Monday, December 17, 2018

Holy Spectraspecs: Do you see what God sees?

It would be fabulous if we had special glasses that showed us the way to go. What if we had special glasses that made do-gooders glimmer with righteousness, so that when we look at someone like John the Baptizer, no matter what hair shirt they wear or provocative thing they say, we would hear and see them as God intends. Maybe they could be a bit like Luna Lovegood's spectraspecs, Which make the nonsense that distracts us show up like little nats around our heads. What if we really had such lenses that could make the just glow and types who have lost all sense of the common good they could pulse with sharp red warning.

It would also be swell to have glasses that help us see the context that surrounds the scriptural texts. You could read or hear the words and look through the lenses And see the assumptions and landscapes That are completely obscured by time and distance. In the gospel today We heard the names of 7 leaders of empire and locality and religion to set the scene that John is proclaiming in. What Luke is telling us is not like a memorized list of kings and queens, But that the scene Is dark and villainous. An expanding and anxious empire led by Tiberius, a military genius who as emperor was cruel, deranged and entirely depraved. Then Pilate who is the best known and least terrible of the list. Then there is a Herod, desperate, selfish and violently ambitious. The list of names is a list of lamentations, a list of terror. If you had the glasses you would be seeing nothing but sharp red spikes.

Into this fearsome moment, John is re-introduced. The son of the priest Zechariah John goes about the waters of the Jordan with a heritage of insiderness, prophecy, and eccentricity. John was a circuit rider it seems, going to busy, populated places in the Jordan river valley, where people went to get water and so on. And right there in the middle of everyday life, John was offering freedom from the sins that bind us, an outer expression of an inner soul cleansing, Baptism in the river that is a reshaping of the heart and the mind, a transformation of life In the forgiveness of sins. John the Baptizer is offering free new lenses that prepare all to hear and know the savior when he comes. John is offering spectacles that dissolve our dualisms and enlarges our heart and unclogs our ears from all the nonsense. Would our inner and outer worlds be so embattled and so lost if everyone had been living in the way we might live if we had glasses that showed us the whole creation as God sees it?

In Advent we are offered holy spectacles to see and feel and know that God is transforming injustices, paving a path to freedom for all people - right now. Again and again, we are led to live into the vision of becoming soul free. It is interesting to me to think About Luna Lovegood and John the Baptizer In one moment. If you don’t know either, Luna is the brilliant but quirky daughter of a conspiracy theorist publisher in the wizarding world of Harry Potter. She doesn’t have any need or concern for what is conventional or expected. Maligned and dismissed a young woman deep with trust and truth. John the son of the very old priest and his plenty old wife, doesn’t seem to have any need for the conventions that prop up cruelty either. Instead, he gives free-flowing comfort and direction in the middle of terror and fragmentation. Would you show up at the river or would John just be too strange too outside too other for you to give into the divine leading questions he proclaims? If you had those holy spectraspecs who would you see very differently if you saw them as God sees them?

Do you need these special glasses? I don’t have holy rose-colored lenses. But what I do have is what Jesus offers all of us - sacred bread and wine. Outward signs of Inner light. Refreshing our baptismal commitment to Jesus’ way, truth and life. Returning to his table, again and again, is a central part of the lifelong journey to learn to look with love speak without deceit and dare with hope. Jesus is coming, and it is about God’s radical interruption into our conventional lostness with the promise of eternal connectedness. To find our way out of the depravity and twisted falsehood that lead to the cross and the tomb.

God waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God. Christ is coming, to make all things free - including you. Do you see what God sees? Come o Lord and set us free, give your people peace. Come o Lord and set us free, Come o Jesus come.

Grace Episcopal Church
Pemberton, New Jersey

Motivation: Scrooge and Vipers

At every turn, there is someone somewhere trying to convince you that you are not enough not smart enough, strong enough, whatever your not enough is there is someone somewhere trying to motivate you from a place of shame and darkness and doubt. Yet - you rarely hear or see you brood of vipers as a motivational speech opener. They may be much smoother and indirect about it, but they are calling you a loser just the same. 

Vipers are venomous snakes that despite the sports cars and fighter jets of the same name are actually slow for their species. In Jesus’ time, it was sometimes believed that baby vipers ate their mother. Now you see the judgment John is getting at. Having been given so much you ignore respect and deference and devour the foundations that gave you life. The notion of matricide is not true but the metaphor of infidelity remains. Being a nest of slow heritage destroying creatures is clear criticism of how we do and do not live together as God intends.

Last weekend at the basket auction I won a basket of holiday books. One of which is a Christmas Carol. I have seen most of the movies yet never stopped to read the book. I have to say I am impressed with how accurate my favorite movie version - the Muppet one - how close it is to both the text and the overall intent, even in the musical numbers. The original book truly is a well written and good story which has never been out of print for good reason. There are people who think it is a Christian allegory. And while it does include the startling intervention of the not human in a human life. And one of the most crucial turning points is Scrooge’s encounter with a vulnerable child, I am not sure I think of it as an allegory. For me, it is a strong lean toward being a Christian morality tale.

What A Christmas Carol absolutely was and is is a piece of creative common good propaganda. Scrooge isn’t just about one nasty lonely old man but about a wide swath of powerful English people in the Victorian era. The virtues it promotes - generosity, community, care for the least and last, as well as repentance are of course deeply Christian. It is a fascinating short story about injustice, hardheartedness and that what we do in this life connects to bliss or darkness for eternity. Yet reading the dickens story with today’s lessons has been enlightening. It doesn’t start with the good stuff, it dives right into the terrible. A Christmas Carol is, after all, a ghost story. It begins with 'you brood of vipers'. Here is where all your greed and selfishness and hallow guilded eggness will land you.

Dickens has two core agenda points to make: the comfortable and the poor are not different species - we are one. Secondly, the societal viciousness we are caught in is not for the common good, or our own well being. There is a third point as well - it is that Christmastime is a jolly good time and a worthwhile festival - and you should try it! Except for that third point, the core agenda of A Christmas Carol isn’t that different from John the Baptizers instructions today - care    give      make peace.

For all the wretchedness of Scrooge and our den of vipers - there is one more important facet in common. God believes in us more than we do. Our scroogeness and viperness isn’t the end of the story. The prophet Zephaniah begins his text with accusations much more salacious than John or Charles Dickens but what he comes around to is the sacred hope that such depravity does not have to be the full measure of humanity. Zephaniah is offering encouragement like a coach when the team is down but not out. Isaiah too is leading cheers and chants from the heart of God's desire for us - you go girl! And John is giving clear directions from that same holy intention: share, be honest, seek dignity for all - you can do it. Here is a community and a way - Jesus is coming. God believes in us more than we do.

Maybe the darkness of Scrooge and the shout of ‘brood of vipers’ isn’t actually motivational it is just what gets our attention. What actually motivates according to behavioral science are 3 things: belonging to something greater than ourselves, - the common good. The desire to direct our own lives - liberation. And improving at a meaningful activity - study and service. If your faith practice does not reflect those three things how can we help?

What John and Isaiah and Zephaniah are proclaiming is what Scrooge has to learn after getting shocked by his own Marley delivered you are a viper speech. Motivation toward freedom from the cruel powers that be doesn’t come to us or to Scrooge simply because we learn that chains will bind us for eternity if we keep on these cruel and selfish paths. Freedom and motivation come from belonging to a creative compelling witness of something greater than ourselves and acting for others from that belonging. In this tradition that means seeking union with God and all others in Christ. The one we flock to at the manger is the grown person who said such wonderful things and did such amazing things that it changed everything. His way is for you and for all who need community and liberation and love.

Christ is coming because the Herods and scrooge's and oppressors and shamers of the world are still darkening our future. The actions that John is calling for are not radical or new they are the bedrock of faithful and just society. Charles Dickens’ propaganda of generosity and compassion and the common good should not be radical or daring it should be as basic as ‘ring around the rosy’ but we have forgotten it around every turn. We have the chance every day to turn around and when we fall into Scrooge-like errors of selfishness and cruelty Jesus offers us open arms, the chance to repent and so to be set free in our hearts and to try again to keep the faith of Christmas in our lives each day. Come o Lord and set us free give your people peace. Come o Lord and set us free, come Lord Jesus come.

December 16, 2018
Grace Church, Pemberton