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Damaris and the Day of Judgment

Damaris and the Day of Judgment
The Plague and the Promise

By the Rev. Tad de Bordenave
November 6, 2020

We follow Damaris in this message. This lady was singled out in Acts 17 as one of Paul's converts from his discussions with the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill, just beside the Acropolis. She will help us with the question if we can see God in the pandemic. I will offer a partial answer to that, and, no, I have no clue as to where the other parts of the answer may be.

Let me put out a series of diagnostic questions that will help. Is it fair of God to do this? Is this awful disease provoked by what he sees? Does he care about our lives enough to intervene? And importantly, is there hope for us if we respond rightly?

I will float these in three scenarios: the election this week, Damaris and Athena, and Jesus as our judge.

The election was a day of judgment, was it not? We chose between two candidates and what each offered. Their platforms spelled out further promises. But let's be honest. Even if everything on those platforms is beautifully carried out, we will still have rot among us--rot easily identified because of its recurring presence.

Here are three places where we have rot piled up:
First, the reservations of American Indians. We knew things are often deplorable there, but we learned more during the pandemic. Many American Indians barely have enough water for cooking and crops. For them that eliminates handwashing as preventative action against the virus.

The White suburban community in Richmond, Virginia where I live is not a hot spot by any measure. Not many miles away south of Richmond on Jefferson Davis Highway (Yes, that is the name of that highway, at least for now.) the population is largely Latino and lives in trailer parks and low income housing. These people work in the service world-- maids, janitors, nursing aids. If they don't show up, they don't have money for rent or food. They often lack protective clothing and are in close quarters with others. Jeff Davis Highway is the hottest spot in Richmond.

While this is going on, in our colleges with high profile sports the money spent on the players is eye-popping. Even before a home game many teams stay in nearby hotels. For high profile teams, the bills average $45,000 for the one night. One university with grandiose aspirations for a successful football team thought it necessary to build a new facility for the players. The cost? Over $54,000,000.

Something is wrong with these three pictures. The first two lack any whiff of justice. The last should embarrass the sport and academic world. Does God see this rot? Can he smell the stench?

Let's move to Mars Hill. The stately statue of Athena was in full view for Damaris as she listened to Paul's teaching (Acts 17:22-34). Raised in Athens and knowing the role of the gods in her life, she resigned herself to living under the influence of gods who squabble, whose influence was whimsical, and who had better things to do than to respond to the cries for justice. What about the God Paul spoke of? Does he not hear the cries? Is not the God who made heaven and earth saddened by his world and his people?

The answer is in the affirmative. This Jesus God appointed as judge of the world. He is the one Damaris learned from Paul. He was one of us, and he lived in the mess and the rot of the world. He suffered and died, and then was raised from the dead. To be sure, Jesus would be incensed by the circumstances of the American Indians and the Latinos. He would recognize the foorball facilities for what they are-- obscene "pleasure domes" for the guys who are the cash cows for their institutions.

Behind each of these lie more of the same--a long line of malefactors and promotors, an endless list of oppression and abuse. The question we are asking is if God cares, if he is involved. If he does not, we might as well opt for Athena and her cohorts. No, Jesus condemns with severe judgment, with horror and sorrow.

Though we can see plague, we also see mercy. Always God remembers his covenant with his people. That is why Habakkuk prays, "In your wrath, remember mercy" (3:2).

Time to bring forward my consultant, the Rev. Helmut Thielicke. He pastored a congregation in Stuttgart, Germany, during the war years. His bold repudiation of Hitler and Nazism resulted in prohibition from leaving the city. During those days he preached a series of sermons entitled, Our Heavenly Father. More than once the congregation had to move from place to place as the churches where he led services were destroyed by Allied bombing.

In these sermons he addressed the very question I raise in this message. What was God's role? Where was he during the bombing? Where could the people find comfort in the deaths that came daily?

His answer lay in the source of the rot, rot generated by humankind. Not by God. The idolatry and sinfulness of Nazism pushed upon the German people brought the horrors, not the whimsical ire of God.

Thielicke knew this, but he also knew that the judgment of God held the mercy of God. The Judge, after all, was a man who also suffered. His suffering sanctifies our suffering, finding it the very path to what Paul calls character, faith, patience, and hope (Romans 5:3-5).

Hear what Thielicke told his congregation:

We could describe every conceivable terror from the nights when the screaming bombs fall to loneliness of war widows, from homelessness of thousands to the hopeless frustration of the soldier torn away from job or education. They are all evil which are not in the Father's plan of creation, but they are transformed when the pass through the Father's hands and the mask of fate suddenly becomes the Father's face.

A partial answer, I realize. One that sees in God the one who made us; who suffered as one of us; who judges our idolatry and oppression; who wants us to go back to him; and who then extends mercy that restores us.

The Rev. Tad de Bordenave is the founder of Anglican Frontier Missions. Tad is married to Constance Williams. They have three children and four grandchildren. He was ordained in the Episcopal Church in 1969 and served parishes in the mountains of Virginia, small town in Alabama, and Richmond, Virginia. He began AFM in 1993 and retired in 2007. He lives in Richmond where he writes, bakes bread, and is a patron of his wife’s art career.

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