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God at Panera: Politics and the Pulpit, Part II

I wrote last week that throughout human history, and in much of the world today, the “given” is violence and poverty and sickness. The variable is, how do we human beings respond to it, and whose side is God on when we do? – on the side of murderers, exploiters, and illness, or on the side of peace-makers, the poor and the oppressed, the healers, and their allies?

The radical claim of Judeo-Christianity, so wonderfully encapsulated in the Magificat, is who God sides with. Who God intervenes for:

God has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.”

But if we’re honest, it begs some questions, doesn’t it?

Where is this saving God for those fearing for their lives on the mountaintops in Iraq who’ve fled the so-called “Islamic State” fascists?

Where is this healing God in Africa, where people are afraid of coughs or handshakes due to the latest contagion?

Where is this “scatter the proud and bring down the powerful/lift up the lowly God” present in our criminal justice system and prison industry?

We hear of children being slaughtered and a journalist being beheaded in northern Iraq, and we and are rightfully outraged and heartbroken at the barbarity; closer to home, we wonder how to respond to children crossing U.S. borders seeking refuge.

Then we remember the King Herod(s) of the Bible who beheaded John the Baptist and served his head on a platter at a dinner banquet and who – when Jesus was born, killed all of the little boys under the age of two, searching for the Christ Child, making Mary and Joseph and Jesus cross the Egyptian border as political refugees.

This is not to minimize the enormity of suffering around the world, but to remind us that God broke into not some serene world of gentle people walking around in sandals, but a world that had all the same geo-political conflict (and worse) than ours.

Christians are not Deists; it’s not our belief that God acts as a kind of clock-maker who winds up the world and lets it run. No, the God we believe in knows what it feels like to be a child crossing a border seeking protection. The God we believe in fled – and then confronted – powerful religio-political enemies.

So where is God in the middle of all that is going on in the world? The answer is the same as it was in Mary’s and Jesus’ day: sometimes God breaks into our world in a miraculous way, but most of the time, God intervenes in an ordinary way. But how?   

Canon Andrew White, vicar of St. George’s Church in Baghdad, says, “We need two things: prayer and money. 
With those two we can do something. Without those we can do nothing. In regard to prayer, I have three ‘P’s that I always mention which is for protection, provision and perseverance. We need protection, we need to provide for those people and we need to keep going.”">In Liberia, we have friends, American missionaries, who are working to get anti-malaria medicine and food to children.[2]

Prayer and money, with those two we can do something.

Closer to home, let me give you an example: My friend and clergy colleague Mary Davila shared the story recently of having had coffee with a friend of hers who lives in Norfolk. The two of them sat outside early in the morning at a Panera, and when they sat down, Mary noticed a woman who had her head down, sleeping at the table a little ways from them. Mary presumed her to be homeless…she just had that sense. Mary was facing her, not really watching her, but she was in her line of vision. As Mary was talking with her friend, she noticed a woman come out of Panera, walk over to this table, set down a cup of coffee and a bag, presumably of food, walk around the table to the woman, lay a hand on her, and say some words over her. Mary assumed the lady was praying. And then lady left, the woman, still asleep and unaware, a cup of coffee and food awaiting her, a blessing said over her, prayers for protection, provision, and perseverance.

So where is evidence of the great reversal that Mary-the-Mother-of-God sings about? Where is evidence of the good news that is the Gospel of Christ?

Mary- my-friend saw it that morning at Panera. 

God is filling the hungry with good things, God is lifting up the lowly, showing strength with His loving arms.

As Mother Teresa said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

Sometimes – as Mary my friend says – “we just do the next right thing, we take our two fish and five loaves, and trust that God multiplies our offerings of goodness and love in ways that are beyond our knowledge or measurement.  Acts of evil yield diminishing returns; but acts of love are multiplied exponentially.”  

[1] White, Andrew. Blog is: The blog also has information about how to donate money.

[2] To donate, click here: Contact person is Kimberly Johnson.


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