Saturday, September 6, 2008

Thirteenth after Pentecost, 2007

August 26, 2007 XIII Pentecost (RCL Proper 16C) Jeremiah 1: 4-10, Luke 13: 10-17

The readings this morning from Jeremiah and then from Luke focus our attention on power. A reluctant Jeremiah is enlisted by God in Jerusalem’s last days before the armies of Babylon would overrun its walls. His tongue loosened, blessed, commissioned in this literal image, touched by the very hand of God--to pronounce God’s judgment, to contradict the face-saving denial and rationalizations and self-serving public relations of a nation and people who needed to know that the disaster at their doorstep was their own doing. And to plant a seed of hope in the midst of a day of destruction, to renew a call to covenant faithfulness, to remind the people even in this moment that the steadfast love of the LORD never changes, that if they will return to him, he will heal their brokenness and restore their character.

And Jesus, so dramatically, speaks a word in the crowded space of that synagogue, and the woman who was bent over, crippled, unable to stand, is suddenly, miraculously made whole. “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” A stunning, breathtaking moment on a Saturday morning 2000 years ago, and certainly an image, an emblem, a compelling sign that rolls down across centuries and continents.

“Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.”

You know, I think we sometimes, often, maybe even most of the time underestimate the power we are given as we pass through the waters of baptism and are fed at the altar and live our lives in the companionship of the Spirit here in Christ’s holy Church.

This morning's collect: "Grant, we beseech thee, merciful God, that thy Church, being gathered together in unity by thy Holy Spirit, may manifest thy power among all peoples, to the glory of thy name." I wonder: if we conducted "man on the street" interviews and asked random passers-by here in Pittsburgh to play a word-association game. For the word "Church," how many randomly selected folks would answer, "power." My guess, not many. Maybe not any. I don't know how many even of us here this morning would come up with that.

I don’t know if you’ve seen any of the movies made from the Robert Ludlum “Jason Bourne” novels, but I just love the scenes in the first movie, The Bourne Identity, as this super-secret agent with amnesia brought on by a traumatic injury surprises himself again and again. “I didn’t know I knew karate! I didn’t know I could drive like Steve McQueen through the streets of Paris! I didn’t know I could speak German!” It’s like we say sometimes, “He didn’t know his own strength.”

Well, that’s what we don’t know. Our own strength. What it is we are able to accomplish as we speak and more importantly live the message of Christ in this broken and bent-over world of ours. That where we are, there he is.

What do we think we’re doing when we’re singing in the choir? When we’re passing out service leaflets Sunday by Sunday? When we invite a stranger for a cup of coffee? When we take a moment to listen to a friend? When we make an effort to reconcile two estranged friends. When we say a word of forgiveness from our hearts to someone who has wronged us. When we sign up to help with a Friday evening Shelter Meal? What do we think happens when we read an e-mail about an illness or an unexpected death, or hear the news in a phone call, or when we pick up a newspaper and read about hurricane victims in remote Mexican villages, or when we hear a siren in the night? When we offer a prayer-- “Lord, be with them.” What do we think we’re doing, exactly?

What it says here is that we’re performing miracles. Sometimes miracles we can see, sometimes miracles happening underneath the surface, at deeper levels. “Today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” This is really big stuff, and I’ve seen it happening, right around here. Sometimes big things all at once in dramatic moments of transformation and healing and discovery and liberation, sometimes gradually, quietly, step by step by step. But lives really changed. Things that were broken being put back together. Springs of life-giving water suddenly discovered in what had seemed a barren desert. Happening right around here. No kidding. No kidding.

That’s what these readings might stir up for us this late-summer Sunday. With this sense that we don’t take it for granted. Or that we don’t neglect to do what we can do, to say the word that we can say, simply because we forget we can. I mean, I don’t think Jeremiah ever forgot this moment, and I don’t think that woman as she left the synagogue and went back to her family in this joy beyond words at her healing, at the future life that now has been given to her, a new and transformed life—I don’t think she ever forgot.

It’s an incredible responsibility, even a little scary, but also, this incredible gift, to be a part of his work, his healing, his blessing, each and every day of our lives.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

Bruce Robison

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