Archive for November, 2004

November 28

To Be Awake

By Marsh Chapel

If any of us were tempted to think of Advent, which begins today, as only a preliminary to Christmas, the feast of the incarnation of God in Jesus, our texts today would disabuse us. Advent is not preparation for the coming of Baby Jesus: it celebrates the Second Coming of Jesus in judgment. The theme of our texts is that we should wake up for that judgment and be ready. The theme for next week’s texts is that we should repent in the face of impending judgment. The mood of Advent is urgency.

Because Advent and the Christmas Incarnation repeat every year in the liturgical calendar, we know that they are not simply historical matters. The long-ago birth of Jesus was not significant only for its time. It has an eternal once-for-all significance that Christians need to reconsider and appropriate every year. The same with Advent: its significance is eternal and once for all. Because the imagery of the Second Coming seems to be in the historical future, the fact Jesus has not come in so long tempts many people to dismiss the message of judgment. If Advent referred only to a future event, the chances of it happening in our lifetime are so remote we can safely forget it. The urgency of Jesus’ preaching about immanent judgment cannot be sustained very long if it means merely a future event.

Already in the New Testament writers such as John and the authors of Ephesians and Colossians were saying that judgment is less a future temporal event to be anticipated than an eternal state of affairs that is always relevant now. The theological term “realized eschatology” means that we are eternally before God, which means in part “judgment now.” Realized eschatology is the opposite of literalist views of the Second Coming as a future event, made popular in our time by the “Left Behind” series of books. The literalist reading of Jesus’ apocalyptic language, and that in other parts of the Bible, gives rise to some unexpected policies. For instance, many of our evangelical colleagues strongly support the State of Israel, not for the sake of Israel or Jews or out of respect for Jewish religion, but because of their hope that enough Jews will convert to Christianity to trigger the Second Coming. That is actually an anti-Jewish policy. Sometimes literalist readers of apocalyptic biblical passages are in favor of war and chaos, a literal self-destruction of civilizations, also in hope that this will trigger the Second Coming. How far that is from the ethical injunctions to peacemaking that form the content of Jesus’ particular judgment! The result of repeated non-appearances of Jesus, despite temporary excited expectations, is that people finally dismiss Jesus’ apocalyptic language with a “ho-hum.”

The real point of Jesus’ message, I believe, is that we stand eternally before God and everywhere and always are under judgment, not later but now. The problem, Jesus said, is that we are like sleepwalkers and are unaware of this. We are like people before the flood, eating, drinking and marrying without knowing what is going on. Two people will be at work as if everything were normal and suddenly one dies. The householder sleeps on while the thief breaks in. The Gospel of Matthew is filled with parables about people being asleep or unaware of what is going on, such as the story of the tenants who thought they could kill the landowner’s agents, even his son, and get away with it, or the story of the marriage feast where the poor guest did not know what occasion to dress for and was condemned to the outer darkness, or the story of the sleepy virgins who missed the bridegroom, or the remark about the people who can’t tell from the buds on the fig tree that summer is coming. Jesus said, “Keep awake.” “Be ready.”

To apply Jesus’ point generally to our lives does not take rocket science. We know how easy it is to become so immersed in the daily struggles of life that we forget life’s real significance. Mundane things seem difficult enough that we don’t have time for religious matters, except insofar as they can become our mundane routine. Of course we recognize that we have moral struggles, with selfishness, neglect of others, failure to be attentive to people’s needs, and the rest. We know we need to do something about that, and we will, tomorrow. For today we have to get the term paper written, pay the bills, or get some relief from life’s stresses. To this Jesus says, “Wake up,” because tomorrow you might be dead. What you might do later to make amends is suddenly irrelevant. Jesus says, live before God as if you were ready to die. Part of the urgency of the Advent season is that this one might be our last.

Jesus had in mind something more specific than this point, however. When he thought of people standing before God in judgment, he understood that the ethics according to which they would be judged is that derived from the Torah and the Prophets. He liked to quote Isaiah, for instance, and our passage from the second chapter of Isaiah is particularly instructive. For Isaiah, the divine judgment was not so much God coming to judge individuals, as in Jesus’ examples, as it was the glorious elevation of Jerusalem, God’s city. Isaiah envisioned a future in which Jerusalem would be the capital of the world and all of the nations would come to it for judgment. The reason for nations to stream to Jerusalem, Israel’s Holy Hill, would not be that Jerusalem has a particularly powerful or wise king. Rather it would be because God, not some human king, will instruct and judge the nations. “Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples.” Perhaps Isaiah was hoping that this would be the future of Jerusalem, which in his time was sore pressed by the Assyrians. The point for us is that nations lie under judgment, and given the choice would, or should, go to God for instruction and judgment. Isaiah’s image of Zion as the place to stand before God is like Jesus’ images of heaven, or the coming Son of Man.

The religious result of Isaiah’s imagined encounter of all peoples with God on mount Zion is like the heart of Jesus’ teachings: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Isaiah’s prophetic song of divine-human encounter in the Lord’s place was a song of peace. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, said, in the Beatitudes, that the peacemakers are the children of God. When Jesus said we would be judged, at the heart of his prophetic message was that we shall be judged as peacemakers.

We’ve gone to sleep on that one, haven’t we? Because the world has enough people ready to go to war when they think they can get away with it and advance their cause, Christians particularly ought to be peacemakers. Peacemaking is not only truce-making, a catch-up response after a war is started. Peacemaking is seeking out the frustrations, angers, and greed that give rise to war in the first place. How ironic it is, then, that the Western imperial nations sought to spread Christianity around the globe through their conquests but then failed to be awake to the peacemaking lesson of Christianity when our empires collapsed. The retreat of European and American imperialism from Africa, from the Muslim world stretching from Morocco to Indonesia, from India, Pakistan, Vietnam, the Philippines and Cuba, left a vast terrain of landmines ready to e
xplode with slight provocation: ruinous divisions of the rich from the poor, puppet governments that did not care for their people, corrupt rulers and ruling families, national boundaries drawn without regard to cultures, and apartheid structures of one sort or another. India alone seems to have emerged stronger in its days of freedom than in its imperial days, and that is probably because its revolution was led by a pacifist peacemaker, Mohatma Ghandi; even India seems to have a perpetual war with Pakistan. Why were the so-called Christian imperial nations asleep to the ways their withdrawals set conditions for ongoing warfare? Why have Christians since then been asleep to what should be done to alleviate poverty and ignorance, stamp out corruption, and redistribute the world’s wealth, so that the Third World doesn’t need to look on the First World with envy and hate? Of course, Western imperialism is not responsible for every nation’s ills, and many Christians indeed have acted as peacemakers—they are the heroes of our time. But the so-called Christian nations have been deep in slumber about the responsibilities of preventative peacemaking.

And what are we Christian Americans to say about our current situation? Granted, something needed to be done after 9/11, and it should have been aggressive, pre-emptive peacemaking. Instead, the government declared a war on terror and pumped up the inflated rhetoric of patriotic warmongering. The war on terror itself has been a bust because the terrorists just duck; the top leaders are still at large and the rank and file is growing. The government has gone to war with Afghanistan and Iraq, however, two countries that did not attack us. Iraq had neither weapons of mass destruction nor any close connection with terrorism. Whatever our government’s real motives were, disguised by its lies about terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, we are now engaged in continual wars from which it seems we cannot withdraw without causing even more damage. The Taliban are gaining in Afghanistan, and Fallujah was liberated by being destroyed, with the insurgents driven out to new hideouts. Now disaffected young men of the Muslim world are flocking to Iraq, a terrorist recruitment of our own making. The government seems to think that only more war can solve the problem. Meanwhile our poor soldiers occupying Iraq and Afghanistan are the targets of people whom they were misled to believe would welcome them, dying in a war that should never have been started.

How could Christians have been so soundly asleep as to support the government’s policy of glorifying war and defining peace as only what can be sustained by the threat or use of violent force? We know that 70-80% of the regular church-going Christians voted to support that government. We are a church of sleep-walkers. Too many Christians have been hypnotized to believe that war is the road to peace. Too many have fallen asleep to the Christian witness to help the poor. Too many have slept through Jesus’ lesson that humility, not arrogance, is the only way to lead. Too many have gone to sleep believing that only their own culture is worthy. Too many have been dulled by the narcotic of fear rather than awakened to the power of Christian courage. Too many have been anaesthetized to complex, critical thinking by the sound-bites of religious jingoism. Too many have translated the Gospel into their parochial culture without remainder.

And now the Son of Man is calling us to account. “Wake up,” he says. See what you are doing and remember the foundations of your faith, the gospel values for which Jesus died and to which the martyrs testified, the instructions of God on Zion. This Advent is for the sleeping Christians. It is not a season of comfort yet, but of urgency. Amen.

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Cummings Neville

November 14


By Marsh Chapel

The lectionary gives us three amazing readings today. The text from Isaiah comes from the time that the Jews exiled in Babylon were being sent back to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple. Its song of hope stirs our hearts even today: a new heaven and a new earth. Remember last week’s prophetic text from Haggai said that God will shake the heavens and the earth. For Isaiah, the new Jerusalem will be a joy, no weeping will be there, no children will die in infancy, death at a hundred years will be considered premature, people will build and plant, and enjoy the fruit of their labor. God will answer prayers as they are prayed, the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox, the evil serpent will eat dirt, and “They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.”

Don’t we need to hear such a word of hope in our time? Instead of peace we have war, instead of prosperity we have unbridled greed that besotts the rich and beggars the poor, instead of glorying in nature’s harmony, we destroy it for gain, instead of an harmonious world order the civilization of the West is set against the civilization of Islam. The world’s most powerful nation has made itself a loadstone for terrorists where no one is secure, and has so mortgaged its future that others will reap what it plants. We need to hear that there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and that our temple will be restored.

The Jerusalem of which Isaiah spoke was indeed restored and a new temple built grander than the old one. That new temple was precisely the one Jesus predicted would be destroyed, with not one stone left on another. Jerusalem, and Israel as a nation would be destroyed too. All that happened in fact between Jesus’ time and the time Luke wrote his gospel. Isaiah’s new heaven and new earth lasted only about 550 years, and even during much of that time Israel was an occupied country.

Jesus also said that his followers were in for a hard time. If they were to remain true in their witness to his gospel, they would be arrested and persecuted, betrayed even by their family and friends. Moreover, they would be called to testify to their neighbors and in public life before high governmental figures. They would be put in prison and subjected to the authority of religion hostile to Jesus’ true gospel. All these things did indeed happen between the time of Jesus and the time Luke wrote his gospel—many of them are recorded in Luke’s second volume, the Acts of the Apostles.

Our situation is more like the one Jesus was talking about than Isaiah’s. Because it is so difficult, and Jesus’ followers would be roundly hated and some put to death, he said that they would save their souls by their endurance. He did not say they would escape persecution and death, but through endurance while they lived, they would escape the loss of their souls, a theme he talked about quite a lot. Paul put the point even more directly: to endure in a time of perilous Christian witness people have to work hard. If anyone in the community of witnesses will not work, let them not eat!

Now how does all this apply to us? I need to begin with a little personal testimony. I came to adolescent political consciousness after the Second World War, which I thought on the whole was a just war, won by the right side. I took pride in the United Nations as a positive if imperfect step toward democracy and the containment of violence. The Cold War was scary but it turned out that no one really wanted war and Communism’s totalitarianism was simply not viable. I grew up in the civil rights movement, which recognized a great and longstanding evil and actually made significant progress to rectify it. Of course the brutal effects of slavery have not been erased, but they are tractable to progress, I thought. The Vietnam War, and the counter-cultural revolution it spawned, seemed to me the painful ending of the era of Western imperialism. I hoped that the Hippie movement would mature into a humbler conception of the role of America in the world and an economic worldview that would set stringent controls on the evil excesses of capitalism, while acknowledging its obvious benefits as an economic system. Although the culture of consumerism had long been recognized as a demonic parody of the culture of freedom, the very fact that this had long been recognized and criticized meant to me that it was not out of control. In sum, as I matured as a Christian I thought that the Christian critique of American culture was in place, and that I could participate in applying its pressures to the social, cultural, and political scenes of my time. In fact, I thought that the Christian critique of American culture was itself a powerful part of that very culture.

The recent election, however, has disabused me of that view, which I think was shared by many. I believe now that the choices made in the election render a serious Christian witness dangerous, as it has been at so many points in history, and for that very reason all the more necessary. I believe the Christian witness will divide families as it has rarely done in recent history. It will be punished by a government that treats disagreement as unpatriotic and unsupportive of our soldiers who occupy foreign countries. The religious culture that has recently achieved establishment status by its contribution to the election will condemn Christian witness as heretical to its alternate vision of what that witness is. Because there is such disagreement as to what that witness is, permit me to say what I think its basic tenets are.

First, in the arena of international politics the Christian witness is primarily to peacemaking. After 9/11 it was of course imperative for the American people and government to support a vigorous international police action to apprehend the murderous terrorists and break up the terrorist rings around the world that threaten everyone’s security. But even more imperative for Christian witness, the American people and government should have taken pre-emptive action to make sure there were no warlike responses and to investigate the reasons and conditions for the 9/11 attack. When people are so aggrieved as to resort to widely-supported terrorism, their grievances need to be addressed at the front of our agenda. Christian liberals are called weak because they want to eliminate the anger that fuels terrorism, yet that is the Christian witness to peace-making. Because our nation has consistently chosen war over peace-making on this issue, our witness needs continually to criticize that choice and devise steps toward peace-making now.

Second, although justice is always important, a dimension of every Christian critical endeavor, the Christian witness is that judgment should be left to God and that Christian effort should be to help the poor and relatively powerless. While our nation has vaunted its strength and wealth, it has also let the poor get poorer at home on many fronts, for instance in jobs education, welfare, taxation, and community participation. The Christian witness should always be in solidarity with the poor, and if that looks like weakness to the rich and powerful, so be it.

Third, Christian witness needs always to lead from a position of humility rather than arrogance and self-righteousness. The very idea that America should insist that its own righteousness justifies masking motives for war with lies so easily found out, disregarding the interests and advice of allies, and claiming that anyone who criticizes the government is unpatriotic and helpful to the “enemy,” is abhorrent to Christian witness. If Jesus could say, in reference to himself, that no one is good except God, how can th
e government claim such goodness and represent itself as religious?

Fourth, the Christian witness should be to a generous acceptance of all peoples and their religions, with the same critical tools brought to Christian theology as should be brought to the theologies of others. Jesus represented this in his inclusive table fellowship and in his courteous treatment of people from other religions (Samaritans, Canaanites, and pagan Romans). Jesus said he had sheep of other folds than that of his own disciples. His God would create no people who are not loved and filled with grace in spiritual as well as other matters. Christian witness needs to be sounded loud and clear against bigotry and exclusivism, even when that seems to be a liberal pampering of enemies. Christians should tolerate no one to remain their enemy if it is at all possible to change that.

Fifth, the Christian witness should always be to love. “Love your enemies,” said Jesus. Love is perhaps too personal a trait to be a political virtue. Yet love or its lack is the inner formation of the attitudes that shape public policies. Christian witness needs to expose the hate that demonizes gays and lesbians, African-Americans and women who seem too uppity, Jews who insist on not being Christians, Muslims who think Americans are greedy, and liberals who put principle above pre-fix patriotism. The other side of exposing hate is reaching out to the haters in love.

Sixth, the Christian witness should always be to courage over fear. Christians are confident of the salvation that comes from God and have no need to fear what the world brings, however canny and prudent we should be. People with no real God strike out in fear against real, imagined, and demonized enemies. They let fear keep them from peacemaking, helping the poor, taking the humble place, the acceptance of people who are different from themselves, and the risks of love. Fear makes them warmongers, greedy for themselves, arrogant as a form of whistling in the dark, bigots, and haters. Such fear is incompatible with the Christian faith, which says that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Most of all, courage is the Christian witness against the fear of ambiguity and confusion. Christian faith accepts life’s ambiguities and witnesses to the power of God’s grace to get us through.

Seventh, and most important for people whose religious connection is with a university church, the Christian witness is to the complexity of life before God. To understand the complexities of life, including its ambiguities, requires dedicated, sophisticated, complex thinking, which is a primary way of worshipping the divine Word. The Christian witness to this is both negative and positive. Negatively, the Christian witness needs to expose and ridicule simplistic religion and simplistic politics. The worst kind of theology is that which reduces itself to a simple story with winners and losers, God’s people and the enemy. Theology of that sort sells a lot of books these days, and it should be exposed for the satanic simplification that it is. Positively, Christian witness needs to enter into the kind of complex inquiry that can sort through complicated issues and deal with ambiguities. Political and economic issues are difficult enough, and Christian witness should support scholars inquiring about them. Theological issues are even more complicated, and Christian witness should demand preaching and teaching equal to the task. Set aside the desire for a simple take-home message and demand to be shown the complex insides of issues. Christian thinking needs to respect the witness of peacemaking, solidarity with the poor, humility, neighborliness, love, and courage. Yet that respect should never lead it to simplifications that lie.

Peacemaking, solidarity with the poor, humility, neighborliness across cultures, love, and courageous confidence in God’s grace, are not the exclusive preserve of the Christian witness. Change the rhetoric only slightly and those points can be the witnesses of Jews and Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus, Daoists and Confucians. They all point to a counter-culture against the recent majority. The unanimity of that ecumenical religious witness gives great hope in a time when all need to go into opposition to the majority culture, however slim the majority is. The most important power of witness is that it can bring light to those who had mistaken martial strength, wealth, arrogance, prideful bigotry, self-righteous hatred, and defensive fear, for wisdom. The people who have made those mistakes are our fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, children, and friends. Not for winning the next election, but for the sake of their souls, and ours, let us endure together to touch the Spirit and voice the witness of the crucified and risen One. Amen.

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Cummings Neville

November 7

The Heavens, the Earth, the Sea, and the Dry Land

By Marsh Chapel

Most of you know the famous recitative from Handel’s Messiah that precedes the Refiner’s Fire aria. The standard English text is, “Thus saith the Lord, the Lord of Hosts: Yet once, a little while, and I will shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land, and I will shake, and I will shake all nations; I’ll shake the heavens, the earth, the sea, the dry land, all nations, I’ll shake; and the desire of all nations shall come. The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple; ev’n the messenger of the Covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of Hosts.” This is our reading from Haggai in a slightly different translation. Haggai was a prophet when Cyrus of Persia returned the Jewish leadership to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon, and he was anxious to promote the rebuilding of the Temple that had been destroyed a half-century earlier. Haggai did not say, with Handel, that the Lord whom ye seek will come to the Temple; he said rather that the gold of all nations shall come to adorn the Temple. Haggai was confident that the rebuilding of the Temple would in fact rebuild the nation of Israel.

My concern here is not with Haggai’s building program but with God’s power to shake. Of course, to say that God shakes the heavens, the earth, the seas, the dry lands, and all nations, is symbolic speech. God is the creator of the entire cosmos, including things that shake and are shaken. It cannot be true in a literal sense that God acts as a shaking agent within nature or nations. Symbolically, however, God’s shaking of the most stable and steady parts of our world describes God’s temporal creative Spirit. From our temporal historical standpoint, we can see God’s Spirit as the creative force that builds things up and shakes them down. When we look toward the building up of things, we see God creating harmonies out of natural and social processes. Those processes on their own might never connect, they might inhibit one another, or even destroy one another. Divine creativity builds things up as it brings the processes into harmony. So in the ancient cosmology of the Bible, God creates the world by distinguishing within the original chaos between the heavens above and the earth beneath, between the surrounding seas and the dry land. Much of the story of the Hebrew Bible has to do with God creating a reasonably harmonious nation out of the rag-tag tribes of Israel. Psalm 139 says God knits things together in the mother’s womb to create a person. So also in our own lives, we look to the divine Spirit to be creative in organizing the multitude of factors of our existence to gain an education, to raise a family, to work out a career. We look to the Spirit to bring justice to the relations among people and peace to the nations, all matters of organizing disharmonies into harmonies.

In Christian theology, the conditions for harmony as such are called the Logos, the Divine Word that is the universal precondition of all actual structures. John’s Gospel says the Logos became incarnate in Jesus, so that Jesus harmonizes his path in the ideal way for human beings and also effects the harmonization of alienated people with God and each other. The harmonizing mode of the Divine Spirit leads to the achievement of the harmonies of existence.

The flip side is that the Spirit also has a dis-harmonizing mode, a destructive mode. Because we live in time, no harmony lasts forever. Every structure wears out. As scientists know, the energy required to maintain a specific kind of order when the conditions for sustaining that order no longer obtain is enormous—entropy means that all the achieved harmonies of the world will pass away as the energy is used up. If our careers do not adapt to new conditions, finding new energy, they fall apart. If our families don’t continually reform, their static relations become prisons. Every human body wears out with age. Nations that cohere well at one time self-destruct as time passes if they do not reform to find new energy. A social structure that seems an advance in justice when it is established can become a scaffold of oppression. The very conditions that make for peace one year make for war the next.

Haggai made his point in reference to the most stable things in his universe: the heavens, the earth, the seas, and the dry land. God shall shake even them. The Divine Spirit in its destructive mode is as profound and thorough as the Divine Spirit in its harmonizing mode. Although it seems uncomfortable for Christians, who sometimes like to think of God as a well-intentioned manager of our universe who preserves all good things, we would do well to borrow the symbol of God the Destroyer from Hinduism, for that is what Haggai is getting at.

To be sure, we would like to think that destruction is for the sake of new and better harmonies. You need to break eggs to make a cake, the cliché goes, with the supposition that a cake is better than unbroken eggs. Let us pray that the destruction, pain, decay and collapses in our world go to serve some better, improved situation in the future.

But we should not kid ourselves that the Gospel promises a better tomorrow out of the destructions of today. It promises only that each of us, our communities, and our nation, will be held accountable in ultimate perspective for who we are before God. It promises God’s mercy and forgiveness. It promises a resurrected life with God. But it does not promise worldly success or a rosy future that somehow justifies the Spirit in the destructive mode with the Spirit in the harmonizing mode. Things just might get worse. For long periods of history, decline has been the main story rather than enhanced civilization. Hope lies in the bosom of God, not necessarily in success for tomorrow, although we do need to give our all, heart, mind, soul, and strength, to promoting justice and satisfaction in our time and to improving the future.

Another level of meaning of the Divine Spirit as the Shaker of the most apparently permanent things of the cosmos is that we must look to that Spirit in order to grieve loss. We need to rest awhile to witness and lament the destruction of things that have been good and important. Sometimes Christians want quickly to get past loss to new and better things. Many Christians like to jump from the crucifixion on Good Friday directly to the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. As my colleague in the School of Theology, Professor Shelly Rambo, says, this is to forget the Hell of Holy Saturday when the death of the Logos can still be smelled, when God is gone on a distant Sabbath, and when nothing new has come to be. The Holy Spirit unifies its destructive and harmonizing modes in the remembrance, grief, and lament of the time between death and resurrection.

For many people in this nation the election this week was an extraordinary destruction of a treasured national identity that often has had the strength to risk its own prosperity and power in order to lead other nations to self-determination and prosperity of their own. The recent imperial adventures to force other nations to our will might have been an aberration of the electoral college four years ago. Now that program has been chosen by a majority, however slim. We have chosen to commit to “holding the course” rather than to learn new information and respond accordingly. We have chosen to get our way by our own military power rather than to trust allies who would help develop a reasoned common way. We have chosen religious values of simplistic certainty over faith in the grace to handle ambiguity and uncertainty. We have chosen a moral culture that re
duces the color of life to black and white and seeks to impose the particulars of that vision on other cultures. These choices destroy forever America’s innocent confidence in its own virtue, even while they attempt to justify themselves by that false righteousness. We are now as dangerous to the rest of the world and to our own people as any nation on Earth, and by deliberate majority choice.

We Christians, of course, operate in the world as humble peacemakers, attempting to heal and bring about reconciliation. At least some Christians take this as their calling. This fellowship of reconciliation has a natural course when our people are agreed in distant essentials and differ over proximate strategies. But reconciliation is filled with wrenching ironies when the common essentials are lost and Christians are forced into opposition to their fellows, not mere difference. I fear we have lost the common essentials and, in order to bear true Christian witness, need to go into opposition to the majority culture, which includes many who also name themselves “Christians.”

God has shaken the heavens and the earth, the seas and the dry lands, and all nations. We need to seek out the Holy Spirit to understand and grieve the good that has been lost, and also to understand and commit ourselves to any new good that witnesses to what we can best understand as Christian righteousness, piety, faith, hope, and love. Although we are comfortable with the Holy Spirit in the harmonizing mode, we must grit our teeth to seek out the Holy Spirit in the destructive mode. Now is the time to do that, to sit with grief and uncertainty and find God in precisely that. Of course, many people look at the election as a victory rather than a source of grief. For them the Holy Spirit in the harmonizing mode is quite enough. But for those who grieve, the Holy Spirit who comes destroying and confusing is the source of strength while we wait for orientation to what’s next. The Holy Spirit in both modes is present at the Eucharistic table where we eat the symbols of torture and death while joined in a body that metabolizes death to new life. The Way of that body is to bear, believe, hope, and endure all things. I invite you to join this body at the table that has borne far greater losses and confusions than we endure at this time. Amen.

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Cummings Neville