Wonderings and Reflections:
Do you ever wonder how to know what is the right thing to do? What should I do to help this situation? Looking at this sticky mess---what is the right thing? Confession time: I often feel this way right now because there is so much in upheaval: the climate crisis, the economy, the pandemic, our great political divide and politicians who refuse to work together, poverty, racism, insurrection, violence....unfortunately the list goes on...And then we have those more personal upheavals: broken relationships, trauma and tragedy we know personally, illness, loss, grief, isolation.....
How can we know what to do or how to move forward or what the right thing is for each struggle, each upheaval, each weary battle?
Now, Beloved, I know this reading from 1 Corinthians might seem really strange and distant to us, Paul talking about whether it’s right or wrong to eat meat that had been offered to idols and other gods; we might think this really has nothing to do with our lives today. But, Beloved, Paul is simply trying to help out folks in this new church of Corinth when there’s a conflicting issue in their society, in their community—trying to help them determine what is the right thing to do. Like us, Paul is helping the Corinthians to answer the question: How do we live as followers of a new way in the midst of followers of the old way? So, let’s set aside the particular (whether to eat meat or not) and get at the Gospel Truth Paul is offering.
Paul says: You might know a lot about this situation, but knowing alone isn’t enough to determine what is the right, the just, the good thing to do. Paul says the right and good (or we might say: what is meet and right so to do) is found when we look through the lens of Jesus and ask: What will help my neighbor? What will hurt my neighbor? Knowing what is right comes from considering what will be the ramifications of our choices on others. Not how will it work out for me, primarily, but how will it affect my neighbor and the world in which I live?
And Beloved, Paul isn’t just talking about your besties, the fun neighbors you like to hang out with, Paul is talking about the neighbor you don’t understand or who has a different world view or with whom you vehemently disagree. So, maybe, Beloved, this strange reading about eating meat has a lot more to do with us and our reality than we would think.
And here’s the thing, this putting each decision in the context of neighbor requires a great reversal---a metanoia—turning from an inward, self-centered stance to an outward, other-centered posture. And this metanoia requires a letting go of my view and living into a wider view, a Creation view---God’s view.
And here’s where the Gospel Good News comes into the mix. In Today’s Gospel, we are the man with the unclean spirit, the demon-possessed one. Because the truth is, each one of us has our own demons; those sharp edges and ragged corners within us that allow us to believe some folks are less worthy or unworthy. Not worthy of our time, our compassion, our patience or our listening hearts. That some folks don’t know better or do better so their lack of what’s needed to thrive is on them. Those jagged bits of us that knows there is inequity in our society, but it doesn’t affect us personally so we’re willing to let it slide. The bits that let us sit in our comfort while others know no comfort. Those judging, condemning morsels within us that relish in pointing out how others are so very wrong (thank God we are in the right!), and making sure they know we know how very wrong they are.
Beloved, we have demons that keep us separated from friends, families, neighbors, community members; demons of self-righteous anger, pride, lack of humility, unwillingness to be uncomfortable or inconvenienced, and of course, let’s not forget delicious gossip. Yep, we’re that guy---the demon-possessed one. But, Beloved, let us not wallow in regret, shame or guilt. That won’t get us anywhere. That, Beloved, that is a waste-land.
Today’s good news is that Jesus, this Holy One, has authority over these demons. God has sent a prophet among us who can show us how to be truly human, how to be authentically human, our best selves: people who can live into the dream of the Beloved Community.
And our first step toward the Beloved Community is to name our demons, expose our demons to the light and love of this Holy One, this One who saves and restores. This revolution we long for, Beloved, this new world we desire that can transform community, nation, and Creation---this revolution begins small, not big, it begins within us. Begins in our hearts, minds, spirits and bodies. If we truly desire to live into the wholeness and abundance of God’s promises, into this dream of Beloved Community, then we need to be willing to be vulnerable with God: the God who is Spirit and the God who comes to us in the form of our neighbor. God with skin on. This God who longs to know us and to be known.
This year we are calling one another, as the Beloved Community, to take intentional steps into this vulnerability with God through prayer. We are calling on each other to commit to a year of intentional and formational prayer that can strengthen our bonds to one another, to our neighbor and to God. You will hear more about that next Sunday.
Beloved, God is calling us to Galilee---where the Christ heals and restores---heals and restores us, our neighbors, our relationships, our communities, our nation, and this world. Healing and restoration that require our participation, our engagement, our commitment. Come, Beloved. Come and see. Come and follow. Yes, it is hard to walk a new way amidst those who still cling to what has been, but the Holy One is with us. Leading. Walking alongside. Lightening the path and shadowing our footsteps. So, come. Let us walk each other into wholeness; let us walk each other home. Home to Galilee.
Sunday, January 24
This past week, I heard a leader from our previous administration say that America is not multicultural---that multiculturalism is not who we are as America. Beloved, you may agree with that statement or disagree; there does seem to be different understandings of who we are as a nation and as a people. I, personally disagree with this leader; I was taught that we are indeed a nation of many cultures, different faiths and many peoples, but Beloved, here’s the thing: for we who follow the Christ---this Way of Love personified in a person—then our truth of who we are doesn’t come from the definition of a nation. It comes from this Holy One who is Creator of all things---and therefore, we do recognize ourselves to be multicultural because multicultural is surely who God is. If humankind is made in God’s image, then there is no denying that God’s image is one of many languages, many colors, many cultures.
In the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul declares that he expects the Christ to come back soon----so soon, in fact, that Paul advises people not to make their own long-term plans because the time for Jesus is upon us. And Paul knows, and declares, that when the Christ, this Way of Love, breaks back in---then the present form of the world passes away. The present form of this world passes away….
Oh! Beloved! What good news. I long for the present form of this world to pass away---this animosity and anger that paints our landscape, this division and vitriol of humanity that weakens us, this poverty, this injustice of racism, this silencing of the voices of women and the LGBTQ community, this diminishment of refugees and immigrants, this desecration of Creation----oh how I long for it all to pass away….
And Beloved, the passing away of a world only happens when those who inhabit that world change (or as we often translate the Greek of Scripture, when there is repentance—a metanoia---a turning around). When we change our ways, our priorities, our views. When we turn from one way of being to another way of being, of another way living, another way of loving.
Like the people of Ninevah we hear in today’s reading. Of course, our friend Jonah wanted nothing to do with helping the Ninevites since they inhabited a world, this capital city of Ninevah, that was the center of the oppressive state (Assyria) which oppressed Jonah’s people, the Israelites. Jonah had no desire to help them or see them or speak to them. In fact, he ran the other direction. But God would have none of Jonah’s avoidance. Nor will God have ours.
And when, reluctantly and begrudgingly, Jonah decided to do as God asks, well then the Ninevites---they turned, they repented. They believed God. In fact, this translation of the Greek that we hear today as “believed” is too small for what this word really means. They didn’t just believe; they trusted. They trusted God---these non-believers, these misinformed, these non-followers. They believed and trusted God. They trusted there is another way to live, to choose, to share, to be in relationship with God and with neighbors—friend or foe.
Thanks to the work of this reluctant Jonah. The oppressors turned, repented, and then, Beloved, then the consequences that had once followed their oppressive, evil ways----these consequences were set aside, ended, because there was no oxygen to breathe life into the evil and oppression that once had been. And a wave of repentance led to a great reversal. A wave of repentance, turning around, led to a great reversal. Because, as the poet Amanda Gorman put it, we are not broken, simply unfinished.
When we, as individuals, but perhaps more importantly as a people, when we turn from evil ways: name-calling, finger pointing, placing more value on some rather than on all, when we turn from the evil of spreading misinformation, when we turn from demanding what is best for us and turn toward demanding what is best for all, when we step from the chains of self-centeredness that imprison us and turn toward the bonds of sisterhood and brotherhood that are central to God’s dream---then the world turns---turns from upside-down to right side up, turns toward God’s Kingdom come.
An old world passes away and a new world rises up. A world where all have enough because God has provided enough for everyone---as long as we learn to live together rightly and justly, when we recognize that none of this is mine, but all of it is ours, thanks be to God.
Last week’s Gospel told us that Jesus decided to go to Galilee and today, Mark puts it like this: Jesus came to Galilee. Galilee: where Jesus teaches and heals, where Jesus connects to all people, especially the disenfranchised, where Jesus feeds the hungry and quenches the thirsty, where Jesus levels the playing field and liberates the oppressed, where Jesus builds relationships and restores hope. Galilee where the Good News is proclaimed.
Beloved, the appointed time has grown short, the time for Jesus is upon us and God’s Kingdom is near. Turn. Turn, Beloved, toward the way of love. Love of God, love of neighbor, love of self. Turn and choose life. Come to Galilee.
In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Paul asks some Ephesians: “Into what then were you baptized?”
Beloved: how would you answer that question? Into what then where you baptized? Were you baptized into a community? If so, do you mean the community of the church where you were baptized? Do you mean the Episcopal Church or the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America? Do you mean the worldwide Christian community or the community of people who know God by many names?
Were you baptized into a set of beliefs? A series of doctrines? A collection of practices and rituals?
Were you baptized into a new world? A new way of Living, a new way of loving? Into what then were you baptized?
Let’s hear this reading from the book of Acts as it is written in the Message translation:
Now, it happened that while Apollos was away in Corinth, Paul made his way down through the mountains, came to Ephesus, and happened on some disciples there. The first thing he said was, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? Did you take God into your mind only, or did you also embrace God with your heart? Did God get inside you?”
“We’ve never even heard of that--a Holy Spirit? God within us?”
“How were you baptized, then?” asked Paul.
“In John’s baptism.”
“That explains it,” said Paul. “John preached a baptism of radical life-change so that people would be ready to receive the One coming after him, who turned out to be Jesus. If you’ve been baptized in John’s baptism, you’re ready now for the real thing, for Jesus.”
Beloved: are we ready? To live into this baptism of ours? To take God into our minds and embrace God with our heart…..to let God get inside us? This baptism of ours is just the beginning---when we say these words and make these promises and have the living water poured over us----this is our first response to God’s invitation to live into this new world and to wake up and take part in this new life. But then, Beloved, there is the rest of our lives. Our baptism is our yes to a new authority. That’s right---I said authority. The world tries to woo us to consider other authorities: political, national, material, financial----so many options. Our country is spinning today because we, as a people, seem to be living by opposing authorities. And some of these so-called authorities do not have the Common Good in mind, this Common Good Jesus continually urges us to seek, but instead they seek power, wealth and security for some, but not all. Or they demand a personal freedom to live however they want no matter how it affects others or what it costs Creation or how much it divides God’s people.
But we who have been baptized, we answer to a different authority---and it is God, this God whom we know through Jesus the Christ. This God who is with us….this God who speaks.
Today’s Word tells us that when God speaks…..
Light is created. The sun, moon and stars come into being. Time is born and a new day begins. Order takes shape from the chaos. In the time of Genesis, when God moved over the waters, the waters were a symbol of the abyss…..the dangerous and unknown…..the shadows and the dark deep from which monsters come……And today we hear: God controls the abyss…God brings order from the chaos….God defeats the monsters.
And today we hear that when God speaks, Creation responds: thunder, lightning, earth, wind and fire. When God speaks, nature takes its course: birth, death, renewal and Glory is made known.
When God speaks, we are named Beloved. All are named Beloved, and we are sent forth toward the healing and uniting ministry this Creation needs, freed from our self-centeredness and our self-serving ways---baptized into a new life, a new way of living, a new community---a community whose authority is Elohim, Yahweh, Allah, El Shaddei, this Triune God who is Creator, Redeemer and Spirit.
So with the world around us in upheaval…..with our neighbors so divided…..with our democracy teetering on the edge……we may find ourselves asking: what can we do? What can we truly and actively do amidst this chaos….here on the edge of what feels like an abyss? First of all, we must stop saying: This is not who we are. Beloved, maybe not personally or individually, but collectively----this is who we are. There is no denying it. And as we own this reality, we can then begin to say: But this is not who we are meant to be. This is not who we will choose to be.
Beloved: remember……remember who we are and whose we are…..And Listen…..God is still speaking.
We are baptized into a worldwide community of people who know and are known by God. Baptized into a new life of practices that opens our hearts, minds and spirits to God, opens the door to God’s presence, turning us toward God----that’s what repentance means---a complete turn around from false authorities to the only authority through whom we can know Peace, through whom we can live out God’s good will for all of humankind. Listen and turn toward God. For when this God speaks……..
There is Light, life after death, order from chaos, Creation restored, glory made known, monsters from the abyss defeated.
Beloved, into what then were you baptized? Who is your authority? To whom then are you listening…….?
Beloved it is Epiphany---a word that means revelation…..an aha moment……an awakening.
And tonight’s story from the Gospel echoes all too clearly the Epiphany we need to have right now, today, January 6th, 2021. Herod, a power-hungry leader, was willing to kill thousands of children for the sake of hanging onto his power. In our nation’s capitol, power-hungry leaders, and their followers, were willing to put lives on the line all for the sake of maintaining power. With this Gospel story echoing in our ears, we are seeing and hearing on our screens what happens to humanity when it becomes too enamored with its own power. When the thought of losing one’s power overtakes the human heart and desperation sets in.
Desperation that is then acted out by inciting fear and violence---insurrection and divisiveness----lawlessness and lovelessness…..whether in the country of Egypt or on the steps of a Capitol building. The story playing out in Washington D.C. tonight is the story of Matthew, Chapter 2---our Gospel tonight. When maintaining power is more important to humanity than the common good, the will of the people, the will of the Divine, and Love.
But, Beloved, let us not move---as we so often do---to name calling and labeling one another so we know which side each of us stands on. Yes, we should hold those whose words and actions have led to this violence and this threat to our democracy accountable. We are each called to use our voices, our votes, and our influence to empower our public servants to uphold our nation’s laws and Constitution in order to set our society back on a road of civility and justice.
But, Beloved, let’s not be too quick to let ourselves off the hook. This day was not made in a moment, or even in a 4-year span…..this is a moment that has been in the making since our nation began. And each of us plays a part in it. Now, if you are like me, until these past few years, I have foolishly thought that I haven’t taken part in this growing mess. But we all have. Because since 1776, this nation has not only tolerated, but we have baked into our systems, our institutions, our ways of being, our definition of what is America and American---some pretty abhorrent things: white supremacy, racism, nationalism, fear of the foreigner, toxic masculinity, socioeconomic oppression, classicism.
So, Beloved, if like me you are horrified by what you are seeing on our screens, then join me---join the Christ---in this Epiphany. Waking up to the shadows within our systems, within our culture, within our structures, within our hearts. Wake up and shine the Christ light there. Let us learn our own complicity, and then let us own it. And change it. And become who we proclaim to be. Not only as Christians…..but as Americans. E Pluribus Unum---that’s our motto: From the Many, One.
There is no time for further name-calling and labelling. We must heal our wounds. We must find ways to work toward justice---God’s sense of justice which demands mutuality, diversity and inclusion---we must find ways, and demand our public servants to find ways, to work together toward the Common Good. The Common Good which is an ideal of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and all major world faiths. After all, Beloved, the side we stand on is the same side. We are all on one side---humanity’s side, creation’s side---the side for which our Holy God never ceases to stop working. And neither shall we.
Herod would rather that we remain asleep. That we do not wake up to our complicity; that we leave it as it is. Conserve the status quo; let the power remain where it lies. But, Beloved, we have heard the angels and we have seen this Star. Wake up Beloved. Bring your gifts; pay homage with your lives. We are God’s Beloved Community----E Pluribus Unum.
Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.