12th Sunday after Pentecost–Aug. 23
Our Diocese and the world talks about the two pandemics that are going on right now: COVID and racism. And we, of course, know that all of us have struggled with COVID’s hold on us, our continually impacted world – with the poor being disproportionately affected. And, following George Floyd’s killing we have seen protests, some peaceful some not so much, people rightfully exhausted by systems of governance, policing, and an economy that just don’t seem to work for everyone the same way. Black and brown people feel like they are still struggling too hard to not have more than but to have a chance at this American dream, if you will.
But what I find, in all the conversations we have, both in the church and out of it, about any of the major challenges we face as a people, there can sometimes be too little acknowledgement that we are powerless, to a very large degree, of solving all the problems we have, certainly, and possibly not any, without the intervention of the One who made us.
So, I have tried to create a “formula of faith,” if you will, that might serve us as we try to be engaged in world where our overt love of Jesus and desire to follow Him rarely comes up. Now my high school geometry teacher, Myrtle Rose Smith, would faint away if she heard the word “formula” pass from my mathematically inept lips but, here goes.
Jesus asks his disciples, in Mathew today, “Who do the people say that I am,” kind of like a game. What are you hearing? And they throw out the heavyweights: John the Baptist, Elijah, or maybe Jeremiah. But then, in a great moment of truth, Jesus says to them, “Okay. But who do you say that I am? Peter answers “the Messiah, the son of the Living God!” Jesus seems to indicate Peter has given the right answer, something I rarely did that year in geometry, and goes on to say, “On this rock [of not only Peter’s faith, but on the faith of all that come after] I will build my movement,” which is more accurate I think than church, which I am not sure Jesus had as a specific plan when He started us on the road to follow Him.
Jesus asks us the question, too, so many years later. Who do you say that I am? And if we answer, as Peter did, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God – and with two thousand years of hindsight and wisdom, we also say – “our Deliverer, the crucified and risen One who has taken away the sin of the world,” then we have made a claim that has real implications.
Because, here follows the George Roberts “formula of faith” (borrowing, stealing really, from St. Paul): if we say that Christ is our deliverer, our Redeemer, and has saved us and is our Lord, then, in gratitude, in hope, in love we say that we give “our bodies as a living sacrifice, [our whole lives as we may] holy and acceptable to God.” Truly seeing Jesus as the One who has come into the world, we are called to live a sacrificial life – which may mean something different to each of us – but it is something all must reckon with.
The formula continues: If we make that claim, you are the Son, the living God, the saving One, then stealing again from Paul, “we [are now able] to discern the will of God: what is good, acceptable, and perfect.” It is not accident that when we begin to offer our lives more fully to God, then God more and more begins to reveal Her purpose to us; who we are called to be as Christ’s disciple and how we are called to be in the world – what is our purpose under God?
Finally, end of formula now, I promise, we are led to the understanding – after we name Jesus as our Savior and friend; as we offer our lives as holy vessels in which God pours His love; as we more completely open ourselves up to the will of the Divine light; as we engage in God’s formula of faith, there is a discovery, citing Paul once more: “We, who are many, are one Body in Christ, and individually we are members of One another.”
Knowing God more fully involves not only individually giving more of ourselves (mind, body, and spirit) to following Jesus further down the road to God; to dipping our toes a bit deeper into the pool of God’s redemption love. Knowing God more fully is a communal thing, and leads us to each other. If we fully embrace the notion that God has come among us in Christ, to save us and lead us, how can we possibly imagine that there are any on this planet that God has not come for? We cannot, as Paul says in Corinthians, say to another member of Christ’s body “I have no need of you,” or to a group of folks that are of different race, ethnic background, belief system, gender, etc., “I have no need of you.” We are all, in Christ, interconnected and we are all equally loved by God, blessed by God, saved by God, and welcomed by God.
I have been vexed greatly by the news that continues to come out of South Sudan and I think it has something to say about this formula of faith I am talking about. South Sudan was officially given independence from the majority Muslim north in 2011, less than 10 years ago, following many, many years of bloody Civil War, the longest, in fact, on the African continent, as I understand it. Since 2013, there has been a civil war, essentially, going on in S Sudan, with terrible atrocities and violence, mostly perpetrated between and against ethnic groups. All are black Sundanese, but they see each other as alien, if they are not of the same tribe or group. On July 27, gunmen came into the small village of Mikol Chuei, in the majority Christian region of Jonglei, and murdered at least 23 people, mostly women and children (who have born the worst of the violence), including the Dean of the Cathedral there. Many more were wounded. Why? Why has this gone on after many peace treaties, many brokered deals, sometimes by the UN, sometimes by other African countries? I think it, like our struggles to overcome racial inequity and challenge in our own country, though not all challenges and countries are the same; until we see each other as fully human, fully precious in the eyes of God, and members of the Body of Christ, a complete end to what ails us will remain out of reach.
Perhaps this sounds unrealistic and, maybe it is, this side of heaven. But we, as Christians, are called to envision a world – as the Reverend Dr. MLK, Jr. did – that is forged by the blessings of God in a redemptive, human, yet divine, crucified and risen Jesus. When we name Jesus as Lord, as Savior, we actually are hitching our wagon the caravan of inclusion because all are members of the Body of Christ, and in Christ, we are connected to each other. I realize some formula that I stole (essentially, being honest) from Paul is not going to reach everyone or cure all that ails us. But that is not because who we understand Christ to be and what He calls us to is not true and real; it has something to do with the reality that we are still hesitant to understand ourselves in the terms of a saved, blessed, follower of Jesus who desires to give myself wholly and completely to Him. Please do not see any of this as a rebuke of you and me. Our foundation of Jesus upon the rock of our faith in Him is an opportunity, one that is always, always open and accessible to all of God’s children. We can make a difference in the secular world, in these scary and isolating times. We are part of the answer to challenges of systemic racism, inequity of so many kinds, poverty, and so much more. We have the truth of Jesus, and as Jesus himself as said, that truth will make us all free.