Monday, August 15, 2022

The Times


Luke 12:49-56

Proper 15 / Year C

Jesus said, “You know how to interpret the weather, but do not understand the present time.”  He is drawing ever nearer to Jerusalem and despite what he has been telling his followers, they do not understand it will lead to his arrest and crucifixion.  The signs are there, but they don’t see it.  These words of Jesus will take on a new and profound meaning when St. Luke writes his gospel some forty years later.  The Roman army has sacked Jerusalem and burned the Temple.  Judaism is in ruins as a result of its attempted rebellion.  Jesus’ words reverberate across two generations.  Those who led the Hebrews to rise up are fools and hypocrites who did not know how to interpret the times.

President Reagan began a tradition which most have followed since.  From time to time, he invited small groups of historians to the White House to reflect with him on the state of the country and the world.  Presidents, by nature of the job, tend to work day-to-day, but Reagan desired to step back in order to see the bigger picture.

President Biden understands the value of this and recently met with a handful of historians who, for lack of a better phrase, wanted to help him interpret the times.  According to one newspaper article, they focused almost exclusively on the rise of totalitarianism around the world and threats to American democracy.  These scholars compared our times to the era preceding the Civil War and the pre-World War II years in which fascist movements emerged.  They believe we are in perilous times because the systems set in place to prevent the abuse of power are not working and as a result our democracy is in a dangerous position. 

I am glad our president is working to “interpret the present times.”  Seeing what is happening and knowing how to respond to it are not the same thing however. 

Let me suggest a step forward each of us can take.  I offer it from our own Bishop Susan who wrote this on Facebook while attending Lambeth Conference in England this past week.  Lambeth, of course, is a once a decade gathering of Anglican bishops from all over the world: 

The Bishops considered two Lambeth Calls -- one on Reconciliation and one on Human Dignity.  As we considered our call and obligation as a church to work for reconciliation of the world to God, one idea that resonated with me more than anything was this: Even though we are a church that disagrees deeply on some things, our brothers (and sisters) are NOT our enemies.  The bonds of affection unite us.  Even if at times we seem to be walking on different paths, we walk together.  I value this unity more than anything. Even when I am angry with a brother or sister, I cannot disconnect myself from that person.

As we considered the call on Human Dignity, we realized that the Church is in two different places.  Many provinces (in fact, as Archbishop Justin pointed out several times, the majority) recognize marriage as being only between a man and a woman, there are some provinces that recognize same-sex marriage also as being life-giving.  

This is the reality of our Communion.

We were exhorted to hold this reality in tension and allow the Holy Spirit to work a new truth.  And while no formal vote was taken, we all left our discussions with a new sense of hope and with a sense of being in love and charity with our neighbor.  

We now turn our attention to becoming curious about this question: what do those who disagree with us need from us in order to flourish?  How can we pour ourselves out so that the other will live?  I daresay, in our own country, instead of beating the drum of division, if we could only wonder about what it would take for those who differ from us to flourish.  Would we find life in that?

Those with whom we disagree are not our enemies.  What do those who disagree with us need from us in order to flourish?  Are not these what need to affirm and to ask in the context of our present time? 

In four weeks our Suffolk Episcopal congregations will gather for Sunday morning worship here at St. Paul’s with Bishop Susan here to preach and celebrate.  We will be “Remembering Together” the 21st anniversary of the September 11 attack on our country.  It was an event none of us saw coming.  I remember very clearly the two biggest stories in August 2001 were shark attacks at Florida beaches and President Bush hosting Little League baseball games on the White House lawn.  Never did it dawn on us something so nefarious and world-changing was being put into play.  We did not interpret the times.  Had any one of us known what was being planned we would have shouted from the rooftops in order to prevent it.

I don’t know what the future holds.  When I was ordained they didn’t give me a crystal ball, only a pulpit.  So I will use what I have been given to say “Look around.”  What do you see happening?  How is God calling you as a follower of Jesus and us as a church to respond?  I sense we are in perilous times.  We need to learn how to listen to one another in this place… and then, as our godly gift to the world to share our common life as a witness to our community and to the world.