Sunday, September 23, 2012

Pentecost 17B, 2012: Co-creators of Love

Proper 20 Lectionary: Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1, 12-22; Psalm 54 ; James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a; Mark 9:30-37

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

We believe that God is love, that God is the creator of all that is, all that ever was, and all that ever will be. We believe that God’s plan of redemption is perfect, and God’s justice is sure, even knowing that how that looks often surprises us.

We believe that humanity and all creation have been redeemed by the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. We know that we are living in the
‘already-but-not-yet’ part of the plan. Redemption has already happened, but the
process of redemption, the work of it continues until Christ comes again. We know that we are partners with Christ in this work, making us co-creators of love.

If God is love and creator of all that is, then who or what in all of creation is not of God? Yet, throughout the world we see pain, loneliness, hunger, poverty, abuse, oppression, war, betrayal. Are those of God?

When a two year old is diagnosed with leukemia and dies before she starts pre-school, is that of God? The platitude – everything happens for a reason – isn’t very helpful.

We don’t know why some things happen because we can’t see the plan of God in its fullness. Other times things happen because someone sinned, and it has nothing to do with God or God’s plan.

People sin. Terrible things happen in the world. Wrong things happen. When believers witness terrible things, wrong things, our Savior asks us to wait in faith. What we wait for is the fulfilling of God’s promise of redemption. This is the essence of Jesus’ teaching to his disciples these last few weeks in our readings from the Gospel of Mark.

Waiting is hard because as we wait we have to trust. Our power, our knowledge, our best intentions aren’t enough. Only God is enough.

In our Offertory hymn, are these words (v 3): “Teach me thy patience; still with thee/ in closer, dearer company/ in work that keeps faith sweet and strong/ in trust that triumphs over wrong.” Trust that triumphs over wrong. This is what Jesus was trying to tell his disciples they would need.

The worst was about to happen. Jesus has told his disciples several times now that he is going to be betrayed and killed. You remember that Peter didn’t want to hear that. ‘No Lord. Don’t let it be so.’

And Jesus pushed back at Peter saying, “Get behind me Satan.” ‘Don’t distract me, don’t tempt me away from the path of redeeming love being laid by God. Yes, it’s going to be awful, so you must have the kind of trust that triumphs over wrong.’

This time when Jesus reminds his disciples of the awful reality about to happen, he adds the promise of redemption: “The Son of Man is being betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed he will rise again.” Wait. Death is not the end. God’s love triumphs even over death.

Let’s let that sink in for a minute. God’s love triumphs even over death.

If we really believe that, then what is there to fear? What is there to keep us from flinging our proverbial arms wide open and welcoming everyone and everything life has to offer – knowing that everyone is included in God’s plan of redemption, and everything that happens presents us with an opportunity to be co-creators of love?

The hardest part of being co-creators of love is that we must approach everyone and everything as the Son of Man did. There was no one with whom Jesus wouldn’t connect – the clean and unclean, rich and poor, male and female, slave and free, young and old.

And when he did connect, he didn’t judge them, even when the evidence was there to convict them. Instead, he forgave them, healed them, strengthened them to live, and empowered them to love.

Jesus brought light and life to those trapped in darkness and sin and calls us to do the same. As we do this, we risk success. What if we succeed? What if we become known as the greatest church with the greatest followers of Jesus Christ in history? What if we become famous and admired, heroes and she-roes of the faith? What if we get a saint’s day in Lesser Feasts and Fasts?

Isn’t that like what the disciples were arguing about as they traveled to Capernaum? Can’t you just hear it? Peter says, ‘I’m the greatest. I’m the rock on whom Jesus plans to build the church!’ John says, ‘Yeah, well I’m the beloved disciple!’ Matthew says, ‘I’m the best liturgist.’. And everyone knows Luke is the best healer.

When they settled in for the night, Jesus asked the disciples, “What were you arguing about on the way” (like he didn’t know!) They were busted and they knew it.

But Jesus, as patient and loving as ever, took what was one of the last opportunities he had to teach them. He sat down and called the disciples to him. When a rabbi does that, it means class is in session.

‘Do you want to be great?’ Jesus asked. ‘Then you must turn away from the desire for worldly greatness and be last of all and servant of all.’

At this point, I’m picturing the blank stares on the faces of Jesus’ listeners as they try to figure this out.

Then Jesus took a little child, and holding that child in a loving embrace, he demonstrated what he meant. To the world, this child is helpless, powerless, has little to offer, and no clout whatsoever. But to heaven, this child is the face of redemption because: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

In other words, when we connect with the helpless, the powerless, the weak, the poor, the excluded – we connect with God. They are the means by which we are co-creators of love and partners in the continuing work of redemption. As one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Dar Williams, said: “Every time you opt into kindness/ make one connection/ used to divide us/ it echoes all over the world.” (“Echoes” by Dar Williams, My Better Self album)

A child is open, trusting, and relies on her parent to know and take care of what she needs. A child offers his love freely. He knows he’s part of a family and isn’t expected to ‘go it alone.’

How are children welcomed - or not - in our churches? Do we see them as the face of redemption… as an opportunity to connect with God?

In his book “The Peaceable Kingdom” theologian Stanley Hauerwas says that “it is the privilege of Christians, as well as their responsibility to tell God’s story to those who know it not.” (44) How are we meeting this responsibility – to our actual children, and to the children of God in our local community?

“But…” Hauerwas says, “…God’s story is not merely told; it must be lived.” (44) How are we doing with this one?

Are we proclaiming by word and example the good news of God in Christ? Or are we coming to our church club just enough to ensure our reputation as a good person bound for heaven? Are we connecting our lives with the lives of the helpless, the powerless, the weak, the poor, and the excluded – recognizing in them the face of redemption?

Hauerwas said, “it is through the need of another that the greatest hindrance to my freedom, namely my own self-absorption, is finally not so much overcome as simply rendered irrelevant.” (44) I can tell you that I hear the transforming truth of this from people who volunteer at our Shepherd’s Table ministries.

As followers of Christ, you and I are walking on a path of redeeming love that is laid out for us - moment by moment - by God. Like the labyrinth, this path takes unexpected turns but always leads us home. We can’t get lost.

The path flows according to the needs God is entrusting to our attention and to our care, so… we go with the flow! It is our privilege as Christians, and our responsibility.

I close with the prayer written by the founder of Centering Prayer – Trappist monk, Thomas Merton:

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.


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