When we lived in the UP we heard stories of the old days when wolves were king of the forest. But unlike every other big game animal, there was no restricted hunting season for wolves, but they were always fair game, with a bounty on their heads, and so were driven to the brink of extinction. Our church Council President – whose father was a leading character in the locally famous documentary, about the life of hunting and trapping, called, “Good Man in the Woods” – claimed his dad was the one to shoot the very last wolf. Of course, there were more in Canada, but for decades, no one saw any in the lower 48. In between, the image of wolf as evil predator was debated and largely debunked. And so they were reintroduced first in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and finally also to Upper Michigan. Not everyone was happy, but many, including Native Americans, welcome them as a spiritual creature, without whom the environment is lacking something important, and God given. All agree, at least, that no one wants to actually live with them.
When Jesus came up out of the waters of his baptism, by John in the Jordan, he saw the heavens torn open. And, the same Spirit that descended on him, drove him out into the wilderness, where he was “with the wild animals/beasts.” And so, Jesus, fulfilling the words of the prophet Isaiah, that “the wolf would lie down with the lamb” and “the leopard with the kid,” lives with at least one foot firmly planted in the realm of God, that Isaiah envisioned. With the wild animals and waited on by angels, Jesus is the vision of peace, when the earth will be renewed and redeemed.
Noah and his family also entertain the wolf, and all his wild, beastly friends, on the Ark! It must have been cozy – 7 pairs of all the clean animals, and 1 pair of the wild ones – sharing quarters with, the four pairs of humans. Somehow, on their 40 day journey, they managed to get along! You’d think it would have been tempting for the wolf, not to see, in the lamb, his next meal. Yet no such report exists, and as far as we know, enclosed within the Ark, God makes a sanctuary for all, bobbing along for 40 days, waiting for their return and renewal, from death to life.
In Lent, God calls us to return, for “it is the LORD who has torn us and the LORD God who will heal the tear.” And, returning is a process of learning again, learning the way of discipleship. Returning is a 40 day journey, strengthened by the gifts of word and sacrament, practicing repentance, fasting, and works of love, before we reach the Three Great days of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
But returning can’t be accomplished by individual journey’s alone. “Indeed, God… sent the Son into the world … in order that the [whole] world might be saved through him” – and so the new covenant is made with the chosen people of God, as a whole, on behalf of the whole earth.
In the Ark, Noah and his family, and all the animals, domestic and wild, are encapsulated and entombed, for a time, so that God can wash the earth clean. While the rest of Noah’s world who had turned their backs on God, forgot their responsibilities to the earth, and did not wish to return to God, are torn asunder, before God then heals the tear. The world had gone so far off track in the first 5 chapter of Genesis, after the Creation, that God was ready to start over. And so, God flooding the whole world for forty days, so that God can once again separate the waters from the dry land, and make a safe place for us and all the animals to live, is a brilliant re-creation of the third day of Creation! And the rainbow is set in the sky to be a reminder, actually, to God, though it also works for us. It’s God’s covenant of peace with the whole earth. Through Noah and all animals, we are handed a second chance. God is hanging up the bow of war, and signaling, in the openness of the sky, that all the earth is safe and renewed.
Jesus, comes up out of Jordan’s baptismal waters, to order the world in a new way too. The sky is torn open for the creative voice of God, who blesses Jesus, and is pleased with the good news he will proclaim, for the sake of the whole world. Jesus is a rainbow of peace for us, come in human form to heal all our tears, and dry our tears.
God doesn’t solve for us the problem of why there is evil in the world, but God opens the heavenly sky, a little bit wider all the time, revealing through the prophets and Jesus, the light of life, and the good news, that comes as a gift to us, so that we may become healers for each other, and proclaimers’ of the truth. Our humanness has not essentially changed. We’ve had all the potential we need since Adam and Eve.
The real revelation, as we begin this Lenten journey, is that God changes, over the course of salvation history, as much or more than us. We witness it here in the Flood story where God’s initial desire is to do away with the whole human race, all animals, and everything, because his heart was so grieved. But when he finds Noah, God is struck by the idea that if mercy is shown to a few, a remnant, God can re-new the covenant, and not have to start completely over. The Ark will be the means of salvation, a sanctuary, to plant the good seed that will renew the creation God loves.
Today, our relationship with the creation continues to change. Sometimes, for example, we hear of the wild animals, “with us” in the city, wandering in from the wilderness, and walking our streets. A mountain lion was reported in Roscoe Village three years ago – no one was able to ask it why it had come, before it was shot! And many people have seen deer in the city – we had one in the community garden across our alley in Logan Square. Out west, coyotes are a constant urban companion, and here and there, sightings of opossums, red fox, and raccoons, are reported. But it’s not because the animals have gone crazy, but only because we have gone crazy with over development, encroaching on their territory.
The animals are a bell weather for us. And within God’s good green earth – the intensified hurricanes and earthquakes, the droughts and flooding – all call out to us. Not just as signs of exploitation and climate change, but as signs that the whole Body of Christ, all of us as the people of faith, are failing to return, and are not living up to the covenant God has given us as creatures and care-takers of God’s creation.
The excesses of our world are perhaps greater in some ways than the excesses of the times of Noah. But because of Jesus, our capacity to return is greater too. This Lent we have the opportunity to return, to come to the font, and renew the covenant of our baptism. There, we die and rise with Christ, and are re-created. If God can change God’s mind and renew the creation, we can return too.
And then, the world may yet see in us, just a glimpse of the realm of God, where wolf and lamb lie down together, that we may have a clear vision who Christ is, and where all creation needs to go.
The prophet Joel talks about returning. “Return to the LORD, your God…” A theme that will resonate throughout our 40 day journey of Lent, a journey from death to life.
Yesterday I emailed you an invitation to join me in the church’s 3 disciplines of Lent – repentance, fasting, and works of love. We can and do have our own journey’s, our own decisions to make, each of us, as a person of faith. But there is more. We have our corporate and public responsibility to return, as church, ekklesia, as the people of God, as well. They are not divorced from each other. It's often said that, in the end, we can only be responsible for our own choices, and we can’t force the other person to, do the right thing, or any thing! But God comes to save the whole world, as the gospels so often say, and not just individual souls. And so what does it mean for us to return, or repent, as a community?
The prophetic decree, “Return to the LORD, your God,” was a call to the whole community, and assembly, of Israel.
If you were hear 4 weeks ago, you heard God's call to return, from the prophet Jonah. Jonah reluctantly gave in, like a pouting teenager, or spurned adult. After he ran away from God, was thrown overboard and swallowed by the whale, entombed for 3 days, was spit up on dry land, Jonah is still not willingly repentant! He will go, as God has asked, and proclaim to his arch enemy, the Ninevites, to repent. But his heart is not in it, he does only the minimum required, which is clear in the brevity of his message, the shortest prophetic warning call in all the OT! And even before that, he complains to God: “I knew you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” That’s why Jonah doesn’t want to go. He acccuses God of all that goog stuff because he doesn’t want to give the Assyrians even the chance, to return!
Jonah, it turns out, copied the same creed, that Joel uses in our 1st Reading. In fact, it appears like this 8 times throughout the Hebrew scriptures: 3 times in Psalms, and once each in Exodus, Numbers, Nehemiah, Nahum, and of course, Jonah. They all recite this belief that God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing!” In each, God invites us to return as the whole assembly. There is still time – that's the prophetic good news. God’s nature is to relent and make room for our return. God is merciful, like the love of a mother or father for their child, and is gracious, as a person who holds power over an inferior, but who uses that power for forgiveness.
So, what if we do want to return! What do we return from? And where do we return to? Joel’s plea to Israel, was to return from exile in Babylon, and to return to their home in Judah. The clue to our return may be found in the words of our Confession tonight. We confess that we, like Jonah, have run the other way from God, and have not kept the great command of Jesus, 'to love God and to love our neighbor,' but instead have turned to ourselves, “our self-indulgent appetites and ways,” and so we are reminded that we need to return – return to the LORD, our God.
We start there, with our own personal turning. But the whole assembly is then called to return, from “our exploitation of other people,” as the confession states, “our indifference to injustice and cruelty,” and “our waste and pollution of [God’s] creation.” Israel was once the military and economic power of the world, and the reason God brought the nation down and sent it into exile was for it's “exploitation of other nations,” and its “indifference to injustice” at home. Not until a cleansing of 2 generations had passed in Exile, did God return them home.
We are on that precipice now, of military and economic world power. By some measures we are still number one. But since 911, a Great Recession, and our heavy responsibility for climate change, we are holding our breath, trying to figure out who we are. We have not yet been exiled, but still, we are in dire need of returning.
God shows us the way, and invites us to it – through grace and mercy, slowness to anger and a great abundance of faith and love, and a postponing of punishment. That’s how we are called to return, for returning is nothing if not a process, a journey that comes in the “the gifts of God's grace in baptism and communion.” And so on our journey in Lent, we return to the font, from which God first turned us around, changed our identity, and branded us with a tattoo, that cross on our foreheads. In Lent we also return to the table, where we gather each time we are together, to be fed with the broken body of Christ, our LORD. On the night in which he was betrayed, God relented of our punishment, while Jesus gave us a new command, to love one another. Jesus went from death to life, that we may know the hope, of our passage too.
On this day alone, we add a very specific tattoo alongside the cross of our baptisms, which is the cross of ashes. When God spoke to Adam and Eve, the first humans, who represent all humans, God reminded them of their mortality, and their dependence on grace and God's relenting from punishment. Remember that “you are dust and to dust you shall return,” God said. We receive this reminder of our human condition tonight, knowing that we also have been blessed with the promise of new life.
We begin our journey in Lent then, as a people who are able to squarely face up to our fate, and the truth which claims us. As we make the journey from death to life, let us “Return to the LORD, our God,” as the church, the whole people of God.
Where are you on the road to seeing Jesus? Thinking about following? Marching, dancing or singing, in the light of God, to show how committed you are? Quietly hanging back, hoping someone will invite you into the action? Maybe already in there, talking and mixing it up with Jesus, Moses and Elijah? Of feeling and experiencing the mystery of the moment – his dazzlingly white clothes, the holy cloud? Or, cursing Jesus out, as you pull off your hiking boots to reveal a huge painful blister?
I remember a trip Kim and I took out west, how exciting it was to plan our vacation, the anticipation of seeing old friends, and imagining the beauty of new sites along the way. And one of the high points was Glacier National Park, where we couldn’t wait to spend the day hiking and exploring.
Going up was easy compared to coming down. Up and up we went, switching back and forth, the trail went from paved, to gravel, to less and less traveled dirt paths. Hours later we arrived at a little clearing with a magnificent view. Though it had taken longer than we had planned, the climb was well worth it. There were snow capped peaks in its glorious mountain range, miles and miles of majestic hemlock and pine, Douglas fur and aspen. We hadn’t been lucky enough to see the black bear, that other hikers told us about – or maybe we were! – but we had seen lots of other wildlife, including a big horn sheep, perched precariously on cliffs edge.
We couldn’t stay long. We only had so much food, and we didn’t want to be caught on the trail after sunset. So down, down, we went. Now all the good views were behind us. The surprise and beauty of the journey up, and reaching the top, were fading memories. And the longer we hiked down, the more my knees began to ache, and finally near the end, my legs started cramping up. Why was coming down always so much harder?
As we sat gazing at the stars over a camp fire dinner that evening, Kim and I recalled the mystical moment of grandeur atop the mountain, and were now able to joke about the hard journey back down. And, we were glad that it was in the middle of our trip, and we still had other peaks to look forward to.
Jesus led Peter and James and John up to a high mountain privately, by themselves, and he was transformed/figured before them, and there appeared to them, Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. For the disciples, they had anticipated this moment and imagined the glorious places Jesus would give them in this heavenly realm. But it was over so quickly, and the beauty and wonder of it all seemed lost in their march back down the mountain.
But the journey is real, and takes on flesh, down in the valley. Jesus came to heal the sick and preach good news to the poor, down here in the city with us. He invites us on this journey. You can join today if you want – just like our Council members will reaffirm their commitment as Unity’s elected leaders! And of course, we’ll work on it together in the season of Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday, and continuing through a 40 day journey to the cross and resurrection. It’s a practice that we have here in worship on Sundays and Wednesdays, supporting one another’s faith in worship and discussion, and then, we take it out to the streets, as we make our beliefs take on flesh and become incarnate in the real world, and our whole lives.
Where are you on the road to seeing Jesus? Thinking about following? Marching, dancing, or singing? Quietly hanging back? Already in there, talking with Jesus? Experiencing a mystical moment? Or, cursing Jesus out?
The good news of this gospel story is that it’s not the end of the journey. It’s the midway point. The first peak was at Jesus’ baptism when that voice came out of the cloud, and God named Jesus his “beloved Son,” adding, “with whom I am well pleased.” Here, on the mount of Transfiguration, God says out of the cloud, “you are my beloved son, listen to him.” And at the end of the gospel, when Jesus breathes his last from the cross, it’s the Roman centurion, who says, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” God gives us voice, because the grace and peace of Jesus who came to take on flesh, now lives in and through us.
If we’re only living inside our faith, and have never gotten outside of it, to see how it really works in the real world, we’re as stuck as Peter and James and John would have been if Jesus allowed them to build three tents on his mount of Transfiguration and stay up there, basking in the dazzling light. If we have it all figured out intellectually, but have lost touch with the way our society has changed and transformed, we’re only fooling ourselves, locked in the rigid boundaries of our own heads.
Jesus comes down the mountain, a much more difficult journey than going up, to engage the world as it is. Escapism, running away from the truth, avoiding a confrontation, is not going to do it, for a life of faith, as a follower of Jesus. Our journey’s are not simply hiking trips that go up for the great view and return by the same trail, unchanged. But we aim for the new life of resurrection, that includes our cross filled journeys in the valley, so that Jesus might transform us. Where are you on that road to seeing Jesus?
Robert Jay Lifton, an Air Force psychologist, in his recent memoir, details his journey from, rigid dogmatist, to open, self-critical, reformer. The part of his work that helped him the most was interviewing the doctors, and their families, who were charged with war crimes, who said they were only following orders. It was the daughter of one of those convicted doctors, who had only experienced her father at home as a loving, caring man, who asked Lifton, ‘is it possible for a good man to do bad things?’ Lifton’s response was, “Yes, but then he’s no longer a good man.” Moral coherence, Lifton insists, is striving to have the same morality in every situation, and to be open and self-critical enough to scrutinize it. For Lifton himself, it was a painful, but life transforming lesson learned, down in the valley.
Jesus does not stand for pie-in-the-sky, stuck in your head faith, but invites us to come down the mountain with him, and put it into practice. Joined together in his Spirit, we live it out as consistently as we can, from one day to the next, in every situation. That’s the road were on, with all its joys and pains, excitement and fearful beauty, where we are transformed and changed, as Jesus' faithful followers.
It’s nice to know that we’re not the only ones with a broken health care system! When it comes to legislating a cure, Syria and Israel, Naaman and the priests of Jerusalem, are just as polarized, and dug in to their ideological positions, as the US Congress is!
Naaman, the David Patraeus of Syria, is a “great commander,” says 1st Kings, and is adored by his king. He can do no wrong, and there’s nothing he can not do, until, one day he’s afflicted with an unspeakable skin disease. And any skin disease, was considered reason for banishment from the community, back then, sort of like how we treat those with mental illnesses, all too often today. There were strict social expectations and special laws spelling out the way you were to dress and present yourself as a class of people we might call, the walking dead. It was a way of saying, ‘to me you do not exist!’
Now, God had given Syria, Israel’s enemy, victory, literally, salvation, thru Naaman, and in that battle, he had taken a young Israelite girl captive, who now serves Naaman’s wife in their home. As the skin disease became an issue in the household, the young girl speaks up and tells the commander’s wife, “If only your husband were with the prophet [Elisha] who is in Israel! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
So Naaman makes plans to go to Israel’s hospital where the famous doctor, Elisha practices. Coming from Syria, Naaman’s not, of course, In Network. But that’s not a problem, he brings cash, and lots of it: “ten talents, or 750lbs. of silver, and six thousand shekels of gold,” which probably says more about his ego than the cost of health care. But instead of going to the hospital, he tries to check in with the Insurance Provider first. Naaman shows him the letter from his king, which all but demands a cure, and, the Insurance provider becomes defensive and hostile. ‘Who do you think I am? I can’t cure anyone, I just take your money.’ But Naaman, unfamiliar to a health care system of seemingly unnecessary middle men, wants to pay the doctor directly. He’s ready to put up a fight and do battle with the Administrator, but thankfully, Elisha steps in and invites him to come directly to his clinic, and bloodshed is averted.
So Naaman takes his silver and gold, loaded on his chariots, and resets his GPS for Elisha’s clinic in Samaria. As he walks in, a nurse greets him, weighs him in and takes his vitals, and then gives Naaman Dr. Elisha’s prescription: “go, wash in the River Jordan 7 times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” But this seems too easy to Naaman, who “becomes angry,” it says.
Some people think they know better than the doctor! In my first parish in northern MI it was Stanley, the most stubborn guy I’ve ever met. In his later days he was a pussy-cat, but when he was younger he was totally impossible! Once, after waiting too long, he went in to see Dr. Koivonen at our little rural hospital for an unspecified gastric distress problem, and Dr. Koivonen, after checking him thoroughly, told him to “go,” go and eat better – you need a healthier diet! But Stanley was incensed, and went and found another doctor, who agreed to give him one pill after another, none of which ultimately helped him. Finally, Stanley went to the larger regional health care facility, which, after giving him lots of personal attention and diagnostic tests, convinced him to get off the many medications he had been taking, and suddenly, he felt much better. Stanley had spent boat loads of money all for nothing, because a simple diet seemed beneath him, he expected something more extravagant, and he had to be in control.
Naaman nearly walked out of Elisha’s Clinic to look for another doctor too, any other doctor, who would do it Naaman’s way. “I thought that for me Dr. Elisha would surely come out,” and meet me face to face, said Naaman, “and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!” And as for bathing in the Jordan, he said “Are not… the rivers of Damascus [in Syria] better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” And “he turned and went away in a rage.”
But Naaman’s servants talk him down, using a little reverse psychology on the “great commander.” “If the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you have not done it?” they asked. “How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” Maybe too, Naaman remembers the “young Israelite girl,” in his household, and her confident words about Elisha’s healing powers. And so he went and dunked in the liberating waters of the Jordan seven times, and came up from this baptism, with “his flesh restored like the flesh of a young boy.”
Naaman is transformed, and he tells Elisha, “now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.” And in thanksgiving Naaman offers Dr. Elisha the gifts of silver and gold he brought. But Elisha tells him, “As the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will accept nothing!”
Now, if I thought I could get one over on you, I’d say this was the perfect example of universal health care – Free treatment for all! But I know you can tell that this is really the plot of European socialists!
But seriously, I think as a people of faith, we do need to begin talking like we believe that access to health care is a fundamental right, of all, in our society. What Elisha does for us, is model the care for our neighbor, that goes beyond divisions of race, ethnicity, and ability to pay, in his healing of Naaman the foreigner. The outsider is welcomed and cared for, just like an insider! And if you don’t think this is central to the story, keep reading, and you’ll find how Elisha’s own servant, who secretly goes after Naaman to falsely illicit part of his large stash of cash, is the one who becomes the outsider. Because when Elisha finds out about his servants extortion, he inflicts the leprosy of Naaman, on to him, who receives the curse of the walking dead, and banishment from community.
Jesus – who in our gospel story healed a man with a skin disease – is often compared to Elisha in the gospels. Jesus too is from the rural north, is a wonder worker, and doesn’t accept payment for his cures; and most notably, he gives salvation, the ultimate cure, as a gift, free of charge, to all of us, in giving his life on the cross. Jesus brings the outsider in, in order to unite us all. He reveals to us the one creator-God of the whole world, manifest in the complexity of many peoples, various colors and creeds, diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, rich and poor.
And finally, what is revealed, is that the Spirit of Christ is what empowers us, to overcome the stigma between insiders and outsiders, and provide the gift of forgiveness and grace to our neighbor in the balm of healing, that can unite all people together. Like Naaman, we must learn to give up our stubborn and controlling ways, and let the simple, yet profound cure, of the waters of baptism, wash us clean.
“The devil’s in the details:” a euphemism we use to alert one another that there might be a surprise inside if we don’t pay attention. But I want to make the case with you that sometimes, the devil really is there, in the minutia of the details, hiding in plain sight!
I remember back in middle school in the rebellious days of about 1970, that a class-mate, Sarah, picked up on a new term that was coined at the time, “busy-work.” In our school newspaper, she denounced the whole system of education she had grown up in, as full of way too much, busy-work! It was a provocative editorial. Worthless busy-work was harmful to her, and every other student, she argued, whether it was in class, or for home-work. It was an affront to her intellect, she made clear – and she was the class valedictorian. But more than that, it was a whole attitude of indoctrinated mindlessness, she claimed, instead of teaching us how to think critically for ourselves.
I respected her – though secretly I had a crush on Gina, the girl who bent the dress code rules, and was expelled for wearing, of all things, a mini-skirt, just standard fare now-a-days! But anyway, I backed Sarah’s call for an education system that taught us to think for ourselves, in a world of great challenges to come. We didn’t exactly change the system, but it occurs to me now, that she was clearly against “the devil in the details,” and getting bogged down in the minutia of mind-numbing learning and scholastic baby-sitting, and demanded that education teach us how to master the details, in all we did!
Back in Martin Luther’s day, they were copiously familiar with the devil’s work. They saw it all around them in The Plague that snuck up on you and killed, 4 out of 10, of your family and friends. There was no other explanation than, this was the devil’s work, which some believed was punishment for immorality, exactly like TV preachers who blame their favorite targets, whoever they are, today. Luther mostly stayed away from the blame game, even back in the 16th century, but he did try for a time to save himself as a young monk, through self-flagellation, that nasty exercise of repeating the blows Christ took from his torturers, to somehow, masochistically escape the punishment of death. The opposite, ironically, of how Christ came to “raise us up,” so that we might live! But, the plague made everyone a little crazy! And, that it might signal the end of the world, was in the back of everyone’s mind. So, no one doubted that the devil was at work, whatever, or whoever, the intended target was. “The devil was in the details” of every life.
If you saw “The Dark Knight,” the second movie in the Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, filmed right here in Chicago, you saw a horrifically mesmerizing picture of pure evil. Health Ledger, who played the Joker, and who died suddenly at the end of shooting the film, portrayed a perfect embodiment of chaos, a kind of arch-sadist, who derives pleasure out of doing others harm, and can’t be bargained with. He can only be defeated by, The Batman. And the Joker knows who he is and demands he take off his mask, and The Batman silences him, as best he can. At the end – and I don’t want to spoil it for you – but, in a very Christ-like way, The Batman has to almost-die – he couldn’t actually die because there’s a sequel, a third film in the works – but he, almost-dies a criminals death, to take on the sins of Gotham, and save the people.
Just so, the Jesus of Mark’s gospel, has come to clean the evil spirits, out the house! He comes to die a criminals death to save us, but first he proclaims the message of good news, with authority, and when the demons recognize him, he does not permit them to speak, but casts them out. The devil has been in the details a long time, and Jesus sweeps them away everywhere he goes. To those blind to the devil in the details, the leaders of the community, it seems that Jesus is attacking them, because they have grown comfortable living within the boundaries that the evil one has bent in their favor. The boundaries that once gave life and were set-up to protect, had become exclusionary instead. ‘Do not work on the Sabbath,’ was infiltrated with hundreds of detailed sub-rules. Jesus bent, and even broke, some of those rules, based on God’s life-giving meaning behind them. So for instance, he defended his disciples’ eating grain in the fields on the Sabbath, if they were hungry, and he dismissed hand-washing before eating, saying it’s not what goes in the mouth that defiles, but what comes out of the mouth. But, this casting the devil out of the details, fundamentally threatened the whole system. And after these first few weeks of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, the leaders in Jerusalem are already plotting how to “destroy him.”
Jesus “came out” to proclaim this message and enact it in exorcisms, to change the entrenched systems of evil that had overgrown the beauty of God’s world. The devil is in the details, because he’s in hiding from Jesus, silenced and inaudible to our ears, but at work in a new, more insidious way, than ever.
In 1985, the film Shoah, a 9.5 hour documentary, came out, giving voice to the stories of survivors, perpetrators and bystanders. Without even one emotional shot of actual Holocaust footage, it exposed the crime, which we have a hard time understanding, amidst the unimaginable horror of, the 6 million murdered by a single crazy man, in endless, everyday, banal details. Three or four times longer than the average movie, the documentary engages us in such bland details as a barber telling of cutting the hair of those who don’t yet know they’re going to the gas chambers. Of villagers recalling how they saw a steady flow of trains stuffed with people going into the camps, but returning empty, never bothered enough to tell the authorities. Of conscripts in to the army, filing paper work, which sanitized and compartmentalized their individual, minute, piece of the operation, so that it seemed like no more than sending out invoices from mom and pop’s small business back home. In Shoah, the documentary, the horror of The Final Solution was, “the devil in the details.” Everything was normal; everything was slowly possessed by death, in front of their very eyes, in plain sight.
We could look at our generation, if we dare, and ask if evil is at work! We have recently wrapped up a war, founded on lies, that has needlessly destroyed much of a civilized country. A war paid for, outside of the Congressionally approved budget, straight out of the national debt, while at the same time, banks, given the green light by our elected leaders, sold toxic mortgages to get rich, even faster, knowing it wasn’t them who’d be stuck with the default. Meanwhile, more than 20% of children in America live below the poverty line, and 1% of the people own 40% of the nation’s wealth, in the midst of the deepest recession in 80 years. It’s as if the chaos of the Joker himself, has infected us! Does everything seem normal to you?
But Jesus showed us how to stand up to the devil in the details. One by one, two by two, church by church, we pray for the Holy Spirit, to organize and empower us to cast out the demons. Today we have the opportunity to participate in one tiny action – to fight hunger. It’s not all that deeply, an organized event or movement, but it is a much broader organization than just our congregation alone. The Soup-er Bowl of Caring will raise over a million dollars from hundreds of churches and faith-communities today, and all we have to do is give a dollar. It’s just one simple example of organized people and money, to stand up against the devil in the details, to make a difference.
And so, as the church, we continue to cast out the demons of hunger, and then we celebrate it, as we do every week, around the life-giving table, where Jesus feeds us with the very bread of life, and bread of and peace.