Some years ago, publishers began demanding that authors have a media platform. So, for my sins, I have far more social media accounts than I ever planned to have.
When we were living in Illinois, I made a passing observation about communion on Facebook. There was a lot of press around those little shrink-wrapped communion kits that include a shot glass of grape juice and chicklet-sized cracker. And I observed that as Episcopalians, our reaction was “No. Just No.”
Oddly a member of our parish complained bitterly about it and demanded a meeting. I agreed and we met for coffee. After a few pleasantries, I explained my position, and I wondered out-loud why she objected so violently – given the fact that it had so little to do with how we worshipped.
In response, she explained, “I have a vocation to righteous indignation.” Somewhat surprised, I told her I thought that must be quite a burden to have a vocation like that, to which she cheerfully responded, “Oh, not at all.”
That encounter says volumes about the environment in which we live today. We are surrounded by people with a vocation to righteous indignation. As a result, there are an endless number of voices vying for our attention, and each person vying for our attention has a solution, a program, and a legislative agenda. Disagree and you are publicly chastised. Your virtue and your intentions are drawn into question, and you are lucky not to be de-platformed, shunned and silenced.
The age of dialogue is dead. There are no debates, no differences of opinion. The democratic process is no longer a value defended by people of every political persuasion. As Bill Maher puts it, the attitude is “Heads we win. Tales we coup.”
It is some relief to discover, that John’s Apocalypse has something to say to us in this trying time:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:1-22:5)
John’s vision borrows from a vision in Ezekiel. But it also plays off of images from Genesis 1-3 and the story told there lies just beneath the surface of the vision:
God created a perfect world.
It is God’s good gift.
Adam and Eve are made in the image of God.
And, as such, they are meant to be God’s viceroys.
In Genesis 2 Adam and Eve are described as God’s viceroys – literally God’s agents.
They are you and me, stand-ins for all of us
Viceroys are not little tyrants left in charge to do what they want to do.
We are here to rule as God would rule.
But Genesis 3 makes it clear that we aren’t willing to do this.
We prefer to be our own gods.
And, as a result, things careen out of control: Our relationship with God, our relationships with one another, our relationship with the world around us – they all go awry.
In the end, John is saying, this will all be fixed. Eden will be restored. The river that runs through it will flow freely. The tree of life is once again available to humankind – the image of life in balance and abundance will once again be a reality.
John also makes it clear that this is ultimately the work of the resurrected and glorified Christ. The power of death over our lives is broken. The power of death over our world is broken, too.
John’s vision also assumes that the power of the Resurrection is already at work in the world and the church is the place where that healing is manifested: in part because it is in the church and only in the church that faith is professed – in part because it is in the church and only in the church that people give themselves to the work of God.
Our calling, then, as the people of God is to give ourselves to that healing work, because we are called to serve as God’s healed and restored Viceroys, because we are God’s new Adams and new Eves. And the Christian life is all about availability to the purposes of God. This is why church is not just an important part of the Christian life but an indispensable part of the Christian life. It is the leading edge of the new heaven and new earth that the Resurrection makes possible
We pay attention to God here. We are pay attention to what our brothers and sisters need. We draw on the life of Christ, his example, his body and blood.
So, the Resurrection is not just about what happens to us when we die. It is about the way in which we live now. It is about a way of life – a set of priorities, a set of values and virtues, an ethic – all of which are open to and shaped by the will of God.
Now, there are people who will argue that this is pie-in-sky-bye-and-bye, or – even worse – an incentive to be passive and lacking in compassion. But this is actually liberating, hopeful message that rings true with what we know about history, ancient and modern. We are called to be God’s Viceroys, but we would be foolish and reveal a good deal of ignorance about history to argue that we are bringing in the Kingdom (or Kindom) of God.
We work for it. We craft lives that witness to it. We work to address the needs of our neighbors. But there is nothing about history or current events to suggest that we are going to usher in a new heaven and earth through our own efforts. The Twentieth Century was the bloodiest in history, and the Twenty-first is off to a lousy start. No, this isn’t pie in the sky bye and bye, it is a God-sized promise that reminds those who labor in a broken world that the power of death will not prevail.
So, what can we do – what should we do in this polarized environment?
One, interrogate your indignation and that of those around you.
Not all righteous indignation is misplaced, and – as the saying goes – even a broken clock is right twice a day. But not all indignation is of God.
Ask yourself does the indignation that has captured me speak to the frustration of God’s longing for the world? Not my longing, not my tribe’s longing, but God’s longing?
Two, surrender the effort to make your faith a justification for the politics you would practice anyway.
This is a real problem for the Anglican tradition. We are not Amish. We believe that it is important to be engaged with the needs of the world.
But if the Amish fail at engaging the needs of the world, they certainly do a better job of witnessing to the Gospel. And the reverse is our besetting problem. We are so much about the world, that we often lose sight of what God is calling to be.
I know this will strike some as outrageous, but Christ did not die and rise again from the dead to make you a Democrat or a Republican. That is not a God-sized promise. God called you to be a Viceroy.
And that brings me to my third recommendation:
Remember that voting will never fulfill God’s calling on your life. Even when we make what I might think is the right decision as a nation, I am always aware that the hard work of listening for the voice of God has only just begun.
That difference was at the heart of pit Jesus and the Pharisees against one another. Jesus reminded them – too often, it turned out – that no body of words, no human framing of the will of God can ever suffice for attention to the claim of God on our lives.
Listen for the voice of God. Let it challenge and change us first, remembering that we can only witness to the will of God through lives that are changed. And, then, let us live deeply from our faith in a way that changes us and the church – because the fulfillment of God’s hope for us lies with God
Gracious God, grant us the freedom that is ours in the Resurrection of your Son, Our Savior, Jesus Christ and lead us into that freedom in ways that allow us to live for you, freed from the anxious voices that clamor for our attention. You have called us with the words, “You have heard it said, but I say to you.” Teach us to listen, to hear, and to live from that abundant mercy and grace that can only be found in you. Through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit. Now and forever. Amen.