“Remembering the future” Robin Wardlaw November 24, 2013
Reign of Christ, Year C
Readings: Jeremiah 23:1–6; Luke 1:68–79; (Colossians 1:11–20); Luke 23:33–43
Remember when you had to carry a phone around? Like, it was a separate object, that you could lose, or drop in the sink? Before we got the implants? Remember when planes used to have pilots, and you had to sort of steer your car yourself, and know when to speed up and slow down, and know how to get places? No? Well, it’s a long time ago, so don’t worry. Yah, there was a time when we used to burn oil. I’m not sure—in lamps or something, to make light. Or maybe it was for heating. I don’t remember. We just use it for plastic now. Well, not so much now that we’re digging up old garbage dumps and getting all our new stuff from all that old stuff. People used to just bury stuff. In the ground. Remember that? But it’s good for us, I guess, because it all stayed right there for us to use. And we used to let people suffer and die in poverty, whatever that is.
What will they be saying about us in fifty years, a hundred, a thousand? If you could somehow go back to 1906, to the founding of a mission on this site, and explain to people what was going to happen in the next century, how much would they believe? Bombs filled with gas that melted lungs? Industrialized warfare? A rocket to the moon? Vaccines for diseases, boxes that showed moving pictures in your home, computers, rock and roll?
We can learn from the past. We can hope to leave things for the future better than we found them. But we only get to live in one age, one era. So we try to get our bearings from the examples of others. We try to figure out a way of being in our lifetime that is just, compassionate, creative, sustainable. We hope to have leaders who will help us work together, solve problems, reward the right things, the right people. We hope to be able to give leadership like that when circumstances permit. This is Reign of Christ Sunday, so we’re considering leaders. That’s why we have a picture of the city, too. Reigning over what?
Leaders have a mixed record, according the bible. Some shepherds scattered the flock instead of keeping it safe, keeping it together. Some leaders, challenging everyday violence against people, have met violent ends themselves. What will the future bring by way of leaders? Scatterers, or gatherers? Those who promise much but deliver little, or those who work away quietly, getting results?
Work away quietly at what? For too long, bullies have been in charge. The biggest bullies we call Caesar, emperor, king or queen, or sometimes even president or prime minister. They enable concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a few at the expense of the many. This country was founded by competing European empires and coveted by an emerging North American empire. Many people, many of us, have been hurt by empire. Empire values subjugate anyone who is different—First Nations, women, homosexuals, upstarts—and the environment. Nothing is sacred, really, except privilege. Empires are good at getting groups that should be working together to attack each other. Divide and conquer. You’ve probably heard about the attempt by soldiers of England and Germany to unionize on either side of the trenches when there was a break in the fighting in 1915. It didn’t sit well with the higher ups.
The cost of empire affects us all, even those who are getting most of the benefits of exploitation and violence. Jesus is one of the people who somehow recovered their true citizenship, their true allegiance. He and others say to empire, You’re not in charge, not really. You are not only not worthy of our adoration, you are very bad shepherds. People such as Steve Biko in South Africa and Maude Barlow in Canada, people in the righteous branch tradition pull the curtain back to reveal the ordinary people working the intimidating machinery of fear and control. Empire doesn’t like this. It gets very efficient at silencing, sidelining and disappearing its critics. Tribute must flow. Deference must be given, curtseys dropped, forelocks tugged, knees bent. In this age of democracy, we can’t seem to get enough Downton Abbey, enough lives of the rich and famous, enough celeb worship at the checkout. We need leaders who go about things differently.
The lust to control exists all over, though, not just on the grand scale: friendships, families, organizations, offices and factories, teams, clubs, churches, they can all be tainted, distorted, wrecked by someone determined to dominate. When I left the house this morning, a woman was talking about how her husband, how the fear he created in her controlled her. Slavery is on the rebound—someone controlling someone else utterly, colonizing the mind, the soul. The bible is about liberation for slaves, freedom from fear. That’s the business we’re in: liberation, freedom. If we say Jesus reigns, we’re saying Caesar doesn’t. We say this knowing there will be consequences. We still say so and so was “crucified” to describe an attack on them by the powers that be, even if there is no actual cross in sight.
Living in a situation where one person or group dominates can be bad, soul-destroying. But not in here. Here we create a sanctuary for one another, for anyone, a safe and sacred place where gifts are honoured, people are included and differences dealt with differently. Here, Christ reigns. This is true fifty-two weeks of the year, but we pay special attention to this aspect of our faith at this time of the year, at the conclusion of the church year.
Time to review our lives. Advent is just around the corner. In Advent we await the coming of Christ into our lives and our world. Today we examine our lives to see what or who rules. Individualism says, No one is the boss of me. I am the captain of my soul. I owe nothing to you or anyone. Fascism says you owe all your loyalty to the state. The bank that holds your mortgage would like to remind you that it has first claim on you. Borrow more, they coo. Drug dealers work to keep users coming back. It was Faust, wasn’t it, who struck a bargain with evil, to get certain things in exchange for his soul.
It may have been a mistake for Christians to borrow the language of monarchy, dominance, grandeur for Christ. The Reign of Christ? We know that Christ reigns very differently than human rulers, but how does that word, reign, convey liberation, freedom? For those of us who have been ruled by someone or something not Christ-like, an addiction, a bully, we welcome the rule of something else, something loving.
But what if we are luckier than that at the moment? What is our relationship to Christ, to the reign of Christ? Christ needs partners in this vast, life-giving liberation movement. Not terrorists. What’s the point of fighting fear with fear? Partners, followers of Christ employ love to get freedom. That’s what justice is: love, organized.
So if you are still feeling out of control, subject to some craving you can’t seem to ditch, you are in the right place. If you are being bullied elsewhere in your life, this is your lifeboat. Scripture keeps talking about the last being first, the little one being the leader, the rejected being given the place of honour. Radical stuff. Not easy to do. And certainly not easy to keep doing. It takes a community such as this to recover your true self.
If you are feeling more blessed than that currently, you are in the right place. This is where your most fertile imagination about the future is needed. This is where you determination to resist other kinds of visions for the planet are needed, visions that beggar us all. It takes a community such as this to support you in your ministry.
“‘And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before God to prepare her ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.’” (Luke 1:76-77)
…a very personal message for those haunted by sin.
“‘By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’” (Luke 1:78-79)
…a different message about the future, a message for the whole world about light and peace. Remembering the future. Remembering the way things are meant to be. We can’t do it alone, none of us. That’s another one of the Creator’s gifts—we need each other in order to fulfil our purpose. So look up at the various flag poles inside your life. Which one is the tallest? Where is the flag representing Spirit, or God, or Jesus Christ compared to the others? If you are not happy with what you see, let’s do something about that. Together. And be part of of a very different future that is coming into being all around us.
Our Remembrance Day speaker pointed out that wars are less numerous these days. Acceptance of sexual minorities is growing. Even in places like Afghanistan, women are gaining strength to resist male domination, thanks in part to the internet. First Nations here and elsewhere are finding their voices. In other words, there is hope. The examples go on and on. May they spring up right here, too, in each of us.