“These are strange times we live in, aren’t they?” the Rev. Brian D. McLaren said to the virtual congregation, then quoted Ephesians 5:15. “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.”
McLaren gave the homily for the 9:15 a.m. EDT Tuesday, Aug. 18, morning devotional service on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. The title of his homily was “Doing What Is (Still) Doable.” The scripture text was Ephesians 5:9-20 (NRSV) —
“… for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, / ‘Sleeper, awake! / Rise from the dead, / and Christ will shine on you.’ Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
How many of us would have expected to see white men in khakis and white shirts marching down the streets of an American city carrying the Confederate Battle Flag and the Nazi flag, shouting anti-Semitic slogans right out of the Third Reich, McLaren asked.
“Who would have expected a president who said these were ‘fine people’?” he said.
Only if you were over 100 years old would you have any experience with a pandemic, a health crisis of the magnitude of COVID-19. And do not forget the crisis of the planet, as there is no greater threat to the environment than today.
“I want you to panic,” McLaren said. “To paraphrase Greta Thunberg, the world is on fire. As nations, religions, cultures, families and individuals, we are facing short- and long-term emergencies. The way to do something about them is to acknowledge they exist.”
Everything Must Change, written by McLaren in 2007, addresses four crises in the world: the planet, poverty, peace, and politics and religion.
“The crisis of the planet is a long-term emergency that looms larger every day. It is the single greatest threat to us as a species,” he said. “‘Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.’”
The crisis of poverty is caused by a super-elite, of which our president is one. “There is a cadre of oligarchs and kleptocrats who are the tip of the iceberg, propped up by those hidden in the dark. The days are evil and these people are so evil; I want you to panic,” McLaren said again.
The documentary “The Corporation” depicts these oligarchs as sociopaths. They will allow all other people to die to protect themselves because “we don’t exist for them,” McLaren said.
He said researchers believe there are between six and 23 individuals who have as much wealth as one half of the world’s population. “Money is power, and we are in a crisis of powerless poverty, of planetary poverty and inequality.”
McLaren posited a scenario where there was a COVID-19-like crisis every year for over 50 years. First there might be a virus, followed by wildfires the next year, flooding, crop failures and the collapse of ocean fisheries. “A glacier could fall into the ocean and make New York, Miami, Houston and Baltimore uninhabitable.”
Then there might be 10 million refugees, riots by hungry people, martial law to put these people down, authoritarian leaders who blame religious and racial minorities for the unrest, and then civil war. “With the climate unstable and the economy controlled, people become more powerless,” he said.
The next crisis is peace. The National Rifle Association is “massively funding weapons for individuals and governments are rebuilding nuclear arms. Conflict is inevitable,” McLaren said.
He continued, “Are you panicked yet? ‘Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.’”When religious and political leaders are owned by the oligarchs, they become afraid to speak out and bow their knee to the oppressors. This is the crisis of politics and religion.
McLaren asked, “Where do people go for hope and healing? Who will help them organize to address these crises?”
He continued, “Ask yourself: if something like this had a 50 percent chance of happening, what would you do differently while it is still doable? If it had a 25 percent chance or a 75 percent or 95 percent? What would you do differently while it is still doable? That is the question we should be asking in these times.”
McLaren suggested that “we have to reframe our politics in light of the mess we are in today, not the mess of 1776, 1968 or 1992. We have to do what is doable while we can still do it.”
Every day that passes there are things that are no longer doable; it is too late. He urged the congregation to make the most of the time they have.
“Planet, poverty, peace, politics. I would rather you panic and spring into action than to live your life as usual. ‘Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil,’” he said.
Under the cover of darkness, under the power of coverup, people are doing dangerous, downright evil things.
“Do what is doable. ‘Sleeper, awake! / Rise from the dead, / and Christ will shine on you.’ Do it with a song in your heart,” McLaren said.
He concluded by singing a little portion of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” He said, “It is a lovely lullaby, but if you are heading gently downstream toward Niagara Falls, it is a suicide pact.”
Jane McCarthy, leader of the daily Service for Blessing and Healing and a leader of the Women in Ministry program at Chautauqua Institution, presided from the Hall of Christ. Joshua Stafford, interim organist for Chautauqua Institution, played the Tallman Tracker Organ. Michael Miller, a Chautauqua Opera Apprentice Artist, served as vocal soloist. The organ prelude, performed by Stafford, was “Prelude in C Major,” by Charles Villiers Stanford. Miller sang the hymn, “When in Our Music God is Glorified.” The anthem was “Choral Prelude on ‘Why Does Azure Deck the Sky,’” by Stanford. Stafford played “Fugue in C Major,” by Stanford, for the postlude. This program is made possible by the Edmond E. Robb – Walter C. Shaw Fund and the Randall-Hall Memorial Chaplaincy.