Monday, September 6, 2010

September 5 Sermon (Proper 18)

Choose Civility.

A few weeks ago, Ann Robinson our Senior Warden reminded us that if we are to stop the uncivil words and actions in this country, it must start with us. She wonderfully illustrated the connection between our faith and our actions.
“If we are to change the course that our country is on, we must do more than teach people good manners. Ultimately, an increase in civility must come about as a result of putting our moral beliefs into practice. Christians should lead the way through exemplary behavior. Christians must be the best example of civility that society has.”
Ann is right about our civility, rooted in the words of Jesus to love one another and the writings of St. Paul that call us to lead loving lives – it is up to each of us to live such civility in our lives today. And yet, as disciples of Jesus, we are called to do more than just be civil. Think of Jesus; words today.
Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”
Whoa! Wait a minute, did Jesus not get the memo about civility, cause that’s Embracing Hostility. Hate others? We have lots of groups in this country called “hate” groups,
“organized groups that advocate and practice hate, hostility, or violence towards members of a race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or other designated sector of society.” (Wikipedia)
Is this what Jesus intends for us? Sadly, there are Christian hate groups who are more interested in picketing soldier funerals than proclaiming the Good News of Jesus. But why would Jesus call us to hate our spouses our siblings, family members, friends, even our lives? Isn’t Jesus the one who called us to love one another? To remember that the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves? What’s going on here?

Wendell Berry the Kentucky farmer, poet & novelist sits uneasy with such a contradiction.
“My reading of the Gospels, comforting and clarifying and instructive as they frequently are, deeply moving or exhilarating as they frequently are, has caused me to understand them also as a burden, sometimes raising the hardest of personal questions, sometimes bewildering, sometimes contradictory, sometimes apparently outrageous in their demands.”
And he is right, there is a burden to our faith in our understanding of what Jesus asks of us in the Gospels. Just as Jesus uses parables to shake things up, making a point by turning things upside down, so to with his call to hate others even ourselves. As he confronts the crowd, he does it so that all will understand the demands of what he is calling them to do. It is the cost of the discipleship.
Take up your cross, give up those possessions – Love God above all else even your own life…

In 1569 in Holland, a Mennonite named Dirk Willems, after escaping from prison for his heretic beliefs, was pursued by a "thief-catcher," a bounty hunter of sorts. As they ran across a frozen body of water, the thief-catcher broke through the ice. Without help, he would have drowned. What was Dirk Willems to do? What he did was turn back, pulled the man out of the water and save his life. The thief-catcher, who was grateful of course and wanted to let him go, was forced to arrest him. Dirk Willems was brought to trial, sentenced and burned at the stake. Did he know he would die? I don’t know, but he knew the burden of the discipleship, and he had to save the man’s life even as it ultimately would cost his own. That is the cost of discipleship, Jesus would have us know.

It reminds me of Les Miserables and Jean Valjean who saves Javert from being executed. Javert who is hunting him down for escaping. But as I thought about such a cost of discipleship, that Jesus was getting at by saying the cross that is ours to bear, that we may even have to give up our life, lies with another character from both book and movie.

Frodo Baggins (a Hobbitt) from the Lord of the Rings trilogy by JR Tolkien. He chooses to take the ring, which was given to him by his uncle, to Mount Doom to destroy it. In the quest to destroy the ring, Frodo paid a great price, losing friends along the way, some who nearly betrayed him to get a hold of the power of the ring, nearly losing his life from that power, but saved by Gollum in the end who takes the ring from him because he was utterly fixed on getting that ring back but perishes with it in the fires of Mount Doom thus destroying the rings power and the end of evil reign of Sarumon. Fordo would never quite recover from all that had taken place, the wounds he received from the journey. But in the end, his cross bearing brought life again, esp. to the Shire.
Berry writes, “If we take the Gospels seriously, we are left, in our dire predicament, facing an utterly humbling question: How must we live and work so as not to be estranged from God’s presence in his work and in all his creatures? The answer, we may say, is given in Jesus’ teaching about love.”
In the end it is not about hate, its about love, a love that we have for God that ultimately trumps all of our possessions, all of our selves. A love that will help heal our broken world, a love that God our potter will shapes our lives if we are willing to let God do it. So when we hear that voice of Christ in our souls calling us, asking us to live out of that faith, then we must as the prophet Isaiah once uttered, “Here am I, Lord, send me.” Which in the end is the civil and right answer for us all. Amen.

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