The Epistle (ancient snail mail for readers who ain’t church geeks) for this Sunday is Romans 12:9-21. I’ll include the whole text a few paragraphs down, with some commentary, after a short personal confession:
My immediate takeaway is how short I fall of this lesson’s call to humane, common sense, non “religious” (that is, not loaded with ceremonial or otherwise churchy jargon) behavior.
So it burst my personal bubble. My easing into the morning over coffee stumbled into full blown confession of sin. How little of the verse I apply, and how poorly I apply those parts at which I do endeavor.
Then I got to thinking about the “bubble” accusation that we all fling around gratuitously these days: White people in suburbs live in a bubble, college students live in a bubble, the mainstream media is a big bubble of the like minded, etc. etc. My group has intellectual insight, common sense or some other form of enlightenment, you and your kind live in a bubble to reinforce your shared ignorance and malice.
This lesson from Romans (the bold sections below) can burst bubbles. I’m not talking about nasty efforts to go popping other peoples’ bubbles, but the bursting of our own so that others might be set free to prick holes in theirs:
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection – some translations say “brotherly love.” The Greek term means affection between equals, such as siblings or friends. It is to put ourselves on the same level as others instead of in a bubble floating apart from and above them;
outdo one another in showing honour – we’re accomplished at mocking one another. We’re all about dank memes and mic drops and other claims to have finally and forever exposed others’ flaws. What if we went out of our ways to honor one another, almost competing to see who could show others in the best possible light? Can you hear the bubbles popping?
Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers – opening our wallets and doors to people, especially people unlike ourselves, has great power. Jesus said that our money trail reveals the path of our hearts. To reach out to others and/or to allow them into our lives means punching a deflating hole in our comfy bubble, which, as we know from balloons, makes a gross noise. Giving and receiving can disturb us, but discomfort precedes all great gain in life.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them – What, no name calling? No virtue signalling tweets, chants and placards? The horror! Yet this lesson applies to the worst possible bubble condition, when one bubble group is busy tormenting another. It is our natural reaction to retaliate (and to justify our counterattack). Here we are offered a supernatural alternative, to join with Jesus on the cross and bless those who are doing us wrong. And if our hearts and minds are consumed with our just grievances? Humanly speaking, our inner attitude will follow our chosen actions. Blessing those outside of our bubble can deflate our rage, and possibly theirs.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep – We can find common ground with people very unlike ourselves when we practice empathy for common human situations. It is hard to stay enbubbled (<– spellcheck hateth that one) when we are laughing or crying with (not at or about) others.
Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are – We are good at proclaiming “diversity” while maintaining bubbly uniformity. People have profound differences. We burst bubbles by finding ways to come together across those differences, not by seeking to define them away or pound them out of existence. It is painful to accept our own limitations or wear excellent aspects of our lives with humility. It is a challenge to accept others’ limitations without condescension and their excellence without envy. Bubbles burst when we know and accept ourselves and know and accept others as God’s works-in-progress.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all – The irony is that violent effort to pop bubbles tends to give them stronger membranes. It is the gentler search for common values that makes for the peace in which bubbles evaporate.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ No, you’re not crazy. There are evil people out there and, no matter your good efforts, they will ride around in a bubble bouncing violently here and there. In this passage the New Testament quotes the Old. There will be justice, dispensed by God. The good you offer will not be forgotten, and the unrepented evil of those who afflict the earth will receive a sentence declared by the Lord. To keep at the good requires this eternal point of view. Without it, we risk being absorbed into the bubble of those we claim to resist.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Let us pray.
O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love
our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth:
deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in
your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (For our Enemies, Book of Common Prayer 1979)
O God our Father, whose Son forgave his enemies while he
was suffering shame and death: Strengthen those who suffer
for the sake of conscience; when they are accused, save them
from speaking in hate; when they are rejected, save them
from bitterness; when they are imprisoned, save them from
despair; and to us your servants, give grace to respect their
witness and to discern the truth, that our society may be
cleansed and strengthened. This we ask for the sake of Jesus
Christ, our merciful and righteous Judge. Amen. (For those who suffer for the sake of Conscience, BCP 1979)
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so
move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the
people of this land], that barriers which divide us may
crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our
divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (For Social Justice, BCP 1979)