On Going Forward

I’m going to briefly interrupt the Tour de Cassiodorus to share some thoughts that have been rattling around in my head since the election.

I start with words from quite possibly my favorite (brown-skinned, Jewish) woman leader of all time:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever.

This is not a call to meekness nor acceptance. This is a call to join a revolutionary movement. The revolutionary leader is God.

Perhaps the most important sermon of Jesus recorded in the Gospels is that called the Beatitudes. We have two versions of it, one in Matthew, one in Luke. If you compare the two, you’ll quickly notice that there are some slight but important differences between the two. Furthermore, you’ll notice that there are profound, striking, and important relationships between the version of Jesus’ words found in Luke and these words from his mother from the first chapter. The thoughts and concepts expressed here by Mary are deeply interrelated with who God reveals himself to be in Jesus and his vision for our world.

Liturgically, these words are part of a canticle that the Church has historically sung every single night in the Office of Vespers. I try to sing it most nights too. We don’t repeat it because we don’t have any other words to say—we say it because it is important. It reminds us in a few words of what God’s vision for the world is.

Reconciliation is a very important word to us Episcopalians. We use it a lot. One of the reasons is because it is a scriptural word that relates deeply to what we are called to do: 2 Corinthians 5:18 informs us that we have been given “the ministry of reconciliation.”

In recent days I have seen many Christians—many Episcopalians, including some bishops I know—who have called us to be ministers of reconciliation in a deeply divided nation. We must heal and reconcile.

But what is it that we are being called to reconcile? What is the ground of our reconciliation? 2 Corinthians 5:16-20 is continuing a thought that begins with Baptism. The reconciliation talk comes in at that point: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:18-20).

In this ministry of reconciliation we are not being called to be nice or pleasant or to smooth things over with those who disagree with us. We are called to work on the reconciliation of humanity with God, and God’s vision of the world that he created: A vision of the world laid out by Mary in her Song and ratified by Christ Jesus in his sermon.

This is a vision that puts the poor, the people at the margins, the “alien in your midst,” the ones who have lost their political protection as the central figures for our care and concern. It is not interested in catering to the rich, the proud, the haughty. If we are exhorting the Christian faithful to be healers and reconcilers, than we need to be clear that we need healing from a host of sins and to be working to reconcile the people and society around us to the vision of the world that God intends. This is the call of the Gospel on us.

If we can bring together people who disagree and be nice to them, sure—that’s great too. But that’s not the ministry of reconciliation to which Scripture or Mary call us.

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