Saturday, November 26, 2016

Light and Shadow

Thoughts for Advent 1 sermon

Readings are here

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of  our shadow side, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; May we recognize his presence in our midst and follow the Way of life. Amen.  (collect paraphrased).

Some lives of friends:
A man I know was a policeman in Mexico - the drug cartel came to him and said "work for us or we will kill your family." He had been a successful family man, living a good life, loved by his friends and family with no plans to leave home. Now he and his family were in a nightmare with no time to wait for proper papers and visas. They packed and left and entered the US without documents. Now he works for a farmer - shoveling out barns where the cows are kept and other menial tasks. 

A man married a US citizen, he went home to Mexico and waited for the proper documents to be issued. A long separation from his family. He is now a US citizen. Their son was born in the US and attends grade school where last week one of his schoolmates said - "the ICE police are going to come get your father now that Trump has been elected and they will send him to prison and then back to Mexico where he belongs" These are young elementary school children.

And from a principal in a small district in WA.  After the election they had an evening meeting with their Hispanic families to discuss the situation and offer support.  The kids played in the gym while the parents met, and when the meeting was over they found the kids huddled together crying.  The kids thought the meeting was to round up their parents and take them away .

Other friends are worried about the marriages being invalidated, conversion therapy (electroshock and other means of trying to change someone's sexual orientation) being the law of the land, and people of color being targeted and not given the same rights as other citizens, people shooting each other out of anger. Permission given to our worst selves by example of our leaders.

In our gospel today we hear of another time of terror. When the gospels were written the Temple had just been destroyed. The center of life for the Jewish people (of which Jesus and his followers were at this time in their history). I have been reading James Carroll's book, Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age which tells of those times. Our gospel reading reflects what it was like in those days. Hundreds of thousands (600,000 to 1 million estimated) of Jews were killed in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. The city was ringed with the crucified - 40 years after Jesus' crucifixion. And in the midst of that the factions within Judaism were splintering - some seeking safety at any price, some resisting, some killing other Jews for not resisting (the Zealots and sicarii), many emigrating to wherever they could find shelter from the Roman Empire brutal tactics.

Until I read the details of the Roman invasion and destruction - I could not make sense of today's gospel. But suddenly today's events and knowledge of the reality of those days came to me in bold images. The Gospel was written to give hope to people who were hopeless. The sects of Judaism divided in various ways - the main continuing groups are Christians and Jews of today. Without the Temple - the center of religious belief - all were adrift. Rabbinic Judaism (ancestors of today's Jews) began to center life on Torah and Torah study - the living God was to be found there. Those who are now called Christians - centered on Jesus as the new Temple. His life and teachings were the place where they found the living God.

It is both a terrible and hopeful story. One that seems to repeat over and over, the brutality in the name of empire -- the killing between religious groups throughout history - protestant and catholic for instance - to the Holocaust in Germany of the of recent memory --power plays out on the bodies of all.

So what is hopeful? Jeremiah and his vision of swords turned into plows and peace among all peoples. I see the holy mountain as a place with many paths to its summit. The desire for peace is nurtured in many faith traditions - may we all seek the holy mountain.

And the help offered the neighbor in the midst of the terror. Giving bread so the children will be fed.

Paul in his letter to the Romans offers practical advice. 

You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 
To me Paul's words about the works of darkness are about our shadow sides - the parts of ourselves that stuffed down become evident in our actions: revenge, violence, manipulation, using our power for our selfish needs.

The armor of light is not about external armor that will keep us safe like a knight going into battle but an internal state of being that as Gandhi says “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Be at peace in yourself, seek wholeness not division, stand up for those who need allies, be the hands and feet of Christ for the world. It is not a protective guarded stance - but an open welcoming listening state of being.

Terrible times may come upon us as they always have in history - but we are not alone. If we are not living in fear, we are living in privilege. Recognize that it is only temporary in this life and use your status to see what you can do. I once thought we were done with many struggles - now I know I may not see the fruition of my hopes. But that is nothing new and does not excuse me from being a point of God's presence in our time. How are we to be the ones who "feed" the children - make it a safe place for them to grow up into the fullness of who they are created to be? St Catherine's has chosen to be that sort of place, welcoming all, partnering with the elementary school to make sure the children are fed in body as well as spirit, joining with other groups in the community to make this a real community of care for all. 

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of  our shadow side, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; May we recognize his presence in our midst and follow the Way of Life. Amen.  (collect paraphrased).