Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
As I write, Daniels and Danielles, along with their sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers, grandparents and great-grands in the faith are on their way to Babylon – oh, I mean Chicago. A great family reunion will take place, new friends will be made, and those unable to be physically present will be there through the power of the Spirit and the airwaves of technology.
We pray that into the center of Chicago this week there will be an ascent of sorts to a holy mountain, ruled over by a King who is “strong and mighty”, the Lord who has proven to be “mighty in battle,” having defeated the greatest of all enemies by being raised from the death of a horrible cross. This holy mountain, which we are all invited to ascend, is not without requirement. In fact, the requirement seems quite unobtainable. Our hands must be clean and our hearts pure. Truthfulness is required, and I don’t know about you, but there seems to be more than one version of truth floating around out there as well as myriad of ways to get our hands dirty as we grab for life in the midst of Babylon.
Yet, we do not go alone. As St. Bernard reminds us, “such a High Priest became us because he knows the difficulty of that ascent to the holy mountain; he knows the weakness of us that have to ascend.”
We pray that sounds of dancing (are linen ephods acceptable?) and praise will be heard, along with stillness of heart and body. The contemplative and the prophetic brought together in one voice, will stand against the contemporary soap-opera, gossipy, sensational, tabloid-esque, lust-filled, political ambition drama embodied by the lesser King Herod who was hoodwinked by two women into the gruesome murder of John the Baptist. We pray that the Body Politic reign supreme and be strengthened, and that when the pilgrims descend from the mountain back onto the streets of their Babylonian homes, we will have received grace upon grace to sustain us in the great adventure of discipleship.
The Gathering takes place this summer in the midst of a changing world. It is both an exciting and terrifying time to be church. Last week, I found myself privy to a conversation among a group of teens and young adults at a local coffee shop. “Why would I want to go to church”, one said, “when all they do is fight over sex and money? When are we going to get down to the nitty-gritty work of bringing good news to the poor?” The same week, I listened to middle-aged white church-goer tell me that the church’s idea of putting a basketball court in the parking lot was only going to bring trouble to the church.
The conversations are not gender or age-defined. The first conversation could have easily been among older adults; the second conversation among youth. The church has some hard questions before her: For a starter, how did the church fail Dylann Roof? How do we love the “good church people” who are afraid of their neighbors?
As pilgrims convene in Chicago, the faithful are also are gathering in South America, as Pope Francis visits the poorest of the Latin American countries, breaking papal protocol by walking among the people of God, literally bringing the good news of Jesus to the streets. Like Jesus reaching out to touch the leper, Pope Francis is reaching out to touch the forgotten, the poorest of poor. To have clean hands does not mean we keep them in our pockets. To have a pure heart means that we have the heart of Jesus. To be truthful requires courage to speak with passion as well as with gentleness and love.
Pope Francis prefaces the final chapter of the 184 page Climate encyclical with these words:
“Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone. This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life. A great cultural, spiritual and education challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal.” (Chapter 6.202).
The Pope calls for movement toward a new way of living in the world that stands opposed to consumerism as the demon that has led to unprecedented greed and selfishness. He calls for widespread education regarding the covenant between humanity and the environment. Finally, he calls for an “ecological conversion” which will require an internal conversion, a deepening spirituality, and the embodiment of a “life of virtue” – a requirement for the Christian life, not an “optional or secondary aspect of our Christian experience.” (6.202.III)
In short, the Pope calls for an alternative community whose life is embodied by a brightness that bears witness to the King of Glory. He calls for a people of clean hands and pure hearts, humble truth-tellers bearing witness in our bodies to the Way of Life we have inherited in Christ.
Could it be that our young people will be the ones to lead the rest of us as we ascend the Holy Mountain? That these brothers and sisters in Christ will bring new life to us and to the church? That together, we will dance with joy in the midst of Babylon? That our dance will bear witness to the One who danced on the first day of the New Creation, having defeated the cross? I pray so.