thinking theology

Archive for December, 2018

Liberating the Wheat

In Luke 3:7-18, we read about a reasonable John the Baptizer, who warns people to remember who they are and to whom they belong. He calls them a brood of vipers to link them to a story of the Exodus. When the refugees hungered and thirsted, God gave them water to drink and manna to eat. But eventually they were unsatisfied. Then poisonous snakes came and bit them. Sadly the poisonous snakes of doubt, of fear and of self protection came again in the first century to divide the people from each other and from their God.

To survive an occupying force requires some compliance, but John reminds them that that compliance cannot involve them turning on each other. The God of Israel requires them to be faithful, to be righteous with each other, to be generous, and to trust in God’s presence to save and to liberate. In other words, living through an occupation does not abrogate or diminish the communal demands of Torah. John’s expectations are modest. As the people recognize their need to cooperate, to take care of each other, to maintain community despite the external pressure of different gods and different laws, so they can receive the baptism of awareness.

John, however, points to the coming of another one whose words and actions will winnow the souls, to leave them holy and healthy. Chaff is the result of beating or tossing grain in the air to blow off the outer husk. What is left is the edible part, the source of bread, of nourishment.

The baptism of Jesus is like fire because it is passionate. It asks an honesty of us, and a vulnerability that shields others while exposing ourselves to the elements of a violent, selfish world. This passage is not about judgement but freedom to fully embrace our humanity, that looks exactly like the humanity of Jesus. Time to let the vipers of suspicion, of resentment, and of fire, go. It is time to walk into the healing stream that is the tough love of Jesus and the tough task he has set for all time. We are the bearers of hope in a dry land, abundance in what appears to be scarcity, joy in the face of rage. We celebrate this task because we understand that we will be liberated and reborn in the spirit of justice and truth, wisdom and love. Bread for the world, promise for the poor and healing for all. 


Lift Up Your Heads

We are living in fin de siècle times, end times, when everything that we have assumed has been called into question. We are at the end of the age of enlightenment. This period has been characterized by growth in the sciences and technology, by certainty in facts, by a belief in progress toward defeating death, outer space, sickness, and poverty. In this period, we have also staged some of the bloodiest, most unjust wars in history. We have developed particularly cruel forms of slavery and, despite our medical advances, spread plagues from continent to continent. Indeed, the earth and all its creatures suffer from our so-called progress.

It is not surprising that when we read these end times excerpts in the gospels, we can suddenly relate to the fear of the 1st century folks. In Luke 21, we hear warnings from a period in history after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. What is also on the horizon, is the strain in the Roman Empire and its colonies. So what does Jesus say as a response to both natural and social calamity? He offers no practical advice at all. He says, “Lift up your heads. Pay attention! Get ready.”

What does that mean for us as we too witness the social structures around the globe cracking and the earth fighting for its own healing? What does it mean for us to lift up our heads? I think it means don’t run to ground, don’t hide from reality, don’t cover our eyes. Some people will say that climate change is not really an immediate problem. Others will say that the market in human slavery has been exaggerated. And I will not rehearse here the denial of the crisis that precipitated the Truth and Reconciliation process between settlers and indigenous peoples. Jesus says, “Lift up your heads, open your eyes.” Be tellers of truth as you have learned it; be open to learning more. Be brave enough to see clearly. So one aspect of standing up, of lifting up our heads, is observation.

Another aspect of lifting our heads is to recognize how we will be needed in the future, how we will speak the good news, how we will model the justice and integrity of Jesus in our own time and place. I think this and all other sacred places, need to remember that we are here as sanctuaries for the desperate, as oases for the thirsty, as hostels for the wanderers, and as hospitals for the broken. Identifying the call for the future means engaging intentionally and persistently in reflective prayer. We will need to take time to feel the Spirit living amongst us, creating pathways where we can only see forests now.

And finally, I want to challenge us to think about preparation. The dramatic challenge of anticipation in the advent gospels calls us to deepen our faith as we wait so that the words of hope might come swiftly to our lips. The wonder of a world in the throes of chaos, the birth pangs of something new, should make us drop to our knees in awe and wonder that people of spirit may be the doulas and midwives of a new human paradigm.

If the age of reason is ending, what will take its place? We see some glimmers in the renewal of interest in leading lives of Spirit, in young people being less focused on success and more on quality of life. The renewal of energy and determination in indigenous people all over the world is an indicator of the ways ancient knowledge and culture is being reformulated and repurposed for the whole world. But for all of us as Christians, our task is to be open, to be aware, to listen to the powerful stirrings of Holy Incarnation that shakes the world. And so we wait, with both frightened and eager longing, and we trust in the Holy One, who uses babies and bread and wine, stories, and the earth itself, to grace us with hope and equip us for service.