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From time to time we feature "Keeping The Faith in Babylon: A Pastoral Resource For Christians In Exile", a weekly set of comments and reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary texts by Barry Robinson (Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada). Barry describes his resource this way: "Keeping The Faith in Babylon... is a word of hope from a pastor in exile to those still serious about discipleship in a society (and, too often, a church) that has lost its way". Contact Barry at firstname.lastname@example.org to request samples and get further subscription information. Snail mail inquiries can be sent to Barry at the address at the bottom of this page.
KEEPING THE FAITH IN BABYLON
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
Barry J. Robinson
Trinity Sunday - Year A
Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; II Corinthians 13:11-13, Matthew 28:16-20
"Over the Bent World Broods"
"In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters." In Alice Walker's novel, The Color Purple, there is a wonderful scene where Celie, a battered and depressed woman, married to a brutal and sadistic husband, meets Shug Avery, a sultry, free-wheeling songstress. In a long conversation about God, Shug Avery introduces Celie to spirit, an introduction which eventually leads to Celie's personal liberation. Here's the thing, say Shug. The thing I believe. God is inside you and inside everybody else. You come into this world with God. But only them that search for it find it. And sometimes it just manifest itself even if you not looking, or don't know what you looking for. Trouble do it for most folks, I think. Sorrow, lord. Feeling like shit. It? I ast. Yeah, it. God ain't a he or a she, but a it. But what it look like? I ast. Don't look like nothin, she say. It ain't a picture show. It aint something you can look at apart from anything else, including yourself. I believe God is everything, say Shug. Everything that is or ever was or ever will be. And when you can feel that, and be happy to feel that, you've found it... Listen, God love everything you love - and a mess of stuff you don't, but more than anything else, God love admiration. You saying God vain? I ast. Naw, she say. Not vain, just wanting to share a good thing. I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it. What it do when it pissed off? I ast. Oh, it make something else. People think pleasing God is all God care about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back. Yeah? I say. Yeah, she say. It always making little surprises and springing them on us when we least expect. You mean it want to be loved, just like the Bible say. Yes, Celie, she say. Everything want to be loved. Us sing and dance, make faces and give bouquets, trying to be loved. You ever notice that trees do everything to git attention we do, except walk? - Alice Walker, The Color Purple + That question - that very existential question that Celie is struggling with and with which each one of us must struggle sooner or later - is the question we are asked to ponder on Trinity Sunday. Is it safe to trust? To be more specific, is it safe to trust the power of Spirit as she seeks to lead us bravely down the unknown corridors of this and ever day of our lives; and it was the fundamental question with which the exiled Jews of Babylon were faced. It is generally agreed by most biblical scholars that the book of Genesis is not one of the oldest books of the Bible and that, in all probability, it was written sometime during the 6th century B.C.E. and was addressed to that remnant community of exiled Jews who had been dragged off into bondage. The problem for those oppressed people was that the Babylonian gods seemed to control the future. Their enemies, it appeared, had defeated them; and the Jewish people were feeling decidedly hopeless. In answer to this dilemma, the book of Genesis was written, not to make a scientific claim about how the world was made, but to make a confession of faith about why it was made. The single most important purpose the author or authors had in mind was to say that God still moved over the dark waters of life, brooding over it and seeking to bring forth life; and the word the Bible uses in verse 2 when it says that a wind from God, or the spirit of God, swept over the surface of the waters is the word marahapeth, which more literally translates "to brood", the way a mother bird broods over her nest until new life begins to stir. It is a powerful image when you stop to think about it; and what it was intended to mean is that there is no chaos, no darkness in which you or anybody else finds themselves out of which God cannot still bring forth life. That was the question with which our ancestors in the faith struggled: could God bring forth life out of their seemingly dark and hopeless situation? Could life still begin again for them? Was new life stirring in the midst of the death-ridden waters of their times? Was it safe to trust? Was it safe to hope? Was it safe to go on living their lives as bravely and as graciously as they could, believing that the light would one day begin to shine? It was the only question that mattered to them; and, in a sense, it is the only question that really matters in the end to any one of us. + There are so many things that make us afraid. We are afraid of losing our jobs, of being ridiculed, that people will talk, that we will fail, that our spouses will be unfaithful, that we may get cancer. We fear that we are not raising our children in the proper way, that the economy will deteriorate, that we may be the next highway fatality or victim of violent crime. We are afraid that the airplane will crash, that we will be out of fashion, or worse, old-fashioned. We are afraid that war will erupt in another part of the world, that there will be a nuclear accident, that the water we drink may become contaminated, that oil prices will make it impossible to live, that the ozone layer is getting thinner, that if we are not careful we may still blow ourselves to bits. We are afraid that we will die. Of course, we will die; and so will the people we love most in this world. So we are afraid of sickness, disease, hospitals and nursing homes; and, worse than the the physical dissolution at the end of our lives are all those daily deaths of self: the fear of being tricked, taken advantage of, cheated, deceived, made a fool of, put down. They may laugh at us; and then we would die of shame. So, we build up massive walls of protection around ourselves. We will protect ourselves so that we will always be safe. We will have so many defenses, both inner and outer, that no threat will ever harm us. So we amass power, prestige, goods, reputation, health as hedges against death. We invent mechanisms to keep others at bay, becoming silent and reserved, dominant and unrepentant, nasty and tyrannical, unreasonable and petulant, weak and pathetic, dependant and incapable - as the case may be - all in an effort to mask the reality of our fear and to keep ourselves safe from being hurt. And yet, there are interludes.... .... for all of us... when all of this fear, hiding, protecting and defending seems utterly foolish, times when we see, even if dimly, that it is possible to live differently. A new thought crosses our mind. We fall in love. A child is born to us. We cross the crucial borders of life and realize that time is running out - that perhaps we must take a chance before there is no time left. Or, forgiveness comes to us out of nowhere. A door opens where before everything seemed solidly shut... and we sense that we are... still... free... to choose. We can continue down the path of dull, bland, fearful mediocrity or... we can take a chance, strike out boldly and bravely, becoming something we have always wanted to become, doing something we have always dreamed of doing - but until that moment were afraid to take the chance... ... and it is almost as if someone is there on the other side of the river, calling to us, beckoning us on, urging us to come on in because the water is fine, coaxing us to leave our foolish fears behind, to take the risk, to trust, to love, to dare, to hope. There is a sin against the Holy Spirit, my friends. It is seldom talked about in the church anymore; but that does not mean it is seldom practiced. In fact, it is practiced all of the time; for it is the sin of despair. It is the sinning of giving up, of giving in, of surrendering to the forces of darkness and hopelessness. It is the sin of choosing to live dull, drab, safe, complacent, mediocre lives when the Spirit is urging us to be more. As Shug Avery reminds us, and every waking moment of being in this world if we have our eyes and ears open, we live floating on a sea of grace. If we manage to get through our lives, without ever getting wet for fear of drowning in the graciousness that surrounds us, we will have no one to blame but ourselves; for the Good News is that the spirit is indeed renewing the face of the earth. She always has and she always will; and she will renew us if we give her the slightest chance. But if we are successful in escaping her enticing offer and never do take the chance of living as bravely and as humanly as we have it in us to be, then we should not be surprised when on judgment day, we hear Spirit herself saying to us, "What in the world did you think those great wings were flapping above you your whole life long?" Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs - Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. - Gerard Manley Hopkins --------- Genesis 1:1-2:4a - The famous creation story of the Bible undoubtedly makes use of other creation stories from Egypt and Mesopotamia, but transforms them for a unique purpose: to make a statement about the God who calls creation into being and about the unique relationship that God has with the world. The story is a confession of faith addressed to exiles living in Babylon and attempts to state that God can be trusted, notwithstanding the dark waters of chaos in which Israel found itself. 1. How would life in Babylon for exiled Jews seem to refute this story of creation? 2. How would you describe the kind of relationship into which creation and its creatures are being called with God? 3. Which image speaks to you with greatest power when you consider the kind of death-dealing powers under which so many people live today? II Corinthians 13:11-13 - The text is chosen for Trinity Sunday because of Paul's well-known Trinitarian blessing in verse 13. What is important to note is that this blessing comes after a series of moral exhortations to the Corinthian church. Christian conduct should be self-correcting according to Paul, reflecting the way Christ embodied grace, the way God acts toward us in love and peace, and the way the Spirit calls us into a relationship of fellowship with others. 1. How is Paul's blessing a more practical, common sense approach to what we should both believe and practice in comparison to many doctrinal statements about the Trinity? 2. In what practical ways is this blessing embodied in your church? And in your life? Matthew 28:16-20 - Matthew, in contrast to Luke, follows Mark's lead in stating that the resurrection appearances happened in Galilee rather than Jerusalem. Here, in this final appearance, Jesus is portrayed, not passively awaiting his return visit from heaven as judge and king, but actively exercising his present Lordship in the church, commissioning the disciples to baptize all the gentiles. Once again, this appearance and instruction inspires both worship and doubt in the church. 1. What reason would Matthew have had for wanting Jesus to appear in Galilee rather than Jerusalem? 2. Jesus' last word to his friends in Matthew is that he will be with them? Why would this be so important to Matthew and Matthew's church? 3. How are the various parts of the Great Commission - verse 19 - embodied in your church's baptismal practice? FOR FURTHER REFLECTION - The Spirit, indeed, is willing; but are we? Spend some time considering the dark, chaotic, hopeless places and circumstances of your life or the life of someone you love and ask yourself the question: how in this situation is the Spirit calling forth new life? What kind of life is she attempting to entice? What must be surrendered before that new life can happen? HYMN 453 Out of Deep, Unordered Water (Voices United)
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