Reflection: August 27

Published on Aug 31st, 2017 by Rev. David Boyd | 0

         I confess that I found this week’s Gospel reading haunting; I use that word intentionally because not only is the question that Jesus poses, “Who do say that I am?” about Jesus, but perhaps just as importantly, it is about us. Who are we in the grand scheme of things? Who are we as we face struggle and difficulty? Who are we as gather here in a world that seems hostile to love and a loving community? For me this week, this question haunts me in part because of my own personal struggles.

         Many people are questioning world events: Donald Trump’s ridiculous comments about anything and everything; race relations; the Alt-Right’s increasing visibility; clashes in different places around the world; mindless, awful attacks in Spain and elsewhere; wildfires and tragedies make us wonder…

         For example, I received a note from Jim and Jean Strathdee, composers of many hymns and songs that we sing. I spent part of my sabbatical in 2013 with them on pilgrimage in Palestine. The song we’ll sing in a moment is one that Jim wrote in 1987 in response to the United Methodist document In Defense of Creation. It was a response to nuclear war and the cold war. Jim’s note invited folk to sing the song on August 13th, which the World Council of Churches had designated as a Sunday to pray for peace on the Korean Peninsula. We’re going to sing it in a moment as it still relates. It relates more generally to caring for creation; Jim sent it in response to Donald Trump’s remarks about North Korea and an armed response.

         I don’t want this sermon to be a downer… I find—and you all probably know this—that I can be far too serious. What about a little humour, some of you often ask. Well, did you hear the one about…

         What I want to say is that part of our identity as followers of Jesus is that we are in this together. I have to constantly remind myself of this and sometimes we get very physical reminders that we are interdependent; during these past few weeks when I’ve been off, Carol has stepped in. I needed to step back. Thank you, Carol! And again, I was reminded that we are in this together and find courage to face what we need to face like what to say in sermon; John sent a little note about the Bible passages for today and how the flow of divine presence streams into and through history, yesterday, today AND tomorrow. I appreciated those reflection. This flow, John said, is like a river rather than a thread—a thread is too small. That’s what Amos was getting at when he said, “Let justice roll down like a mighty river, and righteousness like a never-ending stream.” God’s river of love flows and is strengthened when we affirm our unity and community.

         I’m not a good one for modelling how to ask for help, or acknowledging my own vulnerabilities. What Matthew’s story raises for me is the need to ask, to reach out, to be willing to be cared for! Karoline Lewis, Associate Professor of Preaching at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, put it this way, “This really is the question of life, isn’t it? Do you know who you are? Who you want to be? What are the demons that make reflecting on that impossible? Because there are many. The demons that tell you that you can’t. The demons that tell you that you are not good enough. The demons that insist you aren’t enough. Period.”[1]

         So, Jesus’ question is a question to us about tapping into this flow of divine presence, this flow of healing and wholeness, this idea that we are not alone… that we are part of a community, a continuous community of faith and healing, justice and hope!

Because of Peter’s willingness to risk, he affirmed Jesus as the Messiah, and for that he was told that the church would be built upon him; I don’t for a moment believe that was literally to be the case. It became an affirmation that the church would be a community that would stand with faith in adversity, be a community of joy, be a place to explore our dreams and God’s dream for the world. Karoline Lewis went on to say at the end of her blog that Jesus’ question is not about certainty, but about inquiry… about imagination… about exploration… about possibility. That’s really what Jesus was inviting with his question.

         It’s hard to admit to your frailties and vulnerabilities—just ask me! But if we do want to stand in defense of creation, if we do want to face our fears, if we do want to stand against racism and homophobia, if we do want to be part of the flow of justice and the stream of righteousness, we need to admit our humanity and struggles, join forces and find the endless possibility of new life for creation and for us.

         I have long been a proponent of the idea of the wounded healer, that out of vulnerability comes strength, out of death life, out of brokenness healing. Poets like Leonard Cohen (there is a cack in everything; that’s how the light gets in) have written about this for years; story-tellers tell tales about this. Spiritual leaders help their followers speak of strength in diversity and vulnerability. This is why Jesus’ question is so important.

         It is ultimately an existential question about being. Iain, our second youngest child, when he was learning to talk and wanted to keep up with his older brother and sister, would say, “I am.” We have to remember that “I am” is the name given to God by the Hebrew people. “I am” is how John refers to Jesus. But this “I am” is also ours to affirm. We are! God is! And the river of healing, love, compassion and joy flows on! Thank God for that!

         The theme of this worship was living for today and being grateful. Affirming that the river of healing, love, compassion and joy flows on is enough for today! And that makes this day a good day! And that’s enough.

         Amen.

 


[1] See http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3299.

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