Preached at House for All Sinners and Saints
10th Sunday in Ordinary Time
5 August 2012
Day Texts: Exodus 16.2-4, 9-15
(Audio available at end of text)
Why wonder about the loaves and the fishes?
If you say the right words, the wine expands.
If you say them with love
and the felt ferocity of that love
and the felt necessity of that love,
the fish explode into the many.
Imagine him, speaking,
and don't worry about what is reality,
or what is plain, or what is mysterious.
If you were there, it was all those things.
If you can imagine it, it was all those things.
Eat, drink, be happy.
Accept the miracle.
Accept, too, each spoken word
spoken with love.
-Mary Oliver, "Logos"
-So I cried myself to sleep this past Wednesday. I wish I could say it was only because it’s my last week at HFASS. Because I shared with you in an email that, after tomorrow, we’re going to be out of touch for awhile. I wish I could say it was only because I am so grateful for the gift of getting to spend a year with you. And that’s all true, of course.
-I was also thinking of what I should preach about today, on my last Sunday. So I picked up St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, our first reading for today and read the following: “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” And that’s what made me cry.
-And it wasn’t just because curmudgeony old Paul can say such beautiful things on occasion. It’s because, after all the drama surrounding who was eating which chicken sandwiches and who was going to kiss who and where - and after all the posts on facebook commenting and criticizing and crying out in triumph and in pain about said drama – I read those beautiful words about “One body?" "One Spirit?" "One Lord, one faith, one baptism?” And they didn’t seem so beautiful anymore.
-Because it feels like, for all their hope and promise, they’ve never really come true. And after two thousand years of church, it doesn’t feel like they’ll ever come true. Feels like the only thing we’re good at as Christians is treating each other exceptionally horribly. Like Paul’s exhortation to “bear with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” is just a sick joke to mess with us, a bit of gallows humor said tongue-in-cheek by a man who spent his life dealing with, you know, Christians.
-It feels like there has never been, and may never be, “one body.” Looking at the ways we argue and disagree with one another, I’m not really sure any of us really want one body. I’m someone who will not be stopping to “eat mor chikin” on my long drive back to New York. And while I am committed to non-violence and church unity and all those nice-sounding things, I can’t promise you I won’t feel a pang of smug self-righteousness every time I speed past a cartoon cow with a paint brush.
-It just feels easier to have enemies. It feels more exhilarating to launch verbal missiles across the social media warzone than to have to sit down with the folks taunting us with their waffle fries and actually talk with them. It feels more righteous to claim Jesus for whatever version of good and evil or justice or truth we’ve concocted, then to actually have to see Jesus in our enemies – let alone, be Jesus’ body with them.
-It’s so tempting to leave it at that. To just accept the division as an inevitability, and so settle for choosing a side – hopefully, the side that’s going to win, or at least give a sense of purpose and something to post online. We make division the starting point, the origin. And see, I think that’s where the thing goes to pot. It’s where hope dies. Where nihilism begins. Where anger, violence, reactivity, and retaliation follow. Where warfare between brothers and sisters is never ending.
-But see, here’s the thing. St. Paul’s claim that we are “one body,” that wasn’t him giving his personal opinion. Paul was not offering one option among many. Paul did not say, “first assess your personal religious, social and political views, and if you find that everyone thinks exactly the same as you, then you are one body.” Paul was not offering a choice. Paul was proclaiming a truth, the truth, about how reality actually is in the shadow of Jesus’ cross, and in the light of Jesus’ resurrection.
-Christ was crucified, not to give us a new political agenda -but, as you may recall, as the result of the violence of human political agendas and divisions. But in his death on the cross, Christ also revealed God’s true agenda. And that agenda, that politics, is the way of forgiveness. It is at the cross we learn what God’s love looks like. It looks like this: while we were still God’s enemies, Christ died for us. For you. For me. For the entire world. God’s love is always love for God’s enemies.
-That, declares Paul, is what makes you “one body.” We are all God’s enemies, who have been reconciled to God when we least deserved it. Whether we live like it or not, we are bound to one another, not with the ties of tribe or politics, but with the cords of God’s love for the world in Christ Jesus. We are one body. The old has passed away. Everything really has become new.
-This disturbing truth was brought home to me, six years ago, back when we lived in Denver the first time. We were attending Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, where HFASS sings Holden Evening Prayer during Lent and where we say matins each Wednesday. Our Savior’s is a lot like House – there’s a lot of gay folks, and recovering addicts, and people with tattoos and so forth. It was the Sunday after it was revealed that conservative Colorado Springs mega-church pastor Ted Haggard, a vehement opponent of homosexuality in the church, had repeatedly cheated on his wife with a variety of male escorts.
-Progressive smugness was running high that weekend; people were relishing in the exposure of Haggard’s hypocrisy. Then Pastor John Baeke, a strong advocate of gay rights who had spent much of his ministry living in community with AIDS patients, took the pulpit. And the first thing he said was, “let’s make sure we’re all praying for Ted Haggard and his family this week. He’s our brother in Christ, and he’s going through a difficult time.”
-Ted Haggard, our brother in Christ? And we get to pray for him? The Gospel is that we’re one body with that…hate monger?
-But see, that’s the kind of craziness that can happen when we start with Christ, and not with ourselves, our divisions, or our agendas. That’s the new reality Jesus has won for us. That’s the freedom of the Gospel. To be freed from having to hate and react. To no longer have to see ourselves as divided. To be enemies who have given back to one another.
-And I wonder what that looks like today. Maybe that scene from last week’s Gospel is a clue. Where Jesus took loaves and fishes and blessed them, broke them, and gave them to a whole crowd of hapless sinners. Maybe it looks like folks with their bag of waffle fries and folks with their home-packed bag lunch getting together at a park. Maybe it looks like us sitting together, and receiving the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ, at the Eucharist. You know, the meal of grace God makes for God's enemies, to bring enemies together, out of the body we break?
-Maybe it looks like talking, listening, lamenting, arguing, struggling, disagreeing, praying for one another. But doing these things together, under Christ’s cross, around Christ’s table, feeding on Christ’s body. Where the invitation is not to “eat more chikin” or to “post more stuff on facebook,” but to “EAT MOR JEEZUS.”
-Eat more Jesus. If I could train my chickens to paint billboards, that’s what I’d have them write, from here all the way to New York. So I could be reminded, every time I’m tempted to believe the lies of division and despair, that there is a deeper magic, a better reality, a bigger family. So I could cry, not only because of the ugliness of humanity, but also, because of the beauty of God’s Gospel of grace.
-Eat more Jesus. There is nothing else and no one else that can make us one body. There is nothing else and no one else who can make all things new. There is nothing else and no one else that will satisfy us. There is nothing else and no one else worth being about as a church. That’s what you’ve taught me this year as your Vicar. Now, as I leave you, I offer that back to you, as my prayer for you, for me, and for all the body of Christ.
-Eat more Jesus.