Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sermon for December 5th 2010 - Flesherton Pastoral Charge

We’ve heard that the people of the time
Had certain ideas about the Promised One,
Thought the Expected One would be born in a palace
Or come down from Heaven on a cloud,
Never expected the Messiah
Would be sent as a baby to people like Mary and Joseph ...
Our question is this:
What is our expectation?
What promise do we hold to our hearts?
Who is this Messiah born to us?
(The Promised One, the Expected One, the Messiah – Ann Weems)

This past week from a conversation about the Russel Williams, the disgraced Commanding Officer of CFB Trenton and his horrific crimes, I found myself revisiting a reflection piece written in 2001 by David Ewart, a United Church Minister in BC. David, offered a theological response to the events of September 11th, and the horrific consequences that unfold that sunny September morning when the planes were flown into the World Trade Centre.

He began with the simple question – what does God do with a dead terrorist?

The common assumption – and indeed, the ideal that many of us cling to in the depth of our being – perhaps not even consciously, is that God would deal with them harshly. They would pay for their actions. They would be punished ...
David doesn’t disagree ... he sees a punishment for the terrorists and their callous and deadly actions ... but it is not the punishment we might first envision.

David writes: “I imagine God will greet each terrosit, and, in a gentle, loving way walk with him through every moment of his life. But with one critical difference. Instead of seeing his life through his own perspective, the terrorist will now see his life from God’s perspective, through God’s eyes; through eyes of love.

Each terrorist will now see each person on the plane, each person in the buildings, each police officer, fire fighter and rescue worker as God sees them: Infinitely precious and dear to God’s own heart. The terrorist’s own heart will now be filled with the same love for these people as God’s own heart ... he will experience, one by one, what each one felt and experienced that morning, moment by moment. Not as an outside observer, but as one living through the experience itself !

And then God will also have him live through the experience of the survivors. The husbands, the wives, the daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, friends – everyone.

In other words, the terrorist will live through hell. Seeing what he has done. Feeling it. Living it. ... Surely, the terrorist would want to fling himself into the eternal torment of hell itself than continue in relation with God – continue to see things through the eyes of God, through the eyes of love. ... He will beg for the pain to stop ...

But there is more in store for the terrorist ... God will then, through love and care strip away all of the old aspects of the terrorist and his life – God will strip him of his anger, resentment, hatred by allowing him to meet and see the transformed souls of those who died that morning ... souls made whole and transformed by the love of God – souls that are forever changed by the fullness of God’s promises and God’s presence ... in that moment the terrorist will stand vulnerable and changed and feeling utterly alone ... because, to quote David - “There is no place in heaven for hate”

Yet, in that moment God will step in and ensure that the terrorist is not alone ... not forgotten ... not unloved ... in that moment – that supreme moment, all the values we so easily speak of when we prepare for Christmas and hear the promises of the prophetic voices like Isaiah’s, the values we affirm when we hear John calling from the wilderness, the values we celebrate when we bring together the hope and dreams inherent in the season – in that moment ALL of those things will bear down fully on the terrorist and his punishment will be complete ... he will not be left in a place of eternal damnation, but instead will be in a place of inexpressible love and care ... a place of boundless and transformative welcome. A place that is the EXACT opposite of the anger and hate too real and present in our world.

As we journey through Advent and hear the promises of God’s new way of envisioning and experiencing the world we are left in a place where the reality of that Kingdom leaves us truly breathless with awe ... things will not be as we expect.

Often though, we hear the promises to Isaiah from a triumphant point of view. We’ll speak of peace from the place of victory on recent battle fields. We’ll speak of justice from a place of luxury and comfort. We’ll speak of righteousness from the comfort of our safe and secure worship sanctuaries.

But events like December 6th’s Ecole Polytechnique, 9/11, the horrors of people like Russell Williams, and countless other events that flash across our media and our minds, challenge us when we hear the words of folks like Isaiah and John and the promises that are very much part of the Christmas narrative ... we are not just talking about the arrival of a cute and cuddly baby, we’re talking about the arrival of God’s chosen one – the expected one – the messiah, the one who’s mission is to transform reality.

Transform reality ... to envelope ALL that is with a boundless and limitless love ... there is no room in heaven, or in the Kingdom of God for hate.

The reality of the Christmas story is that people were expecting a Messiah. They wanted a military leader who could depose the rule of Caesar and the Roman empire. They wanted someone who would arrive with legions of angels bearing flaming swords that would drive the unfaithful into the sea. They wanted something flashy, powerful and awe-inspiring.

So, as the authors of the Gospels sat down and prepared their texts to tell the world about Jesus and what he meant and represented, they chose thier words carefully ... Son of God, was a DIRECT challenge to Caesar who was called “the son of god” ... All of the phrases connected with Jesus – light of the world, saviour, prince of peace, King – ALL of them were about subverting the dominant consciousness of the day.

What we so easily say today – some 19 centuries later – were in their day tremendous statements of defiance against the order of the day.

To call Jesus the son of God, the saviour, prince of peace, the king, the light of the world, was to posit him DIRECTLY in opposition to Caesar and Herod and the other rulers of the day.

The Christmas story was not about just a gentle sweet baby arriving in an idyllic setting surrounded by shepherds and angels and sweet farm animals ... the Christmas Story is about subverting completely and utterly the domestic order – taking the way things are, and recreating reality in a bold new way that simply defies our understanding and ALL that we’ve experienced.

The Christmas Story is about committing to God’s way – this new way – that is all about enveloping creation in love ... what does God do with a dead terrorist? God evelopes them in a transformative love that strips away the hatred and the anger and all that created a heart and soul full of revenge ...

We see glimpses of this in today’s world ... Greg Mortenson, the author and activist who is building schools through the remote and forgotten corners of Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan has witnessed the stirrings of this when he described the bearded mujahadeen warriors playing on monkey bars, slides and swing sets for the first time, and who readily embraced the terms of building schools in their villages providing their schools have the SAME playground equipment.

I’ve encountered it in the writings of people like Greg Paul and Tim Huff, who dare to see and experience and LIVE hope on the streets of Toronto among the marginalized and broken who lurk there on the edges of our awareness – homeless, addicted, frightened and alone ... there in the streets, Greg and Tim and others find the transformative power of love real and present !

We see glimpses of this transformative process when ordinary people do extraordinary things to make their corner of the world a better place ... mittens on a mitten tree ... a cup of coffee with a friend ... putting a present under an angel tree ... a donation of time or resources to a charity ... speaking up or speaking out ... whatever it is – it is the Kingdom of God – the promises that are part of this baby’s arrival that was ALL about changing the way things ARE by directly confronting and subverting the consciousness and understanding of the world ...

The challenge we face in the Advent Season is the realization that the familiar words and ideas that we so easily toss around as we prepare for the coming of the Christ Child, are ideas and concepts that have explosive possibility for our lives, our community and our world.

The ideas behind David Ewart’s “what does God do with a dead terrorist” are where the theological rubber hits the profane road of reality ... welcoming the Christ Child is not just snuggling a meek and mild newborn baby – it’s unleashing the transformative power of God’s love in our world:

(God So Loved the World - pg 76, Kneeling in Bethlehm by Ann Weems)

May it be so, thanks be to God, let us pray ...

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