Monday, January 15, 2007

"Reject the easy way of apathy...choose the hard course of action"

Start with the Gospel reading for this morning, the first "sign" or semeia, from John:

1And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:

2And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.

3And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.

4Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.

5His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.

6And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.

7Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.

8And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.

9When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom,

10And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.

11This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.
First, everybody translates that word as "miracles," but John consistently calls it "semeia," or 'sign.' And he consistently undercuts their importance. Everyone who sees the sign and believes, John clearly implies in his gospel, believes in the wrong thing. Think of Nicodemus. Or remember at the end, when Thomas sees the scars of the Risen Jesus and believes, and Jesus says "Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe!" There is always a hierarchy in John, and those who believe without signs are always truer believers than those persuaded by the signs. But that's not where we are going with this.

My other favorite bit of this story is Jesus' question to his mother, and her response. This is a woman who knows her son. He says to her "Why are you telling me?" She tells the servants "Do what he tells you." A mother knows. But that's not what we're going to do with this, either.

No, the whole thing is a springboard today (and so a cheat, of sorts) into the thoughts it aroused while listening/not listening (pastors do it, too!) to the sermon this morning. And the thoughts, in hastily scribbled notes, ran this way:

"Dying to old life; rising to new [related to the water and the jugs held for the purification. Crossan and Reed, by the way, note a place for ritual baths was a common feature of Jewish homes in 1st century Palestine]. But what does any of that have to do with me? If all change is internal or external, it to me but not of me, what is that to me, except external? [i.e., if my make an empty confession (external) or claim an inward change with no real change in who I am (internal) Is an internal change, then, the only sign of Xianity? Is it really taht I must be born again? But once I am, am I different? Or am I the same? Am I still looking to the big idea to save me?

'He did not ask of us anything great.' (attributed to Abraham Lincoln, in response to sermon) [Israel means 'struggles with God, but of] what is the use of struggling with God if the struggle is not a great one? Who of us has experienced birth that was not a struggle, found new life & identity without tremendous effort? (think of adolescents becoming adults, adults becoming parents or even simply newlyweds; starting a new job, a new profession, changing professions. Who am I if not what I do, and yet what do I do?) Why, then, should we imagine love of God, love for neighbor, would be an easy and empowering task?

Born again--am I the one involved w/being born again? or is that the act of God? If it is an act on me, is it external to me? If so, isn't it, even though from God, the "Big Idea" which save me from me, without any effort by me? And of what ultimate value is that to me?
The question, in other words, of the big idea. And precisely how existentialism comes to Christianity, and how Kierkegaard is still relevant today, if not still ahead of us. And perhaps even the way Romanticism points us in the direction out of the morass of solipsism we find ourselves (collectively) wandering into, again and again. When Kierkegaard launched his "Attack upon 'Christendom'," he was, and still is, largely misunderstood. He was not attackin Christianity, or declaring that only the most devoted could be disciples (a la Bonhoeffer almost 100 years later, who likewise realized he'd gone too far in one direction). What Kierkegaard was actually critiquing was the notion that one could be a Christian by birth only, by virtue of one's culture, of one's nationality. Indeed, what he saw coming to an end has ended for all intents and purposes in Europe: the "big idea" that something outside of us, which could stay outside of us, would take care of everything for us. That "big idea" is still the generally accepted salvation principle of Christianity: that a certain set of beliefs, properly applied and agreed on, is all that is necessary to set us off from the heathen; or the "non-traditional" Christian, or the faithless believers, the sinners, the apostates, the what-have-you. That's all the arguments of fundamentalists v. everybody, or "traditional" Episcopalians v. The Episcopal Church, or the Anglican Communion v. Presiding Bishop Schorti, come down to: whose "big idea" is going to be the one that rules.

Fortunately, so far at least, PB Schorti has refused to engage that battle. But that's also another issue.

But what if the big idea is contained here, instead?

31"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' 37Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' 40And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[a] you did it to me.'

41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' 44Then they also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?' 45Then he will answer them, saying, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
What if the big idea is less what you believe, than what you do? What if the big idea is, say, acompanamiento? That would make the teachings of Christ truly apocalyptic, because that would change our entire world; or at least the world you, and I, and other believers and followers of Christ, live in.

John Edwards said today, in Riverside Church:

Forty years ago, almost to the month, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood at this pulpit, in this house of God, and with the full force of his conscience, his principles and his love of peace, denounced the war in Vietnam, calling it a tragedy that threatened to drag our nation down to dust.

As he put it then, there comes a time when silence is a betrayal -- not only of one’s personal convictions, or even of one’s country alone, but also of our deeper obligations to one another and to the brotherhood of man.

That’s the thing I find the most important about the sermon Dr. King delivered here that day. He did not direct his demands to the government of the United States, which was escalating the war. He issued a direct appeal to the people of the United States, calling on us to break our own silence, and to take responsibility for bringing about what he called a revolution of values.

A revolution whose starting point is personal responsibility, of course, but whose animating force is the belief that we cannot stand idly by and wait for others to right the wrongs of the world.

* * *

Silence is betrayal. Speak out, and stop this escalation now. You have the power to prohibit the president from spending any money to escalate the war – use it.

And to all of you here today – and the millions like us around the country who know this escalation is wrong – your job is to reject the easy way of apathy and choose instead the hard course of action.

Silence is betrayal. Speak out. Tell your elected leaders to block this misguided plan that is destined to cost more lives and further damage America’s ability to lead. And tell them also, that the reward of trust.
The big idea will get you started; but it won't do the task for you. Doing the task is up to you. Your salvation is secure; but it is also in your hands. Go, and seek the Lord among those who need you. Go, and find the Creator of the Universe, among those who are invisible. Go, and don't look for signs; the signs are all around you. And they all point to your brother, your sister, your neighbor, your friend: the ones you know, and sit in a pew with every Sunday; the ones you don't know, and who may never know you. Go, because the teachings of Jesus the Christ are truly apocalyptic; they truly reveal the truth: that the kingdom of God is here, now, among you. And that when you begin to live it, you see it.

And blessed are those who do not see it, and yet believe. Amen.

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