Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘2012’

Well, friends, this is it. Friday is coming, 12/21/12; and if the Mayans are right, then this will be our last time together. So I just want to say, “So long, and thanks for all the good times.”

Why do we even know about things like this?!? Apparently, the ancient Mayan calendar was divided into eras, and the current era draws to a close this Friday. It wasn’t until the 1990s, one author/pseudo-scholar described the date as the Mayan apocalypse; and from there, it got picked up by conspiracy theorists and other fringe elements and spread into our popular culture. Mayan scholars have come forward to proclaim this whole idea as nonsense. NASA has made it clear that there are no extra-terrestial “events” afoot that might lead to some cataclysm. It’s all fatuous fantasy. And yet, almost every one of us here knows about the supposed significance of this date.

It’s clear that our 24-hour news culture is partially to blame. After all, they feel compelled to fill the airwaves with sound and fury. As much as we might like to blame “the media”, the truth is that they sell what we buy. And boy, do we buy it! Listen to the holiday blockbuster films coming out: Tom Cruise’s Oblivion, which takes place sixty years after earth has been evacuated; Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, where aliens rise up from inside the earth’s crust to attack; Will Smith’s After Earth, where he and his son crash land on the planet 1000 years after it was abandoned; the next installment of Star Trek, where the Enterprise crew looks to defend an entire planet against destruction…do you see a pattern here? There seems to be a general sense of doom and unease in our world today.

Now, it’s important to note that we are not the first generation to feel as though everything is crashing down around us. Look no further than our text from Luke’s gospel. The spectacle of John the Baptist is gathering the crowds in the wilderness. And John is never one to mince words: there is a coming wrath; don’t just sit there and rest on your Abrahamic laurels; a tree that bears bad fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. Or, as the cheeky bumper sticker puts it, “Jesus is coming; look busy.”

Every era of humanity is convinced that we are the last. And in a sense, we may all be right, because our world seems so permanently fragile. As if we needed any reminder of our tentative ability to hold things together, this past Friday news began to trickle, then stream, in from Connecticut: another mass shooting, this one at an elementary school, where the heaviest casualties were, most cruelly, among the youngest.

It’s one of those moments in our national consciousness where we remember for years exactly where we were when we first heard. And in the 24-hour news vacuum, predictably, questions about gun control have arisen immediately. Advocates on both sides are citing the incident as evidence in their favor. I have my own strong opinions about that issue, which I will refrain from sharing this morning; but for my money, the most coherent, and frankly, theological, thought came not after this shooting, but two weeks ago.

You heard about this, I’m sure. During the broadcast of Sunday Night Football, Bob Costas spoke about the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide in Kansas City. Whatever you might think about the stance Costas took, or whether a football broadcast was the right place to do so, I personally think he nailed it with his first words. He talked about how the most common refrain we hear at moments like these is that tragedies put everything in perspective. Costas retorted:

…if so, that sort of perspective has a very short shelf-life since we will inevitably hear about the perspective we supposedly again regained the next time ultimate reality intrudes…

In other words, when we bear witness to these events, even from afar, do we do anything about it? Do we strengthen our resolve to make the world a better place? Or do we chalk this up to yet another example of how broken our world is, and muddle on with life until the next chaotic moment intervenes, bringing us to church seeking some word of comfort or clarity?

Suddenly, it feels like we pulled back to the wilderness, standing with the crowds around John the Baptist, listening to his words of direct challenge. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I am convinced that, in the face of violence and evil, our first act as Christians is repentance. We turn to God, searching our souls, and bearing it all before the one who creates and loves us. Then and only then, having turned and come face to face with judgment and mercy, only then can we turn back out and make sense of what comes next.

John’s audience heard his call. In response, they asked, “What should we do?” His answer was straightforward: share. If you’ve got two coats, share one with someone who doesn’t have one. If you have more food than you know what to do with, then pass along those blessings. To tax collectors and soldiers, his message was a little more details, but also simple: be honest. Do what you are supposed to do – nothing more, nothing less.

Share, and be honest. That may be the clearest and most thorough summary of Christian ethics I have ever heard.

But where does that leave us, here at OPC, in the wake of a school shooting 1,000 miles away? Is there anything for us to say or do that might echo of faithful repentance? Where does our obligation to share and be honest fit at this particular moment in our lives?

On Friday, at the very moment that this tragedy was unfolding in Newton, Connecticut, our Preschoolers were getting ready for their Christmas program. When their parents arrived at our sanctuary, I don’t know how many of them had already heard the news; I did not know anything about it until later that afternoon. But for half an hour, their children paraded through our sanctuary, singing songs of shepherds and donkeys and Mary and Joseph and a little baby Jesus. Their parents and grandparents were beaming and laughing and even wiping away tears of joy. It was a holy, holy moment on a day that needed more moments just like it.

You see, we may not have a close connection to an elementary school in the northeast; but we have a school right here in our own building! What are we doing, as faithful stewards of this place, to ensure that the children and their families who come here know that they are not only safe, but that they are loved to the core of their being by the God and Lord of the universe? How is it that we can embody the promise the prophet Zephaniah bore so long ago, that we shall fear disaster no more, that the lame and the outcast shall be saved, and that blessings are restored?

Friends, we often speak of the important role that our church plays in this community. But I don’t know if that role resonates within us. This morning, I came across these words from a student at Oglethorpe University, a young Muslim woman whom I have gotten to know through our interfaith partnerships there, words that I want to be sure we hear. She wrote:

After a much dreaded Friday full of deadlines and a final, I left Oglethorpe to head home. My heart was still heavy…and all I wanted to do was see my little seven-year-old sister. I knew what happened was senseless, but I was desperate to try to make sense of it all.

As I turned out of the school, I stopped suddenly because there were cars lined up and down the street…They were all parked in front of Oglethorpe Presbyterian Church. As I saw the light shining from the church, it took my breath away.

In a world where religion is becoming increasingly obsolete, it gave me a little hope to see a small beacon of light on such a dark night…When I finally managed to make myself drive away, I felt myself smile for the first time that day. As a Muslim driving home from school, my beacon of light that day came from a church.

What she saw was our AA meeting. And what they do, in bringing hope to those who get trapped in the despair of addiction, is just one way of living out John’s call to share and be honest. What we provide them is a safe and trusted place to gather, to heal, and to be healed.

This young woman indeed saw a light shining from the church. And the light she saw is not ours. It is not a light we hold onto. Instead, it is a light that we reflect, the same light to which John pointed: the light of the Christ child. We are not the light of the world; and yet, we have received the gift of that light so that darkness might be sent away!

I want to close this morning with a prayer written by Christian author Max Lucado, words that speak powerfully to this moment where we find ourselves, and the hope to which we cling this Advent and Christmas season. Will you pray with me?

Dear Jesus,

It’s a good thing you were born at night. This world sure seems dark. I have a good eye for silver linings. But they seem dimmer lately.

These killings, Lord. These children, Lord. Innocence violated. Raw evil demonstrated.

The whole world seems on edge. Trigger-happy. Ticked off. We hear threats of chemical weapons and nuclear bombs. Are we one button-push away from annihilation?

Your world seems a bit darker this Christmas. But you were born in the dark, right? You came at night. The shepherds were nightshift workers. The Wise Men followed a star. Your first cries were heard in the shadows. To see your face, Mary and Joseph needed a candle flame. It was dark. Dark with Herod’s jealousy. Dark with Roman oppression. Dark with poverty. Dark with violence.

Herod went on a rampage, killing babies. Joseph took you and your mom into Egypt. You were an immigrant before you were a Nazarene.

Oh, Lord Jesus, you entered the dark world of your day. Won’t you enter ours? We are weary of bloodshed. We, like the wise men, are looking for a star. We, like the shepherds, are kneeling at a manger.

This Christmas, we ask you, heal us, help us, be born anew in us.

Hopefully,
Your Children

Amen.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

The pace of technology is mind-boggling. From the dawn of the internet to the introduction of power-packed cellphones and tablet computing devices, the way we interact with each other has changed dramatically in the span of a generation. And like most things, this evolution is a double-edged sword.

Global Positioning Systems on our smartphones have rendered maps, directions, the yellow pages documents of a bygone era. Programs like Skype allow us to video chat for free across continents, a thought that was mere science fiction not that long ago. Platforms like Twitter have even been at work in unseating dictators in the Middle East.

But wait: there’s more!

For the iPhone alone, you can get the following apps:

  • Payphone locator! Have an iPhone? Want to know where the nearest payphone is? Love irony? Then this is the app for you!
  • How about Beer Opener? You can enjoy the experience of opening a virtual beer without the hassle of having to drink it!
  • And my personal favorite: HangTime. This app measures how high you can throw your iPhone. And it only costs 99 cents. Plus the cost of a new iPhone.

For every device that might save us time, there are tons that would love to waste it. When you embrace technology, you have to take the bad along with the good.

We might as well say the same thing about our current sermon series. The basic idea is that, as we face the dawning of a new calendar year, we might consider the ways we might like to start over. And the beautiful thing about our faith is that it constantly gives us the opportunity, no matter the season, to begin again.

Now the title, Ctrl+Alt+Del, is taken from technology. If you own a Windows computer, you have, at some point, had to use this little combination of keys to restart your device. So if you understood the title of the series without the explanation, then you are a fellow lover – and hater – of technology.

Today’s sermon pushes the technological conceit one step further. It’s a play off of the idea of Web 2.0. If you know anything about this concept, then you will know that I understand it only in part. But here goes:

The world wide web began as a one-way communication technology. Sure, you could send emails back and forth, but these were not interactive in the way that, say, a face-to-face or a telephone conversation is. And websites took this approach as well. Websites started as kind of a virtual brochure. For your company or your organization or yourself, they were places you could post information that you wanted the user to know about you: your history, location, telephone number, email address, etc.

In tech circles, this approach is now referred to as Web 1.0 – kind of a rough draft version of the internet.

We have now moved into a phase known as Web 2.0, which has added the interactive component to internet activity. Rather than a model in which the owners produce the content, the reality now is that the user has a great deal of say in how the content is received. It has introduced a level of participation to the internet.

Anyone can start a blog. For free. And anyone can respond to that blog. For free. Anyone can post a video on YouTube. Again, for free. And anyone can respond to that video. For free. If you have a website that is of the 1.0 “information only” model, people will not be interested. You have to open up your site so that people can tell you what they think of your content. And that reaction helps to shape your future content in conscious and subconscious ways.

Another aspect of Web 2.0 is syndication, or the ability to share the content you find. Through social media, like Twitter and Facebook, among a hundred others, you can let other people know what you’re reading, seeing, thinking, engaging, and let them know what you think about it. And they, too, can share that content with others. When a piece of information spreads rapidly, it is said to “go viral” – that is, it has taken on a life of its own and spreads further than the creator of the content could ever have imagined.

At the risk of stretching my metaphor well beyond its breaking point, could it be that the birth of Jesus ushered in a new era of God 2.0?

This may not sit well with some of us. The very reason that we find God to be worthy of trust is that we trust that God is unchanging; that the same God who created the universe is the same God whom we meet in Jesus Christ and is the same God whom we worship here at OPC.

I do believe that this is true. But there is something earth-shattering that happened at the birth of Christ: incarnation…the human embodiment of the divine…God in baby form. As human beings ourselves, our best possible understanding of the nature of God comes through our understanding of the nature of Christ.

In our texts today, we moved from the almost fatalistic quality of Ecclesiastes to the sublime awe of Anna and Simeon. The author of Ecclesiastes lets us know that everything good and bad has its place: birth, death, planting, sowing, crying, laughing, killing, healing, holding on, letting go. And we see all of these things in the life and ministry of Jesus himself.

What springs forth in the lesson from Luke is in the echoes of Ecclesiastes, but in an incredible way. We meet these two characters who fade from the scene as quickly as they arrive. Both have been waiting a lifetime for the promises of their faith to come true: that God would deliver the Messianic goods. Simeon seems to channel the author of Ecclesiastes, saying of Jesus that he “marks the failure and the recovery of many, a figure misunderstood and contradicted…but his rejection will force honesty.” The infant will be a double-edged sword, bringing both division and the possibility of healing to the people.

For Simeon, this is enough. He doesn’t have to see the results. It’s enough for him to know that the child has arrived, that hope is on its way. Anna, too, is stunned by what she experiences. She had been faithfully waiting in the Temple for decades. As soon as Jesus arrives on the scene, she departs – both from the Temple and from our story – to sing God’s praises for the birth of this baby.

God is the same, the alpha and omega, the first and the last. And yet, there is a newness in the form of this infant Messiah. We now have the opportunity to know God more fully than ever before. Rather than dealing with a divine abstract, we now see God as a concrete reality. This is, no question, something new. And if we choose to embrace that concreteness, we must embrace it for the double-edged sword that it is. Christ comes to comfort us in our woes. And Christ comes to heal us, in the fullest possible sense of that word. And part of that healing means the shaking of our assumptions to the core.

How was your 2011? Are you happy to see it in the rear view mirror? Are you ready to start over completely? Or was it, like most years, a year of ups and downs? Are there those moments that you’d like to have another shot at? Then this is your year.

My invitation for all of us for 2012, beginning this week, is simply this: interact with God. Reflect on those places where your faith-life still exists in a 1.0, rough-draft kind of world. God wants your engagement! God wants your participation!

Amen.

Read Full Post »