All posts by revolsen

About revolsen

I am a retired Lutheran Pastor currently residing in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. I am married .and have three grown children.

Antidote for MAGA-16 Virus?

THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER

Acts 3:12-19

Psalm 4

1 John 3:1-7

Luke 24:36b-48

Prayer of the Day: Holy and righteous God, you are the author of life, and you adopt us to be your children. Fill us with your words of life, that we may live as witnesses to the resurrection of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out…” Acts 3:19.

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” I John 3:2-3.

In a recent article published by the Miami Harold, Andres Oppenheimer[1] laments the decline of religion, particularly Christian religion, in the United States and worries that its place is being taken by political leaders and extreme ideologies lacking any moral content. Citing an Atlantic Monthly article authored by Shadi Hamid,[2] he argues that “Human beings, by their very nature, are searching for meaning, belonging, coherent structure” and that “nobody can survive long without some ultimate loyalty.” In the absence of religion, the political party becomes a church, ideology/conspiracy theories become articles of faith and political leaders become messianic figures. Oppenheimer writes:

“In a post-truth world increasingly devoid of values and in which populist demagogues have turned basic values upside down by normalizing lying, and political and racial intolerance, we urgently need a moral compass.”

I agree in part with Oppenheimer’s diagnosis-at least insofar as right wing politics have evolved into something akin to religion. A Trump rally resembles nothing quite so much as a religious revival meeting complete with denunciations of the devil (i.e., immigrants, liberals, socialists-fill in the blank), preaching hellfire (i.e., they’re going to take your guns, ruin your neighborhoods, steal your jobs), promises of salvation (i.e., MAGA, “take back the country,”) a savior (“Only I can stop the carnage,” “Without me the economy will crash,”) and, of course, a call to unite behind the messiah. Oppenheimer concludes his editorial with the following appeal to religions of all stripes in the United States:

“I hope that Christianity, Islam and Judaism will re-invent themselves, as any business losing clients or any civic group losing followers would do. Religions offer us ancient tales of wisdom — regardless of whether you consider them sacred texts or cohesive myths — that can serve as a much-needed moral guide. But they have to adapt to modern times and focus more on values than on dogmas or rituals.”

Sadly, I fear Oppenheim’s reliance on religion to counter the immoral impulses of Trumpism is misplaced. I am not convinced that Trumpism is antithetical to American religion or that it draws its support from those who have abandoned religion and are seeking something else to fill the void. [3] To the contrary, there appears to be a symbiotic relationship between religion and right wing politics. The Trump base is disproportionally made up of highly religious individuals who see no conflict whatsoever between their Christian faith and their political commitments. Those of us who watched with horror on January 6th as the United States Capital Building was attacked, occupied and vandalized by a violent mob of pro-Trump supporters could not fail to notice the abundance of crosses, Christian symbols and references to Jesus among the antisemitic slogans, confederate flags and fascist emblems.  

Rather than a competitor to religion, I would describe Trumpism as an infectious parasite, a “MAGA-16 virus” to which religious communities are particularly vulnerable. White evangelicalism has proven highly receptive to extremism. Many of its adherents hold science in contempt, view America as a “chosen people,” fear integration and the growing power of women in society. These folks are plagued by a craven fear that their country is somehow being taken away from them and so respond readily to the siren call of a strongman promising to take it back. I would add that Trumpism has found a home within sectors of Catholicism and mainline protestant churches as well. As such, American Christianity is an unlikely vaccine for MAGA-16.

Oppenheimer is, by his own admission, not religious. So perhaps he can be forgiven his seeming lack of understanding about what religious communities actually are and how they work. Speaking strictly as a Christian concerning the church, it must be emphasized that we are not a community tasked with teaching civic morality and, frankly, I don’t believe there is any need for that. Nobody needs to be told that lying, stealing and cheating are wrong. The problem is that our understanding of truth is colored by what we love, what we fear, the institutions we trust, the people we admire and the communities that form us. Whether or not you are “stealing” depends on your view about who is entitled to what. “Cheating” has little meaning where we cannot agree on what the rules are or what they should be or who should make them. Though it goes against the grain of our beloved American myth of individualism, we are quite simply the products of the communities in which live.

The church is the community in which the mind of Christ is formed, collectively and individually. It is the place where sin can be identified, named, confessed and forgiven. It is a community knowing, as does poet William E. Stafford, how important it is “that awake people be awake.”  The church is a living example, albeit a flawed one, of the way in which God would have us live together in one human family. While we are not indifferent to the destiny of the United States, that is not our primary concern. Our ultimate allegiance is to the reign of God proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth. Though we recognize a degree of responsibility for the wellbeing of our nation, we can never say “America First.” “First” is the gentle reign of God and the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church that has no national, cultural, ethnic or tribal borders. Moral conduct is not learned through the study of any codified tome, but through liturgical practices of worship, prayer and generosity informed by the life and ministry of Jesus and the witness of the prophets and apostles. It is honed in the nitty gritty grind of day to day living and working with people whose sharp edges are gradually worn smooth by the inevitable hurt feelings, insult, misunderstanding, admonition, correction and forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness required to sustain a close community.  

What the United States needs to understand, as does every nation, is that all nations will be judged not by the heroism of their armies, the prosperity of their economies or their cultural achievements, but by how they treat the most vulnerable within them, “the least” of Jesus’ siblings. See Matthew 25:35-46. Making that bold witness requires more than a slew of preachy screechy social statements nobody ever reads passed at church assemblies to which no one pays attention. For the church’s preaching to be credible, its faith communities must be places where the reign of God it proclaims is visible. What made Saint Peter’s clarion call for repentance and faith so persuasive to his hearers was the faith community from which it came, a community in which “the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common” and “there was not a needy person among them” Acts 4:32-34. Saint John confidently assures his parishioners that they are, in fact, God’s children and that they are on the way to being “like” God. He can do that because he knows they have made a practice of complete openness to God concerning their shortfalls measured by the degree of compassion they bear toward one another. I John 2:1-2; I John 2:3-6; I John 3:16-17.

The church’s chief objective, then, is not to build up its membership or shore up the foundations of American morality. It is to make disciples from among all nations. Matthew 28:19-20. That task requires deep communities with thick faith practices and devotion to God’s reign of justice and peace that, in a world not yet ready for it, takes the shape of the cross. Has the church been at all successful in forming the mind of Christ in those it receives through baptism? I can honestly say that I have known more people than I can count whose lives have been shaped by the church in such a way that they bear faithful witness to Jesus and the kingdom for which he lived and died. But there is also the case of Dylann Roof, baptized and confirmed in a church of my denomination, who entered Mother Emanuel African Episcopal church in 2015 and shot the senior pastor and eleven other worshipers, killing nine of them. While many of our churches, including the one of which I am now a member, are working for and advocating justice and compassion for refugees at our southern border, I know for a fact that there are both lay people and pastors who, inspired by the hateful rhetoric and ideology of Trumpism, have added their voices to the chorus of xenophobic demands for their exclusion. While I don’t share Mr. Oppenheimer’s understanding of the church’s mission and how he thinks it should be carried out, I cannot deny that he is justified in pointing out that we have fallen short of our calling.

Sadly, the MAGA-16 virus has infected our ranks and, as Saint Peter reminds us, “judgment begins with the house of God.” I Peter 4:17. Fortunately for us, though, so does Resurrection. The lessons for this Sunday challenge us to appropriate that miracle-along with all the painful healing it entails. Before we can be a light to the world, we must let the light permeate our own souls and faith communities. What follows is a poem by William E. Stafford echoing in many respects what amounts to a call for self examination, individually and in community, that looks very much like what the Bible calls repentance.    

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dike.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

Source: The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems (c. by 1998 by William Stafford; pub. by Graywolf Press). William Edgar Stafford (1914–1993) was an American poet. Born in Hutchinson, Kansas, he was the oldest of three children. His family moved from town to town during the Great Depression as his father sought work. Stafford helped to support his family by delivering newspapers, working in sugar beet fields, raising vegetables and working as an electrician’s apprentice. He received a B.A. from the University of Kansas in 1937 and began pursuing a master’s degree there as well. Before he could complete his program, however, Stafford was drafted into the United States armed forces. He declared himself a pacifist and was registered as a conscientious objector. He performed alternative service from 1942 to 1946 in the Civilian Public Service camps. During this time, Stafford met and married Dorothy Hope Frantz, with whom he later had four children. Upon discharge, he returned to the University of Kansas where he completed his master’s program. he received a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1957 after teaching for one academic year in the English department at Manchester College in Indiana, a college affiliated with the Church of the Brethren. Stafford was 48 years old when his first major collection of poetry was published. Despite his late start, he was a frequent contributor to magazines and anthologies and eventually published fifty-seven volumes of poetry. You can read more about William Stafford and sample more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation Website.


[1]  Andres Oppenheimer is the editor and syndicated foreign affairs columnist with the Miami Herald.

[2] America Without God, The Atlantic, 2021

[3] I would add that persons who have discontinued their religious affiliation or never had one to begin with seem less rather than more likely to be swept up into right wing politics. Many persons who have left their religious communities, particularly among evangelicals, have done so precisely because they could not reconcile their faith and values with their churches’ commitment to Donald Trump.  

Why Matter Matters

SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER

Acts 4:32-35

Psalm 133

1 John 1:1—2:2

John 20:19-31

Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, with joy we celebrate the day of our Lord’s resurrection. By the grace of Christ among us, enable us to show the power of the resurrection in all that we say and do, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” John 20:25.

Faith seems to be inextricably linked to sensory perception. Thus, the Apostle John’s insistence that the “word of life” he proclaims is one that can be “heard,” “seen” and “touched.” I John 1:1-2. Thomas insists upon seeing and touching the wounds of the resurrected Christ. John 20:25. Mary clings to Jesus for dear life. John 20:17. Even those of us protestants who are most averse to icon kissing, cross adoration and incense burning still maintain that “faith comes from what is heard.” In my own Lutheran tradition, we take seriously the admonition of Psalm 34:8, “taste and see that the Lord is good” by our insistence that the bread and wine of the Eucharist does not merely symbolize or memorialize, but truly “is” the Body and Blood of Christ. So we cannot be too hard on Thomas for expressing that same insistence on sensory perception in Sunday’s gospel. He is really seeking no more than what the rest of the disciples had already experienced and what all disciples seek, namely, to know the fullness of the resurrection.

It is significant, and worth recalling as we enter into this season of Easter, that the church’s hope is not grounded in the immortality of the soul, that is, the belief that some ethereal part of us goes on living after the body has been declared clinically dead. Our hope is grounded not in the power of the soul or any other part of us to survive death, but in God’s power and promise to raise the dead. We confess in our Creeds belief in the resurrection of the body. I don’t pretend to understand all that this entails, but at a minimum, it means that when the dead are raised, they are raised with bodies that can see and be seen, speak and be heard, eat and drink. Human life without bodies, if such a thing is even possible, is no longer human.

Is all of this simply abstract argument of interest only to ivory tower thinkers, but of no bread and butter consequence? I don’t think so. Bread and butter are directly at the center of it all. The gospel is inescapably materialistic. John’s gospel begins with the bold assertion that the “Word became flesh,” which is to say that God has a body. It is a mistake, therefore, to think of the Incarnation as a distinct moment in time. It is equally erroneous to view the Incarnation as a temporary state, as though the Word became flesh for the short duration of Jesus’ life and then went back to God’s natural “immaterial” state. We should think of the Word becaming flesh in much the same way as we think about the Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son. It is a sort of “becoming” that has neither beginning nor end. Incarnation is an essential aspect of who God is.

The upshot of all this? Quite simply that matter matters. The stuff of the new creation is the same as the stuff of the old. The resurrected Christ is a material body. He is a body that can be touched. A body that carries the wounds of the cross. A body that gets hungry and eats a piece of fish. The resurrected body of Jesus is no ghost, nor is it made out of some new supernatural material. It is the same body that was Jesus from the day of his birth. How it is that the resurrected Jesus is able to appear, disappear and manages to get into locked rooms without breaking down the door is quite beyond explanation. But the point is, there is complete continuity between the body of Christ crucified and the resurrected Christ. As author and poet John Updike puts it, “Make no mistake: if He rose at all/it was as His body…”

This strong incarnational faith expressed in our Creeds and in the New Testament is sometimes undermined by theology and piety tending to denigrate the material world. A hymn we used to sing in the church of my childhood declares:

The Lutheran Hymnal, (c. 1941, Concordia Publishing House) Hymn#660

I’m but a stranger here,

Heaven is my home;

Earth is but a desert drear,

Heaven is my home.

That sentiment is not altogether false. Jesus does warn his disciples that the world will misunderstand, persecute and even threaten their lives. John 15:18-25. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that the saints of all ages “have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come.” Hebrews 13:14. But for all the brokenness of the human family, the world is God’s creation, the cosmos for which God sent the only beloved Son. It is quite simply blasphemous to refer to this planet with all of its spectacular beauty, diversity and splendor as a “desert drear.” It is rank heresy to suggest that salvation consists in being raptured or otherwise taken out of this world to a “better” place. The earth is the object of God’s love, the stage of God’s redemptive drama and the raw material for the new creation where God’s will is done on earth as in heaven. God will never abandon this planet and neither should we. 

For all of these reasons, matter matters. It matters that our worship be filled with music, graphic arts, dramatic action, the smell of burning wax and the faint scent of wine. It matters that the church be on the side of all who are advocating for the healing and protection of the earth’s threatened ecosystems and endangered species. It matters that the church be on the side of all those deemed “least” in the view of the rest of the human family. It matters that disciples of Jesus practice concretely the unity of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church over against populist and nationalist movements that would divide the human family along lines of nation, race, class, tribe or tongue. Matter matters because the Word became-and remains-flesh.

Here is the poem by John Updike to which I referred above.

Seven Stanzas at Easter

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Source: Updike, John, Collected Poems, (c. 1993 by John Updike, pub. by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.). John Updike (1932-2009) was a prolific American author and poet. He grew up in Shillington, Pennsylvania. His early poems and fiction are grounded in the gritty industrial and cultural environment of the rust belt. His awards include the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, the American Book Award for fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award for both fiction and criticism. You can learn more about John Updike and read more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

Easter Trauma

EASTER SUNDAY

Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Mark 16:1-8

Prayer of the Day: O God, you gave your only Son to suffer death on the cross for our redemption, and by his glorious resurrection you delivered us from the power of death. Make us die every day to sin, that we may live with him forever in the joy of the resurrection, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

If, like me, you accept the majority opinion of New Testament scholars that Mark’s gospel ends at Chapter 16, verse. 8, then we are not left with the joyous revelation of Jesus’ resurrection, but with the horrifying discovery of a grave robbery. We read that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome came early to the tomb of Jesus. They had come to “anoint him,” to give him a decent burial.

We who are disciples of Jesus understand what that is all about. We have a process for dealing with death. When a member of our community dies, we surround them with comfort. We bring meals to lessen the burdens of a family in deep pain as they struggle with funeral arrangements, burial details and the financial issues that arise with a person’s passing. We visit them as they gather for a wake or visitation, expressing our love, offering our prayers and sharing memories of the lost loved one. We frequently say our final farewell in a sanctuary surrounded by the symbols of our faith, the baptismal font where life with Jesus begins and the altar where it continues and extends to dimensions we cannot see with mortal eyes, to that great “cloud of witnesses,” that throng from among all nations tongues and peoples robed in white praising the Lamb, that realm of “angels, archangels and all the company of heaven.” Finally, we place the remains of our loved one into the earth, not as though it were a “final resting place,” but in the hope and expectation that this “seed” we plant today will bloom in a new creation on the day of resurrection.

I can only imagine how traumatized the three women must have been that morning. They had seen Jesus, the one they had followed, loved and in whom they had placed their hope cruelly tortured to death. With this wound still raw and fresh, they arrive at his tomb to find it torn open. The body of Jesus is gone and one could only imagine where it might be, what Jesus’ enemies might have done to it and what condition it might be in now. Small wonder the women ran from the tomb filled with terror without saying anything to anyone. They remained silent for the same reason sexual assault victims so often say nothing to anyone of their trauma. When you have been so deeply and intimately hurt, the last thing you want to do is open up the wound to further injury.

All of us have shared the women’s experience in some measure this year. We have seen a lot of death over the last several months. And like the women, we have been robbed of the faith practices that assist us in grieving, getting closure and moving toward healing. Three deaths that were close to me in varying degrees illustrate the point. The first was the death of an elderly woman in a nursing home. Her family insisted that she have a traditional church funeral although Covid-19 infections were spiking at the time. Though the state in which this woman lived permitted in person funerals subject to size limits, social distancing and masking, many friends and family members did not feel safe attending the event. As a result, there were hurt feelings and disappointment on the part of the grieving family and a good deal of guilt and unresolved grief on the part of those who did not attend.

The second was the sudden death of a young man in his 50s with a large and very close family. After some painful soul searching, the family decided that having a funeral at the peak of an epidemic was not a responsible thing to do. They resolved to do some type of memorial once the danger of infection subsided. In the meantime, however, their grief remains in many respects unaddressed and one wonders whether a service more than a year after the fact will fully meet their needs.

Finally, I viewed the recording of a Zoom funeral for another man who died after years battling cancer.The pastor gave a powerful gospel sermon. Participants were able to see the faces of the family and the family could see those of all the other participants. Participants were able to share in singing the hymns we all love and, though we could not be together in the sanctuary, we could at least view that holy place where we worshiped together for so much of our lives. Nevertheless, a funeral in which there are no hugs, no back slaps, no handshakes nor any one-on-one conversations leaves a lot to be desired. Despite the best efforts of the pastor, church and family to make this event as meaningful as possible, so much was achingly absent.

But here’s the thing. True, the gospel tells us that the women ran from the tomb in terror and told nobody anything of what they had seen and heard. Yet we know that could not have been the end of the story. If it were, I would not be writing these lines and Easter Sunday (and every other Sunday for that matter) would be just another day. So we are left with the question: How did these women finally overcome their trauma and their paralyzing fear? How did they manage to discern the dawn of a new age in the midst of what seemed to be the ultimate desecration? How were they “forced outside” themselves? How did they manage to find their voices, speak the good news of Jesus’ Resurrection and persuade their fellow disciples to return to the mountain in Galilee where they encountered the resurrected Lord?

Perhaps Mark intended to leave us with these questions because he understood that Jesus’ church was experiencing some traumatic body blows. Perhaps the Evangelist understood that his church would need a resiliant faith to see it through the dark times ahead. Maybe this gospel comes up in this cycle of readings in this time in order to challenge us to recognize the presence of Jesus in the midst of our own trauma. Perhaps we need to be reminded that we have been here before, that the worst thing that could ever happen to us already happened on Good Friday and the Jesus we thought we had lost for good came back to us. He comes back to us again. So take heart, people of God. We are going to be alright after all.

Here is a poem by Maya Angelou exploring the struggle between hope and despair. It is here where discipleship is lived out and where Easter dawn repeatedly shines through the cracks of death made by Jesus’ Resurrection.

A Plagued Journey

There is no warning rattle at the door
nor heavy feet to stomp the foyer boards.
Safe in the dark prison, I know that
light slides over
the fingered work of a toothless
woman in Pakistan.
Happy prints of
an invisible time are illumined.
My mouth agape
rejects the solid air and
lungs hold. The invader takes
direction and
seeps through the plaster walls.
It is at my chamber, entering
the keyhole, pushing
through the padding of the door.
I cannot scream. A bone
of fear clogs my throat.
It is upon me. It is
sunrise, with Hope
its arrogant rider.
My mind, formerly quiescent
in its snug encasement, is strained
to look upon their rapturous visages,
to let them enter even into me.
I am forced
outside myself to
mount the light and ride joined with Hope.

Through all the bright hours
I cling to expectation, until
darkness comes to reclaim me
as its own. Hope fades, day is gone
into its irredeemable place
and I am thrown back into the familiar
bonds of disconsolation.
Gloom crawls around
lapping lasciviously
between my toes, at my ankles,
and it sucks the strands of my
hair. It forgives my heady
fling with Hope. I am
joined again into its
greedy arms.

Source: Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing? (c. 1983 by Maya Angelou; pub. by Penguin Random House LLC). Maya Angelou (1928-2014) was a multi-talented American poet, author, singer, dancer and civil rights activist. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and was credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She is perhaps best known for her well known autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969. The book earned her the National Book Award. Angelou was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Bill Clinton in 2000 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2010. You can read more about Maya Angelou and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation Website.

Calling A Thing What It Is

PALM/PASSION SUNDAY

Mark 11:1-11
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Mark 14:1 — 15:47

Prayer of the Day: Everlasting God, in your endless love for the human race you sent our Lord Jesus Christ to take on our nature and to suffer death on the cross. In your mercy enable us to share in his obedience to your will and in the glorious victory of his resurrection, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, ‘Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate spoke to them again, ‘Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?’ They shouted back, ‘Crucify him!’” Mark 15:8-13.

I have always held that one ought not preach on the Passion Narrative. The story of Jesus’ arrest, conviction and execution, as told in the four gospels, preaches itself. But for every rule there are exceptions and this year might be one of them. This year Holy Week unfolds under the shadow of a horrific mass killing of Asian women by a single white gunman. And this is only the most recent of many lower profile acts of violence against Asian Americans in recent months. Just as medieval Europeans blamed and persecuted Jews under the pretext that their poisoning of public waters brought on the Black Death, so also a significant number of Americans are convinced that Asian people are responsible for the spread of Covid-19 in this country. Some are giving vent to their irrational pandemic related fear and anger in acts of senseless violence.

We don’t have to look far to find the source for this recent spate of lethal animus. Though the Center for Disease Control and Prevention criticized the phrase “China virus” as inaccurate and potentially harmful in promoting racist associations between the virus and  people perceived to be Chinese or related to China, that has not stopped former President Trump and the Republican Party generally from using this and similar racist slurs in attempting to cast blame on China for the spread of Covid 19 in the United States.[1] The first time President Trump used the slur, “Chinese Virus,” was March 16, 2020. The following week saw an increase in anti-Asian hashtags and a rise in hate crimes. Indeed, though overall hate crimes in 2020 decreased by seven percent, those targeting Asian people rose by nearly 150 percent.[2] Everyone should be alarmed by our government’s incitement of violence against our fellow citizens. Those of us who identify as disciples of the one whose death was orchestrated by this very means should recognize in the victims of such violence the image of the Lord we serve. “Where I am,” says Jesus, “there will my servant be.” John 12:26.

Under the right circumstances and where it is politically expedient, it doesn’t take much to whip a mob into a frenzy of hatred. A mob is bigger than any of the individuals making it up, but it draws its strength from the deep wells of fear, anger and resentment living in the gut of each one. It has no memory nor any clear understanding of its own inner turmoil. A mob comes to life whenever someone finds a way to focus its rage on some person or group that can be blamed and punished for its members’ collective unhappiness. They who control the mob have the power to instigate insurrection, rioting and murder without ever getting their hands dirty. Jesus’ political enemies understood that. So does a certain American political party that believes staying in power requires feeding scapegoats to the lowest, meanest and most bigoted segment of our population, otherwise known as the “Trump base.” What happened to Jesus on Good Friday and what happened to the Jews in medieval “Christian” Europe is happening now to Asian Americans.

I submit that there is no neutral ground here. If you took offense at Donald Trump’s remark to the effect that there were “fine people” among the KKK, Nazis and Proud Boys protesting in Charlottesville, I frankly do not understand how you can insist that there are “fine people” in a political party that, at best, tolerates the scapegoating of Asian Americans for a virus induced epidemic. In the Heidelberg Disputation, Martin Luther remarked that “A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.” I cannot think of a better time and place to call this repulsive and murderous Republican politics what it really is. I cannot think of a better time and place to make our stand with the Crucified victim of mob violence than on the Sunday of the Passion. I hope that every preacher in every church this coming Sunday proclaims Christ with an Asian face and rips the masks off all who stoke the murderous rage of those who would see him crucified yet again. Shame on us all if we remain silent.

Here is a poem by Carl Sandberg speaking to mob dynamics and the ways its destructive potential might be re-directed toward becoming a people. If that is to happen, there must be a voice to leading away from blind fear to understanding, from historical amnesia to remembrance.

I Am the People, the Mob

I am the people—the mob—the crowd—the mass.
Do you know that all the great work of the world is done through me?
I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the world’s food and clothes.
I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons come from me and the Lincolns. They die. And then I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns.
I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me. I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted. I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and makes me work and give up what I have. And I forget.
Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red drops for history to remember. Then—I forget.
When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer forget who robbed me last year, who played me for a fool—then there will be no speaker in all the world say the name: “The People,” with any fleck of a sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision.

The mob—the crowd—the mass—will arrive then.

Source: English for Students. Carl Sandburg (1878 – July 22, 1967) was a Swedish-American poet, biographer, journalist and editor. He won three Pulitzer Prizes, two for his poetry and one for a biography of Abraham Lincoln. Sandburg is widely regarded as a major figure in contemporary literature. At the age of thirteen Sandburg left school and began driving a milk wagon. Throughout his early years, he worked as a porter at the Union Hotel barbershop in Galesburg, Illinois, a bricklayer, a farm laborer in Kansas, a hotel servant in Denver, Colorado and a coal-heaver in Omaha. Sandburg began his writing career as a journalist for the Chicago Daily News. Later he wrote poetry, history, biographies, novels, children’s literature and film reviews. He also collected and edited books of ballads and folklore. He spent most of his life in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan before moving to North Carolina. You can find out more about Carl Sandburg and sample more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation Website.

[1] E.g. Republican Representative Chip Roy, who at a congressional hearing examining anti-Asian violence, defended anti-Asian slurs, blamed China for the spread of Covid-19 and added for good measure, “”We believe in justice. There are old sayings in Texas about find all the rope in Texas and get a tall oak tree,” Roy said at the hearing on Thursday. “We take justice very seriously. And we ought to do that. Round up the bad guys.” Also, Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

[2] See Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism.

Drawing the World to See Jesus-Evangelism and Missions Revisited

FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-12
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

Prayer of the Day: O God, with steadfast love you draw us to yourself, and in mercy you receive our prayers. Strengthen us to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, that through life and death we may live in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

 “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” John 12:21

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” John 12:32.

Some “Greeks” are eager to “see” Jesus. Presumably, they wanted to meet him. Scholarly consensus seems to be that they were Diaspora Jews, that is, Jews living in areas of the Roman Empire outside of Palestine whose primary language was Greek rather than the Aramaic spoken throughout Judea and Galilee. But whoever they might have been, they were outside the scope of Jesus’ ministry. Like the magi, these Greeks were drawn to Jesus and we are not told what “star” brought them to him.

Andrew, the disciple with whom they first made contact, is at a loss about what to do. So he consults with fellow disciple, Philip, and together they decide to consult Jesus. At first blush, Jesus’ response seems like a non-answer. He goes off on what appears to be a tangent, speaking in cryptic terms of his coming crucifixion, the demands of discipleship and the potential cost of following him. But Jesus is actually going somewhere with all this. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself,” he says. Until that time, no one can fully “see” Jesus. The disciples themselves do not yet “see” Jesus for who he is. They will finally see him, but only in retrospect. John’s gospel is replete with examples of occurrences, the significance of which the disciples only recognize after Jesus was raised from death, (i.e., the cleansing of the temple in Jerusalem John 3:22; Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem John 12:16; Jesus washing the disciple’s feet John 13:7). In time, not only the disciples, but “all” people will finally “see” Jesus and be “drawn” to him.

“All” is a big word. That is because the news about Jesus is big. It is not only for a select few. As I tried to point out in last week’s post, salvation and eternal life are intended for the entire cosmos. Thus, the missionary impulse to spread the good news to all people. That imperative was drummed into me from an early age. The Lutheran congregation of my childhood held “mission Sundays” at least annually at which missionaries on furlough were invited to speak and a special offering was taken up to support their work. I can recall vividly attending one such event with my parents on a Sunday evening early in the fall. We were sitting on metal folding chairs in the darkened church basement watching a grainy black and white movie filmed by one of our missionary guests. My recollection is that it was shot somewhere in Asia. It was clearly staged. A young, smiling couple stood with their two children in front of their modest home as our guest narrated. “Now this,” he said, “is what happens when Jesus comes into the home of a new believer.” The family turned and went into their house, promptly began collected artifacts of traditional worship set up on shelves and little stone altars in the main living area, placed them into a bag and threw the bag in the fireplace.

That image has haunted me all my life. Even at the tender age of eight or nine there seemed to be something “not quite right” about what I was seeing. The discomfort only grew as I matured and was exposed to other religious traditions through the people I met. Most memorable was a young woman I knew during my college years. I will call her “Min.” Min was an exchange student from Taiwan and a devout Buddhist. Still, she attended our chapel services regularly and showed a keen interest in Christianity. That, of course, attracted my evangelical soul like a magnet and led to my having a number of conversations with her. Even at that point in my life, I knew better than to think I could “convert” Min to Christianity. That was the job of the Holy Spirit. Nonetheless, I felt it my duty to present Jesus in the most compelling way possible-just to give the Spirit plenty to work with.

The conversations I had with Min were sometimes enlightening, but more often frustrating and confusing. I was never quite sure we were even speaking about the same thing when we talked about “God,” “eternal life” and “heaven.” But during one of our last conversations, Min said something that always stuck with me. “You know,” she said. “There is a lot about Christianity that just doesn’t make much sense to me. But I think that knowing Jesus has helped me to become a better Buddhist.” At the time, I thought I had failed in my ministry to Min. She had not converted to Christianity, been baptized or rejected her Buddhist faith. But at the same time, I felt somehow relieved. There was something beautiful about Min’s religion, her way of being present to everyone she met and her deep compassion that I would not have wanted to destroy. Her conversion, it seemed to me, would mean snuffing out a flame “that shines forth…in unaccountable faith, in stubborn hope, in love that illumines every broken thing it finds.” Circle of Grace, A Book of Blessings for the Seasons c. 2015 by Jan Richardson pp.47-48. It has taken me some time to reconcile these conflicting feelings, but I think I am now in a better position to make sense of them. Like the disciples in John’s gospel, I look back on my friendship with Min and recognize now that she was in fact “drawn” to Jesus, came to “see” him and was even tranaformed by him-just not in the way I was taught to expect.

The history of Christian missions is a mixed bag. In spite of the assumptions of white supremacy and colonial ambition that often accompanied the missionary enterprise, many of the missionaries themselves were caring and faithful witnesses with a deep love for the people they came to serve. There is no disputing that this effort, misguided as it often was, gave rise to thousands of lively, faithful and creative indigenous churches. Notwithstanding the dubious terms in which the gospel was often presented by Northern European and American missionaries of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the resulting churches have nevertheless managed to make the gospel their own and speak it to the world in fresh and startling ways.

Racism and colonialism are not the only impediments to proclaiming the good news about Jesus in lands where it is a foreign element. We have unfortunately been schooled to think of evangelism as a zero sum game in which a soul is either won or lost. Other religions are frequently viewed as competitors. Evangelism is a contest for market share. The endgame is conversion to Christianity with a repudiation of what has gone before. Where that is the prevailing assumption, it is hard for non-Christians to see missionaries, however courteously, respectfully and tactfully they may present themselves, as anything other than invaders intent on destroying their faith, to say nothing of imposing upon them a lot of unwanted cultural baggage. But what if being “drawn” to Jesus does not necessarily imply conversion to Christianity? What if mission work includes helping Muslims be better Muslims? Buddhists better Buddhists? Conversely, an openness to other religious traditions enriches our own worship, preaching and practice. Witness the profound effect Buddhism has had for contemplative Christians like Thomas Merton and Rowen Williams. For my own part, no Christian theologian has ever helped me appreciate the full implications of the Incarnation as did Jewish author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.

By no means do I object to conversion, so long as it does not involve coercion or undue influence. Many of my friends in Christ have been “evangelized,” that is, drawn to Jesus and his church’s ministry along a path leading away from prior faith commitments or from having no faith at all. But I am not convinced that evangelism is a zero sum game with conversion to Christianity as the sole objective. I believe that Jesus has much to offer adherents of other faith traditions and that these traditions offer Christians fresh perspectives with which to understand our own faith. I don’t believe we must choose between rejecting or devaluing the faiths of others on the one hand or watering down all faiths to some trite common denominator on the other. All we need to do is “speak of what we have seen and heard,” “tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love.” Jesus can be trusted to draw all people to himself in his own good time, in his own good way and on his own good terms.

Here is the poem/blessing cited above by Jan Richardson in full. This lyric piece illustrates the good news about Jesus, light which shines in the darkness and which the darkness cannot extinguish.

Blessed Are You Who Bear the Light
 
Blessed are you
Who bear the light
In unbearable times,
Who testify
To its endurance
Amid the unendurable,
Who bear witness
To its persistence
When everything seems
In shadow and grief.

Blessed are you
In whom
The light lives,
In whom
The brightness blazes-
Your heart
A chapel,
An altar where
In the deepest night
Can be seen
The fire that
Shines forth in you
In unaccountable faith,
In stubborn hope,
In love that illuminates
Every broken thing
It finds.

Source: Circle of Grace, A Book of Blessings for the Seasons, Richardson, Jan (c. 2015 by Jan Richardson; pub. by Wanton Gospeller Press). Jan Richardson is an artist, writer, and ordained minister in the United Methodist Church. She grew up in Evinston, a small community outside of Gainesville, Florida. She is currently director of The Wellspring Studio and serves as a retreat leader and conference speaker. In addition to the above cited work, her books include The Cure for Sorrow, Night Visions, In the Sanctuary of Women, and Sparrow: A Book of Life and Death and Life. You can learn more about Jan Richardson and her work on her website.

John 3:16 Reconsidered

FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT

Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

Prayer of the Day: O God, rich in mercy, by the humiliation of your Son you lifted up this fallen world and rescued us from the hopelessness of death. Lead us into your light, that all our deeds may reflect your love, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” John 3:16.

Like nearly everybody else of my generation raised in the church, I memorized John 3:16 at a very early age. I can’t say with absolute certainty that it was the first Bible verse I ever learned. My memory does not extend back that far. But if I had to bet on it, I would feel reasonably comfortable putting my money on John 3:16. Known among us protestants as “the little gospel,” John 3:16 was planted everywhere we set foot. It still is. You find this verse on bumper stickers, refrigerator magnets, baby onesies, billboards, commemorative plates, note book covers, key chains and welcome mats. John 3:16 has become so well known (or so it is assumed) that I often see the naked citation without any text or context. “Obey John 3:16” declares one billboard I used to see on Route 80 traveling through Pennsylvania.[1]

John 3:16 was the subject of many of the sermons I heard over the years. The pastor of one church I attended in my youth suggested that we insert our first names in place of the word “world” and then recite it to ourselves: “For God loved Peter so much that he gave his only Son…” The gist of what our pastor was communicating is true, as far as it goes. God does love us individually with an abounding, sacrificial love ready to pay any price to have us. But, strictly speaking, the verse does not say that God loves me, that God loves the church, that God loves believers or even that God loves human beings. It says that God loves “the world.” In the original New Testament Greek, the word “world” is “kosmos” from which we derive our word “cosmos.” That is to say, God so loved the cosmos, the universe and each individual molecule of it that God sent to it the only Son.

Rather than reducing the scope of John 3:16 to the personal and individual level, we ought to be recognizing the broad sweep of its inclusive embrace. That, however, is not the way I was taught to read John 3:16. I was always given to understand that God’s promise of eternal life was exclusively for human beings and, more specifically, for human beings who accept Jesus as their “personal Lord and Savior.” Moreover, eternal life was something experienced only after death. “Eternal life” was thus equated with the “after life.” From all of this it was abundantly clear that, notwithstanding God’s professed love for it, the world was not going to be saved. To the contrary, it was doomed to perish. Only a limited number of human beings would be saved from this mass extinction event-those who believed on Jesus Christ.

This restrictive interpretation of John 3:16 was supposed to inspire a feverish missionary zeal for “winning souls.” It was imperative for those of us who believed to lead as many other people to faith in Jesus Christ as was possible before their personal demise or the close of the age, whichever came first. This was so because the only way a person could be certain of obtaining eternal life was through believing in Jesus and so being “saved.” That led to many late night discussions at youth retreats I attended in my formative years. There was no shortage of agonizing questions raised by what was supposed to be a verse proclaiming good news: What about those who died before they were old enough to understand the gospel? Baptism? But what about kids that were never baptized? Will they be lost because of their parents’ negligence? What about people who live in parts of the world where the gospel has never been heard? [2]

Had we but read one verse further, we would have learned that “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him…” John 3:17. That might have moved us to consider whether we were not getting John 3:16 all wrong. Perhaps God has bigger plans in mind than simply rescuing a few souls from the deck of a sinking ship. Perhaps God means to save the whole ship. If we had looked more carefully at the rest of John’s gospel, we might have discerned God’s sweeping divine intent. For example, Jesus tells us that “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” John 10:16. Whether in the fold or out of the fold, Jesus has more sheep than those presently among his disciples. Note well that Jesus nowhere tells us that we are responsible for bringing these sheep into God’s fold or that we must compel them to listen to his voice. Neither the salvation of the world nor any of its inhabitants weighs on our shoulders. Jesus promises to take care of that.

It is also important to look more carefully at what John’s gospel has to say about eternal life. First and foremost, it is not only a future hope, but a present reality. “And this is eternal life,” says Jesus, “that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” John 17:3. Note well the present indicative. Life that is eternal is not merely so in duration. It is life qualitatively different from the sort of life the world knows, different because it is lived out of faithfulness to Jesus and the eternal love binding the Trinity. Life is eternal when it is poured into those things which are eternal. Saint Paul would say that these eternals are faith, hope and love, the greatest being love. I Corinthians 13:13. Eternal life is therefore not a prize to be obtained after death, but a gift to be enjoyed now with the assurance that not even death can take it away from us.

So what is the point of having a church if salvation is for the whole world? Actually, one of Jesus’ disciples posed that very question to him during his final hours together with them. “Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” John 14:22. Jesus responds, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” John 14:23. In other words, the Incarnation, the “Word becoming flesh” announced in the opening lines of John’s gospel will continue within the community of disciples. “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world,” says Jesus. John 17:18. Jesus prays that his disciples will be one even as he and the Father are one “so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” John 17:23. It is through a church, an “ekklesia,” built on mutual love of its members for one another and for the world that the world will come to know its worth, its value and the destiny intended for it by its Creator.

So the church is called to be what Koinonia Farm founder, Clarence Jordan, famously called a demonstration model for God’s reign on earth. It exists as a continuation of Jesus’ ministry as God incarnate. I would say, therefore, that it is not the church’s mission to convert everyone to Christianity or to increase its membership. It is, however, critical for the church to make disciples from among all nations and for the church to be present in all nations. It is critical that the church be a community made up of every nation, tribe, people and tongue putting the lie to nationalism, white supremacy and patriarchy while witnessing to the unity of the human family and its responsibility for the care of all creation. God’s will for the cosmos is that it be drawn into the restorative love that unites the Father with the Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Jesus graciously invites us to be part of that future now so that the world may know it, embrace it and welcome its arrival. That is eternal life.

Here is a poem by priest, poet and activist Daniel Berrigan that captures with great eloquence God’s incarnate love at work in the world and bears witness to the eternal life to which disciples of Jesus are called.

The Face of Christ  

The tragic beauty of the face of Christ
Shines in the face of man;

The abandoned old live on
in shabby rooms, far from comfort.
Outside,
din and purpose, the world, a fiery animal
reined in by youth. Within
a pallid tiring heart
shuffles about its dwelling.

Nothing, so little, comes of life’s promise.
0f broken men, despised minds
what does one make-
a roadside show, a graveyard of the heart?

Christ, fowler of street and hedgerow
cripples, the distempered old
-eyes blind as woodknots,
tongues tight as immigrants’-all
taken in His gospel net,
the hue and cry of existence.

Heaven, of such imperfection,
wary, ravaged, wild?

Yes. Compel them in.

Source: Selected & New Poems, (c. 1973 by Daniel Berrigan, pub. by Doubleday & Company, Inc.) p. 80. Daniel Berrigan was born May 9, 1921, in Virginia, Minnesota. He entered the Jesuit novitiate at St. Andrew-on-the-Hudson, New York in August 1939 and graduated in 1946. Thereafter, he entered the Jesuit’s Woodstock College in Baltimore graduating in 1952. He was ordained the same year and appointed professor of New Testament studies at Le Moyne College in Syracuse in 1957. Berrigan is remembered by most people for his anti-war activities during the Vietnam era. He spent two years in prison for destroying draft records, damaging nuclear warheads and leading other acts of civil disobedience. He also joined with other prominent religious figures like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to found Clergy and Laity Against the War in Vietnam. In February of 1968 he traveled to North Vietnam and returned with three American prisoners of war he convinced the North Vietnamese to release. Berrigan died on April 30, 2016 of natural causes at a Jesuit health care facility in the Bronx. He was 94 years old.

[1] This is odd, because John 316 does not order, direct or even suggest that anyone do anything. It is simply a declarative sentence.

[2] There wasn’t much talk of hell and eternal punishment in the religion of my youth. The notion that this God who loved us would create a place where we might be tortured for eternity over a stolen apple was a bridge too far for me even in my “evangelical” days. Still, the prospect of a future that excluded people I knew and loved because they never arrived at a point where they could believe in Jesus was troubling enough.

Divine Weakness and Holy Foolishness

THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
I Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

Prayer of the Day: Holy God, through your Son you have called us to live faithfully and act courageously. Keep us steadfast in your covenant of grace, and teach us the wisdom that comes only through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” John 2:19

“For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” I Corinthians 1:25.

No self respecting god would allow its temple to be destroyed. A god that cannot protect and defend its holy place is no god at all. That is why the Babylonian destruction of Israel’s temple in Jerusalem was such a traumatic blow. How could the God who brought Israel up out of Egypt and led them into the land promised to the matriarchs and patriarchs fail to defend the temple upon which God solemnly promised to place God’s name?

A similar question was raised by Saint Peter in last week’s gospel in which Jesus told his disciples that he would be rejected by the religious authorities, arrested and killed. How could such a thing happen to God’s messiah? So, too, in this Sunday’s gospel Jesus practically invites his opponents to “tear down this temple,” meaning the “temple of his body.” That does not sound reassuring. Yes, Jesus went on to say that he would “rebuild” the ruined temple in three days. But a true messiah would never allow his temple to be destroyed in the first place. The occurrence of such a sacrilege is a sure sign of divine weakness.

That, of course, brings us to Saint Paul’s odd comment in our second lesson from I Corinthians: God’s “weakness” is stronger than human strength. The cross, according to Saint Paul, stands our understanding of strength and weakness on its head. God’s strength lies in what appears to all the world as weakness and impotence. God’s strength is demonstrated in God’s resisting the temptation to employ coercive action to get what God wants. God’s strength lies in the power to forego retribution-even for the murder of the beloved Son. God is too powerful to be drawn into the vortex of tit for tat retaliation that has consumed nations, tribes and families from the dawn of time. God’s love is so deep, so respectful of its objects and so patient that it refuses to exercise force to have its own way. Instead, God’s love outlasts all resistance to it.

We have a hard time recognizing this “weakness” of God as “power.” Power, in common parlance, is the ability to make other people do what you want and make things happen in accord with your wishes. At the bottom of all my children’s “why” questions about what I told them to do was the answer “because I am the Daddy.” Nations are deemed powerful to the degree we fear their military might or depend on their economies. Your power is measured by the scope of your control. So it is not surprising that the “evangelical” god that steers the universe along an unalterable course toward the end of history, threatens to rapture its own out of the world and pound those who remain into submission through a “great tribulation” is so attractive to so many Americans. This god comports with our notions of what the “almighty” is supposed to be-like Rambo only bigger. We crave the protection of a “strong” god who is “in control.” The God who draws a resistant world toward new creation through suffering love and invites us to join in that enterprise is not attractive to a society that views “winning,” “victory” and the annihilation of enemies as the only way forward. To us, this powerful “weakness” of God looks like foolishness.

Following Jesus means submitting to the “foolishness” of God’s “weakness.” To a world fixated on “strong” militaries, “strong” economies and “strong” leaders, disciples of Jesus are called to warn all nations that the power they worship is the worst kind of impotence in the face of dangers that would destroy them. The world needs to know that there is no future in sealed borders, nationalist pride, faith in “strong men” and security through fire arms. It means telling the world that genuine power is the courage to rid our homes of weapons, break down border walls, un-gate exclusive gated communities, let go of privilege and release our death grip on wealth. When we are poor, meek, merciful, pure in heart and making peace we look foolish to a world in thrall to coercive power. But we are truly “strong” in the biblical sense. See Matthew 5:1-12.

How might such divine weakness and holy foolishness shape our lives as parents, spouses, siblings, church leaders, participants in civil government, employers, employees, business people and professionals? How does one lead without controlling? How does one resist hostility without becoming hostile? How can one be assertive without being aggressive? How can one be persuasive without being manipulative? How do we witness boldly to Jesus and the reign of God he proclaims without sounding arrogant and self-righeous? Answering these questions in any particular context always requires empathy, wisdom and integrity or, in other words, the “mind of Christ” formed within communities of faith.

Here is a poem by Edward R. Sill in which a fool speaks truth to power. Sill’s poem illustrates what looks very much like “weakness” and “foolishness,” that unleashes transformative power.

The Fool’s Prayer

The royal feast was done; the King
Sought some new sport to banish care,
And to his jester cried: “Sir Fool,
Kneel now, and make for us a prayer!”

The jester doffed his cap and bells,
And stood the mocking court before;
They could not see the bitter smile
Behind the painted grin he wore.

He bowed his head, and bent his knee
Upon the Monarch’s silken stool;
His pleading voice arose: “O Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!

“No pity, Lord, could change the heart
From red with wrong to white as wool;
The rod must heal the sin: but Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!

“‘T is not by guilt the onward sweep
Of truth and right, O Lord, we stay;
‘T is by our follies that so long
We hold the earth from heaven away.

“These clumsy feet, still in the mire,
Go crushing blossoms without end;
These hard, well-meaning hands we thrust
Among the heart-strings of a friend.

“The ill-timed truth we might have kept–
Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?
The word we had not sense to say–
Who knows how grandly it had rung!

“Our faults no tenderness should ask.
The chastening stripes must cleanse them all;
But for our blunders — oh, in shame
Before the eyes of heaven we fall.

“Earth bears no balsam for mistakes;
Men crown the knave, and scourge the tool
That did his will; but Thou, O Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!”

The room was hushed; in silence rose
The King, and sought his gardens cool,
And walked apart, and murmured low,
“Be merciful to me, a fool!”

Source: This poem is in the public domain. Edward R. Sill (1841-1887) was born in Windsor, Connecticut. He graduated from Yale in 1861 where he was Class Poet and a member of Skull and Bones. He engaged in business in California and entered the Harvard Divinity School in 1867, but soon left for a position on the staff of the New York Evening Mail. He taught at Wadsworth and Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio from 1868 to 1871. Thereafter he became principal of Oakland High School in Oakland, California. From 1874 to 1882 Sill was professor of English literature at the University of California. He retired in 1883 and moved to Cleveland, Ohio. He devoted the rest of his life to literary work.

 

The Cross and the Death Penalty

SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Psalm 22:23-31
Romans 4:13-25
Mark 8:31-38

Prayer of the Day: O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life. Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Mark 8:34.

I would be more than rich if I had a dime for every time I’ve heard these words of Jesus employed metaphorically. The term “bearing one’s cross” has been used to describe the annoyance of dealing with disagreeable co-workers, getting along with a bothersome neighbor, aches and pains that accompany old age, a streak of bad luck and just about every other uncomfortable or inconvenient circumstance one might encounter. I am not making light of these afflictions. Life deals some of us more than our share of tragic and undeserved body blows. Some of us bear up under those blows with grace, courage and dignity. Yet as admirable as that surely is, it isn’t the same as taking up the cross of Christ.

In the gospels, the cross is not a metaphor. It is the way in which Jesus actually died. Jesus’ death was not a tragic accident, a miscarriage of justice or even a noble sacrifice made in the service of a lofty principle or ideal. His death was the expected and, one might say, inevitable consequence of the life he lived. Jesus lived fully under the reign of God he proclaimed, a reign of bread, shelter and dignity for all, especially those regarded as “the least.” That life put him on a collision course with the reign of Caesar, the only Lord Rome recognized. All who claimed that title for Jesus risked bearing the cross Jesus bore-and not in any metaphorical sense.

Sadly and with the church’s blessing, the cross has become a benign symbol with no more content than a heart or a shamrock. Seeing it suspended on slim gold chains, adorned with jewels and worn with everything from dungarees to formal attire, one would never guess that the cross is actually an instrument of torture and execution. Can you imagine anyone wearing the replica of a hangman’s noose on a gold chain around their neck? To call that an exercise in extremely poor taste would be an understatement. Yet Jesus’s call is for his disciples not merely to wear the cross on their lapels, but to hang on it.

Our gospel lesson reminds us that we follow a Lord who was tried as a criminal, found guilty in a court of law and executed by state authorities. It was not criminals, terrorists or foreign enemies that killed Jesus. Jesus was prosecuted by religious people who thought they were doing their duty, sentenced to death by a Roman governor in the interest of preserving the peace and executed by soldiers who were merely following orders. Jesus spent his final hours in the company of two fellow convicts under the same sentence of death. These two anonymous death eligible convicts held the honor James and John so coveted, namely, being present at Jesus’ right and left at his coming in glory. The cross is what glory looks like in a sinful world.

The United States Government began the new year by executing three people, one woman and two men, within days of each other. In the prior year, the federal government executed eight people. This federal killing spree was orchestrated by former Attorney General William Barr who, in the Summer of 2019, issued guidelines for the resumption of capital punishment under federal law following a hiatus stemming back to 2003. I understand, of course, that these inmates were tried and found guilty of particularly heinous crimes. I also know that the number of convicted felons killed by the state pales in comparison with the thousands dying each day from starvation, exposure and disease due to poverty, injustice and violence of various kinds. Should we not be focused on these many innocent victims rather than the few who brought the sentence of death upon themselves?

Evidently, Jesus does not buy into that logic. He makes his final stand on death row and dies along with his fellow convicts under the requirements of the law. In so doing, he demonstrates the limitations of law and the frailty of those who administer it. If those who write the laws, those who interpret the laws and those who carry out the requirements of the laws are capable of killing God’s only begotten Son-all perfectly legally-then we have to ask ourselves whether the law can ever be trusted to impose justly a sentence of death.

We know for a fact that the death sentence falls disproportionately upon the poor, people of color and people lacking in education. We also know that shoplifters often end up doing time, whereas investment bankers whose unbridled greed led to the ruination of millions in 2008, government officials whose policies separated migrant children from their families and special operations soldiers who murdered civilians faced no criminal consequences because, as evil and destructive as their acts were, they evidently did not break any laws. The law, being a human creation, is capable only of regulating imperfectly outward conduct of the most extreme type. It is an instrument far too fallible and far too blunt for dissecting each individual case and determining who is particularly deserving of the ultimate penalty.

In the final Christological analysis, we can only conclude that imposition of death as a penalty for any crime constitutes overreaching on our part. Taking up the cross means, perhaps more than anything else, standing between those condemned to death by the state and the machinery of any government that would carry out such sentence. There are many arguments that could be made for opposing the death penalty. But the one simple reason disciples of Jesus must stand with those sentenced to die is that this is where we find Jesus standing.

Here is a poetic account of the plea for remembrance by one of the criminals crucified with Jesus.

“Remember me” implored the Thief!

“Remember me” implored the Thief!
Oh Hospitality!
My Guest “Today in Paradise”
I give thee guaranty.

That Courtesy will fair remain
When the Delight is Dust
With which we cite this mightiest case
Of compensated Trust.

Of all we are allowed to hope
But Affidavit stands
That this was due where most we fear
Be unexpected Friends.

Source: The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Reading Edition, (c. 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College; edited by Ralph W. Franklin, ed., Cambridge, Mass.) Emily Dickinson (1830-1866) is indisputably one of America’s greatest and most original poets. Born in Amherst, Massachusetts, she attended a one-room primary school in that town and went on to Amherst Academy, the school out of which Amherst College grew. In the fall of 1847 Dickinson entered Mount Holyoke Female Seminary where students were divided into three categories: those who were “established Christians,” those who “expressed hope,” and those who were “without hope.” Emily, along with thirty other classmates, found herself in the latter category. Though often characterized a “recluse,” Dickinson kept up with numerous correspondents, family members and teachers throughout her lifetime. You can find out more about Emily Dickinson and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

Wilderness, Angels, Beasts and Temptation

FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT

Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-10
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15

Prayer of the Day: Holy God, heavenly Father, in the waters of the flood you saved the chosen, and in the wilderness of temptation you protected your Son from sin. Renew us in the gift of baptism. May your holy angels be with us, that the wicked foe may have no power over us, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” Mark 1:12-13.

There isn’t as much wilderness as there used to be and there is getting to be less each day.  The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the annual rate of deforestation is about 1.3 million square km per decade. While the greatest threat today is posed to the world’s rain forests, temperate forests are at risk as well. It was only through the farsighted creation of the National Park system that some vast regions of wilderness remain in our own country today. How long they will remain depends on how firmly our elected leaders are prepared to stand against corporate interests chomping at the bit to move in and exploit them for oil, timber and private development. For the sake of my grandchildren, I hope they stand firm. It breaks my heart to think of them having no forests in which to take their children hiking, no wild animals outside of those bread in captivity and living in cages and only videoclips to show their children what the wilderness once looked like.

I am privileged to live next to a relatively large stretch of forest constituting the National Seashore. The forests of the Outer Cape, as well as the ocean beaches that line it, were saved from commercial development by the efforts of former President John F. Kennedy. On my regular forays into these woods, I have never encountered the devil. Nor have I been much in the company of wild beasts. Our forest residents include all of the usual suspects found as often in suburbia as in these parts-foxes, coyotes, racoons, deer and wild turkeys. There is only one creature in our woods that strikes terror into my heart, and that is the deer tick-blood sucking bearer of lime disease.

I have, however, encountered angels on my walks-if we use that term in its broadest biblical sense to include wind, rain, lightning, sunshine, frost, snow and other energetic forces pulsing through the arteries of the wilderness. Psalm 104:4.[1] In a way, they do minister to me. The sun bakes the back of my neck red; the wind from the ocean sand blasts my face and the rain soaks me to the skin notwithstanding the best rain gear to be had. All of this reminds me of my own fragility. These “angels” convince me, if I need convincing, that I would not fare well on my own for forty days in the forests of the National Seashore-to say nothing of the Rockies or the Amazon Rainforest. These angels of the wilderness remind me that I am, after all, a human creature. I am dependent on a network of family, social and commercial relationships for my wellbeing. As much as being in the wilderness invigorates me, I know I am out of my element. I need human community to thrive and a spell in the wilderness sharpens my gratitude for such community.

The wilderness has a way of putting you in your place. It is hard to take yourself seriously among trees that tower over you. It is nearly impossible to entertain delusions of grandeur standing in front of the ocean. The land, sea and sky have been around long before any human foot made an impression on the soil and they will be here when the last human artifact is worn down to dust. They take little notice of wars, acts of congress or any of the other historic events that excite us. After all, human history is but a second in terms of geological time. Moreover, geological time is but a nanosecond in light of eternity.

“Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you endure;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You change them like clothing, and they pass away.” Psalm 102:25-26.

Mark’s gospel does not tell us what temptations the devil placed before Jesus while he was in the wilderness. It is tempting simply to import into the gospel lesson what we read in Matthew and Luke. But the first Sunday in Lent is hardly the time to be giving in to temptations-not even literary ones! I believe Mark would have us ponder Jesus’ lengthy sojourn in the wilderness and employ our imaginations here. I think that perhaps Jesus’ greatest temptation was simply to cut short the forty days. After all, Mark’s gospel has Jesus moving throughout his ministry at a breakneck pace. The word “immediately” appears in nearly every other sentence. We read that Jesus and his disciples were so feverously busy with their ministry that they had no time even to eat.

That is not unlike more than a few days of my own life in the parish. Always in the background of my morning prayers were nagging concerns over the phone calls I needed to return before eleven o’clock so that I could make it to the hospital for my visits before lunch was served. In much the same way, I knew I needed time for prayer and meditation during the years I practiced law. But what time alone I had was too often spent working and reworking in my head the argument I would need to make in an upcoming motion hearing. As one dear old colleague, a priest in one of the neighboring Roman Catholic churches put it, “I find myself so consumed dealing with the urgent that I never get around to doing the significant.” The wilderness has a way of helping you separate the two and prioritize them-if you have the patience to remain there long enough. Maybe Jesus was longing to be done with his forty days in the wilderness and to get on with his work. I can very well imagine the devil whispering in his ear, “You don’t have time for this! There’s important work to be done and you are already behind.”

Or perhaps the temptation consisted of precisely the opposite. Not everybody is as inept at survival as I am. There are plenty of folks who are quite at home in the wilderness. Such people have learned the skills of outdoor living. They find the solitude of life in the wilderness comforting. To whatever extent Jesus was aware of the challenges awaiting him in a world hostile to the reign of God he was called to proclaim, I suspect he might have considered the prospect of remaining in the wilderness an attractive alternative. The wild beasts might not be particularly good conversation partners, but they seem to have treated Jesus with greater kindness than his human opponents and, at times, even his disciples. Perhaps Jesus looked toward the end of his wilderness wandering with dread rather than relief.

Whatever shape temptation takes, it always lures one into the path of least resistance. Sometimes it comes in the form of pandemic fatigue, the desperate desire to “get back to normal.” We are all tired of masks, social distancing, putting off traveling and delaying our visits to loved ones. That desire can lead us to lapses in judgment, to letting our guard down and becoming reckless. Temptation comes in the form of denial. The events of this last year have brought into sharp focus the realities of systemic racism in law enforcement, education and the workplace. They have also taught us that there is an ugly, hostile, selfish and hateful side of America. We always knew it was there, but we took comfort in the belief that it represented only a small minority. When the Klan or the Aryan Nations committed acts of terror, we pretended to be shocked and declared, “This is not what America is about. This is not who we are.” Now we know that, yes, it is very much a part of who we are and what we are about.

It is tempting to deny the realities of the pandemic; to forget what we now know; to throw caution to the wind and listen again to comforting lies that make us deaf to the calls for justice that have been echoing throughout our land for the last four centuries. It is tempting to reassure ourselves that the way things are really isn’t so bad; that we are not really in such a bad place; that we should consider just staying put with the status quo. We would prefer to get out of the wilderness as soon as possible or, failing that, hunker down and make a patch of it as much like home as possible. A long, slow journey through the thick of it, a journey that requires a searching moral inventory, a journey that challenges our priorities, a journey that takes us where we need to go instead of where we want to go-none of that is very appealing. But as we of all people should know, there is no reaching the promised land without going through the wilderness.

The season of Lent, which begins Wednesday, is a call to the wilderness. It is a call to engage the demonic voices that would discourage us from discerning and doing the hard work of repentance. It is a sojourn among wild beasts as well as ministering angels. It is a time to remember that we are indeed dust and destined to return to dust. Yet it is also a time to recall that the God who speaks to us this terrible word is the same One who at the dawn of time breathed the Spirit of life into dust and promises to do so again.

Here is a poem by Reg Saner about the transformative voice of the wilderness.

What the Wilderness Tells You

No one goes back to before. By skies
fresh and ancient as the next raindrop

you were assembled, then from fog
frozen to pines, taught yourself wonder,

and from a single stalk of meadow rue
the vegetable kingdom. Off high rock

the rivers crashed and came running.
A raven matched its wingspan and glide

To the curve of a canyon. By reflection
Slow as your life gathering bits of the past

Your eyes gave birth to nature-
Whose stone, in a few tricky chemicals

Transacting your mind, now thinks you;
Without intent or consequences, so it says,

Having taken your skin for excitement,
Your bloodstream for love, your skull

For its sorrows and lightest of worlds,
Where wind among the forested mountains

Disowning all voice in the matter
Has taken your lips for its wisdom.

Source: Poetry (August 1992). Reg Saner (b.1931) is an American poet. He graduated from St. Norbert College and served as an infantry platoon leader in the Korean War. Following his discharge, he studied at the University of Illinois and received a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the University of Florence. From 1962 to 1998, he taught at the University of Colorado. He currently lives in Boulder, Colorado.

[1] The Hebrew word is “Melek,” meaning literally “messenger” or “emissary.”

When Easter Comes Before Lent

TRANSFIGURATION OF OUR LORD

2 Kings 2:1-12
Psalm 50:1-6
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Mark 9:2-9

Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, the resplendent light of your truth shines from the mountaintop into our hearts. Transfigure us by your beloved Son, and illumine the world with your image, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’” Mark 9:7.

The interesting thing about Mark’s gospel is that it doesn’t end in an encounter with the resurrected Christ. If the scholarly consensus of New Testament scholars holding that the gospel ends at Mark 16:8 is correct, and I believe it is, then the story concludes with an empty tomb and two terrified women running away, far too frightened to say anything to anyone. So the closest thing we have to a resurrection story in Mark is today’s gospel account of Jesus transfigured on the mountain top, a resurrection that occurs not at the end but smack dab in the middle of Jesus’ ministry of preaching, healing and casting out demons.

This is also the second time in Mark’s gospel we hear the voice of God speaking from heaven. The first was at Jesus’ baptism where the divine voice declared to Jesus: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:11. Now we hear that same voice addressing the disciples with the same declaration and demanding, urging, pleading, with them to listen to that Son.

I don’t know what Peter had in mind when he offered to build three booths, one for Moses, one for Elijah and one for Jesus. Commentators put forth a number of theories, but quite possibly Peter had nothing in mind. The gospel tells us “he didn’t know what to say” which suggests to me that his mind was probably empty of everything except blind terror. Yet Peter, being Peter, feels compelled to speak anyway. Mark 9:6. Maybe Peter thought he was honoring Jesus by putting him on the same level as Moses and Elijah, by building him a shrine just like theirs. If that was case, the voice from the cloud is sure to set Peter straight. Jesus gains nothing from his association with these two great luminaries. It is quite the other way around. “‘This Jesus is my beloved son. Listen to him.” And after that, as the disciples looked around, they saw no one, not Elijah, not Moses, but Jesus only. If there is one sentence that summarizes the gist of today’s gospel it is this: “Listen to Jesus.”

Coming as it does at what I believe to be the climax of Mark’s gospel, this three word imperative deserves our full attention. Jesus’s voice is not the only one speaking. I am sure Moses and Elijah had plenty to say as well. As the greatest of teachers and the greatest of the prophets respectively, Moses and Elijah represent the sum total of the Hebrew scriptural witness. As such, they should not be ignored. Nevertheless, the one voice that, for Christians anyway, is ultimately authoritative is that of Jesus. Jesus tells us that everything in the law and the prophets hangs on loving God with all our being and our neighbors as ourselves. Mark 12:28-31. There is no commandment greater than these which are in fact one in the same. For there is no way to love God other than  by loving one’s neighbor. We must not follow any voice telling us to do otherwise, even if it comes from the Bible.

God knows there has been and still is a lot of Christianity around that is mighty short on Jesus and long on-well you name it. There was no shortage of crosses worn and carried by members of that mob that stormed the Capital Building on January 6th. There is a lot of nail biting, hand wringing and consternation these days about declines in church membership and financial support for the mainline denominations as well as some frantic discussions among us about how to turn that around, many of which, sad to say, have little to do with Jesus or the reign of God he proclaims. Just prior to my retirement from full time parish ministry, I attended the presentation of a program designed to spark congregational renewal. Aside from the opening devotion that included a reading from one of the gospels, the name of Jesus never came up during a nearly two hour session of PowerPoint, group exercises and lectures. It made me wonder whether the church is worth renewing. If the world sees nothing of Jesus in us, why is it so all fired important that we last into the next century?

In view of all this, I have to say that I found refreshing the words of Episcopalian Bishop Michael Curry spoken in a recent webinar to the effect that Christianity needs to recenter itself on the teachings, example and Spirit of Jesus of Nazareth. Curry is calling for a positive witness testifying to God’s priorities for humanity as revealed in Jesus Christ. “We need a standard,” he says, “of what Christianity looks like and it’s Jesus of Nazareth.”  I would only add that, if we are going be a living witness to Jesus, if we hope to be a church in which Jesus is recognized, then we need to start listening to him.

Perhaps that is a good segway into the season of Lent. What is the point of fasting, prayer, retreat and the other Lenten disciplines if not to hear with greater clarity the voice of Jesus over the din of all the other noise generated by an endless news cycle? What better opportunity to reflect upon where Jesus might be calling us? What better time than now to consider the shape love must take for our neighbors in a bitterly polarized cultural climate poisoned with racism, threatened with sickness and overshadowed by the specter of violence? And what better light to help us find our way through the darkness of these days than the light of Jesus’ resurrection, a generous glimpse of which Mark’s gospel has given us?

I don’t know about you, but this year I prefer receiving my resurrection now rather than later. A resurrection that takes place only in the distant future is of no use to me just now. I need the light of the resurrection now as I muddle through the grief and confusion that comes with losing so many of my family members and friends. I need the light of the resurrection now to help me navigate the ever changing terrain of a world turned upside down with pandemic, racial violence and a troubling global rise in nationalism. I need the light of the resurrection now to help me see and visualize hope when the daily news gives me so much reason for despair. I need for Jesus to shine into the dark corners of my day to day existence, into my marriage, into my family, into my work and ministry. And thanks be to God, that is what Jesus offers us.

Here is a hymn/poem by Ludämilia Elisabeth that captures what I believe is the thrust of Sunday’s gospel from Mark and, indeed, the thrust of Mark’s entire gospel.

Jesus, Jesus, Only Jesus

1 Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus
Can my heartfelt longing still.
Lo, I pledge myself to Jesus,
What He wills alone to will,
For my heart, which He hath filled,
Ever cries, “Lord, as Thou wilt.”

2 One there is for whom I’m living,
Whom I love most tenderly;
Unto Jesus I am giving
What in love He gave to me.
Jesus’ blood hides all my guilt–
Lord, O lead me as Thou wilt.

3 What to me may seem a treasure,
But displeasing is to Thee–
O remove such harmful pleasure;
Give instead what profits me.
Let my heart by Thee be stilled;
Make me Thine, Lord, as Thou wilt.

4 Let me earnestly endeavor
Thy good pleasure to fulfil;
In me, through me, with me, ever,
Lord, accomplish Thou Thy will.
In Thy holy image built,
Let me die, Lord, as Thou wilt.

5 Jesus, constant be my praises,
For Thou unto me didst bring
Thine own self and all Thy graces
That I joyfully may sing:
Be it unto me, my Shield,
As Thou wilt, Lord, as Thou wilt.

Source: The Lutheran Hymnal, (c. 1941 by Concordia Publishing House) # 348.  Ludämilia Elisabeth (1640-1672) was the second daughter of Count Ludwig Gunther I of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt. She was born at the castle of Heidecksburg, near Rudolstadt and was educated there. In 1665 she went with her mother to the dowager castle of Friedensburg near Leutenberg, but after her mother’s death she returned to Rudolstadt. On Dec. 20, 1671 Ludämilia was formally betrothed to Count Christian Wilhelm of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen. Shortly thereafter her eldest sister Sophie Juliane contracted measles from which she died. While caring for her, Ludämilia caught the infection and died on March 12, 1672. Ludämilia was raised and thoroughly educated in a devout Christian family. She was a good Latin scholar and well read in theology and other branches of learning. She authored many poems showing her to have been a deeply faithful disciple with an intense love for Jesus. Her poems were written as personal prayers for her own edification rather than for public worship. Nonetheless, they were subsequently put to music and so used. The above hymn is taken from the hymnal in use by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod when I was a child. Unfortunately, it did not make the cut for subsequent worship books.