Archive for November, 1998

Sunday Week 1 Of Advent Year A

Maltravers Herald Extraordinary, Portcullis Pursuivant, Silver Stick in Waiting. No they’re not race horses. Just good signs of Advent.
According to this morning’s papers the Clinton case continues to ooze on, tangled in its trails of weaselly rhetoric; Germany continues to agonise over the Holocaust and the place of memory and shame in its present; and, judging by the added weight of the New York Times magazine, we continue to be bedazzled by ads for things we can’t afford, couldn’t use, and have nowhere to put.
Aaah … A long year closes and another begins, tipping over the insubstantial borderline from undigested turkey into the undignified downhill dash to Christmas. At the supermarket all the potted mums have been magicked into poinsettias. There are twitching strings of white lights everywhere … and we remember it was just like this last year. And just like this someone in church was asking us to hope and wait and wonder our way through Advent. And we did. We hoped. We waited. We wondered. And here we are to do it all again … round and round, year after year.
Our year with its rhythms, secular and sacred, can lull us to sleep. Nothing new. Nothing new. Nothing new. …Is this our Advent?
We were eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage, buying and selling, planting and building, and we knew nothing about it until the flood came and swept us all away.
Two of us were sitting at mass: one was taken and the other left. Two of us were on the way to Safeway: one was taken and the other left. Two of us were watching The X Files: one was taken and the other left. Two of us were fretting over unpaid bills: one was taken and the other left.
There’s an Advent message: Stay awake! Because time is short, is running out, has almost gone. The smell of the storm is on our lips; the flood is around our feet, the fire is in our hair. Wake up! Time is not a ticking clock but a ticking bomb.
Not a nice message at all. More than a hint of a slap across the face in it. Just a little too like the alarm clock going off too soon when we were slap in the centre of a nice dream. “Oh leave me alone … let me sleep.” Well the Advent clock has no snooze button. And tomorrow will be too late. Advent isn’t the beginning of a new cycle, a new year, … once more round the clock. Advent is the interruption of time. A break with the past and a new hope for the future.
It’s a little thing but Maltravers Herald Extraordinary and friends have gone for good. The British House of Lords will never be the same again. And I for one won’t be crying. … Anything you’d like to get rid of this Advent? Anything you’d like to see changed? A break with the past? A hope for the future?
Isaiah has a vision of time broken open and God at last doing something, fulfilling the divine promise. The promise of peace. Complete peace. No more war, no more preparation for war, no more weapons of war. Swords into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks, bombs into plant pots. But how many of us believe that promise? I mean really believe it? Believe it might happen in our time. Believe not just with our heads but with our bones and blood. Believe that history might not repeat itself, again. Believe that we might see something new under the sun?
I don’t. I expect business as usual. The intricate profits of arms sales, the delicate negotiations of terror, the bitter thrill of win or lose. That’s what I expect. And, because my heart beats with too regular a rhythm it has no place for real peace. I suspect real peace has no chance. I suspect God has no chance. Unless my heart can be broken … open. Can stop beating its idle rhythm and wake to a daring dream, God’s dream. But I don’t want to risk the hope. I don’t want to trust the dream. Because if I did who knows what I might find myself doing, today, now, this Advent.
We’ve probably all made a mistake by coming here this morning … because by being here we have committed ourselves to Advent. To ridiculous waking dreams. To interrupted rhythms. By being here we are saying yes to something, something still whispered but something growing louder all the time. We are speaking that yes in our hearts even now. We will say Amen to it when we let our hunger bring us to the table. And in a moment we’ll proclaim it out loud as we pledge our Advent faith and renew our baptismal promises.
Because this morning we do a very Advent thing: We welcome a child. ________________ joins us this morning as God’s gift to us. He’s a sign of something new, something beginning. Will _________ know peace in his time? That’s up to us. Will he grow up to change the world? That’s up to us. In baptism he becomes a new creation. May we be made new as well.

November 29th, 1998

Christ the King Year C

Pardon the distance — but I thought that given the subject matter this morning it was safer. I’ve been slapped across the face only once in my life and that was at the end of a conversation —I should probably say an argument — that I started by saying “You can’t be a real Christian unless you understand royalty.” It was a while ago, and I was being naïve and cantankerous, and I certainly deserved the surprise ending, but I think I still believe what I said.
But how do you speak about Christ the King in a nation founded on a bloody revolt against royalty and the power of kings? God help us, it’s hard enough to do it in England where we know monarchy only too well! Did any of you see the interview with Princess Diana the other night? A show of hands? When it was shown in England last week the national electricity companies had to be ready for the enormous surge in demand when, at the end of the interview, half the nation got up and switched on their electric tea-kettles to make tea.
But you can bet it wasn’t reverence for royalty that drew the audience but more likely a taste for scandal and a chance to gawk at the downfall of the mighty.
England or America, there or here, kings and queens seem outmoded, elitist, and faintly ridiculous. So, what do we do with a feast like this? When the writers of scripture choose to talk about God as King what are they trying to convey, what are they grasping after?
Partly it’s about power: the safety of knowing that someone almighty is in control to defend you.
Partly it’s about majesty and awe: recognising and submitting to a glory way beyond your own.
And partly its about kinship: having the “bone of your bone, the flesh of your flesh,” to care for you and keep you.
But of course all these things — power, majesty, and kinship — have been used instead, all down the ages, to oppress, to pacify, and to patronise.
And then it becomes convenient to justify the pattern of power here on earth by looking to the heavens and finding the same system there. Human beings have always projected into heaven the form of government they believe in here on earth — good or bad. And whether the pattern we project is monarchy, or democracy, or something else, it remains an agreeable illusion in place of reality — which prompts a deep question: what, in reality, are the politics of paradise? If heaven isn’t a royal court, what is it? A House of Representatives?
Our forebears in faith saw, in the regal image of divine government, a God who was intimately, and positively, involved with daily life, a God whose rule extended directly to the poorest in the land. They saw a God they were related to, a God they could be in awe of, a God who made a difference in their world.
What do we see when we turn to heaven with our model of government?
If we view government as being basically about keeping in check the nastier inclinations of humanity, what will we see in heaven?
If we regard government as being best when it interferes least, what will we see in heaven?
If we believe government provides the boundaries of law, inside which we are left alone to do what we like, what will we see in heaven?
Do we want to be related to God the same way we are to our government? Paying taxes and protecting our freedom? Its a problem! But what’s the alternative?
If we refuse to project our politics into heaven, how else will we relate to God? Typically, for us, it’s through freely chosen friendship. We let God be our friend. God is my friend and God is your friend, and yours. Never before in the history of humanity has God had so many friends, yet never before have so many people been poor and hungry and neglected!
Friendship doesn’t feed the children!
What’s going on in Washington with the budget and the welfare bill is precisely important here:
What is at stake is more than you or me — at stake is the kingdom of heaven. What is the kingdom of heaven if we don’t believe in kings? What is God’s government meant to be here on earth — here in the United States?
Listen again to the language of Luke’s gospel as the people jeer at Jesus. “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Messiah.” “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” “Aren’t you the Messiah, then save yourself and us.” Save, save, save. Kingship and the power to save go together. Government has to be about more than leaving everyone to fend for themselves. Government has to about salvation. Yet here is the supposed King unable to save himself. Here is the governor fallen victim to the power of government. In his day, he was crushed by that power. In our day, he would more likely fall through the cracks and die ignored in an alley somewhere.
The good thief, as we call him, seems to understand some of that paradox: he both recognises the innocence of Jesus and acknowledges his kingship. He asks that Jesus remember him when he comes into his power. And Jesus’ response should shock us: today you will be with me in paradise. Jesus is already in his power. He already has the power to save. Even strung out on a criminal cross, he governs. Even here is the kingdom and the reign of God.
If we are looking for the politics of paradise — and I can think of nothing we need more urgently — then only here will we find a clue.

November 22nd, 1998

Friday Week 32 Year II

They were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on that day it rained fire and sulphur from heaven and destroyed all of them—it will be like that on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.
Whew! Don’t you wish we could skip these bits and just get on to the nicer parts of Advent? We don’t need this end-of-the-world nonsense. What was Jesus thinking? It isn’t the way to make a good impression. … But he does it … every year … tries to scare the life into us.
There will be two sitting at mass: one will be taken and the other left.
There will be two on the way to Costco: one will be taken and the other left.
Two watching X Files: one will be taken and the other left.
Two fretting over a mid-term: one will be taken and the other left.
The day of the Son of Man brings disaster into our domesticity. Our busy little lives are ended. There’s no turning back for belongings—cos nothing belongs to us anymore. There’s no going home—cos home is gone.
When the smell of the storm is on our lips, when the flood is around our feet, when the fire is in our hair, it’s too late to worry about what used to be. When the end breaks in it ruins everything …
So are our lives until then emptied of importance? Should we stop our buying and selling, our cooking and writing, our teaching and praying? They’re only going to be ruined in the end.
Ah, but maybe the rumour of ruin might give our lives in the meantime a different and holy unease. Because there’ve been some things we’ve been putting off. There’ve been some decisions we’ve been keeping on a back burner. There’ve been phone calls not made, apologies not attempted, words of love unspoken, heroism delayed, hope unheeded, yearning suppressed. There’ve been far too many things we’ve been getting round to … some time soon.
Well maybe if the time were short, if we could already smell the sulphur, well maybe we’d do what we really want to do, what we’ve been wondering about for ages. Maybe …And maybe Jesus would like that.

November 13th, 1998

Sunday Week 32 Year C

The following excerpts are taken from the pamphlet “The Eden Virus” written by Adam Child-Of-God five years ago in 2022.
No one imagined, when the so-called millennium swine flu began its spread around the globe in late 1999, that its impact would be as great as it was. Indeed experts paid scant attention to the uncommonly mild flu strain except to note how contagious it seemed to be. In fact, by May of the year 2000 just about every human being on the planet had been infected; many unawares. Even among the elderly and weak few deaths were recorded: a most un-momentous epidemic for the turn of the millennium.
Only as the months passed did the hidden effects of the virus become apparent as it grew clear that death rates were plummeting world-wide. In the developed countries, the only deaths recorded after August 2000 were through violence or accident. The pattern was global: no one was dying from what had before been “natural causes.” But whereas, in the Northern nations violence surfaced from the sea of other factors, in the South it was poverty and starvation which took their toll along with earthquake and hurricane and flood. The “Eden Virus,” as the press called it, promised eternal life but offered no relief from poverty.
The second effect of the virus was even slower to be seen: sterility. The mortality rate may have fallen enormously but the birth rate was down to zero. Absolutely no births were registered worldwide after the turn of 2001. Not a single child has been born since.
These simple facts, so familiar now, sent the old world into shock and the new millennium opened with the terrors of the Great Tribulation which still ache in our hearts. It is that ache, my children, which makes us, the undeserving remnant, ask again the Great Questions. The Eden Virus has made it clear that all we once did and once knew was shot through with the certainty of death and birth. All our customs have had to change. And all our values. So we have to ask and ask again.

  • Now that each life is irreplaceable we ask: what is the measure of its worth?
  • We no longer marry or are taken in marriage but we still ask: how can love live for ever?
  • The poor are still with us so we ask: how can we let death starve our kin?
  • Facing an endless span of years we ask: why do we keep on living? what is the meaning of our everlasting life?
  • We have found rest from the race against time so we ask: what are we to do now with our time, our talent, and our treasure?

Children of God, these are among the Great Questions of Eden. Ask them and ask again.

November 8th, 1998

All Saints

I don’t know what it’s like in the Philippines but back in Britain when it comes to election time you just have the one choice to make—who do I want to represent me in the parliament? And I find that hard enough! How do you get on here? Where everybody seems to be elected … senators, governors, judges, police officials, school boards, … and everything has to be decided by vote … “yes on 5” or “no on E.”
How do you take it all in? I mean, faced with all those choices on Election Day, how do you remember what you want to vote for? Or how do you even make up your mind in the first place? Some of the stuff seems so technical and some of the flyers that come round to help you choose seem to contradict each other. And that’s not considering the TV ads. Davis and Lundgren trying to out do each other in sleaze and innuendo and downright lies. They can’t both be telling the truth. They’re probably both telling lies. One of them will be elected, lies and all. It frightens me.
It frightens me especially that here, like nowhere else in the world, each person has so much power and so much responsibility, that it’s almost impossible to use it carefully and properly. On so many issues it’s going to come down to money—which side spends most; hires the most devious campaign manager; shells out for the best ads; slings the most effective mud. Who can blame people for not voting? It’s only a cynical lottery anyway. And what does it matter who I vote for because once they’re in power they’ll do whatever they want anyway. Who can blame people for not voting?
I think God can. And does.
Today, All Saints day, we find ourselves calling on all those holy men and women through the ages who have chosen well. We celebrate them because of their good choices. Sometimes big choices, heroic choices, that won them martyrdom. Sometimes little daily choices that shaped their lives into a pattern that Jesus might have lived if he were in their shoes. But all of them choices they made from listening to God moving in their hearts.
The astonishing thing is that so few of the saints we Honor today ever had the freedom and responsibility that we do: the chance to vote. And that’s a problem for us because we don’t yet know how to be holy people and political people at the same time because we have no examples. Our saints have taught us how to be holy in our private lives, they have shown us about charity, heroism, Honor, piety, virtue, forgiveness, resistance. They have shown us how to die and how to live … but they have not shown us how to vote.
And that’s not because it doesn’t matter to God … just that this is the first time the chance has come up. So, come Tuesday, it’s not just this proposition or that politician at stake but our own holiness. Are we saints in the making, are we children of God, growing to be more and more like God … or not. Big choice. Big responsibility.
But how do we decide? I don’t think we’ll know for sure until we have a bunch of new saints who were good voters, good politically holy people. And that’ll have to wait. But in the meantime what can we do to choose as Jesus would choose. Number one, in my opinion, is to drop the slogans: the politicians brag about being pro-choice or pro-life depending upon who they think they are talking to. And they lie too. So counting issues like that is a mess. I think we have to do a great and very presumptuous thing … step into Jesus’ shoes, see the thing his way, and vote the way he would vote.
How to do that? There’s probably no better way than trying to get into the skin of the man who spoke the words we heard this morning: all those ‘blessed’s. Where is Jesus’ heart? With those whose spirit is broken, those who have lost what they loved, those without a voice, those who yearn for the bread of justice. On the side of mercy not punishment, at home with passion not comfort, with the one’s who risk peace beyond the safe confines of violence.
But how does that fill out the ballot? Who knows? There’s no way to predict what you’ll see through his eyes if you ask to. Or what you’ll feel if you ask to feel with his heart. But who knows what might happen if you tried it. To you, to this city, to this state. If we all let Jesus vote through us.

November 1st, 1998


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