There are people who follow the Grammies or the Academy Awards with great interest, to see what music and movies are going to get the accolades. Others are avid to hear who got the latest Pulitzer or Nobel Peace Prize. And all of these are fun and interesting…but the award announcement that I wait for is the Oxford Word of the Year.
This is the single word that “is judged to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year and to have lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.” The announcement came this week. Oxford’s word of the year is toxic.
The announcement said: “Our data shows that, along with a 45% rise in the number of times it has been looked up on oxforddictionaries.com, over the last year the word toxic has been used in an array of contexts, both in its literal and more metaphorical senses.”
That made me feel sad…but I get it. Fires, shootings, #metoo, political turmoil… It all feels pretty toxic.
And then to top it off, today’s Gospel seemed to remind us that the world has been (at certain times) like this throughout history. Jesus talks about wars, earthquakes, and famines as a certainty. In fact, he says that they must take place.
These are what we call apocalyptic readings. And yet, simultaneously, we are celebrating baptisms, welcoming two dear and amazing children, Emilia and Adrian, into our Christian family. What a mind bending and heart rending task we have set for ourselves this morning in trying to bring together these two realities.
Recently, I watched a video blog by Nadia Bolz-Weber, author and founder and former pastor of a Lutheran congregation called House for All Sinners and Saints. It gave me a new perspective on apocalyptic readings—and reminded me that the apocalypse is about more than devastation and chaos. The video series, which is called Have a Little Faith, tackles various spiritual topics in short little two minute videos. The one I watched this week was called “Welcome to the Apocolypse.”
In the video, Bolz-Weber, said: “As a clergy person, I’d like to welcome you all to the Apocalypse. Pull up a chair and make yourself uncomfortable. If, when you think of an Apocalypse, you picture a scary doom filled punishment from above, you are not alone. Originally, though, apocalyptic literature existed not to scare the bejesus out of children so that they would be good boys and girls but to proclaim a big hope-filled idea that dominant powers are not ultimate powers, empires fall, tyrants fade, systems die, God’s still around.”
Suddenly, I felt a lot better about these readings—and I got a glimmer of the baptismal hope that we are being offered this morning. In Greek, apocalypse means to uncover, to peel away, and to show what’s underneath.
When we look at the raging California fires, we can hear God calling us into caring for our creation and for being good stewards of our world. When we peel away the stories of the women in the #metoo movement, we uncover a need to listen to each other, to tell our stories, and to cherish and protect each other’s safety and dignity. When we look underneath the gun violence headlines, we see the cost of the stigma built up around mental illness and we see the results of ignoring the rage, pain, loneliness, and fear of the people around us.
We are called into seeing what is intrinsic and endemic in our world. We are called into do doing things differently. We are called to be the heart and hands of Christ in the world.
We forget this though as we face the structures that seem so dominating: the government, the church, the law, big business and more. They are daunting and overwhelming… As the disciples said when they were at the temple: “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Instead of being awed, Jesus pointed to the imminent apocalypse saying “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
And this is where the great gift of baptism comes in. Today, in the baptismal vows and in the water and the oil, we are reminded that in God’s eyes, these structures are not so very important. These are human creations. God loves what God has created: each one of us and the world in which we live.
Today, Adrian becomes a stone in God’s church—a church that cannot and will not be thrown down. Today, Emilia becomes a stone in the Kingdom of God—a place where justice and peace are profoundly present. I am a stone and you are a stone—by virtue of our baptism and our presence in this community we are the church.
We are the church that continually seeks a connection with God in both the Word and the Sacraments. We are the church that when we fail in very human ways, returns to try to do better again and again. We are the church that loves God and everything God created. We are the church that strives for justice and peace. We are the church that proclaims the Good News and respects the dignity of every human being.
For that, we don’t need buildings. We don’t need power. We don’t need anything but the faith of our baptism. When we live into that reality, then the world will change.
And who knows what next years Oxford word of the year will be. It won’t be “toxic.” I’d like to think that perhaps our word will be grace or love or hope.
Preached by the Rev. Hailey McKeefry Delmas at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in San Carlos on November 18, 2018.