What if God Really Did Show Up?

Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/usdagov/6059884729/">US Dept. of Agriculture</a>

Malachi 3:1-7

“Look. I’m sending advance notice by courier, to make it clear:

You’ve been looking for God, and suddenly God will arrive in the Temple.

You’re going to love this new deal my messenger will bring you,” says God.

Not! You won’t be able to stand it when God comes! God is like a smelter. God is like astringent. God will be a smelt operator, a silver smelter, and God will purify the priestly caste like gold and silver, until they have something good to offer God again. Then God will receive gifts from the people again, like it used to be.

“Then I’ll come to your sentencing,” God says. “I’ll be the witness against those who practice slight of hand, the cheaters, the liars, the people who refuse to pay fair wages, who force women and children into slave labor, who turn away foreigners, and who have no regard for me. I don’t change. I’m God. So you’re not too far gone, my children.

Ever since your parents turned away from what I said, you’ve been asking, “How do we get back?” Coming back is for the asking, and I’ll be there.

In Malachi’s day and ours, the people who cry “God” the loudest seem to be the most in violation of God’s commandments. They cry for a “return to the good old days when people went to church,” but if God were to show up and witness the lies, the cheats, the slight of hand, the refusal to pay fair wages, the 16 million women and children enslaved around the globe – well, it wouldn’t be pretty. Because it’s not pretty.

The return to “the way it used to be” isn’t so much about a return to tradition, or to nostalgic “good old days.” It’s about a return to justice, which is at the heart of the commandments. How do we get back? By starting with our own lives. Living justly. Doing what is right. Not doing the lying, cheating, withholding, and enslaving. By welcoming those who are different. That’s how, if we really believe in God, we might show the world (and God) that we do.

You Might Think It’s Crazy, But It’s the Truth

Simeon?
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomasleuthard/5198470559/">Thomas Leuthard</a>

Luke 2:22-40

When the time came for them to do the new parent thing according to the rules of their tradition, they took Jesus to Washington to present dedicate him. (It’s written in the law, “Every firstborn boy will be dedicated to God as being special.”) They offered a sacrifice according to God’s policy: “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

It happened at the time there was a man in Washington named Simeon. A righteous and pious man, he was looking forward to the restoration of America, and everyone agreed he was “spiritual.” He claimed God had told him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the new national savior. Guided by the spirit, Simeon came into the National Cathedral. When Jesus’ parents brought him in for their dedication ceremony, Simeon grabbed him up, and started praising God:

Master, I can finally die in peace as you said.
Because now I’ve seen the deliverance

You’ve arranged, for everyone will see
This light as proof for the unbelievers,
And to make America great!

Jesus’ parents were dumbstruck by all this. But Simeon blessed them and said to his mother, “This boy is going to be the cause of the rise and fall of many in America. He will become a symbol of resistance that will expose many a hidden agenda. And it’ll break your heart, too.”

Another aging truth-teller, Anna Phanuel Asher, was always at the Cathedral, praying there day or night, whenever the doors were open. She’d been widowed after only seven years of marriage, and was now eighty-four. She also came up and began praising God and talking about the child, telling anyone who would listen about Jesus.

This is one of those unexpected, awkward moments that happen at baby dedications. Simeon’s famous “song” was not a part of the approved liturgy for the occasion. It was offered whether anyone wanted it or not. It was a rude interruption.

Simeon is like those crazy ultra-nationalist fundamentalists. He was probably there at the National Cathedral that day as a protest to how low the national religion had sunk. And then, for whatever reason (God’s spirit) he picks this couple, to grab their baby, and to say incredible things about him.

All of which, as it turns out, are true.

Except the last thing. In the original, it’s Israel’s greatness Simeon is concerned with. But Jesus doesn’t turn out to be the John Wayne Simeon was looking for.

If there’s any lesson here, it’s that sometimes truth comes to us in unwelcome intrusions. The most truthful part of the service is often the point at which the liturgy is interrupted. The most poignant moments in life tend to be the unwanted and unexpected ones. Mary and Joseph, in all likelihood, were just there to get great aunt Petunia off their backs about how “You’ve got to get that baby dedicated!” Instead, it is here (in Luke’s gospel) that they realize for the first time what the shepherds were talking about.

[Bonus: There’s another more personal moment in this story. It’s when Simeon says to Mary, “And it’ll break your heart, too.” It’s something nearly every parent will recognize. Sometimes when our children follow their calling, their doing so breaks our hearts.]

Be True

"to thine own self be true" tattoo1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

As you yourselves know, friends, our visit was no exercise in futility. In spite of having already suffered and of having endured the Philippians’ mistreatment, and in the face of stiff opposition, you know we were still brave enough to tell you the story of Jesus. So it’s clear that we’re not being deceptive, or underhanded, or trying to trick you.

But, upon examination, we have God’s seal of approval to share this message, and we do it regardless of whether people approve; we do it to be true to what God has put in our hearts. You know, and God knows, that we never used flattery, we never used the message to our own advantage, and we never asked for your praise or anyone else’s. We could have used our apostolic titles to demand special treatment, but we treated you like a nursing mother with her baby: tenderly. We cherish you so much that we’re determined to share not just the message but everything we’ve got with you.

You can agree or disagree with Paul, but the conviction with which he carried out his mission is out of the question. Paul will tell the story of Jesus:

  • No matter what anyone else thinks
  • No matter if he’s accused of doing it for his own advantage
  • No matter if people insult him for it
  • No matter if he is mistreated for it
  • No matter whether people receive it or not

You can disagree with his theology. You can take exception to his eschatology. You can berate him for his words that will someday be used to subjugate women, defend slavery, and condemn homosexuals.

But he does what he does “to be true to what God has put in our hearts.” And his example in that is worth repeating.

Consider: What is in your heart. What is it about you, that without that you wouldn’t be you. What is it that is yours alone in the world to do. And do that.

Be true to that:

  • No matter what anyone else thinks
  • No matter if you’re accused of doing it for your own advantage
  • No matter if people insult you for it
  • No matter if you are mistreated for it
  • No matter whether people receive it or not

In the end, you are responsible to God alone for being that expression of God in the world – for being the piece of the world that would be lacking without your being true.