Rector's Rhetoric - January 2014
Violence seems like such an odd thing to be writing about in a season that promotes the positive messages of “peace on earth and good will to all people.” December 15th, marked the one year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School slayings, and so we are reminded, that even in this Christmas season of joy and celebration, there are those who must travel through a great darkness with very little to light their path.
We live in a violent world. It’s who we are. It’s how we behave. The Genesis stories offer no illusions in regard to what we already know. Violence ensued when the serpent spoke lies and deceit to Eve, Eve spoke them to Adam and then Adam to God. Adam and Eve were exiled, sentinels were placed at the gates, and finally, animals were slaughtered for their skins to make clothing for the young couple’s protection. I think I’m picking up a pattern here; exposure . . . shame and guilt . . . resulting in some act or acts of violence. This makes sense when we think about the reaction that certain religious folks had to the ministry of John. He called for their repentance and often shamed them with the truth, and in response, they (Herod and Herodias to be sure) found nasty ways of dealing with such honesty. Jesus also provoked the establishment with a candid critique of lifestyles that padded the pockets of the already wealthy at the expense of the poor. As examples of who and what to imitate, Jesus pointed to the lowly, the poor, those marginalized because of their questionable character and lack of pedigree. Again, Jesus opponents did not respond well to his idea of kingdom standards. And they killed him for it. It’s who we are. It’s how we behave. When threatened, we lash out.
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!…
John really did try to tell the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to him to be baptized that repentance was a prerequisite for lives that supported the kind of violence endemic in that culture. But they would not listen. And neither do we. Think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jonathan Myrick Daniels, Edith Stein, Oscar Romero, to name just a few of our more famous twentieth century martyrs. So what are we to do? Become vegan? Join a Quaker peace demonstration? (I actually know where you can find one.) We can make some personal choices to get the ball rolling in this new year, begin to fashion lives that emulate the One who came to be our Prince of Peace. I certainly could have used some of his wonderful counseling this morning when some idiot cut me off in traffic. But I sometimes wonder if I’m ready for that kind of transformation. I’m told that the peace of Christ can actually be a troublesome force that changes everything, and at 61 years of age, I’m getting pretty used to the way things are.
I am hopeful though. By some miracle we did not finish off Nelson Mandela, and what an icon of justice and peace he has been all these years, God rest him. I am hopeful now because there is a Prophet in Rome preaching peace and justice to the masses, a man with a vision of God’s Peaceable Kingdom, and I pray that his tenure will be transforming for this One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of which we are all a part. I am hopeful because we have a Bishop in Oklahoma who is sick to death of this violent culture, and I look forward to the National Conference that we will host in April 2014 addressing the issues that surround a violent society.
I remain hopeful because God continues to send into this world men and women willing to sacrifice whatever is necessary, so that the hope of the poor and abused may not be taken away.
It’s OK to have a Happy New Year, but don’t forget to give a fair share of that year to the Gospel of the Prophets, their call to repentance, and the need we have to forsake our sins and move in a new direction. It was a violent world into which Jesus was born, but our hope, our prayer, is that one day swords will be beaten into plowshares and the wolf will lie down with the lamb, and a little child will lead them. That vision of a Peaceable Kingdom begins with us. A Blessed New Year, FJ+