Keep Awake – Undelivered sermon #1

KEEP AWAKE!

First Sunday in Advent, 2014
Texts: Isaiah 64:1-9
Mark 13:24-37

“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” [attributed to Jesus, Gospel of Mark 13:37].

It’s hard to stay awake in times like these. To be conscious means grief, helplessness, anger at the state of the world.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” is supposed to bring comfort but it doesn’t, unless the heaven and earth of which Jesus speaks are the ones our pride has created. The imaginary ones. The heavenly and earthly projects that rise out of human insecurity as in the Genesis story of Babel, the story of what never was but always is, according to which the building of the ideal city is interrupted and the tower “with its top in the heavens” is “left off”.

But the word – the story about it – has not passed away. It endures. As fresh today as it was when first shared around a campfire as a way of telling each generation the respective places of God and man (humankind).

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel.

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel.

Fourteen years after the World Trade Towers collapsed in NYC, a new tower, “One World Trade Center” – taller, stronger, bolder – stands where the old towers fell on 9/11.

One World Trade Center, symbolizes a resurrection of the crashed myth. Standing a few blocks from Wall Street, where the global economy is reconstructed every day, One World Trade Center re-erects the myth of national supremacy, benign goodness, and the virtue of the American economic system. Which is different from a resurrection.

We could have left Ground Zero empty, void of monoliths and phallic symbols. We could have turned it into a plaza, a memorial to the error of pride, a turning away from global arrogance. A repentance from the economic-military-religious complex that expropriated the oil fields in the Middle East, assassinated the elected President of Iran in 1958, installed the Shah in his place, ignored the human rights of Palestinians, supported and installed western-friendly oligarchies and strong men in Saudi Arabia, Iraq (Saddam Hussein), Libya (Muammar Gaddafi), and Egypt (Hosni Mubarak) until, except for Saudi Arabia, they turned against us.

Instead of listening to the word that does not pass away, we Americans, to the sorrow of New Yorkers like Michael Kimmelman (” A Soaring Emblem of New York, and Its Upside-Down Priorities, NY Times, Nov. 29, 2014), opted for the old words and worn-out scripts that have failed us.

The Arab Spring in Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia did not do what the NeoCon exporters of Western democracy had imagined. It unleashed a seething volcano of anti-American resentment. Meanwhile, Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Syria, have become desert quagmires – Vietnams without jungles.

One World Trade Center

One World Trade Center

Eisenhower’s last speech to the nation warning of an emerging military-industrial complex is all but forgotten as One World Trade Center stands like a phoenix raised up…and up…and up from the ashes, the world’s tallest building, symbol of global dominance re-erected from the horrifying deadly collapse of 9/11.

Words and symbols are everything in this world.

As Mr. Kimmelman put,

“…[The World Trade Center Twin Towers] never really connected with the rest of Lower Manhattan. There had been talk after Sept. 11 about the World Trade Center re-development including housing, culture and retail, capitalizing on urban trends and the growing desire for a truer neighborhood, at a human scale, where the windswept plaza at the foot of the twin towers had been.”

It’s all about human scale. A plaza. Not a tower with its top in the heavens.

Staying awake is hard. Being attuned to what is not passing away takes faith. It takes hope. I takes courage. Maybe even love.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.” [Mark 13:28]

Jesus often seems to have said that the word we need to hear is spoken by nature. Learn from the fig tree. It waits through the dormant season to become tender again, to put forth its leaves toward summer when it produces its sweet figs.

Nature is calling. Nature is our home. Nature is what is – the real heaven and earth – the word that will not pass away, the word that will survive when we are gone. We need to love nature again. Awaken to nature. Re-imagine ourselves as part of nature, “creatures” like all the other creatures. Our words will pass away, even the best of them. Our Creator’s word will not.

During Advent – this most puzzling of seasons, the season of wakeful, wait-ful anticipation of a Coming in fullness – I find myself crying out like Isaiah. “You have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.” [Isaiah 64:7]

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil– to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations [the ‘ethnoi’ in New Testament Greek, i.e.” the peoples”] might tremble at your presence!” [Isaiah 64:1-2]

The “nations” have always been God’s adversaries, closed in on themselves, puffed up, defensive against intruders foreign and domestic, plunderers of nature and other nations, hostile to the foreigner, both human and Divine.

In this season of “economic recovery” when the poor continue to get poorer, the rich get richer, and the middle class shrinks, I pray “Good Lord, deliver us, from ‘the hand of our own iniquity’. Remember, ‘O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.’ [Isaiah 64:8]”

This word is the only word that lasts.

Stay awake, my soul. Stay awake to the whole of it, all of it – the sorrow and the grief of it, the loneliness of it, the anger in it, the guilt of it, the finger pointing out and away and the finger pointing back at me, a nation to myself, and the presence of the Potter – and my soul will be well.

Capture the Flag

Children playing Capture the Flag

Long before I got hooked on Facebook, my childhood friends and I used to play outside until it got dark.  Capture the Flag was our favorite game.If you had the flag, your job was to keep it; if you didn’t, your job was to capture it.  Only one person had the flag; the rest of us worked together until one of us got it.  And when one of us did, the game started over again.

Even if you hadn’t captured the flag that night, you went home knowing that tomorrow you had another chance.  Nothing was forever in the game of Capture the Flag.

We were learning how the game of democracy is played. We were learning how to win and how to lose.  We were learning the importance of continuing to play the game because no one knew how things would turn out the next night before our Moms called us home at bedtime.

All these years later, we’re playing Capture the Flag on Facebook.  Some of us are Democrats.  Some are Republicans.  Some are Libertarians.  Some are Socialists.  Some of us are Cynics who’ve decided that the game is stacked and that no matter how hard they try to capture the flag for what they believe in, the same bullies always win.

When we played the game as kids, there was a nearly level playing field.  The slowest of us had less of a chance than the fastest, but even the slowest and the smallest had a shot, if we worked together to capture the flag.

It’s not that different now, except that the bullies have money the rest of us don’t have. They’ve also learned how to divert our attention. Well-funded mind-bending scare tactics seek to convince voters that the flag has actually been in our pocket and that we, not they, are losing control of our country if health care reform, action on climate change, and reigning in Wall Street are the results of the November election.

Protest sign: U.S. Chamber of Commerce

It’s time to go out to the backyard and play the game again. Time to stand up together to reign in Wall Street and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and to tell our friends in the Tea Party that  deregulated, laissez-faire capitalism will serve only the fittest, not the many. Time to snatch the Stars and Stripes out of the deep pocket of the bullies who paint themselves as America’s last, best hope. No one gets to keep the flag in the United States of America.