My second sermon from St. John’s Lafayette Square
I don’t know if you’ve seen the trailer for the new movie “2012.” If you haven’t, the trailer is a series of images of the end of the world. We see meteors, volcanos, earthquakes. In one scene you see a Tibetan monk standing atop the Himalayas watching a flood wave cover the world’s highest mountains. In another a wave reaches here in Washington, toppling a huge ship on top of the White House. I don’t know if the wave makes it to St. John’s, it’s not in the preview. I guess we’ll have to see the movie to find out what happens to our Church.
I love these kind of movies. They’re never really great cinema; no movie of this genre is going to win an Oscar, but I really like watching cities crumble, buildings fall. The explosions are incredible no?
These are not new images. We have very similar images in our gospel today. As human beings we have always wondered about the end of time. In the times of Jesus, people were interested in the end of the world as well. The streets of Galilee and Jerusalem were full of prophets talking of the final things. So of course Jesus talks about the final things.
What is interesting is that Jesus doesn’t seem focused on images. His is the language of metaphor. He doesn’t develop particularly brilliant word pictures, images like “2012.” Jesus seems more concerned with attitude. He says that people will be fainting from fear. The world will be characterized by fear, terror. In the midst of this Jesus has a commandment for his followers: levanten la cabeza.
Levanten la cabeza. When facing the worst of life, up unto the end of the world, levanten la cabeza. Christians are to be characterized by an attitude of hope, active hope. Levanten la cabeza.
This commandment is important for us today, because many of us already know what it is to live in a destroyed world. For many in our society, in our family, the world has already come to an end. Their world has been torn down by poverty, by racism, by sexism, by depression, by disease. So many in our society live in a destroyed world. This command has deep meaning for those facing a world destroyed: levanten la cabeza.
When we encounter systems that seek to destroy our humanity, or the humanity of our neighbor, levantando la cabeza, lifting up our heads, is a radical action. Levantando la cabeza means confronting the systems that sinfully seek to deny our identidad, identity, as beloved children of God. Levantando la cabeza means standing up for our rights, and the rights of others. Levantando la cabeza means hoping actively through seeking justice, through pursuing education, through organizing. Levantando la cabeza means claiming our social identity as God’s beloved community, and enacting the justice and love that characterizes that community.
The commandment has social implications, and also personal implications. We have a responsibility to allow the command to levantar la cabeza to transform the way we live our personal lives, our family lives. When we find ourselves in places of depression, of unemployment, of sickness, Jesus commands us to levantar las cabezas, to live into our identity as children of God, beloved creatures.
Whatever attitude or person desiring to negate our identity as beloved daughters and sons, querida/os hija/os de Dios, is sinful. There are few people I have more respect for in life than my friends who have stood up, who have levantado la cabeza in the face of domestic violence. They have claimed their identity as children of God. They have said, you cannot treat me this way for I am a beloved child of God. I am inspired by their courage. I believe this is the kind of action Jesus commands when he says, “levanten la cabeza.”
Today we begin the church season we call Advent. We begin what we call “a season of expectation.” What Jesus’ command, to levantar la cabeza, says to us is that as we wait, we hope. Esperamos con esperanza. We have a commandment that guides our attitude about expectation.
We lift up our heads, because we already know the end of the story. I don’t mean I know the end of the story specifically. I wish I was one of those preachers who could prophesy the end of the world for you. I wish I could point out exactly who was the antichrist, and give you the hour and time of the second coming. I could make a lot more money that way, like the writers of the Left Behind series have. I could sell images of the last things. People love talking about the end times.
In the end, I don’t think the Bible is particularly clear about what exactly will happen. Jesus gives us images, but they are not fixed. What is important is our attitude. We walk with cabezas levantadas, heads lifted up, because we have a reason for hope. Jesus says, levanten la cabeza porque viene su liberación, lift up your head because your liberation is coming. The new world, of justice, of love is coming. The promise was made to us in our creation, in the love of God made flesh in Jesus. We have value. We are loved. Wait with hope, Esperen con esperanza hermanos y hermanas. With an uplifted head, we will be the first to see the coming Kingdom. Levanten la cabeza. Amen.