Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sermon: August 30

Help us Lord:
to live in your light, to act in your might, to think in your wisdom, to walk in your kingdom,
to abide in your love, now and always. Amen. (David Adam)

Cruelty has a Human Heart
And Jealousy a Human Face
Terror the Human Form Divine
And Secrecy, the Human Dress
(A Divine Image by William Blake)
We awoke on Wednesday to a news story of cruelty. Two journalists lost to angry man with a gun, live on the air, and broadcast with malice in social media. It is a story that is way too familiar for us. Cruelty, jealousy, terror and lives cut short by the evil of violence. For cruelty has a human heart.

Such a description of our heart connects with what Jesus says in the Gospel of Mark this morning.
Jesus said, “it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
When confronted by some about the disciple’s actions, Jesus does not look to the outward rituals of purity, nor the boundaries of community, Jesus points to the heart as the seat of our morality, the seat of our purity, the seat that if not right with God can defile or corrupt us.

He takes the argument and confrontation over a ritual tradition to the next level: defilement is not about what goes into the body or even how we wash is what comes out of our body, it is our actions in word and deed that come from our hearts.

The list he utters includes obvious things life theft, murder, adultery. All in the 10 Commandments. But Jesus includes other less obvious things like deceit, envy, slander, pride and folly.

Jesus calls all these actions evil, they not only corrupt us but they also destroy the love we have for God and our neighbor. These actions are self-centered, self-absorbed, self-focused with no connection to the harm of the social fabric of our lives. For when it comes to purity or defilement, it is all about our heart & what comes out of it, and Jesus wants us to have a change of heart, a heart that is with him & his love. For if we don’t, cruelty will reign and lives will be destroyed.
Many years ago, a great warrior abandoned his life of war and destruction and became a monk, happily living a quiet life serving his brothers and the poor and sick of the villages around the monastery.

One day, an arrogant warrior rode through the village. He terrorized the villagers with his threats and demands. He soon made his way to the monastery where he recognized the monk from their adventures years before. The reckless warrior did everything he could to provoke his old adversary into a fight: the boor threw rocks, shouted insults, smashing parts of the poor monastery. But the monk would not respond. By dusk, the warrior finally grew tired of the game; he defiantly spat on the monastery door and rode off.

Some of the villagers who had been brutalized by the warrior, asked the monk why he did not confront the intruder.

"If someone offers you a gift and you do not accept it, to whom does the gift belong?" the old monk asked. "He who offered it," they replied.

"The same is true for anger, envy and ridicule," the monk explained. "When they are not accepted, they forever belong to the one who holds on to them." [Adapted from the Moral Stories website.]
One of the most difficult challenges of being a disciple of Jesus is not to let such cruelty, jealousy, terror diminish us, not to let such anger or vengeance displace the things of God in the sacred place of our hearts but to let God's presence transform the evil that we have encountered into compassion and forgiveness. The violence of Good Friday is transformed & redeemed by Easter…

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.
(The Divine Image by William Blake)
I recently heard an NPR story about the Basque town of Galdakao in Spain. There sits a refrigerator surrounded by a tidy little fence so that it is not mistaken for an abandoned appliance. If you have some food, you can leave it inside this communal refrigerator, if you need some food, help yourself. Instead of throwing leftover food away in the garbage bin, local residents and restaurants can leave them in the “solidarity fridge” to be shared. "The idea for a Solidarity Fridge started with the economic crisis — these images of people searching dumpsters for food — the indignity of it. That's what got me thinking about how much food we waste," said Alvaro Saiz, who helped bring the idea to his town. (Galdakao, Spain has a population of about 30,000.)
I found hope in that story, and I love the idea of a communal fridge!

Two stories this week, one of cruelty and one of mercy. In the end, each day, we need to choose, to follow Jesus and believe in mercy, love and pity. I think of Nelson Mandela, who in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, recounts how he was able to survive prison by finding the spark of humanity in the guards:
"I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there was mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. Even in the grimmest times in prison, when my comrades and I were pushed to our limits, I would see a glimmer of humanity in one of our guards, perhaps just for a second, but it was enough for me to keep going. Man's goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished."
As Jesus says in the Gospel of Mark, the kind of human beings we are begins in the values of the heart, the place where God dwells inside of us - but the evil we are capable of, the hurt we inflict, the degrading of the world also begins within us as well. May we open our hearts and listen to the Spirit of God speaking in that sacred space within every heart, calling us to understanding instead of judgment, forgiveness instead of vengeance, respect instead of ridicule, reconciliation instead of division. For in such a place where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell, there God is dwelling too. Amen.

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