priest who restores all the brokeness of our lives and relationships “once for all when he offered himself” as the ultimate sacrifice. (Hebrews 7:27) I don’t intend to try to take us through the writer’s logical argument right now. The verse I have quoted might cause us to ask whether restoration is an ongoing process or something that happens only once. While the overall flow of the biblical narrative is from innocence to fall to restoration and consummation, I’ve come to see these things much more as an onoging process than a sequence of events. Restoration, like forgiveness, is something that happens on seventy-times seven, or more, occasions. Restoration is a daily experience, if we open ourselves to it.

The Gospel lesson points us to the restoration of sight. I don’t want to dismiss the literal restoration of physical sight, but as one who is not physically blind (and most of us are not) I have to look at the possible deeper meaning of seeing. Zen Buddhism says that the meaning of life is to see. Jesus talks about people with eyes who cannot see. Do we need our vision restored so that we can see the world around us, see the paths in which Jesus would have us walk?

It’s a rich story that is told about this blind beggar. The disciples try to keep him from bothering Jesus, but Jesus asks to speak with him. (Mark 10:46-49) Jesus does not, however, say, “I’m here to restore you. I have the solution to your problems.” He asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” (vs. 51) The man’s healing begins with his recognition of his need.

Our breakfast discussion took us down the path of exploring the need for restoration of community. Relationships of all kind are broken in our world. We don’t connect with one another. Job’s story can be read as an experience in losing the extended community of which he was a part, his family. The friends who try to comfort him are not much help. They don’t take the time to listen and feel his pain. So the restoration that amazes us, and offends some, can be read as the restoration of community. The blind beggar can be seen as one who is alienated from the community, who has no community of support. Even the disciples’ initial response is one of exclusion. Jesus, on the other hand, reaches out to include him.

The need for community seems to be deep within us, whether we are seeking justice or sharing of joys and sorrows, moments or intimate friendship, or forgiveness and healing because of some inner torment or hateful act. Restoration, the breakfast group decided, can only happen when we work hard to establish relationships across lines of separation and open ourselves to God’s presence and action in those relationships. Acts of reparation and resitution, confession and forgiveness, may grow out of such relationships, but it begins with asking questions of one another and listening to the responses and experiences we have to share.


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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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