Preached by Alison Kemper on June 12, 2016
The biggest concern for any organization should be when their most passionate people become quiet.
All three stories today look at the problem of who’s good enough to be in the circle of God’s love and approval. First, God gets Nathan to show David he’s being an outrageously arrogant, entitled jerk, a murderer and adulterer.
You may remember that David saw Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, one of his soldiers, bathing. He falls for her and sleeps with her while her husband is away fighting David’s wars. David gets her pregnant, and then tries to get Uriah to come home from the war with the Ammonites and sleep with his wife so that David can obscure the problem of the unexplained pregnancy. Uriah won’t come home because he’s too busy protecting the kingdom. David has him killed.
God sees this remarkable level of sin and injustice and sends Nathan to speak truth to power and make David smarten up.
Nathan tells David the story of the poor man who had nothing but one little ewe lamb, and the rich man who took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared it, roasted it and served it up for a guest who had come to visit him.
Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; 6he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
Nathan responds with his famous words: “You are that man!”
It’s very confrontational. God sends Nathan to utterly repudiate David. At the end of the story, David confesses that he had sinned against God. He is punished with the death of his son.
David could have murdered Nathan. He could have done a lot more horrible things. But in the end, he was still a king and still got to build the temple.
Dispute, speaking truth, reconciliation, moving on, new life.
Then there’s the problem of a Christian community in Galatia in trouble. There’s a lot of uncertainty. What’s to be done about all the conflicting signals about whether you have to be a Jew to be a Christian. Who’s authentic, who’s real, who’s right.
Peter is playing both sides of the fence, eating pagan food with Greek community members and then demanding they be circumcised.
Paul is going out of his mind with distress with the Galatians’ falling away from his teachings. He’s just finished writing that fabulous phrase, “O you foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?”
There are a number of things you can do when the community in which you’ve invested so much of your life is going to hell in a hand basket.
You can hang in and hope it gets better.
You can care less so it doesn’t hurt.
You can give up and leave.
Paul does none of these. He recalls the arguments he has had with Peter. And the mess in Galatia is just one more of these fights.
But when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned 12for until certain people came from James (the old fashioned core of the church in Jerusalem) , he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. 13And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy,
One commentary I read said:
The sheer honesty of this letter opens up the intensely difficult theological (and social) dynamics among those trying to live according to God’s calling.
Living together in a faith community is not a lot easier than having roommates or siblings or partners. We have been together in this place for nearly 170 years.
Like Paul, we have fought for what we believed in. We have fought governments, we have fought the diocese, its canons and its bishops. We have fought City Hall.
It’s our job as people of faith. Rabbi Michael Lerner spoke of this in his tribute to Muhammed Ali.
That means us, everyone here and everyone listening. It’s up to us to continue that ability to speak truth to power. We must speak out, refuse to follow a path of conformity to the rules of the game in life. We must refuse to follow the Path of conformity. Tell the 1% who own 80% of the wealth of this country that it’s time to share that wealth. Tell the politicians who use violence worldwide and then preach nonviolence to the oppressed that it’s time for them to end their drone warfare and every other kind of warfare, to close our military bases around the world, to bring the troops home.
But like Paul, we have also fought each other. We have yelled about things that we didn’t like. We have debated liturgy and budgets and Christmas pageants. We now use a liturgy with the sexist language removed. That was a fight.
We fought with a priest who was sent by the diocese to destroy us. We didn’t die. We fought with a wonderful priest who loved justice and peace, but who allowed a convicted child molester to work here without the safeguards we thought were essential. We argued when our beloved Sara started a breakfast program.
But now we are silent. If there are arguments, I don’t know where they are happening. If we are fighting the diocese, I don’t see it. If we are standing up for a better way, a more robust or just or loving theology or praxis, I don’t see it.
We aren’t fighting with the diocese to deal with equal marriage or just use of our real estate assets. We aren’t quarreling with Sherman, at least in public.
We are silent. We are quiet. And that’s not good.
The third story is the story of the sinful woman anointing Jesus’ feet.
38She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.
Simon, who’s a Pharisee, is serving dinner to his friends, all of whom are reclining at table. A woman arrives uninvited.
She uncovers her hair, something Orthodox Jewish women do not do, something many older European Christian women don’t do, something many nuns don’t do. It was unheard of.
Then she pours oil over Jesus’ feet, weeps on them, and wipes them with her hair.
It’s shockingly intimate. When Matthew and Mark tell the story, she anoints Jesus’ head, not his feet.
So the Simon the Pharisee gets outraged and tells Jesus that if he’d truly been a prophet, he’d have known the origin of this woman, where she came from.
Jesus gets up Simon’s nose. I’ve got something I need to say to you.
She’s allowed to be here with me because she needs me. You? Not so much. And compared to you, Simon, she gets it.
The unnamed woman has a passion for Jesus. She shows him great love.
The faith is not about the rules. It’s about the passion. The woman wanted new life more than she could say. She had to show this need, this desire, with a gesture that was so over the top that we can’t really imagine anyone doing it.
As we remember, Luke is a big supporter of Paul and an opponent of the guys back in Jerusalem. When Luke blames Pharisees for making faith legalistic, he’s really after Peter or James or one of those guys. In this passage, he couldn’t make it clearer that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about a relationship, about love, about passion.
So too, our relationships here are not meant to be about the right way, but about the way in which Christ leads us. It’s not about the answers, it’s about the relentless following, the chasing of Jesus until we have found him. The passion that leads us to weep and caress.
The end of Luke’s story
Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
It’s a mic drop of love.
What do we do with this love?
I see three ways forward, three reasons why we must be judged, why we must argue, and why we must love. Why we must speak out and why we must weep together.
First, like David, we are judged. In a country waking up from its long colonialist dream, in a church facing its history of genocide in the residential schools, in a culture shaped by racism, we must gather to make judgement real. As settler Canadian Christians, we are judged by our Creator. Only we can display that this is a good thing, that it transforms us into better people, that it allows us to build a more lasting temple to God. We are struggling to gain the rewards of being judged.
Second, like the Corinthians, we must argue to gain the freedom of Christ. There will be those who want to say that we are not all one, that some are sinners and should undergo other rites to be of Christ. Our hard won understanding is that Paul was right. In Christ there is neither Greek nor Jew, male nor female, slave nor free, straight nor queer. We have always spoken this truth to power. We have fought any and all to make this true in our midst.
Third, like the woman with the oil, we must throw ourselves on the one who gives us hope and love. In a world ready to say that forestalling climate change is too hard, that despair and inaction are our future, we can and must remain a place of hope in new life, in change, in transformation. People of faith can do that for the broken world.
Can we regain the ability to embrace this community with the passion we remember? The kind that led to raucous, hours long debates? That offered the deepest of commitments?
Christ offers us this passion for justice, for freedom and for love. It’s time to remember how to do it.