Monday, November 25, 2013

Not our own

New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
November 24, 2013

           As John Williams and Dennis Christie and I were planning worship this week, we were struggling with the last verse from this morning’s reading:  “…all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.”  How does the universe get fixed by the death of Jesus on the cross?  How can anything harmonious come from a horrible death?


I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die
For poor on'ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky


            None of us could get with Paul’s interpretation of the crucifixion: that God sacrificed his own son to atone for our sins.  We were having none of it.  No divine child abuse.  No Abraham and Isaac.  No bloodthirsty God.  So how does Jesus save from the cross?


            I remember when I was a teenager this story captured my imagination, the idea that someone could love so much, could inhabit love and make it manifest in their very being, that they would be willing to suffer and die for that love.  At that time in my life I needed a love like that.  My parents were divorced, my father had moved to North Carolina and remarried, and my mother’s boyfriend moved in.  We had moved to a new town a few years before, and I had just started high school.  A crashing case of acne was the crowning touch to feelings of isolation, anger, and despair.


            It was through the community of church that Jesus saved me.  I found people who loved me unconditionally and who showed me the blessed yet risky business of following Jesus.  Though nothing in my life changed, everything changed.  I stopped blaming God for my life and started thanking God for my life and for my church.  And the beginnings of a call to ministry stirred within my young frame.  I thought that if I could be a part of exhibiting that same love to another person, someone else who was in need of that saving love, then I would give my life to that love.


            At my ordination service I chose these words from the gospel of Matthew:


 Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.  26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?’”


Jesus on the cross reminds me that my life is not my own.  Not because he ransomed me from death as punishment for sin, as is the classical interpretation, which many Christians have left behind but what, if anything else, is in its place?  Jesus spending his life for the sake of the kingdom, a kingdom that values every person, regardless of life circumstance, reminds me that not everyone is free, which means that I am not free.  Because I believe that Jesus is God’s love incarnate, in human flesh, I am bound to not only all human beings but to the very creation itself.


            Jesus chose to side against empire and join with the poor and outcast and live as one of them.  He came from a small, coarse, working-class village, from whence no good thing could come, some thought.  He rebelled against the powers that would keep wealth for a few at the expense of the many.  He had a habit of building up people by breaking the rules.  Some think he may have been a zealot, one who wanted to throw out the Romans and establish God’s kingdom on earth.  But when he entered Jerusalem on the back of a work animal, greeted by those who wanted to make him king, he would have none of it. 


If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing,
Or all of God's angels in heav'n for to sing,
He surely could have it, 'cause he was the King.


His life was not his own.


            So how does a life laid down for friends knit together all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe?  Something about this story calls us out of our own life and into the lives of others.  Not only so we can fix a problem or right a wrong but so that we can learn how to love one who does not know their worth.  Most of us do not know our worth; we do not realize the impact we have on other lives.  I’m not sure we’re meant to, for then we might settle into complacency.


            As it is, we are discontent for the kingdom of God and ever striving for it.  And in this discontent we often increase our expectations; we bump and struggle with one another, sometimes adding to the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe.  Yet from that cross, from that place of unabated suffering, Jesus forgives us, for most of the time we know not what we do.  It is that forgiveness, that grace given, which turns our story inside out and into the world; a grace that overflows out of you and me, connecting us to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and for justice.


            Yesterday we witnessed some of the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe coming together in the marriage of Don Crary and Ed Robinson.  In marriage, in the covenant promises made, we understand in our love for another that our lives are not our own but rather something to be shared.  On Tuesday we will bear witness to the multitudinous promises that Wally McCurdy made throughout his lifetime.  Many broken and dislocated pieces of the universe were reunited through his life.  And it is in death that we ultimately realize that our lives are not our own.


            If it is still difficult to wrap your heart and mind around the cross and how from there the universe is being fixed, listen to these words from author James Alison, a Jesuit priest:


"...the only way I can get it across to you that I like you, is by occupying the very worst space that any of you can come up with, a place which you typically think I like to put people in. I don’t. It’s you who put people there, you at your very worst. I’ll occupy that space to show you that I’m not out to get you, that I really do like you. The moment you see that, then you can relax, and trust my goodness. Then you need no longer engage in that awful business of making yourselves good over against, or by comparison with each other. Instead you can relax about being good, and as you relax you will find yourselves becoming something much better, much richer in humanity than you can possibly imagine.”  We can relax and be ready to give our lives away.


            Today we make covenant promises with one another, that over the course of a year, we will not only give but share what we have and what we are with one another, with this community, with our beloved United Church of Christ, and with the world.  For in this way we bear witness to the love that saved us and continues to save us from repeating the past so that God’s future may come.

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die
For poor on'ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.



No comments: