Archive for Despair

Hope for the Meek

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2020 by timtrue

To be delivered tomorrow at St. John’s Church, Bisbee and St. Stephen’s, Douglas. Both churches are near the Mexican border; one within eyeshot (a mere 10 blocks from the port of entry into Agua Prieta). Because of my twelve weeks with them and my intention to preach one, overarching story over these twelve weeks, I am using the lectionary for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany rather than for the Feast of the Presentation.

Matthew 5:1-12

1.

Last week, we heard about Jesus calling his first disciples and explored just how radical that calling was; and how our call to follow Jesus today is similarly radical.

Last week, also, we contemplated the meaning of evangelism—that part of our call known as the good news.

How are we supposed to proclaim it? What actions are we called to take?

I argued for context: the good news we proclaim and the actions we take are defined, at least in part, by our social and historical contexts.

As I drew my sermon to a close, I stated that our context here in southeast Arizona is defined by a geographic border.

This border is one of the many things that defines each of our lives—ourselves; and our neighbors. That means, when we look outwardly, thinking about the mission Jesus has left for us, the good news we proclaim and the good deeds we do are defined by this border too.

What, then, is our good news? In our particular, border-defined context, what message should we proclaim and what actions should we take to tell this part of the world that Jesus’ Way of Love is alive and well; and that it will prevail?

Just how do we demonstrate God through Christ to the world around us?

Anyway, that was last week.

Today, I want—and the Gospel compels us—to dive deeper.

2.

So, I’ve been reading an eye-opening book over the past couple of weeks by an Arizona man named Todd Miller. It’s called Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security. And, in good journalistic fashion, this book outlines just what the subtitle says.

Climate change is affecting our world. Sea levels are rising. Massive storms, unlike any in recorded history, are predicted. Of the first 16 years of the 21st century, 15 were the hottest on record.

An important corollary to climate change is migration. Because of rising sea levels and the advent of superstorms, people are being displaced from their homes on a massive scale: climate refugees, Miller calls them.

And this massive-scale displacement is not going to diminish any time soon. Rather, given the anticipated rise in sea levels globally, we can expect migration—the numbers of displaced people all over the world—to increase significantly throughout our lifetimes and the lifetimes of our children and even our grandchildren.

At the same time, Miller observes, many of the wealthiest countries around the world—countries with the resources to make them best able to help climate refugees—the U. S., Australia, Iceland, Poland, and several others—are clamping down on their borders.

Do you know that our country’s annual operating budget for border security is over $20 billion? This is in addition to the construction of the wall, with a recently updated price tag of $11 billion.

That’s a lot of money–$20 billion a year!

I wonder how many refugees our country could accommodate with that kind of money, or how much work towards environmental sustainability we could accomplish. . . .

So, anyway, this is where the “Homeland Security” part of Miller’s subtitle comes in.

And this is where his book resonates most keenly with us.

3a.

For, I’m sure we’ve all experienced Border Patrol checkpoints.

For me, it’s never been an issue; maybe for you too.

I drive towards the armed agent in the familiar forest-green uniform slowly, only somewhat conscious of the staggered, decreasing speed limits confronting me every few feet; and, arriving at the booth, I roll down my window and nod when the agent makes eye contact.

At this point the agent usually waves me through with a statement along the lines of, “Have a good day, sir.”

Occasionally it has been a little more involved—like one time on Imperial County Highway S2, the old stagecoach route between Interstate 8 and Warner Springs, California, when an agent engaged me in a more detailed inquiry.

“Where are you coming from,” he asked; “and where are you going?”

After a fairly brief conversation in which I explained I was traveling from Yuma to Temecula, I got the familiar, “Thanks. You have a good day, sir.”

Point being, to a stop, from my perspective it’s always been a polite exchange with never much else; I hardly notice the guns and Billy clubs they carry.

But I’m white—as in Caucasian. And I drive a late model vehicle. And, like it or not, the Department of Homeland Security is allowed to profile people according to race and perceived wealth.

My Border Patrol checkpoint experiences have always been benign.

3b.

However, to a person of color, the Border Patrol checkpoint experience can be downright intimidating, frightening, and even traumatic.

In his book, Miller tells the story of Joshua Garcia, whose “pulse quickens every time he approaches a U. S. Border Patrol checkpoint” (p. 145). Miller explains:

Garcia has done nothing wrong. He is also a U. S. citizen. But he feels that sense of dread . . . Maybe this time, as on many occasions, they would just wave him through. Perhaps he’d be able to continue on his way back to Tucson as the harsh afternoon light softens into dusk. He hopes that is the case, because he has two kids from the youth council with him (146).

As Miller narrates, Garcia and the two youths were returning to Tucson after spending the day in the Tohono O’odham Nation. There are Border Patrol checkpoints on every paved road out of the sovereign nation.

To cut to the chase, that day did not go well for Garcia and the children. Miller continues:

When Garcia lurches ahead and finally reaches the authorities, they just wave him over to a secondary inspection. . . . Garcia slowly drives into the secondary inspection site. He drives to where the armed agents are standing. . . . [when] he hears a forceful, a commanding voice yelling: “Get out of the vehicle!” The voice is urgent, as if there are explosives somewhere, as if there were a bomb, as if someone were in danger (150-51).

So, Garcia and the kids complied; only to be commanded, once they were out of the car, “Get back!”

Then, seeing an agent begin to search through one of the kid’s backpacks, Garcia said, “We don’t consent to a search”;

To which the agent, armed with his Billy club and pistol, briskly walked toward Garcia and shouted in his face, “Get the <expletive> back!”

Eventually, Garcia and the kids were allowed to go on their way. But Miller cannot help but wonder—me too—if the verbal assault traumatized the kids.

And there’s this: I cannot help but wonder if Joshua Garcia is feeling displaced from the land that he and his family for generations have called home—in effect, a domestic refugee.

Fear and violence (or the threat of it) are the means often used by Border Patrol agents to police our borders today.

And if Miller’s predictions about climate change’s effects on migration come true, fear and violence will only increase in the generations to come.

Does this police-state scenario sadden you? Does it leave you feeling—I don’t know—maybe kind of hopeless?

4.

On that note, let’s check back in with Jesus.

Last week he called his first four disciples and set off with them on a mission to proclaim the good news and heal the sick.

And now, here, today, he offers us an example of what it is to proclaim the good news: today Jesus begins to deliver his Sermon on the Mount. And he says:

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
  • Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

And so on.

There’s hope here. And it’s not just some pie-in-the-sky hope, idealistic or imagined. It’s real. As real as the geographic border that defines our southeast-Arizona context!

In fact, we’ve seen hope already, today, in the things I’ve said. You may not have noticed it, but it’s there—if you just look in the right places.

So, to point these out, in the first place, remember that Jesus’ original audience was full of people who were oppressed politically—people like Joshua Garcia. Many of them lived desperate lives, struggling continually to find hope.

In the second place, notice that these beatitudes are in the indicative mood, not the imperative. What do I mean? They’re statements, about the way things are, in the present—not commands; not attributes to which followers of Jesus should aspire (which is how they’re usually interpreted).

In other words, there is hope for those who are presently being displaced by the political machine.

In the third place, recall the ground we’ve covered with Jesus over the last few weeks. There are two conflicting powers at work in the world. One, the Way of Domination, is the way by which the world by and large operates. The other, the Way of Love, is the mission Jesus has left for his followers to do.

Putting these “right places” together then: The Way of Domination may very well be holding us or our neighbors in a position where, like Joshua Garcia, we are poor in spirit, mourning, and meek.

But(!), the Way of Love, a. k. a. the kingdom of heaven, is gradually overcoming the old Way; and thereby, simultaneously, the meek are being comforted: the meek presently are inheriting the earth!

Do you see? When the Way of Domination is at work, people are reviled, made meek, downtrodden, etc.

But when the Way of Love is at work, blessings prevail, hope overcomes despair, the meek—the Joshua Garcias of the world—inherit the earth.

***

The Way of Domination controls our borders through fear and intimidation and violence.

And we are called to respond to this Way of Domination with the Way of Love.

What does our response look like?

Offering meals to asylum seekers camped on the Mexico side of the border?

Yes, no question! And, please, keep up the good work!

But to push back a little, what about offering sanctuary to an undocumented person?

Now it becomes a little more difficult, eh?

Our southeast-Arizona context confronts us with difficult questions. My exhortation to you as a community of Jesus-followers; and especially to the Bishop’s Committee and wardens as you consider leading this congregation through these questions, is this:

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God.

Where we see the Way of Love at work—where we proclaim it and demonstrate it through our actions—there hope overcomes 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.