Of the many so-called hard sayings of Jesus, his commands in this morning’s reading from the Gospel according to Saint Matthew may well be the hardest of all. It is challenge enough to love and to forgive your neighbor or your kin; it’s quite another matter to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Jesus’ clear admonition has perplexed and challenged the individual Christian conscience for millennia, and it has vexed nations and empires since the beginning of the Christian era. Is it a categorical mandate for pacifism, or just a caution to individuals and nations contemplating the use of violence and war as “an extension of politics by other means,” to use the apt and famous phrase of Karl von Clausewitz? God knows that we have witnessed both aplenty during the blood-soaked twentieth and twenty-first centuries, ranging from Gandhi’s non-violent movement to drive the British Raj from India, followed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s struggle for American civil rights in the 1960s; to World War l, that so-called war to end all wars, and its extension known as World War ll—the “good war” fought by “the greatest generation.” And what about the horror of the Shoah, and the train of genocides during the second half of the twentieth century in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur in the wake of that “good” war? Should the international community have decisively invoked its “obligation to protect” and have used effective military force to end the carnage in those places? And what should the United Nations Security Council do right now about the ISIS genocide of Christians, Yazidis, and Shi’a Muslims in areas under its control, together with the war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated every day for nearly six years in Syria, together with the genocide about to break out in South Sudan? Try as we may, we cannot and, as Christians, we may not duck these difficult moral dilemmas with a quick reference to Jesus’ words in this morning’s Gospel. Our time and place in human history demand answers and urgent action, not soothing evasions, for in a world awash in nuclear weapons, and in the midst of the greatest migration and refugee crisis since World War ll, even inaction is a moral decision demanding a moral reckoning. Continue reading →
Redemption [in the mythological sense] means redemption from cares, distress, fears, and longings, from sin and death, in a better world beyond the grave. But is this really the essential character of the proclamation of Christ in the Gospels and by Paul? I should say it is not. The difference between the Christian hope of resurrection and a mythological hope is that the former sends a person back to his life on earth in a wholly new way, which is even more sharply defined than it is in the Old Testament. The Christian, unlike the devotees of the redemption myths, has no last line of escape available from earthly tasks and difficulties into the eternal. But, like Christ himself, he must drink the earthly cup to the dregs, and only in his doing so, is the crucified and risen Lord with him, and he crucified and risen with Christ. This world must not be prematurely written off. In this the Old and New Testaments are one. Redemption myths arise from human boundary-experiences, but Christ takes hold of a man in the center of his life.
— From Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Eberhard Bethge written from Tegel prison, 27 June, 1944
Nothing can fill the gap when we are away from those we love, and it would be wrong to find anything. We must simply hold out and win through. That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time it is a consolation, since leaving the gap unfilled preserves the bond between us. It’s no good to say that God fills the gap. God does not fill it, but keeps it empty so that our communion with one another may be kept alive, even at the cost of agony.
The path of discipleship is narrow, and it is fatally easy to miss one’s way and stray from the path, even after years of discipleship. And it is hard to find. On either side of the narrow path deep chasms yawn. To be called to a life of extraordinary quality, to live up to it, and yet to be unconscious of it is indeed a narrow way. To confess and testify to the truth as it is in Jesus, and at the same time to love the enemies of that truth, his enemies and ours, and to love them with the infinite love of Jesus Christ, is indeed a narrow way. To believe the promise of Jesus that his followers shall possess the earth, and at the same time to face our enemies unarmed and defenseless, preferring to incur injustice rather than to do wrong ourselves, is indeed a narrow way. To see the weakness and wrong in others, and at the same time refrain from judging them; to deliver the gospel message without casting pearls before swine, is indeed a narrow way. Continue reading →
It is said that the distinctive feature of Christianity is its proclamation of the hope of resurrection and that this means the emergence of a genuine religion of redemption, the main emphasis now being on the far side of the boundary drawn by death. But it seems to me that this is just where the mistake and the danger lie. Redemption now means redemption from cares, distress, fears, and longings, from sin and death, in a better world beyond the grave. Continue reading →
Yesterday one of Trinity’s members, Audrey, was Confirmed by Bishop Gates at the deanery service held at the Church of the Advent downtown. It was a beautiful service and a wonderful day for Trinity. And I’m going to get back to talking about Confirmation and the tools we used to help Audrey prepare – tools that are useful for all of us – but first I want to talk about Studebakers.
Every Tuesday I drive my son Shaw to Dorchester for a choir rehearsal at All Saints, Ashmont. Almost every Tuesday, parked across the street from the church, is a 1963 Studebaker Lark. When I first saw it, I was incredulous: a Studebaker, parked right on the street in Dorchester! Even though Studebakers ceased production shortly before I was born, I recognized it instantly as a Studebaker. It has that Studebaker grill: an open “mouth” canted ever so slightly forward and set between horizontal pairs of headlights. The body is so “Studebaker:” a little too short in length for its height – but still dignified, not unlike a porkpie hat. And then there is the slightly rounded and squished trunk – on the Lark, looking like the back half of a giant hamburger bun – that is so Studebaker-y. Even though I hadn’t seen one in years, the moment I saw it, I knew it was a Studebaker.