Doing is Believing: Advent for the rest of us (12/4/2016)

It all started in a Bible Study on Sabbath economics. Brother Shane and his friends had been looking at stories of Jubilee in the Torah. Back in Leviticus God demanded that every 50 years all debts would be forgiven.

One of the guys in their study announced he had $10,000 that had formerly been invested in stocks but was now ready to be redistributed among the people.

So Shane and his friends sent out Jubilee invitations to Christian communities and to the houseless in New York City. Each invitation had some cash already stapled to them, along with the call for Monday’s Jubilee on Wall Street!

That Monday morning some of the group was dressed in clown costumes, in business attire, some looked houseless and others were dressed in clerical gear. Shane jumped up on the statue of George Washington and announced “some of us had been set free from poverty and some of us had been set free from greed, but all of us were here as the family of God to celebrate Jubilee – redistribution of that which had been unjustly hoarded.” [1]

Sister Margaret raised a shofar and blew loudly a call from the Jewish horn. Then thousands of one-dollar bills and pieces of small change were tossed up in the air and poured onto the bustling street in front of the Stock Exchange. For thirty minutes or so that morning, the vision of God’s new economy was made a reality!

Then there’s Rev. Billy in his clerical collar and bleach-blond hair, accompanied by the brightly robed Stop Shopping Choir. He and the traveling choir perform retail interventions inside big box corporate stores like Wal-Mart and Starbucks, in hopes of transforming consumer culture into the absurdity it truly is!

“Can I get a change-a-lujah!?”

Rev. Billy let’s the spirit move and drops a sermon on his corporate congregants, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit. Blessed are the jobless who force us to change the economy. Blessed are the homeless who unlock empty buildings. Blessed are the evicted who resist with their children watching! Blessed are the broke who re-introduce the what-can-I-do-for-no-money? Blessed are the re-cycled gifts and home-made art and swap-o-ramas and farmer’s markets. Blessed is the local Christmas. Local-ujah!”

These small acts of mustard seed imagination and resistance dismantle fear and build confidence. They use humor to break down walls and build community. One author and activist calls it “Laughtivism” and says “it takes your social movement beyond mere pranks, because it helps to corrode the very mortar that keeps most dictators in lace: fear.

You can see how that has been happening in one of the least funny places in the world right now, Bashar al-Assad’s Syria.”

One of the activist groups dumped red food coloring in the water fountains at major squares throughout Damascus. The next morning all the fountains looked like they were spraying blood, a great visual to expose an awfully brutal dictator. The police were sent in to solve the problem but they couldn’t arrest the fountains and ended up waiting an entire week for the fountain’s color to return to normal.

The cops in Damascus have also recently been found chasing down and arresting thousands of bouncing ping-pong balls with anti-Assad slogans like “freedom” and “enough” on them. Huffing and puffing down the streets of the city in full riot gear, locked and loaded, but nothing more to do than chase bouncy balls.

“What the police didn’t seem to realizes was that in this slap-stick comedy, scooping up Ping-Pong balls –much like the earlier fountains – were just props. It was they themselves, the regime’s enforces, who had been cats to star as the clowns.” [2]

In our celebration of Advent and Christmas, we’ve got our own bit of movement Laughtivism going on. This season we locate divinity among the weakest, most marginalized, and powerless individuals of first century society – a baby is born in the most temporary of accommodations, to migrating parents under military occupation.

Jumping from his birth to his public ministry the gospel writers continue their tour-de-humorous-force through bohemian Baptizer John. Clothed in camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and food as grasshoppers and honey, John the Baptizer was breaking all the rules.

First century Jewish Baptism customs did not involve counter cultural figures dunking everyone in the rivers in preparation for a coming revolution. They more so involved exclusive ritualistic prayers and elite religious leaders doing all the fancy water works. John isn’t having any of that, he even calls them out as a brood of vipers whose life-tree bears no fruit of God’s call to justice!

John called out: Repent! The Kingdom of God is here!

Repent of the current dogmatic religious and Imperial political ways of being in the world and embody the true sacredness of human and non-human relations. Caesar is not Lord, for his way are of militarization and colonization, God’s ways today’s Psalmist tell us are of justice and righteousness, with favor to the poor. In the first century Caesar’s power, his might, his gold, his war machine, the Empire he created was to be worshiped. But the Jewish misfits down by the river said Enough! The kingdom of God is at here!

After all, John the Baptizer was dunking all people, no matter their class or social status, he was bringing about the Kingdom of God with a refusal to recognize the powers and principalities of domination, injustice, and religious exclusion.

John’s revolution was in direct defiance of the political rules for he wasn’t trying to follow the laws, he was creating the new law of the land: the law of love and justice under God not Caesar.

It was guerrilla theater, Laughtivism at its finest, and directly in response to imperial power and religious bigotry.

All those down by the river with John, threw off the shackles of Caesar being Lord and start living a new way, as if Jesus was Lord. They began living as if the Kingdom of God was already here, because as Jesus and John declare, it is already here.

Their belief in a better world is found in their actions. Doing was believing. Acting out the good news was the best sign of belief in a God of love.

Implying movement, action, and grassroots activity this band of misfits, working class poor, and tax collecting repentant sinners, called themselves “The Way,” following in The Way of Jesus of Nazareth. They were labeled by the Roman State, “Christians” which translates as, Christ Followers, to insult their silly movement of upside down Kingdom work filled with loving justice.

They waved it loud and proud as the good Laughtivists they were.

What better time than now for the church to learn from the early Jesus movement. In our country alone, supposedly an advanced and pluralistic culture, currently face the bigotry, homophobia, and racism of the President Elect, not to mention economic policies that ruthlessly exploit the poor and destroy the environment.

The Kingdom of God language Jesus offer is clearly a vision of hope and not exactly something that took root in the real world just yet. We’ve seen glimpses over the years but it’s quite obviously still our duty to bring about the just, peaceful, and awesome world Jesus imagined.

“The idea too is not to paint a pretty picture full of rainbows and unicorns, but to put forward a fragment of something visionary, desirable, and just beyond the realm of the possible – and in such a way that our action calls out the vested interests making it impossible.” [4]

We live in this tension, the tension between the world we wish to create and the world in which we live. We live in wild times of people-phobias, where just about anyone could be under attack for expressing themselves. But we also live in a time where churches, like ours, are actively fighting these phobias in the name of Jesus our guiding source of inclusive love.

Our challenge of Advent is therefore one of active expectation. The world to come, the Kingdom of God that is at hand yet always coming, is a process. Advent is a reminder that ushering in this new way of being and doing will take hard work and the instant gratification of vanguard revolutions isn’t on the agenda. Christ calls us to create the world we know should exist and for that to define our faith; for our faith is visible in our doing and our doing a sign of our faith.

Advent is the call to the process of social transformation. We are called to create the world we wish to live in, a world like Galatians 3:28 where “there is no longer Jew or Greek, or Mexican, or Muslim, there is no longer slave or free, proletariat and bourgeoisie, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

It is a place where all are welcome into the world of self-determination, a world where we are free to express ourselves and our creativity, and to do so collectively and for the greater good. It’s an embodied foreshadowed victory, or another name they give it in the Bible, a Love Feast!

To model the Kingdom of God is to envision a world of diverse abilities and reasonability’s, where to each is tasked what they are capable of doing and asked for nothing more. All are provided for in every way, as when the spirit breaks out in Acts 2.

The limits of possibility are stretched wide as we create a compelling glimpse of a much needed future. Stricken with the poverty of imagination our communities have limited their dreams for a new world but we have the opportunity to exercise our hope muscle, dream new dreams and create the Beloved Community of God Jesus we envision.

Let’s get to work, Amen.


[1] Claiborne, Shane. 2006. The irresistible revolution: living as an ordinary radical.

[2] http://www.revbilly.com/

[3]  Popovic, Srdja, and Matthew I. Miller. 2015. Blueprint for revolution: how to use rice pudding, Lego men, and other nonviolent techniques to galvanize communities, overthrow dictators, or simply change the world.

[4] Ibid., 83.

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