we need each other…to survive
February 19, 2017
Scripture: Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18, 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23, Matthew 5:38-48
I need you to survive…we need each other…for truly these are extremely perilous times. It was reported this past Thursday that close to 70 per cent of Americans are deeply stressed due to their concern with the direction our country is taking, citing deteriorating race relations, in particular with the relationship between African Americans and the police, immigration concerns, and fear of terrorism as their primary reasons. In fact I cannot recall a time when there seemed to be more tears in the fabric of American life and values then there are now…no time when there seemed to be less agreement and a tendency to rush more quickly into judgement and dismissiveness than all that resides within public discourse of late.
It is as though there are two very large armies walking away from each other…while creeping weakness threatens to crawl into the gap between them…each one trying to pull those who may be undecided over on to their side as they walk steadily and resolutely farther away from one another. And amidst the absolute blizzard of conflicting reports, no one knows who can truly be believed for there is no shortage of bias and selective interpretation as each side hopes to somehow prevail before time runs out…
…and somehow in the middle of all this you can find a good number of people unsure of what to think or to do. To some extent these represent a cross-section of those who are currently walking away from each other…perhaps a bit more moderate most of the time…but none-the-less wavering in the confusing swirl of information which none of us trusts completely.
And yet, we all cling to this strange hope…a hope that decency and compassion can somehow be preserved, that forgiveness and kindness can still rise to the top as those emotions and actions we rely on and practice the most…a hope that we can remain true to our Lord and to each other even in spite of all around us that seeks to divide and injure.
I need each one of you…and we need each other to survive this present moment and these perilous times. For if the fellowship of our Lord cannot hold fast through this storm, then what hope is there for anyone? And furthermore, this light that reflects our fellowship, though slight and flickering it may be at times, must never be hidden as though under a bushel basket of timidity, nor should it be set off to the side where it has little to no effect but rather it must be celebrated, put up on a lampstand in a place where its light might illumine to all the pathway towards holiness, piercing the gloom and confusion around us and drawing those searching for hope into its soft but promising light.
Surely there are those who are strong and self-reliant within both of the opposed armies…but of greater number are those who have no wish to fight and who long simply for a place of less turmoil and a chance just to breathe deeply. These are those the Spirit is seeking to assure that this Great Confusion must and ultimately will yield to the One in whose glow we seek to dwell. Truly we need each other to survive…we need each other to kindle and to fuel that flame of hope that shines through us and around us. A flame burning brightly solely because that is the nature of the One we follow…the One in whom we believe, and move, and have our being. Together we must hold fast in the midst of this storm, stubbornly holding on to our gift of common faith, Christ-like love, and willing compassion, along with the unbiased and true friendship we share that is strong enough to withstand the slings and arrows of both armies between whom we stake our claim.
Yes, we are called to hold fast and to remain as a community in contrast to the answers and the partial solutions the world offers up which unfortunately the ‘two armies’ are so jealously pursuing. Ours it is to look, to sound, and to act differently than the howling winds of the storm that rages about us seeking to pull or to push us in. Ours it is to be a port in the storm, a haven so different and so distinct that we stand fully revealed under the sometimes harsh lights of public view, public opinion, and public judgement. Ours it is to be known by the love we show for one another and for acting as Jesus taught us to…in ways which for two thousand years now have often been interpreted as foolish, ludicrous, and lacking in all reason when held up to the searing reality of the world’s logic and calculus. Truly these are perilous times…for all…but particularly so for those of strong faith in the one true God.
Our readings today pick up on various threads of this troubled narrative and offer counsel on how it is we are called to respond as disciples of our Lord in times such as these…in order to continue to build a reliable ‘contrast community’ while the proverbial ‘falling sky’ still seems to be somewhat tenuously in place. In each of the scriptures I have taken the liberty of trying to share them in ‘common-speak’…in words and ways that are easy to grasp and which hopefully will bring those words more easily into our own understanding.
In our first reading from Leviticus we hear the Lord say to all of us, “You must be good because I am good, when you take your portion be sure always to have a heart and a willingness to remember and to care for the poor among you. Never presume to speak for the Lord if what you are saying is not consonant with the nature of God as unconditional, forgiving love. Preserve and treasure community amongst yourselves by respecting one another fully and implicitly, and be sure to give each one their wage as due. Do not criticize or insult those who are less able than others such as those who are deaf or blind, either literally or figuratively. Do not slander your neighbor or harbor any ill-will towards them but rather love your neighbor as yourself. Do all this, for this is how God would have you be.”
In this passage we hear much in the way in which we are called to practice the work of being a community. We hear the call to reach out and to provide and care for those less fortunate, to love one another as Jesus told us and to truthfully share the good news that our God is a God of love and mercy, not of wrath and retribution. And furthermore we are told that we have been created in the image of this our God of love and are bound over into reflecting that grace and goodness in all we do and in all we say.
Secondly, in our passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we hear that, “Our one true foundation is Jesus Christ” and that it is, “upon that foundation that any work of grace and love is built up and supported.” We also hear that, “We together are God’s Temple, the abiding place of the Holy Spirit.” Not just individually ‘temples of the Spirit’ as Paul asserts in other passages, but together, “Called to be and to faithfully represent the Temple that houses and reveals the community of faith of our Lord…a Temple that is precious to our Lord and most holy in his sight.” In his closing words Paul asserts that ultimately God will prevail for he says that, “All things are yours…all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”
Paul is asserting here that we are called to be one in our faith, bound together in our common calling to stand as a beacon of hope and a Temple of grace that houses those who love the Lord and love one another…a place of holy relationship that both attracts and holds those who venture near. And in his closing words Paul asserts that the provision needed for our journey as community will reflect that the One in whom we trust is faithful to provide all our needs.
And lastly, in our passage from Matthew we begin to hear those familiar words that if actually followed would insure that we would be looked at as those who stand in contrast to, even opposed to much of the ways of the world. Matthew tells us that Jesus taught his disciples saying, “You have heard that you must exact revenge upon those who injure or harm you, but I tell you that instead do not seek after this, instead respond with love and forgiveness and thereby show that the ways of my love are stronger. I tell you that if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn your left as well, and if anyone wants to sue you in order to take your coat, give him your cloak as well. Resist fighting against hate with hatred instead returning good for evil. Give to anyone who asks of you and be willing to lend to any who ask. For in the past you heard that you should love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I say to you it is better that you learn to love your enemies and pray for those who would seek to do you harm. For if you love only those who love you than how is it that the rest of the world might be redeemed and brought to grace?”
These difficult teachings seem to fly in the face of so much that we have been taught all of our lives. For truly most if not all of us have grown up in a social environment and economic system that is dominated by the strong and which rewards the success of the wealthy and successful while at the same time unfortunately too often denigrating the poor and the marginal. It would seem that each one of these directives from Jesus flies in the face of commonsense self-preservation. In fact these teachings even seem to jeopardize the ways in which most of us would choose to protect and provide for our families and for our futures…which is perhaps exactly what Jesus intended.
Perhaps Jesus presented this upside down ‘topsy-turvy’ set of social guidelines to make it clear that we are called to a different way of living life entirely…perhaps truly loving one another and standing with one another makes it possible to let go of fear and worry concerning what we have or what we do not have, what we give away and what we retain. Perhaps knowing we are supported in all ways by a loving community allows us to ‘take one on the chin’ either literally or figuratively without fear on occasion if it be that the Spirit asks us to demonstrate the love of our God in that manner.
Perhaps Jesus is asking us to be willing at least to try to learn to love those who we have always judged as unlovable or unworthy of love or mercy…those we may have even hated at some point in the past. For it just may be that as children of our Lord, which we all most assuredly are, that Jesus wants our holy community to find or to make room for even such as these. For if we cannot find a way to love such as these than how will the world be redeemed, how will the world outside of our faith community receive the same grace and forgiveness that has already been extended so fully to each one of us?
I truly believe that the dislocation and deep loneliness that is so prevalent in society at large begins to abate only in the presence of God’s grace made visible…and that, only as we ourselves find ways to extend it outward in mercy and compassion does it become so. I also believe that destructive bias and prejudice burns up in the fire of unconditional love like so much dry straw…a fire only set ablaze through our love in action.
As a community that stands in contrast to the ways and means of the world we need to be bold to be the difference we already are…to stand as one in believing hope and steadfast embrace no matter where the noise and public shame and humiliation might come from as a result.
For we follow in the steps of one who has already walked this path before us, one who triumphed over the worst the world had to offer up…one who hung there dying in the public square and said only, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
So though the times seem disjointed and though so much beneath the surface seems to be devoid of reason and driven solely by fear or greed…though the poles of formerly ‘decent’ society seem to be moving farther away from each other than ever before…though it is hard to “keep on keepin’ on” in the face of so much negative banter and chatter, remember that you hold a treasure not made of gold…but one worth immeasurably more.
I need you…you need me…we all need each other…for it is within the embrace of holy community that true hope is found…amen