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To Set Our Hope on Christ study guide released — free!

The Windsor Report invited the Episcopal Church to continue discussion by sharing the theological groundwork that led to our General Convention's consent to the election of the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, an openly gay and partnered man, as Bishop of New Hampshire, and acknowledging the blessing of same-sex couples as taking place “within the bounds of our common life” (NOT authorizing rites, though some people find it hard to get the distinction). Part of the Episcopal Church's sharing groundwork in response to the Windsor Report included the release some time ago of To Set Our Hope on Christ, an excellent and relatively brief (hey, the authors are mostly academic theologians ... it could have been the weight of a volume like this!) overview of issues in theology, biblical studies, and ecclesiology involved in the Episcopal Church's decisions in these areas and the information that helped us decide as we did.

And perhaps the best thing about To Set Our Hope on Christ was that it was made available for download from the Internet for free. You can get it for free here, or purchase bound copies from here if you want them. And there was much rejoicing (picture cheering and jumping animated figures from Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail here).

But To Set Our Hope on Christ didn't have any kind of a study guide, and so a lot of folks who otherwise might have read it, had they been encouraged to do so in small groups in their parish, didn't. And so a group of folks who thought this was a darn shame commissioned me to write one, and I did.

And that study guide is now available — for free — for anyone who wants to use it. You can download it here. I hope you find it useful, and I hope it encourages a lot more people to get together with others to learn from one another and explore open questions. To Set Our Hope on Christ provides fertile soil for that, and my hope is that the study guide makes it that much easier for congregations to benefit. And to answer two frequently asked questions right off the bat:

Yes, the study guide does make use of at least one U2 song.
And no, you don't have to use that part. :)

Blessings,

Dylan

November 28, 2005 in Special Feature | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Down Side of Podcasting

[Edit 11-22-2005: The good folks at TypePad support have suggested something that I think might solve the bandwidth problem with podcasting! It's Coral, which re-routes things across the Internet, effectively turning normal web-surfing into peer-to-peer file sharing, a la Kazaa or Gnutella, only without the websurfer seeing any difference. So let me know if *you* notice a difference, and of course, I'd still love to hear your feedback about the podcasts in general.]

Dear All,

I launched a grand experiment this month: my very first “podcasts,” MP3 files of me reading entries (with a little adaptation or ad-libbing at points) for those who'd like to listen to these entries on an iPod or somesuch on the way in to work, while washing the dishes, and so on. I received a number of emails from folks expressing appreciation for this, and I intend to continue it as long as it proves practical and people find it helpful and/or enjoyable.

I've discovered one down side, though, to podcasting: bandwidth. My web host is projecting, on the basis of what I've used so far this month, that I'll use over 98% of my monthly allowance, and I haven't posted the podcast for the first Sunday in Advent yet (I plan to post it tomorrow —Tuesday — morning). If I go over my allowed bandwidth, I'll get charged extra (all the info I've got at the moment on how much extra is that I should contact a “support representative” to inquire about bandwidth rates if I go over what's allowed with my account).

So please do provide feedback as to how much you like this new feature, and if it's something that adds substantial value to the site for you, and especially if you haven't done so already, please consider donating to support it. If podcasting isn't a great boon to you, that's good to know too. And please know that I deeply appreciate those of you who support me with prayers or a kind email too. Thanks for coming by, for your feedback, and for all the ways you support SarahLaughed.net. I launched the lectionary blog with reflections on the readings for the first Sunday of Advent in 2003. It's been a fun two years of blogging the lectionary thus far, and I'm looking forward to journeying through the coming year with y'all!

Blessings,

Dylan

November 21, 2005 in Administrivia | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

First Sunday of Advent, Year B

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This reflection also appears in The Witness, a magazine that's been an Anglican voice for justice since 1917, and also happens to be my new employer. Please do visit there regularly; reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary readings appear there every week, along with compelling news and commentary from around the world.

Isaiah 64:1-9a - link to NRSV text
Psalm 80 - link to BCP text
1 Corinthians 1:1-9 - link to NRSV text
Mark 13:24-37 - link to NRSV text

Sometimes I wish that Mark 13 came, like the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, with a cover bearing the large-type friendly admonition, “DON'T PANIC.”

Yes, I know it can be a pretty scary chapter — especially the parts our lectionary leaves out. It starts with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. It continues with images of war, earthquake, and famine, of family members betraying one another, of great suffering. But don't forget that in verses 30-31, Mark says very clearly and emphatically that these things are NOT predictions of doom in the distant future: “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” And as Malina and Rohrbaugh point out, that even gets backed up with an oath in very strong terms indeed: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

The truly frightening stuff described in Mark 13 is, for Mark's readers, not a prediction to frighten future generations, but words of comfort for a generation that used this vivid language, the language of nightmares mixed with literal retellings of the kinds of betrayal and threats facing community members, to describe what they'd already seen brothers and sisters in Christ going through. Jesus went around calling women and slaves and sons alike to follow him, and leaving out any hint that they need to get someone else's permission to do so. His followers after his resurrection called him “lord” or “master,” suggesting that others who wanted to claim that title need not apply. That's not the kind of thing you can say — let alone a way of life you can live — without getting in trouble, and so Christians were dragged before local authorities, sometimes by members of their own family. Furthermore, war was on the horizon, if not already happening — the Jewish Revolt of 66 - 70 A.D., the war that would bring the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem, an abomination causing desolation to match Antiochus Epiphanies' desecration of the Holy of Holies in the Maccabean Revolt a century and a half earlier.

That's the bad news, and that's the stuff that the community didn't particularly need to be told. They knew it already. Under those circumstances, a person who just danced up and said some first-century Greek equivalent of “don't worry — be happy” would be more likely to get a sock in the jaw than to succeed in encouraging listeners. When people are going through that kind of pain, you've got to acknowledge that pain, that grief, the seriousness of the obstacles before saying, and not seeming flip:

Don't panic.

Yes, there is serious pain in the world, in your community. There are wars and rumors of wars. There's strife within families, and even within the family of faith, those called to be one in Christ. And God's name is profaned, used as a political prop to assert power over the powerless — an abomination to those for whom God's name is the name of one who feeds the hungry, lifts up the lowly, frees the prisoner. The first readers of the Gospel According to Mark knew that as well or better than we do. So when you see these things happening, don't think it's a sign that the kingdom of God Jesus promised is late in coming or has been derailed.

A community that saw Nero's power come and go has another word for us. Heaven and earth will pass away before Jesus' words will pass away. We don't know the day or hour, but we know that God is faithful, and Jesus' resurrection from the dead is a sign to us as it was to Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter, Mark's community, and our own wounded communities: Jesus is coming, and God's kingdom, inaugurated with Jesus' ministry, is being revealed, finding fulfillment.

Yes, I know that there are people who want to say that the Day of the Lord should inspire terror, but we know something that they don't seem to realize: the person we call Lord is none other than Jesus of Nazareth, who taught and healed, who welcomed the outcast and broke bread with anyone willing to eat with him. It's Jesus, whose way of life and manner of death underscored what his words taught: love your enemies. When we know Jesus, the Jesus of the gospels, we know that God is love, and love drives out fear.

So don't panic. Panic, like sleep, keeps a person from watching and listening, from the ability to respond to another person, and with that, the ability to love. Don't panic when someone tells you about suffering in the present or suffering to come: keep watch, and respond with love. Don't nod off when the comforts of life in one of the richest nations of the world try to lull you into complacency: keep watch, and respond with love. There will be earthquakes and wars and famines, as well as more personal catastrophes of betrayal, but there is nothing that can derail this train, so people, get ready:

Jesus is here, and Jesus is coming.

Thanks be to God!

November 21, 2005 in 1 Corinthians, Advent, Current Events, Eschatology, Isaiah, Mark, Year B | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Christ the King: Proper 29, Year A

First off, I want to offer a personal note encouraging y'all to read this fine reflection on the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings for this coming Sunday. I commend it to you first on its own merits — its author knows American history far better than I do, and draws on a passage from the autobiography of 19th-century freed slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglas in a way that I think will be very helpful and informative for preachers. The reflection is this week's entry in a regular column commenting on the RCL readings in The Witness magazine, which is my new employer. I'm working part-time (i.e., if you've got a potential additional gig for me, please do give me a shout!) for them as the magazine's editor. I've long admired The Witness and its work as an Anglican voice for justice since 1917, and I'm particularly excited about working with them at this particular moment in history. And one other point about this week's RCL reflection at The Witness: its author is none other than my partner. Bravo, Karen!

Now, to my own reflections:

Ezekiel 34:11-17 - link to NRSV text
1 Corinthians 15:20-28 - link to NRSV text
Matthew 25:31-46 - link to NRSV text

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I had an interesting email exchange this week with a regular reader of the lectionary blog about an issue that a lot of us struggle with: the tension between the openness of Jesus' unconditional invitation on one hand and on the other hand, the language of judgment, of insiders and outsiders, in passages like this Sunday's gospel. I've wrestled with it a great deal myself, and while I doubt I'll solve every difficulty we've got with it, I think there's a point that's very important for us to understand as we continue to explore this tension.

Yes, Jesus invites absolutely anyone who will eat with him to come to his table. The invitation to the messianic banquet is open to all -- “the good and the bad,” in the words of Matthew 22:14. In that sense, all are invited to experience “salvation” without precondition.

But what is “salvation”? Both Jesus and Paul saw it not as merely a promise of a blessed afterlife: salvation is something that starts today, and it's about a certain kind of life — specifically, a life in community. And in both Jesus' view and Paul's, that's not just any community: it's a family. Jesus said that anyone who hears God's word and does it is his sister or brother or mother (Mark 3:35). And the metaphor Paul most often uses for what we are as the Church, for who we are in Christ, is that we are sisters and brothers (a point that the NRSV unfortunately obscures frequently by rendering adelphoi, “brothers and sisters,” as “believers” or some other ungendered term). In other words, the invitation Jesus gives us is the invitation to relationship — with one another as much as with him and with the God who created us. Jesus' invitation to us, his ragtag band of disciples from all nations, is to join God's people.

Here's one way I often put it: the invitation to join the community is issued to anyone with any manner of life. But the quality of life in the community — the extent to our life together is an experience of members of one Body of Christ and a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven come to earth now — has a direct relationship to how we choose to live together once we accept Jesus' invitation to join.

Last Sunday, we read a passage of the gospels showing how we treat one another when we're at our worst as the human race. How you'll be treated under this system is a function of two things only: how powerful you are, and how useful you are to those more powerful than you. Are you a wealthy landowner? Then act like it. Call yourself “lord,” demand what you like of those in your power, and feel free to discard people once you've used them up. Behave as though the central question governing our relationships with one another were “what have you done for me lately?”

But the coming of God's kingdom is like this: people will be going about their business in precisely the way described above ... and then the final coming of the Son of Man will reveal to everyone's eyes just how empty that way of life is, just how much pain and how little reward comes of living that way.

And that coming will reveal something else as well: just how rewarding, just how abundant and joyful life is when you live in a different way, the way of those the Son of Man designates as “sheep” in this Sunday's gospel.

I've blogged before about a game I like to play to illustrate the dynamic we see in last Sunday's gospel and this Sunday's. To play it, you set the room up for a party — punchbowls, finger foods on trays for serving, and so on. Every person in the room gets a sign taped to his or her back, reading “monarch,” “courtier,” “servant,” or “beggar.” Once everyone has a sign on his or her back, you start the party. The game is to try to guess what sign is on your back, and try to help others guess what's on theirs by treating them as you think someone whose status was what you think your sign says would treat someone whose status matched what the sign on her/his back says. If your sign says “monarch,” the vast majority of guests are going to flatter you and offer you treats; if the sign on your back says “beggar,” you're going to be treated like trash — especially if you have the nerve to act as if you were equal to others with higher status. To debrief, I invite people to share how it felt to be treated as they were, and how they felt having to treat others according to the sign on their backs. And then I pose the question:

What would it be like to live in a community, in a world, in which everyone, especially those smarting from how they're treated by others, were treated as if the sign on their back said “monarch”? What would it be like to live amongst people who treated everyone as if the sign on their back, the “secret identity” of everyone they met, said “Christ the King,” and every Christian saw their life's calling as treating people in such a way that they could guess this?

That's the invitation issued to us this Sunday. That's the vision we're called to claim as ours until it is realized for the world. Could we really allow the Christ child, the boy born as king and the one appointed by God to judge the nations, to die of malaria in infancy in Africa, knowing who this child is and just how little it would take to see him grow up and realize all he was created to be? Could we let a young girl toil away her days fetching water rather than going to school, and her family suffer when that water carries disease, if we loved Jesus as much as we say we do, if we knew what we did and didn't do for this family was what we did and didn't do for the Christ? Or do we want to experience fellowship with Christ by serving and empowering the poor, outcast, and prisoners of our world?

This invitation is not for after we die — the chance to act is gone then. It's an invitation for this moment, this day, this generation. And it's not just about avoiding punishment. What we do, the extent to which we respond to Jesus' invitation not just to come into the House of God's chosen people, but to live as one of the family, in relationship with and caring for the rest of the family as for our own flesh and as for the Body of our Lord, is the extent to which we experience eternal life, God's just and peaceful kingdom, right here and now. In Paul's words, Christ's risen life is the “first fruits,” and we are called to enjoy the full harvest of that abundant life. In Ezekiel's words, the destiny of God's people since the founding of the world is to be fed with God's justice. Do you want a taste of that? It's there for you now, as abundant as are the opportunities to exercise compassion toward the least of Jesus' sisters and brothers.

Thanks be to God!

November 16, 2005 in 1 Corinthians, Christ the King, Eschatology, Ezekiel, Inclusion, Jesus' Hard Sayings, Justice, Matthew, ONE campaign/Millennium Development Goals, Ordinary Time, Parables, Personal Notes, Prophets, Year A | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Proper 28, Year A

Added 11-14-05: By popular demand, my first podcast. It's pretty much this blog entry read aloud, and it's something of an experiment. Let me know what you think!

By the way, if you haven't yet visited and put a pin down on the SarahLaughed.net online map, please consider doing so. You won't be giving any information that will generate spam, and I am REALLY enjoying seeing where y'all are and hearing your shout-outs!

Oh, and I preached on this text last year; that sermon is here.


Matthew 25:14-15,19-29
- link to NRSV text

This Sunday's gospel is yet another reason to get out of the habit of seeing all of Jesus' parables as allegories in which one character represents God or Jesus. That isn't what's happening here. Take a hard look at the behavior of the master: he's an absentee landlord who doesn't do any work himself, but lives off of the labor of his slaves. Take a look at the behavior this master wants of his slaves: the profit-making that the master demands would be seen in Jesus' culture would of necessity come at the expense of other more honest people; it would be seen as greedy and grasping rather than smart or virtuous. The master tells the slave whom he treats most harshly that the punishment is specifically for refusing to break God's commandment against usury (Matthew 25:27), a practice consistently condemned in both the Hebrew bible and the New Testament. And the Greek word for "talent" very specifically means a unit of money; it has no relationship whatsoever to the word for an ability, so this is NOT a parable about us being the best we can be, no matter how much our culture of achievement wants to twist it into that. There are versions of that message that can be helpful, but it just isn't what the parable is about.

So what's the message of the story, if it isn't about us using the abilities God gave us? Jesus gives it to us explicitly in verse 29: "to all who have, more will be given, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away." In other words, "the rich get richer, and the destitute lose everything."

Is the behavior of the master in the parable something that God would commend, let alone imitate? Is this kind of behavior what Jesus expects of God's people? Heck no! If you've got any doubts of that, read what comes immediately after this story: read the prophesy (it isn't a parable) of the sheep and the goats, which tells us that when the Son of Man comes, judgment will not be on the basis of how much money we made, or for that matter on how religious we were or whether we said a "sinner's prayer," but rather on whether we saw that the least of our sisters and brothers in the human family, whether in or out of prison, had food, clothing, and health care. We serve Jesus himself to the extent that we do these things, and we neglect Jesus himself to the extent that we don't.

In short, PLEASE don't tell people that the message of this Sunday's gospel is anything along the lines of "make the most of the talents you've got," as its message is much closer to "care for those whom the world would leave destitute." Reading the parable in the context in which it appears in Matthew tells us how Jesus finishes that thought: We shouldn't be like the master in the parable because the world in which people like that come out on top is passing away. Jesus will bring his work in the world to completion; God's kingdom will come and God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven, as Jesus taught us to pray. You know that wave I talked about last week? Jesus' parable in this Sunday's gospel is telling us that we should line ourselves up to ride it. It's coming -- bank on that, not on what our culture says is most profitable!

The live question for us, I think, about this Sunday's gospel is whether we can really believe that, if we really can trust in that enough to risk living as Jesus taught us rather than according to the demands of those who try to set themselves up in Jesus' place as our lord, who try to enslave us to wordly standards by telling us that our security is in acquiring resources for ourselves and striking out at our enemies.

I believe we can. We can because it's Jesus who told us this, and Jesus is absolutely trustworthy. And as we inch toward Advent, I want to encourage y'all to look for the signs that Jesus was right, the signs happening in the world right now that the Spirit Jesus sent is living and moving and active in the world to accomplish Jesus' work among us.

They're out there: large and small signs. Here's a large one: over two million Americans have signed the ONE campaign's pledge to use their vote and their voice to eliminate extreme poverty in this generation. By 2008, it's expected that over five million will have signed, making this campaign bigger than the National Rifle Association, speaking good news to the poor not only with the moral authority of the cause, but with the power in numbers to make it happen.

I remember when the Berlin Wall came down. That was big. People were dancing in the street; students at the seminary I was at were leaving in droves to dance on the Wall itself as it came down, bringing graffiti-covered chips home to remember the moment. It was big -- the moment of a lifetime, some people would say. But I believe that a moment bigger than that is on its way. It's not a pipe dream; many of our world's top economists think it's attainable in our lifetime. Imagine with me for a moment what the party is going to be like in streets around the world when we're celebrating the end of poverty. Imagine telling your children or grandchildren about that.

That's a vision that made me want to dance, much as it made Mary want to sing:

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
   and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
   in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

That's what Jesus came to do among us. It's what we pray for when we pray as Jesus taught us. And it's the future we can bank on.

Thanks be to God!

November 9, 2005 in Advent, Eschatology, Justice, Matthew, ONE campaign/Millennium Development Goals, Ordinary Time, Parables, Year A | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

where are you?

Probably my favorite thing about doing this website is hearing from you folks all over the world about who you are, what your ministries are like, and what all of this stuff on SarahLaughed.net has meant to you. I'm meeting people from all over the world -- every continent except Antarctica -- and I love it. I love anything that gives me more of a sense of who you are and where you're coming from.

And then I came across this cool thing via the Feminarian. It's a world map online, and folks can enter their zip or postal code to show where they are. I can see it having a variety of uses, but here's one: we can see where folks who use SarahLaughed.net are in 'realspace.'

So here's the SarahLaughed.net Frappr map. If you stop by and enter your name (or online handle -it doesn't have to be a real name or a full name) and zip or postal code (you can also post a graphic or photo if you want), a virtual pin goes up on the map. That's it! You don't need to submit an email address or anything, and nobody will spam you. Please consider stopping by!

Blessings,

Dylan

November 3, 2005 in Site News | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Proper 27, Year A

Those of you preaching this Sunday on the readings for All Saints' instead of those for Proper 27 might find this sermon on Matthew's beatitudes and/or this sermon on Luke's beatitudes and woes helpful. I'll be blogging on the Proper 27 readings:

Amos 5:18-24 - link to NRSV text
Matthew 25:1-13 - link to NRSV text

Here's the scene behind our parable for this Sunday:

It's a wedding. In Jesus' culture, village weddings tended to look something like this: The groom and his family gather at their household (married couples tended to remain living with the groom's parents for as long as the parents survived). The bride and her family and guests gather at her household. The groom and his family make their way to the bride's house to collect the bride. When the groom arrives, he takes the bride indoors, and they do what we might call "consummating the marriage," but in their culture was what would make them married in the eyes of their families and the village: namely, they had sexual intercourse. After that, the blood on the sheets (seen as proof that the bride's hymen had been intact) would be shown to the crowd outside as proof that the couple were married, and partying would ensue.

In the parable we read this Sunday, there are ten young women who are guests of the bride. Five of them don't have enough oil, so they rush out to buy some before the groom arrives. The groom arrives while they're still out, so the party starts without them.

If I were preaching this Sunday, the sermon would probably be titled "People Get Ready" -- and not just because I've wanted since 1987 (when U2 started pulling fans on stage for this purpose) to get pulled on stage to play that song with the band. "People Get Ready" is pretty much the point of this Sunday's gospel reading. The party we've waited for is starting, and if we want to be in on the action, we need to prepare ourselves for what's coming.

That's a pretty popular theme in our culture, if sales of the Left Behind books (and movies, and board games, and who knows what else) are any indication. The message of Left Behind is that Jesus is coming back soon, so we should be ready. So far, so good. Unfortunately, the series' idea of just what that means and how we should prepare departs radically and in very unhelpful ways from what the vast majority of texts in our scriptures have to say.

First off, works like Left Behind have a fascination (perhaps even an obsession) with trying to line up current events with biblical prophesies (which they read as predictions about the future, though in the vast majority of cases it seems clear that the biblical writers took them as comments on events current FOR THEM, centuries ago -- witness Matthew 24:34, for example) to establish when and how what New Testament texts call the parousia (which might best be defined as "Jesus' coming to complete finally and fully his purposes on earth") will happen. Jesus puts the kibosh on that kind of speculation just paragraphs before this Sunday's gospel, in Matthew 24:36: "No one knows of that day and hour -- not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only."

Second, and more seriously, the Left Behind genre seems to be fundamentally confused and WHOSE coming it is that we expect. They get the name right, but they seem to think for some reason that by the time Jesus' parousia happens, he will have undergone a complete personality transplant. They (and especially the horrible and horribly mistitled book Glorious Appearing) seem to have Jesus confused with a creature I call "the Christ-inator," after the robot assasin Arnold Schwarzeneggar played in the  first Terminator movie -- an unstoppable force, absolutely determined to kill-kill-kill, and empty of any human feeling, let alone compassion, for its victims.

For those who are eagerly expecting "the Christ-inator," this might sound like bad news, but for the rest of us, who (after hearing too many Left Behind-ish readings of these texts) are tempted to hear readings about Jesus' parousia -- such as we hear in Advent, the season in which we train our hearts particularly on that event -- it's very Good News indeed:

The person we are expecting is none other than Jesus of Nazareth. If we've read the gospels, we should know his character. He taught, healed, and broke bread with anyone who would join him, and he was known particularly for his compassion toward the poor and outcast. While his disciples often seemed to expect him to duck into a phone booth and emerge as Messiah Man to kick the butts of evildoers (props to Scott Bartchy for that image), he consistently denied that was his calling, going even to the cross rather than strike back against violent people.

That's what Jesus was like in his first coming, the Incarnation.

Will he be different at the Second Coming? That's an easy question to answer, because Jesus did come back a second time: we call that "Easter." And when Jesus came among us a second time, he opened the scriptures to his disciples, walked beside them on the road, and cooked them breakfast -- not exactly the behavior of a "Christ-inator."

And don't forget that Jesus said that where two or three are gathered in his name, he is there among them. How many times do you think that's happened over the last two millennia? I'm no statitician, but I figure we're probably somewhere in the neighborhood of the trillionth coming of Jesus, and his character remains the same. The Left Behinders have got it wrong: the realization of Jesus' purposes on earth -- what we pray for every time we say, "thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" -- is GOOD News for the world.

That all leads back to the point of this Sunday's gospel. If we're mistaken about who exactly it is that we're expecting in the parousia, we're that much more likely to be mistaken about what that person would have us to do to prepare. I've already talked about the mistake of trying to prepare by trying to calculate when it will happen. The other thing that the Left Behinders seem to think we should be doing to prepare is to talk endlessly about how "the Christ-inator" is coming soon, and if people don't want his army of angels to come around to bust their kneecaps or worse, they'd better pray a prayer to get on his good side.

Is that what Jesus said we should be doing? Personally, I haven't found a single reference anywhere in scripture to "accepting Jesus as personal Lord and Savior." That's a phrase I've actually found helpful from time to time in my life, and I've been "born again" (probably a dozen times or more in the evangelical sense even). But I don't mistake a phrase that makes sense in one late-20th century context for Holy Writ, and of all of the things that scripture teaches us we should do to be ready for Jesus' parousia, the vast majority involve a lot greater expenditure of calories, marshalling of compassion, and putting what we value most on the line than mouthing a "sinner's prayer" or handing out tracts with the "Four Spiritual Laws."

So what is that, then? How do we prepare for Jesus' parousia? Our reading from Amos might give us a clue:

Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

We prepare for the fulfillment of Christ's purposes on earth by doing what he did. We prepare for God's kingdom by seeking it, and God's justice first, as Matthew 6:33 suggests ("justice" is a fine translation of what's often translated as "righteousness," namely dikaiosune -- sorry if I get the transliteration wrong; I really need to learn how to do that properly in ASCII one of these days).

All of those fine-sounding words like "justice" can seem awfully abstract, but it isn't. I'm saying that we prepare for God's kingdom by seeking it in the here and now, gaining strength from a life of prayer to engage in a lifetime of pursuing what God pursues. And what is that? As we move toward Advent especially, we might look to Mary's song of expectation for some pointers -- how about scattering the proud and removing the powerful from their thrones, lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things? If we wanted to seek that, if we expected that God's purposes on earth, the fulfilment of Jesus' work in the world, were really going to happen and we wanted in on the action, wouldn't we be doing things like these?

  • Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger
  • Achieving universal primary education
  • Promoting gender equality and empower women
  • Reducing child mortality
  • Improving maternal health
  • Combatting HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
  • Caring for God's Creation
  • Bringing people together around the world to do justice

This isn't some pie-in-the-sky, wide-eyed dreaming. It's what development experts think we could actually accomplish: that, if we seek this justice first, "this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place" (Matthew 24:34). Call it "the Millennium Development Goals" or just call it justice for the poor, but don't just talk about it.

People, get ready -- it's coming! It's like a huge wave, and did you know that surfing is basically strategic falling? You align yourself on the board to align the board with the wave such that gravity -- not your own effort propelling you -- takes you down the wave's surface at the right angle for you to just keep falling, sliding down with gravity but zooming at an angle as close as you can get to parallel with the beach. A big wave like that is good news to those of us called to ride it; align yourself with the wave now, and you're in for the ride of a lifetime.

Surf's up! Get ready!

Thanks be to God!

November 2, 2005 in Advent, Amos, Eschatology, Matthew, ONE campaign/Millennium Development Goals, Ordinary Time, Parables, Year A | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

arrrrrrrrrrgh!!!

Ever hear the joke:

Jesus and Satan have agreed to have it out once and for all, and having decided that the whole armies-of-angels-versus-armies-of-fallen-angels thing has gotten trite, they settle on dueling it out by technological means: the first one to post a full entry to their blog wins.

They race to their keyboards and start typing furiously. After a couple of minutes, though, the lights flicker, and then go out for a couple of seconds before coming back on again -- a power short of some kind. Serious swearing is heard from Satan's corner even after the lights go on, and then Jesus leaps to his feet victorious, having successfully posted his entry while Satan is just starting to rewrite the beginning of his.

And you know why Jesus won the contest?

Jesus saves.


Yes, that's my way of saying that I just lost my whole frickin' blog entry for this week, and that after being delayed by a nasty stomach bug of some kind earlier in the week. It's all worked out in my head, so it should go up very soon indeed -- and this time, as I type, I'll save my work as I go.

In the meantime, if you're preaching on the readings for All Saints' Day instead of those for Proper 27, you might find helpful this sermon on Matthew's beatitudes and/or this sermon on Luke's beatitudes and woes.

See you again soon -- probably tonight.

November 2, 2005 in Administrivia | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack