25 November 2005

It is not then yet...

34th Week OT (Fri): Dan 7.2-14; Luke 21.29-33
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

As we stumble headfirst into our winter of repentance and waiting, Jesus warns us again and again that that which we hope for, that which gives our faith its substance, is coming, and it is bringing with it much trouble. This week alone we have heard Jesus prophesy the destruction of the Temple, describe signs of the end times (“Nation will rise against nation…”), warn the disciples of their impending persecution for his namesake, warn again of the Great Tribulation, the desolation of Jerusalem by foreign armies. And just as it appears that all of creation has fallen to the destruction of the unclean sword, the Son of Man will come in power and great glory! With heads and hands held high, we are to welcome our redemption with rejoicing and sighs of relief.

But it is not then yet. Soon. Jesus teaches his disciples to learn from the fig tree, watch its growth, its blossoming. You know that summer has arrived when the fig tree and all the other trees burst open their blossoms. The winter of repentance and waiting is over then. The signs tell us that our summer of fulfillment and glorification is at hand: the fig tree and all the other trees are heavy with fruiting-flowers; the perfumed air is breathless, knowing the kingdom and its King are near. But it is not then yet.

It seems that we have become accustomed to waiting for the arrival of the Kingdom—waiting on the Christmas Incarnation during Advent and waiting on the Easter Resurrection during Lent—perhaps we are not a “Pilgrim Church on a Journey” after all but rather a “Loitering Church in Waiting.” Perhaps, like the seasons, we move as a Church from peak to peak with anticipation and endure the valleys with patience. There is a great hurry in our waiting, an urgency in our lingering. Can one be patiently eager? Contently edgy? Vibrating with calm expectation?

Yes! To be alive as a child of God, a son or daughter of the Father, is to be quaking with barely contained hope, nearly bursting with an anticipation of glory, fulfillment, and final perfection. We are coiled energy, tightly wound springs of rejoicing, of acclamation, of praise and worship ready to leap, ready to burst free, and proclaim Christ the King, Christ the Savior. We are heirs, sons and daughters, much-loved children, family in Christ and to one another. We come here everyday to be reminded of this. When it is forgotten, so are we.

Persecutions and trials and tribulations do not matter. They will come in their time, and do their damage. They always have. We are promised by Christ that if we preach his gospel, trials and betrayals will follow like spring follows the winter. They are inevitable. A Word of Conversion hurts the ear. It challenges the sacred cows of postmodernity, the untouchable orthodoxies of the secular temple: identity politics, narcissistic spiritualities, cults of violence and persecution, and the tallest totem of contemporary American culture, the unholy trinity of Choice-License-Irresponsibility.

But the fig tree will bloom. So will the oaks and cedars and magnolias. They will come to us as signs, signs to strengthen our hearts and minds to pray and to remember that we are most alive as Children of the Father when we live as His Son lived and rejoice in our salvation with the Holy Spirit. Perhaps with just a little trembling we can look at the devils of our world and say to them: “Bring it on!” It’s just a matter of time now. Just a matter of waiting, knowing the promise of our salvation has been made and fulfilled.

Lift hands and hearts in rejoicing!
The words of our Lord will not pass away!

23 November 2005

Swearing off Jesus...

34th Week OT: Luke 21.12-19
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

If there is a temptation that we must resist now it is the temptation to witness to a gospel that Jesus did not teach. There are lots of gospels floating around out there, a whole pantheon of alien gospels waiting to be proclaimed and preached. We are told that there are hidden gospels waiting to be found, secret gospels waiting to be exposed, encoded gospels waiting to be de-coded, and even suppressed gospels waiting to be liberated from oppressive, phallocentric hierarchies! There are Gospels of Wealth and Health, Gospels of Socio-Political Liberation, Gospels of Self-Actualization, Gospels of Process, Gospels of Earth…there are as many gospels as there are itchy ears to scratch and wandering eyes to entertain.

The temptation for us is to see this circus of competing gospels as evidence of an urbane tolerance for difference, an elegant celebration of diversity in a marketplace of competing spiritualities. We are tempted to swear off Jesus and his gospel for the promise of respectability in a culture that would rather see us just go away. Or, failing that, throw us to the machines of pop religious culture and watch us be eaten alive and slowly digested in the corrosive juices of undifferentiated “religious expression” or “theological plurality.”

But what are the chances that we will be persecuted for preaching a gospel of diversity? Or a gospel of radical inclusion? Or a gospel of openness, acceptance, and affirmation? What are the chances? Zero. Because we are promised that we will be persecuted for preaching the gospel that Jesus preached. Did he preach diversity, radical inclusion, openness, acceptance, and affirmation? Yes. But he preached a gospel of conversion first, that is, he preached that we must first acknowledge our sinfulness in the full light of the gospel truth, make a decision to turn from that sin, come to the Father in his name, receive the forgiveness that we receive in His mercy, and then live lives of holiness as apostolic witnesses.

To make this arduous religious work possible, he died for us. All of us. He took on flesh, suffered, died, and rose from the dead—for us. All of us. He died so that anyone—anyone!—who comes to the Father in his name, repentant of sin, will be saved. That’s the radical inclusiveness of the gospel—the openness of his sacrifice to every tribe, language, people, and nation; the affirmation that every human soul is salvageable, loved; the acceptance of anyone who comes in his name, claiming the Father’s mercy.

As preachers of the gospel of Jesus, we must resist the temptation to sell-out, to give ourselves easily to the machines of pop culture and narcissistic religion. I hesitate to say that persecution is a sign of faithfulness, but you have to ask: if we are loved and celebrated by a culture of death, a culture that glorifies in its laws and customs rebellion against God, then what does that say about our witness? We do not need to drop into some sort of primitive Us vs. Them way of thinking about our culture and faith. But it must be clear to us that the gospel Jesus preached and the gospel that we are vowed to preach unsettles the secular establishment and makes those who would see us co-opted a bit edgy. Jesus says of his gospel and our witness to it: “It will lead to your giving testimony.” What will we testify to? What have we experienced in Christ that must be spoken?

The Good News is that we will not be alone to testify. Jesus says, “I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.”

Thanks be to God for faithful hearts!
Thanks be to God for strong minds!
And Thanks be to God for tongues of fire!