tears

Weeping, Confession, Resistance

A reflection on Matthew 22:15-22 by Andrew Stephens-Rennie

In the beginning when YHWH created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from YHWH swept over the waters. Then YHWH said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And YHWH said that the light was good, and YHWH separated the light from the darkness, calling the light day, and the darkness night. And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day. (Genesis 1:1-5)

It started in the beginning.
Before all things were
breathed into being
There was nothing except the
Unspoken word
And that word,
breathed from the dawn of time
was with God
And that word,
a word that still speaks today,
was God.

This word is the very same one
that was, that is, that is to come.

This is a word that rings out in churches, to be sure
But also over megaphones,
at protests, in the public square.
This is a word that rings out
on hilltops and mountains,
forests and coves
in concrete jungles and gardens cultivated
richly with love.

The word, the word, the word of God
Is out.
It’s a word that rings loud
Like that peal of bells
Calling us to attention
To focus
To centre ourselves
To prepare ourselves for worship
If only we could hear it
If only we could hear the Word
Over the mechanistic and digital noise
Of this age
The hum of the HVAC,
The blast of a horn
Pinging vibrations of
Disembodied reality
And the Beats in our ears

Nowhere alone.
Nowhere to cultivate the silence
Everywhere drowning out the word
That still speaks
If only at a whisper.

But you can hear it.
I pray that you can hear it tonight.

You can hear it in the rain plinking off of windows
Or the eagles circling overhead

Some days I jhave to head into the forest,
leave the main trail,
and dive deeper into the wilderness
to hear that provocative, logic-defying word.

The Word is wild. Undomesticated. Liberated.
It’s no wonder it’s in the wilderness I can hear it most clearly.
It’s the song of the forest
The varied thrush and the northern flicker
The chatter of squirrels,
leaves rustling as a bear approaches the tributary.
The seasons change. Berries and leaves
Replaced by salmon
Creekside, they eat what they can
Before once again taking a winter’s rest.
Sometimes I stay there for hours just to listen
To the silence.
To listen for the liberating word.

It’s not long after I leave the wild that
The song of the forest
The rhythms of life
Are intruded upon by frenzy and urgency,
The so-called civility of this urban existence,
Rushing from A to B to The End of the Alphabet
Just to make it work.

And we get by. Somehow, we do get by.

While others work to satisfy appetites
that will never be fulfilled
In the scarcity of an insatiable world where
There’s never enough.

Welcome to life in the 21st Century.
Welcome to life in the City
under the prosaic hum our own modern pre-occupation

Political, corporate, and religious forces
Compete for dominance.
Feeding the insatiable appetites
of a world driven by
acquisitions and mergers
dominance and domination
rape and assault,
murder and abuse,
Anything to make a buck, to stay on top

In this world, Weinstein’s just the tip of the iceberg
The first tremors of a volcano about to erupt.

As hundreds, thousands, millions shout
Yes, of course, obviously, #metoo.

And this week
I’ve been sitting in the silence
With all of the stories that have surfaced.
I’ve been sitting in silence,
resisting the urge to speak too quickly:
fighting to listen, to dwell, to be brought to tears.
Without tears we’ll get nowhere.
Without weeping we’ll never get to confession.
Without confession we’ll never build
An effective resistance.

The kind of resistance to which Jesus calls us.

A resistance rooted in the very song of creation.

And I confess tonight, my dear friends,
That I am a sinner. That I am guilty.
In what I have done, and what I have failed to do
I too am guilty of the sins that have led
folks like you to say #metoo.
I am the patriarchy.
And I too need to be dismantled.
And this is happening. Slowly.

With God’s help, and with yours.

After Jesus related his last parable,
The one in which he pissed off
Religious leaders
And political lackeys
So much that they
Decided to spring a trap

After Jesus spoke to them in the parable
that suggested that they
were complicit in all these things
they try to trap him in the question:
is it lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor, the Patriarch,
or not?

One step ahead of them, Jesus asks to
see a coin.
They bring him a denarius.
The kind of money no peasant could earn
More money than any normal human being could dream of.

They brought him the keys to Chip Wilson’s mansion,
And said “here, come on in, take a look around, just don’t break anything.”
Jesus walks in and keeps talking,
his followers trudging in their muddy boots,
Perching on the
Imperial Violet of the
Roche Bobois sofa

The trap has been sprung.
They say it’s worth $75M at last count.
The kind of house none of us could ever buy
More house than any normal human being could dream of.

Jesus is there with the
henchmen of the powerful elite,
those who sent
their slaves to trap him,
to take him down a peg
to assert their authority
to take what they want,
to defend themselves.
to put up another wall.

They don’t go themselves, of course,
but send others on their behalf,
not wanting to be personally reminded
of their complicity in yet another oppression.

Men accustomed to power and wealth
Won’t take no for an answer.
Jesus knows this. And he’s ready for them.

He takes a look at the coin and flips it over.
He holds it up to the crowd, with a flourish,
perhaps he passes it around.

“Don’t lose it in the cushions,” he says, with a glint in his eye.
“The priests will get angry.”

“Whose head is this, and whose title?”
He asks the assembled crowd
as the coin moves around the room.
Person by person, they turn it over,
Feel its weight. Stare.

Illiterate farmers and fishermen,
most of them.
Junkies and social workers
Bleeding heart types
Who wouldn’t understand
The power of money
Not from that angle, anyway.

They can’t read the inscription,
but they understand its significance.
They know whose picture it is,
and their reaction is visceral.

But then, this is what happens when you
Look into the eyes of your oppressor
Walking around with impunity.

This is what happens when you
see the image of the one who took everything
acting as though nothing happened

This is what happens when you
See the religious leaders, those you thought you might be able to trust
chumming around with the ones
who’ve done you wrong.
claiming “it’s only business,”
as though justice, love, and shalom
have nothing to do with it.

Seething rage begins to rise.
The volcano heats up.

The coin makes its way around the circle,
Finding its way back into the hands
Of the Pharisees’ henchmen.

“Whose head is this, and whose title,” Jesus asks.
The slaves fall in line
They respond in united voice,
“The Emperor’s.”

You may have heard this story before,
And you may have heard it as an argument
For the separation of church and state.
But that’s not what is going on here.
Not in the least.

It is a declaration of secession
from the politics of empire
and its fake news machine.

It is a declaration of resistance
Against those who proclaim
good news for some
in order to distract everyone
from the reality of those who’ve been trampled underfoot

Jesus, with his thoroughly Jewish imagination
knows this story, and he knows it well.
Steeped in the Exodus tradition,
He is the new Moses, confronting a new Pharoah
Leading the people
Out of life under occupation
Across the waters of the Red Sea.

Rome, Jesus seems to be saying
Can have its money. Can have its coins.
Can have its idolatrous story.
It can tell itself that Caesar is king of kings.
It can tell itself that Caesar is lord of lords.
It can tell itself that the world’s fruitfulness and bounty
Has come into being in and through the producers of wealth.

But prosperity isn’t the gospel.
And the emperor wasn’t there in the beginning.
It was YHWH.

The patriarchs can tell themselves whatever lies they want.
But, Jesus says, we will not succumb.
These lies will not rule over us anymore.
Wherever we have participated in those
Lies, we must weep.
Wherever we have participated in those
Lies, we must confess.
Wherever we have participated in those
Lies, we must resist.

We will not worship the pater familias
We will no longer bow to the patriarchy.
We must repent of our idolatry,
Our complicity in these things.
We must shed our attachment to the comforts
Of the empires that captivate
our world, our communities, and our hearts

We must root ourselves in the goodness of God
In the goodness of Creator’s beloved world.
We must root ourselves in a love that will not let us go
No matter what this disordered world
throws our way.

This is the way of redemption.
This is the way of the cross.
This is the way
we will rise up.
And out of the ashes we will arise.

Out of the ashes of Egypt
Out of the ashes of Babylon
Out of the ashes of Rome
Out of the ashes of Slavery
Out of the ashes of Racism
Out of the ashes of White Supremacy
Out of the ashes of Misogyny
Out of the ashes of Classism
Out of the ashes of Ableism
Out of the ashes of Homophobia
Out of the ashes of Transphobia
Out of the ashes of Nativism and Xenophobia
Out of the ashes of Unfettered Capitalism and Hyper-Individualism
Out of the ashes of every idolatry this world knows

Out of the ashes, the Jesus movement will arise. We will arise out of the ashes of every idolatry and form of oppression that denies the beauty, interconnectedness, abundance, diversity, and inherent goodness of all of YHWH’s creation.

But first we must weep.
Then we must confess.
And finally, we must resist the idolatrous empires that surround us
That dwell in the furthest reaches of our hearts.

The challenge we face tonight
Dear friends is simply this:
We cannot do this work in and of ourselves.
We cannot walk this road alone.

But we will make this road by walking.
Arm in arm. Hand in hand.

We will arise and go with Jesus.
Those of us who understand what it means
To suffer under the hand of another,
Or to cause another’s suffering.
Those of us who know the vulnerable countours of reality.
Those of us who are discovering resilience, and grace, too.

Together, we will arise and go with Jesus.
As we struggle together
to tell the story
to live the story
to which Jesus bore witness
and of which we are inheritors.

Together, we will arise and go with Jesus
Out into the world
to face those systems and instances of
oppression and abuse
to bear one anothers’ burdens
and to become such a community
that while we may be marked with scars,
we will also wipe away one another’s tears
that while we may have inflicted wounds
we will also participate in mutual confession
that while we have lied to ourselves, to God, and to others
we will find life with truth-telling resistance
and the promise of resurrection.

In the beginning was the word. And the word was with God, and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

In the beginning was the word.
And when that word rings out,
It is always a word of liberation.

 

Photo by Ayo Ogunseinde on Unsplash