Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Advent Thoughts – Thursday of Advent 1

Greetings, fellow reprobates, miscreants, sinners, and ne’er-do-wells. If there are any righteous folk lurking about, come on in. Doubters, deniers, curious, confused, followers of other traditions, many traditions, or no traditions--everybody’s welcome.

I have been directing various admonitions in the Daily Office readings inward, figuring that the only subject I really have to work with is myself. It is not my task to live anyone’s life but my own, to sort out anyone’s shit but my own, to forsake anyone’s sins but my own.

This is not to minimize our profound interrelatedness on every level: with each other, with all creation, and with God. My being and becoming takes place in context, depends on context, and affects context. In this sense, there is no truly individual sin and no individual virtue. We participate in a great mystery, the web of creation and the very life of God.

As I read the thundering denunciations of the prophets, the solemn warnings in the epistles, and the judgment parables, there is a great temptation to pick up the scattered bolts of God’s justice and hurl them at those whose flagrant public examples demonstrate sundry unrighteousness. The problem is, this leads to everyone shooting lightning at everyone else. When all have been blasted, who triumphs? What grace has been at work as we pursue mutual annihilation (whether literal or figurative)?

It takes work, however, to hold back. I want to point my finger at the faults of others, and I often do as you who read my rants here are well aware. Part of the discipline of seasons of preparation is to deal with our own clutter and haul out our own trash.
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom…. When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. (Matthew 21:43, 45)

Now I only know the online identities of the folks who comment, not all who visit here. Among my most frequent visitors are a chunk of church folk, some ordained and some not but most fairly involved. . We’re church folk, active in the religious life of our faith communities. So I’m guessing we, myself most certainly included, would do well to identify ourselves with the chief priests and the Pharisees

I know, we have some other egregious ecclesiastical assholes that we nominate for those roles, but we need to hear Jesus speak to us and let the others work out their own salvation. We have our own homework to do and, I have it on the best authority, we are not without sin. So, for the moment at least, I reluctantly put down the stone I really, really want to hurl.

It seems to me that Jesus is concerned with our producing the fruits of God’s reign. I believe the deep yearning of Episcopalians to get beyond the current unpleasantness and focus once more on proclaiming and living Good News, enfleshing in our lives the love, justice, compassion, and truth of God, indicates that we know what we should be about and we truly desire it. We want to bear fruit.

We are caught up in one of those difficult periods when society and church alike go through change. For many years I have been among those who believe we are in the midst of something like the Reformation and are still only dimly perceiving what might emerge when the dust settles. To think that our worldview can change through advances in science and philosophy and our understanding of God and salvation will not change is naïve, defensive, or both. The eternal Gospel is, I truly believe, eternal. But our understanding of it and our application of it is always, always, always partial as well as conceptualized in, expressed through, and lived out in our historical context. We call it the principle of incarnation, which we understand through the Word made flesh and also see as operative on many levels.

So we find ourselves caught up in a struggle, as believers from many contexts and with many viewpoints wrestle with discerning how we ought to follow Jesus. We perceive our world to have shrunk through travel, communication, technology, and global economies. The many contexts and viewpoints that have always been present are now present to one another, obvious in their differences and juxtaposed with immediacy. An utterance on one continent is reported within hours all around the globe. We are forced to deal with each other whereas in days of yore we could go our way unaware of what happened in other spots on the planet.

The Pharisees started from the desire to align all aspects of their life with God’s will and righteousness. They just wanted to be holy. Is that really so alien from us? We may not want some phony holiness that puts others down or casts them out and gets all smarmy and puffed up and obnoxious, but we all know that isn’t really holiness. It is human to yearn for deep and profound wholeness, a life clothed in honesty, goodness, and integrity. Taking that into a deeper dimension it is a life aligned with the goodness, justice, truth, wisdom, and love of God, working for the salvation of all creation. One may be skeptical about the possibility but it would take a rather damaged person not to think it desirable.

When the basic desire to be aligned with God’s will and doing God’s work is diverted (and it doesn’t take much misdirection), we find ourselves chasing an illusion of the holy. We become, in our own eyes, the warriors of righteousness, the guardians of truth, the liberators of the oppressed, the defenders of God.

Conversely, we take on the role of the enemy of souls and become accusers, not just of others but primarily ourselves, heaping upon our frightened and disheartened hearts great burdens that God has already lifted once and for all. We deny the Cross even as we haul huge beams of emotional wood around on our shoulders. We are like battered persons, caught in fear and despair.

Jesus calls us back to the relation we have had with God from the moment God conceived of us, to our status as beloved children of God, no longer slaves but friends. He calls us to just be who we already, by God’s unfathomable grace, are and to live in the simple works of true holiness. Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God.

We can pursue the fragments of truth given to us with passion. But we can also do it with humility and grace.

And you all know that I don’t always do it with humility and grace, so you know I’m preaching not to the choir as much as to my own self, knowing full well that many rants and follies lie yet ahead.

At the turning of the year, at the dark time, at the quiet time, at the fallow time, let us attend the Light.

You will save a lowly people, * but you will humble the haughty eyes. You, O LORD, are my lamp; * my God, you make my darkness bright.
(Psalm 18:28-29)

--the BB


Kirstin said...

We always preach what we most need. Right now, you and I need the same reminders. Thank you, both for naming the trouble we get into, and for proclaiming love, humility, and grace.

In giving what God gives us, we become who we are called to be.

Doorman-Priest said...

Mea Culpa. I am a recovering Pharisee

FranIAm said...

That may be one of the most powerful posts that I have ever read. Other than a deep thank you I do not know what else to say.

Paul said...

Thanks for the kind words. I don't even pretend to be in recovery yet, but God's workin' on me.

I worry when I ramble like this and go on forever. Glad it still is helpful.

FranIAm said...

Well then you are human! I am relieved.

Peace to you brother. Wounded we all are.

Paul said...

FranThouArt, LOL is often a cliche by which we mean we are silently amused. Well, when I read your comment about my being human a great belly laugh erupted. Indeed I am.

By his wounds we are healed; by our wounds we are channels of grace to each other.

Kirstin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kirstin said...

By our wounds we are channels of grace

Yep. Took me forever, to learn not to run from them.

Our wounds make us human, make us whole, make us strong.

Paul said...

"Our wounds make us human, make us whole, make us strong."

Exactly. I have long said, and firmly believe, that the only hearts that ever become whole are the ones that are broken. It is all grace, though often hard to understand or realize during the breaking.

Kirstin said...

Oh, my brother, amen to that.

Last paragraph, written this morning.

(The deletion above is me, getting rid of a half-duplicate.)