Becoming God’s Compassion: A Sermon for Proper 6A

This sermon was offered by The Rev. Andy Jones for St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church’s online service of Morning Prayer, on June 14, 2020.

It is built on the Gospel reading for Proper 6 in year A of the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find that reading here.

Here is an audio recording of the sermon:

 

Here is a transcription of that recording:

“Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.”[1]  Amen.

Curing every disease and sickness… that might sound a bit fanciful, or even far-fetched to us today, but I think it’s important for us to understand exactly what it is that Jesus is doing in this moment.  In curing every sickness and disease, Jesus is reconciling.  The fear of disease, the stigma that anything that befell you was the result of your own sin, or the sin of your parents, or someone before you, drove people who fell ill into exile, into isolation.  So, when Jesus cures disease, casts out sickness, he is restoring people to community.  He’s allowing people to come together and be a family again.  He does all this as a manifestation of the good news that he has been proclaiming in all of their cities and villages; that we are all one, that we are beloved of God, that nothing can separate us from God’s love, and that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.

All of this is such good news, that this sort of community is possible, that this sort of communion can happen between the people around us and between us and God, that people are flocking to the streets to hear what Jesus has to say, to be in his presence and to be reconciled one to another and to God.  Jesus sees those crowds, he sees us flocking to the streets longing for that sort of community where justice and mercy are extended to all equally, where we recognize that we are brothers and sisters, and where we care for one another.  People are flocking to the streets in great numbers.  And Jesus looks upon us, and has compassion.

Compassion, that’s not just a toss off, throwaway, greeting card word.  Compassion means that Jesus was moved physically in his inner being.  He felt that love and that solidarity with us in his guts.  Really, the word expresses the kind of feeling that a woman would have in her womb for her own child.  It is a deep and abiding connection, and love, and care.  And that’s what Jesus feels for us as we gather in the streets, longing for the sort of community that Jesus is proclaiming when he proclaims the good news of the kingdom.

I think it’s really important for us to recognize that Jesus has compassion for us in this moment, because this has been a very difficult time.  Between the pandemic and the safer at home order, between the fear of going to the grocery store, or to the gym, or to the hair salon; between the fear we have about greeting one another with a hug or a kiss; in the turmoil and unrest, the heartbreak, the anger and the rage that we feel at the death of George Floyd and many others in our streets… it might be a little bit hard to feel compassion or to believe that anyone has compassion for us.

There are lots of versions of this same sentiment.  In case of an emergency, put your own oxygen mask on before attempting to help others.  You can’t give what you don’t have yourself.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  Jesus knows that in order for us to feel compassion for others, in order for us to love one another, in order for us to be able to lend aid to those around us, we need to feel that we ourselves are loved, that someone has compassion for us, that someone is moved deep in their guts, deep in the root of their being, with care and concern and love for us.  So Jesus in this moment expresses his compassion for us, helping us to know that we are held in the palms of God’s almighty hands.

Think about that for a moment and let that sink in.  Safer at home is no barrier, no obstacle to God’s love and care and concern for us.  As we travel to the grocery store, wondering if we’ll come home infected with a virus, Jesus is with us, caring and loving.   Jesus has compassion for us.  As we walk into the street to give voice to our love for one another, and our anger at the systems that oppress some in our midst, Jesus is there with us, having compassion for us.  That’s an awesome and a powerful thing to know and to integrate into our very being.  But if you read this story today carefully you’ll also see that that’s not the end.  That’s not the end that God or Jesus have in mind.

Jesus expresses that compassion for us by healing and curing, by restoring us to community with one another, by manifesting God’s kingdom in our midst. Then he sends us out to do the same thing; to cast out demons, to cure and heal every sickness and disease.  Now if I put it that way that might sound a little difficult, and strange, and foreign, and might be easy to shrug off.  But remember what Jesus is really doing here. Jesus is restoring us to communion with one another.  Jesus is calling us to the kind of community that God dreams of for all of us, the kind of communion that exists in the kingdom of God.  That’s what Jesus sends us out to do.  Our Book of Common Prayer, in the Catechism, asks, “What is the mission of the church?”  And the answer is, “The mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with one another and to God through Christ.”[2]  In this gospel reading today. Jesus calls the 12 apostles and sends them out to do his work as his representatives in the world.  That’s what Jesus is calling us to do.

So, here are a couple of things that I think we can all do right off the bat.  If you find yourself on the Beltline, in a long line of traffic, and you turn on the news and you discover that you’re in that place because someone is giving voice to their anger and their pain, their justified anger, then know that you are beloved, and offer the same compassion that God offers to you, to the people who are inconveniencing you in this moment.  If you’re trying to get to the far east side and you find yourself on E. Washington St. or out there on Route 51, and suddenly traffic comes to a stop, and you turn on the news and you discover that you are sitting there, not moving, because a group of people have gathered at the intersection up ahead to try and draw attention to the injustices in our society that have, for so long, oppressed and hurt so many of us.  Know that you are beloved and that God has compassion for you in this, and then share some of that compassion and love for the people who are doing their very best, to move us, to pick up the mantle that God has given us, and to work for reconciliation and justice and peace.  Sitting in that place, remember whose you are. And remember who you are.  And then, we might consider pulling our car into the nearest parking lot and joining that crowd of people standing there in that intersection, standing there on the Beltline, gathered around the capital on the square, standing in State Street, and raising our voice to do the work that God has called us to do.

In today’s gospel reading Jesus sends his apostles out. He gives them authority over unclean spirits.  He gives them authority to cast out and to cure every disease and every sickness.  There is a pandemic in the land, and we have been asked to stay safer at home.  There is another pandemic in the land, but to curtail the effects of this pandemic we cannot stay at home; for some of us aren’t safe even at home.

Remember as you wrestle with these realities, God has compassion for us, for you. We may be called to make difficult choices in the days ahead, and we may find ourselves wrestling mightily with the decisions we have to make.  But know that in the midst of it all, God loves you.  That reality and that truth will give you the strength, and the joy, to love your neighbor, to love yourself, and to go, to be sent as God sent Jesus to us in Jesus sends us out. We go to bring into fruition the good news of the kingdom of God.

Amen

[1] Mt 9:35. (NRSV)

[2] Episcopal Church. The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church : Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David According to the Use of the Episcopal Church. (New York: Church Hymnal Corp, 1979), 855.

 

God is Still Speaking: “I Can’t Breathe”

God is Still Speaking: “I Can’t Breathe”

A sermon for Trinity Sunday, Year A

This sermon was offered by The Rev. Andy Jones, during St Andrew’s Episcopal Church’s online service of Morning Prayer on June 7, 2020, Trinity Sunday.

The sermon us built on the readings found here.

A recording of the entire service can be found here.  The sermon begins at about 20:40 into the recording.

 

May the words or my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen

I’d like to ask you all to imagine that you’re in a movie theater, that the opening credits have concluded, the titles have gone by, and the opening scene has begun, and that scene invites you to engage all of your senses, to enter into what lies before you; a series of images, captured in this poetic narrative

“The earth was a formless void, and darkness covered the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”[1]

Is this a post-apocalyptic movie, is it a primordial scene?  Where are we?  Darkness over the face of the deep, a wind rushing over the waters, and a deep void.  All of those images bespeak chaos, a lack of order, no space to breathe, no space to be.

And then, into that chaos, a voice speaks, “Let there be light.  And there was light.”[2]

That voice continues to speak.  Having separated the light from the darkness, that voice separates the sky from all that lies beneath it, the dry land from the waters, the day from the night.  Order is spoken into existence.  Space to be is created. There is room to breathe.

Rowan Williams, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 to 2012, in his book On Christian Theology[3], call this the generative event.  And he describes it as that moment that “breaks open and extends possible ways of being human.”[4]  A word is spoken into the chaos.  Order is called into being; and we are given space to breathe, space to be; extending the possibilities of what it means to be human.

Fast forward in our movie to the next scene, where people are walking in darkness.  Violence and revenge are the order of the day.  Oppression and exploitation of people for personal profit, for the establishment of hierarchy and power have swept the face of the earth; and a voice speaks once again.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”[5]

Again, a word is spoken into the darkness, into the void, into the chaos.  The wind from God sweeps over the waters and the people; and a new way of being is created, a new narrative to define how we relate to one another and to God; a narrative that changes the world.

Leaning again on Rowan Williams, he describes this moment in this way:

“So to come to be in ‘in Christ’ to belong with Jesus, involves a far-reaching reconstruction of one’s humanity: a liberation from servile, distorted, destructive patterns in the past, a liberation from anxious dread of God’s judgment, a new identity in a community of reciprocal love and complementary service, whose potential horizons are universal.”[6]

It’s remarkable perhaps, that Williams sees creation, that generative moment that created new ways of being human as ongoing; not complete with that poetic narrative that begins the Book of Genesis, but picked up and moved forward by the Christ Event; by God coming into the world once again, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and speaking a new word, a new narrative, a new way of being, that allows us to reconstruct our humanity, and liberate us from servile, distorted, destructive, patterns of the past.

You all have heard me, on more that one occasion, say that I wish that the Episcopal Church could claim credit for the sign that often appears on our neighbor on Roby Road’s front lawn.  It says, “God is still speaking.”  I think that, given what Rowan Williams has said to us this morning, we might also say that God is still creating.  Creating, trying to bring to fruition and reality a new way of being human, one that liberates us from servile, distorted, destructive patterns; one that frees us from exploiting and oppressing others for our own benefit, or to raise our own position, status, or stake in the world.

God is still speaking.  Williams, in his discussion of the Trinity, talks about the Holy Spirit as a partner in this ongoing project of creation.  It is the Holy Spirit that brings new revelation, that helps us to remember all that Jesus has taught us, to remind us of what he has said, and to reveal the truth that we were not prepared to receive when Jesus walked among us as one of us.

A word was spoken into the darkness at the beginning of that generative project in the Book of Genesis.  A word was spoken into the darkness when Jesus, the Christ, came into the world and walked among us.  And I believe that the Holy Spirit is speaking words to us, even now, trying to liberate us from servile, distorted, destructive patterns.

“I can’t breathe.”  I can’t breathe.  Words spoken into the darkness.  Words spoken into the chaos.  Words that just might help free us from those patterns of the past that destroy and corrupt the creatures of God, that lead us into places of darkness and chaos, that corrupt our lives and keep us from participating in the ways of being human that God lays before us; the ways of being human that will hep us all live together in God’s creation.

These have been difficult times.  And I am sure that when Jesus spoke his words in first century Palestine, they were hard for some people to hear, because those words required that some of us give up our grip, loosen our hold, on the power that we have.  They required some of us to examine the things that we have accumulated, and to acknowledge those who have contributed to our possessions, our treasure, through labor and sweat that has long gone unrecognized and unacknowledged.

Jesus called us to a new way of being human and the Holy Spirit is calling us to a new way of begin human now.   Jesus’s words have been repeated through the centuries, not always begin heard, and not always followed.  But they are still with us because people have continued to say them.  People have continued to share their message.  People have continued to uphold the way of being that Jesus manifested in our midst as the way of truth, and life, and light.

It’s hard, I think, for some of us to hear “I can’t breathe.  Black lives matter,” but that’s ok.  Because that’s what God does.  That’s what Jesus does.  That’s what the Holy Spirit does.  They speak into the darkness.  They speak into the chaos.  And they bring order to our lives and to creation.  They lay before us ways of being human that we might not imagine on our own; ways of begin human that might be difficult enough that we would turn our backs in dismay, or fear, or just plain laziness.  But those words are ringing so loudly right now that we dare not, and cannot, ignore them.

And if we are to do what Jesus says in today’s Gospel, to proclaim his message to all the earth, to create disciples, to baptize in the name of the Father who speaks a word into the darkness, of the Son who reconstructs our humanity and gives us a new way of being, and of the Holy Spirit who is speaking to us now, then we must take up that mantle and repeat those words as long as we have breath.  I can’t breathe.  Black lives matter.  We are called to love God, and to love our neighbor, with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and the way that we do that right now is to show up, and to speak up.

On this day, Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after the Day of Pentecost the birthday of the Church, we are called to go, to be sent as God sent Christ, and to speak those words into the darkness, and into the chaos; and to invite others to join us in God’s way of being human.

Amen

 

[1] Gen. 1:2 (NRSV)

[2] Gen 1:3 (NRSV)

[3] Williams, Rowan. On Christian Theology. Challenges in Contemporary Theology. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 2000.

[4] Ibid, 136.

[5] Jn 1:1-5 (NRSV)

[6] Williams, On Christian Theology, 138.