Sunday, July 21, 2013

Pentecost 9C

I mentioned last week that I found some parables and biblical stories get larger every time I look at them; that as I  read and explored some stories and parables I find them questioning me. And I find these experiences of growth sometimes make me extremely uncomfortable. Growth in grace is not easy, and I am often surprised that God goes farther then I understand, and comes closer than I might like. But the God of Luke’s Gospel, the God who Jesus points to, articulates in all his teaching, his miracles, his life, death and resurrection, presents us a with peace that passes understanding: and that can often be disconcerting.
For the gospel of Luke, in its own way, leads us to different dimensions, different layers, mysteries and meanings that we might easily overlook. My sense of it is that it aims to drop us into the very middle of life: beyond expectations, categories and judgments as to what is good or bad, who is in or out, what is right or wrong, leaving us only with a great appetite for the Graceful mystery of God. 
As Luke does in the parable of the prodigal son, as he will do next week in the Lord’s prayer, as he does today with Mary and Martha, he leads us to a place without easy definitions, some where we must face, as Zorba the Greek put it, the “full catastrophe” of living. For those of us who would seek simpler solutions or look for strict lists, this is not easy.
But Luke offers a vision of a land where the prodigal son and forgiving father surprise us with reconciliation, where good priests and Levites overlook neighbours, and where bad Samaritans become signs of shining virtue; where even good Martha in today's Gospel (a list-maker if there ever was one!) while trying to accomplish good action, doing all that a good disciple and woman of her time should do: preparing the meeting, making the meal, doing the right work, right action; still has Jesus telling her that Mary (who might just be following the Buddhist meditators handbook which says, “don’t just do something, sit there!”), that her underachieving sister has chosen the better part! 
Luke’s Gospel paints a surprising portrait of a God graceful beyond guidelines, a love beyond law, following a heartfelt way beyond our understanding to a home where we will finally know God. And that is where the grace we find in the gospel of Luke is such a wonderful gift; the grace that delivers us from the law of list making into the ground of love, the grace that turns our prayers, our liturgical life together, our very journey with God in Christ into a kind of holy dance where we learn to move in and stretch out in such surprising ways. But how do we get there from here?
Some one hundred years ago, the Irish poet and revolutionary, Thomas Ashe, wrote this prayer:
"Christ, look upon us in this city
and keep our sympathy and pity fresh
and our faces heavenward,
lest we grow hard." 
This prayer can serve as a lens to see our three lessons, and our life in Christ in a new way. Because these three lessons  offer three pictures of life calling for renewed sympathy, fresh pity and a hope fully alive. 
The prophet Amos, writing in the eighth century before Christ, pictures a world of injustice where making money is more important than making justice, where the plight of the poor is less important than a pile of silver. where the bottom line of financial profits are more important than than the words of God’s prophets,
We still live in that world, and it is a difficult place in which to keep our pity fresh; let alone, to "seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God.” To live in that faithful path  is not easy. One hundred years ago George Bernard Shaw wrote that the world is a comedy to those who think and a tragedy to those who feel; and one thousand years ago St. Simeon Stylites  wrote that one of the first gifts the Holy Spirit can give us is tears. To ask Christ to keep our pity fresh can be a very difficult place in which to practice faith. 
But that’s where the other half of Thomas Ashe’s prayer balances us with: “Keep... our eyes heavenward lest we grow hard.”  And that is where  the letter to the Colossians gives us hope, a holy vision  of a universe soaked in Christ’s triumph, saturated with holy grace, where God’s good love and compassion is more than willing to meet us and our ministry everywhere.  And with that assurance of Christ’s inevitable triumph over the principalities and powers of evil, we can be bold to meet the full catastrophe of this world with calmness and compassion; for by grace the victory is ours.
So that call to participate in that vision of heaven, that reconciliation of opposites, the assurance of life overcoming death, good overcoming bad, gives us, the courage to begin a ministry washed in eternal light and continually renewed compassion and pity, taking on Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, the church, taking our place as ministers of reconciliation and new creation.
That is a life beyond list making,  and a love that lives beyond death. It is not easily compacted into rules or roles, but it calls to be embraced in mystery, lived out fully, danced out day by day, in paradox and prayer and practice.
And to accept the gift of God’s freedom in our lives is to meet our Christian life and ministry with open eyes, open hearts, open hands, serving Christ in ways we could never envision beforehand. For we are called to be  agents of mercy and justice on a pilgrim road that take us beyond what we know of life or love or of ourselves and drives us deep into the glorious grace of God. 
So maybe our liturgy a kind of choreography for this kind of faith and action: we sit, stand, bow, kneel, cross ourselves this way and that, pass and give and receive, move forward and back, and in the end return to the same place changed somehow in this mysterious journey,  learning to be an open container where mercy, love and justice can freely take place. 
Our Sunday liturgy is a meeting place where we come to reach out, with all our ambiguous motives, like so many Marthas and Marys, Fathers and Sons, Samaritans, Scribes and Priests and lost strangers to find our way home, And Christ meets us where we are and uses our need and our desire and our incomplete faith as a way to join in his unfinished and ongoing reaching out, dancing out, ministering in the world. 
We may come here to get a grip on him; but with grace and some surprise we stay to learn by faith to hand him to the world and hand the world back to him in a very intimate action. That is what this Eucharist might mean today. For our hands, taking in the body and blood of Christ here, are the same hands and same bodies that touch the world in daily life in all the places where we make business, make peace, make war, make love, touch the lives of friends and strangers, spend our days. 
And through us the love of God in Christ can reach into the particulars of all our daily lives so that we might come to move like Christ and look like Christ, with simple and holy sympathy and pity in all these places where God’s heaven, with our help, waits to be born. 

In the name of Christ, Amen. 

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