Wednesday, December 11, 2013

From These Stones

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”...Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Matthew 3:1-12

The more you serve privilege & power the more you diminish your capacity for justice & truth.
Chris Hedges

This 2nd Sunday of Advent scripts an episode from Matthew's Gospel, the wilderness proclamation of John the Baptist, recruiting people of faith and conscience to become citizens of the heavenly reign instead of the imperial project. Indeed, the command to repent was a wake-up call to "turn around" and "join up," a blunt prodding out of the empire mentality into a Life of mutuality, kindness, generosity and unconditional love.

Previously in Matthew, King Herod commanded all his subjects to report to their hometowns for a census, the colonial mechanism to bolster tax revenue and military recruitment. When the diplomats from Persia came to pay homage to an alternative king named Jesus, Herod plotted and power-mongered. When duped, he stole the script from Pharaoh, killing every baby boy under 2. Empire is about rivalry which leads to paranoia & fear which always begets the justification for more violence.

Now, everyone is retreating out to the river, away from the Jerusalem Temple establishment, to listen to the nut-job dressed up like Elijah, who had the audacity to confront the priests and politicians of his day while opening up the word of the Lord to outsiders and foreigners. As folks flocked to the wilderness they became compelled by the words of John, confessing how they've been indicted in the imperial project and then choosing to be subversively inducted into the heavenly reign, a baptism into a new inclusive movement of the diseased and blue-collar workers and prostitutes and the physically & mentally disabled.

Sure enough, the System was only working for a few, born into privilege and willing to play the Game. And sure enough, some representatives of respectable, establishment religious options made the trek to see the prophet John on the banks of the Jordan. Why did the Pharisees and Sadducees show up? To check out the competition and report back? Or perhaps the motives were more authentic: they made the trek out to Israel's roots to become congruent with Reality.

Let's take John at his word: if God can raise up citizens of the heavenly reign even from inanimate stones, then anyone can join up, regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or religious affiliation. Too many within the American mainstream remain fixated upon who's in and who's out, based largely upon dogma, doctrine and labeling. "Christian" traditions and practices do not have a monopoly on Salvation and the Truth. All those faithfully committed to peace, justice and a sacrificial love that places neighbor and enemy above self-interest are included in the family tree.

God raised up the church dropout James Baldwin to reclaim the whole forest in the midst of the trees ("If the concept of God has any use, it is to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God can't do that, it's time we got rid of him."). God raised up the Hindu Gandhi to bring us back to the Sermon on the Mount ("An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind."). God raised up the Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh to teach us to be present (“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.”). God raised up the Muslim Malcolm X to heal the blindness of privilege and patriotism ("I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don't see any American dream--I see an American nightmare.").

And the prophetic is always sustainable. John lives off the land, hunting and gathering, trusting God for his daily bread. The imperial manipulation of the Land becomes a parable in the mouth of the prophet, the axe chopping down trees and the wheat gathered up (by the slaves) and hoarded into barns. These snakes have profited madly on this economic and ecological rape & pillage, coiling up their souls in the process. But the universe bends towards justice. There will be redemption. After all, the One more powerful is coming.

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