November 25, 2017

The Glory Down Below

Matthew 6:25-34
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do
you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’
For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Christ in Our Midst: The Glory Down Below

Look at the planes in the air; they are neither silent nor cheap. They take us where we want for a price which includes, after the ticket is paid, a widening hole in the ozone layer and a significant increase in the noise around us. Aren’t they more important and impressive than we are? Or then, consider the litter of the fields, the dumpsites, the garbage in the parks, alleys, and streets, and the waste all around and in our midst, the
surplus of the glory of those who have more than they need. Don’t the poor clothe and feed themselves from what they find there? Should you not be anxious about tomorrow? Should we not be concerned about what we will leave for the generation to come? Let the day’s own trouble be not sufficient for the day.

Consider these words for a new sermon, not a Sermon on the Mount 2000 years ago surrounded by meadows, valleys and fields and a clean air that would qualify as a scene for a picture to be featured in a Sierra Club calendar, except that there were people in it, people that did not seem to merit the glory of the landscape. Consider these words for a new sermon, a Sermon in the City where the air is stiff, the birds sick and the fields are covered by brick, mortar, glass, and asphalt, and where there are people as well, and a lot
of them, and many that seem invisible in face of the glory of some imposing architectural designs. Consider a Sermon in the City proclaimed for that tomorrow Jesus said would have its own anxieties. We are the tomorrow of those words of Jesus, the tomorrow that would bring its own problems, the troubles of our days. Indeed not the troubles of the days Jesus walked over hills and fields. During those days there were people that did not seem to merit the landscape, now there are those who don’t merit the skyscrapers. Then
they were the waste in an environmental harmony, now they harmonize with the environmental waste. Then the trouble was to recognize the dignity of the human over and against a pristine creation. Now the trouble is to recognize the dignity of creation, including the human creature, over and against a culture of exploitation. Christ in their midst was God exalting those of low degree and putting down the mighty, identifying
with the poor, associating with the out-caste, partying with sinners, dying in the midst of thieves, and, in all that, reconciling the ungodly into the very heart of God. Would Christ in our midst be anyone different than who has been, is, and will be the one there where God’s creation and creatures are defiled and where sin stains the heart as much the ghetto walls, where sin stinks like the rotten body of a leper or the carcass of animals trapped in a receding habitat, where sin contaminates souls and rivers, pollutes the spirit and the air,
and poisons the heart and the soil?

God came to assume the most deplorable and debased condition of God’s own creation in order to reconcile all onto God’s own self, reaching deep, so deep down as not to lose any and redeem all that was created. In the troubles of our days how could that be stated in any way but to include all, from the defiled ozone to the polluted springs, from the biological crash to the greenhouse effect, all that shares and suffers in the midst of this economy of destruction, all even human beings. Yes, all even human beings.

Those were the days in which women and men, children and the elderly bore the stigma of pollution and the gospel was proclaimed as to say that even that low has God’s grace reached. In a beautiful passage by Athanasius in the fourth century this is well described:

Now, if they ask, Why, then, did God not appear by means of other and nobler parts of creation, and use some nobler instrument, as the sun, or the moon, or stars, or fire, or flowers, or forests, or air, instead of a human merely? Let them know that the Lord came not to make a display, but to heal and teach those who are suffering.

Do we follow the logic? Are we with Athanasius or with the gospel for that matter? Christ in our midst is not a display, he is not marketable. Christ in our midst is not what you go out shopping in the malls and arcades. Christ in our midst is not in the rising stock market. Christ in our midst is not depicted in screen projections from Hollywood or Bollywood, not even or even less when it is a story of The Passion. Christ in our midst
can only be found where the human and natural environment bleed from their wounds. There, bleeding along is the healer. Can we see it?

Well my friends, it is a matter of where are we looking at. So let us remember the first lesson that the followers of Jesus had to learn after Jesus left them. The very first lesson was not for them to know when Jesus would return. After all he said he would be always with them to the end of the ages. How could they know that when in his ascension they were gazing up into the skies? The question was one of the gaze. So let us learn the first lesson that the disciples had to learn when the master they loved was lifted away from
them. There they were standing in utter bewilderment, gazing at the clouds on high, gaping at the skies, probably wondering about his last words that said it was not their business to know about the time reconciliation would happen. Now that the master was gone from their sight they had to learn where to turn their vision to. Not when but where does Jesus return was the point. Where should the gaze be fixed at? Two men stood by the disciples when they were staring up heavenwards. And they were told the followers
that theirs was the wrong quest. “Why do you stand looking into heaven?” This is what is called a rhetorical question. Those who were asking for the time of Jesus return, were now being told that Jesus continuing presence, his parousia, his being-there was not a question of when, but of where. The text of Acts that tells us that Jesus’ ascension is the way, the very same way he comes to us: it is always from down below. The narrative of Jesus ascension is only a story to tell us about his descent. “This Jesus, who was taken up
from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” It is from down below that he comes. Don’t look into heaven. It is from down below that glory emerges. Don’t gaze up, look down. Look down where life is broken, where creation is tortured, where nature is abused. Down there in the troubles of our days lies the glory as much as it once was found in the womb of a poor peasant maid of Galilee, or
lying in a manger in the midst of dung, animals, and flies.

Consider then the homeless old woman in the city street and know that Christ is there and that NATO’s whole air force in all its glory is not armored as she is. So, do consider the lilies of the field, but consider as well the pollution, the waste, and the violence against which the blossoming of the most simple flower is already a triumph that beats the odds and tells a story of ascension. I share with you this hope in the words of a Brazilian poet:

Tied to my class and some clothes
I walk pale through the gray streets
Melancholy, merchandises gaze at me
Should I go on until nausea sets in
Can I, without weapons, revolt
A flower blossomed in the street

Pass away, streetcars, busses, rivers of steel of traffic.
A flower still pale
Deceives the police, brakes through asphalt.
Be silent, stop all business
I assure you: a flower blossomed
Its color is elusive.
Its petals are not quite open.
Its name is not in the books
It is ugly, but is really a flower
It is ugly. But it is a flower. It broke through asphalt, tediousness, loathe and hate.

May the glory down below shine through our lives in its unseemly fashion so that we might know that what God assumes God redeems and then we will also know that we don’t need to be anxious about tomorrow, for we know the places where tomorrow begins.

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