Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Faithfully shrewd

“Praise be to thee, O Lord.” 
“Praise to you, Lord Christ.” 

That is our customary response at the end of the gospel reading. That is what we say..and said this morning. 

But THIS morning when the reading of the Gospel ended in your heart you were maybe..probably saying something like “Huh?” Whaaaa? What WAS that all about? That was how I felt when I looked over the gospel early last week. And we are not alone. 

From the 1st disciples on we faithful—saints, scholars have been banging our heads against this parable. And all agree that, of all the parables, it is the most baffling, 

 It IS baffling. But Jesus told it. So there’s got to be some point here that he wants us come to understand--- --something that will help us follow him and live the Life to which he calls us. Our Lord never explained this or any other parable. He just told them… and let the hearers think through what they mean. 

Recently I came the following words on the wall at LV hospital: Tell me…and I’ll forget. Show me…and I’ll remember. Involve me...and I’ll understand. In telling parables and not explaining them Our Lord invites us to become involved, to think them through so that we will not only remember but understand in our hearts, our bones, our whole being. 

Now, the accepted wisdom is that, for the most part, each of our Lord’s parables has one point and one point only. Many of the parables make the point by giving us an example to follow--- like the good Samaritan who cared for the wounded man on the road and a bad example to be avoided--- like that of the priest who walked around that same man and missed that opportunity to show mercy. 

But I think what baffles us here is that there is not one good example to be found in the entire story. They are all a bunch of crooks. The master fires the manager….seemingly on hearsay--- before he even looks at the books. 

The manager is clearly dishonest—untrustworthy, undependable and proves it by cutting deals with the tenants---- cheating his boss out of some of what’s coming to him in order to obligate the tenants to take care of him when he’s out of a job. And the tenants go along with it! 

They’re all a bunch of crooks. Seemingly, not good example here. And, we are told, the master COMMENDS the dishonest manager. 

That, I think, is where most of us throw up our hands in confusion and ask, “What is going on here?” Jesus can’t be condoning his dishonesty. So, I don’t know. This just doesn’t make sense.” But, notice: the master does not commend the manager for his dishonesty ---for his IS dishonest—not made of true stuff… unfaithful, untrustworthy, undependable. No. But he is commended for his “Shrewdness.” 

He found creative ways to use all he had and every opportunity to do what good he could for others. And he didn't put it off. And Jesus says that if the children of this age who live by the ways of the world and for this world (like the dishonest manager) are shrewd we, the children of Light should be just as smart and smarter. And, our Lord concludes, “I tell you, make friends for yourselves by dishonest wealth (It is the same word used of the manager. Not wealth gained by dishonest means but “not honest” not true and therefore undependable, not lasting. 

Make friends, do good using your life and all you have now so that when it is gone they may welcome you into the eternal homes. Now that may sound like Wrack up lots of good works and earn points towards getting into heaven. But, of course, we can’t earn our way into heaven. It is God’s gift—give to us thru the dying and rising of our Lord. But, loving, caring, using our lives and all we have to do good for others changes us— makes us ready to fit in, to live with God and one another in the kingdom. 

Do you see where this is going? 

The dishonest manager was shrewd. He was single-minded in thinking up creative ways to use all he had and every opportunity to good for others. And he was urgent about it. He didn't put it off. And Jesus urges us to be shrewd….in living our lives for God? to live our lives, to use our time, our smarts, all we are, and all we have in a single-minded service of God and others. Seeking to be alert, moment by moment, to the presence, the love, the leading of God alert for every opportunity to show God’s love to others: a helping hand perhaps just a smile for someone who looks like they could use one a sincere thank you to the person who serves you, a calm wave to the driver who gives gets in your way or gives you a scare. 

Maybe being shrewd means always thinking---finding ways to do for others. Or ways to simplify life, save money, make do or do without so as have more to give to help those in need. I knew a lady who, when she could no longer stand for hours working in the soup kitchen, began volunteering at the hospital visitors desk. And when she wasn't doing that she was stuffing envelopes for he church, knitting caps for cancer patients and sending cards to shut-ins. She was some shrewd lady. 

To do all the good we can for all we can in any way we can. And not to put it off . For some things can only be done in the now—in the moment like that smile for the stranger or that word of thanks to the clerk. Or being regular in daily prayer or Sunday Eucharist. You can’t make it up later. For this day will never come again.

It’s now or never.

This day, this opportunity will never come again.

There are other things occur to us, things we could do for God and for others (the Holy Spirit suggesting, nudging us on) --making a phone call, writing a note, visiting a nursing home sending that email to your rep in congress advocating for the poor, seeking to mend that long-broken relationship w/ a friend or family member making that donation you've been meaning to make. ---things we can put off but at the risk of being too late, the opportunity gone.

Jesus urges us to godly shrewdness: To do all the good we can for all we can in any way we can When we can. There is a lot more that could be said about this Gospel---esp those last verses. But, if I have any understanding of this godly shrewdness then, if I have done you any good with this sermon, I have done you all the good I can in every way I can for now. So I’ll sum up and be done.

Be shrewd children of light.

Do all the good you can for everyone you can in any way you can.

Use your imagination.

And do it when you can.

Don’t put it off.


-- A Sermon for Sunday, September 22, 2013 by the Rev. Raymond Harbort.
Proper 22C
Luke 16:1-13

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Year in the Life of Trinity, Easton - 2012

This is the Rector's report to the Annual Meeting of Trinity Church, Easton, PA by the Rev. Canon Andrew Gerns. The annual meeting was on January 27, 2013.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Glory of Jesus, Adult Forum Class, 1/20/13

Adult Forum class is hosted by Terry and Danese Grandfield at 9:15am Sunday mornings in The Langor Lounge. All are welcome!

The Glory of Jesus

For this class Terry and I joined with the Men's group to do our study. We had an engaging and enjoyable conversation about our lesson. Thanks to Fred, Angelo, and Tim for joining us!

The reading from Isaiah 62:1-5 provides us with hope, even when it appears all around us we are losing ground or being defeated by life. For the people of Israel it was a difficult period after returning from many years of exile in Babylon. How they must have experienced joy when they were able to return to their homeland, only to realize upon returning how great the task would be to rebuild not just the physical buildings and structures of their society, but also their lives.

The prophet Isaiah sees their disillusionment and wants to encourage them to not give up.... on God, on themselves, on the process of rebuilding their lives, one small brick at a time. He believes God has brought the people back and he is willing to get in there with them, first by encouraging them, but also by not giving up on the promises of God he has in his own heart.

Today we often expect a quick answer, especially as Christians, thinking if God pronounces restoration it should translate immediately into all areas of our lives. When we feel discouraged because years later we still see rubble and destruction within us, or we think our cries for personal change have gone unanswered, we can choose to remember, based on portions like Isaiah 62, that God loves us. The way the prophet illustrates this through his choice of words is beautiful:

"You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you."

Even fully embracing God's love for us and his covenant relationship towards us, it requires time to rebuild. In our world today physical buildings arise more quickly than ever before, but when we have experienced the effects of a hurricane it takes years to recover. As we witnessed in recent experiences with Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, the resulting landscape may forever be altered. 

Tragedy and exile may forever change the landscape of our hearts and souls, but God's love for us remains a constant source of hope. This knowledge encourages us, as it did the people hearing Isaiah's words thousands of years ago, to keep trying, to keep believing, to keep working for God's restoration in ourselves as well as in the lives of others, and in the physical world around us.

The picture of marriage in Isaiah leads us into a discussion of Jesus's first miraculous sign, which happened to take place at a wedding.

I love the first miracle of Jesus for many reasons! As a mother it makes me smile when I think about Jesus and his relationship to his Mom, and how we see in this passage the role Mary played in her Son's life, pushing him, just a bit, to reveal who he truly was. 

In John 2:1-11 we are given first the context of the story- there was a wedding; Mary was there, Jesus and his disciples were invited. Obviously we gather that Jesus had already left home and was hanging out with his disciples. He had already been baptized by John the Baptist, spent forty days in the wilderness.

Yet with all that serious stuff going on in his life he takes the time with his disciples to attend a wedding, showing He has not distanced himself from the day to day life of the community. And there he is, at that wedding, when his mother approaches to tell him there is a problem......."They have no wine."

I like the response.

"Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come."

We all laughed in class, imagining the look Mary may have given him in reply, considering our own experiences as children with mothers..... and for me also, my own response to my kids when their reply at my strong suggestion provokes a negative response. Not that Jesus is being negative or disrespectful to his mother- he isn't. But initially he is choosing to question what she is asking him to do. When he states "My hour has not yet come." he is reminding her of his mission and the specific timing he knows God has set for his revealing, his hour actually referring to his passion and crucifxion.

But sometimes, as I have told my own children, mother knows best!

Mary is not hindered by the response. She goes to the servants and tells them, "Do whatever he tells you." This relationship between mother and Son is real, and I believe indicates a mutual respect spiritually. Yes, Jesus is being lead by God as God's son; but Mary, mother of God, sees and knows parts of the divine plan also. This is a wonderful picture of the working together of male and female perspectives to provoke an event, one that will express the nature of God within the community.

It may not seem important to provide wine for a wedding, certainly not enough to warrant Jesus using this opportunity to produce his first miracle. Mary sees differently and Jesus listens, acts accordingly, and produces GOOD wine.

What can we take away from this first miracle for our own lives?

Mostly, we all agreed, it shows God cares about everything in our lives, even those we might perceive as unimportant or insignificant. Terry and I shared a personal story of a wedding- our daughter Amber and her husband John's, in which we first thought we wouldn't have fried chicken because the grocery store misplaced our order, and this was a couple hours before the reception. They agreed to get the chicken done in an hour, all 200 pieces, and because of that the chicken was very fresh..... everyone raved about it later! During the reception we grew concerned there might not be enough for everyone, as some of our young people were loading up as they went through the buffet line....I prayed and hoped there would be, and as it turned out, there were a few pieces left over. I like to believe God saw us through, cared that we wanted to offer the best food and hospitality to our guests we could.

In the same way Mary didn't want the people hosting the wedding in Cana to be embarrassed because they ran out of wine. Water was not drinkable or safe in most instances back in this biblical time period, so wine was the beverage of choice to serve at weddings, making it a very important component to care for the guests.

It is great to be reminded of the Lord's care for us in all areas of our lives.

In this week's Reflection from Living the Good News this story is translated into something larger to be applied to our view of society:

“They have no wine.” Mary’s statement encompasses more
than the immediate, physical need to keep the wedding
reception rolling. As Elizabeth Johnson points out in
Truly our Sister, it is a painful reminder of the scarcity in
which Galilean peasants lived under Roman occupation.
For once they wanted to escape their grinding poverty
and celebrate—until the wine ran out. Mary’s initiative
prompts a bountiful abundance—simple math suggests
120 gallons of the finest vintage!

Furthermore, Mary’s words describe the situation of
countless people around the world today. “They have
no wine,” nor health care, safety, food, jobs, freedom,
education, opportunity, political power.

She must have spoken with authority: the servants follow
Jesus’ directive on the strength of her words. If we have
ever stereotyped Mary as silent, passive, or resigned to
the status quo, the story of Cana corrects our image.
Just as she crosses the taboo line into the male section of
the party to address Jesus, so she names our needs and
encourages our bold initiatives to change injustice.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

God's Light for All Nations- Adult Forum Class- 1/6/13

Adult Forum class is hosted by Terry and Danese Grandfield at 9:15am Sunday mornings in The Langor Lounge. All are welcome!

God's Light for All Nations

"Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you."(Isaiah 60:1)

The Message translates the same verse this way:

 “Get out of bed, Jerusalem!
    Wake up. Put your face in the sunlight.
    God’s bright glory has risen for you."

On January 6th we celebrated the feast of the Epiphany, a day which reminds us that God sent his son, Jesus Christ, to bring light into a dark world, and also into the darkness of our own hearts and minds.

With the coming of that light, we are to get up, to shine, allowing God's light upon us to dispel the darkness in the world around us.

During class we began a discussion about darkness and sources of light. Terry shared his experience of working in an actual darkroom when serving as photographer in the US Navy. Being in the dark took getting used to, and was even scary at first, although after being in a darkroom for a few moments it was possible to see some traces of light. Most of the job had to be done in the dark or the film would be ruined, the images lost.

Most of us do not feel comfortable in the dark, especially to work. Today when there are so many sources of light through electricity it can be hard to make out the brilliance of the stars in our sky because light surrounds our towns and cities. We are accustomed to the light, often take it for granted.

Until, as Mary Ellen shared, we recently experienced Hurricane Sandy, which plunged so many areas here in the northeastern United States into darkness. Many people were forced to bring out candles to provide light in their dark homes. 

One candle lit in a dark room creates an amazing amount of illumination. It truly does push back the darkness. What if we add two candles, or three, positioning them at different spots within the room? The light becomes greater, the darkness recedes further.

If we are holding a candle and keep it in front of our bodies, the light is blocked on one side; but if we hold it up high above our heads that same light can reach behind and around us. That picture reminds me of the Statue of Liberty and her invitation:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

Further into the reading from Isaiah we realize that if we hold the light of God up for others to see, people will be drawn to that light. 

"Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn."

Maybe our Epiphany lies in believing in the light, and sharing it boldly. Ann spoke of the headlights on a car, and their illumination of the road ahead. We are all called to shine the light ahead for those who need to see. 

The Wise Men followed the light of a star to the baby Jesus. In Matthew 2:1-12 they asked Herod, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." They knelt in front of the baby Jesus and presented him with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The birth of Christ even caused the rising of a star in the heavens, one that could be followed. The wise men were "overwhelmed with joy" when they saw Jesus. His light became theirs, and they gladly offered him gifts. They had already made a long journey to "see the true light," and  when they left, after being warned by God in a dream, they took a different route.

The light of God often does that..... changes the direction of our lives.

Another word for Epiphany is manifestation. As the Apostle Paul shares from our epistle reading in Ephesians 3:1-12, "Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places."

God's light, manifest in each of us, forms a community of light. As we each raise our candles, allowing "the wisdom of God in its rich variety" to shine through us, we join in dispelling the darkness. Each person shines uniquely that light, based on their individual gifts. Together we become brighter. Together we heal. Together we bring peace.

From Living the Good News:

"The Church, a unique creation, realizes the
unthinkable—all people become chosen people. Other
religions of the time found room for many different gods,
but only welcomed adherents who shared the same social,
political and economic status. Christians were different
because they believed in only one God and opened
their communities to those of every race, social status,
economic background or political alliance. God has
chosen to make unity for all possible in Christ Jesus."

A beautiful and haunting poem:

"The Journey of the Magi"
by  T. S. Eliot

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kiking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

God showing up for us

Here is an excerpt from Bishop Paul V. Marshall's sermon on Sunday, December 23, 2012, the Fourth Sunday in Advent. As part of the annual Episcopal visitation, the parish celebrated Canon Andrew Gerns' thirtieth anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. 

What makes an invitation inviting? I think it boils down to who sends it, where it is, and what’s it about. All three boxes are checked for me today. Fr. Gerns is a special friend, a thirtieth ordination anniversary is a rare testament to faithfulness, and it is at Trinity Church.

Start with the “where.” I wonder if you know much your parish contributes to the lives of other Episcopalians in this diocese. In addition to your service to your own community, your feeding and your habitat program, your sisters and brothers here provide diocesan leadership in the Standing Committee, Stewardship, Evangelism, Congregational Renewal, the Daughters of the King, and the Liturgical Commission, just off the top of my head. Two of you are giving many, many hours to the repair and rebuilding of parish life at St. Stephen’s, Whitehall, an enormous task that will take some years. For all of this I am deeply grateful, and I am trying to express that by the most basic thing we can do as humans: showing up for each other. In the long run, of course, what we celebrate at this time of year is God showing up for us, and to that I will return.

Canon Gerns is quite well, thank you, and is my last surviving friend from back in the day, so I am not going to eulogize him in any embarrassing way, but I still have all the pictures from the 70s, and they can be bought. I can tell you without embarrassing him that that he is a faithful pastor to many, a crafty leader in diocesan matters, a wise adviser, a leader and shaper of thought in the Episcopal Church itself. We are honored as a diocese to have his presence. A recent book on how to do church communications credits him, not quite for inventing the internet, but for being among those who best made that internet serve the Gospel of Christ and keep on doing it....

...So I dare to suggest that to honor Fr. Gerns by giving school furniture for Sudanese who have absolutely nothing, just like the completion of your Habitat for Humanity commitment now underway, is to honor a faithful and committed priest. Much more, such acts demonstrate that we get it about his ministry, and are ever expanding the room we make in our hearts for the Christ child who brings us Life Itself.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Good News- Adult Forum Class- 12/16/12

Adult Forum class is hosted by Terry and Danese Grandfield at 9:15am Sunday mornings in The Langor Lounge. All are welcome!

The Good News

Another class beginning with a question.......

What do you think it means to be a prophet?

Our Old Testament bible reference comes from the prophet Zephaniah, one of those "minor" prophets whose name gets lost behind the more familiar and major prophets like Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Daniel.
Who was he, and why was he considered a prophet?
                                                                                                                                                            He was a prophet during the time of King Josiah prior to the fall of Jerusalem, preceding the exile of the Jews to Babylon (640-609BC).

Like all Old Testament prophets he had a distinct message to deliver.

Interesting to note his words, his message, was quite encouraging in the reading for today (Zephaniah 3: 14-20) offering hope to God's people who will be facing significant hardship in the years ahead.

One definition of the word prophet is one who utters divinely inspired revelations. That definition makes us think that a prophet is special, unique, different from most of us ordinary people. In the gospel lesson today we hear from John the Baptist, extreme prophet, living in the wilderness wearing a camel's hair belt and having locusts and wild honey for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Certainly to be admired, but not a person most of us modern day Christians could remotely relate to or strive to be (at least if we were honest!)

Still, the Good News that Christ brought, the powerful message advent shares through the incarnation, is that Emmanuel- God with us- God in us- means we are all "prophets", and therefore messengers of The Good News. We don't have to be on a mission field in a far off place -or in a pulpit -or fasting day and night- or eating locusts (thank God!!!)

If we realize we are messengers, then how do we share that message?

John the Baptist gave some clear guidelines in the gospel lesson from Luke 3:7-18 to help us with that question. After calling the crowds coming to him a "brood of vipers", the people began to get a little nervous, especially when he stated God could take rocks and make them into Abraham's children if he needed to -also adding (ouch!) "every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."

As a prophet he certainly got their attention, something most prophets were gifted in doing by using some scary ideas- hell fire and judgement. When the people he was challenging asked some viable questions, John responded with the true heart of The Good News.

""What then should we do?"
He said to them. "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; whoever has food must do likewise.""

Sharing what we have.... so simple, and yet so profoundly and divinely inspired.

Referring back to Zephaniah, God encourages through the prophet "And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth." As prophets, messengers, today, we too can save and gather through God's love.

Anne shared that being a prophet can be as simple as feeling a nudge to call someone, and by doing so responding to God in reaching out to that person. Sharing with someone a smile, a nod of kindness and recognition, could bring light and hope to a person's day. It doesn't have to be extreme or particularly noteworthy, it just needs to come from our heart- God's heart.

Living The Good News also means letting God "baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." The fire part sounds painful but is necessary to burn away our "chaff"(all that stuff inside that keeps us from living up to our full God-given potential), enabling us to become truer to sharing his love.

We touched briefly on the Epistle reading from Philippians 4:4-7. The word rejoice is also in the passage from Zephaniah, but Paul uses it twice in the first sentence, clearly emphasizing his point.

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice."

In theory, rejoicing and not worrying about anything because we choose to trust God sounds plausible, and all of us could point to instances in our lives where we did feel God's peace in the midst of a troubling situation. But we were also honest in admitting that living up to Paul's exhortation, " Do not worry about anything" is hard, seems almost impossible, until he places the key to this attitude into our hands by telling us:

"but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God, And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."

Let us give everything to God...... both our struggles and our joys, and rejoice! as we continue to await the Lord's coming this advent season.

Here is a thought provoking poem included as part of our study guide:

"Our Daily Bread" by Cesar Vallejo

I wish I could beat on all the doors
and ask for somebody; and then 
look at the poor, and, wile they wept softly.
give bits of fresh bread to them.....

Every bone in me belongs to others
and maybe I robbed them.
I came to take something for myself that maybe
was meant for some other man;
and I start thinking that, if I had not been born,
another poor man could have drunk this coffee.....

And in this frigid hour, when the earth
has the odor of human dust and is so sad,
I wish I could beat on all the doors
and beg pardon from someone,
and make bits of fresh bread for him
here, in the oven of my heart....!

A remarkable quote from Mother Teresa of Calcutta:

"In each of our lives Jesus comes as the bread of life----
to be eaten, to be consumed by us.
This is how he loves us.
Then Jesus comes in our human life as the hungry one, the other,
hoping to be fed with the bread of our life.
our hearts loving, and our hands serving."

As we approach the fourth Sunday of Advent, let us meditate on allowing the Lord to use us as prophets of The Good News, freely sharing His bread with those in need.

Our Study for the upcoming 4th Sunday of Advent (December 23, 2012):
Jesus The Teacher
Bible verses: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Stirring up God's power at the intersection of horror and hope

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

A little over eleven years ago, a little boy was watching the television and the only thing on was the blanket coverage of the 9/11 attacks. Over and over again he saw the image of those towers collapsing. Finally, his mother turned off the tv and tried to redirect him. But the enormity had set it and he was trying to find the words. As he was drawing a picture he finally asked “Mom, where was Superman?”

I remembered this story as I watched the news unfold on Friday of the mass murder of twenty first graders, their teachers as well as the mother of the shooter and the shooter himself. This is not supposed to happen. Schools are not places where violence is supposed to happen. Classrooms should never be places where children die. Teaching is a profession one gives one life to but it is not meant to be a job where one risks giving her life.
We have seen evil come to life. I want God’s power to be stirred up and to make this all better. Already there are people crying out for more laws and others saying things like we should routinely arm teachers. Both reactions get people riled up but they deflect us from what is really important. If the severity of trauma can be measured by the immediacy of the threat, the vulnerability of the victims and the degree of helplessness we feel then we are all at least a little traumatized even though we are far away from the epicenter—that is, if we have any heart at all.  And so it is natural to ask “then what can we do?”

Well, wouldn’t you know? That very question appears in today’s Gospel. John the Baptist is going around Galilee preaching Good News. But it doesn’t sound very good. He is saying that God’s judgment is at hand. He chides the religious leaders for their complacency and tells people they need to get ready for the coming of the Messiah. He says our history and heritage will not help us escape what is coming.

This has everyone shaken right down to their socks. “What should we do?” the people ask. I mean, if the Chief Priests, the Scribes and the Pharisees can’t pass muster when the Messiah comes then who will?
If you think about it, this question is not so far from our lips either. If a rural-suburban town of middle-class folks far away from the traditional epicenters of crime and violence cannot escape evil incarnate then what can we do?

St. John Baptist’s advice is surprisingly practical. He tells everyone to bear fruit worthy of repentance. He tells the religious leaders to be faithful and don’t count on their status. He tells workers like tax collectors and soldiers to take only what they are owed—in a day long before unions and civil service. He tells people to be honest, to be good, and to care for one another.

But if getting ready for the Messiah is the picture of practicality, that doesn’t make it simple. If our faith is going to make a practical difference then we must choose to be intentional about our faith. Being faithful means being attentive to what needs is going on around us. Being attentive means being smart about our choices of not only what we do bur our choices in who we are. This kind of faithful living means being reasonable in our expectations of others and ourselves—cutting each other some slack. John taught that faithful living means taking responsibility for how we live out our faith and that kind of deliberate faithfulness grows out living as if we are in love with the life that God has given us and in love with the God who gives us life.

We get ready for the Messiah when we choose to live life making space for God. This was the point behind John’s baptism. John didn’t baptize people because it was cool or a fad. He baptized people because they needed to change and that change had to start from within and, at the same time, be obvious to everyone.

That’s the thing about the sacramental life. It is God at work in us alone and in community. God takes everyday things like water, bread, wine, and even olive oil becoming and they become signs of the things that God is at work in every part of our living. God places us in the midst of imperfect people and changes us together.
As we try to make useful meaning out of random violence, we can learn from John the Baptist who prepares us for the redemption to come. If we dare to look through the lens of this tragedy, we too can find Good News, we will find the ground work of God’s grace and we will know what to do.

The first thing we can learn is that while this is a national tragedy with national implications, it is also local. Our pain is our pain. It is nothing like the pain that the people of Newtown are right now experiencing and not even close to the pain of the parents whose child was murdered or of the families whose parent or spouse or adult child was killed. Some of you may have some kind of personal connection to the event or else this tragedy may call up for you memories of your own losses. The feelings that go with that are natural and normal. At the same time, let what is yours be yours and what is theirs be theirs. Our pain and sadness allows us to build empathetic and caring bridges of support and that is very important—essential in fact. But on Monday, we will go back to work. They will have to re-knit lives torn open.

Because what’s theirs is theirs and what’s ours is ours, we have different work to do. For one thing, we can ask questions and frame meaning in a way that the people close to the crisis will not be able to do for maybe a long, long time.

This is where the issue of judgment comes in. But not in the way you think. We often think of judgment as something God does to a people for wrongs they have done. But we must be very clear here. God did not do this. Beware of platitudes. God did not need these children more than their parents. While we believe that God is caring for the dead and that in Christ they are held in God’s loving embrace, this is not how God recruits angels.  Don’t let sentimentality teach people how to hate God for what God does not do.

No. We are looking at the fruits of the kind of world we have made and we are staring into the heart of human sin. We are being forced to look at the consequences of creating (but not talking about) a culture that enshrines violence and makes it easier to buy a gun than to rent an apartment. What happened Friday exposes the consequences of our choice as a people to make the right to bear arms at least as important as the right to health and education. This tragedy lays an axe to the tree of our assumptions that easy answers couched in simplistic media-ready ideologies will do a better job of solving our problems than the hard work of living in community.

But if the consequences of our choices convict us, signs of redemption are also near. If you look closely, God started signaling the solution even before we comprehended the horror of what was going on.
One man chose to do evil. That much is clear. But notice that when the chips were down hundreds of people chose to do the good.  One man did unimaginable evil. Many others performed compassionate acts of humanity—even bravery—beyond our imagining.

This is where we find God in the midst of horror: the teachers, principal and the therapist who put themselves between a gunman and children; in the people who rushed to the firehouse to find and care for their kids; in the first responders who came in droves to secure the school and care for the injured; in the police and the caring professionals who were paired up with families whose children died and shepherded them through those terrible hours. People who filled churches, synagogues and parks to keep vigil, write names, sing pray, and just hold and hug each other were at once tangible signs of good overcoming evil and the presence of God bringing life out of chaos. In the days to come, every funeral, each flower given, every casserole delivered, each child baby sat, every hug given and even the space given to allow for private grief will make real the ways that God pushes back darkness and reveal light. Much of what we will see will be very sad, beyond heartbreaking. God will be present to that heartbreak often in ways small, tender, and spontaneous.

Watch. God’s power is already stirred up. Good started defeating evil just when it looked as if evil won the day. We Christians believe that in Christ’s life, death and resurrection God has defeated sin, death and evil once and for all. Yes, after the empty tomb of Easter, evil still breaks out and still deals death in horrid ways, but everything evil does is now a rear guard action against God who has already reconciled creation and defeated sin. As we move towards Christmas, our job will be to hold that truth both close to our hearts and up for the world to see. It will also be on us to surround the people of Newtown…and all the people we know who have suffered a loss anywhere by death, or who are facing a dread illness, or who are the victims of injustice or who are poor and outcast… and hold these people in love, prayer and practical compassion.

John the Baptist to the people he was getting people ready for Jesus to repent…that we can choose. We can intentionally make room for God and that will change us and it will change the world for good.