You don't have to go to any Twilight Zone to find a world where things are not the way they should be...
Lent 5b 2015 • SJF • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
Now is the judgment of this world, now is the ruler of this world to be driven out; and I, when I am lifted from the earth, will draw all people to myself.+
There is a 1960s TV show that has remained in reruns ever since. It’s not I Love Lucy, though I’m sure you would instantly recognize it from the music of the opening credits just as easily. Perhaps you know the opening text that the host recites as well as the music. “There is a land between mystery and imagination...” Do you remember? It ends, “There’s the signpost up ahead...” as the title comes shimmering into view, “The Twilight Zone.”
Strange things happen in the Twilight Zone; things in the Twilight Zone are not as they should be. But what I want to say to you today is that right here in this world things are not as they should be, either.
Things are not as they should be when people with mental illness wander the streets because hospitals have been shut down, and the small apartments they could afford to live in have been converted into condos for the one percent. Things are not as they should be where people have to live in cardboard boxes over sidewalk grates to get warm. Things are not as they should be where children go without food — not just in famine-stricken deserts or countries in the midst of war — but right here in this city, one of the wealthiest in the world. Things are not as they should be where the government cuts support for food for the poor because some think they might make a habit of eating. Things are not as they should be where corporations are treated like people, and people like commodities; where politicians of both parties sell their favors to the highest bidder, and are more interested in the next election than in doing the job they were elected for in the first place. Things are not as they should be where people are killed by those who are meant to protect their lives. Things are not as they should be where people are beheaded and burned alive, and raped and murdered and all in the name of religion.
No, my brothers and sisters, things are not as they should be right here amongst the swift and varied chances of this world of ours. You don’t have to go to any Twilight Zone to find a world where things are not as they should be. Things are not as they should be right here and now, and many of us are looking for a signpost up ahead to lead us to a better place.
Sometimes people will look backwards, back to that they like to think of as the “good old days.” But when we look to the past with a careful eye, we will find there’s nothing new in any of the problems we suffer today. Homelessness, hunger, violence, crime and crooked politicians, have been a part of human life almost from the beginning. This world of ours never has been what it should be — except maybe during that first afternoon, in those few precious hours in before Adam and Eve decided on an apple for dinner. Ever since God strolled by in the cool of that first human evening, and asked a terrible question, “Where are you?” — ever since, humanity has been a stranger in a strange land, where things are no longer as they should be. So there is nothing new in homelessness: Adam and Eve were the first homeless to walk the earth, when God kicked them out of Eden.
There is nothing new in hunger. When God led the people out of Egypt’s land, and through the Red Sea, were they grateful? No, they grumbled about the pickles they’d left behind, the delicacies of the Egyptian fleshpots. They complained, when God gave them bread from heaven, they grumbled and asked him, “Where’s the beef?” And so instead of leading them into a promised land, God kept that generation of ungrateful people marching in circles for forty years, until all the grumblers were dead.
There is nothing new in political deceit. Prophets tried and tried again through the history of those naughty sisters Israel and Judah, tried to warn the idolatrous rulers of the error of their ways. But did they listen? One or two, maybe, but the rest just tried to shut the prophets up — burning Jeremiah’s scroll and even tossing him down a well. There is nothing new in political corruption and cover ups — why, one ancient politician just tried to wash his hands of the whole sorry business; and you can find a picture from the photo op right over there in the First Station of the Cross: Pilate washing his hands: “It’s not about me!”
And, Lord knows, there is nothing new in violence. Jesus himself came into the world amidst violence and he left it amidst violence. After his birth, the boys of Bethlehem were massacred, as Herod tried to wipe out the rival child king, in one of the great crimes against humanity. And some thirty years later, we need look no further than to the cross itself to see the horror of human violence done upon another human being.
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But do that: look a week and a half ahead for a moment; look to Good Friday in your mind’s eye, look to the cross where the Savior hangs dying. Could it be that this is — after all — the signpost we’ve been looking for? I mentioned last week that the byway sign on the highway of our Lenten journey — on our “lighten up” Sunday in mid-Lent — pointed us towards Good Friday. The sign at the middle is the same as the sign at the end. The Good Friday cross stands as it has ever has, since that gloomy afternoon of pain and sorrow. Could it be that this is the signpost up ahead that shows us the way to the world where things are the way they should be? Could it be that this is the signpost up ahead that shows us the One who takes this world that God made, this world that started well but fell, and by the power of God begins to make it right? Could that be it?
It is at the heart of our faith to affirm, Yes, it is! The cross is the signpost where the world turns around and the new creation begins, as the world begins to become what it is meant to be. This is no easy transformation. It took the sacrifice of Christ once offered for the sake of the whole world. For that world to be set right, for that world to turn the corner and become what it should have been all along, the world itself would have to perish. Just as a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies and is reborn in the fruit it bears, so this earth would have to suffer judgment. We are still living in the last days of that judgment, the birth pangs of the new world as the old world dies and is reborn. And let me tell you, it doesn’t want to die; it’s a hard death before rebirth comes — as hard as the death of the cross. Jesus told us, “Now is the judgment of this world, now the ruler of this world will be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
He, the homeless one with no place to lay his head, is the signpost up ahead that points the way from homelessness. He leads us to an eternal home with many mansions; but he also teaches us to open our doors to welcome the stranger and the refugee. He challenges us to work and pray and give so that all of God’s children may have decent homes in which to live, in God’s world where things are the way they should be.
Jesus, who fasted in the wilderness, who thirsted on the cross, is the signpost up ahead that leads away from hunger. Not only does he give us his Body and Blood, as spiritual food and drink, but he gives us every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God to nourish us as can no earthly food. And he challenges us to share our abundance — for abundant it is even when we think it isn’t, even when all we’ve got is five loaves and two fish — he challenges us to share our rations with those who have less, or nothing at all, so that all may be filled, in God’s world where things are the way they should be.
Jesus, whom the rulers of this world connived to defeat, to find guilty before a crooked court, this Jesus is the signpost up ahead that points the way to justice. He engraves the new covenant on our hearts, the new covenant that asks that we do justice, love righteousness, and walk humbly with our God, following in the way of the cross into God’s world where things are the way they should be.
Jesus, the one born amidst violence and dying amidst violence — he is the signpost up ahead that transforms violence into peace, by taking the very instrument of violence, the cross, and fooling everyone — including our ancient enemy Satan — as he turns that instrument of death into the instrument of peace and life. This was the reason he came to us, this was the hour for which he was born, this was the judgment of the world, the casting out and the casting down of the ruler of this world; this was the hour when Jesus was glorified, lifted up, to draw the whole world to himself, so that it might become at last God’s world of peace where things are the way they should be.
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Good Friday is just a little over a week away. Keep your eyes on the old rugged cross. It is the signpost that leads the way to life everlasting in the kingdom of God, but also to more abundant life here and now, as each of us disciples of Christ takes up our own cross, day by day, to share what seems to be small and weak and little, but which the grace of God can magnify. Keep your eyes on that cross in the midst of homelessness and hunger and injustice and violence — but also, put our hands to work, right here, right now, to help to make it right. Keep your eyes on that cross and God will give you strength to endure and to do your part in turning those wrongs around, to do your part in the redemption of this world. Keep your eyes on that cross, the instrument of death that is become for us the means of life; keep your eyes on the signpost up ahead, glad to suffer shame and loss, if shamed we must be, but willing to lose all for the one thing of worth: the inestimable love of God; revealed to us in and through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.