December 31, 2016, Holy Name YR A

Year A, New Year’s Eve
December 31, 2016
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was


“The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”

A new year is upon us… Now I’ve got plenty of eschatological joy in my life and hope in the resurrection abounds in my heart, but I’m not very optimistic about our current situation.  I am quite un-happy with how the world has made out this past year and how things are shaping up for this coming year.  What a difficult moment in history that we are in!  Climate woes are horrendous.  50 degrees above normal in the Arctic this past month?  The international scene is as chaotic as it has been in my lifetime.  Mosul and Aleppo, Russian hacking, Chinese drone stealing, Israel v. the world again, Neo-Facism has swept from the UK to Turkey?  On the domestic front… well where do we start?  With Obama’s trillion dollar re-tooling of our nuclear forces finally getting the critical attention it deserves because of who is about have the keys?  The rapid insertion of high military officers into the cabinet?  And Exxon Mobil?    And white nationalists?  Just plain old Donald Trump as president of the United States?  Or right close to home, we so desperately need a shelter for our unhoused neighbors.  Egan is fabulous but horrendously inadequate and people are suffering right outside these doors in unconscionable ways.  It is a difficult moment in history that we are in, and we’ve got to figure out what to make of it all and what to do about it.

I am not sure we are up for the job.

Let me rephrase that: I am quite sure that we are not up for the job, the job of making sense of and responding to the collapse of what has seemed normal for the past couple of generations, at least here in the United States, at least for those of us for whom things have gone generally (if not spectacularly) well.  To quote the Nobel laureate, “For the times they are a-changing.”

Because the job ahead of us is not to resist change!  Things need to change!  The woes of the world are culminating in this moment because it is all out of balance: the earth, our relationships with it and each other, our own hearts.  It needs to change, and the change we need will result in us, middle-class American types having less than we have now, because we live lives of material comfort, and that comfort comes directly on the backs of others.  Yes, we will need to defend ourselves, our vulnerable neighbors and the Earth herself from the assaults on liberty and decency that the incoming administration has already promised.  But justice and peace comes through equity, and equity not only comes through the redistribution of the 1%’s wealth (though that is the place to start), it also comes in the redistribution of our wealth here and across the world.  Our comfort (or our aversion to discomfort) leads us to take up too far much space, far too many resources.  (We are 5% of the world’s population and consume 24% of the worlds energy).  Sure it would be great if everyone could be as comfortable as many of us are, but the earth can’t bear seven and a half billion middle class Americans!

You think overthrowing a dictator is hard, try to get comfortable people to give up their comfort voluntarily for the sake of others.  Or try prying comfort out of the hands of the comfortable!  Or maybe just consider giving up things yourself!   Do you give enough that you feel it?  That you notice that, “Hmmm…to make my tithe (to the church AND community), I can’t have a latte every day.”  Or choose to eat meat less because it is better for the world.  Or buy less stuff because we need less than we have.  I am not sure that we are up for the job.  Well, not by ourselves we are not.

I have been reading a lot since the election.  Gandhi.  Tolstoy. A bit of MLK and Bill Stringfellow.  Dorothy Day. Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Thoreau.  St. Matthew.  They all faced difficult times; they all led people to sacrifice in terrible ways for the good of the whole.  And all of them, even Thoreau, knew completely that human beings are shattered creatures, with disordered attachments and aversions, with delusion and plain old ignorance, all another way of saying sinful beings, unable to do what is right for self and other but for the grace of God.  We are not up for this on our own.  To quote another poet, one whom the world lost this year, “You gotta have faith.”

“The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”

This is how we often end Mass, with the Aaronic Blessing.  It is from Numbers, and is the blessing that God instructed Moses to teach Aaron to use as a blessing upon Israel.

Now I haven’t read the Gandhis and Tolstoys deep enough, and I haven’t faced the furnace of horror such as those that tempered the wisdom and resolve of those saints of God, but something keeps telling me, each time I offer this blessing to you all, that this is what we need.  We need the blessing and embrace of God.  We need God’s face shining on us, and God’s grace.  We need God’s countenance, the very presence of God right here, on us and in us.  We need the peace of God that passes all understanding.  And guess what, we have it.  Always and everywhere, not just when a parish priest exercises their little bit of blessing upon you, but always.  We have it, everyone does, God’s full love flowing through you, but so little do we feel it.  What we don’t, most of us, is feel the blessing of God upon us.  Know it in our heart.   Let it penetrate, saturate us, lift us, strengthen us, steel our backs and our wills.  We don’t most of us, know the fear of God that comes in God’s blessing.

Martin Luther King, Jr., as tortured and human as he was, felt the depth of God’s blessing.  Dorothy Day, she lived year after year in voluntary abject poverty because she felt that blessing.  Gandhi overthrew the mightiest Empire the world had seen because he felt that blessing.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer walked to the Gestapo’s gallows because he knew for a certain fact that God did bless him and keep him.  That Gods face shone upon him and was gracious to him.  And that the Lord’s countenance was lifted upon him and gave him peace.

We don’t have the strength to do all that we need to do.  We don’t even have the ability to understand much of what is actually going on in the world, not on our own.  Relying solely on ourselves is idolatry, idolatry of the self.  Me make idols not only of ourselves as individuals, which we in the west excel at, but as a species, leading us to believe that we are the only things that matter and that our ways of being, knowing and doing are the only ways to be, know and do.  This is largely why things are as they are.

As 2016 comes to an end and 2017 begins, I am resolved in my prayer for us not to have the blessing of God upon us, that we have already, but that we feel the blessing of God upon us.  Open our hearts to it.  Refine your practice of it.  Try really, really hard.  And failing that, fake it.  In faking it, it might just stick.

May the fruits of the Lord’s presence give us the courage to be, and the strength to do the work that we have been given to do.

“The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”  Happy New Year.  AMEN.