Saturday, June 10, 2023

Calling us to be made whole

Nothing really winds me up like buzzwords. People throw around jargon like candy attempting to sound smart without saying very much. Then these words end up in popular usage in places like television, in commercials, and in speeches… and it really gets me going… people saying things without really much meaning. It happens in business, in church, in politics. It makes me want to sigh.

One of the most popular buzzwords today is “disruption.” They tell us that their product, widget, or process is “disrupting the widget industry… and you should go out and buy it.” Well, friends, disruption is not all it’s cracked up to be… and usually when people are saying it they don’t really mean it. They say “disruption,” but they mean “more of the same… all shiny and looking new!” Like a brand-new car body resting on a chassis designed in the 1930’s.

The fact is that real disruption, real innovation, real invention is usually pretty upsetting. That’s why people resist it so much. Not long ago, the idea of flight was reserved for birds, bugs, and balloonists. The funny thing is that after many millennia of invention and innovation, with all the great gadgets we take for granted today, very little has changed about how people are. And I get that... after all, here I am talking to you wearing what's essentially second century business casual, leading an ancient liturgy, while reading from even more ancient texts. 

Humans are very inventive in taking all our new gadgets and fitting them into the ways we’ve always done things.

Change, real change, is hard. It requires a shift in perspective, in habit, in our thinking, and attitude. That’s why it requires not just discipline but grace, vision of what we want to be and the humility to start over… and hearts that listens for God.

Jesus’ first century image for “disruption” was what happens when one tries to put new wine into old wineskins. You know what you get? You end up with a thirsty person standing on a messy floor holding a broken, leaky wine sack. No, he said, if you are going to do something new, it needs to be all new!

God is doing something new, Jesus says, and it will neither look nor feel nor operate the same way as how things have operated before. In todays’ Gospel we have three examples: Jesus calls Matthew the tax-collector to follow him; he heals a woman who has experienced a constant hemorrhage her whole life, and then he raises a dead little girl to life. 

The Gospel puts these three stories together to answer a simple question: what will following the call of God be like? What is God doing in Jesus? 

In Christ, God is bringing healing, wholeness, and reconciliation to all God’s people.

But God does it differently that what we expect.

Our old habits, our old ways of seeing, our notions of good order and how things “have to be” are going to turned upside down. This new wine will not fit in the old containers. The containers can’t take it!

Watch what Jesus is doing and see how he is at once making new wine and creating new wine containers in the lives of the people he meets.

When he walks up to Matthew in his tax-collecting booth, he is meeting a man who was probably pretty well-off and prosperous, but neither well-loved nor respected by anyone. As a Jewish functionary of the hated occupiers from Rome, he gathered the taxes from the locals to pay for their oppression by a foreign empire. His Roman bosses probably pushed him around and he was unloved by his Jewish neighbors. At best, he might hang out with others like himself who made their living on the wrong side of the tracks: thieves, extortionists, prostitutes, and Jews in the employ of Rome, not to mention those people who made their living doing often important but unsavory work that respectable people didn’t talk about.

So when Jesus calls Matthew, he calls one of the most unlikely, least respected persons imaginable to be one of his followers. And he doesn’t even tell him to clean up his act first! Why does he do this? Why does Jesus risk his own good name and the reputation of his fledgling ministry on the likes of this reprobate … this quisling… Matthew? He shows us why in the two healings that follow.

While Jesus is eating and drinking with Matthew, and his no doubt equally notorious friends, word comes that a little girl, the daughter of a respectable leader in the local synagogue, has died. He begs Jesus to lay his hand on his little girl so that she may live. Jesus goes to care for the girl, which leads to the first healing encounter after Matthew’s call.

On the way, a woman who has suffered her whole life from some kind of hemorrhage… most likely a disorder that affected her since puberty... which meant that not only was she ill, but she was excluded from ordinary company, including other women, certainly was never going to marry, and was probably also separated from her family. By the custom of the day, anyone she touched would be ritually unclean and therefore she risked not only condemnation but also fear-driven violence on a daily basis. So when she takes the risky act of touching his cloak as he passes, she is healed. Jesus blesses her and commends her faith saying “your faith has made you well.”

He finally arrives at the official’s house but by then it’s too late. The girl has died, and the mourning rites have begun. He assures them that all is well, but instead of saying “Watch me bring her back to life…,” or “hold my bier,” he says that she is only sleeping. They all laugh... except apparently the desperate parents and family and a few followers who are holding their breath. After all the hub-bub has died away, and the scoffers sent out, he takes her by the hand and gently bids her to wake up. And she lives!

If you want to know why we friends, followers, and apprentices of Jesus care about the poor, the sick, and those society would consider strange, weird, or different—if you want to know why we find ourselves hosting recovering addicts in our buildings who may never walk into our worship spaces, or feed or clothe folks in need through our various ministries, or why we speak of love and compassion when the culture trucks in fear and division, then this is why: it is what Jesus did. 

He comes to us in the midst of our complicated lives and sits, chats, and eats with us. He touches us where we experience the most pain. He comes into our lives and homes and our hearts and brings life. He sees faith in us when others might only see fault and invites us to follow him.

In all three instances in today’s Gospel, people who lived on the fringes, separated by custom, choice, or circumstance from their communities, were reconciled and brought back into the lives of their families, communities, and daily lives in the company of Jesus.

What does it mean that Jesus called a hated tax-collector and quisling to follow him? It is so that he can live, and work and walk with dignity, respect, and wholeness as a person of God in community.

What does it mean to be made whole and healed, no longer living at the edges of society subject to the alternating vagaries of human pity and condemnation? It is to discover that one’s faith makes us whole and returns us to the family of God! 

What does it mean to experience new life? It is like Jesus coming into your home, and against all expectation, taking you by the hand, and inviting you to get up and live.

Following Jesus changes us, taking what we have always thought to be true and normal and expected and turning it upside down, inside out, and giving it new life. Grace, faith, baptism, sacramental living, and Christian community together all give us a new container—a new wine skin! — to live as Christ’s own forever. We are all called, welcomed, healed, and given new life because with Christ, our faith heals, reconciles, and makes us well.

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Here are the Scripture Lessons for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, June 11, 2023.

Here is a video of the Sermon at St. John's, Clearwater, Florida on June 11, 2023.

Here is a video of the Liturgy at St. John's, Clearwater, Florida on June 11, 2023.

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