It is always fun to watch the irony unfold at this time of year when persons who ridicule the Christian holy days as so much superstition and pagan sampling, line up to celebrate the great superstition that one more trip around the sun means we will have a new year. Really? The clock strikes midnight on the 31st of December and we turn into new pumpkins. Or something like that.
This reminds me of a wonderful story told by the great Danish theologian, Soren Kierkegaard. A peasant had come barefoot to town, having made enough money to buy himself a pair of stockings and shoes and still have enough left over to get himself drunk. On his way home in his drunken state he lay down in the middle of the road and fell asleep. A carriage came along, and the coachman shouted to him to move aside or else he would drive over his legs. The drunken peasant woke up, looked down at his legs and, not recognizing them because of the stockings and shoes, said: “Go ahead, they aren’t my legs.”
In two days many of our fellow citizens will lie in a drunken state, believing they have entered a new year when in fact, their hang-over will sound like the preacher of Ecclesiastes, hammering their noggins over and again, “there is nothing new under the sun.”
But still, we’ll go along and wish everyone ~a happy new year!~ while realizing it is a superstition. That what we need is a transformation of our lives by the One who makes all things new, even Jesus Christ, the great Redeemer who loved the world so much… Have a safe and meaningful New Year’s Eve. ~ See you Sunday.
*Pastor Bledsoe will be preaching on: A New Year’s Day Enchiridion. Communion will be served. This first Sunday of 2016 offers you the opportunity to begin the year off by worshipping with others. Let’s come together.
Exactly how much mayhem does one need to witness before concluding that something is terribly wrong? Daily headlines of extrajudicial killings of African-American citizens, war, mass migrations of persons fleeing from war, terrorist attacks in the name of God and the rude slander of persons by leading presidential contenders are enough to convince us that something is off balance. Right? But the fact is, Americans polarize into extremes and some, on the left, want to naively believe in the last superstition, progress (as Christopher Lasch wrote in his book, The True and Only Heaven). Or those on the right hunker down, double down and promote more violence as the solution to violence. It is a self-defeating proposition but logic is not a strong suit of the NRApocalyptic view of the world.
Enter the biblical narrative of Advent, which is to say, the coming of the Christ in our midst. This Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent. How much we need to hear this account again! The world is plunged into darkness. It is more than evident to anyone willing to put down their ideological playbook that human beings are sinners in need of a Redeemer. Don’t like the word “sin?” Try this: human beings are deeply alienated and in need of reconciliation. However we state the obvious, we would do well to begin our journey to a sanctuary of peace such is offered by our church. Not to the mall, clawing our way through crowds and the push-and-shove of consumer frenzy. Not to a party. But to the sanctuary of the Holy One who would speak to us again of peace and justice and a Redeemer.
See that field of shepherds? It is night. And it is night in more ways than one, for they are poor and live in the midst of a brutal Roman occupation. Set in the night sky is a star. That is a luminous symbol of Christ’s presence in our world as the dim tides of history and the inhumane plots of wicked persons blot out the light. The Gospel of John captures that scene in another way, saying, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (1:5)
This is the First Sunday of Advent. Let us take a step toward light, toward love and peace. ~See you Sunday.
Through every entrance of any beautiful garden I have ever visited; beside retinues of trees aligned in an array of stippled, green, pinpoints of color; standing on the borderland of shoreline that separates sea and sky and earth while at the same time acting as a seam that sews them as one fabric called the universe; engraved within a ring worn as an emblem of life…I have always heard these words resounding as a chorus, the coruscating high descant, the rose adorned emblem engraved onto the wooden gate :
Begin and end there. Let it be the incantatory response of your life, for life. See you Sunday~ Thanks be to God.
We are impoverished. I mean by this what Johannes Baptist Metz means in his luminous book, Poverty of the Spirit, when he writes, “We are all beggars. We are all members of a species that is not sufficient unto itself. We are all creatures plagued by unending doubts and restless, unsatisfied hearts. Of all creatures, we are the poorest and the most incomplete. Our needs are always beyond our capacities, and we only find ourselves when we lose ourselves.”
We find ourselves as we resign ourselves to God and into the care of others. There are simply things we cannot do for ourselves. It is a sign of our poverty that others must act for us and on behalf of us. This poverty is not something of which to be ashamed but it is merely an acknowledgement of our interdependence. When you are selfless, acting on behalf of others, you find yourself. This is something of what Jesus must have meant when he taught, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life because of me will find it.” Yes, we are impoverished and need others—and others need us. In selfless, devotional acts, we redeem our lives and the world. Our interdependence is a remarkable spiritual truth… and a remarkable, redemptive opportunity.
Our church is at a crossroads as we submit who we are and ourselves and all that we do into the care of others who do not know us nor share our view of the world. That is okay. That is, as noted above, the condition of humanity. I pray that we will be given a fair hearing, a just consideration, and that people of humane spirit will link with us in a brilliant, humane and humanist effort to heal the world around us. Whatever decisions get made, however our journey is travelled, our destiny remains unchanged: we live in this world by God’s grace and we are trekking always and ever toward the Kingdom of light and peace. May God bless those leaders and decision-makers who have some sway over our immediate circumstances. May the mission and mandate, as Metz describes being a human, be met in us so that “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable” would find us ready. Amen. So be it.
I am the Road
I’ve been walking daily since about May, trying to be a good scout. Well, I’m no scout but I’m trying to do well by the gift of my life. And my walks are usually along the bike path near our home in Arlington. As you can imagine, this time of year is quite lovely. This morning (Tuesday the 6th) I was walking at about 7 a.m. To see the light of the sun reflected off a bank of trees in the horizon as I walk along what is a dimly lit and chilly path is quite a spectacle. We are so removed from nature that just taking a walk near trees and rushing water in a creek, sung to by birds singing and shouting their codes into the bright oblivion of sky and light, this is a tonic for the mind if not the soul.
You know by now of course that your life is a winding road. What you may not know or struggle with is an equally important truth: your life is a sacred journey. In this culture in love with death (a phrase I have taken from the fourth century bishop of Hippo in North Africa, Augustine), you must awaken to that truth and do your utmost to resist with your might all those who would steal, diminish or otherwise convince you to give up that truth. Do not be satisfied with a simplistic reduction of your life to the material. You are not a frog dissected on a table and then discarded. You are soulful. You are bearing in your life the image of God. Walk that road. Indeed, remember that Christ identified himself this way: I am the road. Walk it. ~See you Sunday
now edited to include a statement about Pope Francis’ secret meeting with Kim Davis.
When you begin your speech to Congress with references to Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, then you have sent a very loud signal to everyone that you are a pope of peace and justice. Indeed, Pope Francis even used that phrase as he used a velvet hammer on the noggins of a Congress that has used up most of its vital energy devising ways to overturn the Affordable Care Act. I had thought progressive Catholicism to be nearly extinct but in one speech and then in a whirlwind of activity aimed at uplifting the marginal and at-risk, this pontiff has single-handedly revived it.
Mind you, as a Baptist (and let’s keep in mind that of the three individuals noted above and referred to by the Pope as models of what it means to be a Christian citizen, King was the Baptist clergyman in the list), and as someone then who believes strongly in separation of Church and State, I do not believe the pope should have been invited to speak to the Congress. We would never, ever consider inviting an Islamic Imam of a country like Iran to speak before the Congress and that is as it should be. But allowing the pope to do so merely obfuscates the separation and is a dangerous thing to do. Why? Because our founders knew personally how terrible a thing it is when religion and state combine in their efforts to control people. The Church armed with the power of the State and the State armed with the rhetoric of God is flat out dangerous and comes very close to blasphemy. But leaving this important issue to the side, what Francis said penetrated the brassy patriotism of a deformed Christianity pawned off by politicians who resemble goats, not the sheep brought into the kingdom for their acts of justice and compassion. The cynical invitation to bring the pope here as a way of embarrassing the President–much as bringing Prime Minister Netanyahu before Congress to embarrass the President–backfired. Francis blessed the President for his efforts on behalf of immigrants and the uninsured while declaring to the Congress that they should take their moral lessons from three progressive Christians: Day, who was a pacifist and resisted WW1 and set up soup kitchens in NY to feed the poor and unemployed; King who denounced racism and led America’s second revolution, the Civil Rights Movement; and Merton, a contemplative monk who with his pen denounced the Vietnam War and worked for peace and interfaith understanding.
This is a special pope, a Jesuit with a Franciscan heart of service to the least of these.* It was a joy to hear him and watch him and he reminded me, a Baptist, why I find Catholicism to be so beautiful and rich in both history and liturgy. May God bless his efforts and the efforts of all those who seek peace and justice in our world. And may the Congress of the United States, sent to serve the People of the United States, move past religious rhetoric and do its utmost to live up to the sacred documents of the United States–its constitutional guarantees and Bill of Rights. ~See you Sunday
*So now I need to add an asterisk to the statement that Pope Francis is a special pope with a Franciscan heart. What a deflating disappointment to know that this pope who cited peace and justice warriors like King, Day and Merton and seemed compassionate for the least of these actually sided with a homophobic, misguided clerk from Kentucky. Yes, she has a right to be a conscientious objector but CO’s bear the consequences of such objection. She should not be clerk of a court anywhere. Those on the right who compare her to Dr. King are delusional for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that King worked tirelessly for the freedom and human rights of all people. Kim Davis is a homophobe who loves Jesus. And the pope just smeared his own remarkable visit with us in the United States by his embrace of her behind closed doors. Shame, shame, shame. Dear Gay Brothers and Sisters, God bless and keep you. You are fully human and thus, you should have all the rights and privileges of being a human being, including marriage. I, like you, am so disappointed . At the same time, we welcome you into our church!