2 Pentecost—Proper 6-A, June 18, 2017
Exodus 19:2-8a, Psalm 100, Romans 5:1-8, Matthew 9:35-10:23
What do you think when you see crowds? It depends on the context, doesn’t it?
+If you’re working at Best Buy on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, you may think: I hope I can survive this crowd. +If you’re at the beach you may think: oh, great, there won’t be room to put down my towel with all these Bozos. +If you’re a parish priest on Sunday morning you think: this is great, they must really like me. +If you’re the disciples you may think: we’re getting so famous surely someone will write a book about us. When Jesus sees the crowd, Matthew tells us, he has compassion on them because they are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
He is healing and teaching just as fast as he can, but it’s not enough, so he talks with the Father and comes up with a plan to authorize and empower the apostles to heal and teach, and thus multiply his ministry.
So the apostles’ heads swell some more as they take off in the name and power of Jesus—without doubt the Today Show and NPR will be texting them soon!
And who can blame them: They are in the flow—God flowing through Jesus and Jesus flowing through them. Who wouldn’t want to be a leader of this church?!
But it doesn’t take long for the push back to come from the priests and rabbis who are responsible for the spiritual health of the crowd and who don’t enjoy being told they have been bad leaders.
Jesus tries to tell the apostles about what’s coming, but it’s like trying to tell five year olds about Calculus. But, ready or not, the bad times still come to the apostles.
Jesus embraces it all as his followers then and now run away and hide behind religious rules, spiritual systems, and outright lies: “I tell you I don’t know the man”, Peter screams to a 10 year old girl!
As Peter Rollins says, in Gethsemane, Jesus sacrifices everything for God, but on the cross Jesus even loses God, as God forsakes God.
There is no theological explanation for crucifixion, though we like to trot out our theories on Good Friday, so we can explain it all away: Oh, don’t worry, Jesus has to die to forgive our sins, Jesus is defeating the devil, Jesus is dying in our place—don’t worry, it all makes perfectly good sense, except it doesn’t.
Just ask Mary, Mary Magdalene, and the Beloved Disciple huddled together as they watch it happen. This is not a theory to be explained but a wound that overwhelms all reason and meaning.
This is where all our rationalizations turn to dust and blow away, because they can’t cope with the simple fact that life is fragile, glorious, and temporary.
And in the collapse of all we that holds our world together, we are emptied out and broken open so we can finally embrace the world as we become conduits of God’s love. Crucifixion and Resurrection are a matched set—you ignore one you lose both.
Jesus doesn’t lose his wounds on Easter and neither do we because our brokenness is central to who we are.
In a play on words of the dismissal from the Roman Catholic Mass Peter Rollins says: “So friends, the task in ended, go in pieces to see and feel your world.”
As you know I’m just back from a glorious 5 day retreat in Weston at the Campion Renewal Center, which is run by the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits of New England. Behind and off to the right of the beautiful and massive 5 story building is the cemetery for Jesuits from this province. There are hundreds of identical white stone markers standing in the green grass to remember and honor the ones buried beneath. Each stone has the same information written in Latin: full name, date of birth, date of entering the Society of Jesus, and the date of death.
But in front of one cross in the oldest section, however, is stone tablet that reads:
“Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Center
Designated Father Jakob Raile as a ‘Righteous among the Nations’ for having risked his life while saving hundreds of Hungarian Jews
“Whoever saves one life is as though he had saved the entire world.”
But you know that the others buried there also did amazing work. On the other side of the property is the Weston Observatory where there is a memorial to Professor James W. Skeha, S.J. founder: Department of Geology and Geophysics, Boston College, 1957 and Director of the Weston Observatory 1973-1993.
On another wall is a memorial to Daniel Linehan, S.J. 1904-1987. Pioneer in observational seismology and geomagnetism. Renowned scientist-explorer: the Linehan Glacier in Antarctica bears his name.”
At the bottom it reads: “His great heart embraced the Earth and all who live on it!”
The founder of the Jesuits 500 years ago was the Spaniard Ignatius Loyola who says his call is “finding God in all things.” He is convinced that God is actively involved in every person’s life, whether they know it or not, so in every human being on the planet you can see the activity of God if you but pay attention and look for it.
Of course that “paying attention and looking for it” is the hard part, because we are so caught up in protecting our fragile, temporary lives we don’t have much attention to give to others. It’s easier to put people into categories so we don’t have to really look at them as individuals: “Oh, she’s a Republican, he’s a Democrat; she’s Muslim, he belongs to the NRA; he’s only lived here 20 years, her family came over on the Mayflower; he’s on my team and she’s on their team; and on and on, until everyone has a place and everyone is in their place and we actually believe that these categories are real.
But Paul is clear: in Christ there is only one category: broken people loved by God who need Christ.
Paul is also clear today that only the crucifixion of God has the power to reveal we are all sisters and brothers in his death and to see that our categories are pure fiction. He writes—“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”
Jesus, of course, sees individuals lost in the crowd, and his heart goes out to them precisely because he knows the Sea of Love he calls Father is actively working in each and every one of those lives. Jesus frees us to join him in this seeing and this knowing. He invites us to carry our cross so Jesus can embrace the world through us—using whatever gifts we may have.
Just behind the Campion Center is Buchard Park which is home to several well-maintained Little-League fields. From my room on the third floor in the evenings I can hear the crack of the bat and the scream of kids and parents.
Just behind the right field fence of the first field is a lovely bench with a back. On that bench is a plaque that bears witness to the love of God actively at work in every life:
The plaque reads:
In memory of Marie Cort
who always brought oranges for both teams