Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Occupy Christ

Reflections on Is. 64:1-9; Ps. 80: 1-7, 17-19; 1 Cor. 1:3-9; Mk. 13:24-37
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
The Rev. Este Gardner Cantor, 11/27/11

The first Sunday of Advent is a good time to come to church. If you stay awake and pay attention, you will hear that all the dark scriptural readings we have just heard are trying to prepare us for something. Clearly, it is something other than Santa Claus.

The readings are dark powerful and alarming. These are not quiet readings, These are not peaceful readings. The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give it’s light, the stars will fall, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

The vision of the coming of the Son of Man, in clouds and great glory, comes directly from a dream. It is the dream of Daniel the prophet, which begins by describing four surrealistically horrifying beasts who emerge from the sea:- a lion with eagle’s wings, a bear with three tusks, a winged leopard and most horrific of all, a gigantic beast with ten horns and steel teeth. The Son of Man arrives on his clouds of glory, interrupting the fourth beast as it tries to destroy the enthroned Ancient One, robed in white. With the coming of the Son of Man, the beast is vanquished. Darkness and chaos are overcome.

The readers of Mark would have been quite familiar with this image and this story from the Book of Daniel, where the Son of Man is placed on his heavenly throne, and given dominion over everything. But in our Gospel reading, the coming of the Son of Man marks the second earthly coming of Jesus, When he comes he faithfully gathers his elect, from all the corners of the earth.

This is an end-time story we hear at the very dawn of Advent. But we are cautioned to stay awake- to keep watch. Because, as the prophets have foretold, something really extraordinary is beginning. From darkness and chaos, something revolutionary will emerge. The whole order of the world will change, the world will be flooded with light, and the forces of darkness will be repelled. After all the suffering, tidings of joy, are heralded.

The truth is, if we are awake at all, if we have ears to hear and eyes to see, we will behold striking expression of the Advent times here in our streets and all over the world- a moving of the spirit and a caution to stay awake that is hard to miss.

My parents we proto-beatniks and they loved nothing so much as to share a bottle of wine and then waft out into the woods, reciting poetry to each other and then (according to my mother, my hand to God) actually embrace the trees. So, from the very beginning, because of my genetics and through no fault of my own, I never had a fighting chance of being a Republican. So I do admit to a weakness for radical movements, a weakness, in fact for revolution. And that is one of the big reasons that I became a Christian. Jesus is just SO RADICAL! He started, from a very unpromising little band of brothers and sisters, who began Occupy Galilee, a most profound and lasting revolution that is still as challenging and radical as the day it was born. And he did it non-violently. Jesus and his disciples kept a common purse, kept no extraneous possessions- and so they were radical in their self-imposed poverty. Jesus told them, “Call no man your master, call no man father, he said “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” He said let me do the work of a slave, let me wash your feet. So I even I believe he might have preferred a leaderless movement if he could have had one. I believe he would still like that.

Tuesday November 17 I was safe at home in my fold. It was my day off and I was really enjoying doing nothing. But my husband bounded through the door and said, “Robert Reiche, (the wonderful writer, professor and political philosopher), is going to speak at the UC Campus at Sproul Hall at 8:00- let’s go hear him!” It was warm in my house, and I was betting it would be cold at Sproul Plaza, no matter how inspiring the talk. But I decided to stretch my comfort zone and leave the nest. When we approached Sproul Plaza, it was clear that we were not the only ones who decided to come. It looked to be about 5,000 people milling about or sitting in little organized circles. It turned out that these organized circles were the General Assembly of Occupy Cal going full force.
The Wednesday before, the protestors at Occupy Cal had set up tents, as had so many occupy sites, and as in so many other cases, the police were called to pull them down. But what was so astonishing was that the very first action by the police was to viciously (I saw the tape) drive their night sticks into the rib cages of the students who had formed a circle, linking arms to protect their campsite. Well, on Tuesday night, the General Assembly was taking a vote on whether or not to erect the tents again. I was floored at their courage. I was floored anyway, because I had not seen anything like this many young people protesting for peace and justice in just about exactly forty years. I lived in Washington DC during the Vietnam War, so I saw a lot of mass protests of young people then. But not since then. Eighty percent of the students voted to put the tents up again. The motion passed.
At bottom the Occupy movement is about compassion and justice, and not only economic justice. But according to the author of Sacred Economics, Charles Eisenstein, it is about much more than that. He says it is about nothing less than creating a new world, a world of equality and peace and healing that our hearts tell us is possible. Tidings of great joy indeed. I went on a site called, a switchboard for live streaming coverage of the Occupy movement, and up came a picture of a broadly smiling young woman with bright pink hair, holding a sign. It said “Compassion is Revolutionary”. I couldn’t agree more. Then came the live-streaming part: I saw police bristling with nightsticks in riot gear roughly shoving protestors who were trying to march. I thought about the beast with the steel teeth. One woman was poignantly speaking to the policeman pushing her back- “Please don’t fight us-we need you- join us- don’t fight us- we are you!” Then a chant sounded as the police began the arrests “This is a peaceful protest! This is a peaceful protest!” As people were being pushed to the ground the chant changed “The whole world is watching!” The whole world is watching. And compassion is revolutionary. And expensive.

In this Advent season, amid the unavoidable chaos and darkness, we pray for the peace to slow down and open our hearts. For the grace to be ready to embrace the coming Messiah- Emmanuel- God-with-us. For surrender to get our hearts and minds around this amazing and precious notion of God coming to us as a helpless infant. What could be more radical than that? What could be more radical than the incarnation? What could possibly be more radical, more revolutionary than God flooding into a mortal being that he might grow in grace and wisdom and flood into all of us? Last week we heard the gospel reading that showed us that the compassion of Jesus was so complete that he not only identified with the us, he insisted that he actually WAS us; “When I was hungry, you gave me food, when I was thirsty, you gave me drink, when I was a stranger you took me in …”

Even with all its imperfections, the remarkable modern movement we have been witnessing seems to contain something of that spirit- something of divine generosity, something of the Reign of God. All the nations seem to be gathered before us, as the needs of the poor and marginalized are being lifted up to the public attention world-wide- proclaimed in the marketplace, in our modern temples, and on the street.

There has been a lot of anxiety that the movement seems to have no leader. But what I see is the incarnation of the radical Jesus in thousands of leaders in this movement, over-turning the tables of the money changers in the temple, and pointing out the hypocrisy of the mighty. People also complain that there are no specific demands. I would say that they have one great demand, very like the one spoken by the prophet Amos, and taught by Jesus:

"Let Justice roll down like the waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

Stay awake- something remarkable is going to be born.