Steve Peterson, Sauk Rapids, MN

Warm-up Question

Are you being called beyond your comfort zone to live Jesus’ way of love, peace and understanding?

An Unsettling Call

The Formation of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples (IWGIA Document No. 29, 1979)  offers a picture of Indigenous peoples before they were invaded and subjugated, a vision of vitality and wholeness.   The document continues, “Other peoples arrived

thirsting for blood, for gold, for land and all its wealth,
carrying the cross and the sword, one in each hand
without knowing or waiting to learn the ways of our worlds,
they considered us to be lower than animals,
they stole our land from us and took us from our lands,
they made slaves…”

The movie Killers of the Flower Moon released this fall in theaters (and currently streaming on Apple+) is based on David Grann’s 2017 book about real life events in Oklahoma in the early years of the 20th Century.  The film offers a window into how this subjugation and dehumanizing of native peoples played out in a particular place and time.  

During the time period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries the Osage Nation, like many Indigenous Tribes, was forced to give up their homeland to European settlers and to relocate, in this case more than once, finally landing in Oklahoma.  The land that became theirs in Oklahoma turned out to have oil underneath it.  Subsequently, the oil revenue due individual Osage tribal members was largely withheld from them under guardianships of white community members who were assigned to individuals.  This was based on the racist  rational that the Osage people themselves were not capable of their own agency.

 In a variety of dishonest and immoral actions, including those depicted in “Killers of the Flower Moon” movie, the Osage people experienced the consequences of being brutally conquered, beaten down, killed, impoverished and deeply traumatized.  These dehumanizing actions by European peoples, “thirsting for blood, for gold, for land and all its wealth” are still being felt today.

Martin Scorsese, director of Killers of the Flower Moon, stresses in an October 12 interview with  The Guardian, “The most important thing to remember is that while the story is set in the 1920s, it’s not a ‘historical’ film. What I mean by that is, that the effects of the tragedy are still felt within the community.” 

In the same Guardian article, Geoffrey Standing Bear, current chief of the Osage Nation asserts that the whole white population seems to have been in on the horrendous treatment of his ancestors in the early 20th century.  He posits that, “It’s not, who was complicit?  It’s who wasn’t complicit?”  He stresses, “This tragedy is almost within living memory, it was the time of our grandparents.”  

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has initiated a Truth and Healing movement within the church in order to “provide opportunities to learn the true history and current realities of Indigenous people. It is these truths, truths that have been ignored by most for hundreds of years, that will bring healing for both Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people.”  

Discussion Questions

  • In can be uncomfortable and very challenging to become more aware of the ways Indigenous people have been treated by a colonizing, dominate white culture.  While we were not personally involved, we still benefit from the taking of others land and live in a country where others still suffer from that theft of land and culture.   Why might it be valuable to live into this discomfort and participate in a truth and healing movement?  
  • In the 1920’s Oklahoma depicted in the movie sin is present in the laws, policies, and practices that enable violence and exploitation. Are you aware of sinful structures (laws, policies, or common practices and attitudes that harmed neighbors) which have been present in our country in various locations? After reflecting on the film, and other dark parts of our national history, what do you want to learn more about? What are the various opinions about this out there?  What, if anything, do you feel called to do?

Second Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 40:1-11

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Mark 1:1-8

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

John the Baptist is an unsettling character with an unsettling message.  He takes us out of our comfort zone.  John jarringly invites us to rethink what we believe and  how we act.  Mark introduces this alarming character, John, in an unsettling wilderness setting, with a disquieting message right at the beginning of his Gospel.  

The “beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” consists of this wild guy crying out in the wilderness, with a life-changing, comfort zone busting Good News. He proclaims, presumably shouts, a message of radical change, reordered life paths, and  repentance of sin.

And if this is not jarring enough, John says soon one greater than he will appear, bringing the Holy Spirit.  In other words, “Fasten your seat belt, we are about to take off into a whole new dimension of living.”

An online review of the Film Killers of a Flower Moon, is titled An Unsettling Masterpiece.   The review describes a scene at the beginning of the movie “when the screen fills with men toiling in what looks like a lake of fire. Inky silhouettes in a red-orange void…these are ordinary men in a hell of human making. It’s a rightly apocalyptic image for this cruel and baroque American story of love, murder, greed and unspeakable betrayal in 1920s Indian Country.”  

At the end of the movie the narrator, director Scorsese in a cameo appearance, challenges the viewer to be changed by this story,  to see and to live in a more life-giving way.  Confronted by this story of evil enacted and accepted in 1920’s Oklahoma, the viewer is invited to repent of the sins of our culture, seek forgiveness, and live in life-giving way.

While John the Baptist certainly invites people into repentance and forgiveness of individual sins, it seems that he and Jesus are also proclaiming a much broader and more unsettling message.  The gospel envisions way of living which is life-giving and just for all people.  

At the end of Mark’s gospel the witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection are terrified.  No wonder they are afraid, recognizing the awesome responsibility and calling they have before them now, to share this unsettling good news!  Perhaps we are afraid as well.  Perhaps we are afraid of confronting dark parts of our common history and seeking common repentance.  It is hard to advocate for Jesus’ disquieting yet more life-giving way of living and being.  

In her book, I Can Do No Other, theologian Anna Madsen writes, “If we believe in the risen Jesus—the raised one who spent his life healing the sick, serving the poor, teaching the crowds, feeding the hungry, forgiving the sinners, and welcoming the outcasts—we become ambassadors of that Jesus.”  

Jesus’ way is in direct contrast to the dehumanizing way greed and dominance depicted in Killers of a Flower Moon.” Jesus’ way begins with the unsettling prophetic voice of John the Baptist crying in the wilderness, urging us to repent of such things, to put them in the past.  As uncomfortable as it may be at times, following his way allows us to really be alive.   Jesus calls us  to leave our comfort zones and embrace the wonderful news of God’s liberation and love for all people!  

Discussion Questions

  • Can you think of a time in your life when leaving your comfort zone has been life giving for you? What happened?   What was that like for you?
  • What injustice in your immediate daily life or in the world are your feeling called to address?  Does this make you uncomfortable, even afraid, in some way?  What good could come out of taking action to think and act in new ways?
  • How might God and others in your community of faith help give you wisdom and courage to go beyond your discomfort to live more boldly in Jesus’ resurrection life of love and justice for all.

Activity Suggestions

Closing Prayer

Gracious and just God, help us to see those places in our lives and in our culture where we are called to repent.  Make us instruments of your justice and inclusion of all people within the circle of your unconditional love.  Help us to move beyond our discomfort and and give us courage to be instruments of your love and peace, so that all may have healing, wholeness, and abundant life. Amen