Monday, September 16, 2013

Overwhelmed by Brokenness

I've been clicking on The Washington Post website with much greater frequency today, checking for the latest updates on the horrific shooting at the Navy Yard in DC. Nothing is known about possible motives as I write, but there is a sickening regularity regarding such events. "Not again," people are saying, and not for the first time.

Today's lectionary readings did not feel particularly comforting or  helpful in today's context. A story of a corrupt royal couple abusing power to get what they want, the church in Corinth split by divisions, and Jesus tempted to be a different sort of Messiah than God would have him be. At least Jesus stays true to his call.

The world daily reminds us that all is not well. For all the modern (and perhaps receding) faith in progress, ancient stories about corrupt power or nasty fights in churches don't feel ancient at all. On some level, nothing much has changed. Despite frequent claims that the US is a "Christian nation," the rich are doing splendidly while the poor are struggling mightily. The gap between rich and poor is growing rapidly, but Jesus said he came with good news for the poor. He speaks regularly about wealth as a curse. People laughed at him when he said such things. We don't actually laugh at him, but our actions and the way we structure our society do. Nothing much has changed.

I occasionally find myself thoroughly depressed by the brokenness that is so apparent in the world, and I think that being a pastor sometimes accentuates that. After all, I am supposed to have "good news" to proclaim. On days like today, that seems more difficult. That difficulty is only made greater by the suspicion that many people are seeking "good news" that will somehow drown out days like today, that will let us return to our happy, suburban illusions that all is well.

The extreme individualism that marks American culture only adds to this problem. We tend to view all things through the lens of self, and so religion's job is to make something better "for me." There are many different spins on that, from more successful to more fulfilled to more spiritual to happier to a reward after death and so on. But "make my life better" seems so shallow on a day like today, and a faith so narrowly focused seems totally inadequate to the broken world that cannot be denied right now.

My own Reformed/Presbyterian tradition has a long emphasis on a doctrine of vocation. The term has sometimes been perverted to mean "occupation," but I'm using in the sense of a calling. Our doctrine says that all Christians are called, we have vocations or callings that are given to us that further the work Jesus came to do. Calling may indeed be fulfilling, but they are not primarily about personal fulfillment. (Jesus' own wrestling with his calling in today's gospel and in the garden of Gethsemane makes that clear.)

Today's devotion from Richard Rohr ends with this. He doesn't speak of calling or vocation, rather of "choosing," but I think he is talking about something similar.
God is always choosing people. First impressions aside, God is not primarily choosing them for a role or a task, although it might appear that way. God is really choosing them to be God’s self in this world, each in a unique situation. If they allow themselves to experience being chosen, being a beloved, being somehow God’s presence in the world, they invariably communicate that same chosenness to others. And thus the Mystery passes on from age to age. Yes, we do have roles and tasks in this world, but finally they are all the same—to uniquely be divine love in a way that no one else can or will.
This is the best answer I have to the world's brokenness. God has better dreams for the world, but God (for reasons I cannot fully fathom) gets incarnated, gets en-fleshed by those who are called to work for God's new day. And if the churches that claim to be the body of Christ will not live into this calling, then we well deserve the insignificant and irrelevant status we increasingly enjoy in our society.

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