As I sit down to write this at the end of August, two massive societal earthquakes continue to dominate the news cycle: the deadly demonstration and counter-demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia that unmasked a shocking vein of white supremacy in our country, and the once-in-a-millennium rainfall, produced by Hurricane Harvey, that has wreaked havoc on the Texas gulf coast.
The first is easy to unpack–theologically and pastorally, at least; politically, it might be more complicated. When I was a young child in Sunday School, I learned a song that many of you probably know as well: “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
It’s just about that simple, isn’t it? What do I really need to add? You know me. I don’t “do” politics in my official role as a Christian leader. But this isn’t politics. We can disagree on how to fund Illinois government or what percentage of the GDP we should spend on defense, or the details of immigration policy. What we, as disciples of Jesus, cannot disagree on is the essential equality and preciousness of every single member of the species homo sapiens. We just don’t have that option.
We hear a lot about “hate groups.” I wonder whether me might more appropriately call them “fear groups,” because, in my experience, anger often masks fear. Why are we fearful? Why do we exploit our fears to erect walls of hostility between groups of human beings? We do so because we live in a fallen world. We live under an ancient curse. We live in the thrall of sin and death. As we say together in Eucharistic Prayer C: “Hear us, Lord, for we are sinners in your sight.”
One of my favorite Prayer Book collects, the one for Proper 29 (Christ the King, the Sunday before Advent), reminds us that human beings are “divided and enslaved by sin.” Can anyone argue that we are not divided? Some might resist the notion that we are enslaved, but repeated patterns of human behavior over countless centuries shout otherwise.
But what can we say about the horrific floods in Houston? From a theological perspective (we’re not talking about science here), they are evidence of the fallenness of creation itself. At St Paul writes to the Romans: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” (8:19-22) Earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions, and other natural disasters are signs that all is not right, not only with the human soul, but with the world itself. (Again, this is not science; we’re not denying the geological and meteorological explanations for such things; we’re interpreting their meaning.)
The collect for Proper 29 goes on to petition God that we who are “divided and enslaved by sin” may be “freed and brought together” under the “most gracious rule” of him who is King of kings and Lord of lords. This is indeed our hope. This is indeed the good news that it is our mission to announce to and model for the world. Anger and fear, division and hostility, sin and death, do not have the last word. God has the last word, and that word is reconciliation, justice, peace, and love. The suffering wrought by either earthquake, flood, and fire or plague, pestilence, and famine does not have the last word. God has the last word, and that word is the new Jerusalem, the city of God, the marriage supper of the Lamb, the celestial banquet. If I may be allowed to channel St Paul writing to the Corinthians: Therefore comfort one another with these words.