Saturday, January 30, 2016

Symeon, the Undeserving and Grace--Season After the Epiphany 4C

The scripture appointed for the Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany can be found here 


When I began in ministry I served as an youth outreach worker in Ohio.  As part of my role as youth outreach worker I participated in diocesan youth retreats several times a year.  

Music was a huge part of every event--usually guitar--and the music tended towards taize chant (easy to learn and sing without needing any text or instruction) and contemporary Christian hymnody.  

There are three pieces of music from this time and these events that have stayed with me.  One is the simple taize chant, “be still and know that I am God”.

Another, piece, “Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary”, 

And, then another, “Here I am Lord, send me”. 

I can distinctly remember the experience of hundreds of youth--and I’ll include myself in that number as I was recently out of college--standing with arms wrapped around each other, eyes closed, and swaying.  

Bidding, through music and prayer, that God would make Godself known to us and that we, young people ages 14-18, their chaperones and clergy, would ourselves become the means by which God would transform the world.  

Be still and know that I am God, Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary and please O God, send me.  

The music, our prayers, our fellowship, our passion...

And, this idea, of our interdependence with God.  These all served as an anchor for those of us who wondered what we might have to offer.  How we might, out of our own brokenness, be fit to serve God.  

And, tho’ we might protest as Jeremiah did, "Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy."

The response to our own inadequacy was a promise of support and companionship--a promise that when we were not ourselves enough, God working in us would be more than enough.

We will with God’s help, that is the refrain of our baptismal covenant--indeed it is the refrain of our very lives.

We will with God’s help.  God, helping us, God’s beloved children.  God, wanting us, as imperfect as we might be, to do God’s work in the world.

Do not be afraid, I am here to deliver you...says God.

When I juxtapose this calling of the prophet, with Jesus’ words in the temple, what strikes me is the expansiveness of the call.  It’s not for the perfect, it is not for the worthy, it is not for the sinless, it is not for wise, it is not for rich, it is not for the righteous.

It’s a call for the broken and the imperfect, it has nothing to do with deserving or earning. God’s call is not something to which we are entitled.  It just is. It is fundamental to ourselves and our relationship with the one who makes us holy.

Hear this, we are not holy. We are made holy.

We are not perfect. We are made perfect.

Don’t talk to me about deserving, or about worthiness. Talk to me about gift and about grace. Don’t talk to me about what should be. Talk to me about what will be with God’s help.

Talk to me about a world in which we don’t get what we deserve and there is nothing to which we are entitled. Talk to me about a world, in which all we have is through grace and the power and potential of God’s spirit moving in us.  A world in which our response to any grace extended, even if it is not to our own benefit, is one of gratitude for God moving in the whole.  

Gratitude for the love which endures all things. Gratitude for hope, gratitude for faith, gratitude for a community in which we can explore what it is to be loved and loving.

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he states that we know only in part--and as I consider this text I am struck that the whole of what must be known is that love transcends being right or powerful or honored. 

I once read, in some premarital counseling essay or another, that it’s important to ask ourselves if it is more important to be right or to be happy.  

And, given today’s context--I’d argue that it is more important to be love than to be right.   

And, perhaps that is the challenge given us today. What would it be like if all of us worked to be love rather than to be right? 

How would our community, the church, be transformed if love was the marker rather than righteousness?

In the passage from Luke we read today, Jesus is driven out of town because he upholds love rather than right. The examples he gives of those who receive God’s healing grace are an unnamed foreign widow and a member of the Syrian army--and the community rises up against him because in these examples the enemy and the outsider are the recipients of God’s grace.

In short, they are mad because Jesus offers an expansive vision of God’s love to a world which sees love as a limited resource. 

If we as Christians think of God’s love as scarce--than it is all too easy to become hoarders of grace rather than purveyers of love. Jesus is clear that we don’t need to earn it or deserve it--and in these passages we are given the challenge of accepting God’s love for each and everyone (whether we think they deserve it or not).  

So, here we are undeserving people, and God is speaking to us--bidding us to know God’s love in stillness, and in that knowing be a place for God’s love to be made known and out of that place of proclaiming God’s love, we are sent.  

I wish to close by sharing with you a poem by the 10th century Byzantine monk and poet, Symeon (referred to as the “new theologian”), who wrote a passage that speaks to this 
He writes,

“as Christ awakens our bodies,
and my poor hand is Christ, He enters
my foot, and is infinitely me.

I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
(for God is indivisibly
whole, seamless in His Godhood).

I move my foot, and at once
He appears like a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous? — Then
open your heart to Him

and let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
we wake up inside Christ’s body

where all our body, all over,
every most hidden part of it,
is realized in joy as Him,
and He makes us, utterly, real,

and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light
he awakens as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.”

Everything that is hurt, everything that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful, maimed, ugly irreparably damaged, is in Christ transformed.

We haven’t earned it and we don’t deserve it. But, we are it, we are God’s love and that in and of itself is more than enough.  

Here I am Lord, send me.