Recognizing our power and our powerlessness
There are many images this week: From the Collect – stir up your power, stir up your people, O Lord! From the Gospel – you brood of vipers! From the Epistle – praise always. And from the TV, last week, a whole warehouse of people burned to death because the owners locked the emergency exits, this week, a school, a principal, teachers, parents, and children.
The Collect – and a Collect is a prayer that literally is to collect our thoughts and present them in the form of a prayer – the Collect for the Third Sunday of Advent, is powerful. “Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us…”
When terrible things happen, we recognize our powerlessness, and we turn back to the One who we know is power. We cry, Oh Lord, come among us, help and deliver us!
Last week we worked with John the Baptizer, the one who points the way to Jesus, the one who stands with a foot in each Testament. He is a prophet like all of the old prophets, but he has a new message as well, the message that the messiah has come and is in their midst. It is important for us to pay attention to John. For one thing, he is a prophet. He looks at our lives, just like all the Hebrew prophets, and says, hellooooo! You are not following the way of God! You are NOT following the way of God. How graphic do I have to get here? YOU are not following the way of God. The way of God is very clear! Take care of the orphans and widows, don’t exploit them! Pay your workers, don’t abuse them, and certainly don’t lock them in warehouses where they get burned to death! Be reverent, and then turn around and act like God wants you to act. It’s not rocket science! OK, so he doesn’t talk about rocket science. But he is very clear.
Things haven’t changed very much in all this time. The “orphans and widows” are still exploited, the workers are still abused, people go to services, bow their heads, and then go out and do the same old things on Monday.
[pullquoteleft]But it is Jesus who does the most amazing thing. He loves us. In the midst of everything, he calls us to love by loving us.[/pullquoteleft]John the Baptizer calls us to repent, to turn. But it is Jesus who does the most amazing thing. He loves us. In the midst of everything, he calls us to love by loving us. It is the most radical act. No matter what happens, he loves, and continues to love. He calls us to love, and to continue to love, to be absolutely radical by loving in the face of horror.
When terrible things happen, we often ask the question “why?” There is no answer to this, other than “why not?” But fundamentally there is no answer. Terrible things happen. Some things are preventable, others are not, but really, all we can say at one level is that terrible things happen. The question is rather, “what is our response?” Is there, in fact, something that we can do? In the case of the clothing factory warehouse burning, it was found that some of the clothes in the factory were destined for retailers here, and so petitions have been started to force the American retailers to demand better working conditions for the workers in developing countries. This is a good thing. In response to the shootings here, there are petitions trying to get more gun control. We need more gun control. But when we have signed petitions, we know that it is not enough. It does not help the ache of the soul. For that we must go deeper.
We must turn. It does not matter that we are not directly involved or connected with these incidents, we are all connected at a deeper level. Because of that connection, what we choose to do in response to these things does matter. We must turn. We must look at our own negligence, our own culpability. When have we not treated the other as our neighbor, and what will we choose now to do about it?
We must turn. We start that turning by being quiet, listening for God’s voice. We listen for guidance. We confess that we have not the things we ought to have done, and that we have done those things which
we ought not to have done, and that the truth is not in us. Then we accept the absolution, which does not ask for groveling and shame, but rather kicks us in the behind and says: get moving! Finally, as we are reminded from the Epistle, we give thanks in all things.
It is not easy, but we are given food for the journey, that’s what the Eucharist is about. And, also terribly important, we are not expected to do this alone. God is always there with us, and we are supposed to work together. That’s what community is for, our smaller community, within the larger community. That’s why we pray for the people in Connecticut and for the people in Bangladesh, we arepart of them. When we have terrible things happen to us, we need to share theburden, and not just within our small community, and then when terrible thingshappen to others, we can share the burden with them. We can do this, because we give thanks in all things – not for all things, but in all things. We do not give thanks that the children are dead in CT or that the workers are dead in Bangladesh. But in the face of that, we claim that God can redeem, that in the face of that, we can still praise God, because God will redeem it, somehow.
It comes from love, that love that Jesus calls us to, over and over again. We do what we do because of love, no more and no less. It is not easy, sometimes it is really not fun at all, but ultimately, it is the good news that we have to offer the world, that there is a better way, the way of love.
[pullquoteleft]Sometimes we feel overcome, there is so much, and we are so small. And yet, we have been taught, we have a God who is power and love.[/pullquoteleft]So as we are slammed emotionally by these terrible things, let us respond with actions of love. Let us talk about what we can do, how we can help, what our responses are – not just to this or that situation, but to the bigger and smaller picture. That is, we think both of what we might do differently in our personal lives, and what we might want to do as a group. There is so much violence, some active, some passive. Sometimes we feel overcome, there is so much, and we are so small. And yet, we have been taught, we have a God who is power and love. We can do many things, because we do not depend on our power. Therefore, saying: we cannot do anything, we are too old and too small, is a copout! We are not called to do everything, but we are called to do something, if nothing else, to give thanks and praise to God.
So first, we grieve. There is much to grieve, and it is important to give voice to that. We do not need to hide our grief and pain. Then, we praise God. We are called to praise God in all things, believing that God can redeem even the worst situation.
Then, we get moving.
Our Readings Today
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