It is officially summer at church, even if we have not quite gotten to the solstice. We gather here on Sunday morning as the Faithful Dispersed, looking for a word from the Lord on which to feast after some challenging weeks. The lessons this week remind us that our life is holy and we are precious in the eyes of God. At the same time as we know God is good, life sometimes
stinketh is difficult. Such is the nature of life: the blessings dwell alongside the brokenness.
Jesus speaks to the people of Israel, proclaiming the good news of God’s healing love and the arrival of the kingdom of heaven. The immediate response is gratitude and joy. There is so much work to do that he calls twelve companions to assist him. We should remember, however, that all the healing occurs in a context of division (gentile from Jew) and suffering in a country occupied by a foreign army.
Twenty years after the Resurrection, Paul’s Letter to the Romans speaks to people who are suffering alienation and conflict in their own community, telling them that the good news of Jesus is for all people. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul preached that in Christ, there is no Gentile or Jew. In the section just prior to today’s passage, he tells the Romans that they are all children of Abraham. I wonder how this letter was received in the Roman Christian community, which was comprised of Gentile converts, who assumed their superiority by their Roman citizenship, as well as Jewish converts, who knew that they were heirs of the Chosen People. Paul insists that the Holy Spirit has poured God’s love into all hearts! The clear message is that diversity is good, and divisiveness is not. Paul preaches a singular hope derived from the glory of God in Christ, which offers all people grace. It is only by faith and grace, not by what we do or who we are, that we are justified and beloved in God’s eyes.
These statements may be encouraging or depressing, depending on one’s current disposition and willingness to be connected with people very different from oneself.
We gather (virtually) on Sunday to proclaim with joy the presence of God among us. On a beautiful morning after an easy week, that may be an easier proposition. And then there are the other sorts of days. (How has your distant socializing been going? Are you liking the headlines? How is your soul faring?) The state of the world has not changed over two millennia. Violence and persecution, famine and plagues are still with us. Differences between neighbors do not bring joy over God’s creativity, but suspicion and alienation. Often our hearts are filled with anxiety as well as joy.
Christian faith does not offer easy answers to our difficult days. It is not a feel-good panacea. What we believe in is God, revealed in Jesus: love that is enduring, fierce, life-giving, for all human beings. We may feel as if we are crushed by the suffering of the world, worry whether we have the character to do good in the midst of calamity, and wonder if we have misplaced our hope somewhere. The voice of God invites us to navigate through this thing called life by remembering the love that is our origin and our end. First person plural is intentional here: this love is for all people – we are supposed to share it generously – including with people we may find most puzzling, ridiculous, or loathsome. As Howard Thurman says, “the religion of Jesus says to the disinherited: love your enemy.”
Jesus does not offer us a systematic program for the reform of worldly evils, such as racism, violence, deception. He does offer us occasions of grace and holiness, the enormous power of God breaking into human life. We need to recognize that the healing and reconciling work of Christ did not/does not happen in disconnection from the brokenness of the world. Jesus moved along the fringes of a system he resisted, largely ignoring the systemic evils he rejected and choosing to operate with deep love and compassion among people who were broken, vulnerable, and oppressed. He invites us to join him in the loving.
Let us not waste our time dividing the world into who/what is good enough and who/what is not. Blessing and brokenness are mingled in the cosmos, and if we are honest, they are part of our very selves. If we can hold them both together in our own hearts – where they are anyway – we will have held together the whole world. We will have overcome the great divide in one place of spacious compassion. In our imperfection, we can be illustrations of redemption. God will take it from there.
God is always good, even when life stinketh. We are always deeply beloved, God’s precious treasure. God came among us, in the flesh as Jesus, to show us just how precious we are in the divine eye. God has come among us and has redeemed us. Let’s walk on, loving our neighbors. All of them. That is good news worth passing along on a summer morning.