In Which We Embrace Scandal
Proper 16B St. Clement’s 2015
Scripture appointed by the Revised Common Lectionary can be found HERE
Most of us were raised to be respectable. Taught to say the “right thing” to wear the “right thing” to avoid controversial topics and making a scene.
And, some of us, were raised to find our own selves offensive. Too loud, too feminine, too masculine, not masculine enough, too opinionated, too fat, too thin, too much, too little, not opinionated enough, too dark, too light, not right...
And, so many of us diminished ourselves...quieter, gentler, softer. Seeking to fit into this box or that. And, this quieter, gentler more acceptable life...some of those of us found this life, not life at all.
And so the choice would come, would the price of the scandal be our life or would the scandal bring us life?
What a strange thing, to find ourselves, as ourselves, the scandal!
When I was in middle school, I had a teacher who knew that he himself was a scandal. The whispers would swirl around him and I remember most intently the moment when another student dared to speak the words aloud, “he’s gay”. I remember this moment because it was not a concept I knew, but I did know that it was not something one should be saying about a teacher--it was “not nice” and I wondered at this “not nice” thing being said about this particular dear and sweet man. Five years later, knowing this teacher proved a lifeline...and I remember his words then, “I’ve found that I can change the world just by being myself...”
And so, he was a scandal, to many students and parents. But, the offense of his being was one which opened to many an opportunity to hope for new life for themselves and others. And, I think on this teacher (married to a beloved husband now, and the father of a preschooler) when I read the Gospel from John for today.
The Greek word from which the word scandal comes is the verb Skandalon. Literally, that which is a stumbling block to the life of faith. The idea that the messiah should die on the cross, that itself was a scandal. The notion of eating and drinking the flesh and blood of another--that, a scandal. Skandalon is used twice in the Gospel of John, and one of those places is in today’s passage.
“Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you?”
Skandalon, an offense...
David McCracken, a professor of English and Comparative Religion, discusses this passage from the Gospel of John at length in his book “The Scandal of the Gospels” and rather than the word “offense” he offers us the word “scandal” and a choice--we can be offended or we can have faith; we can be respectable or we can be scandalous. (McCracken 159)
And, thus our question, will we be offended or will we have faith and in having that faith become offensive ourselves?
Are we willing to be scandalous? And in our scandal will we find new life?
For as the Gospel holds as true, it is the offense itself that gives life, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
It is the scandal of Jesus’ death and our own consumption of his sacrificial gesture that brings us life. What a scandal, that death would not win! And the scandal of the feast gives us the endurance for the greater scandal of the final sacrifice, once and for all.
2000 years of familiarity may have inoculated us to the offense of Jesus’ words. To Jesus’ followers, the notion of eating his flesh and drinking blood was both viscerally repugnant and offensive to their faith. Levitical legislation explicitly forbid the consumption of blood and for some of Jesus’ followers this became the last straw--they backed away and left the community. But, others stayed...eating and drinking of the body and blood that serves as a foretaste of the kingdom of God. And, so we who have chosen the scandal as a way of life, we too gather to eat and drink...
And, this great offense stands at the center of our life as a church. Architecturally, in most Episcopal churches it is not the pulpit that is the focal point which orients us in space, nor is it the Bible, rather it is the altar. The sacrificial altar where we offer ourselves and where we participate in a feast of body and blood, of bread and wine. Weekly we participate in a great offense...an offense which offended the powers of death and proclaimed hope eternal, an offense which brought death, and an offense which gave birth to life.
Jesus, the great scandalizer...And, in full participation we scandalize ourselves!
What then is our scandal? What is the truth that would scandalize the death dealing powers of the world? What will be the offense that will overturn the status quo of complacency? Are we willing to scandalize respectable people and in doing so proclaim justice, life, beauty, peace and the inbreaking of God’s reign?
Our economy, our structures, our systems--they all rely on the silencing power of what I’ve heard referred to as “the respectability police”. And, for many of us, including myself we do a pretty good job of policing ourselves...policing ourselves into silent acquiescence. And, once again, polite trumps right.
It takes a great strength to be a scandal--too risk our honor and our privilege for something greater than ourselves. Perhaps that is why the letter to the Ephesians today takes such care in describing a form of spiritual armor.
Do we have what we need to be scandalous? Are we equipped to be offenders?
The scandal of the cross, the scandal of the broken body and spilled blood. The scandal of a life lived for others.
And, so there stands another question...
Will we live?
These are hard questions, and I worry that I might offend. Irony itself! But, here we are, and we have the strength to face these questions, to wrestle with what love might ask of us and to discern what our own scandal might be.
Will we speak truth to power? Will we proclaim ourselves the body of Christ? Will we claim our space, lift our voices, set aside the privilege earned through complacency and embrace compassion as our shame?