17th Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture is many things and people of goodwill can disagree on how to interpret it. But Scripture is, or it is nothing to us, the story of our liberation and salvation, which we affirm each Sunday when we say together the Nicene Creed. Holy Scripture mirrors and echoes, constantly as it moves from the most ancient stories to our modern world, the story of God with us, a story of love, the exaltation of God in Jesus Christ, and a tale of grace. We hear the story of our God with us echoing and reverberating back to us, from across the ages, in Psalm 78 and Philippians 2 this morning: God shouts, “I love you,” and we shout, stronger and stronger back, back into the cosmos of God, “I love you, Lord! Be near me.”
We are all struggling a bit right now. I wouldn’t keep mentioning that so often if it were not so true for me and the people that I meet along this current journey of life and the spirit. I hear the strain of life’s challenge in people’s voices – the loneliness, the sadness, the strain of life’s challenge, and an impatience born of six months of COVID, national confusion higher than most of us have ever seen it, anger, violent protest, racial inequity, fires, storms … and my God, is it only September 27th?! It seems that 2020 has lasted for four or five years at least!
How might we not only endure but thrive in this literal and figurative firestorm? I think we might remember that Scripture is the story of our bonds being broken, even the ones forged in 2020. Our attentiveness to the blessings of God in Christ means that we will not fall into the pit of anguish with no recourse to God. We have known – or are intended to know, to proclaim, in fact - the blessing and freedom of our Creator, learning that nothing will come between us and God, in the end. We have named our current and ongoing challenges before; they don’t take us by surprise so much anymore, but simply wear us down. We are meant to understand why the world is hard for so many, even if we have never been touched by starvation, war, rape, pestilence, addiction or homelessness. We need to comprehend, on some level, why and how people can either lose hope or become prisoners to their anger and fear and, in our patient understanding, we have compassion.
So, how do we begin to, fundamentally, to equip ourselves and to begin to benefit from our growing understanding and gratitude of God’s consistent story and presence among us? Finally, what do we actually believe? “We believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth…We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ…” The creedal statements that we utter each week…do they really proclaim what we truly and honestly believe? Do the creeds tell our story? Yes, they do but scripture also tells it and often in much more powerful ways. Psalm 78 proclaims, “He split the hard rocks in the wilderness and gave them water to drink as from the great deep. He brought them streams out of the cliff, and the waters gushed like rivers.”
These ancient words, where and when God saved his people, quenched their thirst, are so timely that they might have been written yesterday. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave …and being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a Cross.” The Good Book that we follow contains the story of salvation that is at once ancient, and immediately contemporary. God’s Word unfolds the reality that out of the depths of our workaday lives, tragedies, humiliations and death, God brings new life and renewed purpose, like the clear water that springs from the rock of God’s foundation which is life. The life of Almighty God is our story which is one of holiness, profound and life-altering blessing and, at the last, the story reveals life itself. Our story is also one of sin, recklessness, abandonment, conflict and turbulence. And yet, in the midst of our personal and communal heartbreak we receive the Body and Blood of Christ as a sign that, yes, may be broken, and completely lost, but God in His mercy would have it another way, a different way that is the way of salvation. We, who may feel like we are laying in pieces upon the earth, shattered remnants of what might have been, should have been, suddenly experience and encounter our Lord Jesus who, down through the ages, makes His body and blood a sign and symbol of the New Covenant God has made with us. We are made free, nay, whole, by the mercy, kindness, and liberating love of Jesus. Our story has not ended but God has spoken, for a final time, in Christ Jesus, and that Word of God says we are His, we are loved, and we are meant to be One, even as the Father and Son are one.
That is our story. We who were weak, have been made strong; we who were lost have been found. We who were prisoners to a thousand different things – loneliness, anger, addiction, fear, prejudices and hopelessness – are made free by Christ’s Body - used as the blunt, yet loving instrument of our complete and total release. Christ has opened the door to life, as God’s love always has, from the beginning of our story with Adam down to the very present day. Will we have the strength and courage to walk through the door to together. The portal that leads us to greener pastures filled with God’s light? I would not begin to know what humanity, in its often-fatalistic refusal to love one another, will do. But I am optimistic.
Maybe we can bow out with Paul’s words to the Philippians, at the end of his truly magnificent hymn, sung, perhaps, by the church before it was completely formed. “Therefore, my beloved … work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross.
This is our story. This is our song. If we could live into it, embrace it, and feed others with it, what a wonderful world it would be. Amen.