Sunday, August 5, 2018

One: Sermon for Proper 13 B, 11th Sunday after Pentecost

When I was a kid, there were only four channels on TV, and so the choices were somewhat lacking. The channel with the most variety was actually the local PBS affiliate. It had everything from Monty Python to the Twilight Zone to Mr. Rodgers to the New York Philharmonic and Austin City Limits on it. In the evenings on weekends, they often had classic movies: Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, the Marx Brothers, and even movie versions of Broadway musicals.

One of the musicals that made a deep impression on me was West Side Story. A more modern version of Romeo and Juliet, its beautiful music by the brilliant Leonard Bernstein spoke deeply to me.

My favorite song from that musical was “One Hand, One Heart.” It’s in a scene where the two star-crossed lovers, Tony and Maria, pretend to have a wedding, since they believe a real one is impossible due to their different backgrounds. Despite themselves, despite belonging to groups who hated each other, Tony and Maria are drawn together, and able to see beyond the labels that try to keep them as enemies. They pretend to make their vows, and then together they sing these simple lines, first in harmony, and then in unison:

"Make of our hands one hand,
Make of our hearts one heart,
Make of our vows one last vow:
Only death will part us now.

Make of our lives one life,
Day after day, one life.
Now it begins, now we start
One hand, one heart..."

The repeated use of the word “one” signifies the way that love has joined together this young couple, so different in so many ways, with a timeless unity, that transcends any barrier that may come between them.

In our selection from the letter to the Ephesians today, we see another beautiful testament of faith and unity. The beginning of the letter to the Ephesians starts with a magnificent description of God as the one who “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.” The letter then goes on to detail how God’s love for us, especially as revealed through God’s Son Jesus, has brought together a tremendous diversity of people in the Church, people who normally would not cross the very strict sets of hierarchies and boundaries in the Mediterranean world: slaves and free persons. Jews and Greeks. Male and Female.

In today’s reading, we once again hear the word “one” repeated, seven times over:
one body,
one Spirit,
one hope,
one Lord,
one faith,
one baptism,
one God who encompasses all that exists, from sub-atomic particles to galaxies.

All things are one, brought together by God’s love. Our reading today begins by turning to how we respond to such an outstanding gift of love.

It strikes me anew every time I read that part about being chosen by God before time. Because much of the Christian thought that seems to dominate these days, that we see even in commercials on TV, starts from the other direction—it emphasizes that our relationship with God starts with our personal decision.

How would it change us if, instead of thinking that we have chosen God, to start from the conviction that God has chosen us, from even before the time we were born?

It’s hard for us to imagine that God’s love for us is that unshakeable, that eternal. But it is. That love binds us to God, and calls us to worship God gathered in this circle around this altar. That same love draws us together as one, regardless of our differences. That same love saves us.

Yet the salvation we receive from God is not about where you go after you die. It is about how we live, right now, and live life abundantly, not just for ourselves but by living our lives for others—for others who we see as being a part of us. Where can we find the strength and the courage to begin?

It’s hard, in a world that worships individualism and sometimes seeks to denigrate the mutual dependence we have on each other, to maintain the delicate balance between self and other that we are called to embody in our baptismal covenant and in our gathering around this altar each week. The Christian life is not a life lived for ourselves, but a life lived FOR God and FOR others. If we are to abide in God as one, we are made partners with God in the work of bringing God’s creative power and love alive for those who do not yet know it.

But the good news is, that we ultimately are not in this alone. Jesus, as the bread of life, gathers us to himself as a mother hen tends to her chicks. He feeds us with his wisdom, his love, and his very body, so that we can actually become Christ made visible to the world. Through him, God’s love holds us up and draws us close. And in so calling us through love, in feeding us and calling us to walk in his path, Christ bids us, in Spirit as well as truth, to nothing less than embodying our risen, living Savior. Through Jesus’s example, we are called ourselves to make present and visible his truth in a world that too often sputters in darkness, in emptiness, in hunger that never seems satisfied.

But the bread of life we receive from Christ is always not just enough but abundant. It gives us abundant hope, abundant love, abundant life over and against the constant drumbeat of scarcity and thirst for more that echoes throughout our society. Our call is to something different, however. When Jesus says, "I am the bread of life," he is calling us to live a Eucharistically-shaped life: one of offering, gratitude, and communion—all things that are only possible in community.

The bread of life we receive as Jesus, when placed at the center of our hands and the center of our hearts, gives us faith enough to empty ourselves of all that is miserly, fearful, or suspicious-- in order to be filled with something greater: to be a part of a community, and communion, of life throughout creation, bound together by love in action. Through our love—the love that we live, the love that we speak, the love that we advocate for the powerless and the marginalized—we are Christ in the world. 

As Christ in the world, we are called to embody the love of God, which rests not on vengeance or fear, but on grace and abundant mercy for all who will open their hearts to the hope that is Christ. The life of the Christian individual and the Christian community is ultimately meant to reflect the life of Christ, because we are one in Christ for the world, called to work for true peace, which can only be founded on true justice, which is an outgrowth of true love for each other through grace which admits no exceptions. Through the true bread of Jesus, we come to know who we really are: bearers of God’s love into the world.

As English poet and Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins noted in his poem “As Kingfishers Catch Fire:”

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces

To act before God as God sees us: As beautiful. As beloved.
To act in the world as what we are: the Body of Christ.
One in Spirit. What grace this is!

Close your eyes for a moment. Imagine a community in which the individuals and the groups within that community,
“lead a life worthy
of the calling to which you have been called,
with all humility and gentleness,
with patience,
bearing with one another in love,
making every effort
to maintain the unity of the Spirit
in the bond of peace.

Then open your eyes. Look around you. This is the covenant we make with each other, right here at St. Martin’s and every time we gather around God’s table, every time we come together in love.

Now it begins-- now we start. We start with this understanding of our community, gathered around this table offering ourselves to each other, to God who nourishes us and loves us, and to the world, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace and discipleship for the life of the world.

A life abundant in hope. Abundant in faith. Abundant in love. United as one.


Preached at the 505 on August 4, 2018, and at 8:00 and 10:15 on August 5, 2018, at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO.

2 Samuel 11: 26-12:13a
Psalm 51:1-13
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

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