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Sometimes something happens
and suddenly everything seems different.
“Rubicon” is the word for it –
the point of no return.
(I recommend you look up where the word comes from and it becomes clear why this is exactly
the right word for the moment).
Crossing the Rubicon
means standing in the present,
unable to go backward,
and stone-cold certain
that whatever was in front of us before
has changed permanently.
March 15, 2020 was a Rubicon.
That was the Sunday of the shutdown –
the last time we would worship in the same place together until…
well, we don’t know until when, do we?
August 6, 1945. Hiroshima was a Rubicon.
October 4, 1957. Sputnik was a Rubicon.
November 22, 1963. Kennedy’s assassination.
March 6, 1965. Bloody Sunday.
1968 was a year-long Rubicon:
January 30, 1968. Tet Offensive.
April 4. MLK assassination.
June 6. Robert Kennedy assassination.
August 26. The police riot at the Democratic National Convention.
October 16. John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fist with a black glove
while the National Anthem announced their Olympic gold and silver.
The date of some such moments need no name,
just the date:
September 11, 2001.
November 4, 2008.
Now, January 6, 2021.
Here we are, just at the second Sunday of Epiphany
but the Day of Epiphany itself
lies on the other side of a chasm.
None of us will be going back there.
Like all such moments
we do not know exactly what has changed
but we do know – because the hair on our neck
tells us so –
that the days ahead
will not be what we might have expected
before January 6th.
Like 99-100% of those reading
or hearing this sermon,
I have no hesitation condemning
the insurrection at the Capital building.
That is easy.
The fact that almost all of us would agree
should serve as a warning
about our bubble.
Expanding the bubble is painfully difficult.
I have spent some time softening my shell this week.
Because I have demonstrated on the streets before
and felt the rage myself,
I spent some time putting myself in that crowd.
It is not difficult at all
for me to imagine being in a crowd like that
in rebellion against fascists,
and to be honest,
I like to think that if I found myself
next to a guy with a spear in fur hat and horns,
or worse, caring zip ties,
I would immediately re-evaluate
what was about to happen.
But nonetheless, I have felt the rage.
I have met the rage.
I know the rage.
So do you.
Politically there are all kinds of things happening.
Crossing the Rubicon sets events in motion
and few if any can predict the outcome.
We each have our own particular,
partisan, ideological hopes and fears
and none of them are Christian.
There is no Christian political ideology,
and there is no Christian national agenda,
and there is no Christian manifesto
that is a one-size fits all.
Part of the reason we are where we are
is that Donald Trump has recruited
and been recruited by
a malignant form of Christian evangelicalism
that is fascist in its politics and behavior.
It has a religious manifesto
it wants to cram us all into.
For that reason alone, personally,
I hope Trump will somehow be removed from office
in the next three days.
But I will not pretend or propose
that there is only one way to understand
where we are and where we need to go
from a “Christian” point of view.
I will not engage in that kind of religion.
Instead, in this moment,
I want to spend more time understanding
my own rage and hatreds,
so that in response to violence
and my own inclination toward violence,
I can act more like Jesus and Martin Luther King, Jr.
than the leftist warrior I feel inside.
And that is precisely what we need to do
once we have crossed the Rubicon,
and before we understand where it has taken us.
In such moments,
our navigational equipment becomes untethered
from the usual directional indicators.
The poles may even get reversed
and right and wrong may move
like checkers on the squares.
In such moments,
we cannot follow our feelings alone.
We must lean on the core values we cherish and claim.
If gospel wisdom is a core value
then now is the time to lean on it
instead of partisan instincts and political ideology,
or the seductive pleasure of righteous indignation.
Where that leads me,
is the Baptismal Covenant.
Whether or not you have been baptized,
and whether or not you happen to be a Christian,
and whether or not you are an Episcopalian,
this is a down and dirty description
of what it means to practice gospel wisdom.
It is DESCRIPTIVE and not PRESCRIPTIVE
which is utterly unlike forms of fascist Christianity.
This description is immanently doable
and doable in a variety of ways and forms.
One size does not fit all
but offers the outline of actions
to guide us in uncertain times.
Here are the five elements of baptismal practice translated from theological jargon
into the street language where we live.
- Continue to be located in the Beloved Community,
practicing the shared rituals and sharing love.
We are not alone, we are not self-sufficient, and we need not be isolated.
- Engage intentionally in a discernment process
that sheds light on the darkness and what lies in the shadows – within ourselves as well as those acting on the stage of history. Practice humility, acknowledge complicity, and learn to repent.
- Acknowledge the distance between what we say we believe and value, and how we have actually lived – the political, economic, and social choices we have made. Decide how to bring our rhetoric and actions closer together.
- Look for, and see, the presence of God in our enemies. Serve them where they are in pain and vulnerable, and allow them to serve us.
- Be certain – and take a searching and fearless moral inventory about this – that our goals are for a more peaceful and just conclusion. Then navigate what comes at us by honoring the dignity of every living creature.
Those five actions, offering a continuum of choices,
describe gospel wisdom
and how we can live it,
having crossed the Rubicon
and before we get to wherever it is we are going.
Go light on the easy and obfuscating rhetoric
and heavy on the action –
even if the action is just penetrating our own psyche
to discern our motivations,
listen to our woundedness,
and hear the love of God as it calls from within.
I launched into this today
because it is the elephant in the room –
maybe the proverbial pink elephant in the room.
And honestly, the readings from the lectionary
don’t really address the chaos and debris
we are all dealing with in this moment.
….Except that Psalm 139 and Mary Oliver
do remind us of who we are
and whose we are
in the very moment
it is so easy to forget.
”God has searched us out and known us,”
and so we can remember that we too
”have come into the world to do this, to go easy,
to be filled with light, and to shine.”
What we discover –
as we re-enter the practice of our baptism
and as we go through the steps
to re-incarnate it again in our lives –
is that we come closer to the presence of the holy
that is always in our midst.
And when we do that,
it feeds the soul
no matter what side of the Rubicon we are on.