For Times Like These
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
The church was made for times like these because the church was born in times like these.
In today’s first reading, God takes people of faith to court and testifies against them. “O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me!” (Micah 6:3). Like a shrewd prosecutor God examines their actions, recounting the signs of mercy and loving kindness shown to them from generation to generation, searching for a sign that they are living up to who God has called them to be. God has set the same standard for faithful living for everyone: do justice, love kindness, walk humbly.
Christians too are called literally to embody this same tradition. A Latin American prayer asks: “Lord, to those who hunger, give bread. And to those who have bread, give the hunger for justice.” Here God surrounds us with reminders of who and whose we are in the waters of baptism through which we are brought to new life in the word; as we gather around the table to be fed and forgiven through bread and wine. Our spiritual hunger is satisfied and a hunger for justice is kindled. We are sent out blessed and broken to feed the hunger of others as, together, we dwell in the living sanctuary of hope and grace.
The grace of Christ exposes the lie in the ways of the world. We cannot be full while others are hungry. We cannot become wealthy while we empty the land of resources. The greatest power is not the power to control but the power to include. This was the reforming spirit by which people of Christ swam against the tide of greed and Empire in Roman times. Over decades and centuries, including many failures and tragedies, the faith of God’s people inspired laws, institutions and cultural norms: hospitals, schools, and an equal regard for all life. That’s why we may be so bold to say the church was made for times like these because the church was born in times like these.
Twenty years ago (in 1997) Apple Computer invested millions in television, print, billboards and posters counseling people to “Think Different.” “We’re here to put a dent in the universe,” Steve Jobs once said, “otherwise, why else even be here?” In a 1994 interview with PBS called One Last Thing, Jobs explained his revolutionary-rebel theme: “That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it. …Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.” (Daniel Clendenin, Live Different: the Beatitudes of Jesus, Journey with Jesus, February 2014)
Ten years ago (in 2007) Apple introduced the iphone and the world really did change. Of course the deep irony is Apple’s admonition to “Think Different” only lead us into a new conformity. If we really dared to “think different,” would we continue to use Facebook and Twitter, and always have our smart phone?
The fourth century desert monk Saint Anthony (d. 356) commented upon the stark contrast between authentic creativity and group conformity: “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; [because] you are not like us.'”
The Beatitudes we read today (Matthew 5-7) describe a genuinely counter-cultural style of life. In a world of wealth and war, says Jesus, blessed are the poor and the peacemakers. Instead of violence and vengeance, blessed are the mournful, the meek, and the merciful. To live the Beatitudes is to “live different,” as well as to ‘think different’ and to live as one of the true “crazy ones.” Loving our neighbors as ourselves and regarding the resident alien among us as equal to any citizen of our country (as Leviticus teaches 19:18 & 34), sounds almost as radical today as it did in ancient times.
The church was made for times like these because the church was born in times like these. In October of last year Pope Francis said, “It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need of my help… If I say I am Christian, but do these things, I’m a hypocrite.” (Pope Francis, Catholic News Service, 10/13/16)
St. Paul too reminds us today that walking the way of true wisdom is foolishness in the eyes of the world. “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
Like the cross, the beatitudes and the courtroom scene depicted by the prophet Micah makes foolish the wisdom of the world. God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. The wisdom of God exposes the foolishness of human ways.
God does not demand these things from us then leave us to do the impossible all by ourselves. No. God’s spirit dwells in us. God’s grace embraces us in a bond we share that cannot be broken. Though we walk through the darkest valley, God is with us. The guidance and counsel of God directs us. (Psalm 23:4)
So we may remain confident and hopeful in realizing that for the first time since World War II, there are more than 60 million people around the world who have been forced to flee their homes due to war, violence, and persecution. We stand together with God in protest that 15 families including 14 children, who were scheduled to arrive at O’Hare in the next three weeks were stopped. These refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Uganda, were to be welcomed by their co-sponsors and Refugee ONE. Instead, even those granted permanent residents status holding green cards were detained at airports across the country on Friday as they returned to the U.S. from routine trips for work or visiting family abroad.
The church was made for times like these because the church was born in times like these. The beatitudes are not guidelines telling us how to behave—or else. They are Jesus’ promise to be with us in our grief, in our struggles to be faithful, in our longing for a better world. Jesus is with us even in our failures. When everybody else is against us, Jesus is with us when we are derided and persecuted for righteousness sake. Jesus our living sanctuary is here in this place in Word and Sacrament. Jesus is with you as you journey along life’s path in life. There is nowhere you and I can go that is not filled to overflowing with the love and grace of God.