Homily, November 19, 2017

Homily for Proper 28 Year A
By Tasiyagnunpa Barondeau
One of my favorite things about small c catholicism and liturgy is that we are not afraid of
reading the hard to hear things in scripture. The lectionary for this Sunday, a week before we
observe Christ the King, and two weeks before the beginning of Advent, brings us a serious
wake up call to live the Kingdom of God.
Or else.
I wonder if this Sunday and next are meant to prepare us for Advent, which a long time
ago was thought of as a mini-Lent. In today’s world, Advent has become popular again across
the entire Body of Christ as an answer to Black Friday violent consumerism replacing spiritual
readiness for Christmas.
This idea of preparing to do the Advent mini-fast as we ready for the Twelve Days of
Christmas is appropriate for today. The Lessons bring a witness to God’s tough love combined
with our Christian hope.
In going over today’s lessons, I read over the ‘alternate’ Hebrew Bible reading from
Zephaniah.
I think we are probably a bit foolish if we don’t exhale at least an ‘oofta,’ when hearing
this portion from Zephaniah. The words are meant to trouble us. In fact, I had trouble flipping
straight to this prophet’s writing, since most of my Bible study was done in a different style of
church that really only focused on the ‘prosperity’ and ‘Word of Faith’ movement verses:
At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
and I will punish the people
who rest complacently on their dregs,
those who say in their hearts,
“The Lord will not do good,
nor will he do harm.”
Their wealth shall be plundered,
and their houses laid waste.
Though they build houses,
they shall not inhabit them;
though they plant vineyards,
they shall not drink wine from them.
The great day of the Lord is near,
near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter,
the warrior cries aloud there.
That day will be a day of wrath,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the lofty battlements.
I will bring such distress upon people
that they shall walk like the blind;
because they have sinned against the Lord,
their blood shall be poured out like dust,
and their flesh like dung.
Neither their silver nor their gold
will be able to save them
on the day of the Lord’s wrath;
Oofta.
Now, if we are to truly be Christians, then I think it’s a good thing to bring a Christocentric
relational view to scripture. This is not often how today’s churches read the Bible, and I think
sometimes we do a better understanding of the Hebrew Bible by doing so. My husband has of
late been reading “God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism,” by Abraham Joshua
Heschel. Sometimes when he reads to be tidbits or shares with me about the book, I think to
myself, that sounds like Christ to me.
Not that big a surprise, because we often forget in America that Christ was a Jew in
Roman-occupied Israel.
We cannot understand Jesus unless we understand two things: He was a Jew and He grew up
under terrible oppression.
We must begin our NT reading knowing these two things. For example, in my annotated NRSV
bible, I came upon a footnote in our Thessalonians (which echoes Zephaniah and other
prophets) reading regarding verse 5:3 “When they say, “There is peace and security,” then
sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman, and there will
be no escape!” The footnote states that the use of the phrase ‘peace and security,’ by this ‘they,’
may very well be a reference to the Pax Romana of the Roman Empire. The lazy and
complacent are often the well off or those who tell themselves they are within the worldly order
of Empire.
A quick Wikipedia search on the Pax Romana gives this quote:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pax_Romana

Augustus faced a problem making peace an acceptable mode of life for the Romans , who
had been at war with one power or another continuously for 200 years. [10] Romans regarded
peace not as an absence of war, but the rare situation which existed when all opponents had
been beaten down and lost the ability to resist. [6]
So is this the peace that Christ calls us to? Peace for the upper classes who have built up
vineyards and homes on the backs of the lower classes and those who lost their lands and lives
to the Empire?
Being a tribal member of the Oceti Sakowin Oyate, I have a taste of what that feels like.
Or perhaps we think it mere justice then to call for revolution. The Pax Romana wouldn’t
begin to crumble until the First Jewish-Roman War, caused in part by a poor economy thanks to
King Herod’s overly ambitious building projects. I had never realized that in the movie, The
Nativity Story , his obsession with taxation for his own gold-plated decorating and building
schemes wasn’t just artistic license. His greed would further the turmoil and dissent and anger
against Rome. This is the same one who sent Baby Jesus and his parents into exile into Egypt
and killed innocent babes, as well as all sorts of other people, to protect his own throne under
the Romans. And it was this sort of socio-political turmoil that would see Jesus crucified as well.
For those laborers, slaves, grieving mothers and silenced babes, victims of income
inequality, castes, genocide and wars, who will save them? And as Empire falls, who will save
displaced Roman Gentiles, as the empire crumbles and many Romans fled to the countryside
and eventually had to trade their civic rights for serfdom during the Crisis of the Third Century?
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crisis_of_the_Third_Century .
What a mess then that St. Paul is handling in this letter to the Thessalonian Gentiles who were
converts to the Gospel of Jesus. He commends them in being faithful and to not be afraid of death or
life and to continue in their love for one another, building each other up. He helps them build peace
in the midst of worldly signs to the contrary.
What a mess then that we step into the Gospel reading of Matthew 25, where we see Jesus giving
us the parable of a master dealing harshly with the slave who out of fear hid the single talent
entrusted to him, rather than even trying a bank. He misread his master, acting out of fear, instead of
realizing through his relationship with him what he really ought to do.
How are we any different in today’s world, when we get bogged down in the political slop of today’s
world as delivered by cable news and Facebook algorithms?
What can we do?
What can be done when we live in a country and world where income inequality is growing
exponentially?
And what can the words of ancient texts hold for us today?
As it turns out, plenty.
In Judges we read that Deborah is the judge of Israel, in the time before Israel had kings. She is also
a prophet. She ends up prophesying, if you read the further context, that because Balak was afraid
to fight and asked her to go with him, wanting her bodily on hand apparently as a safeguard rather
than trusting her word as God’s prophet and judge. So she prophesies that the victory then will be at
the hands of a woman. As it turns out, the wife of a man who one might assume was at odds with his
family as he had moved his tent away from their camp, was home one day. Who knows, maybe they
knew God needed them in one place, but the rest of their family disagreed, but they moved anyway
and were in the right place at the right time. Regardless, the fleeing enemy captain sees their tent
and assumes that this family are allies of his. The wife coolly provides him rest and even some milk.
As soon as he is asleep, she takes one of her tent stakes and a hammer and drives it through his
temple. When Barak, Israel’s commander, shows up looking for his enemy, Jael shows him the body
that she had already dispatched. The next chapter Deborah and Barak sing of the peace thus gained
for Israel for the next 40 years.
While still a violent story, we see our God willing to circumvent the usual means of nations
fighting nations, by allowing a woman from a tribe adjacent to Israel to win Israel’s victory. Who
knows, perhaps she herself was Hebrew and married into the Kenites. Barak didn’t have excess of
numbers to pulverize his enemies into the ground, God’s angel caused confusion on the battlefield to
give Israel the victory, but Barak’s doubt caused him to receive no honor for the victory. God was
quite happy to hand the victory to a strong and wise house wife.
God works through many means, including prophecy, even today. Christian scholar Walter
Brueggemann says this:
In an increasingly confusing world, as Christians, we are to put down our tent pegs and
hammers and listen to what the Spirit of God says to us today. I would challenge you to abide in
the words found in the context of today’s I Thessalonians reading:
“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of the prophets, BUT test
everything: hold fast to what is good, abstain from every form of evil.”
America is like Rome. We see those who have are lazy and complacent, sure that
nothing will touch them, while the poor and overworked or marginalized cry out for justice, when
the bread and circuses are no longer enough. However we know that in the days of the Lord’s
wrath, money is no protection. This is actually good news for all those who cry out for justice.
God has ears to hear. The day of the Lord is at hand, but will we be ready?
It is in our relationships together with God, individually as expressed collectively, that
allows the continuing incarnation of Jesus Christ in this world and thereby the Kingdom of God
until that day.
Will we be found as servants who have dealt wisely with what their master has entrusted
us or will we be found too scared to start in the first place, thereby judging ourselves to be
enemies of God? Oofta.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ though is Good News! Through our baptismal covenant,
every single one of us here are priests and prophets in the ministry of Christ. It is for us to allow
our imagination and our walk with God to realize that God gives all good gifts and to recognize
and shush the world of Empire as it screams at us to be anxious and fear scarcity and lack. I
just recognized the scholar Walter Brueggemann as being behind some of my favorite Christian
movements and writers, and I’m so thankful as we approach Advent to be able to begin with a
newly awakened imagination. Through his scholarship, he is the author of books regarding how
evil in this world operates through convincing all of us that we are in terrible need and we best
do whatever we can to help ourselves and our own. He contrasts this with God’s economy of
love, grace, mercy and imagination. This is the meat of real peace making. This is not passive
or lack of conflict, but it’s creative and bursting with life. This sort of prophetic imagination also
gives us the Agapistic Ethics that our own Father Larry teaches in his classes and models for us
in his life and ministry. Just when we realize how much work we have to do, I challenge all of us
to realize how many answers we have already been provided if we listen to the Spirit of God.
She is faithful to us. I would like to close with this poem by Walter Brueggemann:
“On Generosity
On our own, we conclude:
there is not enough to go around
we are going to run short
of money
of love
of grades
of publications
of sex
of beer
of members
of years
of life
we should seize the day
seize our goods
seize our neighbours goods
because there is not enough to go around
and in the midst of our perceived deficit
you come
you come giving bread in the wilderness
you come giving children at the 11th hour
you come giving homes to exiles
you come giving futures to the shut down
you come giving easter joy to the dead
you come – fleshed in Jesus.
and we watch while
the blind receive their sight
the lame walk
the lepers are cleansed
the deaf hear
the dead are raised
the poor dance and sing
we watch
and we take food we did not grow and
life we did not invent and
future that is gift and gift and gift and
families and neighbours who sustain us
when we did not deserve it.
It dawns on us – late rather than soonthat
you “give food in due season
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”
By your giving, break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits
quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see
the abundance………mercy upon mercy
blessing upon blessing.
Sink your generosity deep into our lives
that your muchness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving we may endlessly give
so that the world may be made Easter new,
without greedy lack, but only wonder,
without coercive need but only love,
without destructive greed but only praise
without aggression and invasiveness….
all things Easter new…..
all around us, toward us and
by us
all things Easter new.
Finish your creation, in wonder, love and praise. Amen.”
― Walter Brueggemann
Sources from Wikipedia for Pax Romana:
Momigliano, Arnaldo (1942). “The Peace of the Ara Pacis” (PDF). Journal of the
Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. 5: 228–231. doi : 10.2307/750454 . JSTOR 750454 .
Stern, Gaius (2010) [2006]. Women, children, and senators on the Ara Pacis Augustae: A study
of Augustus’ vision of a new world order in 13 BCE . ProQuest. ISBN 978-0-549-83411-3 .
Sources on King Herod for the First Jewish-Roman War:
Cohen, Shaye. “Roman Domination: The Jewish Revolt and the Destruction of the Second
Temple” in Ancient Israel: From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple, ed. Hershel
Shanks (Prentice Hall, Biblical Archeology Society), 273
The plight of Romans in the Third Century see Wikipedia. Numerous sources on manorialism,
etc.

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