Maria Althoff and her husband, Adolf, hid a family of Jews in their circus. (Picture from Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Israel)
Righteous Gentiles July 16, 2014
Many people have heard of Oskar Schindler thanks to the movie about him. He is one of The Righteous of the Nations, or Righteous Gentiles. But he is only one of at least 23,000 people who took the risk of hiding Jews during World War II. I have spent a good part of this morning reading the stories of these people on various web pages (Google "Righteous Gentiles" for those).
For the most part, people took in one or two Jews, many of them children. In one instance, two sewer workers in Warsaw managed to hide twenty-one people in the sewers, ten of whom survived the war. These two men not only took care of the living but also buried those who died. They and their wives made sure that the people in the sewer had food.
The Episcopal Church has provisionally included the Righteous Gentiles on the calendar of lesser feasts and fasts (now called Holy Women, Holy Men). The first reading for this day is the story of Joshua sending spies into Jericho where Rahab hides them from the men of the town who wish to kill them. The gospel is John's account of Jesus standing before Pilate and the chief priests crying out for his death. Two stories of people whose lives are threatened by the existence of others, the responses are polar opposites. Rahab saves lives, the chief priests were willing to give up Jesus' life to save - they hoped - their own.
What would we do? Fortunately, we are not in the same situation as the people under Nazi rule were so we don't need to make sure we have secure hiding places in our homes. But we live at a time when many of the laws passed by our state and federal governments are oppressive, particularly for those who are already in distress: the poor, the elderly, children, illegal aliens (many of whom came to this country because businesses were glad to get cheap labor). We often respond to these laws with a "there's nothing I can do about it" attitude. I believe many citizens of Nazi-occupied countries said the same thing.
So what can we do? First, we need to be more aware of what's happening at state and federal levels. Second, we need to talk with friends about what's happening. And, finally, we need to write letters and make phone calls. If we are not in agreement with our legislators, they will never know unless we tell them.
The Righteous Gentiles were activists, rebels, unwilling to do nothing. They have set us a good example. Are we willing to follow it?
Whose fault?? June 28, 2013
See, the Lord's hand is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. Rather, your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you. For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue mutters wickedness. No one brings suit justly, no one goes to law honestly; they rely on empty pleas, the speak lies, conceiving mischief and begetting iniquity.
Do you remember Flip Wilson's famous line: "The Devil made me do it!" We always want to blame someone else, don't we? Frankly, I am weary of it. How much better it would be if we admitted our errors/sins. Just imagine if honesty was the "go to" position rather than the "fall back" plan.
I have told my share of whoppers in order to cover up what I have done or not done. Alas, I do not have a poker face so it has rarely worked. Admitting my mistakes certainly isn't always easy but it usually leads to reconciliation. It mostly depends on how quickly I admit the fault. The longer I wait, the angrier the person has time to become and anger seldom fades quickly.
There's a reason Jesus included "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us" in the Lord's Prayer. We need to ask for the barriers to come down daily. God does not hide God's self from us but, if we are not willing to admit to the barriers, God won't help us take them down.
The Lord does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far he removes our transgressions from us.
This is an incredibly comforting passage expressing a deep faith in the love for forgiveness of the Lord. The description of that love and forgiveness is as high and as wide as the psalmist can imagine. God is that passionate about us!
But even as I read this incredible statement, I am struck by two things. The first is that we don't always want to be separated from our sins. Sometimes we have rationalized ways to hang on to them.
"I tried not being catty but my mind still thinks catty thoughts so I guess I'll just always be catty. Nothing I can do about that."
"I would love to lose weight but I just love to eat too much."
"I know best; everyone else will have to come around."
"I'm a real sinner. I've done things not even God could forgive."
Do you suppose we hang onto these things because we think they don't really hurt us or perhaps because we aren't sure we can handle God's unconditional love and forgiveness? To be willing to open ourselves up to God in a way that allows that unconditional love to bathe every corner of our lives is scary. But don't we crave that very thing? Aren't we desperate for someone to love us, warts and all? I wonder.
The other thing is that the psalmist seems to be saying that the Lord has judged us and found no compelling evidence to cast us out. Why, then, do we insist on casting out others, particularly on the Lord's behalf? Why do we turn to the same Bible that tells us of unconditional love to justify denying love entirely?
I believe God forgives us our sins if we are willing to let them go. God may forgive them even if we aren't willing! If I can believe that my sins are forgiven, why should I have a problem with God forgiving the sins of anyone/everyone else? I really can't go there. I hope you can't, either.