Celebrating an Honorable and Vital Nation

As I transitioned from high school to college I had a burning desire to enter into politics. My patriotism burned hot.

 

On the wall of my bedroom were hung two replicas of paintings that I had paid a good portion of my meager income as a bag boy to have framed: John Trumbull’s famous depiction of the signing of the Declaration of Independence,  and Howard Christy’s of the signing of the US Constitution.

 

To this day, and especially around the Fourth of July, I get tears in my eyes thinking of the greatness of those men, and the greatness of our country.

Happy Birthday to our nation, made great by immigration and diversity, and made alive by political action.

Happy Birthday to our nation, made great by immigration and diversity, and made alive by political action.

 

Today I wonder what would have happened to me if I had followed through with my dreams of going to law school and running for elected office. Almost without exception, when I spoke to my elders or my friends about my desires, they said, “It will corrupt you.”

 

There are two related problems with that sentiment and reaction: A stilted image of honor, and a poisonous aversion to politics.

 

Honor does not lie in purity.

I still get teary eyed thinking about the founding of our nation, and it’s great heritage since. But not for a moment do I consider that its honor is due to its purity. The litany of horrors is far too long to rehearse here. Suffice it to say that those white, European men who signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were all men, all white, many slaveholders, and all complicit in stealing land from natives, stealing souls from slaves, and stealing rights from women. Their courage and cleverness in opposition to tyranny made them saints. Many other of their ways made them sinners.

 

And yet, despite the self-serving philosophies and policies of those with the power, this nation has been flooded with the powerless. Peoples from all over the world, frustrated with injustices at home, have pulled up roots and come to this “land of opportunity” to provide for themselves and their families. And no people work as hard and as creatively as immigrants and refugees. Even Forbes Magazine has had to acknowledge that well over a third of all US Nobel Prize winners in science have been earned by immigrants. That has been true since 1901, and the same proportion holds true today. cf. https://www.forbes.com/sites/stuartanderson/2019/10/14/immigrant-nobel-prize-winners-keep-leading-the-way-for-america/#603dfd604d4b

 

It is also a miracle of God’s grace that the descendants of Africans that the white races brought by force to this nation, all in the name of free-market principles–descendants of those who  fed the nation with their blood and sweat–have hung in there with this horribly flawed nation. They have endured, they have given of their genius and talent, they have even fought for this nation to make it great.

 

You see, it takes more than physics and chemistry to build a nation and to keep it strong. It takes restaurant owners and cooks. It takes doctors, nurses, technicians, and those who clean the floors and do the laundry in our hospitals. It takes landscape designers and workers. It takes police and social workers. And this nation is so obviously great because of the sweat equity of its formerly enslaved peoples, its immigrants and refugees, that there is no legitimate argument against it.

 

The honor of our nation is not in it’s incorruptible  nature–its purity. There is no pure past or a pure ideal to live up to. Our honor has been in spite of ourselves. In spite of our innate narrow-mindedness, greed, and selfishness, other people have refused to disappear. They are the peoples we have used and trampled and tried to throw away. They are the native tribes who haunt our corporate memories. They are the “huddled masses yearning to be free.” They are those we would like to silence and drive away, but who keep rising again and again to give to us what we didn’t even know we were missing.

 

They are those who now protest and tear down statues, trying to save us from our own dishonor.

 

As to the poisonous aversion to politics; it is my greatest fear. Politics is noisy and messy, but it is our heartbeat. Politics has to do with the distribution of power, and when power is at stake, people get desperate. Those with it grow desperate to hold on. Those without it know that they must take it—it will never be given without a fight.

 

But the power of a nation lies in its sharing.

 

If the honor of this great nation is in its diversity, it’s very heart-beat is the fight for power. It is agitation. It is protest. It is the fight for representation and voice.

 

Yes my greatest fear is that people will say, “All politicians are corrupt.” In a republic or a democracy, without politicians there is no government. And we must have government that works for us. All government needs improvement—but we must have government.

And our history is strewn with the disasters that have happened when people have not spoken or voted or acted for the common good, purely because they gave themselves the excuse to be inert by saying, “It just doesn’t matter—they are all corrupt.”

 

America is great because of immigrants, refugees, and the wild diversity of its people. America lives because people speak up, act up, and vote.

 

God bless America with more of this kind of honor and vitality.

 

 

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Bilbo The Brave

Son, Jeremiah, and daughter-in-law, Caroline, have a crossbreed named Luna at their new home in Oakland, California. She barks a bit. Mostly at the many squirrels who climb the branches of the redwood trees in their back yard.

I told Jeremiah that since Luna was part Old English sheepdog, she had bravery and protectiveness built into her. She is doing her job keeping danger away and goodness near.

Here is a photo of our Bilbo, taken earlier this month after his winter’s growth of luxurious hair was cut back for the summer.

Bilbo the Brave returns from the beauty shop. A bit embarrassed, but reporting for duty. Photo by Connie.

Bilbo the Brave returns from the beauty shop. A bit embarrassed, but reporting for duty. Photo by Connie.

Let us not misjudge or denigrate the things our dogs do. Every nuzzle, every paw scratch, every self-perfuming in carrion, every bark, is a gift for the ones they are sworn to love and protect.

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Pentecost 5 Racist? Who me?

The second reading for the Fifth Sunday of Pentecost is Romans 7.15-25a

 

 

When I hear people of color today cry out against systemic racism, I want to reply, “I’m not racist.” I want to object that this country has come so far from the days of slavery and the sins of the Confederacy, that surely we are not guilty of systemic racism.

 

My natural defense is to say I’m not racist because I don’t think of myself as a racist.

 

So, it alarms me when I hear, with my own ears people say they want to keep statues of Confederate generals up because it gives them pride that their ancestors fought for the right to hold slaves…but they aren’t racist. I hear them say that we all have a right to be afraid of black men because so many of them are thugs and rapists…but they aren’t racist. I watch them on video tape thrust into the faces of others with white hot rage on their faces because someone dares to speak Spanish in public and they should go home to where they belong and not live on the taxes of white folk…and then say they don’t have a racist bone in their bodies.

 

What is it in us that enables us to speak and act in such racist ways and yet go on thinking that we are not racist?

 

In Romans 6.1-7.6, the Apostle Paul describes the life of a Christian who has embraced Jesus Christ. This is a person who dies to the old self and is raised by God to live a new life. The baptismal life of daily repentance is a gift God gives us in Christ.

 

But, in Romans 7 Paul writes, I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

 

Paul is writing here, in chapter 7, from the perspective of a newborn, humble Christian. But he looks back on life before such a change of spirit that faith in Christ grants. He sees that sin is such an overpowering force in ordinary human life, untouched by the freedom of the gospel, that it can fool us. Indeed it had clouded his thinking so much before his conversion that he thought he was doing God’s good will by jailing Christians. He thought he was doing good by doing injustice and by rejecting Christ.

 

In chapter 6 Paul confesses that being without the life of death and resurrection that faith and humble repentance produces, people are slaves to sin. In our reading from Romans 7.14-25a, he looks back with Christian eyes on that life of slavery.

 

One way to see that slavery to sin has been pointed out to us by atheistic thinkers such as Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud and others. They taught us that our consciousness not only reveals who we are, but also conceals our true selves. Marx said we don’t realize how the marketplace and capitalism warps our self image. For instance, we can say we love children and family and education above all other things,  even while we put them dead last in our governmental  and personal budgets. Freud taught us that the battles we have about sexuality in our subconscious warp our self images so much that we can congratulate ourselves for defending sexual purity from gays and lesbians even while we are blind to the ways we use sexuality for our own power over others.

 

But atheists should not be the only ones to see false consciousness as a malevolent power in this world. Paul sees such self deception as the spiritual working of sin. Many good theologians and the Bible itself have spoken of the prodigious impulse we have to refuse to take responsibility for what we say and what we do. Instead of saying, “I’m wrong. I am at fault. I will try to do better,” we blame others. We pretend it didn’t happen. But, the most sinister of forces in denying responsibility is our capacity to hide who we are to our very selves.

 

So, today, we white Americans can claim we haven’t a racist bone in our bodies when we fear black men on the sidewalk. We can feel blameless when we protect the police from accountability as long as they defend us from those shady looking thugs out there. We can find any convenient excuse not to be in solidarity with those pleading for justice and fairness by pretending that only a few “bad apples” are left out there with racist ways.

 

“Don’t look at me. I’m not racist. And the more you suggest it, the more hostile I will get to the very idea of working to dismantle racism.”

 

There is nothing that can save us from this sinful self-deception other than radical repentance. This is not, “Oh, I’ll try harder. I’ll try to show that I’m “woke,” and perhaps join a protest,  or strive to sound more progressive in conversations.

 

No! Our slavery to our deceptive self-image, and the sin it covers, is a “body of death.” And the only way to be rescued from that body is “through Jesus Christ our Lord!” as Paul says in verse 25. Sin dominates when we deceive ourselves. And deceptive self-image is overcome only when we do not feed it by caring about how we are doing. We have all sorts of mirrors to look into: the Law of God, the Law of Political Correctness, or the Law of Public Opinion. But any of these mirrors distracts us from the necessary work we have to do to clean up this world. All of this obsession with self image just keeps us enslaved in the “body of death.”

 

But if instead we look toward the cross of Jesus Christ—if we trust that forgiveness and Christ’s righteousness are given to us as gifts, then we can confess even the distorted images of ourselves we have cherished. We can rise to a new self, fixated not on self-image, but on doing justice and loving one another.

 

In Christ we can stop hiding our racism under our false consciousness, lay it at the foot of the cross, and go out and try to love somebody.

 

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Pentecost 4: The Slavery That Frees

Romans 6:12-23

 

This Sunday is a call to the slavery that frees us for life.

 

Some people are all about “freedom.” But they haven’t the foggiest idea what that means. In this pandemic they have become slaves to a political lie that wearing a face mask is an insult to our President—a man who has consistently minimized the risk of the virus. These people proudly proclaim that they live in a “free country,” and that wearing a face mask is a surrender of their rights, a surrender to fear, and a tacit attack on their heroic President.

 

Of course, wearing a face mask is none of these things. It is, instead, an act of respect for community. Community lives, and we live, by helping each other. And we do that in this time of Covid-19 by wearing something that reduces the chance that I may infect, make ill, and possibly kill other people.

 

Our reading from Romans gives us a dense essay on what freedom and slavery look like.

 

Bob Dylan had an instinct for Paul’s reasoning here when he wrote the song, “Gotta Serve Somebody.” The first stanza and refrain go like this:

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

 

The Apostle recognizes that, as God is infinitely different. God is holy, just, righteous, and loving. We are not. In other words, God is life, and we are death. To choose life we must choose to be under the dominion of God.

 

But, while all of us fall short, God gives us life as a gift. But the way we take hold of this gift is to turn our faces toward God, and not the other way. Jesus would say we hunger and thirst after righteousness. We know there is a difference—a sharp and absolute difference—between sin and righteousness—between good and evil. And that difference is the difference between living for self and living for the sake of others—the sake of community.

 

Of course, as we cannot be God, or know God completely, but only reach out for God in faith, just so we cannot ever live only for community. But as we enslave ourselves—as we live under the dominion of the God who is at the Center of our Circle of Community, we will know life.

 

Paul sums all of this up in verses 22 and 23 of our reading:

22 But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

 

Everybody’s gotta serve somebody. Freedom used only for self is a slavery leading to death. Freedom used to serve the community God has given us is a slavery leading to life.

 

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Pentecost 3: Fear, Love, and Our New Family

Matthew 10:24-39

 

We have several pandemics going on. The most threatening is the pandemic of polarization. The Devil’s favorite weapon is polarization, or should we say scattering. Strike the shepherd and scatter the flock.

 

The forces of polarization peddle an alternate reality. They want to shake things up—sow confusion—divide and conquer. And the way they do this today is by creating an alien form of belonging—a false family: “Here is your family that you should love. And here is the great fear: losing that family.”

 

The forces of polarization do this by threatening: “Those other people out there are trying to destroy everything you love. They are trying to take away the nation, the neighborhood, and the family you love. Those people who look different, and speak alien things, don’t want to change your world for the better. They hate your world. They hate your family and are trying to destroy it!!!”

 

The Bible frequently lifts up the good fear—fear of God. In our Gospel reading for this coming Sunday, Jesus calls out to us with a slightly different message, I believe. Yes, the One we should fear is the one who has direct power over our souls as well as our bodies—our eternal destiny and not simply a momentary state. However, there is a Poison in the world that has a demonstrated soul-killing force. It is the Poison of polarization and scattering. It is the Poison that writes off “those” people as ones we can ignore, suspect, blame, hate and destroy, because they are of no matter.

 

I think Jesus would recognize rightful fear of such Poison. Jesus says of his Father, “No sparrow, that you have deemed worthless, can fall to the ground without the Father falling with it. So too, no human being can be your enemy. No human being can be written off. No human being can be so feared that you must kill.”

 

Jesus says, “Fear is vital in life; but only if you fear the right thing.” And he says to us, “Love the right family.”

 

All the gospel writers agree, Jesus spoke of the need to decide–to be clear about true family. (The New Testament calls believers “adelphoi” in Greek – but though the old way of translating that is “brothers,” it really means “brothers and sisters,” i.e., the family of faith.)

But what Jesus is saying in Matthew 10 is: This is a matter of decision. If your blood relatives, or members of your social media circle, or your political party, use the threat of withdrawing their love to keep you wrapped up in selfish living, hatred of the “other,” and a poisonous vision of God, then you must be able to walk away. Find your belonging elsewhere! Find your reality elsewhere!

 

On the other hand, Jesus encourages: There is a family of faith waiting for you…always…being born and reborn from the Good News of God’s all-embracing love. Here you will find a love, as 1 John tells us, that casts out all fear.

 

If your life is colored by fear and not by love, then you must change your life. Change your reality. Start by embracing this family of faith. Then practice fearless living that frees you to love courageously. In Christ all people, even your enemies, become your family of faith in Christ who breaks down the dividing walls of hostility.

 

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Pentecost 2: Sheep into the Midst of Wolves

Gospel for Proper 6 (Pentecost 2) Series A

Matthew 9:35–10:8 (10:9–23)

 

This is the year of Matthew in the Revised Common Lectionary. But this is the Sunday we get our first real introduction to what it means to be Christ-followers—what it means to be a genuine part of the church.

 

And it isn’t pretty! And it is not easy to appreciate in normal times. But these times of pandemic, coupled with mass demonstrations in the streets, we have what some would call a “teachable moment.”

 

As a white baby boomer I have seen moments like these on TV and thought, “Tut tut. All that ruckus. All that loud and exaggerated rhetoric. Police brutality can’t be all that bad. And certainly all that fire and fury can get us nowhere.” And when I got tired of the burning on the TV, and shouting about civil rights and the war in Vietnam, my irritation grew. And, of course, many others were more than bothered by demonstrations. They were filled with hatred.  So, I thought, “Those people in the streets meant well, but went too far.”

 

Jesus, here in Matthew’s Gospel, sends us out into the streets—out to where the action is–to where power and justice meet. He sends us to be “sheep in the midst of wolves,” without the trappings of privilege, to be beaten, dragged before the authorities, to be betrayed to death, to be alienated from our families; in short, to be hated.

 

But there is a purpose to this hate-worthy behavior on the Christian’s part. Into this world, the evil one has planted weeds that choke the good seed. Those weeds are the powerful who use their power to stomp on others. The elite of this world routinely use the tools of power, such as the police, to do their dirty work, and to keep down the “lost sheep,” and the “little ones.” Yes, and power corrupts those who are supposed to police the police as well. They “tut tut,” but they then excuse, and immunize them, and fund them lavishly in order to stay in power.

 

But Jesus, as we read on in Matthew, says many may be called, but few are chosen. Only those who “endure to the end will be saved.” That is, we who claim the name of Christ, are not above our teacher. We too must be willing to be faithful out loud. We too must be willing to be loud, and rash, and angry, and have people hate us for it. In this way, when we push things so far that we are dragged before the authorities, we will be able to give testimony.

It’s the way of the world to abuse power. We must be where the action is to challenge all that.

Of course, not all who scream and shout and burn have the right message to get angry about. At the core of the Christian’s mission is curing, cleansing, and casting out demons (a dirty job, if there ever was one). In other words, we bring good news and peace, and the banquet of God’s love, to the forgotten folk of the world who live with the knees of the powerful on their necks. Demonstrations in the street may be the kick-start we all need to snap out of our complacency. But we will have to build police forces that will not put down the weak, but genuinely protect and serve. We will have to vote, even when we feel turned off—vote for people who are less likely to abuse their power. We will have to organize and run for office ourselves. Since politics is the way power is distributed, we will have to be political. We will have to not only testify to the Great Party, but lay the table and invite the folk who have never had a place there.

 

Lord, I myself, am bothered by this Gospel reading. I’ve stood off too much. I’ve been irritated by protests. I don’t feel like a sheep into the streets with wolves. I don’t feel hated. I’m sure I need to try harder. When I do, and when people get really pissed at me, walk with me and help me endure to the end.

 

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K9 Playtime Therapy

Zac protects the tennis ball as Hector and Betty urge him to give it up so that the game can go on.

Zac protects the tennis ball as Hector and Betty urge him to give it up so that the game can go on. Who takes care of whom during the pandemic?  These Border Collies provide much needed inoculation against boredom and depression.  Photo by John

Trinity Sunday: Put Things (Back) in Order

Things Fall Apart is the title of the powerful 1958 book by the late Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. It tells of the tragic life of a young man, trying to find respect for himself and his family by overcoming what he considers the failed and ignominious legacy of his father. It also tells of the arrival of Christian missionaries with their doctrine of the Trinity.

At one point in the book the author points out that it is not the “mad logic” of the Trinity that holds appeal. Instead, it is the Bible’s stories of God’s persistent, merciful presence—stories such as that of God walking with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the burning, fiery furnace.

 

Things seem to be falling apart in the United States, and indeed around the world. Speaking as a member of that “vulnerable age” and condition, who also meets regularly with many similar older people of the white race—people filled with anxiety because virus-borne death awaits us outside, and our friends and loved ones are dying without us—people who see buildings looted and set afire because of the sins of our ancestors and the sins we continue to commit ourselves—we despair that there is any hope for a world intent on falling apart.

 

Of all the lessons for this coming Trinity Sunday, the portion that seems to cry out for attention is this ending of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 13.11-13):

11 Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.

13 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

 

This letter is really a compilation of several epistles (letters meant to be read aloud to an audience), that Paul wrote because a community he had spent a long time building up, was being torn apart by severe critics of his message and methods. His own manhood was being attacked as he was criticized for being a weak messenger of a wimpy gospel. The problem of real strength and weakness is argued by Paul especially in chapters 12 and 13, leading up to this conclusion of his letter. It is obvious that the Apostle is under pressure, and  is struggling to convey what real strength is as he contemplates Jesus on the cross, dying for others.

And, typical of Paul, he concludes his letter with a series of imperatives. So, translators are probably wrong in translating a Greek word in the first sentence as “farewell.” It is better to see this as the start of his list of charges to the Corinthians: “Rejoice!” The other imperatives start with the main one: “Put things in order.” The Greek here is a single word that means repairing something and putting it in working order again. In Galatians 6.1 the Apostle urges his friends to so restore any fellow believer who falls into sin.

Paul then goes on to add to the list: Agree with one another, live in peace and God’s love and peace will undergird you, and garnish it all with a ceremonial holy kiss.

Then the Apostle, whose manhood is being challenged, and who believes the unity of believers is the strongest witness to the creative power of God, talks Trinity talk. And for him, the Trinity entails three cardinal goods: Grace, love and communion. In Greek these are charis, agape, and koinonia. The last of these can also be translated as “unity” or “oneness.” Over and again the Apostle and the early church strive for “oneness” as a prime value and objective. Above all we are not to lose people, much less drive them away or dismiss them. We are not to stubbornly insist on our own way. We are not to use our doctrines or our words as weapons to win arguments. We are to say all and do all to bring people back into a unity, just as Christ died on the cross to break down the walls of hostility (Ephesians 2.14). We are not to be so anxious about looking strong that we then push away others who are themselves in need of this unity in Christ.

 

So, let us pray for our President, who at this moment seems so worried about his own manhood that he cannot be a man of unity and peace. Let us pray for our President when he urges governors to dominate, and threatens to use dogs and brutal force as his methods of choice in dealing with people in a time when things are falling apart. Let us pray that our President not only hoist the Bible as a prop in a photo opportunity, but also read, learn, and inwardly digest it.

Let us pray for Donald J. Trump; and let us resolve ourselves to be people who not only say we believe in the Trinity, but who use the restorative tools of the grace of Christ, the love of God, and the “oneness” of the Holy Spirit.

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Pentecost, the Spirit, and the Murder of George Floyd

This coming Sunday is Pentecost. One possible First Reading is Numbers 11.24-30 which relates the one-time, special, but official outpouring of the Spirit of God on a select group of elders of the Hebrew people. Two men, Eldad and Medad, were supposed to gather with the special group of elders, but somehow didn’t make it. They got the Spirit anyway, and a young man snitched on their unorthodoxy to Moses. But, instead of being congratulated for his vigilance (lots of other eager and zealous enforcers were rewarded among the Hebrews), the youngster got a shock when Moses said, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

 

In a possible second reading for Pentecost we hear from the Apostle Paul as he writes to the Christians at Corinth (1 Corinthians 12.3-13), “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” In this context Paul scolds a faction of the community in Corinth for getting puffed up with pride over their special spiritual gifts and working to divide the people.

 

Just yesterday a Black man in Minneapolis named George Floyd was stopped by police. One officer had Floyd handcuffed, face down on the pavement, and knelt on the back of his neck for well over five minutes. While Floyd gasped and called out that he could not breathe, this officer appeared to be nonchalant about the matter, and three of his colleagues fended off pleas for mercy by bystanders.

 

Finally, when Floyd had stopped moving, an ambulance was called. One more black man murdered in an epidemic of mindless racial fear and disrespect.

 

Oh Lord, would that all your people were prophets. Would that we would all forget officialdom and protocol, and cry out. Would that all people would protest so loudly that our criminal justice system would be reformed–that police would be better trained to deescalate situations, and that they would be held accountable by truly representative oversight and a truly compassionate justice system. Would that every single Christian on this planet would cry out against inequity in our health care system and for free and just health care for all people. Would that everyone would cry out as prophets to indict those who act in absolute selfishness in gathering in close crowds, without masks, as the death toll mounts across the nation. Would that every Christian would know that we need not and must not remain quiet, but speak out and act out for the sake of the common good.

 

And, acting as prophets, let us not just say that the official murder of  black men, or the exploitation of black and brown people to ensure the flow of red meat and alcohol are unpleasant or politically unwise. Let us shout at the top of our voices that these are damned by the Lord God. There will be judgment on complicity! There will be judgment on silence!

 

With the Spirit of Pentecost let us all make spiritual and prophetic noise.

 

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Ascension Sunday: Ants in our pants over reopening?

Ascension Sunday First Reading: Acts 1.1-11.

Gospel: Luke 24.44-53

 

I vividly remember my parents teasing me about my youthful impatience. They would ask, “Do you have ants in your pants?”

 

It’s been a couple of months now for our stay-at-home orders. People are demonstrating on street corners and at state houses. Shop and restaurant owners are chomping at the bits. Politicians are turning the whole question of when and how to “reopen the economy” into a partisan blood sport. Is it time?

 

What else is new? Don’t we all have ants in our pants about something? About lots of things? Especially about getting out of the house and back to work?

 

The disciples certainly did. When Jesus appeared to them as a resurrected Lord they didn’t just stand in awe. They didn’t stand like sponges to absorb all the wisdom they could—or the love of God, for that matter. They asked, “Is it time?” They asked, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

 

Jesus answered by saying, “You aren’t to know times and seasons.”

 

Truer words were never spoken. It is thought that the same author wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. Yet Luke’s Gospel says Jesus ascended to heaven on day one—the day of Christ’s Resurrection. But then he went on to say, in Acts, that it was 40 days later.

 

Within a couple of decades after Luke and Acts were written, the Epistle of Barnabas, which Christians for a long time considered Scripture, agreed with the Gospel of Luke’s version, adding that the first Easter was really the “eighth day” of creation—the day for a whole new world.

 

The Apocryphon of James, maybe written fairly soon after Barnabas, has a nice round number of 550 days, because the Gnostics, whose ideas spawned that book, found significance in the thought of 18 months.

 

Then came the Ascension of Isaiah, which fixed the Ascension of Jesus as 545 days after the Resurrection. Not knowing much of times and seasons, scholars can’t decide when this book was written, guessing sometime between the 90s and the early third century.

 

It seems a very human thing, not to know times and seasons. And, by the way, those two words in Greek (kronos and kairos) cover both major dimensions of all time – time as just duration, and time as “the right time,” or the “critical moment.” We don’t have a clue as to sheer calendar time, or whether this is exactly the right time for anything.

 

And now, after Jesus gives us that bit of bad news—we just don’t know whether this is the time for the restoration of Israel, or for the reopening of the economy—the men in white give the great good news: “You can’t know the time (or the exact method) for restoration, but get the Spirit so that you will make it happen. Not just for Israel, but for the world.” And that’s what the rest of Acts is all about.

 

Is there a lesson in this for us? Is God teasing us about our “ants in the pants?” Is God saying to us that no President, no governor, no expert in infectious diseases will wave the green flag and tell us the right time. We will have to wait for the Spirit to give us insight into bringing it about. We will have to pray about it. We will have to follow the way of Jesus and see clearly all the people we will affect with our actions—from the cleaners to the health care workers to the factory and slaughter house workers to our parents and grandparents in the nursing homes. After we wait and pray and consider others, then we will be the ones to make the right moment happen.

 

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