Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2,8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8
WASTEFUL WAITING. [i] “What are you waiting for?—a funeral?” is what my partner Fran asks me when my frugality twitches threaten to get out of hand. There’s an element of wasteful waiting in my frugalities, but let’s move on to more substantial wastages. [ii] There is the third steward, for example, in the parable of the assignment of talents. Unlike his colleagues he fails to redeem the time between the departure and the return of his boss. He wastes his time of waiting. [iii] Then there are the misers. They wait simply for the accumu- lation of monetary resources. They invest the meaning of their lives in that accumulation for its own sake; it’s doing no good to anybody, including themselves: an archetypal example of wasteful waiting.
CARPE DIEM WAITING. The meaning invested in this “seize the day” waiting is to fill the time remaining to you as pleasantly, or as idly, or as what you take to be self-fulfillingly as possible, maybe throwing some money every now and then at one’s favourite charities. This seize-the-day waiting for the end is all very well for those with the resources to indulge it, even in a modest occasional way, like myself for instance—but what about the poor caught in a grinding cycle of deprivation, having to choose every month between feeding and clothing their children adequately and paying the rent? Or the margina-
lized handicapped living with questions of what happens when their parental caregivers die or themselves become incapacitated? Or those alienated First Nations people who feel like exiles and refugees in their own country? There seems to be a lot of wasteful carpe diem waiting going on.
SKEWED WAITING. [A] One kind of skewed waiting has basically to do with the problem of how to keep a revolution going—in our case the Jesus-revolution—going How do you keep it from devouring its own children, as so many revolutions have done? When “Peter” [quotation marks as a reminder that of course this author is not the apostle Peter] was writing his letters Jesus-followers
were beginning to realize that the second coming—apocalyptic convulsions and all—was not just round the corner; they needed help adjusting to a situation that included an element of waiting if not indefinite postponement.
Some were, understandably, impatient for the Day of the Lord to arrive. Many such folks, with various motives, are with us still: think of the continuous parade of prognostications of THE END, of the obsessive ransacking the book of Revelation trying to decode its apocalyptic puzzles. Jesus, remember, is portrayed in the gospel narrative as rebuking his companions quite sharply for wishing to be let in on when the end-time was due.
Peter is concerned lest prolonged waiting should tempt folk into such new fangled interpretations of the gospel as he (and Paul, whom he cites) understand it, and which new-fangled skewings Paul castigates pretty fiercely in Galations. Peter’s prescribed solution is patience. He reminds his readers
that “with the Lord a thousand years are but a day”—which raises the possibility of a very long postponement indeed. But however long, it should be taken, Peter writes, as a sign of God’s generosity in wishing to allow as much time as possible for everyone, including your selves, to be saved. Also, since the apocalyptic Day of the Lord shall take place—whenever—it behoves the faithful to live exemplary unskewed lives thus avoiding an adverse verdict on an after life Judgement Day. As to an after life, like a lot of contemporary Christians I do not hold with the literal hell of Peter (and of many of our co-religionists) in any scheme of after-life punishments and rewards. The only notion that makes any sense to me at all is from Milton’s Paradise Lost, courtesy of Satan himself. In one of the few moments when he’s not busy nursing his outraged sense of injured merit Satan says, “which way I look is hell, I myself am hell.” Be all that as it may, in our Epistle for today Peter is posing and tackling head on what he, along with Paul before him, takes to be mortally serious matters of skewed waiting.
[B] Another version of skewed waiting might be sub-titled “waiting-in-certainty”. There are variations of this and to my mind each variation has an increasingly strong sense of having God in one’s pocket, of being confident that one knows the divine what’s what. Variation 1 is relatively innocuous complacent immunity from doubt. Variation 2 is creedal affirmations which of course have the effect of defining who’s in and who’s out. Variation 3 is bigotry that has manifested itself not only in some of the truly bizarre pronouncements by the likes of Pat Buchanan and other TV/radio evangelist-fulminators but also, in more than one historical time and place, as a violence capable of rising to and sanctioning even genocide. Of course they have God in their pockets—they have fashioned him in their own image: a lethally vindictive old twirp thundering denunciations when he’s not too busy separating their version of sheep from their version of goats.
FAITH/FULL MEANWHILE WAITING. A major characteristic of faith/full in the meantime waiting is living in a state of negative capability. That term was by the early 19th century poet John Keats in one of his numerous letters to his brother Tom and George. Negative capability, says Keats, ”is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after facts & reason.” I’m sure there many devout Muslims and Jews whose pilgrimages are characterized by negative capability. To help enquire what it is in our faith tradition that makes it more possible to wait in negative capability I recall Jennifer Henry’s very helpful picture in last Sunday’s reflection of living somewhere along the spectrum between Hope to Despair and somewhere along the spectrum between Now and Not Yet. Imagine yourself living in the vicinity of the intersection of a let’s say vertical axis Hope/ Despair, and a let’s say horizontal axis Now/Not Yet. I say “in the vicinity” because Jennifer made it clear that one’s position at any given time in this Illustrative scheme is moveable—sometimes nearer despair than hope for instance. So moveable not fixed, which might well be an early warning symptom of coming down with waiting-in-certainty. Our hope arises out of Jesus’ fundamental insight: the Realm of God is within you. The Now and the Not Yet aren’t an either/or but a both/and. While living with uncertainties, mysteries, and doubts we can take heart from such benchmark visions of a restored Peaceable Kingdom of reconciliation as we’ve just listened to in Isaiah 40, Psalm 85, and 2 Peter 3:13 with it’s wonderful image of justice being right at home. With texts like these we can wait proactively in a faith/full meantime—working for that realm of God that is already within us now and still to come. Being a literary bloke I think again of Milton: his sonnet lamenting his blindness ends with the famous line “They also serve who only stand and wait”. He’s mourning the fact that the loss of his sight has banished him to the sidelines, away from the busy political hurly burly of being a parliamentary secretary at the centre of national policy making. At the same time he sets about dictating Paradise Lost, the most famous and influential epic poem in the English language. Now that is proactive standing and waiting to say the least. He is an inspiring example of faith/full meantime waiting. I’m sure you think of your own inspiring examples. Do not be intimidated by matters of scale: we can do work for the Realm of God both on a small below-the-radar scale and/or invest time, skill, and energy to larger scale efforts, such as KAIROS, for real systemic change where justice is right at home.
I conclude with one of my poems called (ironically enough) “Do Not Wait” that in its own fashion has some relevance to considerations of modes of waiting:
DO NOT WAIT
Do not wait for the Last Judgement
It takes place every day.
The Rapture remains, friends,
in its postponement mode
Do not wait, burn those calories
of anticipation in studying
to pass charity’s unscheduled exams,
her snap quizzes
is beside the point—that point
of seraph-charged mundanity
which serves, any moment, peremptory
summons to its everyday assizes:
next session of this here
this right now
judgement unplanned, irreversible.
Leave those storied sheep and goats,
ambered in their parable, to heaven.
Leave out-of-this-world punishments,
leave ecstasies of the end rumbling and
flickering below apocalyptic horizons.
Attend to the middle of our narrative:
A cup of water given irrigates
whole acres of the scalding sands of hell
A right-hand slice of pizza not knowing
what its left-hand cup of coffee’s up to
will sing among Christ’s loaves and fishes
Give a coat and sweater, hear
Satan’s molars break for gnashing
Charity—we are talking love-in-action—
can be calculated, customary
but in good faith,
can be as regular
as seasons but true
can be impulsive—
even to stepping on some toes
of self-esteem—but genuine
Spare some compassion
But no sympathy or credence
for that cheap exsanguinated sneer
just a bleeding heart
a heart that remembers how to bleed
is a heart still living, beating
apocalypse is now, yes now, yes now
(p.168-9, Affordable Wonders, 2011)
Advent Sermon by Jennifer Henry
I met Bishop Sofie Petersen at the World Council of Churches Assembly in Busan. An Indigenous woman, the Lutheran Bishop of Greenland, she is rooted in the challenges and experiences of her community and spiritually wise. I had the delight of listening in on an animated discussion between Bishop Sofie and National Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald, former Bishop of Alaska, about the delicacies of Arctic foods I could not even imagine. Bishop Sofie wants us to know that two of her churches need to move because the permafrost is disappearing in her country, foundations “bowing and bending”, the churches cannot be saved. Hunters and fishermen are being dramatically affected by extreme weather. The shrimp population is decreasing and hungry polar bears are showing up in towns. She, on the frontlines of climate change, begs us to see what’s coming everywhere: stay awake.
Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18 Psalm 90 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 Matthew 25:14-29 (Homily for November 16th)
Building One Another Up
The Parable of the Talents (or Bags of Gold in the translation used today–to convey that a talent was a very large sum of money) is a parable that appears only in the Gospel of Matthew, so we encounter it only once every three years in our cycle of liturgical readings. But it’s a well-known Bible passage, so is there a way of approaching it that isn’t cliché? Then I came across what was for me a fresh insight in the analysis of one interpreter. Because of the condemnation heaped on the third servant, I had never considered the point Bernard Brandon Scott makes: that it’s most likely that Jesus’ original audience would have initially identified most strongly with the third servant. The average peasant did not look kindly on wealthy people who multiplied their wealth ‘without sowing,’ i.e., without honest labor. The prudent and just thing to do with one’s wealth was precisely to bury it. Jesus’ audience would have favored the actions of the third servant. [Bernard Brandon Scott, Hear then the Parable, pp. 219ff] They didn’t need an Occupy Wall Street movement to tell them that money under that mattress or buried in the back yard might have an advantage.
Good morning! My name is Areeta and I am a student from Trinity College, doing a placement here at Holy Trinity for the fall semester. It has been a great privilege to worship with you and to participate in the life of this community.
When I read over the passages for today –I groaned internally. Harsh prophecy voicing God’s dissatisfaction, Paul’s concrete description of the Second Coming – topped off with a judgment parable! Each individual piece evokes discomfort – and together they amplify that discomfort.
From what I know of this community, I imagine that I am not alone in these sentiments.
Continue reading Homily for November 9th (Areeta Bridgemohan)
by Michael Shapcott
Sometimes a handful of words in the Bible can be wrenched with violence out of context in order to support a position that is pernicious. Take today’s Gospel reading of the Pharisees trying to trick Jesus. The phrase often plucked out of this little passage is part of verse 21 that most of us know by heart in the poetical language of the King James Version:
“Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”
This story was obviously considered important to early Christians as it is repeated, in somewhat similar form, in Mark and Luke.
Skip forward to Romans 13 and we read, once again, in the good old KJV, ‘let every soul be subject to higher powers’ in verse 1 and the word ‘render’ appears once again in verse 7. In fact, the margins notes in my old and beloved King James Bible has these three phrases next to the first few verses in Romans 13 – Duty to the State, Authority of the State, Duties of Citizenship.
A couple Sundays ago, with the church doors propped open on account of the nice weather, a pigeon wandered in during the Sunday drop-in and discovered we had free food. He was chased out, but kept coming back. Ditto, the next day. Today, he brought two others. Talk about effective evangelism. Unfortunately, the numbers won’t be included in our parochial statistics.
August 24, 2014 Reflection by Beth Baskin
The secret of bringing life into the world
Theme: midwives, & parents in all their forms
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts reveal the truth of God for us in this place and time.
Full disclosure, this is not a carefully exegeted sermon, the form of which I was taught in theological school. This is not a sermon my homiletics professor would hold up as a model for systemic theology. This is a reflection on a passage that spoke to me and begged to have some truths told.
The opinions voiced in this are mine coming out of life experience, quiet time, prayer and reflection which I believe hold some truths that can guide those of us who call ourselves people of faith.
Homily by Bill Whitla Pentecost 6 (Proper 11A) July 20, 2014
Gwenlyn asked me to preach because she said that the readings were difficult—and I knew that was a golden opportunity. Little did I know that the reading from Romans would be cut off half way through [Sherman later reported it had been taken from a 2011 bulletin where the co-ordinator had abbreviated the reading] and the Gospel was completely invisible, having been left out of the bulletin altogether. A challenge indeed. Continue reading Flesh and Spirit
Homily Based on Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
July 13, 2014
Listen! A sower went out to sow.
Some seeds fell on the path and were eaten by birds. Some fell on rocky ground and they never took root. Some were choked by thorns. And some, some fell on good soil, and brought forth more grain than could be imagined.
Well, I am no farmer, not even a very experienced gardener, but it sure makes me wonder about what kinda crazy sower we have here who tosses the seed to fall where it may. Most of it never makes it to harvest time. Today he might be sowing while texting. Continue reading Listen! A sower went out to sow