Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
Sign of the times
Jonal entry 1062 | July 30 2008
Last year my brother Bob and I ended our vacation (centered on a week in Pennsylvania) by flying out of South Bend, Indiana (close to his late wife's sisters who Bob wanted to visit), first to Chicago, then Phoenix, and finally back to San Jose. For this year's repeat of the same basic trip, I found the best ticket rate was by another airline, not through Chicago but through Indianapolis. Chicago is a bit west of South Bend, which makes sense when you're flying across country to the west coast; Indianapolis is east and southerly from South Bend. But okay, the travel time was not really appreciably longer, so no big deal.
Today I got a call from the travel agency telling me the airline we were booked on from South Bend to Indianapolis is no longer flying between those two cities (this is the sign of the times referred to in the title above; I've noticed that some flights have been cancelled out of the Johnstown airport recently, too, and airlines are trying many new tricks to make ends meet in an era of prohibitively priced fuel). The alternative: a flight to Cincinnati, Ohio--even farther east--thence to Indianpolis, where we are to catch our already scheduled Delta Flight to Denver and then on to San Jose. This is ironic and slightly amusing, and it entails still only about one additional travel hour on a day that we'd have had nothing else to do anyway (except sit in airports)...so nothing to panic about. We're still set to arrive back in San Jose by early evening.
Now if Delta just stays in business long enough....
My personal faith walk has been enhanced for the past several years by a website that presents daily Bible readings in a very succinct and easily accessible way. It's the Orthodox Church of America Daily Bible Readings. The Orthodox Churches follow a year-long cycle of readings that are central to the daily worship in those parishes large enough to have services daily, monasteries (which all have daily services), and personal devotions, which are encouraged for all members, daily. The teaching is that it is appropriate for the whole church to be reading and learning from the same Scripture passages, and for the church (through its spiritual leaders) to time readings in the calendar to match the most widely shared needs. Though for most of my life I had pursued a "lone wolf" approach to Bible study, choosing my own books to read and timing their reading according to my convenience or notions, I have greatly benefited from this more structured approach.
The other day I came across a passage that I'm sure I've read and studied time and again before, but which now gave me new insights into spiritual principles, especially the Scripture's teachings on judging others, and the place of sexual sin and sexual morality in Christian teaching and practice. Every day the Orthodox readings include a passage from the New Testament Epistles and another from one of the four New Testament Gospels, and on many days there are additional readings as well, from the New and Old Testament. Monday's Epistle reading was 1 Corinthians 5:9-6:11. Paul is telling the church in Corinth in this passage what he meant by telling them, earlier, not to have fellowship with sexually immoral people. He did not mean, he specifies, don't have contact with sexually immoral people from the world outside the church, as to do so would cut yourself off from all contact with the world of commerce, and that's not proper if it is even possible. No, he elaborates, he meant "do not fellowship with sexually immoral people who are claiming to be part of the church or Christians."
This struck me because I've written here before about judging, especially here, just a little over a yaer ago, and here, a little over a year before that. Specifically, Paul says: "But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortionernot even to eat with such a person." This is one of the most pointed passages I've found in the scripture to be the counter-weight to the principle "Judge not," as described in the previous Jonal entries, linked above.
This passage is the one that ends with the famous summation: "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, or thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God."
We increasingly hear the plea, "why is 'Christian morality' so often equated with sexual issues like gay rights and abortion?" Sexual morality is not the sum total of Christian ethical concern, but as in this passage, the New Testament stresses continuously that it is not possible to be Godly and to be at the same time centered on fleshly lusts. Even in The Acts, when the church is in its earliest days and the Apostles are deciding and asking the Holy Spirit to reveal what parts of Jewish teaching and law must be required of those who want to come to Christ and His church from the Gentile world, they conclude: "they must abstain from idolatry, and from fornication, and from [eating] things that were strangled, and from [eating] blood" (Acts 15:20). All the rest of the Jewish law could be ignored, but sexual lust was here, as well, mentioned as a critical measure for discerning whether a conversion was authentic or pretended, or wishful thinking.
A New York judge is ready to go through the day's business and he is very rushed. The first case up involves an elderly Jewish gentleman with a long beard, payos, the works.
The judge, without asking a question, says to the clerk: "Quick...get me a translator."
The translator shows up and the judge says: "Ask him what his name is, how old he is, and where he comes from."
The translator says: "Die judge vilt vissen, vos is dein namen, vie alt bist du, and fun vie kumst du?"
The old man smiles, looks at the judge and says in perfect English with a British accent: "Your Honour. My name is Sir Chaim Ginsbug. I shall be 82 next Thursday and I've come from England where I hold the chair of Hebrew Philosophy at Oxford University."
The translator turns to the judge and says: "Ehr zukt, ehr is Sir Chaim Ginsburg, ehr is tzwei und achtzig yur alt, und ehr is, mit sach Yiddish philisoph, areingekummen fun Oxford."