Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Sunday, January 01, 2017

New Years Day 2017

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13
3:1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

3:2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

3:3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

3:4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

3:5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

3:6 a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away;

3:7 a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

3:8 a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

3:9 What gain have the workers from their toil?

3:10 I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with.

3:11 He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

3:12 I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live;

3:13 moreover, it is God's gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.

Psalm 8
8:1 O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.

8:2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.

8:3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;

8:4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

8:5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.

8:6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet,

8:7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,

8:8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

8:9 O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Revelation 21:1-6a
21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

21:2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;

21:4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."

21:5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true."

21:6a Then he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

Matthew 25:31-46
25:31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.

25:32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,

25:33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

25:34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;

25:35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

25:36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'

25:37 Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?

25:38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?

25:39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?'

25:40 And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'

25:41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;

25:42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,

25:43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'

25:44 Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?'

25:45 Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'

25:46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

It is actually as rare as hen's teeth that the lectionary serves up a passage from Ecclesiastes; and almost as rare that it serves up the parable of the sheep and goats from Matthew.  When it presents them both as the choice for New Year's Day (also the First Sunday of Christmas), how is one to resist?

The alternative, if you were wondering, is Matthew's story of the flight into Egypt and the massacre of the innocents.  But we've done that already, so we can move on to the last judgment as the way to start the new year.

The world's new year, not the church's.  The church new year started on the first Sunday of Advent,  Appropriately, that was about apocalypse, too.  The church loves to start things with ending things. There's a reason for that, and we should come back to it.  But we start things first with the orderliness of Ecclesiastes, and the wisdom of ordering.  Pete Seeger made the catalog of Ecclesiastes 3 famous; but he left off the conclusion, the best part:

3:9 What gain have the workers from their toil?

3:10 I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with.

3:11 He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

3:12 I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live;

3:13 moreover, it is God's gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.

God has put a sense of past and future into our minds, and yet we still can't find out what God has done from beginning to end.  Boundaries; edges; limits; beginning and ends.  Sometimes it is like that is all we know, and all we expect.  Certainly Ecclesiastes expects no more:  "I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live."  That's a sentiment worthy of the 12 days of Christmas, which we've only reached the middle of.  "Moreover, it is God's gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil."  God's gift!  What a lovely thought!  A gift given without thought of a return, of an economy, of creating a circle in which the gift leads to a gift back, even the gift of recognition, of thanks, of acceptance.  Does God need us to recognize this gift?  No!  We merely need to recognize it as a gift, for ourselves.  What better way to eat and drink and take pleasure in all our toil?

And not that all should eat and drink; not the worthy, not the virtuous, not the hard-working or those who 'earned it.'  How do you "earn" a gift?  Even Santa Claus doesn't really work that way.  Ever know a kid who actually got coal and switches for Christmas?   It is God's gift that we should eat and drink and take pleasure in our toil.  What gain do we have from it, aside from pleasure in doing it?

The year ended has left us wondering what the year ahead could bring; and dreading it.  We assumed the system would take care of us, and it didn't.  But neither did the system turn reality on its head.  A sliver of the population elected Donald Trump, because a larger sliver of the population decided there was no merit to trying, no reason to care, no purpose in turning out.  They decided the system would function with or without them, so why bother?  They thought the system didn't matter; or didn't matter to them; or they didn't matter; or that the system would save them from themselves; when, of course, the system rolls blindly on if no one steps up to guide it.  To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.  Those are words of guidance, not words of reassurance that it will all be fine, and you will be taken care of.  You should find pleasure in your toil; but you still have to toil.

There is a time to weep, a time to laugh; a time to mourn, a time to dance; a time to build, a time to pull down, a time to keep, a time to throw away.  But you have to act to keep, or it will be taken away from you. You have to decide to throw away, or you may not be able to discard what burdens you.  Laughter and mourning are activities, not spontaneous and involuntary actions; dancing and building and even tearing down require your involvement; you cannot leave it to others.

There is no time to leave it to others.  If you think the system will take care of it for you, that your only concern is you, then the system will run blindly, and only at the end will you wonder why you didn't see it.

"Lord, when did we see you?"

The hungry, the naked, the sick, the strangers:  they pass before you, but you pay no attention.  The outcast, the marginalized, the foreigner, the "not like us," the one who endangers our comfort with reckless daring:  they never share our hearth.  The systems doesn't take care of them:  we do.  We bear the responsibility.  There is a time to sit with folded hands, and a reason to do so; and it is wisdom to know the difference.  It is not wisdom to close our eyes and let the system run on its own.

"Lord, when did we see you?"

The answer is:  when did you not?  Why weren't you looking?  Why did you leave it to someone else, something else, why do you still blame everyone else?  Why do you think you are not responsible, why do you think the time is not now; why do you find no pleasure in your toil?

If you give food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, comfort to the sick, welcome to the stranger, what do you get in return?  Do you give such things expected a reward, a circle where you start a cycle which ends with something for you?  Do you do such things in their time?  And when is it not their time?  What is well ordered about caring for those who need your care?

Matthew tells us the ones who do and the ones who don't will ask the same question:  "Lord, when did we see you?"  The ones who didn't weren't slighting the Lord; the ones who did weren't serving him; not consciously, anyway.  But both were acting; if, at the end, the scales fall from their eyes, it is because one group was too busy to look, and the other group was too busy not looking.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.  It is ordered, but it is not ordered in spite of you.  It does not run without you.  "Moreover [God] has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end."  We cannot find that out, but we can find out what we have done.  At some point, the promise is that it will be revealed to us.  And what did we do?  Did we act for ourselves, and pray the system to take up the slack?  Or did we act for others, and find pleasure in our toil?  Did we perpetuate a circle, a cycle?  Or did we break the circle with our gift?  It is a gift we have been given; do we keep it, or do we pass it on freely?

The church starts things with ending things.  In our end, the poet tells us, is our beginning.  There is a time for everything.  Do not wonder when you saw the Lord; look; see.  It is a gift given to you.

2 Comments:

Blogger rustypickup said...

More a follow on to the discussion right before and after the election, and in furtherance of "it's better to understand than to be understood", I read the linked article over the holidays about the collapse of working class communities. http://narrative.ly/how-trump-seduced-the-white-working-class-by-preying-on-their-physical-pain/ For want of a better term, and because the article uses it, the decline of the white working class. It takes a while, but the author doesn't shy away from addressing the racial issues too. Here are communities that are being thrown away, in the same manner that we have thrown away our inner city communities. With the coming waves of automation (self driving vehicles eliminating decent paying jobs, etc.) you have to wonder how many more communities will be thrown away. In that sense this does tie into the post, we have a responsibility to all these people, no matter their vote, no matter their racism, no matter anything. The last paragraph puts the point as to a spiritual change (but I vigorously disagree that the Democrats have abandoned the white working class), which may be as close as we need for this blog.

4:00 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Thanks, I'll look at that (taking a break from critique for the 12 days just now).

More and more I think of re-reading Vonnegut's first novel "Player Piano." If only because the world of total automation was imagined in it almost 60 years ago.

Of course, if we keep replacing jobs with machines, who's going to buy what the machines manufacture, and how? Which reminds me of another story, "The Midas Plague."

So it goes.

7:25 AM  

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