Friday, May 1, 2009

Seeing Our Way to Recovery

The propers for the 3rd Sunday of Easter include Acts 3:12-19, Psalm 4, I John 3:1-7, and Luke 24:36b-48.

“Many are saying, ‘Oh, that we might see better times!’ Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O LORD.”

A psalm for a world in deep global recession.

And if you’re among the many looking for connections between causes and effects, notice that our little Psalm 4 today packs a punch in verse two, when God is heard to boom in, “You mortals, how long will you dishonor my glory; how long will you worship dumb idols and run after false gods?”

There is a trenchant commentary on how we got to where we are. Dumb idols, false gods. The idol of wealth without work, wealth without social responsibilities, the idol of bigger and bigger businesses in unrestrained unregulated growth (which, when it happens physiologically, is called cancer) and the false god of greed, which can be fed only by claims too good to be true, and by promises that cannot be kept.

The psalmist offers four steps to recovery.

First, tremble. Our culture needs to sign into a detox center. We’re addicted to conspicuous consumption, prestige through ownership, and high expectations of security. As these are withdrawn we get the shakes. “Be honest,” our ancient coach urges us. “Let your heart feel all that it must as you let truth replace illusion. Tremble.”

Second, says the sage, “speak to your heart in silence upon your bed.” Here’s a prescription for rest, not more running around plugging up holes in dikes, but doing the inner work, tending your soul’s health. If our psalmist belonged to AA, he might say, “Work the twelve steps: One, admit that we are powerless over some of our appetites, that our lives have become unmanageable; Two, believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity; Three, decide to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God…” And so on.

Third, the psalmist teaches, “offer the appointed sacrifices…” Yes, we’re getting better acquainted with sacrifice, a dimension that many have found missing in our national life in recent years, or rather an experience delegated to a minority (our military in Iraq and Afghanistan, for one) while the majority developed few skills in conserving or sacrificing for a higher good. By the time we one day look back on this economic collapse, we all will have become more adept at traveling light.

And fourth, “put your trust in the LORD.” The whole world is precious to him, and he will not let the humbling that has come upon us be without worthy purpose. The better times we may see, says the Psalm writer, require the light of God to recognize. And the gladness God will put in our hearts will be greater than what the markets in grain and wine and oil can provide.

That theme of clear sight runs through all our propers today. In the collect, we asked God to open the eyes of our faith so that we may recognize the Christ in all his redeeming work, wherever he breaks open the bread and pours out the cup of sacrifice.

Peter admonished his neighbors for staring at him and the other apostles as if they were magicians or especially pious just because they had obeyed Jesus and allowed his power to flow through their hands and hearts as they cared for the poor, the weak, and the excluded. “You see this man whom you know; he is restored to health because of Jesus Christ, not because of us, so see the Christ whenever you see the needy, and do what he tells you to do.”

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God,” opened our second reading. “And one day we shall see God in perfect fullness, and seeing him will help us be like him,” said John who wrote this letter, trusting God to have a purposeful future for all who will keep their eyes open.

And the disciples are doing their best to do just that in the Gospel portion from Luke, but at the moment we catch them they’re terrified that Jesus standing before them is a ghost and not the risen Messiah. “Why? Why?,” asks Jesus. “Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And, to drive that point home, he asks them, “Hey, have you anything here to eat?”

His consistent mission in these fifty days of Easter is to help his church make sense of his sufferings, and, of course, of theirs. He does it still, and in these seasons of want and worry he will show himself in the sufferings of his world. And we shall see him, if we get close to one another in our sufferings and do what he tells us to do.