Entering the Night/Returning with the Eternal Day
Always mindful of the two pillars of Sabbath – Delight in Creation and Deliverance from Slavery/Salvation – Victory over Sin and Death.
15 years ago today there was a world changing event known by its date 9/11.
Do you remember where you were when you heard the news of the New York City Twin Towers coming down?
Do you remember what you thought or what you felt.
I was in Gatineau at a CF mental health conference and with us that day was an American female military chaplain. We were all stunned and she was especially so.
It has been said that 9/11 is a historical water shed moment. The marking of the end of one age and the beginning of another. For some historians there is the world before 9/11 and the world after.
This post 9/11 age erupted into existence. The Middle East has been set ablaze and religious extremism spreads the fire near and far.
A clash of cultures some say. Little or No God vs All God. Secularism vs Theism. Limited personal freedom vs full personal liberty.
(9/11 has helped to produce a very strange phenomenon – home grown terrorism. Young people, White in some cases, who convert to a religion not traditionally their own and become radicalized and violent against their own community and its values.
There is an excellent documentary about Tom Evans, born and raised in England, who became a terrorist. His mother said he was brainwashed.
He joined a terrorist group in Africa and committed great atrocities.
His mother loved him but totally hated what he had become and was doing. Her son was lost and she desperately tried to find him in a sense and bring him home. Which for him would have met jail but that she rightly preferred his being in jail to what he was doing.
Eventually word arrived that he was killed. A tragedy that ended tragedies committed by him.
This mother had lost what was most precious to her. She was relieved he could do no more harm but there was no lost and found conclusion and no rejoicing.)
9/11 is a day when many loved ones were lost.
Untold numbers of others would lose their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. Among them would be Canadians. Some I would bury myself.
We live is a world where loss is real. It comes in all shapes and sizes. It cuts to the quick and hurts deeply.
Loss of health can be like that. Aging also. Job and relationship loss. Standing and status loss. They are all different and some worse than others but yet the feeling is similar.
We are less than we were and it takes from us our sense of wellbeing and promise.
If we see it from a particular Christian theological perspective and consistent with today’s gospel reading, we have revealed to us our existential reality.
We are lost.
First we are lost in sin, a word that covers a multitude of conditions from greed, resentment, jealousy, hate, bias, prejudice, malice, anger, violence, avarice, despondency, indifference, pride, the list goes on.
A more and encompassing meaning is separation – from one’s better self, from just and harmonious relationships with others, from a just use of the environment, and from God.
You could say the causes leading to 9/11, complex and multifaceted though they be, include all of this darker stuff found in human beings.
In smaller but just as real ways people are lost in this separation from our best selves.
The writer of the letter to the Romans put it this way:
I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway
The second aspect of our being lost is our mortality. We are mortals. We have a certain amount of time. Our life has an end point.
Entropy is built in.
It is everyone’s fate; everyone’s night.
It is our greatest enemy.
Sin and death – This is the night of life. This is the stuff we prefer to not have happen. It is the extinguishing of the day, the loss of all that is good. Our glorious happier day has rolled away, is lost, and we can’t find it.
We are lost.
And a lost person needs someone to care enough to go look for them.
We are not simply lost out in the woods.
Anybody wanting to find us has to enter into the wilderness we are in – into sin and death, into the powers of hell as some describe it.
Dante’s great infernal. There you find everything from Cain to 9/11 to our own private broken places.
Humanity is lost like that.
If someone is to rescue us from there they had better be prepared to ‘carry a cross’ and to ‘put everything on the line’ as we heard Jesus say in last week’s gospel.
Luke said Jesus had set his face toward Jerusalem – the seat of religious, economic, and political power. It would all come against him. Even more primal – sin and death would come against him.
The worse the world can throw would be thrown at him.
It is like taking on all the forces that generate a 9/11 – human brokenness acting out in extremism – and to step into the heart of its source.
Jesus rightly and responsibly turns to those following him and says, ‘everything you hold dear you had better be prepared to lose.’
God is going to go there. Moltmann in his famous book titled, The Crucified God,’ brings us the understanding of God putting all on the line.
It is God who steps into the infernal to rescue you and me.
It is God who steps into the horrors of human hate and violence and has himself nailed to a tree. It is God the source of life who enters where there is no life, into the grave.
He is the shepherd in search of the one lost sheep – showing that every one counts.
He is the woman who sweeps the floor till the loss coin is found and that completes her wedding band headdress.
It is God who rejoices to bring the lost safely to the fold. It God who rejoices to overcome sin and death.
There is a call that comes to us in the night.
Like the call to Samuel. Like the call to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
It asks that we look into the dark night and to seek that which is lost.
It asks us to not lose heart and to not lose hope but to struggle to find the way through until we have restored to us what is lost.
The world may not be what it was and certainly not what it can be. Let’s seek the loss and restore them to the fold. Weeping may be for a night but joy comes in the morning – let’s see pass our current hurt and suffering to a time and place where sorrow and pain are no more. Let see beyond our limitation to abundance.
At the core of the faith of the Jewish people is the promise God made to Abraham. It has kept them steadfast and determined against the greatest challenges.
At the core of the faith of Christian people is the promise of Immanuel – God is with us and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
You may recall the short video we had of a physician who died while kayaking. A smart and intelligent woman who by no means is easily fooled. She had a near death experience and found herself floating about the river and into a light that was filled with life and love.
She was rescued and resuscitated. Her experience changed her life and she is no longer fearful of loss. That night does not threaten her anymore. She gives her days to medicine and making life better in the here and now and she keeps her joy alive confident that not even the worse here is the final word. She found her greatest treasure, life itself, will never be lost.
Death and tragedy and terror and violence and a thousand others loses and causes for fear and sorrow will not be the final word. We will return home happy. We will have joy in heaven and here on earth. Thy will be done, Father.
The cause or causes of 9/11 are complex.
But if we allow for one of these complexities to be religious extremism and the use of violence, and this found not just in one religion buy in many, including in Christianity during the crusades and in times of colonialism and imperialism, then today’s gospel is a definite contrast.
Jesus and Luke understood God to be one who expands joy. A God who seeks us out, finds us, restores us, and all breaks forth into joy.
We are not perfect. The world is not perfect. There are differences and grievances. There is injustice and exploitation. There are social and economic disparities. All these increase division and discord between individuals and peoples. Hate can grow and violence can break out.
We can fuel the flame or with grace throw water on it. It is not that we never become angry but that we work it out. It is not that we let ourselves be treated like door mats but have enough self worth and other worth that we are genuine and forthright. It is caring enough to confront. Standing for something and not falling for everything.
Most conflicts are rooted in grievances. Some in lost. Some in exclusion. Some in inequality. Some in disadvantage. Some in misunderstanding. Unattended and unresolved they can be ignited by a spark and set the world on fire.
Loss is associated with it and it is the lost that needs to be sought for and restored. All of it will be re-gathered and put right and there will be joy in heaven.
For several Sundays now we have talked about the two underlying qualities of Sabbath – to delight in creation and to recall deliverance from Egypt, freedom from slavery, to unbound the bounded. We are to experience those qualities ourselves. Delight in the sabbath and know in the very fibre of your being forgiveness of sin and life over death. As the saying goes, even at the grave we make our song!! Alleluia.
So today we recall a great tragedy and the horrendous additional suffering that resulted from it. We think of our own losses no matter how different in some ways but yet real for each person going through it, and we look deep within that night and in Christ find the eternal day; knowing weeping lasts for a night but joy comes in the morning.