Preached on Advent III, Dec 16, 2012 for the Lex Orandi community at Christ Church Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills, MI. Luke 3:7-18
There was a movie called Contact that came out 15 years ago – based on a fabulous book by Carl Sagan. In this movie, Jodie Foster plays a scientist named Ellie Arroway who does not believe in God but she does believe that there is life on other planets.
Upon finishing her PhD, instead of taking a teaching job, Ellie begins her research exploring the signals that come from space. She develops new and better technology to listen more accurately. She gets outside funding to do work in New Mexico when the National Science Foundation pulls its support from her research because it’s seen as too “fringe.” Eventually, Ellie becomes known in the scientific community as the “high priestess of the desert” because of some of the experiments she does – watching the static on television, listening to washing machines.
By some standards, because she doesn’t cave in to the societal expectations, Ellie is a little crazy. A little like John the Baptist, really.
And if it wasn’t for her fire, that belief that there is something worth finding, Ellie would have succumbed to that pressure and done something that the scientific community would take a little more seriously. But she would not have done what that fire in her belly compelled her to do. She would not have followed her calling, her Love.
Eventually, Ellie hears a signal. And to abbreviate this story just a bit, this signal results in an opportunity to travel into space and to possibly come face to face with life from another place in the universe. There are several candidates that are put forward to make this journey into space and these candidates are put before an examining board who will determine the right person to go. And when she’s asked “if you were permitted only one question to ask of these creatures, what would it be?”
Ellie replies: “How did you do it? How did you evolve? How did you survive this technological adolescence without destroying yourselves?”
This question reminds me of the question from our gospel today.
The crowds asking John the Baptist, “What then should we do?”
John is telling these people, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance!” Don’t just fall back on an easy grace… that we are all saved simply because we are God’s chosen! Simply because God loves us! Because God is much more sovereign than that. God could choose this rock instead. You need to do something worthy of Love. You need to behave as though your life matters to God. Because it does.
And the crowds ask John, “What then should we do?”
“How do we survive this adolescence without destroying ourselves?” “How do we evolve?”
I don’t know how it happens because I don’t preach every Sunday. I haven’t since I’ve been ordained. But I seem to preach often on Sundays that come after one of our all too familiar episodes of gun violence. And now, I’m preaching here, 2 days after 28 people died in Newtown, CT. Another episode of gun violence.
Perhaps it’s because they are happening so frequently anymore that the odds are in my favor that I’ll get to preach on it. But this makes 4 times in my 2 years of being a priest that I’ve had this call to preach in the aftermath of this kind of unimaginable tragedy. And I haven’t preached every time it’s happened.
And I draw attention to this simply to draw attention to the fact that it’s not getting better. I’m sure we all have lots of opinions about whose fault it is and what should or should not be done. If you’re anything like me, your Facebook feed has been alive with arguments – just like they were after any of the other 11 mass shootings in the US in the past 2 years. Yes, I said 11.
And we are told lots of things about gun laws
and we are told lots of things about mental illness
and we are told lots of things about safety
and the second amendment
and the criminal justice system
and media sensationalism
and video games
and cop shows on TV…
But, what then should we do? How do we survive this technological adolescence without destroying ourselves?
And I’m not going to give you an answer. Because I don’t think that’s the job of a priest. I think the job of a priest is to point to Christ – not as an answer, not as some vague, saccharin-like hope that once again we will be saved and we don’t have to do a damn thing.
I point to Christ this evening as that fire in your belly. As that energy, without which, we would be lost and incapable and always simply accepting the fate that is handed to us.
I point to Christ as that place of “NO!” in your belly. That hard stone in the part of your gut that says “no more.” That resolve that stands firm in solidarity with truth and with one another.
I point to the Christ that connects this part of us to everyone else as a call not only to weep, but to move from that place of life within us on behalf of life around us.
My friends, if you are angry or sad… if you are bewildered or confused… if you are scared or cynical… even if you feel hate right now… these are all appropriate emotions to bring into Eucharist with you. Just as hope and lightness and joy and contentment are appropriate emotions.
For that Table can hold it all for us.
Christ always holds it all for us. And that is our salvation.
That Table we gather round, that sacrament born out of a violence transformed into Love… it transforms us if we let it in.
Because that Christ fire in our belly… that fire born out of compassion and out of suffering… is that which tells us that we are not yet free.
So let us not turn away from it because we fear it or try to douse it w water because we think it’s un-Christian or ignore it because it’s too much to bear.
This fire is a gift because it’s simply that which tells us there is much work to be done. This is Christ working within us on behalf of Love. And we are pregnant with it.
This Love binds us to one another. Love bears us in its belly and births us into this world again and again and again and again. Every single Christmas, we are born because a new hope is born within us.
Love comes home again and that fire that we carry is transformed into new hope, into Love for the world. That Christ that is a part of us, that anger and resolve transforms into the strength we need to act in Love in this world.
And that Table is where it happens.
Bring this fire to the Table with you. Let it speak to you. Let it be transformed within you to find out what it is you are called to do as members of this Body of Christ. Our baptism may be where ministry starts for us, but it is this Table where we come to know what that ministry is.
How are you called to bear fruits worthy of repentance? How are you compelled to act as if your life matters to God? Because it does.
In the name of these children of God:
Ana M. Marquez-Greene
Madeleine F. Hsu
Catherine V. Hubbard
Allison N. Wyatt
Anne Marie Murphy