When we keep Jesus at the center, we gather the largest number of people into the Reign of God.
For those who are preaching this weekend on John the Baptist’s proclamation of Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the Sin of the World”, this ancient song is worth reading:
The Lamb Replaces the Scapegoat. Romanus Melodus:
Now the the garment of mourning is rent; we have put on the white robe
Which the spirit has woven for us from the lamb’s fleece of our Lamb and our God;
Sin is taken away, and immortality is given us, our restoration is clear.
The Forerunner has proclaimed it.…
O, the message of the Baptist, and the mystery in it!
He calls the shepherd lamb, and not only a lamb, but one to free from mistakes.
He showed the lawless that the goat which they sent into the desert was ineffective.
“Lo,” he said, “the lamb; there is no longer need of the goat;
Put your hands on him,
All of you who confess your sins,
For He has come to take them away, those of the people, and of the whole world.
For lo, the One whom the Father has sent to us is the One who carries away evil,
Who appeared and illumined all things.”
Kontakion on the Epiphany 6.12–13.
Elowsky, J. C. (2006). John 1-10 (pp. 70–71). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Our neighbors and our communities need the hope that we have as children of God by virtue of our baptism. The greatest Christmas gift you can give would be to share the hope that is within us with someone who has none.
Derek Black, former White Nationalist – godson of David Duke, writes of his journey from “shining example” of the white nationalist movement to his present belief that the future is one of tolerance and the embrace of different cultures.
In particular he answers a question that I think a number of people are asking;
People have approached me looking for a way to change the minds of Trump voters, but I can’t offer any magic technique. That kind of persuasion happens in person-to-person interactions and it requires a lot of honest listening on both sides. For me, the conversations that led me to change my views started because I couldn’t understand why anyone would fear me. I thought I was only doing what was right and defending those I loved.
He also points out that his willingness to have those conversations started by encountering people who clearly and firmly rejected what he believed to be the truth.
You can read the full essay here: Why I Left White Nationalism – The New York Times
People regularly ask me about the meaning of reconciliation. This quote below, from a longer essay by Bishop Nick is a good starting point. (It’s part of longer essay, the full version of which is linked below.)
Words like “peace and reconciliation” can appear bland; but the task of reconciling is demanding and costly. It’s about trying to hold together people whose experience has torn them apart. The whole point of it is that already divided, damaged and conflicted people can choose to break the cycle of hatred.
The symbol of Christianity is a cross – a man nailed to it with arms open, exposed to all that the world can throw at him, but not throwing it back. Open arms can represent welcome to all-comers; they can also hold together those at extremes who otherwise might pull apart into different worlds. And there’s the risk that those doing the reconciling find themselves being pulled apart in the process.
The results of the elections this week have confirmed what we already knew. Our country is deeply divided along regional, racial, gender and economic lines. The divisions are real and painful. The divisions are ending friendships and threatening family relationships. There are people in our communities and congregations who are delighted and people who are devastated. The emotions are real and raw, and their intensity is hard for some to understand. The simple, faithful response of Episcopalians across the state to pray for the president-elect will be a stumbling stone or a stepping stone for people who will be kneeling beside each other at the altar rail.
As people of faith, baptized into the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and fed at his table, there are things we can do to serve our divided communities.
We must remember our baptismal covenant in which we promise to respect the dignity of every human being. We are each made in the image of the living God – and each one of us is infinitely precious simply by virtue of that fact. We can help others to see their neighbors as the Holy Spirit has opened our eyes to see one another.
There can be no room in our common life for hateful or dismissive language about people who are different from us. We are all fellow servants of the same Lord and cannot allow ourselves, or anyone else, to dismiss or harm someone whom Jesus has gathered to himself. There will be opportunities for us to bear witness to this Gospel value in the coming days. I pray that God will give us the will to do what God desires.
We gather around the altar to receive the gifts of God — the broken body and the poured-out blood of Jesus; Jesus who is the innocent victim killed by government forces at the demand of a people’s religious leadership. Holding that truth before us gives us a way to listen and to serve in the midst of the whirlwind of emotions and rhetoric surrounding us.
We don’t always understand what things mean or what to do in midst of moments like this. It took many years for God’s children to fully comprehend what God was doing in the great mysteries of the Incarnation, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. We need to pray and listen for God’s voice and God’s call to action. Even Mary, the Mother of God, needed time to ponder in her heart what the birth of Jesus meant. I do not know what God has in store for us in this moment of our nation’s history, but I have no doubt that God is in the midst of us and that God’s purposes of justice, mercy and the healing of the nations will not be frustrated.
As the body of Christ in the world we are called to be hope and light for the world. Someone wrote this week that a divided World needs a united Church. May the Holy Spirit use us so that we become what God dreams we will be.
XIII Bishop of Rhode Island
Feast of St. Martin of Tours
Nov 11, 2016
Adam Eriksen on how a careful reading of the books of the Bible changes the way we view the world and redefines our neighborhood:
The Bible is progressive because it forces us to listen to the voice of the victim. Listening to the voice of the victim goes against most of human history, including the modern world. History is written by the winners, after all. The winners get to tell history from their perspective – a perspective which justifies their wars by demonizing their enemies.
But the Bible is told from the perspective of those who frequently lost in the ancient world. Cain killed his brother Abel and Abel’s blood cries out from the ground. The enslaved Israelites cried out under their oppression and God heard their cry. The psalmist, the prophets, Jesus and the early Christians, they were all victims of violence. And yet, for the first time in human history, the Bible gives voice to those who were killed, conquered, and tortured.
God hears the cry of the oppressed. The Bible is progressive because it forces us to listen to that cry. Sometimes that cry makes us feel uncomfortable, like when the psalmist prays that the babies’ of Israel’s enemies will have their heads smashed against the rocks. I squirm when I hear that prayer, but it’s a prayer with a historical context. Jerusalem was just conquered by the Babylonians, who destroyed the temple, homes, and villages. They enslaved and scattered the people throughout their empire. Before we get judgmental about such a prayer, we might ask ourselves how we would respond if anyone came to our nation, destroyed our homes, our way of life, and enslaved us. We might pray for a little revenge. We might even pray that the children of our enemies would be killed so that the generational cycle of violence might stop.
I’ve been reading and working through the implications of Rene Girard’s insights into human relationships for years – particularly the way that Girard unlocks a new way of reading the biblical texts. If you’ve heard me preach or teach over the years you probably know how major an influence Girard has been on my thinking.
There’s a wonderful resource “Teaching Non-violent Atonement” that’s been posting a regular Wednesday sermon that demonstrates how a preacher can use Girard’s ideas to communicate the meaning behind the texts. For the last few weeks there have been sermons on Galatians (which we’ve been reading in the RCL on Sundays). This is a quote from this week’s sermon post:
We have always assumed “works of the Law” referred to Jewish religious practice alone but Rome was the real law-giver in the world and those who worked for Rome were doing the works of the Law. But you wouldn’t want to say that out loud. Who killed Jesus? The Romans did, in cooperation with local Jewish authorities. Both Roman and Jewish law attempted to bring what they saw as righteousness through violence, exclusion and death. Their goal was to purge the world of evil as they saw it when evil was in themselves and in their method of bringing “peace”.
Jews along with all other defeated peoples know this, Paul argues.
And the faithfulness of Jesus Christ that Paul says is the alternative to law, what is that? Notice I didn’t say faith in Jesus but rather the faith of Jesus. The faith of Jesus is his allowing Roman and Jewish Law to judge, condemn and execute him as a criminal, though he is the Son of God, in obedience to his father and as an expression of their love for us. Jesus did this to show us how the law works to condemn, knowing this was the only way to expose what we humans could not see. Talk about faithfulness; Jesus goes to his death, forgiving us on the way, out of faithfulness to God and love for us all. In this way his faithfulness seen on the cross makes us right with God.
Paul saw this on the Road to Damascus when he had an apocalyptic in-breaking of truth that turned his violent and law-working world upside down.
via Wednesday Sermon: Division Undone (go read the whole thing)
Given the events of our own day, where we’re seeing strange pairings of groups that ought to be in complete opposition to each other coming together to make common cause against the “other”, I’m finding that re-reading Galatians in this particular light is incredibly enlightening.
It’s beyond our bearing. Another mass shooting has happened, this one the deadliest in our country’s history. Someone was given access to enough weapons that 49 people were shot dead and nearly as many wounded in one attack by one man in one place. There was an armed police officer outside the club where the people were killed but that didn’t stop this shooter.
This time it is the LGBT community that is grieving their friends and their children who have been cut down. In the last few years it’s been the parents of school children, fellow parishioners after a bible study, social workers mourning their co-workers after a staff party, and the many others whose stories no longer have had enough shock value to gain national attention. No matter who it is, the tears are the same, the shock is the same, the elected leaders pledges are the same – and nothing seems to change.
This morning, after the shooting and killings in Orlando at Pulse, people are sharing their frustration that prayer isn’t enough. And by itself, it isn’t. But it’s the place we as Christians start. It’s the place from which we move. And that movement has to be out into a world that is reeling, shocked, weeping and devastated with pain beyond bearing. As followers of Jesus we are asked to move out toward the people who are persecuted and harmed and to take our place standing beside them. And we are asked to surround them with the kind of community that will start to slow the violence – to make these sorts of events a memory and not our future.
We do this with the simple tools God has given us. Prayer. Bread. Wine. Healing oil. And the tools that build community. Listening. Pot-luck dinners. Food drives. Homeless shelters. It’s nonsense in the eyes of the world, but it’s what God would have us do. Jesus showed us that these things change the arc of history.
Because as we stand with the victims and the persecuted, as we feed them and pray with them, as we give of ourselves on their behalf, we are creating a community that Jesus tells us will be impervious to the hatred and assaults of the evil forces of this world which seem to have the upper hand on dark days like today.
So today we pray. Tomorrow we move.
On Tuesday night I was asked to open a meeting of law enforcement and community representatives, and clergy that was set to discuss the federal grand jury process. It’s part of our Rhode Island response to what happened in Fergusson last year.
I used the following prayer to get us started. (I thought the prayer was worth sharing.)
God of Justice, God of Reconciliation, God of the outcast and the downtrodden; We come before you this evening as a community committed to finding a better way forward than we have yet seen.
Lead us out of our present wilderness with your strong sure hand into a new land that will empower us to live as a community that is known for living into our best selves, a community that believes and puts into practice the goals and dreams upon which our country was founded.
Be with our speakers now. May their words help us to see the truth of what we have and of what we lack. By the power of your Spirit give us the courage to change. By the gift of your Holy Wisdom help us to find a path forward.
We ask all of this in your Holy Name on behalf of all your Children.