St Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria in the Fourth century, writes that God becomes human so that we might become Godly, and that was what I was after when I joined the church. When I was 21 years old, in 1967, I joined the church to feel important. I was also planning to join a tennis club and a University club, a fraternity, for the same reason to get me invited to some big important dinner party where I’d know I had gotten it right!
It didn’t last. I quit the tennis club pretty quickly, the fraternity that I wanted to join didn’t ask me and the one that asked me wasn’t the one I wanted to join, so I passed on that too, but the church turned out to be something different that what I had wanted or expected.
For I realized, after some time, that what was more true, and what I think Athanasius might have meant, was that God becomes human so that he can meet us there, right in the middle on human being, and so that we can be fully human together, fully alive to the glory of God in being human. Jesus had a different idea of the ideal dinner party than I had at 21. Listen:
When you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
This didn’t sit easy with me at first, I wanted to be exalted right away: Godly, stained glass and organ music when I walked in, people saying: “He’s very special that one, really holy, watch out!” But that isn’t where Jesus met me, meets us; Christ seems to come from heaven to bring us down to earth, to share his body and blood so that we can be truly flesh and blood, but flesh and blood living right, as God created us, calls us, to be.
I recently watched a video on Youtube called “Breathing”, made by a group called Nooma. It’s about being both Adam and Pneuma, both dirt and spirit. For the Hebrew word Adam comes from the word for earth, dirt, and that’s where we come from too! That’s the truth of what we’re about; we are earthy, sometimes dirty too, we come from dust and return to dust. It hard to live with that, to accept that we are meant to be fragile flesh and blood, limited, aging. We start out so small and we seem to slow down so much. To make a confession, the other day I saw a young man sit down on the floor to play with a dog and then quickly jump up and walk away, and I was so jealous! I can’t move that easy, flexible way anymore. This collection of dirt feels a bit rocky sometimes! T. S. Eliot, my favorite poet, writes, “The only thing we can hope to acquire is humility, humility is endless.” That is not an easy truth. But to come from the earth, humus, and to be a person, human, we need to take up our humility, and that means taking the lower seat. For the plain truth is that unless we accept our earthiness, our dirty limits, we miss the chance to be invited to come higher up, to accept our God-given godliness, holiness. That’s the other side of who we are. We are called to accept Pneuma, breath, God’s spirit, as much of a gift as our creatureliness, and as common as our daily bread, right in the midst of who and where we are. We are called to take on God’s free spirit in the middle of all our human limits; to receive that breath that breathes us, all of us, all of creation, and to take on that gift that calls us higher up, all the way to heaven.
That’s one of the reasons I try to pray and meditate regularly, to keep open to that clear truth, the message that comes with the breath of the spirit; that God calls us, as ground up by life as we are, to breathe the spirit of God in all that we do and all that we are. For to balance both sides, the ground and the glory, to take on both as gift, takes work. To open our lives and our hands to take this gift we have to let go of a lot: what we thought we wanted to be, to do, to woo, to win, and instead accept the God-given gift of what we’ve got, to bloom where we’re planted, to take what we’re given, to, quoting a 1960s song, “love the one we’re with!”
As the letter to the Hebrews puts it. “Be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”
And the good news is that graceful acceptance gives freedom, the kind of freedom Jesus lives with and shares with us, a freedom that lasts forever. Not the power that puts you at the top of the table with the select few, but an awareness that you are founded in and grounded in God, in your very humanity, humility, the life you live, the lessons you receive, the world you share with everyone! That leaves room for God to breathe, for God’s spirit to refine our daily routines and realities; to continue to redeem, renew; so paradoxically, a life that lives right now and takes us beyond death to touch the eternal.
But it it does so in the middle of the very human journey, right where Jesus meets us. So we can and must, as Hebrews says, “Let mutual love continue” at all times and places! [We] Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for [we know] by doing that some have entertained angels.” Because that common, God-given life of matter and spirit, ground and grace limit and love, opens up room for surprise, where all the world can be seen as the place where God is on the loose with a hospitality that leaves no one outside.
There’s the paradox I wish I’d known about earlier: if we don’t get above ourselves, God will lift us up, call us out, bring us home at the end. If we remember we are but dust, and let God remind us that we are spirit, breath, then God’s message of redemption, comes in breathing in and living out Good News by God’s grace, when we take the long way home, and get there living life along with everybody else.
The celebration is big enough to include those in prisons of any kind, those tortured by whatever tyrannies hold them captive; the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind in body, mind and spirit. For in God’s good reign, all of us can come to a place where blessings can happen, where new life, eternal life can come to be, to be given, taken up, offered, accepted and transformed.
To quote the song from the sixties, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” and Jesus is free, a gift from God who gives us freedom inasmuch as we let ourselves be free to follow him deep into that dance where love weaves dirt and water into bread and wine, into life, into spirit, into love that lasts forever.
This meal, this Eucharist, is the opening course in that great banquet, and we come here to confess our sins, to hear God’s word, to pray for the world and wish peace to our neighbor and the stranger, and to the accept the honor of being loved by God. This is the great feast, the heavenly table, and God is calling each of us, humble creatures of ground and grace, substance and spirit, to come further up, to join in the beginning of the heavenly banquet. Amen.