In last week’s blog posting, I mentioned my un-ease with what I term “pie in the sky” religion. This is preaching that proclaims that as long as we accept our sufferings as a sharing in the cross, as long as keep the faith in the midst of our pain, as long as we can see the un-fairness of life as part of a redemptive process, then OUR REWARD WILL BE GREAT IN HEAVEN.
This is a religion that accepts that while you are last on earth, you will be first in heaven. It reminds us that those who are rich here on earth, may not be so pleased with their home in heaven.
Do I believe this? YES!! I do believe that all things are vanity, that we cannot find happiness in things, and those who “wine and dine finely” here on earth, may have seen the end of their benefits on earth —– while those who have FAITHFULLY trusted in God will find justice in the world to come.
BUT, MY PROBLEM WITH THIS KIND OF PREACHING comes when this message is used to ACCEPT the status quo and the injustices as “just the way it is.” It reminds me of the preaching to the slaves that ONE DAY, things would turn — and those who were the masters would no longer be the masters — and the slaves would really be FREE in the PROMISE LAND. It is the kind of preaching used to “control the anger” of the poor and the minorities in time of denial. Don’t worry about your poverty today —- because in heaven your needs will all be met.
Yes, eternity if forever — and even 100 years of suffering is but a blink of an eye compared to eternity.
It is an easy message to PREACH when you have the basics of food, clothing, and shelter. It is a hard message to hear when you cannot afford medicine — when you cannot take your child to the doctor. It is a hard message to accept when you are a Black teenager who has been pulled over the fourth time in a year for no just cause. It is a hard message to hear when you are a gay man or woman — a transgender person — who is made told that s/he is “intrinsically disordered”, a freak of nature, contrary to God’s plan.
HOW LONG, O LORD? I CRY FOR HELP BUT YOU DO NOT LISTEN! I CRY OUT TO YOU, ‘VIOLENCE!’ BUT YOU DO NOT INTERVENE. WHY DO YOU LET ME SEE RUIN; WHY MUST I LOOK AT MISERY?
This is the cry, the prayer, the moaning of someone in pain — who seeks help and support in the midst of their suffering. They know where they are — they just wonder how long this will last?
Then the prophet Habakkuk [1:2-3; 2:2-4] offers the WORDS of consolation and encouragement — For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it surely will come, it will not be late.
St. Paul [2Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14] challenges people of faith “to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and self-control.” And St. Luke [17:5-10] tells us that the faith that we have — can be as small as a mustard seed — and it will flourish and flower and shade us.
I believe this — I trust in this. God’s vision does have time to develop and to be made real.
But too many people — men and women — have lost faith in religion, because they hear EMPTY WORDS PREACHED AND PROCLAIMED. “Hold on, it will be ok — God will provide. Things will get better. Justice will prevail.” But, having already given up on politics and politicians, their last reason for hope — their faith — is also letting them down.
Many times I have quoted the African American Proverb — When you pray, move your feet. — Congressman John Lewis, uses these words often. And, he is someone who can speak from experience. He had marched — he had to fight off the dogs — he was knocked down by fierce water from a fire hose.
The movement of feet must be for the people in the pew as they pray — and the movement of feet must be from the people in the pulpit and from the organizational structure of the Church. The reason for hope — the reason for faith — must come from those who preach the word of endurance. Reasons for hope come when someone who is hungry is fed — when the sick are visited and surrounded by a community of faith. Reason for hope — faith is stirred into flame — when someone fights against educational inequality.
The vast majority of people want to be self-sufficient. The vast majority of people do not want a hand out —- but, many need a hand-up. When job skills are provided that open the door of opportunity for a good job, hope is restored.
Social media, the internet, global television —- show people of the world that the “pie is real” for many people. So, when a gay person in a country where they can be put to death for being gay, sees same-gender people being married in many parts of the world, it is hard to endure and to wait — How Long, O Lord they cry out. Most people want to remain in their homeland, their native country. But when they SEE people living in peace and sending their children to school, they want the same thing for themselves and their children. So, they get into rickety boats, they pay exorbitant amounts of money, they walk for months —- for some of the pie today.
When we go to the Doctor, we want the Doctor to DO SOMETHING. If the doctor offers no help, we often go to another doctor. When we go to Church, when we listen to the preacher, we want to see some action. When the preacher is among the privileged few, who does not even offer the cold cup of water to the thirsty, people stop going to THAT church.
Pope Francis keeps telling bishops to “smell like the sheep.” Pope Francis wants people to feel like their leaders are one with them ….not preaching from a pulpit high above them.
I can wait — I can endure — I can persevere — my faith is not in this world or in the people of this world. I know heaven is the place of justice and one day all will be well. But, I have people who comfort me when I am sick. I have great insurance. I have friends and family who struggle with me. I have seen good leadership and benefited from their sacrifice. Too many people have not seen this.
When someone is ill, help in getting medicine makes the dream seem real. When there are crackers for the person with nausea, then the vision is in the forefront. It is easy to preach and to shout —- KEEP HOPE ALIVE. Too many people are asking, “why should I keep hoping?” —- and they see no reason for hope.
The scripture this weekend is not only words of comfort and encouragement for those who are suffering —- the words proclaimed and preached are a challenge to those who have to help those who do not TO THE DEGREE we can. People have faith in good people. Faith is lost, the flame goes out, when people say one thing and do another. The mustard seed sits on concrete when no one plants it in the fertile ground of REALIZED HOPE …. of actual grace.
Empty words — shallow preachers — hollow vessels will not bring forth faithful endurance.
Why should people believe? Who do we hold up as the leader who struggles with the people and for the people.
Pie in the sky religion will not work for me. It will not work for anyone.