The Taser's Edge

In Which I Present Lots of Random Quotes from Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead in a Ploy to Get You to Read It

This morning I have been trying to think about heaven, but without much success. I don’t know why I should expect to have any idea of heaven. I could never have imagined this world if I hadn’t spent almost eight decades walking around in it. People talk about how wonderful the world seems to children, and that’s true enough. But children think they will grow into it and understand it, and I know very well that I will not, and would not if I had a dozen lives. That’s clearer to me every day. Each morning I’m like Adam waking up in Eden, amazed at the cleverness of my hands and at the brilliance pouring into my mind through my eyes–old hands, old eyes, old mind, a very diminished Adam altogether, and still it is just remarkable. What of me will I still have? Well, this old body has been a pretty good companion. Like Balaam’s ass, it’s seen the angel I haven’t seen yet, and it’s lying down in the path. (p. 67)

The article is called “God and the American People,” and it says 95 percent of us say we believe in God. But our religion doesn’t meet the writer’s standards, not at all. To his mind, all those people in all those churches are the scribes and the Pharisees. He seems to me to bit of a scribe himself, scorning and rebuking the way he does. How do you tell a scribe from a prophet, which is what he clearly takes himself to be? The prophets love the people they chastise, a thing this writer does not appear to me to do. (p. 142)

Boughton says he has more ideas about heaven every day. He said, “Mainly I just think about the splendors of the world and multiply by two. I’d multiply by ten or twelve if I had the energy. But two is more than sufficient for my purposes.” So he’s just sitting there multiplying the feel of the wind by two, multiplying the smell of the grass by two. (p. 147)

No sleep this night. My heart is greatly disquieted. It is a strange thing to feel illness and grief in the same organ. There is not telling one from the other. My custom has always been to ponder grief; that is, to follow it through ventricle and aorta to find out its lurking places. That old weight in the chest, telling me there is something I must dwell on, because I know more than I know and must learn it from myself–that same good weight worries me these days.

But the fact is, I have never found another way to be as honest with myself as I can be by consulting with these miseries of mine, these accusers and rebukers, God bless them all. So long as they do not kill me outright. I do hope to die with a quiet heart. I know that may not be realistic. (p. 179)

Love is holy because it is like grace–the worthiness of its object is never really what matters. (p. 209)

And old Boughton, if he could stand up out of his chair, out of his decrepitude and crankiness and sorrow and limitation, would abandon all those handsome children of his, mild and confident as they are, and follow after that one son whom he has never known, whom he has favored as one does a wound, and he would protect him as a father cannot, defend him with a strength he does not have, sustain him with a bounty beyond any resource he could ever dream of having. If Boughton could be himself, he would utterly pardon every transgression, past, present, and to come, whether or not it was a transgression in fact or his to pardon. He would be that extravagant. That is a thing I would love to see. (p. 238)

There are a thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient. (p. 243)

Repentance is for Christians

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to preach at the noon Ash Wednesday service at our church.  The priest who would be heading things up with me and I quickly decided that we wanted to shape the service so that it really would be feasible for those who might come in the middle of the work day.  For me, this mean crafting a 600 word sermon (actually, 636 words below)  as part of a 30-minute service.

Read below, and then read another Lenten homily taking a different tack and using a similar word count here.:

“Repentance is for Christians” (Ash Wednesday 2011)

Lent is for Christians.

This service, this day, and this entire season are a call to repentance extended specifically to those who have already called Jesus “Lord.”  Does this surprise you?  It shouldn’t.  Think about it.  Did you come to receive ashes on your forehead today in order to attract the folks you see at Kroger into relationship with Christ?

Paul in 2 Corinthians, makes it plain that it is the Church not just the world which is always being called back to repentance: “We appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.”  No, Paul does not use the word Lent, but Paul is saying that the grace of God in Christ has been offered to the believers at Corinth, has been received, salvation has been accomplished, and yet salvation is very much still in progress.

What Paul is saying is this: “As a believer in Jesus Christ, you need to be being saved.”  What Lent is saying is this: “As a believer in Jesus Christ, you need to be being saved.”  And this happens through confession and penitence in response to the Spirit’s work in our hearts.

In the Book of Common Prayer there is a liturgy for personal confession called Reconciliation of a Penitent.  (And I urge you to seek out one of All Saints’ priests to make confession, perhaps for the first time, this Lent.)  The liturgy draws heavily on the story of the Prodigal Son, makes clear the reality of how we actually live in Christ, makes clear what poor disciples we truly are.  I’ll read from it: “Through the water of baptism, you clothed me with the shining garment of Christ’s righteousness, and established me among your children in your kingdom.  But I have squandered the inheritance of your saints, and I have wandered far in a land that is waste.”

The Church does Lent because though we are the Bride of Christ, until we die, we will remain the faithless Prodigal Son as well.  Each of us is simultaneously saint and sinner, as Martin Luther famously put it.  We Christians have all gone down into the waters of baptism before, have all died to our sins, and then we have come up out of the water, raised from death to new life, and eventually…heartbreakingly, we have returned to those same sins.  We are addicts who relapse again and again, who continue to chase after our lusts and our sins long after they could and should have stopped ruling us.  We are hopeless in ourselves, yet a gracious God extends invitation after invitation.

In Lent, we are reminded that the call of Christ to pick up our crosses to follow Him to death is an everyday call.  We are called, in the words of 2 Corinthians, to make our way straight into the heart of “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger” because the only way to life is through these things not around them.  In that painful journey we will find that Christ is not only on the other side of these things, but Christ is in the midst of them.  We cannot find Him apart from these things.  We cannot find Christ apart from death.

You came from the earth and you will go back into the earth, no matter how long you extend the in-between time.  You will suffer in this life and then you will die.  The questions Lent asks (and which the heart of the Gospel asks) are these:

Will your suffering and death be devoid of meaning?  Or will you head into Meaning Himself, choosing this day to be marked by his death—the cross, and to be stained by destruction—the ashes?

These are the questions which Lent (and the heart of the Gospel) are asking today.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.