Monday, November 14, 2016

Being Fools in an Apocalyptic Time

Isaiah 65: 17-25
November 13, 2016
Chatfield UMC
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

Love is not a victory march it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah[1]

We are moving towards the end of the church year. The stories we are encountering in the scriptures, particularly in the Gospel which we will soon hear, remind us that things are falling apart at the seams. But unlike the secular messages we hear. Such as:
There is no hope. I will never be able to enjoy life.
The world is going to hell in a hand basket. We have to build walls to keep ourselves safe. We should be afraid, very afraid.

In contrast, our scripture echoes the words of Pope Francis: Fear weakens and destabilizes us, destroys our psychological and spiritual defenses, numbs us to the suffering of others, and in the end it makes us cruel.”
I think I should repeat that to let it sink in.
Fear weakens and destabilizes us, destroys our psychological and spiritual defenses, numbs us to the suffering of others, and in the end it makes us cruel.”

Fear in the end makes us cruel. I had to stop and think about that for a while.  And this is what I thought about: Probably because I am really sad that I can’t get a kitty right now. And there is a little kitty living under the parsonage shed that is soooo cute. And soooo wild. And that is going to get fixed soon, I hope.

Anyway, think of the most gentlest of pets that you know of. Maybe a member of your family or someone else’s family.
Now imagine if someone did something to that animal to make it afraid. So that it was no longer gentle.
Once even the gentlest of animals feels threatened and learns to fear, it is very, very difficult to change that animal’s behavior. The animal becomes dangerous. “Careful,” we have to say to our guests: “that cat bites.” “Careful, we have to say to children, when that dog growls, look out.”

We despise those who create fear in the gentle souls of our animals.  They are cruel and heartless.

On Saturday the Pope even called those who promote fear as false prophets, which is one of the worst things you can call someone in the bible: he said that he urged the defeat of “false prophets who exploit fear and desperation, who sell magic formulas of hatred and cruelty or selfish well-being and illusory security,”[2]

I love that idea of a magic formula. For that is what fear can feel like. A magic formula of feelings of dread, even when you don’t want to feel fearful.  A potion that can turn the gentlest and most trusting of human beings into a fearful and frightful person.
And a small sip of that potion can poison our souls.

We are not called to fear or to be fear mongers. We are not called to be false prophets who exploit fear and desperation.
We are called to be purveyors of Hope.  Givers of Grace. Reflectors of Love.

Even Jesus in his apocalyptic words from the Gospel today will not have us preach a message of terror.

Hear Luke 21 paraphrased by Timothy Wayne Goode
They were talking about their church in the grocery-store (at the cafe, at the post-office, on the sidewalk - you know how we are). They were bragging about the building (its antiquity, its decor, its beauty, its "glory" - you know how we are). But then a Stranger spoke:

"All that you praise is fleeting, and will one day it will all fall."

Now, the church was a dear treasure to them, and in fear they begged the Stranger for more details: "How can this be?" "When will this be?" What of our investments?" "What of our improvements?"

"Many will claim to know when you will have to close your doors, and warn you of impending doom - do not give your ear to these false prophets. You will see horrible wars and atrocities on the news, and be tempted to see approaching Armageddon. Great division will form among people, and you will be tempted to see rapture and end-time. The environment will collapse, and you will be tempted to despair. The World will attack you of the Body because it can not harm the Head - this is not a punishment but an opportunity! You will then talk about greater things than upholstery, carpeting, and drapes. You will testify!

"But beware of locking-in your testimony in advance. You must make room; room for the Spirit to act through you. At the proper time in the proper place, words and concepts will come to you that no earthly or demonic force can stand before. Yes, other members of your church will betray you, and friends and family will abandon you, and you will be hated because they hate me; but, you will be sanctified as you abide.

"Though the building will fail and your church will fall, the Church will endure and be perfected."[3]

You see what Jesus did there: he told us, yes, it is scary out there, but don’t let the fear overcome your ability to Testify!

AND Don’t think you have to know or even SHOULD know what to say. Make room. Make room for the Spirit to do her work in you. And then Testify! With words you might never have expected would come from your heart.

Testify! To what you see here every Sunday. Testify! Not to the color or state of the carpet. Not to the glory of the building.
But to the people who are being fed.
Testify: To the children who are being baptized.
To the elderly who are being cared for and honored.
To the men and women whose service to country and world is lifted up.
To all of us who come together in such a strange and beautiful way on a Sunday morning.
Testify to those who made a choice to be named part of the church.
Testify: To the Savior who makes all this possible and who gives us the strength to hope in the midst of fear mongering.
Especially testify to the Savior who gives us hope when all around us the walls are cracking.
Maybe you can’t speak hope right now. But you can speak ‘Jesus’. Just saying the name quietly, might be testimony enough for you right now.
Maybe you can’t speak out-right hope now, but maybe you can hear others testify and quietly say ‘amen.’ Or “I hope so”
Or maybe you will need to let someone else sing it for you. It is ironic that Lenard Cohen died this week because many of us needed to hear the words of his song Anthem again and again:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.[4]
That is what Jesus is saying: there is a crack, a crack in everything, and the light will come in. I, the light of the world, will come in.

Or maybe instead of using words to testify you might need to do your testifying with actions. And maybe that is the best after all.
Today, in the midst of apocalyptic-like national and international headlines: we baptized a baby. How ridiculous. To proclaim, to testify that we believe children can have a future and a hope. To place on this child the blessing of God, this community and the power of the Holy Spirit and to say: be the light. Be the light. We are a bunch of fools, a bunch of optimistic, Jesus loving, God believing fools.
Pope Francis ended his remarks with these words: “Fight the fear with a life of service, solidarity and humility on behalf of the people, especially those who suffer,” “Against the terror, the best remedy is love. Love heals all.”
That is the ultimate Testimony. To say and do Love. I think I remember Jesus saying that: Love God, Love yourself, Love neighbor. May it be so.

[1] Leonard Norman Cohen, Hallelujah
[2] As election nears, Pope Francis warns against fear, building walls Washington Post, November 6, 2016 By Sarah Pulliam Bailey

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