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At St. Paul’s: “Our primary mission is to relate to, and minister to people who are living on the edge, who seek God’s will for their lives, struggling to find direction and purpose in a society that can be violent, insensitive and money-grabbing.”
Living in the Present Moment
If you are like me, you are appalled by the shooting death of young people; and it is even more tragic when a police officer, sworn to protect and serve, pulled the trigger. After the death and publicity of Michael Brown’s non-trial out in Missouri, it seems we, the people of America, are more on edge.
It’s as if we are living in the set of a video game and the thugs are the good guys, and they all have guns. And the cops are all bad cops. And we are the innocent ones in the middle with the bullets flying and we need a hero to come out of retirement or something and save the day.
Something needs to change. As one PD reporter said: When police shoot a 12-year-old within 4 seconds and then wait 4 minutes to render first-aid, it's time for the department to spend serious time reevaluating their recruiting, training and tactics.
I love this city; but I am not a hero. But I do know one thing: I think our city is grieving. I’d been trying to be present to people’s hurts; people’s anger; people’s suffering. I’d been working with the idea that a cop killed a 12 year old boy with a toy in front of a rec center and it just didn’t make sense. Not that any death by gunshot in this city makes sense. And then when we were traveling by that school in Connecticut called Sandy Hook it dawned on me. The Cleveland police officer didn’t want this “lone gunman” going into the rec center to shoot it up in some crazy revenge scenario. And the message to the other kids with guns is this: cops don’t play. This is not a scene in your stupid video
games. Real bullets; real blood; real lives stake.
I hear gunshots sometimes in the neighborhood here at West
45 and Franklin. We have had bullets whizzing by. And in this city,
it is not farfetched to think that a 12 year old boy can get a gun and
take it back to the rec center to “finish some business some other
boy started.” This violence is very close to home. It is glorified in
rap music, every day conversation and video games. In most
neighborhoods, the ones with the guns get respect, and if you use
it, no one will mess with you – you’re crazy. People stop messing
If you are a police officer, you have a gun, and you have to use
it. I you feel threatened in any way, you have to use the means you
have been trained to use. We might question the cops training,
recruiting, tactics, whatever, but these officers just put almost 40
gang members in jail, and it is retaliation time in that
neighborhood. People forget that gang members like to be seen as
ruthless; and it not farfetched for some thug to send their little
brother to the rec center to do their dirty work. Ok that is my rant
of the day. Lets get back to the Bible.
Certainly, in this chaotic world, the Powers in heaven seem to
be shaking. And we can count our blessings every time we return
home safe and sound without incident; and the news. Now, I quit
watching the news; with all the violence -- they are
sensationalizing violence . . . its entertainment. But, it just makes
me cherish each and every moment we have. And, Thanksgiving,
with the outpouring of goodwill and generosity, helps us
remember to do that. So I am into a new thing: Thanksgiving all
season long -- the past is something we can put aside; and we
don’t know what will happen in the future, so let’s live for the
moment; we only have the gift of the present. I have been trying to
be more present: to my family, to my children, to parishners, to
people in need . . .
And now we are post-Thanksgiving . . . did everyone eat too
much? I did, twice . . . we traveled to New England to visit
relatives, so we also had too many hours in the car, too many
hours sitting in the same position, you know what I mean. And
now Advent is upon us; here, now, this Sunday. And this Gospel
account is a little confusing, so what do we do now? I mean, how
are we going to be present to the hurts of humanity when we can
barely see through the hurt that is happening so close to us. With
the heavens shaking, how can we wait for some hero to come
down out of the clouds and save us . . . just saying . . .
So I have a preacher friend who offered this idea: What if this
Advent, we translate Jesus’ words “keep awake” as “be present”.
Live THIS moment.” Keep awake and live in to this moment; keep
awake to what you are doing right now in this preparing, readying
time of year. When we “keep awake” we are present to the
countless moments when, as the Prophet Isaiah proclaims, the
heavens tear open and the Lord comes down. “O that you would tear
open the heavens and come down,” it says in Isaiah, Chapter 64, “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 might tremble at your presence!”
This moment is all we have, so let’s live now - living always
as though God’s presence is assumed. That is a reality that
changes the meaning of our day. God’s full embodied presence
invites our own full presence in each moment of our lives. The
smiles we have for people, the cookies we bake, the generosity we
offer, the decorating for Christmas, the reaching out, the
traditions, the cards, the meals, the rushing around, the
remembering to slow down, the gathering, recognizing who is no
longer here, love, loss, mourning and celebration...God’s presence
is there in all of it. Advent is not a time for waiting for anything
better to come; it won’t . . . I mean, it doesn’t really get any better
than this. Well, there is a great anticipation of Christmas. But we
don’t have to wait to celebrate, to put off being thankful for
everything we have even though we still have 4 weeks before
Christmas even gets here. Advent this year is our chance to live
into each present moment knowing that Christmas will be God’s
finest hour; God’s incarnation will soon be powerfully embodied in
a tiny baby Jesus. Emmanuel, God with us.
On this first Sunday of Advent we lift up HOPE. And, at the
heart of what Daniel and Isaiah, the apocalyptic literature, are
saying, when the Lord rips open the heavens and comes into our
lives, there is encouragement and hope. Even though the
Israelites have been decimated in war, this gives Jesus the
opportunity to shine at his pastoral best. What looks like
devastation and defeat will be God's victory. Out of the turmoil
and confusion surrounding the destruction of the temple will be a
new presence of God. Out of the suffering and death of the
Messiah will be new life. God's new way of being in the world will
turn a cross into resurrection and a baby in a manger into salvation
for the world.
Mark’s Gospel uses the verb schizō, to describe what
happened to the heavens with the arrival of Jesus; it’s not a simple
opening that we can close again...it’s a tearing. Using Isaiah’s
words to describe the tearing of the heavens, Mark wants us to
know that it’s not like God can be let out for a little while and
when we've had enough, God can put back behind closed curtains.
Oh no; these events will change everything. Nothing will be the
same. Anything we think separates us from God, has been ripped
open and can never go back to the way it was before. People in
Jesus’ time, the disciples in particular, would have heard these
words before from the book of Daniel, chapter 7. The prophets are
foretelling of these events taking place; God coming to earth;
changing everything and everyone.
There is no keeping God at a distance any more. God can use
anything that happens from the horrifying gunning down of a 12
year old, to the ordinary moments for our health, wealth and
wholeness to get the message out to the world. So, even if we are
tempted to get romantic and cuddly about the baby born in
Bethlehem, the Gospel reminds us that incarnation is risky life-
changing kind of stuff. And we are the ones called to deliver it. Go
out and start proclaiming!
Henri J. M. Nouwen, in his book "The Wounded Healer," tells us to step up to the
challenge, even if we feel as though we aren’t ready yet:
"To announce, however, that the Liberator is sitting among the poor and that the
wounds are signs of hope and that today is the day of liberation, is a step very few
can take. But this is exactly the announcement of the wounded healer: 'The
master is coming - not tomorrow, but today, not next year, but this year, not after
all our misery is passed, but in the middle of it, not in another place but right here
where we are standing.'"
The darkening of the sun, the dimming of the moon's light,
and the stars falling from heaven (as Mark’s Gospel puts it) means
the end of the world as we have known it. God is close, really close
- as close as our own breath and no matter what we think we know
about God; stay present to your life because God will exceed
expectation! Incarnation means we can find God in everything it
means to be human, even in death. In fact, God becomes us to
bring life at the moment we’re sure its only death. That is the
promise of the season of HOPE if we can simply stay in the present
moment where God is.
“Love is both who you are and who you are still becoming, like a
sunflower seed that becomes its own sunflower.” Richard Rohr