November 20, 2016
Luke 1:68-79, Luke 23:33-43
“Guide Our Feet”
Today we stand at a Crossroads. This is the last Sunday of the Church year and the second reading gives us an account of Jesus as he prepares to die. In this passage, he speaks twice, “forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing” and “today you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus was executed because he was a threat to those in power. Even as his death nears, Jesus talks of forgiveness and God’s reign on earth. It is strange for us to think of Jesus as a king. It is clear that Jesus is not a typical king. He is a king who forgives and welcomes criminals. One commentary said, “The majesty of this king is revealed, not when we look up, but when we look down.” (Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 4, p. 332)
The media has been dominated with stories of hatred and rage. But there are other stories of fear and pain and vulnerability that must be heard. It is into these stories that our texts come today.
Advent is not here yet, but our first reading is a song that John the Baptist’s father Zechariah sings about his birth and what his life will mean. We will meet John as an adult in two weeks. His speech will sound harsh and full of judgment as he tells people they need to repent. John comes across as a threatening, fiery character. But today, we hear Zechariah’s song of God’s favor and redemption. Zechariah promises that we can serve without fear – those are much needed words today. People are afraid – fear and vulnerability are underneath much of what we see and hear in these post election days.
Zechariah’s final words to his son stop me up short: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare to give knowledge of salvation to the people by the forgiveness of their sins. 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.”
This is the charge we need to hear today: prepare the way, forgive, allow God’s tender mercy to move among you and bring light where it is needed, and guide your feet into the way of peace.
Please do not hear me saying we should just smooth things over and move on. Our call is much deeper than that. The juxtaposition of Jesus’ death and infant John who will prepare the way for Jesus gives us a glimpse of the place we must stand now: between life and death, hope and despair, fear and courage, violence and peace. This is the place where life happens. We get into trouble when we convince ourselves that it is an either/or. It seems one of our greatest lessons must be about living in the complexity of it all. These are beautiful and important words for baby Stella as she grows. They are important words for us as her community to remember who we are and what it means to be God’s people in the world today.
We have been lighting a candle for peace this fall. Our sanctuary will be full of peace cranes for Advent. Our scriptures each week talk about peace. There are over 300 references to peace in the Bible. What does peace mean in our world today? It is more than the absence of war. Certainly there are inner and outer dimensions of peace, but Wendy Wright offered a third dimension by saying, “We are called to nurture our imaginations for peace.” She says, “We are surrounded by vivid images of violence in our culture. But, for the most part, our images of peace are not equally compelling. We tend to simply see the absence of conflict when we dream of peace.” (The Vigil, p. 137)
When we try and understand what peace is for us today, we need to understand the word Hebrew word Shalom which is often translated as peace, yet peace is just one aspect of it. It refers to wholeness for the world, not just individuals. We need to continue to wade in until we find ourselves in deep water rather than dipping our toe in and calling it complete. Or as Mary Oliver asks, “Listen, are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?”
Now is the time for us to move more deeply into the fullness of our faith. We don’t need to be confident or even comfortable here, but we are called to leave our places of security and step into the unknown. It requires some vulnerability on our part and that is where we meet one another. More profoundly, that is where we meet Jesus. In the reading today, we encounter him in vulnerability and discover an invitation to a reign of healing peace.
Mark Nepo describes peace as “the depth of being that holds suffering and doubt, not the raft we climb on to avoid suffering and doubt.” Nepo talks about being in the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago when he stumbled on an exhibit of jellyfish from around the world. He learned two traits of jellyfish. First, their larvae can stay dormant for decades, drifting until the right condition for birth appears. Second, some jellyfish are blessed to emit their own light. He calls this the by-product of being true to our own nature. (The Endless Practice, pp. 275, 280)
For years, I have preached on biblical texts and wondered what it was like for those living in exile. I live a life of privilege and I have not had to take risks for my faith. There are many who have only known oppression and exile. We do not have the luxury of living without stepping into the pain and fear others live every day. I keep thinking of those jellyfish whose larvae wait for the right condition for birth. The conditions are right for a movement where no one lives in fear because of their skin color, their religion, their sexual identity, their nationality, or their economic status. We are the ones who must create safety and peace for all, not just a privileged few.
How is it that those jellyfish emit their own light? Mark Nepo says it is a result of being true to our own nature. We are given visions of our own nature in both readings today. We are followers of one who died on the cross next to criminals. We are human beings (all of us) created in God’s image, which means recognizing we are all in this boat and we must heed Zechariah’s words to bring light where it is most needed.
Many have quoted Leonard Cohen who died a few weeks ago: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Our job is to bring the light into the places that are cracked and broken. We cannot turn away or wait for things to get better. Our light is needed now.
Listen again: “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.”
To hatred, we must step in and say, “Enough!”
To threats and violence, we must step in and say, “Enough!”
To discrimination, we must step in and say, “Enough!”
To injustice, we must step in and say, “Enough!”
To racism, we must step in and say, “Enough!”
To sexism, we must step in and say, “Enough!”
To homophobia, we must step in and say, “Enough!”
To environmental destruction, we must step in and say, “Enough!”
And then we must allow our feet to be guided in the way of peace for the sake of the world.