Friday, February 26, 2010
Hope Rising: Sermon on Matthew 16:24-28
The way you check this is by holding up an ordinary fluorescent light bulb, move it slowly up and down, along the edges of the door while you are cooking something – let’s say popcorn.
If the light bulb glows your microwave is leaking and I would suggest that you recycle it and purchase a new one.
I learned this interesting fact from Chuck Meyer a priest of this Diocese. He wrote and I believe hoped the following: “God is still outrageous and inappropriate, audaciously appearing in spiritual movements all over the world where people are holding up the spiritual equivalent of the [fluorescent] light bulb and finding that they glow like crazy. They are holding up ideas, rituals, structures, and relationships- sometimes prayerfully, sometimes rebelliously – but always testing them out to see the response. They are offering them up and finding them blessed in the glow of the light that indicates the presence of the Living Leaking God, far away from the Dying church, though sometimes appearing as an aberration within it.
This leaking God is the Jesus of hope. This is the Jesus of the Gospels and specifically the Jesus we find within Matthew’s Gospel from which this evenings passage is taken. An outrageous, at times inappropriate, audacious prophet of a man proclaiming a reign of hope and offering up to his contemporaries new ideas, rituals, structures, and relationships – at times prayerfully and sometimes rebelliously.
Jesus is proclaiming a reign that is abundant in the face of scarcity. Jesus is proclaiming a reign that springs up out of the rocks like water so that the dependent and exploited masses may be filled with good things. Jesus is saying the reign of hope is like the woman and her leavened flour, a world where one sows only the best seed regardless of the return, a world were one sows wildly and yet purposefully, a world hidden for those who are not willing to give up all that they have to enter into its gates. These are Jesus’ stories of abundance; they are his stories of spiritual wealth for those who choose to live within God’s reign. This is good news for the poor, helpless and imprisoned.
Returning home to teach in his family’s synagogue I imagine Jesus hoping for his hometown to connect with his message. Those within the religious structures of Jesus’ time cannot believe his message that the reign of hope is at hand and it is at hand for everyone and that there is more than enough to go around. The light of Christ shows their vulnerabilities and they cannot hide from its truth they cannot hide from their nostalgia of the Davidic dynasty. So it is that we are told they do not rise and they do not connect.
While finding rocky soil at home, Jesus’ message of hope finds roots in more than a few followers. And, it is with them, along the road, not in the temple, along the way and not in the synagogue, that we hear Jesus first proclaimed Son of the living God – our hope.
After these teachings and revelations Jesus makes an invitation here in this the 16th chapter of Matthew to connect. After answering the question, “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus turns to us and questions, “Will you be my hope and choose life on the road and connect with me?”
Jesus is speaking to his disciples now in a more intimate setting away from the crowds. Here in this moment, a private moment, we hear Jesus speaking to his closest followers; disciples, apostles, saints to be. It is in this setting that Jesus whispers to his followers come after me, deny yourself and take up your cross. This is not a triumphal cross as some might suppose but the cross of trial.
This is the cost to live abundantly in the reign of hope; you must (like the merchant) give up everything that is dear to your heart including your own self-preservation and connect deeply with the living God.
Come after me and disown yourself, separate any claim to your own desires. You are no longer your own but I am with you till the end. This is the meaning and promise of Jesus’ words to us tonight.
When you follow Jesus you live in the reign of hope oriented not to yourself or your needs but to the imperative Gospel proclamation. One lives connected to hope eternal. Not for our own sake but for the sake of others.
When you follow Jesus you choose to orient your life around the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the hungry, and the thirsty. When you follow Jesus you are to seek out and become vessels of mercy, purity, and peace.
It is in this context that one picks up the cross. Symbolic of life’s ambitions and human egocentricities, the cross is lifted out of the desert of life, the counter-kingdom of scarcity.
In Jesus’ teaching the disciple becomes the divine one’s possession. In effect the human self which so easily lords over others, now has a new Lord and it is the Christ. The worldly heart and satisfied will seeks authority and power over the cosmos, kingdoms, principalities, and powers. But the reign of hope with Jesus Christ as pantocrator is a life lived instead as servant of all and handmaiden.
As St. Ignatius wrote, “The farthest bounds of the universe shall profit me nothing…It is good for me to die for Jesus Christ rather than to reign over the farthest bounds of the earth.”
Yes, for Christianity Jesus has come and been in our midst but it is likely he may have already left the building.
I don’t believe that Jesus leaves our sanctuary Godless; rather he leaves to invite the God following out into the light of day were the reign of Hope may be proclaimed more brilliantly on the road and along the way.
Jesus is beckoning us out of our synods, conclaves, councils, and churches to bear witness to the abundant grace of God in the world. Jesus is calling us to rise up, proclaim hope and connect with our brothers and sisters.
No amount of investment will secure our possession of the kingdom of God, only our poverty delivers us into the hands of the reigning monarch of the Gospel’s hope.
So what is it we must do to rediscover the proclamation of abundance? How can we reread the Gospel into our own time and our own ministry and mission contexts?
The all too human and complex St. John Chrysostom offers us a place to begin:
If you ever wish to associate with someone make sure that you do not give your attention to those who enjoy health and wealth and fame as the world sees it, but take care of those in affliction, in critical circumstances, who are utterly deserted and enjoy no consolation. Put a high value on associating with these, for from them you shall receive much profit, and you will do all for the glory of God. God himself has said: I am the father of orphans and the protector of widows.
Where do we in this Consortium find the dependent and exploited, the orphans the widows, the afflicted and those in need of consolation? Where do we in this group go to reread the Gospel?
I believe the radical message of the Gospel reorients our gathering and our concerns from the provision of wealth to the provision of mission; from investment strategy to mission strategy; from scarcity to abundance, from nostalgia to hope.
Our gospel message challenges us to move our attention away from thoughts of self-preservation to Gospel proclamation – this is a holy different type of fiduciary responsibility.
We must recognize we are Christians who live in the abundant reign of Hope; we are also people who live among the abundantly wealthy. We are people who proclaim abundance and have been blessed with abundance.
No matter how sorry and sad we might be about our investments over the past year the reality is that the combined holdings of the Episcopal Church today (even after a severe market downturn) remain larger than the annual GDP of over 80 of the 180 nations in the world. In fact our combined annual pledge and plate for the Episcopal Church is larger than 15 nations’ of those nations’ annual GDP.
I believe a cross we must lay down is our sense of privilege and the lie that we are poor.
We must realize that our local and global mission to restore and change the world with Jesus Christ demands of us that we move beyond a time of propping up ministry models and ministries that no longer function. Like Jesus in his hometown synagogue, I believe he sits and waits for us to rise up and proclaim a Gospel for a new age.
We must divert monies from the tired and unsuccessful models of ministry and orient them to the places where we see that God is, already, today, leaking and pouring his spirit out into the world.
We have received a great legacy gift from our faith ancestors, but that gift is given for the purpose of the reign of hope and to assist God in breaking into the counter-kingdoms and municipalities of this world. It is to meet and connect with people out in the world and make their lives better tomorrow; better than they are today.
The world must be a better place because the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are at work in it.
We must use resources for new initiatives that connect us to the world around us, our neighborhoods, our cities, our state, our country, our world. We must hold the light of Christ up to the world around us and seek to discover where Christ is already at work and we must join him there.
We must use our resources for research and development in the field. We must embrace new opportunities and be blessed by the gifts of success and blessed by what we learn from failure. Let us not be nostalgic but visionary.
For out there on the road, outside the safety of our buildings, in the wilderness which is our world, Christ beckons to you and to me. Jesus is calling us, “Come find me in the face of your neighbor, come and connect with me, and join me in the reign of hope.”
For The Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes
- "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
- "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
- "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
- "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
- "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
- "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
- "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
- "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball