Advent 2A: Troublemaker

Mandela
Nelson Mandela
(1918-2013)

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” 4Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  7But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Oh, John!  Shhh!  Really, you’re causing problems.  Why are we reading this during Advent?  What happened to Mary?  What happened to Joseph?  What happened to that wonderful story of the journey to Bethlehem leading up to the Holy Birth?  Well, the truth is, John was just a troublemaker.  He came onto the scene with his outlandish dress and his unconventional diet and his loud, brash behavior and his ideas that went totally against the establishment.  This really does not fit with the season, don’t you think?  Yeah, John was a troublemaker.  John was preaching something that the world had not ever heard, preaching something that most did not want to hear, preaching something that could shatter and take down what we knew.  Shhh!  Really, you’re causing problems.  Really, you’re truly a troublemaker.

Fast forward…On July 18, 1918 in the village of Mvezo on the banks of the Mbashe River in Transkei, South Africa, was born a child.  He was named Rolihlahla.  In the Xhosa language, the name means “pulling the branch of a tree,” but more commonly is translated as “troublemaker”.  Attending a Methodist school as a child, he was given the English name of “Nelson”.  And today…today is the end of an era as Nelson Mandela passed away.  He was not always who he was.  Early on, he was brash and impatient and even prone to violence.  Born into an almost aristocratic clan, he was brought up to despise the white people that shunned him.  But as he grew, he realized that his calling was not to hate the whites but to hate the system, the establishment, that separated him from them.  And so he began a lifetime journey of change, speaking something that the world had not ever heard, speaking something that most did not want to hear, speaking something that could shatter and take down what we knew.  Shhhh!  Really, you’re causing problems.  Really, you’re truly a troublemaker.

The world is gathering as I write this, standing in moments of quiet silence, honoring Mandela, remembering, standing on the edge of a new era, hoping that the change will continue and on some level afraid that it will.  Mandela’s beginning would carry him through years of imprisonment from which would emerge one of strength and calm with a playful bend and a resolve toward non-violent revolution.  The world is better because he walked among us.  His legacy is one of peaceful resistance, one of change.

Although his life was cut short earlier on, I’m not convinced that John was that unlike Mandela.  (OK, probably Mandela didn’t eat locusts.  I don’t know.)  In very different ways and in very different contexts, both stepped forward and banged the door of the establishment, daring to disturb the sleeping giants of acceptable society and insert themselves as instruments of change.  Both were troublemakers, shaking the walls that had been so carefully built around their lives, refusing to be silent in the face of injustice, in the face of the acceptance of that which flies in the face of change.

Perhaps Advent is the time that calls troublemakers.  Perhaps it is a time that makes us uncomfortable enough to think about another way of being, another way of doing things, another way of life.  Perhaps it is that for which we are getting ready in this long season of waiting.  At the end of the day, most tributes would pray that Nelson Mandela rest in peace.  Do you think that’s really what he would want?  I think that he would much rather that we keep shaking the walls and banging the doors and knocking down those systems that are unjust and unfair.  I think he and John would both be much more pleased with us becoming troublemakers, with our awakening.  Thanks be to God!

There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the  ways in which you yourself have altered. (Nelson Mandela)

Reflection:  Where do you need to be a troublemaker?  Where are you called to be an instrument of change?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

 

 

The Road

This Week’s Lectionary Passage:  1 Corinthians 10: 1-13
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea,2and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,3and all ate the same spiritual food,4and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.5Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.  6Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did.7Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.”8We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.9We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents.10And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.11These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come.12So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.13No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Well, it seems as if Paul is trying to shake up his Corinthian hearers a bit.  After all, they were pretty sure of themselves.  They were righteous and God-fearing and their faith was serving them well.  But Paul reminds them that it is not about them.  After all, a life of faith is not a life of checking off the boxes of all things good that one has done and counting one’s accolades; it is, rather, a life of an ongoing relationship with God.  And, as we all know, relationships do not move in a neat escalating line.  They have ups and downs and sometimes feel as if they are going to break completely apart.  Paul (as opposed to others in that day and, sadly, in ours) sees salvation here as a journey, an ongoing relationship, rather than securing a place in heaven or avoiding a place in hell. 

The truth is, relationships are hard.  This faith thing is hard.  It does not guarantee one a life of ease or plenty.  As Paul reminds us, look at the past. Faithful people lived in the shadows and had the waves crash over them.  Things were not easy.  Why would our life be different?  You see, faith is not something that removes us from life, that separates us from the world.  Faith is what calls us to live there, to be who we are called to be in this world, showing the world a different pathway.  Yeah, I know, it’s not easy.  But we have to persevere.

In our time, so much of religion is presented as a cure for all.  Well-meaning seekers are promised that faith, REAL faith, UNENDING faith, UNFALTERING faith, will bring them health and wealth and ease.  OK, excuse me here, but, really…no.  The Scriptures never depicted that.  This faith thing is hard.  Did you forget that it has to do with a cross, an instrument of death?  Did you forget that it acknowledges that pain and suffering is part of life?  Did you forget that we are told to deny ourselves and follow a pathway that we’ve never followed before?  But, more than anything else, did you forget that God has walked ahead?

It may not be easy; it may destroy you; it may even end your life as you know it.  But God has walked this way before.  That’s the difference between shallow, empty pictures of fame and fortune dangled above a well-paved and perfectly landscaped path and following this bumpy, over-grown road with the marks of a cross drug through it and the, albeit faint, footsteps of faithful travelers who have gone before. 

Faith is not about finding the easiest way but following where God has gone before.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli