Sunday, October 06, 2013

Pentecost 20C

 There are two sides to so many things, even the Gospel of Luke, in the last few months Gospels, Sunday by Sunday; His Gospel is leading us on a demanding walk. 
Sometimes we’ve heard some real raw requirements, demanding tough choices: hate your life, put nothing between you and me, count the cost, take the risk, begin the battle and give up all your possessions; even today: realise you are unhelpful disciples, miserable sinners, unprofitable slaves. Here, Luke’s gospel is about us following God, loving the commandments, loving, working, aspiring to make heaven on earth now. Even if we are wicked and unprofitable. 

But other times the stories here are  about the father of a prodigal son rushing towards reconciliation and celebration, a shepherd successfully searching for a lost sheep, the eagerness of a woman finally finding a lost  coin. A celebration at the end. But other times the light comes from elsewhere. The word has been saved, angels rejoice, the love of the Father and the word of Christ, the spirit of grace and truth, has entered deep into the human family, for God has taken saving action and the word we see in Jesus is love

Maybe it is not either/or but both/and. As the Roman Catholic nun Joan Chittister writes:  

The Talmud [an early commentary on the Hebrew scripture] teaches that every person should wear a jacket with two pockets. In the one pocket, the rabbis say, there should be a note that reads, "I am a worm and not completely human." And in the second pocket, the rabbis say, the note must read, "For me the universe was made." 

But I think there are at least four places, patterned in the Gospel of Luke, found in the beginning of our own liturgy, in the Prayer Book too. Four sides to the way he tells his particular take on the good news of God with us, of Christ’s message to each of us, that we also find in the liturgy, 
1 We call out to God, 2 we hear his call, 3 we come clean and clear, we confess where we fall short, and 4 we start to hear the heart of his hope. 
Listen to how we start our time together, liturgy means peoples work, and this is how we begin to work it out. 
Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
It is one of the oldest texts in our Prayer Book: based on a Latin prayer that was part of the so-called Sarum Rite, originating in Salisbury, England, and was said by priests in preparation for mass. It goes back to about 800 AD and some think it was written by the English scholar, ecclesiastic, poet and teacher, Alcuin of York who was attached to the court of Charlemagne, and that it may even have been written for his coronation in 800. Then, at the time of the 16th century English Reformation Thomas Cranmer made it part of public worship, 
In it  we call out, we reach out to the god to whom we are utterly transparent, who sees us as we are, heart, desires, secrets, and we ask to be cleansed, by God’s breathing intimate love, so that we may join in the work of redemption, that we might magnify God’s truth, power, name,  as messengers, (angels in the greek) as lovers alongside Christ. 
So 1 We call out to God, and then we hear his call, 
Hear O Israel, … you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Jesus sad, This is the great and the first commandment, and a second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. 
I hope I am not the only one who falls short on this one, I try to be decent, act likably if not lovingly to my neighbor, respectfully to God, and stop being either so easy on myself that I stop trying to improve or so tough that I just want to give up for lack of hope. But (except for these occasional moments of grace when, by God’s grace I seem to love my God, my neighbor and myself  with a God-like love, and we all have those, coming from somewhere) I generally fall short of that upward call of Christ. And that’s nothing new, the community of the church has gathered around that tension for two thousand years.
Listen:  Bishop Gregory of Nazianzus wrote this towards the end of the Fourth Century, it’s still true, very true, this very week. 
Since we ourselves are human beings, we must set before others the meal of kindness no matter why they need it – whether because they are widows, orphans, or exiles; or because they are brutalized by masters, crushed by rulers, dehumanized by tax-collectors, bloodied by robbers, or victimized by the insatiate greed of thieves, be it through confiscation of property or ship-wreck. All such people are equally deserving of mercy, and they look to us for their needs just as we look to God for ours.

in God’s presence we’re forced to see our own absence; the places where we don’t measure up, the times when we don’t show up, the moments where we don’t look up but rather keep our gaze down -- avoiding the obligations of the neighbor, a friend, a stranger, of our very selves;  we end up looking away from someone who deserves  by grace to be the beloved of God, even ourselves. 

That’s why we need to confess! We’re at point 3: 1 We call out to God, 2 we hear his call, 3 we come clean and clear, we confess where we fall short, Listen again…

Merciful God our maker and our judge, we have sinned against you in thought word and deed,  and in what we have failed to do: we have not loved you with our whole heart, we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.; we repent and our sorry for all our sins. Father, forgive us, Strengthen is to love and obey you in newness of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen, 
And then we are forgiven! Point 4 we start to hear the heart of his hope. 

Almighty God, who has promised forgiveness of sins to all who turn to him in faith, pardon you and set you free from all your sins, strengthen you in all goodness, and keep you in eternal life., through Jesus Christ our Lord.  

Perhaps the only thing greater than God’s majesty is God’s love, perhaps the only thing greater than God’s justice is God’s mercy, perhaps the only thing greater than our total inadequacy for any relationship with God is God’s great and graceful overwhelming love for us. 

So; 1 We call out to God, 2 we hear his call, 3 we come clean and clear, we confess where we fall short, and 4 we start to hear the heart of his hope. 
Go back to the prodigal son, with his canned speech and half-baked repentance see how thoroughly inadequate he is for any kind of real reconciliation, then see the father rushing down with open arms and heart, offering forgiveness and renewal and a feast full of love for this obviously unworthy servant. Lord we are unworthy, Lord, by your grace, we are forgiven, Can you see that it may even be a gift?

Again, some more Joan Chittister: 

“We come to understand that small is not nothing and empty is not bereft. To be small is to need, to depend on the other. Smallness bonds us to the rest of the human race and frees us from the arrogant isolation that kills both the body and the soul. To be empty is to be available inside to attend to something other than the self. We become full of the blessings of life.

“Then, emptied out by the awareness of our own smallness, we may have the heart to identify with those whose emptiness, whose poverty of spirit and paucity of life is involuntary. Then, we may be able to become full human beings ourselves...” 

So our little lives, striving to be a light from God, as small and timid and unfinished as we are, are still a precious gift, and God still calls us to live more deeply and love more freely, right in the midst of being small and human and living and dying. And this means that we, by Gods grace, as we are, in the midst of our smallness and our limits and our humanity, have enough and that we are enough and we are called to be and share that Good News. Amen

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