These are my thoughts for the 1st Sunday in Lent; the Scriptures are Genesis 9: 8 – 17, 1 Peter 3: 18 – 22, and Mark 1: 9 – 15.
This is going to be as much a political piece as it is a religious piece. But the signs of the times demand that it be so because the politics of the moment are bound up in how we see each other and how we treat each other and that, whether you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or any other religion, is the central point of religion.
Every time I read the passage from Genesis that is the Old Testament reading for today (Genesis 9: 8 – 17), I cannot help but think of the many conservative and fundamentalist preachers who claimed that the hurricane that ravaged and destroyed New Orleans and the floods that devastated the Mid-west in 1993 were signs of God’s wrath and displeasure. Perhaps I am not reading this passage properly but every translation that I know of says that God promised not to destroy the earth with a flood and that the rainbow would be a sign of this promise. And I know that after the rains came and poured down on New Orleans, there was a rainbow.
It isn’t that God couldn’t destroy this earth if he wanted to do so; he wouldn’t bother warning us again because He sent His son and we aren’t listening. By the same token, when we look around us today and we see wars ravaging this earth, the economy of the entire society that we call humankind faltering, with people starving and dying because there is no medical treatment available (and I am not speaking of just this country but the entire world), should we begin to think that these are the times that John the Seer did not prophesize in the Book of Revelation.
Those who proclaim that these are the end times and Jesus is soon to come again do not get those words from the Book of Revelation; they get them from a 19th century preacher named John Darby. But the words have been refined and polished to the point that everyone thinks they come from John the Seer.
We live in a time when the words we speak to each other are more often hate and anger. In a time when we need to be working together for the good of all, we offer solutions that are best entitled “what’s in it for me?” We live in a society of winners and losers; we live our lives as if they were pick-up basketball games where the winners stay and losers walk. We hear and read the words of many who want to see their political opposition fail because they think it will make them look good, even though they don’t have anything to offer in return and the plans that they did offer have only exacerbated the present situation. At a time when we need new ideas, we get old ones; at a time when we seek leadership, we get others whose call is not to follow.
We don’t need God to destroy this earth; we are doing a pretty good job of it ourselves and we must wonder if God is not contemplating the destruction of this planet but rather weeping at what His children have done to the world that was given to them to take care of. We have to wonder if Jesus doesn’t look around at the world, the world in He suffered, and wonder if it was all worth it. How many times has Jesus gone to God in our defense and on our behalf? And what must He be thinking now as He looks at what we have done to his church and to this world.
I think the one thing that bothers me the most about what I see happening in this world and what I hear is that the church, in all of its myriad forms and voices, is remarkably silent. There are people destroying the earth, God’s creation, and the church is silent. There are people making money, more money in one day perhaps than many people earn in a lifetime, while others go hungry and sick and naked and the church is silent. There are people being killed in the name of God and for the name of God and yet the church remains silent. The church is remarkably silent, except for a few whose voices have encouraged the death and destruction of this planet and the people who inhabit it because they are among those who are getting rich. The church has remained silent when politicians lie and cheat, except when the politicians and the charlatans who call themselves religious lie in bed together.
It isn’t that all those involved in church work are silent. But they are too busy trying to do the mission of the church, a mission that grows larger everyday, to say anything about what others are not doing.
I see a society that calls itself Christian but has absolutely, positively no clue what Christianity means. Now I will admit that my knowledge of the early church, the church that formed in Jerusalem at Pentecost and spread throughout the land, is limited. I knew, of course, of the prosecution of the early Christians and the need to meet in secret and use symbols to tell others who they were and to identify their brothers and sisters in other cities. To me, for many years, the early church was simply an earlier version of the church that I attended every week with a women’s group doing outreach and service and the men’s group fixing up the church building and painting the parsonage.
It has only been recently that I have gained a clearer picture of what that earlier church was like and how much of an agent for change it really was. And, of course, my introduction to the mission of the church in society came at a time when the church was on the front lines of the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement. But I don’t see the church in those roles any more; I see, as I wrote, a quiet church seeking to again control and dictate life, a corporate body that competes with the corporate giants of the business world to tell us what to say and what to buy and how to live. There are very few churches in the world today that espouse the words and actions of our Christian ancestors.
As Bob Dylan wrote and sang, the times are changing. We can no longer live in a world of Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals. We live in a world where each one of us has to recognize that every other person on this planet has an equitable and equal right to be here and that violence and war, poverty and homelessness are not the ways to demonstrate that equality. We have to realize that this world in which we live has only a finite set of resources and we cannot keep wasting what we have been given nor expect to find other resources.
This is the season of Lent and, for many, it will be forty days without their favorite candy or their favorite television show. And when Easter comes and they have met their Christianity responsibility by going to church in their fancy new clothes, they will watch all the television shows that they taped during Lent so that they don’t miss anything and they will snarf down a bag full of Easter bunny chocolates to make up for all the chocolate they didn’t eat for the past forty days. And then they will continue their lives as if nothing had changed because nothing will have changed.
But that is not what Lent is about; Lent is about changing, changing what you have done in your life and beginning anew. Lent is about what you do in preparation for Easter and what you do when Easter comes and what you do the day after Easter. Lent is about bringing hope into world as Christ brought the Good News. I do not doubt that there will be those who question what I have written here and who will attack my words; every time I have suggested radical ideas like fulfilling the Gospel message, that has happened. But those who would say that war is a part of life or that there is nothing we can do to insure adequate health care for all the people of this globe are among those who live in the past, fondly recalling the good old days that never were and wishing somehow that change would just go away.
I will admit that I don’t have the answers. But right now, every sign that I see around me says that we are headed in the wrong direction and if we expect to move deeper into the future, we need to stop and change our direction.
Some may question my use of a Bob Dylan song from the 60’s as a way to see the future but many times the great words were spoken before and need to be spoken again. And so it is that I remember the George Bernard Shaw quote that Bobby Kennedy used in the fateful campaign during the spring of 1968, “some see things as they are and ask why – I dream things that never were and ask why not.” We have too many people asking why and not enough people dreaming. We have too many people trying to keep the times as they are when the times are changing. The times are changing; should we be doing the same?