the road

faith, jesus, and a conversation on the road

Month: March, 2017

love them the same way you love your own

A sermon prepared for the Seventh Sunday after The Epiphany

Matthew 5:38-48

Even before hearing it again for the umpteenth time today, I would be willing to bet that if I had prompted you with the beginning of this passage, you would’ve known the rest of it, if not verbatim, at least the overall gist. We know this passage. We know this passage so much that it has become a bit of a tired trope. Turn the cheek is as normal a part of our Christian understanding as love your neighbor, and as such, is largely as ignored in our day to day life because it is so ingrained that we forget to practice it.

And, what does that say about us? What does it say of us that we need to be constantly reminded of this very basic edict? What does it say of us that we so fully understand what is being asked of us, that we have internalized this lesson so completely, that we, in practice, seem to largely forget what it demands of us? It’s not that we’re bad Christians or even bad people. It’s not that we are actively ignoring the teachings of Christ. But rather, we know this lesson so deeply, understand it so completely, and have truly experienced it in practice by ourselves or others so rarely, that it becomes another one of those qualifying traits that we say we want to emulate, but find ourselves not really doing in practice. We may even turn the other cheek with regular practice but rarely do we give the cloak too, rarely do we go that second mile.

This isn’t good enough. A lot of what is laid before us by Christ, the “blessed are,” the distilling of the commandments to two succinct and perfectly understandable standards, are things that we must strive to try and reach. It is a level to which we must try to live up to. It is a level to which we will often fail to live up to, and yet, we will still constantly try. And, through Christ, through the grace of God, we can continue to try and reach this level. But, today’s gospel parameters of life are not unattainable. They are not the level of faith and practice to which we must strive to try and attain. Today’s gospel parameters are achievable, and there are no qualifiers, no loopholes, no trying is the goal, for the goal is to do, the goal is to be perfect.

Perfection is often an unattainable reality. Perfection, and its pursuit, can even be the ultimate distraction from us experiencing the full love of Christ that is life in community. Perfection in today’s gospel is different. Perfection in today’s gospel is acknowledging our shared human experience. Perfection in today’s gospel is easy, if we want it. It’s easy, because we already know how to do it, we practice it on a regular basis. Everyone loves their own. Everyone loves and fights for and sticks up for those who are one of them. Everyone has this shared experience of loving and being loved by those whom we are closest to, and we often get to share this experience in a broader context with those whom we find affinity, a shared cause, a wider shared experience. But, who has experience in loving the other? Who has experience in loving the enemy?

We find it so difficult to love the enemy because we don’t have that experience from which to understand what that is supposed to look like. How am I supposed to love my enemy when they are everything that is antithetical to who I am? How am I supposed to love my enemy when they are the embodiment of everything that is wrong with this world? How am I supposed to love my enemy when they are so wrong, so dumb, so mean, so petty, so hurtful? How am I?

Simple: love them the same way you love your own.

You see, we do have the language, the experience, the knowledge of how to love the enemy. We practice it every single day with our own. We are really good at loving, and we simply need to apply that same approach to those whom we label as the enemy.

Now, this is not necessarily a radical approach, nor should it be a reality-shaking revelation, because we should already know this. God makes the sun shine on the evil and the good, rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous, because we are all part of this creation. We are all a part of the shared humanity that we experience in this creation. We all are equal in the eyes of our creator. And, who are we to say who is the enemy and who is the righteous? Who are we say that I am one and you are the other?

We do not have that right. We do not have the right to label the enemy and despise them, to discredit them, to tear them apart. We do not have the right, as Christians, to encourage division to exist in this world. We do not have the right, as Christians, to sow discord in our communities, in our country, in our world. We do have the responsibility, or perhaps more deeply the commandment, to love. And, this is a commandment to love that does not stop with ourselves, with our friends, family, compatriots, activist groups, political party. This is a commandment to love that knows no label, that recognizes no difference between the sun that shines on my face or yours, that recognizes no difference in the rain that falls on us all.

In our country, even here with our locally elected representatives, there is a call to both resist and persist. In this call to resist and persist is the temptation to vilify the other and treat them as less than. The moniker of “precious snowflakes” has been used to describe liberal and conservatives alike (not to mention millennials, who appear to be the source of everything bad in the world currently). The discrediting of real concern, of reducing real people to labels of racist rust-belter, liberal baby-killing idiot, gun toting nut job, does not serve to bring us together but rather actively works to drive us further apart. But, as Christians, our call to resist and persist, a very real call as followers of Christ when we see injustice in this world, our call must be founded in and viewed through our experience of love. It must be informed by our knowledge of how to love, and how that can be applied to someone who would rather strike our cheek then listen to our voices. Our experience of love, and our extension of that same love to the enemy, is the only way we can bridge the ever-widening gap between real people that has been cultivated and capitalized on to create a political and social climate that demands we take sides and fight against everything and everyone from the other, regardless of how committed we actually are to the cause.

If we resist and persist through love, then we will change our approach from one of attack to one of real honest concern. If we resist and persist through love, we invite those on the “other side” to engage in conversation with us, to truly hear what we are both saying, rather than the talking around/through/over that currently dominates our social and political discourse. When we resist and persist through love, we strive to find that deeper connection that exists between all of us as the creation of God. When we resist and persist through love, we understand why we must turn the other cheek when struck, we understand why we must also give the cloak when someone wants to take our coat, we understand why we must go that second mile when forced to walk the first, we embody the truth of the love that exists when we give to everyone who begs, and not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from us.

There is a very real reason why we hear the same stories, the same lessons, over and over again (outside of the fact that we’re on a three year lectionary cycle and there’s only so much of the gospels). We must be reminded of them because of how often we tend to internalize and compartmentalize the real task that is being laid out before us. We know so much of the Bible, so deeply, that we begin to lose that connection to the radical nature of what is being laid out, both 2000 years ago and here in our modern context. When we hear this lesson today, we must remind ourselves that the perfection that Jesus is calling us to today is the barometer of success for these very basic guidelines. And, we must know that we can be successful in achieving this perfection, if we remember that not only are we called to realize these edicts in a perfect manner, but that we have the knowledge and understanding of how to do so, if we simply tap into the reality of our shared experience as equal parts of this creation.

Amen.

mud

A sermon preached on the 4th Sunday of Lent, at the 10:30am service

John 9:1-41

Mud is a reality of living in the Pacific Northwest. On the west side, mud is a byproduct of the wetter climate that is experienced. Here in the Inland Northwest, mud is a reality of our close connection to nature, with our rivers and lakes being sources of recreation, relaxation, and even concern like in recent weeks when they flood, reminding us all that this creation is not containable and we have a responsibility within this creation that must take into account the very real fact that we can only control so much, that we can only avoid so much.

My own memories of mud are tied to some of the best and most frustrating memories I have. From making mud pies in the little patch of mud lovingly made by dirt and hose by my grandparents, the excitement to teach my own child about how awesome mud can be for playing in, to getting stuck trying to navigate an oversaturated field or having mud seeping into the very fresh and clean sneakers I have only worn a handful of times, mud is a part of this creation with which we all have a connection. Mud carries with it many reactions. Mud is a primal part of this earth. That combination of water and dirt that creates something new, creates something that can disrupt our best laid plans, creates something that is the most fun one toddler can have, creates something that can heal, rejuvenate, restore, holds a universal presence and understanding in this world. It is this very basic and universal part of creation which informs our story today. It is this very basic and universal part of creation that changes many fates today.

Here we have Jesus standing in front of a blind man. And not just a blind man, but a man who was born blind, clearly someone whom God has not showed favor upon, someone who is paying not for his own sins but the sins of his parents, of his family. The thought that this is a man who could be healed, is not one that has ever been thought. The temerity of Christ in standing before this man with the intention to heal is shocking. The disciples did not think this man would be healed. They were more concerned with the sin that somehow had caused his blindness. Yet here is Christ. Here is Jesus, a man, a healer, a prophet, standing in the road with a blind man, and he spits on the ground. Then he reaches down to that dirt, mixes his saliva in with the dirt, and brings up in his hands mud. Mud that he has made. Mud that did not exist but now does through his actions. And he takes this mud and places it on the man’s eyes. He takes this universal, primordial substance of mud, and in placing it on the blind man’s eyes seeks to restore sight where sight never existed.

And he gives this man a personal responsibility in his healing. He cannot simply wipe the mud off his eyes and be healed. He has the added responsibility of going and washing himself of this mud. The cleansing and purifying act of washing himself in water finishes the promise that is made in the mud. In following through on this directive the man illustrates his faith. The blind man can only come to see through his own volition, by exerting his own physicality to experience healing, he has to work for it.

And this is where mud changes the discourse. This is where mud becomes a central piece to understanding work, understanding sabbath, understanding Jesus Christ and the example of faith and ministry that has been left for us.

The Pharisees are dumbfounded in meeting the (now formerly) blind man. But their amazement is not in the miraculous healing that has occurred. They are not stirred with great wonder at the power with which Jesus seems to posses, creating sight in a man that has never known sight, through the making of mud with his own saliva. Instead they are infuriated that Jesus would have the nerve to work on the sabbath. “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath!” they decry. For in this act of healing they can only see that Jesus has exerted himself on a day of rest, on a day that should be solely focused on the worship of God. Jesus not only heals on the sabbath, a physical act that requires great energy and focus, but Jesus creates on the sabbath. Jesus creates mud on the sabbath. It’s not as though he found some organic all-natural mud product that had (perhaps questionable) healing properties and advised the blind man to use it in a specific manner, rather Christ creates mud through the dust that we were all created out of and his very own saliva. It’s a gritty, dirty thing to do, and it requires from Christ work, dirty work.

And the work does not stop with Christ. Jesus instructs the blind man that in order to be healed, he too must work for it. He must take personal responsibility for his healing and do work in order to see again. Now between you and me, if I am the blind man, I making my way to the pool of Siloam in as haphazardly, reckless, and fast a manner as a blind man can, sabbath or not.

But here’s where the barrier arises. Here is what the Pharisees cannot come to grips with. How can healing have occurred on the Sabbath? No healer of this time and age would do work, would heal someone, on the Holy day, so who is this healer, this so-called prophet Jesus anyways? How dare he offer such an act? And how dare this supposed blind man (for they aren’t too sure he really was blind), how dare he make such a claim that not only has he been healed through the work of a man and his own work in being physically responsible for his own healing, but that they would commit such an act on this the sabbath!

But how could he not?

How could Jesus, with this great power that exists within him, the faith that his works are ordained by God, not offer healing to a man whom others have labeled as a carrier of sin, born blind because of the transgressions of his parents, or perhaps even that he sinned before he was born in such an egregious manner that he would bear the burden of blindness all his life?

How could the blind man, born without sight, informed that this was God’s punishment for a sin or sins that he didn’t commit, or at least he didn’t actively commit, not take the opportunity to be healed when he comes face-to-face with God in the form of Jesus Christ?

They couldn’t not do this. They couldn’t not do the work that was necessary to create healing, to create a new identity, to create new life. They couldn’t not, and not because they didn’t respect the sabbath, but, at least with Jesus, because he respected the sabbath so much that he knew this act of healing needed to happen at that moment, in that place, with that dust, and his own faith in the gifts given him by God.

This is the example of Christ’s mission laid before us today. It is a reminder that there is no right time, no right place, no perfect circumstances within which we minister to one another, within which we reach out to and heal one another. If we are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, then we must embrace the physicality that is necessary to create healing in the manner that Christ does. We must embrace the confidence we have within ourselves that the gifts that we have been given, the work that we have been ordained to do, are enough to create healing. We have to know that we can spit on the ground, create mud out of the dust and our own saliva, and create healing in this world. We have to make mud for this world.

Because it is so basic, so universally present, so easy to make, mud for us can come in many forms. Mud for us can be the hours we volunteer to help others even when it’s not convenient for our schedule. Mud for us can be the helping hand we offer to a stranger, a homeless person, even an enemy. Mud for us becomes the tangible way we are living out the work of Christ in this world. Our mud leaves its mark on the lives we touch. And when those who receive our mud are cleansed through their faith that it will restore them, it facilitates a transformation that cannot be denied no matter how hard others may try. We are tasked today to go and make mud to heal this world. We must do this because it is the only way we can show our faith in ourselves, as much as in God, to the rest of the world. Go create mud and change the reality of this world.

Amen.