From the New Evangelical Redacted Version. Matthew 25:31-46.
For a season ends in darkness at the foot of the cross, Lent sure attracts a lot of attention. But it’s divorced from the emphasis on human mortality, Lent is sure to draw all kinds of “tourists.”
Lent is not a time for the latest diet fad or merelyabstaining from soda or candy then posting about it on social media. It’s really no longer Lent at that point. In fact, Jesus has some pointed words about such a practice.
And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Matthew 6:16
When observed in context, beginning with the imposition of ashes (Ash Wednesday) and culminating with the service of darkness (Tenebrae), these 40 days can truly provide an opportunity for penance and transformation. Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness challenged his very being allowing him to emerge with a calling that would bring Good News to all people everywhere. The Lenten journey is not about self-serving piety but about meaningful self-reflection and sacrifice.
What to “give up” for Lent you ask? Start with something risky and pray (in private) for God’s reign on Earth as it is in heaven. Then do something dangerous and act on it. It’s time we sacrifice hearts of stone for those full of compassion. It’s time we give up our indifference in exchange for Christ-like empathy. It’s time we lay our mere tolerance at the altar and engage in full Christian inclusivity and hospitality. It’s time we stop being idle enablers of injustice and embrace, perhaps for the first time, the Way of Jesus Christ. It’s like the prophet said:
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke? Isaiah 58:8
A few days ago, I dropped my autistic son off for therapy. He was in the midst of a minor meltdown the continued outside the car(meltdowns are not uncommon in the world of autism) and it was enough to draw attention. A gentleman standing by his vehicle glanced in my direction. I ignored it like I usually do. So, I took J inside and we said our usual goodbyes.
As I returned to my car, the glancing gentleman approached me, gave me his business card and began crying. He put his arm around me and said, “Call me sometime, I have an 18-year-old with autism. Bless you.” He got in his vehicle and left.
I misjudged the man’s glance. His gesture was the kind of compassion the moment called for.
“Yesterday is gone; so is yesterday’s tale. Today, we have a new story to tell.”
Even though the sun sets on 2017, the cares and concerns of the past year will continue. Our worries simply do not disappear at the stroke of midnight. But neither do our hopes. Rumi reminds us that, we can, and must, change the narrative. The sun is always rising somewhere in the world. Change is constant. The story evolves. New life is on the horizon.
We are still in the midst of Christmastide. The story of the Christ-child has just begun. Our job is to tell it. In face of all that is evil, hateful, and unjust, we must tell the story of justice, love, and mercy. Tell it from the mountaintops. Tell to the face in the mirror. Tell it to your friends. Tell it to the children. Tell it in the city. Tell it to the wicked. Tell it to the lost. Tell it to church, especially the church. Just tell the story. Our very future depends on it.
Before you move on from Christmas, give some thought to these words from Bob Dylan.
Three angels up above the street,
Each one playing a horn,
Dressed in green robes with wings that stick out,
They’ve been there since
The wildest cat from Montana passes by in a flash,
Then a lady in a bright orange dress,
One U-Haul trailer, a truck with no wheels,
The Tenth Avenue bus goin’ west.
The dogs and pigeons fly up and they flutter around,
A man with a badge skips by,
Three fellas crawlin’ on their way back to work,
Nobody stops to ask why.
The bakery truck stops outside of that fence
Where the angels stand high on their poles,
The driver peeks out, trying to find one face
In this concrete world full of souls.
The angels play on their horns all day,
The whole earth in progression seems to pass by.
But does anyone hear the music they play,
Does anyone even try?
From the Album, New Morning, 1970.
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’ ”
The world needs waymakers just like John the Baptist. We need courageous voices who will speak not just a good word for Jesus Christ, as my former homiletics professor used to say, but a prophetic word. A pointed word. Direct. Clear. Uncompromising.
One such waymaker in 2017 is the Rev. Dr. William Barber, an ordained pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Dr. Barber has taken up the call to lead the Poor People’s Campaign, originally began by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1967. He has brought to the national conversation a message that is biblical, moral, and Gospel-oriented.
The call by the Poor People’s Campaign for a moral revival is as timely as ever in these United States where economic disparity continues to widen, the dialogue is toxic, civil rights are threatened, healthcare is still out of reach among poorest citizens, and racial tension persists. The rotting of the American soul is further manifested in the dehumanizing treatment (especially by President Trump and some congressional leaders) of women, immigrants, Muslims, and the LGBTQ community. This is not the Way of Jesus. In fact, it’s immoral and rooted in evil.
If the Advent/Christmas season is merely a celebration of some magical event in the distant past then the point has been missed. The voice of the first-century waymaker prepared the people for the one who calls us to a wholly different way of life. Holy. Peaceful. Generous. Compassionate. Just
If the voice of John the Baptist is to be heard today, we need to bridge the span of time so his message can “cut us to the bone” (Joseph Donders). That’s precisely why we need more voices like William Barber.
May we be inspired and compelled by those who serve as 21st-century waymakers to go and do likewise.
False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray. . .be alert. . .I have already told you everything. . .keep awake.
The powers and principalities of the Earth have cast a dark, ominous presence over this world that, if left unchallenged, will siphon all hope from those who need it most.
The shadows are stalked by false messiahs and prophets who prey upon the fears of the masses, convincing them that only they can save this world from destruction. Or worse, they pacify their audiences by affirming their prejudcies and hatred, and in return the people lay their hands on the deceitful ones, offering unholy blessings.
They create phony wars on one of the holiest of days and make empty, meaningless delcarations like, “We’re saying Merry Christmas again.” For they know the problem the Christ Child poses is a political one. This Gift Bringer promises hope, love, peace, and justice. But not the familiar justice of retribution and punishment. No. This is about God’s justice- Restorative. (re)Distributive. Abundant. God will not be mocked.
God’s Light of Hope shines truth upon those who practice the dark arts of oppression, disregard for basic human rights, dehumanization, greed, and war, dispelling their lies. For Jesus has already told us all we need to know.
The Light of Hope grants the faithful the “impatience to wait for [Christ’s] coming to the bottom of our toes, to the edges of our fingertips” (W. Brueggemann). We are awake, alert, prepared. We are not idle. Instead, we are mobilized and actively defy those who would bring harm upon our sisters and brothers no matter their place in life. So, we walk toward the Light of Hope, yearning for the promise of the Christ-child. The Gift Bringer. The Messiah.