Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sunday morning thoughts

When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified.
--The Gospel according to Luke
Here we have another encouraging phrase lifted from the lessons for today. Much apocalyptic imagery operates within the metaphor or birth pangs of the new age. Any mother will tell you we don't get from conception to birth without a difficult transition. Mothers go through birth pangs for the sake of the new life that emerges. When we read that Jesus went to the cross for the joy that was set before him there is an echo of this.

The reality of human history is that wars and insurrections have been going on every moment throughout history. Although I don't recall the specifics or the source, I seem to have read once that the historians Will and Ariel Durant looked at recorded history and the number of years when the whole world seemed to be at peace numbered in the forties. I suspect that if they had more records it would drop to zero. This suggests to me that we are always living in the transition to the coming age, always in the process of the arrival of God's reign.

Having spent many hours and read many books on apocalyptic, I have no patience with folks who try to pin down the various "signs" with specific happenings in their own day in order to manage their anxiety about "the end" and/or the parousia. Jesus told us that was the Father's matter and even he didn't know when, so what in God's Name are people doing trying to know more than Jesus? Well, I just named it: managing their anxiety. To that extent I can feel some compassion but so much hysteria arises around the process that it only increases anxiety among some and produces deadly false certainties in others. Those who would hasten the return of Christ by fomenting events they consider prerequisites are trying to force God's hand and alter God's timing for their own purposes, and this strikes me as seriously blasphemous. To promote Armageddon, heedless of the destruction one unleashes, is a serious sin and there are many people, some in high places, who appear hellbent on doing it. I might add that "hellbent" is a very apt word in this instance.

"Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is near!' Do not go after them."

Jesus has a tendency to speak to the fearsome storms of our lives and say, Peace, be still. In today's Gospel he addresses all the scary stuff and even promises that his followers will be persecuted, hated, and betrayed by their own. He also promises that we will be given words to say when the time comes and we will be all right.

Knowing that you are God's beloved and that nothing in life or death can separate you from that love does make a difference. It is like the equanimity of the Buddhist facing someone who threatened to slay him. "Don't you know that I can kill you?" the attacker said. "Don't you know that death holds no fear?" was the response. [If you know the story, you know I just oversimplified it.] Whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.

In a comment on my previous post JN1034 wrote something so wonderful I want to promote it into this post:
"We've the grace to loosen and bind. Let's use the former on ourselves and the world, and the latter on none."
What a wonderful statement! We are indeed all called to join God in setting the world free. We don't need to go around binding; there is more than enough of that. Trying to bind is a sign of fear and love casts out fear. To live in God's love is not to be fearful. Christ has already bound the enemy. As our evangelical sisters and brothers would say, Claim it! Now, let's get busy helping to liberate. All of God's people have the power to speak words of truth, love, grace, and power. You don't need to be a priest to absolve someone (I know, here I go on my Protestant side), at least for the sins and follies committed against you. If you speak the word of forgiveness it will not only set them free for restored relationship, it will set you free.

Have you ever had someone speak a word of encouragement to you and found yourself putting aside a burden, letting go of a fear, shedding a resentment, and stepping out once more in faith? Pass this kindness on. We are part of something wonderful.

Writing of the wide range of our emotions and the need to feel them, I responded in the same comments thread: "We are graced with the gamut of the psalms--we not only recite them and pray them, we live them. That means we end with Hallelujahs." And so, some music:

Rufus Wainwright singing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" from Summer Stage at a Central Park music concert.

--the BB