Sunday, December 14, 2014

Things Getting Stirred at Advent Three

Last week, we heard in the reading from the prophet Isaiah to "Comfort, o comfort, my people." And we had the edgy odd character John the Baptist wandering in from the dessert to preach a message of repentance, or a call to rethink and reconsider your ways, because there was one coming who was much greater than himself. Those were good words to carry with us into the week as we were greeted with more news that likely rattled our cage of comfort. The Senate released a report on the types of tactics our country used to extract information from terrorist suspects. The details of the report were genuinely revolting. Locally, black churches in Wakulla County have had "KKK" spray painted on their marquees. And the budget Congress has sent to the President seems to give more breaks to big banks and wealthy campaign donors further tipping the scales of equality in our economy and politics in favor of the haves over the have nots. Are we hearing the prophetic call to repent?
I attended a lecture series held by Temple Israel and St. John's Episcopal Church which featured a Christian Hebrew Bible scholar named Dr. Ellen Davis of Duke Univeristy's Divinity School. Her topic was the Book of Leviticus. Normally, I would stick my fingers in my ears and repeat, "La la la la" whenever this particular part of the Bible comes up for the obvious reason that I'm a lesbian and am sick of hearing hate-filled people use the verse at Leviticus 18:22 as a means of denying my goodness and the grace extended to me. Thankfully, Dr. Davis didn't narrow in on that verse; instead, she went to Chapter 19, which she describes as the "Reader's Digest-version" of all that one needs to know and understand about this particular part of Torah. She describes Leviticus as a "right-brain book," meaning it is much more poetic and metaphorical in its language than what our normally left-brained selves would expect. That's one of the many reasons one must not read Leviticus with intention of using it literally. Another important point that she made is that the author of Leviticus, whoever that Priestly writer is, did not separate the expectations of ritual purity from moral purity. They are intertwined, and so one cannot, or should not, claim to follow the moral purity codes while rejecting the ritual purity because they are often at play with each other all the time. What I found particularly fascinating was the point she made on the second, and concluding, night of this lecture series. She noted that the covenantal relationship in Leviticus is not just between God and humanity; God has a covenant with the land, and is in the land. And our covenantal relationship is not just with God, but with the land itself. Therefore, failing to keep the covenant with the land and treat it with same love and respect that we are to treat our own bodies is a violation of that relationship, and, in Leviticus, there is language that essentially allows the land to "vomit us up." 
Dr. Davis is most interested in the use of our land for purposes of farming, and certainly we have been guilty of sin there, too, with rampant development and genetic engineering to make crops produce more and grow at times they normally would not. I would say, and listening to her I imagine she would agree, that when we fail to treat one another with the love and dignity and respect we all desire, then we are inviting God and the land to expel us. Her lecture certainly stirred a lot of thinking in me as I reviewed the landscape of our current culture!
Which then brings us to today's readings, specifically the words of the prophet Isaiah.

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
   because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
   to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
   and release to the prisoners; 
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
   and the day of vengeance of our God;
   to comfort all who mourn; 
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
   to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
   the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. (Is.61:1-3)

As I watched footage of the National Action Network's march in Washington, saw the many photos from the march occuring in New York City, and even in the small Dance for Justice march that took place in Tallahassee, I could see and feel the spirit that is upon us. I get the sense that there is a desire growing in the country for real change. Like with all movements of the spirit such as this, there is also the push back. Not everybody wants to engage in changing the systems or modifying personal habits in favor of helping the greater community. But once the movement begins, it isn't an easy thing to go back to how things were before. 

This is the spirit that is growing brighter as we light the third candle on our Advent wreaths. This is the approach of Christ coming into the world to rattle it some more in the never ending pursuit of infusing Love into our daily experience. Now is the time for that real presence to become flesh.

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come
among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins,
let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver
us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and
the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

1 comment:

Phoebe Mcfarlin said...

I like the image of the three way covenant.. God-land-people. I'll put that in my sermon file.