Monday, November 16, 2015

Reflections on Paris...and Beirut...and Baghdad


Hard to think about anything else today. Stayed up until 2 AM rewriting a sermon because the world had changed.

We start the service by singing Sanctuary, the song which used to open all our services. That gave its name to Jane’s congregation which shared our space a few years. That made its way to our neighbor West End and then to the Jewish congregation Romemu that shares it’s space.  And Andre’s voice was there to give it depth.

We begin our scriptures with the gospel, Mark’s little apocalypse, 13: 1-8.  Followed by
 1 Samuel 1: 4-20, another barren woman miracle story, thus time, Hannah. As a reflection on that rading, Jeremy plays his new Jam with a new heartbeat, recorded with a sample of his unborn son’s heartbeat. (
Jeremy sings his Jam...

And then, the song of Hannah, 1 Samuel 2: 1-10, the song on which Mary’s Lucan Magnificat is based.  So to reflect on that, Jeremy and I sing Paul McCartney’s rewrite of the Mary’s song, Let it be. And then our reflection….

Sometimes you have one thing planned and the world intervenes and I have to go a different direction. It’s that kind of week.  In Paris on Friday, 129 killed and 352 injured. In all the focus on Paris, today was a national day of mourning in Lebanon where 40 were killed and 250 injured on Thursday. And not mentioned at all are the 21-25 dead and 40-50 wounded in Baghdad yesterday. I in no way criticize the identification and anguish with Paris. We’ve been there. But our circle of concern and compassion needs to extend to those in Baghdad and Beirut…. murdered Muslims by the same forces…ISIS has killed more Muslims than any other people.
So I turn to the Gospel of Mark, which I did not in tend to reference today.  It’s a section called the little apocalypse. It’s fitting to do so because the ISIS attackers are acting out their own apocalyptic vision, seeking through their actions the day of the Mahdi, or Messiah, who will establish a world wide Muslim paradise under Shariah law. Jesus will return as the Mahdi’s lieutenant to force all non-Muslims to convert or die.
It’s easy when experiencing these attacks and seeing them around the world to feel a sense of the apocalyptic. On All Souls night, some of us gathered to read together the book of Revelation, as it was originally intended, a letter of visionary solace for a community enduring violent repression.  Written in metaphoric code to get past any lingering authorities. It was written as a word of encouragement, describing what the community was living through then, NOT as a spooky prediction of what would come at the end of the world.
Apocalypse is popular, even more so since 9-11. Every Sunday night you can turn onto The Walking Dead, one of TV’s most popular shows. The idea of zombie apoclaypse has become almost accepted wisdom among a portion of our younger population. Or you can watch the Leftovers  which tells the tale of how the world responds to a day when 2% of global population just vanishes. BUT Paris, Baghdad, Beirut make it agonizingly real.
Mark’s words are pretty scary…
Beware that no one leads you astray. 6Many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and they will lead many astray. 7When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.
But of you look closely, what do you see? These words are written in late 60’s Jerusalem. The  final battle with the Roman empire is approaching. It feels like the apocalypse is near. Mark his community NOT to follow the rebel recruiters who are trying to enlist freedom fighters for the final conflict, which will hopefully draw a conquering warrior messiah into the battle. He is saying don’t go there. These are the birth pangs. Of a new world to come…..
 (Interestingly, the same background informs Islamic apocalyptic vision…as it spreads death throughout Paris, it says it will defeat Rome, and portrays the US (and Israel as its partner) the modern day Rome….)

The Jesus of Mark warns us not to get sucked into apocalyptic Messianism. Do not see our struggle in terms of warrior messianism. Jesus proclaims a messianic age that rejects redemptive violence…(Interestingly a theme on this season of Walking Dead, is there another way to combat evil or is redemptive violence the only way out?)
                  What else do we see? As a side note, I originally wanted to speak to how early the Holiday season---and the annual charge of war on Christmas…hello Starbucks!...and Donald Trump’s promise that if he’s elected we’ll all say Merry Christmas, like it or not…and that this season’s pre Advent scripture passages are all pointing to Advent and Christmas as previews of coming attractions…

Take Hannah’s song, for example…the song that Mary rewrites and makes her own…
4The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. 5Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. 6The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.7The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts. 8He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and on them he has set the world.
9"He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might does one prevail. 10The LORD! His adversaries shall be shattered; the Most High will thunder in heaven. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed."
Apocalyptic in its own way….but with a reversal…the poor lifted up….because every Old Testament prophet saw the failure to care for the society’s poor what would tear apart a society’s social fabric and  make it vulnerable to crumbling under pressure….

What do we do in the face of what we confront? First I want to say this … though theologically informed, the violence of these days is essentially nihilist. Deconstructing the world. Death and suffering for its own sake. That’s what I felt after 9-11….as I toured the still smoldering 17 acres,  that awakened in me the thought that in such a world, creation and creativity are acts of resistance, the act of creating is intrinsically connected to the creator, of and to its self. That’s why want so deeply a church where ethics and esthetics, beauty and justice are partners in our witness to the God we follow.

Lastly, Hannah is another of those barren women … her child, too, Samuel, will be a sign. And my parenthetic word to Jeremy…and my own son, the decision to have a child is a courageous act of creation…a vote of confidence of a better world to come of which we are seeing only the birth pangs….and our call is to work for the messianic era Jesus calls us to, a day to be ushered in by militant non-violent followers creating communities of love and justice, places where we can already experience what we work to create….my God, to have a church like that…can you imagine it?

At the end of my reflection, I feel moved to play and sing Blowin’ in the wind, still…and sadly…appropriate…with a few changed lyrics:

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, ’n’ how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, ’n’ how many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

How many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea?
Yes, ’n’ how many years can some people resist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, ’n’ how many times can we all turn our head
Pretending that we just don’t  see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

How many times must we all look up
Before we can see the sky?
Yes, ’n’ how many ears do we need to have
Before we can hear people cry?
Yes, ’n’ how many deaths will it take till we know
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

We lead into our prayers by chanting Bless the Lord, my soul…from Taize. And for our offertory, Andre sings a powerful Great is Thy Faithfulness.
Andre sings Great is Thy Faithfulness

Today, we have the joyous opportunity to welcome Russ, Berik, Jeremy and Dion into full membership in the church,
New members Russ, Dion, Berik and Jeremy
followed by the singing of the traditional Blest be the Tie that Binds..As we gather in our circle, we bless Jeremy and Priska as they travel to Switzerland to prepare for the birth of their son. 

Jeremy leads us in singing Lean on  Me...
Priska, Andre and Jeremy

I ask my friend Father Clyde, visiting today to add his blessing to the circle, and Andre leads us all in Amen.

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