December 16, 2012 (3rd Advent)

{reflection Today’s readings:

  • Zephaniah 3:14-18a
  • Isaiah 12:2-6
  • Philippians 4:4-7
  • Luke 3:10-18

Throughout the season of Advent, most of the readings (lessons) from scripture proclaim the coming of Christ to Earth, his incarnation as a man. But in between the lines, we read a message of who we are.

For example, in the gospel reading, we hear John the Baptist proclaim:

Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.

John here is teaching us what Christ wants us to be. As God, he can tell us, and he can also decide what the punishment should be for those who don’t learn the lessons taught here by John:

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.

Christ, not John, will “burn the chaff with unquenchable fire,” the “chaff” being what is not useful to God in his kingdom. Also, it seems, it falls upon God to seek revenge, not on us humans. That is what the greatest teacher who has ever lived taught us.

Unfortunately, as we turn away from God, hatred and even revenge seem to come up a lot as a theme in our culture. Even our sermons today tell us how we should hate lesbians, liberals, or some faction of our society. And this is not a hatred of the “act,” since these “people” have freely chosen to live the lives they’re living. It is utter nonsense, completely illogical, to try to mask your hatred of them by “hating what they do.”

And given the recent school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., we have learned pretty well how to hate, how to take revenge in our own hands, which is what our churches are teaching us. Good job, you priests, supposedly of our Lord’s Kingdom. Way to go!!

Teachings in the glorification of revenge started with us, of course, not the church. We saw Luke Skywalker (no relation to the Luke of today’s gospel) destroy the Death Star in 1977, and it continues today, in our literature and our leadership. One person or group inflicts wrong on another, then the wronged person gets something to shoot him with and goes on a manhunt, seeking revenge. For example, people in the US wanted to kill Osama bin Laden, not mainly because they felt personally threatened, but because of how he had wronged us in the past. We will glorify this in an upcoming movie that currently has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 97%.

When lessons in revenge or hatred, taught by our great literature, are left unchecked—supplemented, in fact—by teachings coming out in sermons, people like Adam Lanza get the spotlight. His official motives haven’t been released as of this writing, but he seems to have had revenge on his mind. It’s our fault when we, as a society, place a high value on the revenge motive and churches don’t teach us how to counter that motive bombarding us in our culture today.

Our churches spend all their time teaching us how we should hate gay people, how we should hate women who have abortions, etc. And then some kook kills a doctor outside an abortion clinic in Oklahoma. Two enraged adolescents shoot up a school in Colorado. What exactly do you expect to happen?!

Most recently, with revenge against people who have wronged him sure to be among the list of motives, Adam Lanza killed 26 people and then himself. Yes, he was probably mentally ill and depressed. But it was the revenge motive that sent him, packing, into an elementary school to murder 6-year-olds in cold blood. (Of course it was in cold blood, since they were 6.)

Pay close attention to the gospel reading today. Note that there is no revenge on John’s part, only teaching, and all revenge is on God and God alone.

I think churches should stop teaching us whom to hate. Instead, they should teach us how to be, just like John did. We have lost sight of this message of hope and love, given all the ineffective teaching coming out of our churches, which does nothing but waste money on something that should be left to God.

The pope is said to be the “Vicar of Christ,” meaning he takes the place of Christ on Earth. In order to lead by Christ’s example, followers of the pope should be effective, rather than ineffective, teachers. All this nonsense about hatred, which exacerbates motives of revenge, is not really effective. Nor does it follow John the Baptist’s, let alone Christ’s, example. They may change the target of the hatred they preach, but the message remains the same.

My financial support for the church will resume when the church starts acting like one. I cannot, with a good Christian heart, support or endorse the hatred and ineffective teaching I have heard streaming from my local church in the past six months.

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