Updated: Jun 5, 2018

June 1, 2018

Bible
Mark Chapter 2

In the Gospel appointed for this Sunday, we hear about one of the times Jesus gets angry.

The context (Mark, Chapter 2) is that it was the Sabbath day and Jesus saw someone with a withered hand, and because Jesus had compassion on him, he cured him, even though that was against the rules:


"Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come forward." Then he said to them, "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him."


We don't often think of Jesus getting angry. There's a version -- a corrupt version -- of Christianity that wants to maintain that anger is, by definition, a bad emotion to have. Or worse, that anger is somehow the opposite of love.


I was in a meeting of clergy a month or so ago when this issue of anger came up.

We were catching up with one another and when it came my turn to speak, after the usual pleasantries, I expressed my concerns -- and yes, my anger -- over the current political environment. Specifically, I was expressing anger over the purposeful polarization in politics, the stoking of distrust, and the sense of hopelessness so many people feel over what have become routine attacks on democratic norms and the rule of law.*

In response, one of the other Christian clergy, reacting to the fact that I was angry, said, "as Christians, we cannot respond to the world's problems with anger: we must respond with love."  Then another Christian clergy person said, "As Christians, we are called to love our enemies."


I wasn't sure how to respond right away,, so I just sat and listened. Then another member of the clergy group -- a Rabbi -- said, "Well, as a Jew, I am not called to 'love my enemy.'  I AM called to oppose evil with every fiber of my being."


My first (non-serious) thought was "Oh my gosh! -- I must be Jewish...!"


But as I thought about on the drive home, and since, it occurred to me that, no, anger is very much part of being a Christian.


Those Christian clergy seem to have fallen into a mindset that the antonym of "love" is "anger."


But the antonym of love is not anger.

The antonym of love is not even hate.


If I'm reading the scriptures correctly, the antonym of love is fear


Or better yet, the antonym of love is apathy: a lack of enthusiasm, interest, or concern. Especially when you consider the root of the word apathy, which is a-pathos: literally, "without suffering."


Apathy is an unwillingness to enter into the world's, or the nation's (or another person's) suffering.


If you've ever felt that, you've felt the opposite of love.


"Anger is just love disappointed" the Eagles sang in "Hole in the World." 


So yes, I feel anger over the current state of politics, but it's because I refuse to stop loving America and American values. I refuse to stop being disappointed. I refuse to fall into fear or apathy. I will keep getting angry, because I will keep loving.


*p.s., and an update: Thankfully, this is a group of clergy whom I know and trust, and we continue to meet on a regular basis. And we've had a chance to talk this through a bit more.

We may never come to agreement on the role of anger in Christianity. But we do all agree on what to DO about the issues I named.


Specifically, we agree that the antidote to polarization is a unifying vision. That the antidote to distrust is forming authentic relationships. And that the antidote to hopelessness is a working together on achieving some accomplishments that can be magnified and replicated.


I'm fully aware that no faith community -- be it The Falls Church Episcopal or any other church, synagogue, or mosque -- can change America all itself. We are not trying to take on the world, or even the nation. But we are all acting within our sphere of influence. And we are all confident that if we keep encouraging each other, change will happen. Throughout history, change happens when enough pockets of micro-changers discover one another and a macro-change occurs. I'm hopeful because our faith teaches that light -- what we Christians would call the Light of God's Love, Incarnate -- shines in the darkness, and no darkness can ever overcome it.  

Updated: Jun 5, 2018

Waking the Dead

May 18, 2018

The writer John Eldridge, in Waking the Dead: The Secret to a Heart Fully Alive points out that out in the wild, hyenas -- the natural enemy of lions -- cannot take down a lion in its prime.


What they do is run it...they taunt it, and wear it down. 


They get the lion to a point of exhaustion.  


Then, when they see it cannot defend itself, they close in.


Out in the world we live in, we, too, have an enemy...the one whom Jesus describes as a "thief, who comes only to kill, steal, and destroy" our joy and fullness of life. 


Like lions, we, too, are attacked by an enemy -- an adversary. 


Our enemy are the evil sprits who are opposed to God's Holy and Life-giving Spirit.  

The strategy of our enemy is similar to the hyenas' strategy: to take us out. Our enemy wants to keep us from bearing the fruits of Holy Spirit in our lives -- in other words, to keep us from practicing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in our daily life.


But our enemy cannot take us down in our prime. When we are rested, and when we are resting in God, things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control grow naturally in our lives. 


So the enemy adopts a similar strategy to the hyenas. 


Run us. Taunt us. Wear us down. 


Get us to a point of exhaustion. 


And so the enemy of our day and time is to engage us in a spirit of hurry. Of busy driven-ness. 


As Eldridge points out, ask people "how's it going?" Nine out of ten people will respond, "really busy." 


The strategy of our enemy is to keep us running that way: to "get us to the point where we never take care of our hearts or pay attention to our spirit. 


"Burn them out, and then take them out."


So, as we prepare for Pentecost Sunday -- the giving of God's Holy Spirit to us -- let's pause and ask ourselves, "how rested are we?" 


"How much do we rely on God, and how much do we rely on self?" 


"How often do you do what you need to do to be filled with Holy Spirit?"


And by the way: If you hear some mocking, sneering voice saying, "are you crazy?!? How unrealistic! How selfish to ask such questions!" please hear that voice as the same voice that accused, mocked, and belittled the first people who were filled with Holy Spirit that first Pentecost.  


That voice comes only to "kill, steal, and destroy." 


Holy Spirit comes that you may have life, and have it to the fullest. 


See you Sunday, 


John

Updated: Jun 5, 2018

The Church Year

May 11, 2018

This Sunday is an unusual Sunday in the church year.


To quote Inigo Montoya, "Let me explain. No -- there is too much. Let me sum up." 

As you know, the church year 

  • starts in Advent, and that's a four-week season of joyfully anticipating

  • Christmas Day, when we celebrate the incarnation (taking-on-of-flesh) of God in the birth of Jesus, and we celebrate God's presence among us in the person of Jesus....

  • during the 12-day season of Christmas, ending on...

  • Epiphany, when God's presence among us in the person of Jesus is revealed to the wider world, symbolized by the visit of the Magi, and the season of Epiphany ends with

  • Ash Wednesday and the beginning of 

  • the 40-day season of Lent, which ends with...

  • Holy Week's observances of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday, when we commemorate God's presence among us in the person of Jesus being betrayed, crucified, and dying...which brings us to...

  • Easter Sunday, a celebration of God's resurrecting Jesus in bodily form and being among us again in resurrected bodily form

  • for a 40-day period, ending with...

  • Ascension Day, which falls on the 40th day of Easter, a day on which we commemorate Jesus' bodily ascension into the heavenlies...

then there's usually the 7th Sunday of Easter -- which is this Sunday* -- and then Easter Season ends with...

  • The Day of Pentecost, celebrated 50 days after Easter Sunday, and is a celebration of the day God sent Holy Spirit to us, which starts...

  • the long season of Pentecost, when we learn how we, filled with Holy Spirit, continue being the Body of Christ on earth in our everyday lives, a season which runs all Summer and Fall ends with..

  • Advent...

  • ...and we start all over! 

The reason I had to kind of geek out on the church year there was to show why *this Sunday is unusual. 


In the church year, this is a Sunday AFTER Jesus' being among us in resurrected bodily form -- he's ascended into the heavenlies -- but it is BEFORE Holy Spirit has been sent to us. 


Freeze-frame this moment in the church year, and it's a time when we no longer know (can't see, touch, eat with, listen to) God in Jesus in person any more, but we don't yet know (haven't yet experienced) God in the coming of Holy Spirit.


Which is why the Collect for this Sunday is so great. It captures the past, present, and future sense of this Sunday so concisely: 


O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.


Or as the Eucharistic prayer puts it,


We remember his death; we proclaim his resurrection, we await his coming in glory.


God is a god of not only the past, but of the present, and of the future.


And that means ours is a past, present, and future faith!


See you Sunday,


John