Eternal Life?

August 29, 2016

Rather sad (at least to me) Opinion piece in The New York Times this morning with the ironically hopeful title “Why We Never Die.” The author begins by observing that, as a child, he was terrified of death, often worrying about it as he fell asleep in the evenings. Today, his oldest child is afflicted with the same fear. Not much of a surprise there!

He ultimately finds comfort for his child, and presumably himself, by recognizing a kind of eternal life in the biological transmission of life to the next generations, the contributions one might make in the course of one’s earthly life, and the lasting imprint such efforts might make. “In living,” he concludes,” we trace a wake in the world.” No arguing with that.

I know other people who have had a similar terror of simply vanishing, being engulfed in the darkness and the void. I do not know exactly how that would feel. From my earliest childhood, I have seen death as an inevitable part of life.

From the wilting roses on the dining room table to the loss of a beloved pet to peering over the side of the coffin of my paternal grandfather, I have accepted the reality of death. I suppose I also never considered myself so indispensable or really all that important in the great scheme of things to see why it would make any difference, at least in the long run, if I was no longer around.

Then too — but, I think, actually secondary to the above — there was my family’s religious faith. The author of the Times’ article was never comforted by that, seeing religion and spirituality as fantasies dreamed up and perpetrated to stave off the horror of death. I acknowledge that as a possibility, but it has never actually seemed so to me.

First of all, the overwhelming majority of persons who have ever lived and live today — in whatever culture, of whatever religion — have believed in some form of eternal life. The beliefs differ, of course, from East to West, from the ancient wisdom of Hinduism and Buddhism (which, at least doctrinally, has the least interest in life after death) to the remarkably similar understandings of the Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

I do not claim to know exactly what happens after we die. Anyone who claims to do so is likely guilty of a bit of overreach. But I am a Christian and have placed my hope in the promise  eternal life held out by our “founder” Jesus of Nazareth and his successors down the ages. I have found the life and teachings of Jesus to be completely reliable in this life and so am prepared to trust that his insights for the next are likely to be trustworthy as well.

Christians vary somewhat in the specifics of what will happen after we die. But classical Christianity has used the pattern outlined in the New Testament for Jesus’ own life, death and resurrection to suggest what will happen to us as well. Jesus lived his short life of about thirty years. He was executed by the Roman government with at least the cooperation of the Temple authorities in Jerusalem, likely for sedition. There was in “intermediate state’ of some three days where Jesus is said to have “descended to the dead.” And then he was experienced as alive once more, transformed but recognizable to his closest followers.

So, the Christian hope is that, when we die, the essence of who we are (sometimes called, not quite correctly, the “soul”) will enter into the same kind of “intermediate state” as Jesus where we will continue our spiritual growth and journey, as it were, where we left off. If we have never paid much attention to the spiritual life, the growth may be experienced as rather tough sledding. Such persons will have a lot of “catching up to do” and there is likely to be some regret at all that was missed. For all of us, there will be a lot to learn!

We will be outside of time as we have understood it here, so the number of years or aeons which may pass before the final stage will have no meaning. But, at some point, according to Jewish, Christian, and Muslim teaching, the earth as we know it will be transformed, a final judgment of people and nations will be made in which the world will be set to rights again, once and for all. No more poverty, no more war, peace and harmony for everyone.

The earth will not vanish but will be transformed into the “Eden-like” existence so beautifully described in the opening chapter of the Book of Genesis (and other ancient writings). Christians believe in something called the “resurrection of the body” which is not the same as the resuscitation of a corpse, but the transformation of all that we truly are (and that includes our bodies) into something fitting for that new and transformed world. Paul calls it a “spiritual body” which is not terribly helpful but is an attempt to say that we will be something like what Jesus was after the resurrection.

Am I absolutely sure that this is what it will look like and how it will all turn out? Of course not. Remember, doubt is not the opposite of faith; certainty is the opposite of faith. I am certain of almost nothing…in this life or the next. But I do have hope.

And hope, Alexander Pope once wrote  springs eternal!

Cutting Hillary Some Slack

August 26, 2016

This morning in the New York Times, David Brooks writes that, “Hillary Clinton has experience, but does not seem to have been transformed by it. Amid the email scandal she is repeating the same mistakes she made during the Rose Law firm scandal two decades ago. Her posture is still brittle, stonewalling and dissembling.”

Many of us who are Clinton supporters would also wish for more transparency and vulnerability on the part of our candidate. But David Brooks’ opening statement is entirely backwards. Hillary Clinton has experience and she HAS been transformed by it! Sadly, not for the better.

Brooks goes on to say, “If you interpret your life as a battlefield, then you will want to maintain control at all times. You will hoard access. You will refuse to have press conferences, You will close yourself off from those who can help.”

“If you treat the world as a friendly and hopeful place, as a web of relationships, you’ll look for the good news in people and not the bad. You’ll be willing to relinquish control, and in surrender you’ll actually gain more strength as people trust in your candor and come alongside.”

Well, my guess is that — as a young woman — Hillary Clinton did indeed treat the world as a friendly and hopeful place and perhaps even tended to look for the good news in people and not the bad. But after at least three decades of being accused of things by her enemies and a biased press hungry for ratings for things which proved, in the long run, to have no basis in fact, she has been changed. Transformed, to use Brooks’ phrase.

She has been changed into a somewhat paranoid (and, as they say, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they are not out to get you!) person who can indeed be “brittle” and “dissembling.” Perhaps if the press would become less like sharks in bloody water, hungry to go after any and all accusations made with little or no substance, Hillary Clinton might again be able to “see the world as a friendly and hopeful place” and begin to respond accordingly.

I do not have much confidence in that happening. Having recently given up entirely on MSNBC news and the Chuck Todds and Andrea Mitchells one might suppose would be her supporters in opposition to a repulsive Donald Trump,  I have found my blood pressure to be much more within the normal range.

It is the “vast right wing conspiracy” (which, dear friends, does indeed exist) and the so-called “liberal” (but actually “ratings-hungry”) press who have created the sad aspect of Hillary Clinton’s character which sometimes make her look like an abused animal who can be self-protective and even vicious because of being hurt so many times by those who might have been expected to know better.

So, I am willing to cut Hillary some slack on this. And hope that, after she devastates Donald Trump in the national election and is given the opportunity to lead this nation as arguably the most qualified candidate ever to run, perhaps she (and all of us) will once again be able to view “the world as a friendly and hopeful place.”

It is clearly not that kind of place right now.

An Israelite In Whom There Is No Deceit

August 24, 2016

I always enjoy celebrating the feast days of saints about which we actually know very little! I refer to them as “they also served.” Not all of us will be canonized, or even recognized, for whatever witness we may make to the God we have come to know through Jesus Christ, but we have “also served” and it’s nice to know there are folks like us in the Christian calendar.

Bartholomew is one of those about whom we know little. His name appears in some lists of the twelve apostles and that’s about it. Some scholars believe he was also known as Nathanael and, if that is true, we know a little more. He was introduced to Jesus by Philip, was the one who snarkily asked “Can anything good come out of Nazareth,” and yet was described by Jesus as “an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” Perhaps because he spoke his mind!

When Nathanael asked him how he knew that, Jesus said he had seen him under a fig tree (teaching, in rabbinical fashion?). When Nathanael asked, in effect, how Jesus could be that perceptive, he replied, if effect, “You ain’t seen nothin yet.” One day you’ll see the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. You’ll realize that this Son of Man is a connector of heaven and earth.

That reference is, of course, to the story of Jacob who received a similar vision of the heavenly ladder once during a long, dark night in the desert. I had a similar experience during “The Desert Course” at St. George’s College in Jerusalem. We spent about a week traveling through the Sinai, tracing the old pilgrim routes, sleeping one night on the desert floor and the next night in an Orthodox monastery.

One evening before bed, around the campfire, our Egyptian guide has us look up into the cloudless yet brilliant sky and said, “Welcome to the Sinai. One moon; ten thousand stars!” And he was right. Later, when I — like the ancestor Jacob — tried to go to sleep with my head on a smooth stone, but snuggled in a sleeping bag, I could almost see those angels — descending…and ascending.

But, back to Bartholomew/Nathanael. Tradition also has it that he brought Christianity to Armenia. Certainly he is venerated there in that capacity and I once visited the site of a monastery which was thought to have been founded by him. Some of my fondest memories, as ecumenical officer for our church, was my relationship with the Armenian Apostolic Church.

They are wonderful people, joyful Christians, and great friends of the Episcopal Church. For, when the Armenian people immigrated to this country, the Orthodox would not allow them to use their churches because they were so-called “Nestorians” (“Oriental” Orthodox) while the Roman Catholics would not allow them to use theirs because they were “Orthodox” (how’s that for irony?).

The Episcopal Church said, “Come right in!” And Armenian Christians worshiped in Episcopal Churches, especially in New York, until they could build their own. They have never forgotten that hospitality and have remained our friends and supporters while much of the Orthodox world has written us off as even being Christians, because of the ordination of women and our embrace of marriage equality for gay and lesbian people.

So, thank you St. Bart! For simply appearing in the list of the Twelve; for giving hope to us who “also serve;” and for being at the root of a tradition which stretches from the Holy Land to India to Armenia and across the Atlantic to these shores. You are indeed…

An Israelite in whom there is no deceit…

Let’s Call Them DAESH!

August 23, 2016

I continue to wonder why the world, seemingly pretty united in the effort to wipe out the so-called “Islamic State,” cannot seem to agree on what to call it!  President Obama invariably refers to it as ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which is a geographical area stretching across Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Iraq) while almost everyone else, including the media, seems to have settled on ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria)

There are, of course, some outliers who just refer to it as IS (the Islamic State) or simply “The Caliphate” (which, in strict terms it is not). But then neither is this entity a state  — Islamic or otherwise, based in Iraq and/or the Levant or just Syria). What it is (as Andy Griffith might have put it) is a brutal, terrorist organization.

I propose that the international community settle on the term increasingly used in Europe — DAESH.  This is an acronym for an Arabic phrase which means essentially the same thing as ISIL. The difference is, these militants hate us using it! The reason seems to be that it is similar to, and has become associated with, two other words “Daes” (which means crushing something under one’s feet) and “Dahes” (which means “one who sows discord”). Sounds about right to me!

In fact, I propose that we use it precisely because these murderers hate it.  I am in full agreement with former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot who, in declaring that he would henceforth use the term, wrote: “Daesh hates being referred to my this term, and what they don’t like has an instinctive appeal to me.”

Daesh members have, according to NBC news, threatened to cut out the tongues of anyone it hears using the term. And Evan Kohlman, a national security analyst counseled, “It’s a derogatory term and not something people should use even if you dislike them.”  I completely disagree.

While normally I believe that we should call people and groups by the names with which they self-identify (African Americans, Native Americans, women rather than ladies or girls) those are people and groups for whom I have the deepest respect. A group of murderers, rapists and suicide bombers who seem to take particular delight in beheading their helpless victims after submitting them to God-knows-what kinds of torture does not qualify, in my estimation, for such niceties.

The term Daesh has the added advantage of removing the term “Islamic” from a phrase describing people who claim allegiance to the Prophet Mohammed but pay little or no attention to his teachings or to those of his legitimate followers.

As long as they continue to “sow discord” and “crush people and things under their feet” by such brutal means, let’s call them DAESH. And do so precisely because they hate it!

Uncle Sam’s Racism

August 22, 2016

“You know what encourages this?” said Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin in his explanation of the cause of riots in Milwaukee and other cities, “The growth of the welfare state. These are underclass behaviors. Seventy percent of the kids born in Milwaukee…are born without an engaged father in their life.”

“So I look at the progressive policies that have marginalized black dads. They push them to the side and say ‘you’re not needed.’ Uncle Sam is going to be his dad, he’s going to provide for these kids, he’s going to feed the kids. Uncle Sam has been a terrible father.  Uncle Sam does not love these kids. He might keep a little food in their mouths and that is about it. But we all know the importance of an intact family, what it can do to shape the behavior of kids.”

Sheriff Clarke is African American.

That very fact caused me to look even more closely at his interview and I found much to agree with. Surely, the decline of intact families in the African American community has done much to foster poverty, hopelessness and crime. It would indeed be a good thing for the black community to do more self-examination, and even self-criticism, about some of the life style choices many have made which have been destructive.

But I refuse to believe that the welfare system, as flawed as it is and as much in need of reform as it may be, is the cause of the problems which beset the African American community in this country and which leads to frustration, anger, and sometimes even violence.

The cause of these problems in white racism. Pure and simple.

Poor educational opportunities, segregated housing (in fact, if not in law), the incarceration of thousands and thousands of young black men (and women) for trivial drug offenses white suburbanites walk away from every day, a skewed justice system from the cop on the beat to the judges on the bench — all these have led to the problems which erupt all too often in black communities.

Uncle Sam was never intended to replace “dad” in the African American household. I find it very difficult to believe that those fathers who have shirked their responsibilities as parents did so because they were so sure “Uncle Sam” would put food in their kids’ little mouths. Or that they would come rushing home to coach Little League if this country decides to take back that little scrap of food we have shared through our admittedly less-than-effective welfare system.

So, let’s continue to work on reforming the welfare system so that it provides assistance to those who really need it and weed out some who may indeed take advantage of it and provide support and training for those who may have, intentionally or not, become dependent upon it over time.

But our primary work needs to be the hard one of healing our land of the individual and systemic racism which pervades America and which, alone, is the root cause of all that Sheriff Clarke so rightly laments. I am amazed that a responsible African American citizen like him does not see this more clearly.

Even more amazed that he would allow himself to be used by agreeing to an interview by Fox News. Which was in turn cited by that bastion of equality and justice in our land, Cal Thomas, in this morning’s Chicago Tribune.

No, Sheriff Clarke, Uncle Sam’s welfare system is not the cause of black rage. Uncle Sam’s racism is.

 

Saint Of The Darkness

August 21, 2016

The smiling visage of Mother Teresa of Calcutta graces the cover of the most recent edition of the Jesuit magazine, America, to which I subscribe and take pleasure in reading every month. In this edition James Martin interviews Brian Kolodiejchuk who is a Canadian member of the Missionaries of Charity and was the official “postulator” for the canonization of Teresa which is scheduled for next month of the 4th of September.

Brian has also written a number of articles and books on Teresa so I ordered one entitled Come Be My Light which is a compilation of the private writings of this contemporary saint, as controversial as she has become since her death. There are some legitimate reasons to question some of the rather primitive methods and even motives she used in treating and ministering to “the poorest of the poor” even when her Order had received more than enough financial support to do things differently, and perhaps better.

Room to wonder about whether or not she glorified poverty for poverty’s own sake in the lives of those for whom she cared and had no choice about their poverty and not just in her own life and the life of her Sisters which was voluntarily chosen. But one thing which has caused consternation in the minds of many of her followers and which is clearly revealed in her letters is the deep darkness which plagued her for many years and the nearly absent sense of the presence of God throughout most of her active ministry.

So many today throw about the term “dark night of the soul” to describe periods of doubt and spiritual dryness we all go through from time to time. But experienced spiritual directors recognize that this is a trivialization of the phase (made famous by St. John of the Cross).

Rather than seeing such an experience of darkness as something to be “fixed” or lived through, we need to recognize that this may be the final stage of growth in holiness when physical, mental, or even spiritual “consolations” (experiences of the Divine) seem withdrawn but are actually no longer necessary because the one growing in holiness is virtually in the Presence of God all the time with no need for “reminders” or “glimpses” of the Holy One which the rest of us need simply to carry on.

This is not to minimize the pain that this darkness can cause for those who experience it. Often, they long for the “simpler” times in which they seemed to experience God more closely and predictably. But those, like Mother Teresa, who persevere in their spiritual disciplines and in carrying out their active ministries, even with no such consolations, are models for us all to “keep on keeping on” even when the life of faith becomes rough.

Far from disqualifying her for sainthood, the Roman Catholic Church has recognized that the anguish expressed in her letters and other private writings to spiritual directors and confessors was simply testimony to how closely she walked with Jesus who himself knew desolation and darkness even on the day of his death. “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?”

Few have understood that cry better than the one who will soon be known as “Saint Teresa of Calcutta.”

“Old Florida:” Just About Gone

August 17, 2016

I sometimes feel like Carl Hiaasen when I drive around my home state of Florida. Carl is, of course, the wildly funny and wickedly perceptive columnist for the Miami Herald who also writes satirical novels about the rape and exploitation of the state we both love. I think he lives somewhere in the Keys now, but was born in Plantation, Florida when it was still a rural suburb of Fort Lauderdale.

Both he and I know something of how beautiful this state was before it was ruined. Hiaasen went to Emory University (where I was first accepted into a college) but graduated from the University of Florida (where I actually went…and graduated!). He even once wrote for Cocoa Today, the local newspaper in the town where I served as parish priest in for nine years in the Eighties. So, we have a lot in common, except that he is a much more successful writer than I am!

But we both share a love/hate relationship with this maddening state. As Susanne and I drove west on Interstate 4 this week, from Daytona to Sarasota, we found ourselves in bumper to bumper traffic through Orlando (to say nothing of massive road construction and a tropical thunderstorm like I haven’t experienced since I lived here!). The traffic congestion stretched from Altamonte Springs to just southwest of the Disney project (for those who know the area). And it happened almost exactly the same coming back east as when we drove west two days earlier!

But it’s not just the growth and development. It’s how that growth and development have happened. Little or no regard to the environmental consequences of such massive building efforts (about which Hiaasen writes so scathingly). And, of course, with millions of retired folks who moved here at least partially because there is no state income tax and who vote repeatedly against raising any kind of taxes at all, there is no way to build adequate infrastructure to handle the huge population. They are way behind and trying to play catch-up.

So, there are road problems, water problems, rampant destruction of coastal dune lines and natural barriers to the surging tides. All this to make way for the massive condominiums which block access to, and even the view of, the Ocean or Gulf — it doesn’t much matter which side of the state you’re on. The story is pretty much the same. It is only sheer chance (or maybe complicated factors related to climate change) that has kept Florida out of the cross-hairs of a massive hurricane in recent years.

When that, inevitably, happens lots of those condos will disappear from the beaches and, as an old salt once put it, “It will look like barnacles being scraped off a piece of driftwood by a sharp knife!” Poetic, don’t you think? However, in my worst moments, I must confess to a petulant “It’ll serve them right” attitude. (Of course, I hope these wealthy residents will heed the calls for evacuation first!)

So, why do I still hope to have a place back down here some day? I suppose mostly because of happy memories growing up here and of what it was like to live even in Orlando before the days of Disney. A middle sized town dotted with scores of fresh water lakes good for swimming, boating and fishing. Rows and rows of citrus trees — grapefruit, orange, and tangerine — stretching over the hills west of the city (now, of course, replaced with rolling hills of tacky little houses, most of which look just like one another). An Episcopal diocese which used to be one of the healthiest in the South and which I was proud to serve.

So, I ask again, why do I still hope to have a place back down here some day? Besides the nostalgia, there are still moments beside and within the pounding surf; the comforting sight of a typical Florida forest (or yard) combining palm trees, live oaks, azaleas and poinsettias; fresh grouper that will melt in your mouth (whether or not it is stuffed with crab!); and the discovery, every so often, of “old Florida” where once simple people of little or no means lived and enjoyed a tropical paradise, hoping that tourists would keep coming and leave their money — but would just as quickly head back up North and leave the care and management of the state to those of us who actually cared.

Of course, they didn’t. They moved here — at one point to the tune of 1,000 persons a day, moving into the state to LIVE, not simply visit — and now they are in charge. They own the corrupt politicians in Tallahassee and see absolutely no reason to take on Big Sugar or Big Construction or Big Drugs all of which are destroying the very environment they claim to desire.

Maybe if I ever do get a place back down here some day, I can get involved with folks like Carl Hiaasen, environmental groups, and responsible politicians who are calling attention to, and combating, these corrosive elements in Florida society.

At least we can go down fighting.

 

 

 

Dad’s Birthday

August 13, 2016

Well, he’s 95 so I expect some slowing of speech and forgetfulness and repeating things I’ve heard many, many times before is to be expected. He is actually amazing, living independently although in a retirement center near our adopted hometown of Daytona Beach. Up until a recent fall, he was still driving and he still hasn’t given up hope of regaining that privilege once the fractured hip heals.

Like so many fathers and sons, we had a complicated relationship over the years. The “greatest generation,” at least the men, just never quite learned how to show affection to their sons. And I’m not sure the World War II B-24 bomber pilot ever quite forgave his son for opposing, and opting out of, the Viet Nam war. (Although he categorizes all war as “stupid” these days!).

He’s become much more demonstrative in his old age. Hugs and even the occasional kiss are becoming easier for him and it’s good to hear “I love you” even though it took a lot of years to get there. He misses his beloved “Maggie” desperately and frequently says that no one should live to his ripe old age. “Twenty years to grow up and get educated; twenty years to climb to the top of your ability professionally; twenty years to enjoy it; twenty years of retirement. That should be it! Die at 80. Eighty-five tops!”

I tend to agree with him (after all, the Psalmist says “Three score years and ten; perhaps in strength even eighty”) but as I often remind him: It’s not up to us. Of course, I hope he won’t linger for too long once those amazing powers of determination and grit start to fade away. But, I must say, the last decade or so has brought some much-needed tenderness to a relationship which lacked that for too many years.

It was good for us to be here for his birthday. Don’t know how many more there’ll be (though I’m pretty sure there will be some). I’m thankful for all that he gave me. And, whether he fully appreciates it or not — he’s still giving.

Sand In My Shoes

August 9, 2016

Although I was born in South Carolina, we moved to Florida when I was nine. I grew up in pre-Disney Orlando and in Daytona, went to the University of Florida and, after seminary, served Central Florida congregations for sixteen years before being elected Bishop of Iowa.

So I consider myself a Floridian if not really a Native, since my formative years were spent here. We are at a vacation cottage on South Daytona beach we have rented before and this blog is being written on the back patio pictured above.

Saying my morning prayers in the soft light and air of early dawn, walking a little later on the beach with Susanne, and anticipating fresh grouper for lunch at the best seafood joint on the beach, I know that I will always have “sand in my shoes as the Natives say.

I fell in love with Iowa — with the church there, the people, the changing seasons and colors of Iowa farmland, so rich and so fertile. I like the rough and tumble grassroots politics, the unpretentious and honest people, and the Mississippi River culture. I don’t anticipate ever leaving my adopted state.

But, now that I’m retired, you can bet there will some increasing snowbird time in the sunshine state, hopefully in “old Florida” far from the overdeveloped condo culture so pervasive these days. Because…

I still have sand in my shoes!

 

 

 

 

The Son of Man is Coming at an Unexpected Hour!

August 7, 2016

One of the great privileges I have had in my ministry has been the opportunity to visit several Anglican dioceses in Africa. During my time as Bishop of Iowa, of course, I visited our companion Diocese of Swaziland several times. When I was the ecumenical officer for the Episcopal Church, I was able to travel to the Diocese of Cape Town, South Africa, and once accompanied the Presiding Bishop to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

I had, of course, heard of the rapid growth of Christianity in Africa and of the vibrancy of these new Christians’ faith, even in the face of war and persecution. Now that the Diocese of Iowa also has a companion link in South Sudan, we are even more aware of the terrible events in that new nation and share their sadness and deep concern – for our friend, Bishop Samuel Peni and for so many others there.

Of course, one of the reasons for the vibrancy of the Christian faith in parts of Africa is that it is so new to so many. While European missionary work has been going on in Africa since the 19th century and, of course, northern Africa has an indigenous Christianity which stretches back to the earliest days of the church’s life, nonetheless millions have been converted to Christ in the last few decades.

So, when you experience the church in Africa, it’s as though the Christians there are actually living The Acts of the Apostles, complete with massive conversions, reports of healings and exorcisms and, of course, the persecution which looks for all the world like what the early Christians went through at the hands of the Roman Empire! And one thing you can’t help but be impressed with is the excitement and even the urgency with which they practice the Faith.

I was reminded of that when I read today’s Gospel…where Jesus says, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet…blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes. (And) know this: if the owner of a house had known at what hour a thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Luke 12 passim)

We have here two ways of describing how Christians should remain on the alert for what we call “the Second Coming” of Christ or “Judgment Day.” The first: how servants should behave when their boss is away – they should keep working, be good stewards of what has been entrusted to them, and be ready for the master’s return. The second image: how a homeowner should remain vigilant all night long, lest his house be broken into – since burglars don’t usually call for an appointment before they show up! You have to be alert!

Jesus’ point here, of course, is that we only have so much time to get our work done here on earth. That argument was particularly compelling in the first century when Christians expected the Second Coming of Christ to happen very soon. From what we know of the early church, some Christians used this as an excuse not to work at all. I mean, why bother if Jesus is going to show up tomorrow.

St. Paul, in his letters to the Thessalonians, and Luke in sharing Jesus’ metaphors in this Gospel, take the opposite view. If he’s coming back soon, get busy! New Christians, like those I met in Africa, often have that same sense of urgency because they (like the Seventh Day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses and some Pentecostal groups) still look for Jesus to return at any moment.

It’s harder for Western Christians, like ourselves, who have long since made peace with the fact that it may be a long time until Christ’s Return, harder for us to keep that sense of urgency. But let me tell you, my beloved, as one who lost his first wife to an unexpected heart attack at the age of 54; and as one now married to a woman who lost her eldest son during his first days in college in a tragic climbing accident, I can tell you for a fact: We never DO know the day or the hour!  God might not yet be ready to judge the earth. But you and I might meet our Maker on the way home from church this morning!

You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour! We still need to have the urgency and the sense of purpose those early Christians had, as our sisters and brothers in Africa still have! For it is our hope and our expectation that Jesus Christ will one day judge both the living and the dead – as we say every Sunday in the Nicene Creed — so let’s be good stewards of whatever time we have left! Let’s get busy! Busy doing what? Our Lessons from Scripture today tell us:

From Isaiah:   Get busy and cease to do evil, get busy learning to do good; get busy seeking justice, get busy rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan, pleading for the widow. Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 1)

From the Psalmist: “I do not accuse you because of your sacrifices, your offerings are always before me…Whoever offers me the sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me, but those who keep in my way will I show the salvation of God.” (Psalm 50)

And, from the book of Hebrews: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. ” (Hebrews 11:1)

In other words, as we live our lives day by day, as we await the Coming of Christ or even the completion of our own journeys here on earth, we are to (as the Methodist founder John Wesley is reported to have said) “do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, for as long as you ever can.”

So, we are not only to offer God the sacrifice of thanksgiving here in the Eucharist each Sunday but to offer sacrifice by walking in God’s ways every, single day.  And we are to keep the Faith, like our ancestors did, no matter how bleak things may appear or what challenges we may face.

Be dressed for action, dear friends, and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return…You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour!

 


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