Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sermon: Snowy January 24

Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with thy most gracious favor, and further us with thy continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in thee, we may glorify thy holy Name, and finally, by thy mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  (BCP)

Expectations. Sometimes, the expectations we have of one another are not realistic. That can also be true for ourselves. (Like an expectation that this winter storm would dump less than 6 inches!)

Sometimes expectations come with the territory. As Christians who follow Jesus, his commandments to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbors as ourselves, are expectations of Jesus that we live these commandments in our lives, in our connections to one another.

I think retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu said it beautifully:

One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human… It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World… Ubuntu speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong. It speaks about wholeness, it speaks about compassion.

God has created us all and we have a responsibility and an expectation to be concerned about our neighbors nearby and far away. During this age where we so easily know about the happenings around the world, we understand that whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

It was also true at the time St. Paul was writing his letters. His letter to the Corinthians shows that the community of Christians there were having a hard time living together, whether it was issues of those who had money and status and those who did not in that community or those whose prideful faith got in the way of helping others.

To all those Christians living in Corinth, Paul addresses his letter. And today we hear his words about our unity in Christ. Not uniformity, but a unity because we are all part of that body, even as we each are different parts.

I have too often seen Christians expecting that we should all look and believe the same exact things. Beyond knowing in our hearts that Jesus is Lord, beyond the essentials of our faith, that leaves a lot of areas where uniformity just makes no sense.

Too use Paul’s words, we cannot all be hands or feet or eyes, or function in that way, but it does not mean that we don’t have a place within the body, for all of the parts are important.

As St. Paul said, “God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the Body of Christ and individually members of it.”

There are no greater or lesser members of the body of Christ, for we are to care for one another, we are in it together. Ubuntu.

And have we not experienced that here…when one member of our parish suffers, we all suffer with them, when one member is honored or rejoices, all rejoice together.

No matter who we are in our lives, Jew or Greek, free or slave, male or female, we are baptized into one body, the body of Christ, and together we live out our faith filled lives.

The eminent anthropologist Margaret Mead was once asked what she regarded as the earliest sign of civilization. Was it an axe-blade, an arrowhead, a fishhook, or something more sophisticated, such as a musical instrument or a ceramic bowl? Her answered surprised her questioner: "A healed human femur."

Not something made by a human, but something human; not an artifact, but a part of someone who once lived and walked this earth, who was hurt but healed.

Doctor Mead explained that where the law of the survival of the fittest reigns, a broken leg means certain death - when you cannot make it on your own, you're doomed. But a healed leg-bone is physical evidence that someone cared. Someone gathered food for that injured person until their leg was healed; someone cared for them until they could once again care for themselves & others. The first sign of civilization was compassion.

Whoever first set that bone and cared for that injured woman or man so the bone could heal was the first great prophet of love, who showed compassion for one injured. Jesus begins his own public ministry of compassion by invoking the vision of the prophet Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me, to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the Lord's favor."

In Jesus, Isaiah's vision of a world transformed and reconciled in God's peace and justice is fulfilled; for God re-creates us and our world in the light of his grace and the spirit of compassion & love. Through our baptism, we take on the work of Isaiah's vision of healing, justice and compassion in our own "civilizations."

We need to learn from St. Paul, that we are all members, all have our part to play, no matter how big or small, lesser or not, we are all equal in God’s eyes for God has put us together on this planet.

And God has put us together to follow Jesus, to hear his words and to live out our faith as the Body of Christ, which means we have work to do with those in need.

As one song writer put it, “I can hear Jesus’ quiet voice in the words he said, words that set the captive free, words that lift the dead into the living. In his dying now he asks us in his stead to be the one, be the one. Be the one to speak the words of truth, be the one to quell the lies. Be the one to see that justice will be done. Be the one to learn from children, be the one to teach the wise, be the one, be the one, be the one.” (Ray Makeever)

My brothers and sisters, we are the Body of Christ and we are to be the one to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the Lord's favor. We are to be the one to share love, to live into Ubuntu – for all of humanity. For that is God’s expectation for us, to love one another as God has loved us. Amen.

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