Saturday, September 7, 2013

Proper 18C, "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made"

Readings, as always, can be found here  

In Which Politics Become Personal and the Scripture Even More So

You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

What would it be like to stand in front of mirror and say these words,

“I am fearfully and wonderfully made”

To stand in the face of those we love and say you, you, you

Are fearfully and wonderfully made.

To look upon those we hate or despise,

And say,

You, you are fearfully and wonderfully made.

As you are, knit together in wholeness, formed with intention.

With cause and with the potential to be transformed again, and again.  

“The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.”

Who you are now, is not who you will be.  Who you have been is not who you are.  Fearfully and wonderfully made.

Do you believe this truth?  Are you able to wonder in awe at who you are and who you may become?  

This is not intended as some sort of self-esteem boost.  This is not meant to be a pep talk.  It is meant to be a proclamation of truth.  

In a world that so often dehumanizes us, in a world where we speak of “rape culture” and the commodification of other human beings is par and parcel of our economic system...

What does it mean to see ourselves AND EVERYONE ELSE as fearfully and wonderfully made?

In a world that counts bodies as numbers and encourages the cost benefit analysis of  offering aid...

What would it mean to say, you, you behind the gun, with your finger upon that button, with your hands seeking to shield your eyes from the searing pain.

You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

This has been, like so many other weeks and months and years have been, a devastating time to read the news.

Delivered to our doorstep, in the resonant tones of the radio journalist, available with the dance of our fingers across the keyboard or a swiping motion across a screen.

There, the enemy, the victim, the other...

And, in truth, ourselves.  

Because if we are to hold true that we are one body in Christ.  Than it is our broken, tormenting, tormented body that is offered up in front of us.  It is our family that has been enslaved or bound.

It is our heart that is chained.

The fearfully made in fear, the wonderfully made rent asunder.

My soul quakes and I feel helpless.  Can a body so broken be healed, can a pot so deformed by evil be reshaped by the potter’s hands?  

I don’t mean to be obtuse, to hide behind poetry or homiletic device and euphemism to avoid reference to the real and to the truth.

And, it occurs to me how often we bend and weave as we avoid speaking words that might offend.

One of the characters in the television show Scrubs is reminded of how she once tried to be the “doctor who never says terminal”.  Tragically, and comedically, it becomes immediately clear that as a physician she cannot continue in this vein.  Her patients will die, and she must be able to speak of pending death clearly.  She and her patients are human.  

So, here we are, mid-way through a sermon during a week in which our country and we debate military intervention in Syria.  And, I am just now naming the conflict.  But, it is not just a country, it is not just a conflict.  It is life.  It is the destruction of people fearfully and wonderfully made, by people just as fearfully and wonderfully made.  Will we, like “the doctor who never says terminal” be Christians who never see our own brokenness?

In seminary I wrestled with the notion of just war and I sought to understand how Christian theologians could come to the conclusion that any war could be just.  But, in a world where our attempts to imitate God’s mercy pale with our use of justice...
I began to understand that I ask the wrong question.  Rather than, what “makes any war just” I must ask, “what is the most loving response to this crisis, to this moment, to this question?”

And, since I am an Episcopal priest I don’t attempt to answer this question for you.  I don’t tell you what conclusion you should or must come to.  Rather, I ask--

What is the most loving response when the clay collapses under pressure, when we see the enslavement of human beings who we have learned to call friend?  Or even more challenging, the enslavement of human beings who we have learned to dehumanize?

One of my Presbyterian colleagues, teaching elder Julie Craig, suggests turning to the Gospel and claiming the words of Christ as our starting point for gaining an understanding of where we might begin to act in a broken world rife with conflict...

“Now, it seems clear that this story (that of the dishonest steward in Luke 16) offers not only a prescription for saving national face, but it specifically proscribes how an alleged “Christian nation” should act. We cannot pretend that we are living in a peaceful time. That’s a lie. If we say we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But we can move forward. There is a way.

We can make for ourselves friends with the wealth that we have accumulated through various just and unjust means. We can make allies for ourselves by using what we were willing to spend on destruction. We can heal our reputation and show that we are trustworthy with the great lot that we have been given. It is all within our grasp.” 

So, given this example of how one might approach political issues through our understanding of what Christ calls us to be in the world...

How might we hear our readings today in light of the newspaper I hold in my hands?

Are we willing to take unpopular stances?  Are we able to see shared humanity in friend and enemy?  Are we willing to make sacrifices and carry our share of the cross’s weight?  

We may come to conclusions that separates us from our family and friends as we seek to adhere to the Gospel and seek love at every turn.

But, when we seek love at every turn, when we embrace the offering of love we become liberators where we were once captors, we become free when we were once enslaved...Onesimus’ story becomes our story, Philemon’s story becomes our story, Paul’s story becomes our story.  When we seek love at every turn we truly become disciples of the Jesus we call Christ.  

Onesimus freedom begins when Paul recognizes him as a brother.  What will it take for us to understand that the people this world enslaves are our “own heart”?  What will it take for us to answer with love when the world calls us to hate?  

As we step into what we call our “program year” I seek to remind us that what we are learning is vital, it is critical.  The world can and will be transformed by what you learn in community here, by what you commit to in your baptismal covenants, by the stories that become your own as you hear them again and again.  

What we do here matters.  It is relevant.  It is critical to the our survival and the healing of our broken, despairing world.  

What you learn here, what you do here, it can save you, it can save the world...

So let us begin.  Begin anew with a program year that offers us every chance to proclaim the Gospel.  Begin anew with a season and a cycle that will celebrate birth, recognize death and proclaim resurrection.  Begin anew...begin today.  

A beginning marked by a central truth--you are fearfully and wonderfully made and ever with God.   

fearful and wonderful...