Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

Haggai 1:15b-2:9 OR Job 19:23-27a
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38

Mrs. Obrien: I just want to die, to be with him.
Preacher: He’s in God’s hands now.
Mrs. Obrien: He was in God’s hands the whole time. Wasn’t he?

From Tree of Life by Terrence Malick

As the liturgical year draws to its close, the lectionary readings make an eschatological turn, looking ahead to our own end and of things as we know them. It’s a shift in tone that flows seamlessly into Advent, where the church learns once again how to live as Jews, suspended between a ruin and a hope. Signs of ruin are everywhere: a planet we’re quickly making uninhabitable, collapsing world order, a country too divided by corrosive political rhetoric to reckon with pressing fundamentals, churches reeling from self-inflicted humiliations. Amid the rubble of a world plundered and a church betrayed from within, hope can grow hollow and brittle, like dry stems in autumn. What’s to become of our planet, our country, our church, ourselves?

In the fall, the season sharing its name with humanity’s turning away from God, such thoughts may arise simply from observing the natural world’s dying back in anticipation of winter. Sometimes we require some rather more direct reminder. During the now abandoned coronation ceremony for newly elected popes, the master of ceremonies would stop the procession three times to set alight a strip of flax. As the fabric burned into smoke and nothingness, he would address the new pope in a loud voice, saying, “Sic transit Gloria mundi,” (“Thus passes the glory of the world”), reminding him of his mortality and the evanescence of earthly power. Read more

Crisis of Faith

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Psalm 33:12-22
Luke 12:32-40

“Crisis of faith.” So often, these words are used to describe the process in which someone begins to ask questions, to make probing inquiries, about the doctrines and the traditions handed down to them.

To emerge from a crisis of faith, then, is to reach some level of comfortable affirmation that what we said we believed all along was, in fact, true. That the questions and even the doubts that vexed us during that brief period of spiritual struggle were not ultimately a threat to our certainty. That we can return to the way things were, before our convictions were unsettled by this unwelcome crisis. Read more

Implicating Prayer

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
James 5:13-20

The little boy seemed perfectly formed. Five years old. His tanned skin contrasted sharply with the crisp white sheets, and hinted of summer fun around the pool, maybe rides at the local carnival. But something had gone terribly wrong. Unknown to anyone, he had carried a hidden, ticking time bomb in his chest since the day of his birth, and one day as he played with his brothers and sisters, it detonated. When I got there the breathing machine and the drips and tubes were simply marking time. He was gone.

His parents’ preacher had come in the night before, talking big, staking a claim for the boy’s recovery. Faith would raise this child up, he said, and the only thing that could ruin the boy’s healing was lack of faith. The preacher was home in bed when the child was pronounced dead, which was a good thing, because several of us present around that bed would have welcomed a few minutes alone with him. Instead we were left to watch, and wait, and weep. Read more

Distraction Sickness

If the churches came to understand that the greatest threat to faith today is not hedonism but distraction, perhaps they might begin to appeal anew to a frazzled digital generation.

Andrew Sullivan is a controversial writer who uses illustrations that may be offensive to some readers, but his article on modern struggles with technology is our latest link for the Signs of the Times.

from New York Magazine

 

Money and Friends

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 16:1-13

There are a number of interpretive puzzles in this story of the so-called dishonest manager that forms the gospel reading for this Sunday. I will try to say something about them in due course. First, let us look at the end of the story. Here Jesus is talking, adding some comments to the story he has just told. He concludes these comments by saying that no one can serve two masters for obvious reasons. Then he says, “You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Whether or not I always serve God, I hesitate to accept the idea that I might be serving wealth. Rather, wealth is there to serve me. I think that is what many of us both in and outside the church think. We are free and wealth or money is to be used by us. It is a tool; it serves us. We may not always use our money wisely, but we definitely use it rather than serve it. Unless we think this, it would be very difficult to sustain the idea that money is something neutral. As long as money is a tool we can treat it as something to be used but it is neither good nor bad in itself. Read more