Sunday, September 30, 2018

21B, Self Sacrifice

Lectionary link here


A Hard Time for the Broken

Like many of us, I spent part of my week following the confirmation process of Judge Kavanaugh. Regardless of my own personal feelings on this matter, I, like many, was struck by the courage of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. A woman whose voice shook in her opening remarks, as she stated, “I am terrified”.

What bravery. To show up, to be seen and to be brave in this moment. What courage it took, and continues to take, to speak your truth in this time and this place and amongst these people.

Days prior to her testimony, I was speaking with a friend and I asked her to pray for all the wounded people in this world. And, she responded that yes, yes she would and she does. But she also gives thanks for all the wounded and broken people in this world who show up and do what they need to do, even tho’ it’s hard and even tho’ they are broken, and even when it’s the very last thing they ever hoped to be doing. Wounded, broken people are strong, are amazing and wondrous she proclaimed.

So, God bless the broken people who show up, who are seen, and who are brave in the midst of their vulnerability.

Because, every day, broken people go to work. They go to school. They go to church.

They crawl out of bed and fix lunches for impatient children.

They meet the bus, they drive the bus.

They gather in conference rooms and sit in pews.

They tend the sick, comfort the dying.

Teaching, caring, parenting, living, loving…

Broken, hurting and wounded people.

Who after a restless night of sleep or no sleep, woke up and showed up.

Broken by the world.

Broken by the news,

and other people’s stories.

Broken by their past,

or even their future.

Broken bodies, broken hearts, broken spirits…

And, yet here they, and we, are.

Evidencing the kind of “real courage” extolled by Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s book, “To Kill a Mockingbird, "'I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.'"

“When you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what…”

This is real courage, the kind that comes from the wounded and broken people who are the salt of the earth, who have, as the Gospel puts it, salt in themselves.

In Leviticus and Numbers are religious laws that require that all meat sacrificed to God was to be salted…and this reference to salt in themselves is a reference to the self-offering of all that we have and all that we are.

Self-offering, freely chosen, freely given, bravely made.

A self-offering that does not require destroying anyone or anything.

In today’s passage from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is offering a harsh critique of anyone who would use their power or authority or privilege to harm another.  Jesus’ imagery in this regard is harsh and unrelenting as he addresses the disciples who are still struggling to understand Jesus’ teachings about the cross and the centrality of the least of these to God’s salvation story…

And so, underscoring last week’s passage in which Jesus places a child at the center of the circle of disciples to illustrate that it is the least of these who will be greatest, Jesus chastises his followers,

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.”

The use of this violent and graphic imagery may seem shocking but it underscores that true courage, true greatness, true followers of the Christ, are not the ones who do the breaking, but the broken ones whose self-offering brings peace.

This is the cross, and it is no easy burden.

As Jesus, continues in his castigation, he goes so far as to reference the garbage heap outside of Jerusalem, Gehenna, which our tradition and its translators have translated as “hell”. Let go of any notion of fire and brimstone, for what Jesus is referencing is a very real, and very literal, place. For, what has been translated as “hell” is a place the Greek called “Gehenna”. Jesus would have known Gehenna as “Ben Hinnom” and would have been familiar with the reference to it made by the prophet Jeremiah, (Jeremiah 7:30-33):

“For the people of Judah have done evil in my sight, says the LORD; they have set their abominations in the house that is called by my name, defiling it. And they go on building the high place of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire — which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.”

Given this context, Jesus’ message seems clear, if you would destroy another, sacrificing them for your own needs or power, then your place is in the valley of slaughter and not in the midst of this community.  This brutal rhetoric was intended to drive home to the disciples the understanding that power for themselves is not, cannot, and should never be, taken at the expense of the powerless in this world.

Destroying others in pursuit of power is counter to the Gospel and Jesus’ words today, harsh as they might be, reminds us that true power is found when broken people, hurting people, human people, find the salt within that brings peace with one another.

Once again, In the words of Atticus Finch,"'I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.'"

“No matter what.”