Sunday, November 23, 2014

If Christ is the King, then....

We've reached the end of the season of Pentecost and have arrived at the date that is commonly known throughout the Episcopal Church as "Christ the King" Sunday. To punctuate the moment, we hear the famous words from Matthew's Gospel:

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matt 25:34-39).

We also know what follows this. Those who don't feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, take care of the sick or visit the prisoner are the ones who have not done the will of the king...and they will not inherit eternal life.  To put this all in simpler terms, when we take care of each other, look out for each other, recognize our selves in the "other", this is when we have made earth more like heaven. It's when we do the simple things of paying attention to the people we encounter and treat them with the respect and dignity afforded every human being that we put the Christ back into Christianity and He can reign as king.

Just saying, "Oh, yes, I will take care of the poor and the needy," doesn't cut it. To actually achieve "earth as it is in heaven" entails a lot of work and it isn't for the feight of heart. It means entering into the messiness of humanity and sitting with the stranger in the dark and daring to touch their hand or their shoulder to remind them that they are not alone.

We've had some terrifying events lately in Tallahassee which sadly are the same terrifying events that happen in cities and towns all over this country every day. A person with a gun opens fire on people who are unarmed or responding to others in need of help. It happened twice in less than three days. On the Florida State University campus, a young man who had graduated from FSU and gone on to law school and had a career as an attorney in New Mexico returned to his alma mater, to the library where he used to love to study as an undergraduate, and shot three people. When the police arrived and ordered him to drop his weapon, he fired off shots at them. They killed him. Myron May wasn't the smiling student and promising young lawyer he'd been. Friends report that he had been on a terrifying downward spiral of mental illness and a belief that the police had bugged everything from his car to his sneakers. We won't know why he felt the need to go back to the campus he loved to inflict pain and terror. But it seems he is yet another victim of a mental healthcare system that has too many gaps in which very sick and troubled people continuously fall and their families and friends are powerless to do much more than watch. When one has to "do something" in order to get help, it can lead to them "doing something," that harms themselves or others. That seems to have been the case with Myron May. And how sad is that. It wasn't that his friends didn't attempt to go sit with him in his dark place, to get him the help he needed. They did. But the gaps that have been allowed to grow in the system, the inability due to bureaucracies to get people help conspired against their efforts. And so a campus and its police officers got pulled into his hell. And we, again, are left with questions: why can't someone with a mental illness get proper treatment? And how in the world are they able to purchase a gun?

Another man, with a gun, took aim this morning at Leon County Sheriffs deputies and Tallahassee firefighters responding to a house fire on a normally quiet cul-de-sac. Details are still sketchy, but it seems this guy was someone with a record and known to be trouble. He may have set fire to the home as a way of drawing out the first responders, and then he ambushed the first deputy on the scene, killing him and taking his gun. An off-duty TPD officer who happened to live in the neighborhood and was preparing to work a shift at the FSU football game, heard the melee outside and was the one who ultimately ended up shooting and killing the guy. A neighborhood was terrified and shaken. And more lie dead from gunshots. Many are quick to note that it could have been worse. But that is small consolation to those mourning the dead. All day on Facebook, as the story of this latest shooting unfolded, I would learn that one friend may have known the perpertrator; another lives only a few houses away from the dead deputy. The violence ripples out from the crime scene and touches us all. 

If Christ is King, then surely he must be like the man who returned from his journey in last week's Gospel parable only to find that the person given the one talent (which was actually a huge amount of money in those days) had buried it because he knew the man was greedy. What will this King have to say about how we've been doing, as a human race, to make earth resemble heaven? Will he note how we throw our hands up and say, "We can't do anything about XYZ because... (fill in the list of excuses)?" Perhaps as we prepare for the return of the King in these coming weeks of Advent, we might begin with looking at our unwillingness to tackle the tough issues every single day, and demand better of our leaders and our selves when it comes to the lack of adequate resources for mental health care. Maybe now is the time to ask the harder questions about the easy access to guns, and for those with the power to change laws to worry more about the public good than the next election cycle. The "least of these" are really any of us and all of us. Our refusal to see that and respond in Love to one another through doing the hard work of making earth like heaven is when we fail the King.

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