Archive for Despair

Anteresurrection Hope

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , on April 27, 2019 by timtrue

Delivered at St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church in Temecula, California on Good Friday, 2019.

John 18:1—19:42

1.

What must it have been like for his disciples?

They’d just witnessed their leader so anguished in prayer that he sweat blood.

They’d just watched, powerless, when Roman police came and arrested him, betrayed by one of their own.

One disciple, we know, didn’t like that feeling of powerlessness, that impulsive disciple, Peter; so he tried to do something about it. He took out his sword and—Take that!—cut off someone’s ear.

But Jesus stayed Peter’s hand; and, rather than allowing Peter to lead a charge in his defense, said Peace and reached out to the injured man and healed him.

What! Was Jesus actually that committed to nonviolence? Would Jesus not even allow his disciples to defend him?

Powerless, they watched as Jesus was tried, stricken, sentenced, condemned, and crucified.

Powerless!

What must have been going through their minds?

In the end, was Jesus just too idealistic?

But he’d turned tables upside down! He’d changed water into wine! He’d healed a man blind from birth! He’d raised Lazarus from the grave! They’d seen it all first-hand.

Still, now, there he was, before their eyes, raised up on a wicked device of torture, made an example of what becomes of rebels and revolutionaries who dare to defy the dominant system, the Pax Romana.

And he gave up his spirit.

It had all come to nothing.

Powerless.

2.

Spoiler alert: we know where this is going.

And that’s our temptation: to look ahead, to where it’s going, and proclaim hope on Good Friday. In fact, this is why we call it good: hope because we know where it’s going.

But the disciples did not know.

So, what if we dwell with the disciples tonight? What if we put ourselves in their shoes of powerlessness, of second-guessing, of fear? Is there any hope we can draw from their pre-resurrection Good Friday perspective?

They’d witnessed Jesus resisting the dominant powers—both political and religious—always without violence. He’d practiced an unusual third way, without reacting or resorting to the powers at work in the world around him. We hear “fight or flight.” But Jesus did neither.

Is there hope here?

Today we call it nonviolent resistance. And many people think it doesn’t work. The answer to school shootings, some argue, is to arm teachers with guns. Fight violence with violence, they say.

But Martin Luther King said differently, “Violence begets violence”; and we all know his nonviolent resistance actually got somewhere. Civil rights have come a long way in the last fifty years, thanks to his nonviolent resistance.

So, returning to tonight’s Passion narrative, see what happens.

When Jesus says, “I am he,” his opposition falters. Did they flinch? I don’t know. What I do know is that here is some kind of nonviolent, otherworldly power going forth from Jesus.

When Peter cuts off Malchus’ ear, Jesus says Peace and heals him. Again, nonviolent, otherworldly power.

And when Pilate says he has the power to let him live or die, Jesus explains that Pilate knows little of true power, that his view—the world’s view, “might makes right,” the Pax Romana—is convoluted.

It seems to me that the disciples on that Good Friday so long ago have more than enough information to see what Jesus is getting at: that the way of the world is power through domination, hierarchy, and violence; and that the way of Jesus is nonviolent resistance to these powers.

That’s not powerlessness. Rather, that’s turning over tables: the tables of domination, violence, and injustice. Or, as we learn from the book of Acts—once the disciples put two and two together—that’s turning the world upside down.

To turn established systems of domination on their heads? Why, that sounds a lot like the kingdom of God Jesus kept mentioning while he was alive with us!

The kingdom of God, lived out before their eyes!

With those early disciples, we have much reason to hope on this Good Friday.

Remembering William Temple

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , on November 6, 2014 by timtrue

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John 1:9-18

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

I wonder, did it feel like the very Word of God was dwelling among us a hundred years ago, when the so-called Great War was beginning?  Maybe this would be the war to end all wars, some people thought.  But was there any hope at all in this thought?

What about a quarter-century later?  I wonder, did it feel like Jesus was at all present with us here on earth then, when another worldwide war began?  Was there any dignity at all in that notorious Kaiser Adolph Hitler?  Did even a vestige of hope remain in humanity then?

The Bible says that the Word of God, Jesus, the Christ, had come and dwelt among us.  But where was he now?

William Temple was born in 1881. This means he was 33 years old a hundred years ago, when World War I began.  He died in 1944, shortly before the end of World War II.

Yet—despite the fact that he had seen the worldwide rumblings that started two world wars—William Temple maintained a personal hope in humanity until his dying day.  This is because he truly believed God’s Word; he believed that God’s Word had once become flesh and dwelt among us; and he believed that God’s Word, Jesus Christ, continued to dwell among us in the flesh.  Despite tyranny!  Despite unbridled violence!  Despite genocide!

William Temple believed that the heavenly kingdom had indeed come to earth with Christ—that heavenly city, whose foundation is justice and whose law is love—despite the wickednesses he experienced all around him in his life.

And his was no foolish optimism.

Ever hear the term “Cradle Episcopalian”?  William Temple was the quintessential cradle Anglican.  He was born when his father, Dr. Frederick Temple, was Bishop of Exeter.  Young William was baptized at Exeter Cathedral when he was 22 days old.  When William was fifteen, his father was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.

To say he grew up in the Church is a gross understatement.  He knew the Church’s place in the world—and what it could effect.  Perhaps that is why he found himself Bishop of Manchester by the time he was 40, Archbishop of York at 48, and the Right Reverend Archbishop of Canterbury himself at 61.

Through his life and career he developed and maintained a passion for social justice that was deeply rooted in the incarnation of Christ.  Jesus Christ lived and dwelt among us; and as a result, Temple wrote, “the personality of every man and woman is sacred.”  Every man and woman—including Adolph Hitler!  (Tough one to swallow, eh?)

But this reminds me of our Episcopal theology, from our baptismal covenant (said this past Sunday at the 9am and 11am services): the celebrant asks, “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”  And the people—we—answer, “I will, with God’s help” (BCP 305).

With this commitment to the Incarnation, Temple was a key player in establishing COPEC, the Conference on Christian Politics, Economics, and Citizenship, in 1924 (between the wars); and the Malvern Conference in 1940, to reflect on social reconstruction needs in Great Britain following World War II.

May William Temple be a shining example to us of incarnational faith in Christ despite whatever harshnesses we see in our world!

2014 Lent 34

Posted in Lent 2014, Reflection with tags , , , on April 12, 2014 by timtrue

Auschwitz-hope_after_terror

Psalms 42, 43

Both these psalms from today’s lectionary selection end identically:

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?”

In our day, when someone is diagnosed with clinical depression we turn to meds.  It is hoped that the meds will serve a therapeutic purpose, that the patient will only need the meds for a time until getting his or her chemistry back into balance and can then return to a life without them.

But what did people do 2600 years ago?  Apparently depression affected people then as it does today.  Just read the other words of these psalms.  They are riddled with sadness, gloominess, and melancholy.  They suggest despair, or hopelessness.

For that matter, how did people deal with depression a hundred (or two hundred) years ago?  Artists like Frederic Chopin, Edgar Allan Poe, and Erik Satie come to mind.  Depression affected their creations, surely.  But did creativity help them cope?  Maybe depression merely fostered their creativity; but creativity did little to alleviate depression.  I don’t know.  (What I do know, though, is that Hector Berlioz, another depressed composer, turned to opium, a “med” of the nineteenth century.)

Meds help people cope, certainly.  And so one argument fully supports their administration and use.

But, on the other hand, are meds the only way to cope?  Are they the best way to cope?  A Beautiful Mind, the Ron Howard movie from several years ago, suggests that they’re not.

Wherever you find yourself in this discussion–which ranges from seeing pharmaceutical companies as part of corporate and bureaucratic conspiracies, on one side of the spectrum, to blaming vaccination abstainers for potentially widespread fatal contagions, on the other, and a whole slough of (more accurate) interpretations across the middle–many people continue to suffer from depression and are struggling to cope with it.  And the general consensus is that today’s percentage of sufferers is higher than ever.

Turning the corner a bit, let’s talk about the future.  It’s not a rabbit trail; I’ll tie it in shortly.

The thing is, there’s a lot of talk in our day and age about living in the moment, being present, and all that.  Vision, planning, thought toward tomorrow, and all that kind of stuff makes a lot of people uncomfortable.  We should plan for retirement, sure.  But retirement worries us, for what if it won’t really work out?  And what if there’s no Social Security for me when I get there?

Again, we should plan out our wills.  But who really wants to plan for her own death?

And then, if you follow along with the apostle Paul’s apocalyptic reasoning, it’s easy to find little value in the future: the world can seem like it’s going to hell in a hand basket (whatever that means!).

Shouldn’t we therefore just enjoy what we have today, what we’re certain of in the here and now?

This sort of thinking has its place, sure.  But my point is, the future often makes us uncomfortable.  For we worry about what-if scenarios, scenarios that likely will never happen; and thus we bring fear upon ourselves needlessly.

But an optimistic view of the future changes things up a bit, yeah?  What if (here’s my what-if scenario . . .) you have something to hope in, or to hope for?

We say we hope in God.  But what does this mean?  It needs to be more specific, like we hope in God, that God will make all things right in the end, for God is sovereign.  (This might not be your belief.  But for those who believe it, it’s golden with respect to hope.)

Anyway, it strikes me that depression is a present state of hopelessness.  Looking to the future optimistically, even if it means finding only the smallest possibility of hope, is an antidote to depression.  And yes, it might be a very diluted antidote.  But it’s something, a beginning, a foothold to begin scaling the tall wall out of the pit you’re in.  Fight despair with hope.

But that’s not the whole ending–of the psalms, I mean.  Both these psalms end the same way, as I mentioned at the start of this post.  But I quoted only the first half of the final verse.  After asking why his soul is so cast down and disquieted within him, the psalmist concludes with these words:

“Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.”

Every soul needs hope.