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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Rose Sunday: Are you the one?

“Are you the one?” Matthew 11:2-11
Advent III December 16, 2007
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham
(the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

Last night a little more than 42 people (I think. It was hard to count. There were lots of moving, wiggling bodies) ranging in age from 7 – 75, including kids, parents and grandparents, attended a screening of the moderately controversial movie, ‘The Golden Compass.’ About 75% of those in attendance were members of St. Paul’s. At the end of the movie, we all went out to eat at one of those international buffet,-all-you-can-eat-from-soup-to-nuts kind of restaurants. Something for everyone.

Even though we had our own private dining room, it was hard to have a group conversation. I thought of standing up and playing ‘Oprah’ but as I went from table to table, people seemed to be enjoying the conversations they were having. I decided to let go of trying to control things and just listen in.

I heard people saying that they thought the movie was not so much a slam on the Roman Catholic Church (ergo, the ‘controversy’), but rather on any and all organized religion that attempts to control people’s thoughts and actions. Some people were sharing stories of their experiences in charismatic, evangelical Protestant churches.

One young couple talked about how they have been ‘evangelized’ (actually, they said, ‘targeted’) by a nearby non-denominational evangelical church through the children’s video game “Halo 3.” One of the parents thought the youth leader ‘hypocritical’ and ‘pathetically desperate’ when he justified the violence of the game because “well, they are playing with other Christians,” and “at least we get them in the church door where we can work on Christian values.”

The father looked at me and said, “They’re saying, ‘We’ll let the kids come in and condone the practice of being trained killers so we can better talk to them about the love of God.’ Do they think we’re all as mindless as those animated robots?”

One young adult reported that, as an infant in an Antiochean Orthodox Church, she had to be exorcised before being allowed in the church to be baptized. That came out of a lively discussion about how the kids in the movie all had animated souls called, oddly enough, ‘demons,’ which appeared in the form of an animal with whom they were able to have conversations and from whom they received guidance and protection.

The main line of the movie, however, was that ‘the magesterium’ (the ethical, moral “religious” leaders), was trying to get children to be obedient, follow the rules without question and therefore make ‘right’ choices. The way they did that was to separate the children from their ‘demons’. The end result, it seemed to be, was that the world be a ‘safer’ and ‘more peaceful’ place.

I was reminded of an essay written a few years back by my friend and brother priest, Lane Denson. I found it in my file and then, to my delight, also found that it had been remembered by Tom Woodward who posted it
here. I want to read a bit of what he has to say about curiosity and risk and their importance in a life of faith.

“There is always an element of uncertainty in a life of faith. For this, faith must have an open mind. And open minds are not only marked by curiosity, they are also marked by risk. Curiosity and risk are two of the hallmarks of a faithful life. To make faith into a closed system, nailed down in some century long past and for all time, is not faith, but dogma. It has its place. It is orderly. Above all, it is safe, for there is little or no risk. It is the life blood of religions. But it is not faith.

Even John Baptist, as certain as he once had been, finally had his moment of zen there in the dark of that prison when he sent his followers to ask Jesus, "Art thou he that should come? Or do we seek another?" Are you the one? Or do we have to keep waiting — and looking? If we're to believe that meeting between Mary and Elizabeth, their moms, John spent his entire life pointing to Jesus and walking and talking and preaching the risk of faith.

When the Baptiser finally got prison for his reward and entertained his greatest moment of doubt, Jesus understood. Jesus answered John in effect with what John already knew. He answered him with the only truthful answers that can ever be given to certify the presence and work of Jesus, the Christ. The work you have already witnessed, he said to John, continues. Be assured. The blind see. The lame walk. The deaf hear. The poor and hungry are fed and finally know justice and peace. A broken world is being mended. And you know, as I, that wherever such healing takes place, there is present the kingdom of God.

We make covenant in our baptism to "seek and serve Christ in all persons … " And we can fairly ask, "Yes, but how will I know this Christ?" It is the same question John asked. Our baptism not only commissions us to be Christians, it commissions us to a ministry altogether, like John's, as well ... a ministry to witness, to point, to say Here is the Christ ... There is the Christ ... in this event, in that healing, in that judgment, in that moment of truth.

Civil rights leader Howard Thurman set the stage for us to know this Christ when he wrote of Advent and Christmas as seasons of hope. "When the song of the angels is stilled," he said. "When the star of the sky is gone. When the kings and princes are home. When the shepherds are back with their flocks. The work begins … To find the lost. To heal the broken. To feed the hungry. To rebuild the nations. To bring peace among people. To make music in the heart."

But it's no promise of a rose garden. There are "false Christs," Jesus said. There are those who in his name would justify war, who would substitute piety for service, who would put orthodoxy before sacrifice, who would make of the gospel a system or a philosophy rather than the Way of life, who would claim me and then turn their backs on me, who would elevate doctrine before faith.

When we make that vow in our baptism to seek and serve Christ, when we ask that question with John, Are you the one? we're soon, to take C S Lewis's great phrase, surprised by joy to discover that we are not only part of the answer, we are the answer. In this present time in the church … we cannot just be handed out the answer by some prelate, we must be the answer by our faith. For it is the Christ in us that will always recognize and know the Christ in others – and in all.”

It would seem that the author of "The Golden Compass" might agree.


Ann said...

Golden Compass has not come to our little town's theater yet. Daemon's (from the movie) are very different from Demons. Here is a site to get your own.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Ann.