Abide With Me
Propers (readings from the Revised Common Lectionary) can be found here
This sermon is about Baltimore. This sermon is about Nepal. This sermon is about love. This sermon is about fear. This sermon is about shame. This sermon is about justice. This sermon is about what you need it to be about, because this sermon is about us.
And, this sermon is about us, because the scripture is about us. This is our story, set in another context but applicable to our own.
The setting of the scriptures, the cultural landscape in which early followers of the way lived was based on an economy of honor and shame. One’s actions, one’s deeds, one’s relations, one’s economic dealings--success was measured by the measure of honor a person brought to the family and community. To be shamed, was to shame your lineage. And, in the religion of the Israelites, shame and religious observance were deeply intertwined.
Bodily integrity, the circumstances of one’s birth, the actions of your ancestors...all factored into the ability to worship in the temple. Insiders and outsiders to temple life--all determined by honor and shame.
So, to worship a God--to lift up on high a man--who had suffered the physical, spiritual and psychological mortification of the cross--was to elevate to the divine the very baseness of humanity. Stripped, taunted, denigrated. Can anything good come of Galilee? His people suspect, his disciples denying. To witness his death, is to witness his shame. But not just his shame, but our shame in a world in which our brokenness becomes a means of breaking.
And, so, in the Acts of the Apostles...we hear of honor and shame. The Ethiopian Eunuch would have been known as a God fearer--one who longed for the God of Israel but one who would, by virtue of birth and the religious and social implications of his castration, be denied the opportunity to worship within the temple or be counted as one of the people--Deuteronomy 23:1 leaves little room for interpretation when it lays out this law. And, beyond the physical mutilation that would have prevented his participation in temple worship, the Ethiopian Eunuch is a court official in a foreign court. And, not just any official, but the treasurer in charge of tax collectors--a group despised for the exploitative systems which they were perceived to represent and enforce.
And, so, as I read the scriptures this week...I can imagine the power of the scriptures to this man’s ears. For in this quoted passage from Isaiah, in which the prophet speaks of a messiah, it is said that,
“In his humiliation justice was denied him”
What does it mean when cultures and community, powers and politics, churches and temples, employ humiliation as a tool for oppression?
When the humiliated is not just shamed, but dehumanized? When the taunting, and the laughing are used as tools for destruction? When our collective brokenness is born by those with the least power and the least privilege?
What does it mean to live in a world in which humiliation is just one piece of the weaponry we employ against the other?
Trolling, public shaming on the internet, baiting and attacking. We are, sadly, no stranger to the power of humiliating our enemies.
So, what does it mean to profess the Christian faith within this context? To claim for ourselves, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus?
In the here and the now, in the year 2015, in the United States, in Minnesota, here in St. Paul at the corner of Portland and Milton--what does it mean to live as a Christian?
To worship the one, stripped, taunted, pierced and gasping. The one forsaken.
The one who becomes the one lifted on high.
It wasn’t supposed to work that way. The humiliated are supposed to quietly leave for the outskirts of town. The shamed to become ashamed of their very selves. The dead to remain dead!
Once the shaming has taken place, it would be only polite for the shamed to quietly slip away. Why should we be forced to see their destruction? We declare our innocence--my privilege a product of my obedience, my wealth an extension of my labor, my safety of my prudence, my health--why that’s due to clean living!
The only one to blame is yourself...so blame yourself and we’ll blame you. And in our blaming we seek to absolve ourselves.
It is honor and shame isn’t it?
So, we look away, but in the aversion of our eyes we are confronted again. Our faith demands that we look upon the humiliation and the justice denied. WE, we must listen when the crucified God is manifested in our midst. Our God has cried out from the cross, yet has elevated us as the body manifest in the world.
We must look upon our own shame. Sit, with our own brokenness. And out of the ashes of our own self annihilation we emerge into the light of the love which has been proffered for all.
And, it is into the truth of our own brokenness that the author of the first letter of John speaks.
“those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”
What has been seen cannot be unseen. Those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen. A neighbor whom they have seen. A human being whom they have seen.
If we do not love the other, the other precious and beloved children of the God we profess, than how can we profess to love God?
If we dehumanize.
If we kill.
If we are complicit with structures and systems that exploit and destroy any of God’s beloved children.
Than, how can we profess to love God.
God, indwelling and abiding, living and breathing.
God, still speaking to the world’s shame.
God, inviting us to love and be loved.
“Abide in me as I abide in you.”
And, so we abide. And, when the broken who carry the shame of the world inquire, as the Ethiopian Eunuch did of Philip so long ago,
“What is to prevent me from being baptized?”
The answer is, “nothing”, nothing can prevent anyone who loves God, who follows Jesus who participates in the fellowship of the follower from being baptized. Nothing can prevent the love of God being made manifest even and ESPECIALLY in the midst of our shame.
God is made visible in our own forsaking and forsakeness. We make God visible by showing up in those places of brokenness, by birthing love into the world, by word and action. By truth and witness. By a love that recognizes our interconnectedness as a broken and redeemed people.
Interconnectedness...it is what the metaphor of the grapevine implies. And, when Catherine of Siena, a saint of the church and mystic, speaks of the grapevine she writes
“You, then, are my workers. You have come from me, the supreme eternal gardener, and I have engrafted you onto the vine by making myself one with you.
Keep in mind that each of you has your own vineyard. But everyone is joined to the neighbors’ vineyards without any dividing lines. They are so joined together, in fact, that you cannot do good or evil for yourself without doing the same for your neighbors.” Catherine of Siena 1347-1380 Dialogue, the Vines That are Tended by the Divine Gardener
Engrafted to our neighbors. Our neighbors shame is our own. Our neighbor’s healing is our own. Our neighbor’s justice is our own. Our neighbor’s love is our own.
Let there be justice. Let there be peace. Let there be love.
The justice is about us. The peace is about us. The love is about us.
This God is about us.