Sunday, October 17, 2021

HOMILY: "Make Us Bold to Flinch"

A Meditation on Matthew 5
Sunday, October 17, 2021

Tree of Blessings

I think it was the great American writer Flannery O’Connor who paraphrased Jesus and the gospel, and wrote: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. But first it’ll make you flinch.” You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. But first it’ll make you flinch. The gospel, friends, is a strange and provocative truth. Not a soothing, pacifying word. But a strange and provocative truth.

If we take Jesus seriously, if we risk getting real close, he’s going to make us flinch. And that’s what I where I want to go this morning. I want to speak to the Beatitudes of Jesus, to the Love that sets us free. I want to speak to the kind of truth that unravels old truths and weaves another way of life. A gospel way of life. But make no mistake, that truth will make us flinch. That truth will make us flinch.

Please pray with me.

God of blessing upon blessing, Christ of beatitudes and beauty: come to us now in wisdom and spirit. Open our hearts, yes, even our minds and intentions to the strange and provocative truth of your Love. Make us bold to risk everything for that Love. Make us bold to listen. Make us bold to flinch. Amen.

1.

Palestinian Olive Harvest/2021
The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ stunning meditation on love (agape) and, in a lot of ways, it’s his coming out confession. This is what I mean by love, he seems to say. This is what I mean by loving, he seems to say. And it’s a great big love (agape)—not a limited or limiting notion, but a huge and holy belief in the goodness of creation and the sacred value in every life. And Jesus says, “I will not hide that light, my light under a bushel basket.” And you shouldn’t hide yours either. This is the coming out part.

Come out in love. Come out to love. Come out, people of God! Let your light shine! In a world where fear rules the roost, you’ve got let your light shine. In a world where suspicion is king, you’ve got let your light shine. It all starts here. In the verses Kim’s read this morning. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ coming out confession. Come out in love. Come out to love. Come out, people of God!

Now it’s so important to remember that all of this love in Jesus’ heart, all of this light in Jesus’ eyes and in his teaching too—all of it flows out of the first love, the original love that found him in the Jordan River. At his baptism. Jesus has a lot of questions still. Right to the end of his life. A lot of questions. And Jesus is working through some of the same doubts you and I sleep on every night. These doubts hound him through Gethsemane and to the Roman cross itself.

But he remembers his baptism in the Jordan. Jesus remembers the strong hand of John on his shoulder. And he’s tapped into the love God showered upon him, all over him, that day, and ever since. The Sermon on the Mount is like a towering pine, one of those majestic pine trees we cherish in these parts, drawing strength and sustenance from the rich, dark soil below. The ground of our being. The ground of Jesus being. That first love.

So let’s hang out there this morning. If you and I are going to hear the good news in the Sermon on the Mount, or in the Beatitudes we’ve read just now—if we’re going to encounter Jesus and his teaching in our lives—we’ll want to open to the reality of God’s love, God’s blessing, and God’s immeasurable grace in our lives. This great big love is dancing in your precious human heart. Let me say that again. This great big love is dancing in your precious human heart. Everything we do together as a church; every song we sing together as a church; every bit of joy we bring to the world as a church—it all begins there. This great big love is dancing in our precious human hearts. Every single, sweet, broken, holy one of them.

So, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about generosity and sacrificial giving. It’s a pretty big theme for Jesus. It's a big one for us as we kick off our Stewardship Drive this week.  And it’s all about agape. It’s all about love. We tap into the generosity in our souls and experience the call to sacrificial giving—when we wake up every morning to the awesome, eternal, enfolding love of God in our hearts and in our world. Your hearts and your world. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about forgiving seventy-times seven times, and loving even our adversaries and enemies. That’s another theme. And it’s all about agape. It’s all about love. We lean into forgiveness and mercy and that kind of compassion—only as we walk side-by-side, and day-by-day, with the Love that shines in every darkness. That first love. God’s love in us. God’s love in you. Dancing in our human hearts.

2.

Now I heard a preacher say, just a few weeks ago, that she’s received some flack from a couple in her congregation for talking about God’s love too much. It’s almost as if celebrating God’s love, calling out the love that shines on each one of us (and in each one of us) is too simple, too ordinary and almost beneath the higher intellectual function of God’s frozen chosen. And to that I say: Bunk. I think this misses the entire point of Jesus’ gospel, the staying power of the Sermon on the Mount itself, and the transformational energies of the church itself. We love because God first loves. We risk generosity and justice because God first loves. We forgive bravely because God first loves. As soon as we take that part for granted, we get tinny and shrill and proud. And we don’t do a lot of good—or shine a lot of light—that way.

So friends, whatever else you take from our hour together this morning, hear this. You are loved by the Breath that created all things and stirs in the heart and soul of creation. You are protected—your soul is safe—in the Grace that sustained Jesus and so many others in seasons of crisis and celebration. You are created not simply for survival, but for service and communion and joy. The fundamental reality of your life is God’s love and God’s loving. And this love is not strained in seasons of despair, whatever it is you’re going through. It beats in your heart. It courses through your veins. It is the fundamental reality of your life. And all the worries of the world—all the huge crises we encounter in the news and in our inboxes every day—all these worries cannot and do not diminish it. God’s love beats in your heart. God’s love courses through your veins. The fundamental reality of your life. You are created not simply for survival, but for service and communion and joy. God loves you. Not just an abstract you. Not just the idea of you. God loves you. Precisely and exactly you.

3.

So here’s the thing with these Beatitudes. Here’s the thing with the Sermon on the Mount—which is a radical call to loving and caring and community-building. We are called out by Jesus to come out as friends and lovers of God. Right? You and I are called out by Jesus to come out as friends and lovers of God. Because we hear the good news. Because we receive the promise. Because we recognize that the promise is not only ours, not just ours alone, but the promise of God to the entire global community, to the whole human family. We are loved. God’s love is our truth. And God’s love is the truth that binds us to one another around the planet, the truth that weaves us into a single family, a body with many members. Without that love, without that experience, the Beatitudes can come across as kind of stiff, even preachy and unreasonable.

But love does its work on us, and breaks us open to new commitments, new dreams and even new burdens. And here comes the Flannery O’Connor part. Here comes the part where we learn to flinch and bend and even sweat a little. When love is the promise at the heart of your life, you find yourself poor in spirit, humbled by the enormity of God and the limitations of your own understanding. The truth shall make you free. But first it’ll make you flinch. When love is the promise at the heart of your life, you find yourself mourning for the suffering you see in the world, brokenhearted in the face of others’ pain. The truth shall make you free. But first it’ll make you flinch.

See how this works? See how Jesus is riffing on the life that follows from that first love? When God’s love courses through your veins, you find yourself hungering for justice, thirsting for justice—prioritizing justice because justice is love in public. Because love lives to love. When God’s love courses through your veins, you find yourself risking even discomfort and persecution, because you know (deep, deep down) you know that nothing, nothing, nothing can take that love from you. Nothing can diminish that love in the world. That love, God’s love, is the fundamental reality of your life. Forever. And ever. Whatever happens. So you love and you forgive. So you hunger for justice and risk persecution. Because love lives to love.

SIGN A LETTER: SUPPORTING A PATHWAY TO CITIZENSHIP!

4.

I think you know me well enough by now to know that I’ll always encourage your mission, your action, your pushing out to touch and heal and face the world with courage and compassion. You are the salt of the earth. You are brave and daring in your inclusive spirit, in your commitments to welcome all God’s children in this beloved community and historic congregation. You risk discomfort, you take risks, you push beyond your comfort zones—to feed hungry friends and extend hospitality to frightened immigrants and organize peoples of faith for action. You are in so many ways the salt of the earth. And the light of the world.

But know this. Our mission, our action, our life is rooted in love. It is always and forever grounded, planted and rooted in the first love that pulses through creation; in the first love that found Jesus in the Jordan; in the first love that beats in your heart and in every heart. Don’t be afraid—like that couple in my friend’s church—don’t be afraid to name that love and to embrace it. Don’t be afraid to look in the mirror tonight and find it in your cheeks, and in your eyes, and in the creases in the forehead. And by all means, friends, parents, grandparents, don’t be afraid to tell your beloved little friends, your children, about the love that shines in their lives. God’s love. That first love.

Let me pivot just a bit to a Stewardship pitch—as we kick off our own season of financial commitments and covenant renewals and purposeful care for the ministry we cherish in this place. This isn’t about dollars and cents and budgets and spreadsheets now. It’s about that first love. And what we do with it.

Because it’s very, very hard to be the light of the world in isolation and separation. It’s very, very hard to be the light of the world apart from a community of support and accountability. We need each other. To be humble—we need this Community Church. To grieve cruelty and violence, and to hunger and thirst for justice—we need this Community Church. To practice mercy and peace, to risk persecution and discomfort—we need this Community Church.

Among you I dare to see the beauty of God in every living being. And I learn to receive the grace of God in every single breath. Among you I dare to flinch when love blows me away. And I learn to cry out—Alleluia!—when mercy heals a broken heart. So when I sit down to make out my pledge card this week, I’ll remember the gospel Kim’s read this morning. I’ll remember the Beatitudes and the big line at the end: the part about being the light of the world. I’ll give thanks for the hundreds of ways you bring the blessing out of me, and the best of me too. And I’ll give everything I can—in fact I’m going to pledge ten times what I pledged this year—so that we can bring the blessing out of one another in 2022.

Community Church, you are the light of the world! Let that light shine, shine, shine!

Amen and Ashe.