Not that Kind of Baptist

in Advent

Peace in an Age of Violence

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Fleming Rutledge, in her marvelous introduction to a series of Advent sermons she's preached over the years (Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ), tells us something quite revealing.  Most of us familiar with the rhythms of Advent know the themes of the candles we light on the Advent wreath for the four Sundays are...Hope...Peace...Joy...and Love.  

However, in the Middle Ages, Rutledge tells us, the themes were "death, judgment, heaven, and hell--in that order!" (Advent, p. 23). 

That seems a far cry from the more Hallmark friendly themes of hope, peace, joy, and love...but hey: it was the Middle Ages after all.  We're talking about a society that was much closer to death and judgment than ours pretends to be.  We are no less immune to death; we've just created through technology and scientific advancements countless ways of postponing and lessening death's sting.  They didn't have the CDC in the 14th century.  

But I for one am glad our theme is not death.  We live in a death saturated culture, so it is fitting that this coming Sunday, December 9, we'll light the candle of peace.

And in a culture dominated by gun violence, that's a very counter-cultural act.  In a society in which we've been at war with something called "terrorism" since September 11, 2001, lighting a candle of peace is downright subversive.  

If we are to truly light this candle and embrace its symbolism, direction, and meaning, we should be open to the possibility that God will change our entire life.  

Jesus says pronounced peace again and again in his ministry.  The Sermon on the Mount says "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."  (Matt. 5:9).   Contrast that with our secular beatitude: "Blessed are the gun-dealers!"  

Jesus taught that there was a deeper spiritual meaning to Torah than the literal words would imply.  The Sixth Commandment ("Thou shalt not kill") was the floor for ethical responsibility according to Jesus.  Those called to live in God's reign should see that the mere attitude of anger towards a brother or sister would make them "liable to judgment" (Matthew 5:21). 

Peace, as taught by Jesus, is not simply the avoidance of killing.  Peace is an entire way of life; an entire spiritual transformation in our hearts; an entire change in our very being.  

Jesus taught that the law of Lex talionis which said "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" was no longer governing for those living under God's reign.  "If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also."  Jesus taught "turn the other cheek" but society teaches "Stand Your Ground!"  

Peace begins in our heart, transforming our spirit of anger (which arises from our ego) against our neighbor into love of neighbor and love of enemy.  Peace is a profound spiritual way of life, not merely assent to an attitude or a belief (like "Just War Theory"). 

But peace, if it is to be truly transformative, must have real world consequences for Christian ethical practice.  In other words, it is not simply good feelings we carry in our hearts concerning our neighbor.  Peace is fidelity to the Cross-bearing Jesus, who instead of calling down twelve legions of angels when he could have wiped out the Romans who were about to execute him, consented to dying on a cross.  

Peace means that our idolatrous obsession with the Second Amendment and the culture of the gun must yield to fidelity to the Prince of Peace, Jesus.

Peace means that our anger towards neighbor which threatens to consume must be transformed by the Holy Spirit into love.

Advent is no Hallmark card set of platitudes, after all.  It is downright subversive of the dominant culture.  Would we expect anything else from the God who became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth?

 

 

 

Posted by Rev. Daniel Headrick with
in Advent

Advent...Again

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Jeremiah 33:12-16
Thus says the LORD of hosts: In this place that is waste, without human beings or animals, and in all its towns there shall again be pasture for shepherds resting their flocks...(v. 12)

Advent this year begins, as it always does, rather oddly.  Odd because we are so suffused with commercial notions of Christmas, whether it's a faux "war" being waged via coffee cups, or whether it's because stores started playing Christmas songs before Thanksgiving.  Odd because Advent begins not with the Christ child, wrapped in swaddling clothes, but with devastation and apocalypse.  Why else include the Prophet Jeremiah in the Lectionary for Sunday, if not to show the Old Testament equivalent of Game of Throne's "Winter is Coming" meme?  

Winter had already come for Jeremiah.  Confined to jail because he told King Zedekiah the truth, he kept prophesying.  Hard to turn that spigot off.  

"Thus says the Lord of hosts: In this place that is waste..."

Why waste?  The Lord, speaking through Jeremiah, is describing the utter desolation wrought by the Babylonian invasion.  The once bustling economic and spiritual center of Israel will soon lie in ruins.  The Temple destroyed.  No balm in Gilead indeed.  

Without human beings or animals...the description is one we should recognize immediately for its potency in pop culture.  With our love of dystopian futures in fiction and film, zombies, vampires, viruses, and ideological extremism...it's not hard to imagine a world without human beings or animals.  The recognizable structures of meaning, power, and commerce all wiped out.  

Rational thought would tell you that the strange notion of hope is a fool's errand.  Who would hope when the Babylonians are at the gate, and our destruction is assured?  What would we hope in?  Who would we hope for?  

A place without humans or animals is the tohu wa-bohu of Genesis 1.  A place of "formless void and darkness."  

And a place of such desolation and lack of meaning is the perfect place for God to act.  That is precisely the place where we need hope!  Because hope is the promise that only God can make, and only God can deliver.  You can go with Marx that religion is the opiate of the masses.  That's a fine theory if it's a theory you need.  Or you can go with the gospel truth that Jeremiah preaches, namely,  that hope will spring forth from a place of utter desolation.  Your call. 

Here's how Jeremiah puts it:

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”

Oh yes, you say.  The days are surely coming.  When will that be, O Lord?  How long?  When will the promise be fulfilled?  With the Temple destroyed and the city in ruins, it doesn't look good, I'll tell you that.  

Just before Thanksgiving the federal government issued a devastating report on the future impacts of climate change.  It is not hard to imagine vast portions of our land soon without human beings or animals.  A place where droughts and extreme weather patterns devastate  indigenous populations.   Frankly, it terrifies me.  Add to this report the following: the epidemic of mass shootings, the decline in civilizing rhetoric, the erosion of institutions capable of contributing to the common good.  You have your list: add it now.  

Doesn't seem like much hope to be found in that list, or anywhere if you read the newspapers.  In such a desolate imaginative future, hope seems to be on life support.  But God doesn't need our permission to act in ways that realize hope's promises.  God has already acted decisively in Jesus.  God has already come.  God is coming today.  God will come again in glory.  Advent is here. 

So how does such "adventing" inform our lives today?  In this environment of anxiety and fear and dystopian violence, I want to name the following possibilities for the people of God:

  1. We will look to the Alpha and Omega, Jesus the Christ, for meaning, purpose, and sustenance....and not to any political leader or party.  
  2. We will be a people defined by resilient hope...and not fear.
  3. We will begin living for God...and not for ourselves.  
  4. We will participate in God's reign, contributing towards justice in the land wherever and whenever possible, all the while acknowledging that we do not create justice...God does.    

Advent is upon us.  Thanks be to God.  

 Image attribution: Martin Abegglen [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

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A Living Hope

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Fear and despair are familiar emotions for many. You may have felt these emotions at higher levels in the last week. I write to offer encouragement and hope.

Several Northside Drivers gathered at the Temple on Tuesday for an interfaith prayer vigil to remember the dead in the Pittsburgh shootings. The killer violated a sacred space. He walked right into a synagogue, a house of prayer, and killed eleven people. He shouted "All Jews must die!"

One thing I learned from hearing Rabbi Peter Berg who spoke at our vigil was that the motivation for the killer's rage was Jewish support for migrants. Apparently the shooter's social media trail left clues about that. Rabbi Berg said that anti-Semitism used to be about the myth of deicide (where Christians would attack Jews for killing Christ), and then it morphed into the myth of international banking and media control. But with this mass shooting, Rabbi Berg said that the motivation was an attack on the entire Jewish ethical system which supports the alien, the foreigner, the "stranger" among us.

That stopped me in my tracks. What is it about showing compassion for the stranger that is so threatening to people? Is it the fear that they will be displaced? That they will lose their place in society? As one participant at our faith leader table said this Tuesday, the causes are multi-factorial, but ultimately...unknowable. In other words, none of us can fully comprehend how a person can be so driven by anger and madness to do such a heinous act.

At times like this, I shake my head and say "the world is broken."

I know that many of you feel despair. I know that many of you feel, at times, hopeless. I have felt this at times, too. All people do.

Christian faith teaches us to never be hopeless. We can take great hope in the words of 1 Peter 1:3...

By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

To have a "living hope" is to not succumb to despair. To have a "living hope" is to reach out in compassion to our neighbors this week. I'd suggest attending Shabbat service at Ahavath Achim or another synagogue this weekend. Send their congregation a simple note: we love you...we stand with you.

Fear tells us that God is not around. Fear tells us that God is nowhere to be found. Despair tells us that nothing matters anymore. Despair tells us that our little efforts don't make a difference.

But we do make a difference. We have a living hope. It is always being challenged for renewal and increased vibrancy. And it always grows in compassionate contact with our neighbor.

Let's keep connecting with each other about how we renew our sources of hope.

Each interfaith relationship I nourish brings me hope that the world does not have to be the way we often experience it to be. Each time I share communion and fellowship with you, I am nourished by deep faith. My Christian faith, when fed by the living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ leads me towards loving relationship, not away from it. And that is a hope worth living for.

Posted by Rev. Daniel Headrick with

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