Politics, Preaching, and the Nativity of John the Baptist
There is an ancient model of reading Scripture and prayer that follows a regular rhythm and order that is about 1500 years old. That model, the Benedictine model, has shaped the Anglican / Episcopal way of prayer and being. Our own Episcopal tradition has a cycle of Scripture that is intended to be read daily. I am currently in a monastery on retreat, participating in that cycle and observing a practice of silence. My hope is for a deep sense of listening to the questions that weigh heavy on my heart, and to turn to the ultimate source of love in ways of responding to those questions.
One of the questions that has been burning in my heart is how to respond to the nastiness of our world today. Our political discourse is broken, and our communities are fractured in how we might respond. As both a preacher and a pastor, I struggle with how to respond to the evil made manifest in the world we live in, in a way that is faithful to the people who have called me as their pastor, and yet allows for the love of God to break through and for all of our hearts to be transformed. I feel there is so much blame of the other for the evil that exists. The crisis at our national borders and our treatment of refugees and children is just another example of this evil, and the easiest response is to blame our president and his administration as the source of the problems that exist in our world. It is far too easy to want to position ourselves in one camp or the other and one of the reasons I find it so challenging to preach in a faithful way with people and a congregation so divided.
I was struck today with just how out of touch I have been with the daily cycle of Scripture and how it can shape our common life together. In our noonday prayers, I realized that today is the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist, and the collect gives thanks to the Almighty God for the birth of John the Baptist who prepares the way of the Lord by preaching repentance. The collect continues:
“Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and, following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth's sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”
I wonder if our collective blaming of other people, politicians, or the other party is not a faithful approach. Instead, we should be turning inwardly and repenting of the evil done on our behalf. It is easy to get angry, but I have seen far too little transformation from people being angry with others. Real transformation comes from when we turn inward. There is a gift in taking the corporate responsibility for our actions as a nation. When we turn inward and seek to repent of the corporate actions of our nation, we are unified with our fellow children of God, those very same people we want to direct our anger towards. And together we can then begin the work to respond to God’s call for justice.
And there always needs to be a response to the call for justice. Those responses can look like community organizing, the donating of time and money, calling our elected officials to advocate for the positions we feel called to support, but the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist should remind us that these responses should come out of our practice of repentance and not our blame of others.
In my prayers, I came across this prayer today and may it be our prayer:
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son:Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love, and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
- John B. Burruss+