November 27, 2010

The Son of Man Is Coming

by Janice Love
First Sunday of Advent:  Isaiah 2: 1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13: 11-14, Matthew 24: 36-44

And so we begin the waiting…again.  Paul writes, “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.”  We are two thousand years nearer now and still we wait, surrounded yet by too much night.  My husband likes to take the time to talk with our 7 year old son about the resurrection – that day of glory when Christ will come again and make all things new.  The other night, out of the blue, Jameson’s last words before falling asleep were, “I hope the resurrection happens soon (to which I replied, “Amen”) – while I’m alive…that would be neat.”  And I was struck with how much was caught up in that word “neat” – all the hopes and fears of all the years.  As the dark maw of cholera devours people in Haiti, as abnormal amounts of rain drowns people and crops in too many places, as corruption cripples and crumbles the foundations of nations, I am inclined to shout to Jesus, “would you hurry up and get here already!” 

We North Americans have a hard time waiting, for anything.  If pushing a button does not bring about near instantaneous results we begin to feel our stress and frustration levels rise.  I have noticed in the last few years how Halloween has become a month long celebration that slips almost seamlessly into the putting up of Christmas decorations (here in Canada we celebrate Thanksgiving early in October).  What is the point of waiting if you can have it all now?!   The reality, of course, is that we can’t have it all now.  For God’s own reasons we must wait yet for the Parousia.  Herein lies the gift that is Advent.  A time set aside to practice waiting, to get clear about what we are waiting for.  And it begins with waking up to the trouble we are all in.

A colleague of mine wrote an insightful and very helpful piece a few years ago, entitled “Advent Begins with Trouble” (by Rev. Dr. Edwin Searcy in Sanctifying Time).  In it he redirects our attention from the complex concepts of hope, peace, joy and love made too easily into “four safe platitudes” to the Advent lectionary texts.  Paying close attention to these texts, hosting them as we would welcome strangers, revels the deep “ache and grief that cries out for a saviour.”  This is the tough part about waking up, especially if we are just pretending to be asleep.  The beginning texts of the Advent season embody the spirit of the Psalms where we cry out our need for God.  And just like so many of those Psalms, in Advent we look to when God has answered in the past so that we might live in hope for the present, anticipating the arrival of God’s promised future.  As Ed reminds us in his piece, “the root word for ‘wait’ in both Hebrew and Latin also means ‘hope’”. 

We live between the times of Jesus’ arrivals.  In Advent we prepare to look back to a babe born in occupied territory, both hunted and overlooked, the promise that God is with us and we look ahead to Jesus full return.  In wonder we realize that we too are a part of the story of what God is up to for the sake of the world.  We have a part to play, if only a supporting role.  We can choose to live honorably as in the day – the day that Jesus has inaugurated with his life, death and resurrection.  We can put on the Lord Jesus Christ, for the Son of Man is coming – and at an unexpected hour too.  It will be neat, Jameson, really neat.

Kyrie eleison,
Come soon, Lord Jesus!


November 17, 2010

The Crucified King

by Brian Volck
Colossians 1:12-20; Luke 23:33-43

At George Washington’s first inaugural in New York City (following an election in which he received every electoral vote), some in the audience wondered if the former colonies had simply exchanged George III for George the First. President Washington, however, had no truck with domestic monarchists. Throughout his presidency, he maintained a careful balance of pomp and the common touch, willingly leaving office after his second term.

By the 1860s, however, Washington – both war hero and president – was the only historical figure capable of unifying a violently fractured nation-state. In 1865, accordingly, Constantino Brumidi painted an immense fresco above the US Capitol Rotunda, The Apotheosis of Washington, elevating the first president beyond monarchy to the status of a god.

At the center, Washington sits in heavenly glory, flanked by Liberty and Victory. Thirteen maidens dance about this trinity, surrounded in turn by personifications of American prowess. The nearest of these to Washington is War, dressed as Armed Liberty, and brandishing a sword against tyranny, kings, and the schismatic Jefferson Davis.

In the century and a half since Brumidi painted his fresco, some nations have learned subtler ways to celebrate the state’s mystical power as savior and protector. President Obama’s 2009 Nobel Prize acceptance speech followed the contemporary formula, condemning religious violence while accepting the tragic necessity of secular wars in which Americans spill blood out of “enlightened self-interest.”

America is a land of equals, we’re told, with no use for kings, Elvis excluded. Perhaps that’s why the last Sunday in the liturgical calendar, “Christ the King” (although the name is often neutered for various reasons to “The Reign of Christ”), carries, for me at least, the lingering scent of treason. There’s something un-American about the whole idea. Christians bow before a monarch who is killed rather than kills, promiscuously mingles justice and mercy, and suggests that the most serious matters aren’t about “life and death,” after all, but “death and resurrection.” Where’s the enlightened self interest in that?

The readings this Sunday present this king, “image of the invisible God, (and) firstborn of all creation,” nailed to a torture device between two common thieves. What’s more, he promises one of those thieves Paradise. That’s no way to run a kingdom, much less a universe.

And we, the king’s subjects, wear a cross, instrument of his violent death, on necklaces and chains. A cross leads our processions, adorns our walls, takes pride of place in our churches. It’s like commemorating Abraham Lincoln with miniature Deringers.

And what’s more, we’re supposed to emulate this king, to pick up our own crosses and follow him, presumably to the point of forgiving the guilty.

Only lunatics would do such a thing – lunatics like Dom Christian de Cherge’, one of the seven Trappist monks kidnapped and killed during the Algerian Civil War. Though the so-called Armed Islamist Group claimed responsibility for the kidnappings and murders, the exact circumstances of the monks’ deaths remains unclear. Only their heads were recovered.

Dom Christian knew such a grisly death was possible, perhaps even likely, in the increasingly dangerous environment where these Trappists lived as witnesses to Christ, servants to the people as their Lord served them. In anticipation, he wrote a “testament,” to be opened in just such an event. It began:

“If it should happen one day—and it could be today—that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to encompass all the foreigners in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country. To accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure. I would like them to pray for me: how worthy would I be found of such an offering?”

In the last paragraph of his testament, Dom Christian directly addressed his then and still unknown murderer:

“And also you, the friend of my final moment, who would not be aware of what you were doing. Yes, I also say this thank you and this adieu to you, in whom I see the face of God. And may we find each other, happy good thieves, in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both.”

I never want to face anything like Dom Christian’s test of fidelity to the Crucified King. I almost certainly never will. I expect my trials will be vastly more manageable and infinitely less painful. Yet I tremble at the thought of witnessing even a hundredth portion of Dom Christian’s forgiveness and acceptance toward the several who annoy me and rouse my passions. That, however, is where we are called to go, bearing our considerably lighter and all but invisible crosses in witness to our king.

Perhaps if mortal danger were closer, more obvious, we would be better people. Maybe, but I doubt it. Between the Fall and the Eschaton, obedience to the nonviolent Messiah is unnatural at best. In this confused and confusing time, when the Kingdom is both present and not yet, little is clear save our bottomless need for grace. On this feast of the Crucified King, remember to pray for one another, servants of the Servant.


November 16, 2010

Oscar Romero on Christ’s Kingship

Written by Tobias Winright
November 2010 (Reign of Christ Sunday, Proper 29)

In view of this Sunday’s focus on the reign of Christ, I find some words from Archbishop Oscar Romero to be appropriate:

“The human race of the twentieth century
has climbed to the moon,
has uncovered the secret of the atom,
and what else may it not discover?

The Lord’s command is fulfilled:
Subdue the earth!
But the absolute human dominion over the earth
Will be what is proclaimed today:
bringing all things of heaven and earth together
in Christ.

Then humanity hallowed will put under God’s reign
this world, which is now the slave of sin,
and set it at the feet of Christ,
and Christ at the feet of God.

This is the bringing together that was God’s design
before the world existed.
And when History comes to its end,
this will be God’s fulfillment:

the sum of all things.
All that history has been,
all that we do ourselves,
good or bad,
will be measured by God’s design;
and there will remain only those who have labored
to put things under Christ’s rule.

All that has tried to rebel against God’s plan in Christ
is false.
It will not last;
It will be for history’s waste heap. (July 15, 1979)

Christ is presented to us as the shepherd king,
king and shepherd of all the world’s peoples,
of all of history.

He holds the key to history’s outcome
And to the crises of its peoples…
It is for us, hierarchy and people, to proclaim
the eternal, sole, and universal kingship of Christ
and to bring it about
that all peoples, families, and persons submit to him.

His is not a despotic regime,
but a regime of love…. (July 22, 1979)

From Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love, compiled and translated by James R. Brockman, SJ (The Plough Publishing House, 1998), pp. 148-150.


November 11, 2010

Got Conflict?

by Jenny Williams
Isaiah 12; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19

Tired of congregational conflict?

Recently I had to work with a utility company on behalf of a woman whom our church was assisting financially.  The woman was getting nowhere with the company, so I tried to help her with the process.  It took eight calls to them before I could speak with a supervisor who would hear my concerns and rectify the billing problems the customer had.  In the first five calls, five different customer service representatives each told me different information about how the woman’s situation. 

One told me everything was paid up.  Another told me that the customer had a $500 balance.  Another told me they’d ask the back office to research the issue, and I could call back in 2-3 days for an answer.  I did, and I was told that that timeline was wrong; it would take 5-7 days for the research to be completed.  After that time had passed, I called back.  That representative told me the timeline was wrong; it would take 4-6 weeks.  By the time I got to the supervisor, who was very kind and understanding, I suggested to her that some training was needed to improve consistency among the representatives.  She sighed and explained that in the last year, not only had they fired the original company to whom they outsourced the customer service calls and then hired a new company, the utility company had also begun to use a new computer system.  Balances paid during certain months were not credited to customers’ accounts, past due and termination notices were sent out incorrectly, and the new employees didn’t have much training to handle any of it.  I felt so sorry for her and said so.  She said brightly, “I’ve just learned that there are never problems; there are only opportunities.  And every morning I come to work, I am faced with all sorts of opportunities.”

Jesus tells us in Luke 21 that if we are faithful to the way of life he’s set before us, there will be some serious ramifications.  The part where we are hauled off to the civil authorities isn’t anything new to EP endorsers and like-minded Christians.  We are aware that some of the ways Christ calls us to live will come into direct conflict with the state.  If you have any questions about that, read Acts. 

But the part where he talks about faithful Christ-followers being “handed over to the synagogues” gives us pause.  If we follow Jesus, the people of God—the church—might get upset?  Yeah. 

This may shock you (note sarcasm), but even congregations might get upset when a ministry of the church aims to reach out to the same kind of people whom Jesus reached out to.  This upset can cause arguing, division, and all sort of congregational chaos.  These battles can be exhausting.  And depressing.  But when Christians are called on the carpet for extending grace or assistance to sinful people, Luke’s Jesus tells us to see this kind of confrontation as an “opportunity”—an opportunity to testify. Ugh.  When I am in the middle of those kinds of conflicts, what I want to say out loud is, “I’m hurt.  I’m tired.  I’m frustrated. Can’t we all just get along?”  But what Jesus says is “Keep your eyes open.  That’s the time to talk about God’s goodness.”    Perhaps he uses legal language to call our attention to our own sinfulness in the midst of conflict:  don’t prepare your defense in advance.  You mean, don’t prepare a speech in advance about how right I am to follow Jesus?  That might make me self-defensive and point to my arrogant self-righteousness?  Ouch.  We are instead instructed to keep our eyes open for the opportunity to speak, and when the time comes, let God give us the words.  Perhaps if God gives us the words and the wisdom, when we are challenged because of the ministries in which we engage, we’ll talk about God and not ourselves. 

Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.  (2 Thessalonians 3:13)  When the time comes for the confrontation, may we be able to take a deep breath and say to ourselves, “Surely it is God who saves me.  I will trust in him and not be afraid.  For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, and He will be my Savior.”   And then, may we be able to speak to our challengers words of God’s goodness and grace.



November 03, 2010

All the Saints

by Jake Wilson
Luke 21:27-40

Last week, Tobias Winright reminded us that October 30th was the feast of St. Marcellus who was martyred because of his refusal to participate in the idolatry of the Roman Empire. From very early on the Church understood the importance of remembering and celebrating those who had departed to be with the Lord. However, over her two thousand year history, the Church has gathered far too many saints to give each their own feast day. Thus, while we still celebrate the most exemplary of the departed, we also set aside All Saints Day to remember the faithfulness of those every day saints who have gone before us. All Saints Day falls on the first of November, but at the level of the local church it is typically celebrated on the first Sunday of November. For this year’s celebration of All Saints the lectionary offers us a discussion of the resurrection from the Gospel of Luke.

The reading for the day follows Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his cleansing of the Temple. These two actions were symbolically powerful and almost immediately the questions started as others attempted to understand what they have just witnessed. Questions arose about Jesus’ relationship to John the Baptist, his connections to David and his loyalty to Caesar.

It is within this complex of questions that the Sadducees approach Jesus with a question about resurrection. The catalyst for the question comes from Deuteronomy 25:5-10. According to the Law, for the sake of perpetuating the family line, a brother would be legally required to provide off spring to his deceased brother’s widow. It is worth our noting that the command, and thus the drive behind the Sadducees question, is concerned with progeny not marriage. The issue here is not Genesis 2.24 “and the two shall become one flesh” but rather Genesis 1.28 “Be fruitful and multiply.” Jesus’ reply points out that in wondering about family lineage, the Sadducees are asking the wrong kinds of questions. This particular law’s emphasis on child bearing helps us to see that the Sadducees are focusing on creation rather than new creation. Jesus’ answer reveals this flaw by pressing the distinction between those who live in this age and those who live in the next. “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage but those who are worthy of a place in that age…”

One of the primary differences is that those who live in the age to come “cannot die anymore.” That these “children of the resurrection” cannot die minimizes the concern of continuing the family name through producing heirs. Jesus then turns to his own biblical text to drive home his point that those who live in the age to come, live in the age to come. In Exodus 3:6, God names himself as “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had all three clearly passed from this current age. Yet since God who is the God of the living, indentifies himself by a reference to them, they must be living. Or as Jesus puts it, “Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” They are then living in the new age as “children of the resurrection.”

The text ends with the Sadducees feigning understanding “for they no longer dared to ask him another question.” We are left in a similar position. Jesus gives us much to ponder. As the Church approaches All Saints Day a great many will turn their thoughts to the meaning of words like heaven, eternal life, and resurrection. What we are shown through this passage is that this new age, the age of resurrection will be radically different from our current age. It will be a time and place in which sin and death neither reign nor exist, a possibility so foreign to our lives that much like the Sadducees, we can hardly find the right questions to ask. Far from explaining the resurrection, Jesus helps us to see just how far God’s ways are above our own.

This new age, is the inheritance of all who have faith in Jesus Christ, not just Abraham or Marcellus but also our friends, parents, neighbors and enemies. The celebration of All Saints is not just a celebration of their earthly lives, as remarkable as they may have been. As the text shows, to focus on the everyday material of life in this age is to miss the point. Instead, we celebrate their life with God today and forever more, recognizing that the God who raised Jesus from the dead is not only the God of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac, but also the God of Marcellus, Frank, Joel, Susan and the countless others who live with God eternally.