Sunday, October 8, 2017

21A, Authority and Faith

The scripture for this week can be found here


We, as Christians, ally ourselves with those whom the world would seek to destroy—and in this, there is what some might find a peculiar comfort. In a letter, written from his prison cell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote,

“Lord Jesus Christ,
You were poor
And in distress, a captive and forsaken as I am.
You know all man’s troubles;
You abide with me
When all men fail me;
You remember and seek me;
It is Your will that I should know You
And turn to You.
Lord, I hear Your call and follow;
Help me.” 

This affirmation of faith, written by a man who would ultimately be executed by the Nazi regime, serves as a powerful reminder that Jesus himself was held captive, that Jesus himself suffered. And, because of this Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his own imprisonment found comfort and assurance that he is not alone in his suffering and that he will never be forgotten.

Never forgotten and never alone. Bonhoeffer could easily have found himself discouraged, and indeed at times he is, but he turns to Christ for the assurance that his cause is just and that he serves the good. He died in the last month of World War II and did not live to see liberation.

A liberation that remains incomplete as we ourselves grapple with the reality that liberation of the camps did not bring an end to oppression. And, in this I find myself discouraged and forlorn, why is the road to peace so long?

Dorothy Day an advocate for the poor who co-founded the Catholic Worker Movement wrote, in a letter that she too penned from prison, words I find that I need to hear,

“You sounded so discouraged and you know as well as I do that discouragement is a temptation of the devil. Why should we try to see results? It is enough to keep on in the face of what looks to be defeat. We certainly have enough examples in the lives of the saints to help us. Not to speak of that greatest of failures (to the eyes of the world) of Christ on the cross…You do not know yourself what you are doing, how far-reaching your influence is…God often lets us start doing one thing and many of the results we accomplish are incalculably far-reaching, splendid in their own way, but quite different from what we expected.”

We do not know, if the cornerstone that the world has rejected will be the very foundation of the world that God intends. We do not know, if the part we play and even those things that may seem to fail, will be the same things which will give birth to the world that God intends. We do not and cannot know, and so we are called to continue.

Called to continue to speak the truth, to name God’s love, and to serve God’s people. Even if the truth, the love, and even the people, have been rejected by the powers and principalities of this world.

Martin Luther King Jr. was clear on this point and, in a letter written from a jail cell in Birmingham seeks to convict those who would read his words,

“Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators."' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now.” 

Things are different now. Are they? As we gather in 2017 and call ourselves Christians, are they different?

Can the commitment of a small group of us bring an end to the modern evils we face?

I don’t know, but they didn’t know either. Dietrich Bonhoeffer; Dorothy Day; Martin Luther King Jr.—they did not know. And, yet, they persisted. They persisted even as they were led into their jail cells, they persisted even when facing death.

They persisted in proclaiming and LIVING the Gospel.

Even when doing so brought them into conflict with the authorities.

They knew by whose authority they did these things, and that authority was not that of human law. It was not that of congressional matters or executive orders. It was not that of politics and powers. It was the authority of the good news of God in Christ. The news that is good for the poor, the marginalized, and the suffering. The news that declares freedom even in the midst of oppression.

Like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Day, and Martin Luther King Jr. the apostle Paul wrote the letter we heard today from a prison cell where he too was imprisoned for his insistence on naming and proclaiming the authority of God in Christ. But, he, like they finds encouragement in his recognition that God is at work in him. Paul writes,

“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

Look to the interests of others.

There is a table grace my family says most night, “Bless this food to our use, and us to your service and make us ever mindful of the needs of others.”

Ever mindful of the needs of others. Henry and I were discussing this prayer one day and he pointed out that if we are all mindful of other people’s needs, then everyone’s needs will be met because other people will be mindful of our needs.

And, in this I find encouragement and consolation—encouragement found in a child’s assumption of the inherent goodness of all people. This is enough, enough for now because even if we never taste of the fruit, the seeds that will blossom have been planted. Encouragement in Christ, consolation from love…look to the interests of others.

And, seek to live the law of love. The law which lifts up those the world and its powers all too often ignore. A law that is born not of this world, but of God’s.


No comments: