Emoluments

A Open Letter to all Representative Members of the 116th Congress of these United States.

Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have been following closely your progress in investigating and drafting articles of impeachment for President Donald John Trump with considerable frustration. From his first months in office, President Trump has accepted payments (emoluments) to his businesses (from which he has divested in name only) from domestic and foreign organizations and governments in direct contravention to the United States Constitution Article 1, Section 9, Paragraph 8:

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

and Article 2, Section 1, Paragraph 7:

The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be encreased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.

The meaning of these clauses that no federally elected official is to receive any gift, payment, or payment in kind; is so clear that no president before now has even sought to challenge them.

A further charge of obstruction of justice suggests itself from President Trump’s repeated successful attempts thus far to block the release of his tax returns. The lengths of litigation to which President Trump is willing to commit would make any reasonable person wonder at the perversities he has indulged in his tax filings.

Please include in your articles of impeachment the charges of receiving emoluments from organizations and governments both foreign and domestic. We need to set a strong precedent that our federal officials cannot accept payments of any kind from any source.

Paradox

Originally posted on October 24, 2016
I was privileged to preach at my church yesterday.
The readings for today are at the bottom of this post.

Listen to this sermon here.

I really like the parable from the gospel reading for today.

I like it because it contains several paradoxes, depending on how you approach it as a story. One of the definitions of paradox, from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary is:
a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true.

Paradox to me, represents ideas and situations that surprise us,
it is like a person surprising us – but only after we feel we know them,
it is a puzzle or problem that takes some time to work out.

It is from the paradoxes in our lives that we learn and grow.
How boring it would be, if everything just behaved exactly as we expect it too?
These paradoxical surprises are, for me, what makes life so interesting.

One paradox presented to us in the parable of the Pharisee and the the Tax Collector is that the religious man who does everything he can to live his life according to the law of Moses,
who fasts twice a week,
who tithes one tenth of his income,
who often prays in the temple,
is not as justified or forgiven in the sight of God as a Tax Collector who is genuinely remorseful and humble.

How can this be?
How could this Tax Collector,
a man who works for the local Roman authorities,
a man who some might think is a traitor to his own people,
just because he is humble,
and recognizes his own faults,
who beats his breast and pleads for forgiveness,
how could God – hear this man and forgive him?

But as Christians we know that God listens to everyone.
We know that God forgives everyone.

This is such a simple story, but it has such power.
It contains the living heart of the good news of Christ Jesus, that we,
no matter how good we try to be,
we all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

That we can be justified or forgiven,
that God is ready to grant us forgiveness, if we would just ask for it.

There are many paradoxes that contain a trick.
Sometimes a word or phrase,
sometimes the situation as it is presented, and this trick contains the paradox.

In this parable with the Pharisee and the Tax collector, the trick is that we are told the inner thoughts of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Something that we typically have no way of knowing.

The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.

Whereas the Tax Collector
standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

We all fall short in what we should be doing.
We all fall short of what we should be.

The biggest difference in God’s sight between the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is that the Tax Collector is aware that he is a sinner,
the Pharisee thinks that he is good and that he does not need God’s forgiveness.
The Pharisee is not asking for forgiveness because he is unaware that he needs to do so.

Jesus addressed this parable to a particular audience:
Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.

I believe, Jesus was addressing this parable to an audience of pharisees, the most religious of his fellow Jewish people. The word pharisee means ‘separated one’, the pharisees organized themselves into communities apart from both other Jewish people and gentiles. They felt that to truly practice their faith, they had to keep themselves separate from others.

If Jesus were telling this parable today, who would he be addressing?

This is not a parable for thieves and rogues.
The thieves and rogues of this world know that they have sinned against God and their neighbors, they know they are in trouble. If they pray, they pray for forgiveness, healing, and help for themselves.

Once again the surprising, paradoxical nature of this simple parable becomes apparent when we imagine Jesus telling this parable today.
This is a parable for church folk.
This is a parable for the faithful.
Jesus would probably be telling it to us.

How many of us are as faithful as the Pharisee in this story?
He fasts twice a week!
(point at my own stomach)
Maybe I should be fasting every week?

He tithes a tenth of his income!
Speaking for a moment as your Treasurer, during the Fall season, when we are asked to estimate what we can give back to God for next year.
I have got to say that this Pharisee is a better man than I am with regard to his support for his temple.

The Pharisee in this story is a fine, upright, church going man!
He represents the very best, most righteous among all mankind, just as the Tax Collector represents the thieves and the rogues.
This Pharisee also in the privacy of his mind, in his thoughts and prayers,
this good man the Pharisee despises his fellow men and women, and regards them with contempt.
Both of these men of the parable, like every one of us, has sinned, and fallen short of what we all should be.

According my favorite Science Fiction writer, Roger Zelazny, in his novel “Lord of Light”
A sermon is a warning
The warning in this sermon is very simple.
That we must always remember that we cannot save ourselves.
Our good works can make us better neighbors,
better parents,
better friends,
better members of our congregation,
and help us to spread the idea of the kingdom of heaven here on earth.

But, if we fool ourselves into believing that we are good, that we we don’t need God’s help and forgiveness,
Our self-righteousness,
our pride in ourselves,
our regard of others with contempt,
will separate us from God our Father, and this belief condemns us.
for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.

I believe, that it all begins with humility.
Practicing humility, helps us to keep our egos in check.
Humility helps us to be honest with ourselves, to know our limitations and our faults.
With our own faults firmly in mind, we may then pray to God for help, for strength, for support and guidance.

I will close with a paradox, the paradox of salvation.

Humility and honesty before our Creator helps us to remember that we have sinned.
Humility before Jesus the Christ, allows us to accept God’s grace of forgiveness, which is always available to us.
Humility helps us to maintain that inner silence necessary to hear the small quiet voice of the Spirit.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever.

Amen.

Joel 2:23-32
O children of Zion, be glad
and rejoice in the Lord your God;
for he has given the early rain for your vindication,
he has poured down for you abundant rain,
the early and the later rain, as before.
The threshing floors shall be full of grain,
the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
I will repay you for the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent against you.
You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other.
And my people shall never again
be put to shame.
Then afterward
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke.
The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved;
for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape,
as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.

2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18
I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them!
But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.
The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Luke 18:9-14
Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray,
one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves,
rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying,
`God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you,
this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

An Invitation to Dinner

Originally Posted on August 28, 2016
I was privileged to give this sermon three years ago.
The readings are at the bottom of this post.

Listen to this sermon here.

In our gospel lesson for today, Jesus gets invited to a dinner party at someone’s house.

Not just any dinner – but the Sabbath meal.

Not just any house – but the house of a leader of the Pharisees. A leader among the most traditional and conservative of the priests in the city of Jerusalem.

Most of us who have had some success in our careers, get opportunities like this. We get invited to the Boss’ house, and we make polite conversation. We admire his or her home, we accept a seat at the table, we watch how much we drink. We don’t express our opinions too forcefully.

We just try to make a good impression.

Jesus does not act the way we usually do.

(pause)

Over the last two Sundays, our gospel readings have shown Jesus as the revolutionary, the firebrand, who came to bring fire to the earth!

Who said

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!

Who rebukes the leader of a synagogue with

You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?

All too often, when I see some problem with our country, or our community, I feel this outrage!

Something must be done about this right now!

I sometimes then waste my limited time and energy confronting people, rather than finding some way to work with them.

In our gospel readings of the past couple of weeks, Jesus seems to be feeling this outrage, this need for action.

But Jesus knows when to be forceful, and when to use a different approach.

A leader of the Pharisees invites Jesus, this wild, rough, Galilean prophet, the son of a carpenter from the countyside, invites this Jesus to his home for the Sabbath meal.

Jesus could have been loud and reactionary. He could have blamed the Pharisees present for many of the problems with their society. But, Jesus does not see the Pharisees as his adversaries.

Jesus ministered to everyone, even the Pharisees.

Everyone.

Can you imagine Jesus at this Sabbath dinner?

Jesus is the special guest, with all these high status religious leaders. He could claim if not the best seat, at least the second best seat at that table. Maybe, one of the Pharisees, has not gotten the word and has already claimed the seat reserved for Jesus. The other Pharisees are whispering to this man, you should move to another seat, we want Jesus to sit here so we can question and watch him closely.

Jesus is watching these men, with the love and regard he has for everyone.

Jesus then speaks,

When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, `Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, `Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

After Jesus said this, I wonder if there was a sudden rush for the seats at the foot of the table?

Jesus, once he has their attention, also gives them a bit of his revolutionary, kingdom of God stuff, which he addresses directly to the leader of the Pharisees who invited him to this dinner.

When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.

I am sure, that Jesus’ tone was friendly, but this message is a rebuke, because this is exactly who the leader of the Pharisees had invited to this dinner.

But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

I wonder how the leader of the Pharisees received this message from Jesus?

It seems that Jesus was not invited to dinner again.

We do not see in the gospels that Jesus regularly attended the sabbath dinner at a Pharisee’s house.

How are we to spread the message of the good news of Christ Jesus?

How are we to move our society towards the kingdom of God?

(pause)

It is very easy for us to demonize people who do not agree with us. We disagree about some issue, and we label them as liberals or conservatives, progressives or libertarians. Once we have labeled them, they in turn label us. Their and our positions on issues harden as our hearts harden, so that even if we talk to one another, we are shouting slogans at each other, rather than listening to each other in the give and take of a conversation.

We start to see these people as our adversaries, as an obstacle to be overcome.

As I was writing this sermon, I remembered two people who lived lives of protest. Who creatively and courageously worked to bring about the kingdom of God. Who also consciously and consistently refused to see the people who disagreed with them as adversaries or opponents to be overcome, but saw them as neighbors, friends and collaborators who had not yet joined with them.

John Woolman was born in 1720 in the colony of New Jersey. As a young man he learned how to tailor clothes, and how to run a business. He was a Quaker, and came to a personal realization that slavery was wrong, and that he must do something about it.

With the support of his local Society of Friends meeting, he traveled to Quaker and other church meetings throughout New England for over 30 years, speaking against slavery, asking everyone who owned slaves to free them. In 1772 he traveled to England presenting the case to end slavery to the Yearly meeting of British Quakers. This one man, working throughout his life to convince his fellow Quakers to end slavery, led to the Quakers getting slavery abolished in Pennsylvania in 1790. Converting people who owned slaves on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line to give up the institution of slavery; convincing them to free their slaves by talking to them one on one.

Mahatma Ghandi was the other person who came to my mind as someone who creatively and courageously protested British rule, seeking freedom for the people of India.

Ghandi felt very strongly in the worth of every person he met. So when he was invited to a gathering where there was a servant present waiting on himself and the other guests. He would take the serving tray from the servant, thank them, and serve the other guests himself. Ghandi would do this at meetings with Indian leaders to remind them that the people were not protesting just for the Indian leaders to replace the British ones. But that those Indian leaders should see themselves as public servants of a free India. Ghandi’s act of service to others is a great example of a personal act of protest and awareness.

Before we protest, before we work to change anyone elses’ opinions on the great issues of our day,
we have our own inner work to do.
In our hearts and in our minds, we should know that these people, our neighbors,
who disagree with us,
who we are protesting,
who we are confronting, are not our adversaries.

These people, are our brothers and sisters of God, our Father and Creator.

We should strive to strike that balance, as Jesus did, delivering our message of protest to the powerful, in a creative way.

With the resolve of John Woolman, pleading for the dignity of all people for over 30 years; never giving in or giving up.
With the moral force and firmness of our own conduct and example as Mahatma Ghandi did throughout his life.
Courageously seeking to convert,
always seeking to speak to our common humanity.
Always listening to that small, still voice of the spirit.

Jeremiah 2:4-13
Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. Thus says the Lord:
What wrong did your ancestors find in me
that they went far from me,
and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?
They did not say, “Where is the Lord
who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
who led us in the wilderness,
in a land of deserts and pits,
in a land of drought and deep darkness,
in a land that no one passes through,
where no one lives?”
I brought you into a plentiful land
to eat its fruits and its good things.
But when you entered you defiled my land,
and made my heritage an abomination.
The priests did not say, “Where is the Lord?”
Those who handle the law did not know me;
the rulers transgressed against me;
the prophets prophesied by Baal,
and went after things that do not profit.
Therefore once more I accuse you, says the Lord,
and I accuse your children’s children.
Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look,
send to Kedar and examine with care;
see if there has ever been such a thing.
Has a nation changed its gods,
even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory
for something that does not profit.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this,
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
says the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns
that can hold no water.

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.
Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?”
Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Luke 14:1, 7-14
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, `Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, `Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.
And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Service

Originally Posted on November 11, 2014

Something I wrote for Veterans Day today.

I have enlisted in the fight once more,
not like I did before,
not in my nations service, as I did in my youth.
Full of the idealism and the invulnerability of the young.

I am older now, much older, scarred, fat, and slow.
Cunning, wise, and patient.
I serve now in a contingent, which does not destroy or kill;
where the ends never justify ill-means.

A warrior monk who forges weapons from words.
Words which touch the soul.
Not my words, but the words of the most high.
The Creator whose voice gives birth to worlds.

Every mission now is one of rescue,
encouragement for the despairing, comfort for the dying,
My attention and presence for everyone.
Leading by Following.

Belief

I cannot believe this!
This could not happen.
This did not happen.
Did something just happen?

How fragile our minds.
Networks of neurons,
fluctuating electrical potentials
in a soup of common chemicals.

The miracle is that
we even have thoughts.
That fibrous meat can even
think at all.

What is belief,
but half remembered experiences.
Filtered through our
prejudices and fears.

Layers of conclusions,
based on foundations which
are fragile as soap bubbles,
and intangible as a dream.

Our base operating system.
The foundation of our reality.
Of what was, what is,
and what can be.

I cannot believe this!
This could not happen.
This did not happen.
Did something just happen?

Creation

Originally Posted on April 22, 2019

The Void is.
Filled with Potential, pregnant with Possibility.
Aimless, Prescient, Powerful.

Mind beheld the Void cherishing it.
Thoughts sparked in Mind,
a Dream was born.

Screaming in pain and delight,
the ten thousand things were born,
grew, reproduced, prospered, died.

There are many Minds.
Some cherishing the Void,
birthing many Dreams.

The Void is.
Filled with Potential, pregnant with Possibility.
Aimless, Prescient, Powerful.

The Old Country

Originally Posted on April 21, 2017

I have moved to the old country.
The land of my sires: a hard land;
poor in wealth and rich in spirit.
We find God in each other here.

For generations, my fathers delved under ground.
In Devon for tin, in Penn’s wood for coal,
finding only endless toil and death.
I am heir to their pain and strength.

Is my work all that different?
I want to think so.
Yet have I not sold my life, day by day,
working with little delight for mere pay?

Only when I am not on the job,
can I labor on what is significant.
The toys that bring me such joy,
the expression of things not seen.

Striving to find the balance.
My daytime work provides food and shelter.
Moonlighting as mystic, seer, and maker;
reflecting my truths in both realms.

I have moved to the old country.
The land of my sires: a hard land;
poor in wealth and rich in spirit.
We find God in each other here.