The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd |:| July 22, 2012
Good morning, Good Shepherd. It is a great pleasure to be ministering with this church and worshiping with you in this capacity this morning. Thank you for the chance to fill the pulpit today.
The texts in worship today offer us much to ponder and challenge us to examine our ways of life. In the Psalm we are reminded of God being our shepherd. We see similar reminders in the Gospel lesson in which Mark describes the crowds as being “people without a shepherd” and conveys Jesus’ compassion for them was because of that. In the Gospel we also see the apostles were called to the ministry of compassion, too. As the Epistle was read we heard that Christ is Peace, the peace which takes dividing walls and transforms them into doors of hospitality. These texts are not stagnant though, not just for those in the past. They do not simply teach us of our heritage but call us to settle into and claim it by living it out in our own lives.
In today’s world it is easy to understand the feelings the writers of these texts describe – feelings of being overwhelmed, pained with heartache, and seeking safety in protective walls. In the past few months this country has heard a great deal about how we are becoming more polarized in our political views, how natural disasters make victims of the rich and the poor, and how just this week we reflect on the heartache and loss in the Colorado tragedy.
When the world is as frightening as it is we go to what is familiar, what is safe. We want to keep out what is different and unknown because of the threat they could pose. We find Paul’s writings to the Ephesians to be nice in theory or spiritually but not always in practice. Can we really blame ourselves for wanting to keep our loved ones safe with the self created protective walls? No, we cannot blame ourselves. It is natural to go to what is familiar and then erect walls of division to keep out anything that conflicts with that familiarity.
It is also important to note that God does not blame us either. We serve the greatest of shepherds, one who gathers us, joins us as we grow further in our faith, and who lovingly guides us as disciples. Just as we see Christ having compassion upon the crowds in Gennesaret, he too has compassion upon us as we. Unlike the crowds though we will turn to ourselves, to ways of self preservation. Christ shows us compassion as we lean into our fears and build/construct/erect walls to divide our society even further. But being the great teacher that he was, Christ does not simply have compassion for us while leaving us in our state of fear and division. Instead he teaches us to go to a new place of existence. Christ calls us to examine our lives to see what walls we have built between ourselves and those we have labeled the “other”.
In a world where it is common to hear “them and us” language it is easy to see societal dividing walls, but what about the divisions taking place that we consciously or unconsciously build in our lives? Are we looking into ourselves to see the walls of hostility, contempt, apathy that we surround ourselves with? Today I ask all of us, every last one of us, to study our lives and figure out what categories of “them and us” we live by. Perhaps you will find the categories of church and unchurched, poor and rich, educated and uneducated, male and female, black and white, fat and skinny, straight and gay, democrat and republican, old and young, mentally balanced and unbalanced. In a world full of wounded people moving towards wholeness the list of “them and us” is never exhaustive. In a world being transformed by the Spirit of God none of us have arrived to the place where we are absent from finding safety in the dividing lines of “them and us”.
Take heart though, for in reading Ephesians 2: 11 – 22 we learn how Paul reminds the church in Ephesus that Peace has already come, the walls have already been torn down, the categories of “in” and “out” reconciled. How can this be when we just looked inward to examine the boundaries we surround ourselves with?
In Ephesians we are reminded that reconciliation preceded the divisions humanity created, and with the liberating life of Christ Peace was manifested and given to each of us. Theologian George W. Stroup says “The peace Christians have in Christ enables us to engage boldly, perhaps even foolishly, in what may appear to the rest of the world to be hopeless situations. Christians know it is not our task to bring peace to the world. God has already done that in the person of Christ.”
So if Stroup is correct in his understanding of Christ being Peace then how is it we are still in a world where war resides, a country filled will mudslinging, in a city of too much and too little? Because the Peace of God is not one we can create, but instead this peace is a reality we are to settle into as disciples of Christ. And as we settle in the rhythm of reconciliation reverberate through our veins, where in the New Covenant all of humanity exists as citizens of the commonwealth of Christ. It is in this realization and settling in we find Paul’s letter to the Ephesians to hold truth for us today. Peace has already come.
It is from this Peace we can examine our lives with grace and earnestness to find what divisions we cling to for false safety. This is not an easy examination; it’s one that needs the mercy of Christ. As each of us nestle into the bosom of Peace we will no longer believe in converting those we’ve labeled the “other” to our side of things. It will not be a contest to see who wins the argument. It is not about being right and helping the “other” to find and claim said rightness as their own.
These categories, as we learn in Ephesians, do not exist in the Peace that is Christ. We are to be agents of this unifying Peace. We are called to live out the healing power of Christ and live from a place of confidence in the truth that is Christ’s Peace.
You might be asking yourself, “how can this be? Have people lived this reality of Peace in the trenches of horror that life can bring?”
A person who has been turned to as a witness and testament to this Peace is Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. In reflecting upon Apartheid in South Africa he said,
God saw our brokenness and sought to extricate us from it – but only with our cooperation. God will not cajole or bully us, but wants to woo us for our own sakes. We might say that the Bible is the story of God’s attempt to effect atonement, to bring us back to our intended condition of relatedness. God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to God. God sent Jesus who would fling out his arms on the cross as if to embrace us. God wants to draw us back into the intimate relationship and so bring to unity all that has become disunited. This was God’s intention from the beginning. And each of us is called to be an ally of God in this work of justice and reconciliation.
Humanity still experiences disunity and the countless categories because the reality of Peace has not been the origin of where we find our safety, has not been the lens from which we view justice, and is understood as a nice theory as opposed to a transformative reality. Archbishop Tutu and George W. Stroup were correct, Christ is Peace and it is something we are invited to live from as we give God space and freedom to manifest it in our lives.
As we examine our lives may we be like Jesus with one another and have compassion with each other as we daily sink our roots into the soil of unity. This is not a one-time event we can check off our To-Do lists. We are to be grounded in the Peace that is Christ, live from this Peace moment-by-moment, and be transformed by it as we allow transformation to come through us, as well.
Life is a complexity full of fears, worries, being overwhelmed, and even hostility. The reality of Peace has already come, parish, we as disciples are invited to not live our lives from these places of imbalance but from the One who leads us by still waters, makes it possible to fear no evil, and break bread with our enemies. Parish, this is not a peace we can create, as it is beyond human capacity and has already been made a reality through the liberating life of Christ.
May we, as disciples of Christ, come to the place where we acknowledge God’s New Covenant, are welcomed compassionately to join the liberating work of Christ, and reside in the household of Peace. As we daily deconstruct the walls we have built or perpetuated, may we be rejuvenated by breaking of bread together. As we are rejuvenated and move to a place where hospitality resounds may we always view life through the lens of Christ, the one who is Peace.
We, the Church, are called to be the healing presence of Christ. Just as the crowds in the Gospel of Mark ached to touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak, so too are we to hold healing power as if we are if fact the fringe of Christ’s cloak bring forth healing to all who encounter us. In this Church there are no sides to be won, there are no arguments of “them versus us”, or those who are “in” and those who are “out”. For it is in Christ we are made to be one body, saints in Christ who proclaim the reality of Peace and are allies of God’s liberating work.
So parish, let each of go forth into the week examining what walls we live behind, taking courage from the well spring of God’s steadfast love, and allow the Spirit to unite us with all of the people we have labeled “others”.
Take your heavy hearts in a world filled with war, a country polarized by valid beliefs, a nation confused by natural disasters and human harm, and a city where there are those with too much and too little, take your heavy hearts and God will lead you by still waters.
Accept God’s compassion for you, give compassion to others and yourselves, and live out the reconciliation made possible through the Peace that is the one and only Christ. May we live from the Peace that is Christ and give it space to manifest in our lives.
As we daily deconstruct the walls of disunity let us bring about the Kingdom here on earth.
May this be our reality,