Friday, June 29, 2018

Embodied Faith: Living Together

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 1 John 1:1-4 (NRSV)

Grace and peace to you from God, the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

I have been very angry this week. I have to admit this to you this morning. I have been very angry.

It actually started late last week, when the news of what was happening at the border began to break. I was in Texas at an intensive at Lutheran Seminary of the Southwest to learn a little more Spanish for use in worship and to better understand elements of Latino culture and patterns of ministry as we begin our ministry next month on the horse farms with the Backside and Shiloh Methodist. I was with a group of Lutherans from across the country--both white and Hispanic--who were considering or already doing ministry among people of Latin descent in the church. As time passed, we began to get to know each other and hear and share experiences. We began to grow together, to go more deeply into relationship with each other. And to become friends. And, then, the news hit. And, suddenly, in the midst of my new Latino friends, all I could feel was a sense of shame and embarrassment at how these families were being treated at the border. I got angry. 

Then, on Monday, I got home late after a long day of travel. I got this text from my son: “Why is our family filled with stupid people? How many do I have to block?” When I replied to ask him what was going on, he directed me to Facebook. So, I went online and found an ugly discussion that was happening, the result of responses by family members of my own generation to a post made by my niece in Chicago about the migrant situation. Responses that attacked her as stupid and ignorant, that insulted her intelligence, and, then, of all things, defended their right to insult her because she was family and, no matter what, family was family. A family, I might add, that came to this country with no restrictions or quotas. A family whose wealth came in large part as a result of gifts of land from the government through the Homestead Act. And a family that had to change either the spelling or pronunciation of its name to sound more “American” in the midst of the anti-immigrant/anti-German fervor of World War 2. 

I got angrier.

It continued to grow throughout the week. The tipping point was yesterday. At the pantry, we have a family that I may have mentioned before. Great-grandparents who have had to take in their three great-grandchildren. We first met them a year or so ago. Overwhelmed and exhausted, one day at the pantry they finally opened up and shared everything they were going through. Their love for their great-grandchildren, their own medical issues that challenged their ability to care for them as well as they wanted, their grief at the loss of their life as they had envisioned it, their fear over their financial situation and fear over what might happen if one of them should get sick. Over time, we’ve helped them with food, with money, and with a housing situation that has been deplorable at best. 

Yesterday, one of our pantry volunteers and I went to their house to help them pack because they are moving. I was a little delayed getting there. When I finally did, this volunteer came out to meet me and to update me on the progress. And, then, she shared with me the shame the great-grandmother was feeling with our presence there. Her shame at how dirty the house was. And how cluttered it had become. But, mostly, she was embarrassed that we were seeing it. Seeing them, really. Seeing how poor and and how overwhelmed they really were. And all I could think about is how we have shamed poor people in our country to the point that they have begun to shame themselves.

I got angrier.

And, then, it was time for me to write my sermon. Somehow, the particular text in our lectionary that I am called to preach on each week is never an accident. This week is no different. This week, we are beginning a 4-part series on 1st John. We spent almost all of this past spring in the Gospel of John. The epistle of John is like a sequel to that gospel. But, it is written in a somewhat changed context. At the time the gospel was written, everyone pretty much agreed that Jesus was a human being. The question was over the claim of Jesus’ divinity. Remember the questions we heard asked of Jesus throughout our gospel lessons earlier this year? “Who are you?” and “Where do you come from?” 

By the time the epistle (or letter) of 1st John was written, things had changed. The early church had all reached the understanding that Jesus was God. But a dispute had grown in the community around his humanity. Some had begun to lose touch with the tangible reality of the incarnation. With Jesus in the flesh. The seeing, touching, and hearing of Jesus, the human being. So, the letter to the community was intended to address this dispute. To affirm Jesus’ divinity, but, particularly, to stress the tangibility, the humanity, and the community of Jesus. 

Why is this important? Why is the fact that Jesus was human so important? Not only for the early Christian community, but also for us today?

Here’s why. When we view Jesus as only divine. When we view Jesus only as God and not human, as well, it leads us to a faith that is private and individualized. If my spiritual experience is with a God who is only divine and not human, with a God who has not come to earth, who has not incarnated or who was embodied with humanity, then, my own spirituality--my faith--doesn’t require that I become incarnated. That I become embodied in community. In humanity. That my spirituality be communal, instead of individual. 

The incarnation of Jesus--of Jesus coming to us in human form and being embodied among us--requires a discipleship of us that is also incarnated. It requires an embodied faith, where we live in community. The primary message of 1st John is what it looks like to be in intentional community as disciples of Christ. 1st John recognizes that God “speaks” an embodied word--the Word of Life--that will be repeatedly identified as love. Authentic love is not some abstraction. Authentic love comes through speech, through action, and through presence. That is the manner of God’s communication to us through Jesus--the embodied Word of Life. It was what will also characterize what authentic faith and authentic community looks like for Jesus’ followers. 

So, for us, authentic faith and authentic community means that in our speech, in our actions, and in our presence, we embody God’s love, just as God embodied God’s love in Jesus Christ. It means that characterizing an entire group of people as thieves and murderers is just wrong. It means that characterizing all poor people as “lazy” and “good-for-nothing” is just wrong. And, just in case you’re feeling a little self-righteous at the moment, it also means that characterizing and entire group of people as lacking empathy, or inhumane, or racist, is also wrong.

But, mostly, it means and it requires that we must go deeper with each other into relationship. To be embodied with each other as Jesus was embodied with the first disciples and is still embodied among us today in Word and Sacrament. It means we must hear each other’s stories, mourn with each other, laugh with each other, cry together, celebrate together, choose our words in love rather than in anger, and then repent together when we fail to do this. Because we will fail. But, we will also trust that, even in our failure, our God continues to forgive us, and to form us, and to shape us into God’s people. Into the beloved community. It is this--love of God and love of neighbor that makes our joy complete.

I have one more story for you from this week. At the pantry on Wednesday, I was approached by one of our pantry clients. For the past 3 or 4 years, this client has cared for her ex-husband as his health declined because there was no one else to take him in. He died earlier this year. For the past few months she has shared her grief with me and we have mourned together. She came to talk to me this Wednesday because she was afraid and worried. She had received a call from her doctor’s office. There was something questionable about her liver results and she was being referred immediately to a specialist, who she was scheduled to see this past Friday. As she talked, I listened. I listened to how afraid she was to go to that appointment. How afraid she was that they might find cancer. And then we prayed. 

On my way home from helping our other pantry client pack, I received a call. She had gone to the doctor and found out that she would be okay. She was ecstatic. And so was I! Because comes through relationship.

I’m not angry anymore. Because this past week has, once again, taught me of the blessings of going deeper into relationship with others, especially others I normally wouldn’t. This is what an embodied faith looks like. It is the knowledge that I am a beloved child of God. And so are you. And so is everyone. And when we seek to be in relationship with one another in all our differences and all our messiness and in all our sameness and in all our beauty--just as God made us to be. Then, and only then, will our joy be complete. 

May you find such joy this week! Amen.

Preached June 24, 2018, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Pentecost 5
Readings: John 1:14-16, 1 John 1:1-4

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