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Friday, March 14, 2014

Jesus, helping us lose our religion

“Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk

and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you…

Abram went as the LORD directed him.”

It seems to me that among the key things in the lectionary complex of readings for Lent 2A is the connection between trust in God's will and our experience of God's mercy in the past and thus our hope for experiencing God’s mercy again in the future. We need to hear the gospel story of the transfiguration in the context of all of Matthew, but also in the context of Abram and Sarai being asked to leave Ur, and the psalm which asks that God's "mercy be upon us" (because and therefore) we place our trust in (God.) There is a transformation of the very nature of God being suggested by the road that leads to the cross. The apostles have yet to be disabused of their expectation of a military messiah. The cross itself will be the only way they can come to understand this, and until it happens, they will want no part of that horror, and Peter has just tried to disabuse Jesus of his crazy vision of approaching death.

"Listen to him," the voice in the cloud is saying. The transfiguration narrative is always an inclusio between "predictions" of the passion, and really needs to be heard that way, even though the lectionary excises the pericope from its context. Lent becomes its context, and the cross and the mystery that it reveals have everything to do with baptism and the community that is marked with the cross. The possibility that the “human being (son of man),” the “servant of God,” and the “messiah” might be one and the same, and that they might not be anything like what was (or is) expected, had perhaps been internalized by Jesus between his baptism and the early days of his mission, and that reality had to be visited upon the twelve and eventually upon all the disciples, whose perception of Jesus must have been colored by their own expectations and prejudices.

The responsorial psalm’s refrain, “Lord, let your mercy be upon us; we place our trust in you” suggests to me that, when we are called to leave for a new place (the reign of God is exactly that; its geography is the same as the one we have now, but the "government" is radically different), or to face down those who opt for the Roman reign and who therefore oppose the establishment of God's reign, one needs all the strength that a community (e.g., Peter, James, John) and tradition (e.g. Moses & Elijah) can give us, and in that context alone one can hear the voice that reminds us of who we are, "beloved child.” Knowing that God is trustworthy is one thing—but death and the wrath of Rome are no less fearsome.

Before that gets sounding like I’m talking all about the past, let me just say that we in the Church need to be disabused about a few things religious also. I know I sound like a Johnny-One-Note about this, but we have been in bed with power since at least he time of Charlemagne. After it became legal and not lethal to be a Christian, once the Roman empire became our "friend," we were converted to it. In other words, the exact opposite thing happened to the gospel. The empire was still relentless, it still was a thing of barely controlled violence, it’s just that Christianity was wielding the sword, rather than being beheaded by it. The gospel, thank God, endures; the word of the Lord, the word of peace and justice, of equality and healing, of the cross and resurrection, cannot be put to death even by history. The gospel, and particularly Lent, in which those words, “Repent and believe the gospel” are enshrined in rite and spirit, keeps calling us to choose the reign of God over the reign of Caesar which is now (as it was in the beginning) so tight with religious leadership in this country and in the world.

In a real way, then, I think (and this is almost explicit in the 4th Sunday of year A, in the narrative of the Sabbath healing of the man born blind) that Jesus calls us to lose our religion, or, in a way of expressing it that might be more acceptable to some, to become practical atheists when the dominant religion of our culture is actually idolatry masquerading as truth. The name of God is still unpronounceable! God is still beyond our knowing, and the only insight we have into the nature of who God might be is Jesus Christ, and him crucified, the image of the invisible God. Like Peter, James, and John, we need to be disabused of god who is on “our side” and in whose name we can bomb “evildoers” in other lands back to the stone age. We need to be disabused of a god who lets us let certainty masquerade as faith. We need to be disabused of a god who lets walls and laws and suburbs to be built to keep other people out, down, and bound by poverty, disease, and disenfranchisement.

Listen to him. In short, I think that these readings are more about vision and solidarity than about the "retreat (peak) experience" we so often hear on Lent 2. Our experience of vision and covenant enlighten the cross, and give us insight into the paschal mystery of God, which is the mystery into which we are baptized, and into the depths of which this Lent wants to lead us. God is agape, God is life-given-away, life completely given away, which is the only way to life without boundaries. Rich and poor alike need to be disabused of our desire for what fails to satisfy, those elusive if tangible assets that take God’s place in our desire. Being in bed with power and money is not the same as succeeding in bringing the reign of God among us. It is the voice that calls us “beloved child”, that calls each and every person, all persons, ever, “beloved child,” and in that calling prompts us to treat one another as brothers and sisters, that is the true voice of God. If any other voice has us in its power, however suave, scripture-quoting, or comforting it may be, it is a satanic voice, the lie of an idol, and it’s time to lose our religion.

These are the songs we are doing at St. Anne’s on Lent 2:
Gathering: Be Thou My Vision (...and not because of St. Paddy's on Monday either. Coincidence.)
Psalm 33: Haugen (Gather)
Preparation: Covenant Hymn, or Open My Eyes (Manibusan, OCP)
Communion: Christ Be Our Light
Recessional: We Are Marching (Siyahamba), or Jerusalem, My Destiny

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