Craft of Preaching

Enmeshed in Light

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Last month, I attend a conference called “The Forgiving Victim.”

James Alison, a brilliant theologian and an unbelievably kind man, led the conference. The short version of what James taught us was that something truly happened when Jesus rose from the dead. Christ tore the old human net of sin and violence and fear competition that bound us. Now, because of him, a new network structures our human interactions. So call it revelation or being born again or epiphany -- once Jesus gets into your bones you begin to ache for kindness, for compassion, and for living as forgiven, and also for trusting -- with the Holy Spirit’s help -- that we can forgive.

This month, I debated about writing a column for January because according to the Mayan calendar and other swashbuckling wannabe prophets, the end of the world was near. There were ten-year-olds having panic attacks over this. Heartbreaking. Besides the usual general anxiety that precedes the Christmas season, we’re all stunned and grieving over the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut; not to mention the gun violence in every corner of our world and malls, the cache of chemical weapons that might be unleashed in Syria, global warming, the fiscal cliff (the media’s word) that is looming, North Korea shooting off missiles, Israel building on the west bank…you know the list.

Do we all have a mild case of PTSD? Many of us live bound by fear, loneliness, anxiety, guilt, and a bit of dread. In response to both the Colorado movie shootings and the Sandy Hook shootings, gun sales rose. How did our nation come to this point where we seriously consider kindergarten teachers packing heat? At the same time, a sense of helplessness, an emotional numbing, has set in like a black fog because what can any one person do? I feel my anxiety rise whenever the cashier at Target asks me “Paper or plastic?” because I forgot my earth-friendly bags in the car. I imagine the ways I’m contributing to that big island of plastic floating in the ocean.

To pour salt on our collective wound, our Advent texts don’t offer much relief, and the American Psychiatric Association in the upcoming DSM-V, the standard diagnostic tool for therapists has determined that grief lasting any longer than two months is considered “complicated” and requires psychological treatment. Nice. In two months, tell the parents in Sandy Hook or the people of Syria or an eighteen-year-old girl who has just lost her mom that their grief is pathological.

Yesterday on NPR’s All Things Considered, I listened to an interview with a pastor who believes that clergy should bear arms during worship services. I don’t want to go there. Sure, if I have a BB gun and you’re an old peach can sitting on the fence, you don’t want to mess with me; I’m that good. Also, I grew up in a gun-toting family and my father felt it was important for me to be handy with either a shotgun or a pistol. But now, I can’t imagine it. It’s not that I discount the power of evil or violence; in fact, Jesus and the cross teach me how very real it is. It’s also far more than turning the other cheek, which has been turned into a moralism of sorts.

It’s just that I believe there’s a new fisherman in town and he’s packing a different kind of net. Christ has untangled all our old, tired, violent, fear-based power structures. He was the first one to tangle himself in our massive collection of human sin. Not only that, he made a three-day house call on the devil, and became the first of all to rise from the dead so that we can live and act, even our hearts beating within this new Jesus promise. Christ, the forgiving, risen victim has revealed to us that God’s love is the only and final word. And, Christ has invited us into this kingdom to play with him.

Last month as I sat in a room where we listened and discussed this forgiving victim, I looked around the room. What I saw were 30 or folks who appeared to be hopelessly introverted in sensible shoes and bad haircuts. If netted by the world’s rules, we were beyond foolish -- weaklings because we all cried easily and couldn’t sustain eye contact. But these are the kind of folks God chooses. When I squinted and tilted my head, what I saw was not only them, but you and me, and all small bearers of God’s word: women who kept their lamps lit, pray-ers for the enemies, believers in a great love, people naked and still in the dark, and people more than ready to throw their nets to the other side of the boat. What I saw was “thy kingdom come,” a people enmeshed with Christ’s forgiving light.

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