July 28, 2019, The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 12, Year C
July 28, 2019
The Rev. Anna C. Shine
Readings: Hosea 1:2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19); Luke 11:1-13
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strong rock and our redeemer.
You know it’s going to be a good day to preach when you have the word “whoredom” in the text. Not just once. But three times! Fantastic. But in all seriousness, I think today’s scripture readings give us a fair painting of the intricacy of what it means to be a person of faith, and what it means to be the one to preach the good news to those people of faith.
We have been hearing from the prophets for the past several weeks. First Amos, and now Hosea. Prophets prophesy within a specific context and to a particular people. They do not mince words, as we can see with today’s reading. Their job is a difficult one, often a lonely one. People don’t like to hear what the prophets say, because most of the time it means they have to change. Because prophets don’t call out the other. They call out ourselves. Us. They critique the systems we have become attached to that are leading us away from the God of love. And most of the time, those systems make things more comfortable for some of us, even as it hurts others. We don’t like hearing about the ways in which we continue to fall short in our efforts to serve God. It seems now, more than ever, we have very little tolerance for critique in general.
But we come from a tradition steeped in voices crying out against the injustices imposed upon others by our own doing. And this is important and necessary. Because we cannot grow as the body of Christ if we do not accept that we are people forever dependent upon the endless grace of God’s love and mercy. We are human. And that is ok! And it is good! God saw that in the very beginning of our being created. While we are imperfect, however, that cannot serve as an excuse not to try to work towards being better. I won’t say perfect, because that is not a healthy goal, since it is not possible. But we can work towards wholeness, both within our own selves and as a community that makes up the body of Christ, which is God’s creation.
Nowadays, anything approaching discussion of politics is taboo from the pulpit. Most often because almost everything we discuss in politics these days is considered partisan. But we need to recognize that our tradition is a politic of its own. We have rules and norms that guide the ways in which we try to live our lives as a group of people called Christians. For the prophets of old, being political and being religious were not aspects of the self that they would compartmentalize. This is a pre-post-modern individualistic understanding of the self, and so, to be a member of the tribes of Israel and to practice the religion of the Israelites were not separate. No separation of church and state in the old days. And that tradition continues with the man we call Savior. Jesus was a Jew who consistently called out his own faith and political leaders. He criticized the people he loved on the systems they loved specifically because he loved and was here to show us how to love.
But he did not just critique the systems and call out the injustices. He did not only turn over tables and tell parables that were convicting. He also fed people and healed them. And he taught us how to pray and went into the wilderness to model a spiritual life of connection with God and creation. This pastoral side is an equally important part of the equation. Both the prophetic and the pastoral are necessary for this wholeness that we seek. If we are only ever prophetic, then people begin to wear down, to become paralyzed by all that must change, not knowing where to start, or begin to resent the one critiquing. But if we only ever talk of the pastoral side, preaching about the spiritual life and our own relationship with God, then we risk missing a part of the message as well. Because Jesus told us to love God and love our neighbor. We must be equally involved in our own individual as well as the societal spaces. Prayer and the spiritual life should center us so that we can be ready to enter those societal spaces and bring a prophetic voice of love. Because those societal spaces are messy, human spaces. And in the midst of those messy spaces, we must continue to pray so that we do not become too comfortable and lose sight of that prophetic voice. It is a constant cycle.
As the writer of the letter to the Colossians states: See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. And further along, he writes: Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking. There are many false prophets we must be wary of. That is a part of what makes it so hard to be prophetic in general. How do you know if the prophet is true or false? As our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry so often likes to state: “If it’s not about love, then it’s not about God.” Let that be our guide. And let Jesus be our guide.
We follow a Jewish-Arab, dark-skinned, grass-roots organizer from Nazareth, a small town in Palestine. Who sat with the outcast and was killed by capital punishment for a crime he did not commit. Who fled for his life as a child, seeking asylum in another country. That is the God we come to celebrate and learn from each week. And sometimes I think we lose sight of that God. We have become accustomed to the white-skinned, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jesus who is nice and just wants us to all get along. But living in love is not always about being nice. Love is the most difficult, most demanding task we could be given. And it is the most rewarding when we truly commit to it. It means taking serious stock of your own priorities and intentions in life. It means sitting down with loved ones who have given in to fear and a mode of scarcity that contributes to exclusive behavior and greed and calling them to account for that behavior. It means standing up for strangers, placing your body as a barrier of protection if need be from the violence of people who have lost sight of their neighbor. It means letting go of a piece of the profit in order to become the prophet of peace.
When we pray, your kingdom come, from our Gospel passage today, we are talking about a reign of love that is eternal, but that we must constantly work towards, vigilantly practice, and commit to over and over again. Yes, that is three ways to say the same thing, because it’s that important. In this way, perhaps we can live into that hope which is to let God’s name be hallowed. By our prayers and by our actions. I invite you to take the time to foster a spiritual life of prayer and loving intention that forms the posture that you take out into the wider world, allowing you to stand up to the systems that do not follow the love that God calls us to.
God, give us the courage to call to account those things that do not come from your kingdom, the discipline to pray ourselves into alignment with your wisdom and all-encompassing love, and the humility to recognize when we ourselves are the ones needing to change to live into that love.