Sunday, July 05, 2015

Preach One: Proper 8B

Preached at St. Andrew's Episcopal images with this one, just words...

Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43.

And in this matter, Paul wrote, I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something - now finish doing it.

Last month, I began to do something...well, to desire to do it anyway.  I attended a conference on clergy wellness, about holistically and prayerfully examining spiritual, vocational, health and financial matters in order to better engage in the life and ministry we are given.  By the end of the conference we had all written a small rule of life, an intentional rhythm of activities and practices to help us notice and honor and abide in God's presence day by day.  A rule of life might include setting aside time for prayer or reading or writing; or learning a new practice that helps to center us, at a loom or in a garden or with a fishing pole in hand.  Perhaps we intend to spend more time in community, to encounter God in others; or in solitude, to encounter God in ourselves.  Perhaps we intend to eat more healthfully, or sleep more soundly.

For a rule to become a daily practice, two things must be true.  First, it must be realistic, not an ideal toward which we are striving.  Memorize the Book of Psalms is a lovely if lofty goal.  Read one psalm every morning is a very good rule of life.  Second, a rule should include some form of accountability, preferably a person, someone to help you remember your rule when you forget it, to pray for you as you practice it, and to discern with you when it might be time to make changes to your rule.

If you make Jody, our Canon for Parish Ministry, your accountability person for the part of your rule of life in which you have stated your intention to exercise regularly, this is what you will hear every day at the office: Did you walk today?  How about today?  Did you walk yet?  Are you walking?

It is one thing to commit to doing something... But somewhere between I will walk an hour every week, and lacing up my walking is another thing altogether to follow through.  It's kinda hot today.  I'm really tired.  There's just not time.  I have to get this, or that, or a thousand other things, done first.  I'll just walk tomorrow.

I am giving my advice, Paul wrote, what you began doing, what you desired to do, now finish doing it.  He was writing, of course, to the faithful in Corinth, with whom he had corresponded before, his first letter filled with moral instruction, and teaching concerning the purpose of spiritual gifts and the practice of Christian love (you know, how it is patient and kind, how it bears all things, how of faith, hope, and love, love is the greatest).  Paul had also in that letter urged them to offer financial support to the poor in Jerusalem, and the Corinthians had agreed to do so, desiring to do so, for though they were Gentile and the believers in Jerusalem were Jews, they understood from Paul that in Christ all are baptized into one body, Jew and Greek, slave and free.  If one members suffers, all suffer together, Paul had told them.  If one is honored, all rejoice.

But that was a year ago.  And now, though the Corinthians had followed Paul's teaching and Christ's example in loving one another, they had failed to follow through on their financial commitment.  Who knows what happened between, I will give to those in need, and sending the money to Jerusalem.  I don't have enough.  Someone else will do it.  There is this need, and that need, and a thousand other needs right here.  It won't help that much anyway.

So what does happen to us in that space, the space after we acknowledge our intention to act, to move, to love, to extend ourselves, to give...and before we actually do it, or fail to do it?  Why does now suddenly become not the right time?  Why are we suddenly not the right people?  Why is our offering suddenly not the right one?  What keeps us from walking?  What keeps us standing still?

We have witnessed in the past few weeks the devastating results of failing to follow through, to finish what has been begun, to effectively and decisively end racism and gun violence.  And even as the members of Mother Emmanuel AME responded to the horrific tragedy on their grounds with indeed amazing grace, we have watched as many others across our nation instead descend further into division, arguing about race and rights while significant gaps remain between black and white Americans in many ways, such as education, income and access to healthcare, and while gun-related incidents claim thirty American lives every day.  And then decisions rendered by the United States Supreme Court in the name of justice for all revealed still more division, our newspaper opinion pages and Facebook feeds filled with both elation and anger, deep gladness and confused grief.  In the midst of all our division, we are hemorrhaging community.

"The truth is," said the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, elected and confirmed yesterday as our new Presiding Bishop, "The truth is, we are brothers and sisters of each other.  The hard work is to figure out how to live as beloved community, the family of God."  We have brothers and sisters who live in fear every day, who live in isolation, who live with prejudice, who live without equality or safety or enough to eat.  We have brothers and sisters with whom we live in disagreement, in our nation, in our neighborhoods, even in our Church.  We have our own fears, or pride, or self-righteousness, or doubts, or a thousand other things that make us linger in the space between desiring and doing.  How can we move forward as beloved community, as the family of God, when hate, oppression, busyness, pride and division crowd our way?

Paul pointed the Corinthian community toward Christ as the example of fearless giving, of generously and radically transforming love.  Jesus touched us, entered into relationship with us, built a beloved community out of us.  Following through means following him, giving whatever it is we give, both individually and as a church - whether it is financial resources, or bags of lemons, or a few hours at the front desk, or a lunch break serving at Stewpot, or a willingness to listen, really listen, to another's pain...we give whatever it is we give, according to what we have to offer, because Christ gave himself for us, to us; gives himself with us, through us.

Poet Steve Garnaas-Holmes writes of the reasons we list for why we cannot give of ourselves, why we stay stuck and isolated in the space between desiring and doing," There is not enough time... You don't have the power... Of course you don't.  It's not yours.  Time does not belong: it flows.  Power does not sit: it flows.  It is not your time, not your energy, but God's.  You enter the river and it flows through you."

So I walked on the treadmill Friday morning - I can't wait to tell Jody! - and I watched as the week's headlines scrolled across a television screen.  And it struck the midst of all we have experienced as a nation and as a church in these past few weeks, we as people of faith, as family of God, have an extraordinary opportunity to follow through.  To do what we have said we would do, to finish what Christ started, perhaps not expecting, as President Obama said of Reverend Pinckney, pastor of Mother Emmanuel Church, perhaps not expecting to see in our lifetimes complete transformation, but not accepting any reasons or excuses not to act anyway.  To love our brothers and sisters, all of them, with patience and kindness, not jealous or boastful, not arrogant or rude.  To live as beloved community, in eagerness and gentleness.  To bear witness to amazing grace.

After all, we named our desire and decision to do something in our baptism, when the covenant we made as water dripped down our necks became our first rule of life.  Will we continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?  Will we persevere in resisting evil, and whenever we sin repent and return to the Lord?  Will we proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?  Will we seek and serve Christ in all persons - all persons - loving our neighbors as ourselves?  Will we strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being - even those who differ from us, even those who disagree with us?  In this commitment we have begun in baptism and are called to continue in community, our accountability person is none other than the one who made us and who loves us and keeps us.  I will, with God's help.

Brothers and sisters, let us finish what we have set out to do, which is to say, let us do love, let us be kind, let us welcome grace, until what Christ started is complete.  Let us live in real community, as God's family, with God's help.  "We are part of the Jesus movement," Bishop Curry proclaimed, "and nothing can stop the movement of Christ's love in the world."  Amen.