Good morning, Christ Church!
I am happy to report that the Banse household has expanded our horizons in this time of sheltering in place. Specifically, we have discovered the art of “binge watching.” (Actually, I am not sure that it qualifies as an art form. It’s not like cooking or fly-fishing where you have to work on improving your skills. You just hit a couple of buttons on your remote control and off you go, racing through a whole television series in a matter of hours or days. It’s pretty passive. And sometimes it leaves you feeling a little bloated, as if you have had several slices of pizza too many.)
Our latest conquest has been the program, “The Good Place.” As the title suggests, the storyline is all about eternity and “the Afterlife.” The cast is excellent. (I have long believed that Ted Danson is one of the best comedic actors of his generation.) The characters are wonderfully developed, and in the case of the four principals, very human. And the show focuses on three of my favorite topics: philosophy, theology, and personal relationships.
I don’t want to give too much away. However, I would say that one of the central themes of the series is that “it’s complicated,” and that includes the Afterlife. Even after eons of “Jeremy Bearimy(s),” there are unresolved matters, to the point that the scoring system that measures a person’s earthly life, and thus renders the decision as to whether one is going to “The Good Place” or “The Bad Place,” no longer operates effectively. I will say no more. Because, well, you know, it’s complicated.
I think that this goes right to the heart of the spiritual, emotional, and mental crises that so many of us are trying to cope with in this day and age. We are being overwhelmed by complications and it is breaking us down. There is simply too much information, often conflicting, to instantly absorb; too many choices to make; too many opinions at war with one another. The debate over how to best phase back into our normal routines after sheltering is only the most recent example of this crisis. We are living from one news cycle to the next, without a clear sense of direction, and the world does not seem to know where solutions are to be found. We all need a foundation, and yet everywhere we look there is only quicksand.
As we look toward this Sunday and the celebration of Pentecost, you and I must take to heart these words from the author of Hebrews: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Now, this does not mean that Jesus is locked in place and static. His love and grace will always be dynamic and on the move, as those disciples experienced amidst the whirlwind and tongues of fire on that first day of Pentecost. Instead, we are invited by God to allow ourselves to be embraced by the power of that same Holy Spirit, so that our lives are not overwhelmed by these complications, but lived with the certain confidence that, no matter what, Jesus Christ is with us, and within us, yesterday and today and forever. Some will say that that is overly simplistic. I would say that it is the Gospel and will always be more than enough.
Faithfully in Christ,
Friday, May 29, 2020 RCL Daily Office Readings, Year 2
The interactions and illustrations found in today’s passage from Matthew make it very clear. Jesus has not come to improve upon the status quo, adding divine varnish to the present structures. Instead, he has come to turn the world upside down. Obviously, the powers that be don’t like that, a truth with which we are quite familiar in our own time.
Tax collectors were detested. As far as the community was concerned, they had entered into the service of their conquerors, the Romans, and were using their positions to extort large sums of money from their fellow citizens for personal gain. The fact that the phrase often used in the Gospels is “tax collectors and other sinners” gives us a sense as to how detested they were.
And yet, it is to just such a sinner that Jesus goes and calls into his apostolic circle, despite the fact that he knows that his actions will create an uproar. Jesus and Matthew move quickly from the tax booth to the most holy ground in any home, the dining room table, and they are accompanied both by the other disciples and a host of notorious riff raff. The Jewish authorities, represented by the Pharisees, are not pleased. Jesus is breaking every boundary upon which their society is ordered, thereby undoing their power and prestige in the process. And they call him out on it.
Jesus’ response is one that we must always keep in mind: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Here, we are approaching the cornerstone of Jesus’ mission. Again, he has not come to shore up the social conventions already in place and re-enforce the power already held by those in authority. Instead, he is proactively seeking the lost, the marginalized, the broken, and the alienated in order to include them in God’s love, to heal them with that love, and to restore them by giving them a place at God’s banquet table.
Furthermore, in his encounter with the followers of John the Baptist, Jesus makes it clear that his ministry, now entrusted to us, is not onerous or punitive, but is to be celebratory in nature, not unlike a Jewish wedding celebration! The mission of Jesus is rooted first and foremost in great joy, because it is about the God of all creation fulfilling the promises of reconciliation made to all of God’s children, including Matthew and his fellow tax collectors.
This is something the world has never seen before. Messiah has come and everything has changed, and everyone is invited. This passage concludes with two brief parables, both pointing to this great truth. Don’t try to sew a new patch on an old coat and don’t attempt to put new wine into an old wineskin. It won’t work. As we read in Revelation Chapter 21, Jesus Christ has come to make all things new, and that is very good news indeed!
So where does that leave us today? Well, we are the body of Christ at work in the world. We are instruments of God’s hope and God’s peace no matter how complicated things are. One of my favorite prayers is found at the conclusion of Morning and Evening Prayer. As we look towards this Sunday’s great celebration of empowerment by way of the Holy Spirit, I commend it to you:
Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen