What is normal? What is or was the "old" normal? And if there is or was an "old" normal, what is the "new" normal? And, how valid is the cry, "Can we just get back to normal?" Which implies there is no "old" normal or "new" normal, just normal. Like in the following meme I saw earlier this week: "The old normal? Change happens. The new normal? Change happens." Therefore, the only normal is just normal and that is: Change happens. I can buy that. (Although, I'm not willing to spend too much money on it.) I often declare, "God is a God of been-there-done-that." God is a God of change. The universe started with the IAM exploding and beginning the billions and billions (my best Carl Sagan imitation) years process of changing and growing into ever more complex ways of being and expression. God is a God that changes. From the covenant with Noah where God promises to never again lay waste to creation, to the covenant with Abraham, descendants as numerous as the stars, the covenant with Moses, the law, then a covenant with David, your descendant will sit on the throne of righteousness, and finally, with a new covenant that Christians find to be authoritative. And ever since Peter's first sermon in Jerusalem, we preachers have been trying to find meaningful ways to share that new covenant - made around a table - share it with others and if accepted to encourage those people to fully live in to that covenant. AND, believe it or not, not much as changed. Peter addressed the crowds. I am addressing the crowds. Sure, the technology has changed a little bit. The message remains the same. So, then, maybe God doesn't change? Maybe in the midst of change, even chaotic change, there IS something "normal" and change-less. What IS that normal, change-less something? Perhaps it is asking the question that Peter's first audience asked of him. It is an interesting phrase that opens up today's scripture reading. "Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart." Cut to the heart. The listeners have just been implicated in the crucifixion of Jesus. Peter finishes his sermon with the words, "God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ/Messiah and you crucified him." Cut to the heart; a sense of being in great distress, wounded deeply, the core of one's own very being, pierced. Cut to the heart. And the first thing the listeners do is ask the question, "What should we do?" Cut to the heart. Soul-pierced. Their very way of being turned upside down. Their eyes opened. A new knowledge of Good and Evil. A recognition of their complicity in crucifying the innocent one of God. It is a cry that rejects their old normal that crucifies. The old normal of saying that's just the way things are. The old normal of saying, I can't do anything about it. The old normal of shrugging one's shoulders, meh. The old normal of averting one's gaze and looking the other way. The old normal of crying out, Crucify him, because if he brings down the empire, well, my way of life and my very safety is threatened. Better for him to die then for all of us to die. The old normal that...turns my closing words from last week inside out...the old normal that does NOT speak the language of love for the other. The old normal that causes Peter to exhort his listeners, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." And I hope that you, MY listeners, are reading yourselves into this ancient story that is taking place now and unfolding today in our midst. If you are not cut to the heart by life around us today and how you have participated in what Paul calls the "powers and principalities of this world" that have created this mess...well...using the words of the story that Jesus tells about that most human Samaritan, I will cross over to other side of the road if you need help. Or, using a metaphor from life today, if you choose to protest the way things are by not wearing a mask in public and you happen to get infected with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, nurses and doctors will still take care of you. And THAT is as close to fire and brimstone as I will ever get...feel free to hold me accountable. I far prefer sharing the Good News. After asking the question, What should we do? After repenting of your sins in the participation with the powers and principalities of this world. After receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, a gift from God, come and see what the world looks like! "Day by day, as they spent much time together, they broke bread from house to house and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the good will of all the people." Does that not sound like heaven on earth? Does that not sound like a way of being worth pursuing and living into? A dream as old as human beings have been dreaming. A new normal.
We heard last week how Peter's first sermon to the in-crowd - the believers - did not get any response. No cheers. No thousands clamoring to be part of the next "new" thing. Not surprising. These guys hung out with a convicted person executed for treason. (And, yes, they are guys. Women are starting to be written out of the early Christian narrative.) Who wants to hang with THAT crowd? And Peter's choice of topic in that first sermon? "We need to replace the betrayer who, as a reward for his wickedness, tripped and fell in the field he purchased with the blood money of betrayal and he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out." Where do I sign up? Fast forward to this Sunday's scripture reading which immediately follows Peter's first sermon to the out-crowd; which at this point consists only of fellow devout Jews who are in Jerusalem for the Festival of Shavuot, i.e. Pentecost. Peter begins, "Men of Judea..." (See previous note on gender.) After some "skillful" exegesis of scripture - I would call it proof-texting - and some questionable rhetoric - I would call it weak hermeneutics - there is a clamorous response of 3,000 persons. (Where does one baptize 3,000 men in one day in Jerusalem?) "Men, what should we do?" the men ask. And like every good (and bad) preacher, teacher and leader has done before him and after him, Peter makes his first mistake with his answer. "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that our sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit...Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." Actually, Peter makes a BUNCH of mistakes. Those of us in yesterday's Bible study were part of the discussion around one of the mistakes; a pretty significant one. Compare Peter's first words in this passage with Jesus' first words in Mark 1:15. More "fun" to come in Sunday's message. The point being: Mistakes happened in "The Old Normal" which brought us to this mess that we are in. And mistakes will happen in "The New Normal." My hope for things unseen is a hope that - at the very least - the mistakes are different than those already made.
O, Divine butcher, splitting our breastbones wide open to get to the guts of our heart, give us ears to hear the clean cut of the sharp edge of truth for fat of ugly lies lies heavy on us. Amen.
After breakfast I found myself out in the section of my yard where dandelions and violets are in abundance. I spent a fair amount of time dead-heading the dandelions - a new COVID-19 ritual - to keep the fuzzy, albeit lovely, poofballs of seeds to a minimum. I have found the morning to be the ideal time to do that because the poofballs have not opened up to the day's air...and to the breeze that bloweth where it will. I like to see the happy bees moving from flower to flower. I like to relish the fact that I don't care if my neighbors prefer all-green lawns. My spot of yard is colored with yellow and violet and that rarer white-violet. And it is lovely... Another reason why this morning reflection is a bit later than usual is I got caught up in a powerful and engaging TED Talk given by BJ Miller, a hospice and palliative medicine physician. Given in 2015, the Talk resonates with my/our conditions today. What makes for a meaningful moment in life? The conditions in which Miller works are fundamentally not much different than the conditions in which we find ourselves. The wisdom he shares from experience is poignant and moving. It re-affirmed my sense that "normal" let alone "The New Normal" is whatever we make a moment out to be. He affirmed my notion that an aesthetic that engages the senses is the most robust and dynamic way to affirm a person's humanity, an other's humanity and my own. AND, Miller gave me a dietary revelation, one which I tend to adjust this afternoon. Miller says, "Seriously, with all the heavy-duty stuff happening under our roof, one of the most tried and true interventions we know of, is to bake cookies." Have a bake-full day...
Day 43. Seven weeks ago on Monday, March 16, the stay-at-home order became effective (in Indiana) and all non-essential public spots were closed. The previous day FCC (First Christian Church, Kokomo, Indiana) had just completed our first Facebook LIVE service which I watched that afternoon with my computer on its side. Lunch on Sunday was at an immediate new favorite, Cortona in Fortville, and was our (Elizabeth and I) last meal out before distancing. There is a pressing urge from many interests - individuals, groups and institutions - to "open up" and return the economy and our way of life towards "normal." I celebrate that desire for normalcy! Though I do so with one question and one statement. Question: What was/is/will be normal? Statement: If pre-pandemic was "normal" then it was that "normal" that got us into this horror in so many and varied ways. I agree wholeheartedly with the patriarch of the Addams Family, Charles Addams, who said, "Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly." And so, to avoid a bit of despair, to find some hope for a "new normal" - and to simply learn from the early saints - I turn to scripture and find some peace in a line from this coming Sunday's scripture reading: Acts 2:46 - Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people." ..as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen