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Friday, September 11, 2015

With death all around, a living God (B24O)

...(F)aith of itself,
if it does not have works, is dead.
Indeed someone might say,
“You have faith and I have works.”
Demonstrate your faith to me without works,
and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works. (Jas. 2: 17-18)
"Paul sets Jesus, the Anointed, and Abraham, the father of many nations, in parallel. Both faced a shameful situation, Abraham’s lack of a son and Jesus’ death by crucifixion. Both despite that shame were faithful to God’s promise. Both are life giving: Abraham by the birth of Isaac and Jesus by the resurrection. Both stand in a line of spiritual paternity. Abraham is the father of the nation of Israel through Isaac and of all the nations through Jesus. As John White in his study of Paul’s use of Abraham notes, 'Faith is only an appropriate response to what is the true source of Paul’s theology, his recognition of God’s benevolent power as creator to procreate life out of negative situations, even out of death itself.'" (xxvi). (Scott, Bernard Brandon (2015-04-12). The Real Paul: Recovering His Radical Challenge (Kindle Locations 2322-2327). Polebridge Press. Kindle Edition.)
I will walk in the presence of God in the land of the living. (Psalm 116) – footnote–using the perhaps less-precise previous NAB translation here because of the apparent clash between "walking before the Lord" and the rebuke of Christ to "get behind me" in the gospel. I'm sure that the translators expected the homilist to straighten that out for us, and I'm sure that almost none of them will. If I have to choose between obeying Christ and the homilist, I'm generally going for the former.
It's September 11, Friday before Sunday, and I'm still struggling to put the pieces of what I want to say together.

The "#neverforget" hashtag is ubiquitous today. I'm sure that for many good souls it's shorthand for remembering the goodness of the human toll of the day, the innocent lost in a few horrible moments, the unquestionable selflessness and courage of the first responders who lost their lives in a desperate attempt to help as many endangered souls as possible. And it's also clear that embedded in the hashtag for many is a vow for retributive "justice," vengeance, upon the perpetrators, and apparently upon anyone who looks like them, worships their God, or speaks in the same language group.

But every time I say the Lord's Prayer with my community of worshippers, and by that I mean my small-c church of those who claim Jesus as God's anointed, it's like a prayer that goes off to God with hashtag "#forchrissakeforget", forget the fear, laziness, treachery, and violence of my life—and as a gesture of desperate faith, I'm imitating in advance the forgetfulness I desire from you. I'm forgetting the debts and slights and sins of those who sin against me. And by me I mean all of us, my small-c church and me, and everyone else I know.

I can only use one hashtag or the other. They're mutually exclusive, at least in the secondary way described above, the one that implies vengeance. "'Vengeance is mine' says the Lord," (Rom. 12:19, ref. Deut. 32:35), but the thing is, in Christ, vengeance is forever revoked. The "God who is not like the other gods" is doing something new. Taking all the horror that people impose upon one another in religion, politics, and war upon himself to the grave, God raised Jesus from the dead with no word upon his mouth except "Peace." Forgiveness, seventy times seven times, to an exponent of seventy. God is out of the vengeance business, and into the business of mercy, dialogue, healing, invitation.

Israel saw it coming in the stunning Servant Songs in Isaiah, the third of which is today's first reading. Was there ever so striking a poem about God's favor upon the victim of violence, a God whose power to create ex nihilo could show through the suffering of one the path to freedom for all? James Alison says it best for me:
This is where Isaiah develops the unparalleled and to this day deeply mysterious “servant songs” by which a separation between God and human victim-making, and yet a generous process of being able to occupy the victim space on behalf of others, begins to become imaginable. This leads, in the final part of Isaiah, now called Third Isaiah, to devastating critiques of the religious culture of those who, after the return from exile, were rebuilding the Temple and setting up a new purity religion, full of exclusions. Isaiah is key to understanding the way in which the utter vivacity of the apparently atheist God who is not-one-of-the-gods removes all religious justification from victimizing. Isaiah’s vision is the most central to the development of New Testament Judaism which sees itself entirely within the same working out of the same insight. (emphasis mine) (Alison, James [2013-11-11]. Jesus the Forgiving Victim: Listening for the Unheard Voice [pp. 151-152]. DOERS Publishing LLC. Kindle Edition.)
It is the cross, the gallows of the Roman empire used almost exclusively to make an example of those who challenged the pax Romana, that becomes, by way of Jesus's death, the "sign of contradiction" branded upon the soul of Christianity of God's rejection of violence and embrace of peace and reconciliation as the true civilizing energy of humanity. It is this cross that Jesus took up, refusing to participate in revolution, king-making, or the mechanics either of empire nor collaboration with it. And it is this cross, the cross of faithfulness, of peace, of healing, of enemy-love, of "our Father," to which the gospel, the "good news for the world" of God's peaceful victory, calls us again today and every day.
He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the gospel will save it.” (Mk. 7: 34-35)
I guess all I have left to say about that is: #neverforget.

What we're singing this weekend:

Entrance: The Christ of God (Foley, OCP) or Lead Me, Guide Me
Psalm 116: I Will Walk in the Presence of God (Daigle)
Prep Rite: Only This I Want (Schutte)
Communion: Christ the Icon
Recessional: Glory in the Cross (Schutte, Easter verses)