December 17, Anointed

Today’s first reading says, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor .  .  .”. In the second reading Paul says, “Pray without ceasing . . . do not quench the Spirit”. The Alleluia verse says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor”. The Gospel Story is John hounded by the temple system because he is trying to help people see Jesus in their midst — “There is one among you whom you do not recognize”. In the majority report these passages refer to Jesus and the people of his time. In the minority report they can speak to each of us, if we are inclined to let this happen. Since we process the Scriptures in the setting of what is going on in our life when we hear or read them, todays readings have a lot to say if we are ready to hear them, or not much at all if we are not ready to hear them. Paul says, “Do not quench the Spirit”. If we listen to the Spirit in the particulars of our life we will become uncomfortable. So the easiest and safest thing for us is to stick to just the majority report, keep all the rules, believe the right things, use the accepted terms and ideas, keep God happy and get to heaven later. Don’t rock the boat.  

If we look at the minority report a lot will happen. My recent heart attack, the experience of peace as it was happening, has had a real impact on my everyday everything, and maybe some insight into what’s coming. “Bring glad tidings to the poor.” The pending state law banning medical treatment for trans young people is causing much hurt. Because of people I know and recent conversations I’ve had, this bothers me. The “poor” is not limited to financially poor, homeless, immigrants, etc. It includes people in personal pain caused by systems both governmental and religious, people being told they are not acceptable to God as they are and a given religious system will tell them how to “please” God. The dangerous polarization of so much in our society, including religion as it mixes with politics, has claimed many victims. While religious systems may not intend to cause harm, their adherents or enforcers inflict a lot of pain, claiming to act in the name of God who creates the very people the systems are hurting. Do they know the persons their policies are hurting, or do they see them simply as subjects who have be told how to live by people who don’t know them? ‘There is one among us whom we do not recognize?’ We are, all of us on all sides of any issue, well meaning people created by God as we are. No matter what our emotional position is on any issue, we have to look at what the gospel and our commitment to follow Jesus call us to do. A legitimate question: is it more important to follow the rules of a given tradition than to be open to the Spirit who might call us to a way of seeing things that is different from the tradition’s? Can the Spirit be in conflict with a tradition?  

Paul says, “Pray without ceasing”. We don’t pray to change God’s mind, to get God to come around to our way of thinking. We pray to become aware of God happening in every situation we face. Prayer is not just something we do. Prayer is who we are and how we live. It includes our ongoing effort to be open to God in everything without telling God how to be God, a relationship with God that we live perhaps by spending time with God, not thanking or asking, just quiet time with a friend, letting God show us God being God in our life, something nobody else can teach us. Prayers are something we do or say, and when we let them they move us in the direction of prayer as a way of living. Saying prayers is a start, a means to an end. At some time we have to let go of them and go where they point. Often prayers keep God remote and at a distance. Prayer leads us to know God always intimately close. Words cannot describe this, but experience does. Prayer becomes the basis of everything we do. This does not mean what we do will be agreed with, liked, or even appreciated. Look and John and Jesus, and many others.  

If I come to recognize God happening in me or around me, do I hear God saying anything to me? What if I hear what I don’t want to hear, a call to do something I don’t want to do, to get involved where I prefer not to? Do I feel called “to bring glad tidings to the poor”, whatever that may mean in any situation? I know good people being hurt by civil or religious systems. How can I try to help them see God happening in their life without telling them how to live? Can I just listen to folks and go where it takes me? The Spirit speaks through people and their lives, which means I need to listen to folx talk about their lives. When the Spirit speaks it is not always clear. I ask the gifts of openness and prayer, with a healthy dose of trust. May I let go of my need to know and control and let myself be led to whatever, because this isn’t about me. I need to trust even more the Guy walking point and handle the whatever with what I’ve got. There is little certainty, a lot of doubt, wandering, and wondering. A journey. With people. People matter. Is there ‘one among us whom I do not recognize’?

Jesus was kind and caring to everybody. What bothered him was any system, civil or religious, that caused people to suffer. John was harassed for trying to help people know Jesus moving among them. This annoyed the temple authorities because they had a good thing going and felt John was damaging it. Jesus had the same problem, and it cost him his life. Civil systems can be dealt with at the ballot box. In church systems there is no accountability for those who create and enforce the systems, at times heartlessly. Stories of this abound. Francis is calling the church to be a listening church, not one that just makes rules. He sees the church as a combat field hospital after a battle, something I have experienced. The role of the church, and perhaps mine too, is to help folks recognize God happening in and among them and not try to control access to God, to welcome people in, not keep people out. Each version of Christianity has its own “rules” for belonging, and they differ a lot. Eg, whether a thing is wrong seems to depend on what tradition a person belongs to. It’s not really about God, just church order. If I believe “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor”, what do I do? Is there ‘one among us whom I do not recognize’? Prayer is everything, a light in the darkness. Just sayin  .  .  .