The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Making more

Proper 12, Pentecost 6A
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52


In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Too much is never enough.

It’s a strange message to be hearing in the church. Very often you hear us talking about conservation, asceticism, making do with less. Jesus is forever telling people to give more away and make do with less.

That’s the way it often is with material possessions. We focus ourselves on material needs or desires, but they never sustain us. We consume them, we draw them down, we run out. But, today, Jesus tells us about true sustenance - Kingdom of Heaven sustenance.

And the essence of that Kingdom of Heaven sustenance is that it’s about making more. It isn’t consumed or depleted, but it always makes more.

God is the ultimate renewable resource. Not just plentiful, but always renewing.

In the Anglican tradition, we endeavor to approach faith, and spirituality, and even religion through the lenses of scripture, tradition, and reason. Remember that from confirmation classes? We have the scriptures. We live in and are a part of the traditions of the church. But what of reason? That’s the creative part. That’s the Holy Spirit part. That’s where God continues to speak. There are churches and religious traditions that would like to present the world as if God’s work was done - as if the scriptures are not more than a simple book of instructions. But as Anglicans we believe that we have more: reason. We have a part to play in how God continues God’s work, and how God’s continuing work is understood.

One way we might employ that gift - reason - is through remembering the more-making nature of God. When faced with a task or a decision or a dilemma, we might ask ourselves: What will make more? What will be renewable and renewing? Where does the cup inexplicably run over? All of that is simply another way of saying: What reflects the nature of God?

Our job as a parish is to seek out what makes more. What makes more of us? What makes more for the community in which we’ve been planted for God’s service? What makes more for those who need more the most?

Sometimes it’s work: feeding the hungry, providing shelter to those most vulnerable, providing companionship to the lonely, providing education to those who are forgotten. The list of possibilities could go on and on.

But whatever kind of work it is - or even if it turns out not to be “work” at all - God’s more-making is always about relationships. God is in the business of more-making, and the way God does this is through the currency of relationship. Always.

Some churches will tell you that to be a good Christian you must love or not love certain people, that you must consume or not consume certain things, that you must associate or not associate with certain kinds of people, that you must perform or not perform certain rituals… But I tell you, what I’ve discovered about God and Christianity and what it means to live a life in union with the teachings of Jesus is on one hand simpler and on the other hand endlessly more complicated.

It’s simpler because I’ll never recite for you a list of rules that you must follow to be a part of this faith or even this community. There’s only one rule: be like God by being about making more. Resist the temptations of scarcity and focus instead on abundance. BE abundance. MAKE abundance. SHARE abundance. Be a tiny seed that grows to feed a village and shelter a flock. Be a treasure more valuable than all other possessions. Be small, but make more.

But it’s also more complicated than any list of rules might be: say these magic words… hate these other people… eat like us, walk like us, dress like us, worship like us… Those ways of living are simple - you just follow the rules. Our way takes a little more thought. Our way takes a lot more courage. It takes love and it takes faith.

Prohibitions and rules can sometimes serve a purpose. They can help us to stay safe. Sometimes they can keep us from harm. Sometimes they can help keep order. None of us would allow a child to touch a hot stove, nor would any of us want to live in a society without any laws.

But sometimes these rules and prohibitions turn out to be a little more selfish than just that. Often, when religious communities start talking about rules, they’re not looking out for you, but for themselves. Often, those rules are more about drawing lines around communities than they are about lifting up those communities - as if you could achieve security by segregation. But, of course, we all know that that never works.

But even beyond the fact that segregation never works, it’s not even relevant in God’s economy! We can try to segregate ourselves all we want, but God has already drawn all the lines that matter - God has drawn us all in. Others can shout “you’re out!” at us until they’re blue in the face, but God has already made sure we are in.

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … No… Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor ANYTHING ELSE IN ALL CREATION will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

FULL STOP.

Not because we’ve done the right things, or followed the right rules, or run with the right crowd of people. We will never be separated simply because we are God’s. We are the people of God and that is all that matters. It’s all we need. That’s all it took, and that’s all it ever will take.

We have the Holy Spirit as our advocate and intercessor, not because we’re so great, but because we’re so God’s.

Nothing in ALL of creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. So like the mustard seed, or the pearl, or the treasure, go make more of yourselves. That’s all God needs. Amen.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Just right

Proper 9, Pentecost 3A
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30


Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Goldilocks. She went for a walk in the forest. Pretty soon, she came upon a house. She knocked and, when no one answered, she walked right in.

At the table in the kitchen, there were three bowls of porridge. Goldilocks was hungry. She tasted the porridge from the first bowl.

"This porridge is too hot!" she exclaimed.

So, she tasted the porridge from the second bowl.

"This porridge is too cold," she said

So, she tasted the last bowl of porridge.

"Ahhh, this porridge is just right," she said happily and she ate it all up.

After she'd eaten the three bears' breakfasts she decided she was feeling a little tired. So, she walked into the living room where she saw three chairs. Goldilocks sat in the first chair to rest her feet.

"This chair is too big!" she exclaimed.

So she sat in the second chair.

"This chair is too big, too!" she whined.

So she tried the last and smallest chair.

"Ahhh, this chair is just right," she sighed. But just as she settled down into the chair to rest, it broke into pieces!

Goldilocks was very tired by this time, so she went upstairs to the bedroom. She lay down in the first bed, but it was too hard. Then she lay in the second bed, but it was too soft. Then she lay down in the third bed and it was just right. Goldilocks fell asleep.

As she was sleeping, the three bears came home.

"Someone's been eating my porridge," growled the Papa bear.

"Someone's been eating my porridge," said the Mama bear.

"Someone's been eating my porridge and they ate it all up!" cried the Baby bear.

"Someone's been sitting in my chair," growled the Papa bear.

"Someone's been sitting in my chair," said the Mama bear.

"Someone's been sitting in my chair and they've broken it all to pieces," cried the Baby bear.

They decided to look around some more and when they got upstairs to the bedroom, Papa bear growled, "Someone's been sleeping in my bed,"

"Someone's been sleeping in my bed, too" said the Mama bear

"Someone's been sleeping in my bed and she's still there!" exclaimed Baby bear.

Just then, Goldilocks woke up and saw the three bears. She screamed, "Help!" And she jumped up and ran out of the room. Goldilocks ran down the stairs, opened the door, and ran away into the forest. And she never returned to the home of the three bears. The End.
(The story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears from www.dltk-teach.com)

***

The story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears is rather unsatisfying, isn’t it? When this story popped into my head earlier this week, I couldn’t exactly recall how it ended. I remember Papa Bear and Mama Bear and Baby Bear. I remembered the sequence of things being wrong at the extremes before settling into something “just right”. I even remembered the family of bears discovering Goldilocks at the end of the story. But I couldn’t remember what happened after that.

When I read the story, it became clear why I couldn’t remember it. It’s unremarkable. It just ends. And Goldilocks was never heard from again.

It didn’t make sense to me, so I did a little research. Sometimes these old fairy tales are watered down and sanitized for us. Previous generations had a bit more of a tolerance for violence and happy endings that weren’t necessarily happy for everyone than we do today.

But no. This fairy tale was first recorded from the oral tradition fairly recently - just in the middle of the 19th century. And though some details of the characters have been shifted over the years, the plot is essentially unchanged. I expected to find that in the original, the little girl became supper for the bears, or at the very least was enslaved in their service. Something! Instead, she just ran away, never to return.

I thought of this story as I heard the words of Jesus: “John came, neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard…” You can hear the exasperation in his voice.

Putting aside how excited I am to hear this biblical account of our “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” as a “glutton and a drunkard” - how I love the way that this flies in the face of so many popular assumptions of what it means to be “holy” - even that’s not really what today’s Gospel lesson is about.

Jesus is exasperated because the people seem never to be happy. They had the ascetic John, and his critics from within the religious elite could only complain. They had a near polar opposite in Jesus - a man, not roaming the countryside and crying out in the wilderness, but in the midst of the people, meeting them where they were, engaging in normal human hungers and desires. But even then they weren’t happy. It wasn’t “just right”.

The thing about “just right” - it’s a fairy tale. And it’s never as “just right” as it might have initially seemed. Just ask Goldilocks.

Even Jesus wasn’t “just right”. At least not the way most of the people expecting a Messiah might have imagined him to turn out. He wasn’t a king. He didn’t overturn the oppressive political rulers.

Instead he hobnobbed with tax collectors and sinners.

And he never promised to make things “just right”. Instead he said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take MY yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

If the world is pulling you down, if you’re feeling overburdened and oppressed, don’t just try to go it alone. Go with me, and you will find rest for your souls.

It’s a good word to hear on this holiday weekend. At a time when many of us have a chance to seek out the rest that our bodies need, we get to remember that we can also have rest for our souls.

It may not be “just right” - at least not as we might have imagined it. But it’s good. Amen.