LECTION FOR CANDLEMAS
February 5, 2012
My Messenger: Rev. Naomi King
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Wholeness in Exile:
How do we pass wholeness to the next generation when we ourselves have been torn apart? How do we teach and live into the wisdom that calls us, and live into the covenant that we belong to still when we struggle to remember and disentangle our fears and learning from trauma? When our memories falter, how do we live faithfully?
The prophet Isaiah, sending a message of consolation to the people who have endured captivity for a generation, is speaking to people who struggle with feeling forgotten, abandoned, and, often, condemned. Isaiah speaks to the generation growing up in and born in captivity, the ones without the sense memories of home, that most beloved of places, where we meet the Holy in joy (Psalm 84). Isaiah speaks to the ones whose lives are formed by exile and slavery rather than the responsibilities of freedom. Tired ourselves, we can fear that the Holy is tired of us (Isaiah 40:27).
Exile and alienation remain a common experience, spiritually and psychologically, as so many of us grow up displaced, or with the place we would call home desecrated and difficult to thrive in. How do we grow faithfully and find healing and hope? How do we meet the Beloved right where we are?
Isaiah reminds us in our separation and exile that the Holy is everywhere, bigger than our prisons and our walls, bigger than any border we might throw up and any chasm that separates us from others. Not only that, but we are cared for by the Beloved, one who cannot grow tired, one whose wisdom is bigger than our knowing, one who bears us up even in the middle of our troubles.
We are ever meeting the Beloved right where we are, whether we are at home or in exile. Part of the work of faithing is knowing who we are and whose we are, which we do singing the songs of reassurance and thanksgiving, remembering the good history and the difficult times that came before, in being wholly present with the Holy Presence.
Remembering Whose We Are:
Psalm 147: 1-11, 20c
Re-member-ing what has been torn apart and then restored is our context for Psalm 147, a psalm composed after the Babylonian exile (147:2 The Holy rebuilds Jerusalem; the One gathers in the exiles of Israel).
Often enough, attending the psalms in devotionals and worship, I have found people rushing through, reading the words aloud with no meaning given to them. They are words, or a song, and holy words, so we should say them and be about them. While there are communities that endeavor to read neutrally so as to best allow what the Holy is saying come through the words, I find myself more filled with awe and gratitude and reverence when I pause and attend to the meaning as I read the psalms out loud.
Psalm 147:1 begins us with an affirmation of praise. Hallelujah! It is good to chant hymns to the Holy One; it is pleasant to sing glorious praise. Sitting in the sanctuary, meeting these words, with whatever is going on in my life, I want to meet those words with meaning. When I’m in trouble, I’m given a chance to find a Hallelujah moment, to remember I am not alone wherever I go, however I find myself. When I’m full of wonder, I have a chance to lift up my heart with thanksgiving. However I am, the affirmation of praise is an invitation to remember my whole self and be refreshed and renewed.
Many of us will meet exile and plenty of troubles in our lives, before we arrive in the hour of prayer, and after. Psalm 147 and psalms like it give us the marvelous opportunity to remember who we are and whose we are.
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Paul’s speech in 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 is part of a larger set of instructions on the duties of freedom, with Paul as a living instruction manual. Like the Corinthians, we can wonder along with Paul about how well we’re living into the freedom of our faithing, how well we are answering the duty to love.
Evidently, there’s a lot of concern about what we will get when we follow the way Paul is teaching. Imagine being gathered in community and folks asking questions like, “Hey, Paul, if I follow the way, will I have I enough to eat every day?” or “Teacher, if I follow the way, will I have a bigger house?” or “Are the really good people part of this way who are given every good and wonderful thing!”
Paul says no. No, we share the way of love, we live more generously into it every day, with no expectations of material things or special respect or power over one another. Instead, we serve this world with love, in order to be part of Love’s transforming power, not because we’ll be richer or more powerful or personally taken care of. We reach out and we deal with discomfort and we serve because that is what love does: attend to the sick and lonely, restore the ruined lands and bind up the wounded heart, rejoice in the day that the One has made, and tend every stranger, neighbor, and enemy as a loved one, as the Holy, as ourselves.
The way has to be free for love to really work and transform us and this world. That’s how grace and generosity work. Love isn’t about what we get, but about how and what we give.
The generosity of transforming love is made real in how we serve humbly in the way of the Holy (Micah 6:8) by loving the One, our neighbors (strangers, enemies) and ourselves (family, friends, self). Mark 1:29-39 gives us four examples of how Jesus bears the generosity of transforming love.
Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law.
Jesus heals the many sick.
Jesus retreats to pray.
Jesus answers the new call to bear glad tidings.
Notably, Jesus doesn’t get to Simon’s house and gripe, “Hey, Simon, some hospitality! Show me your so-called-sick mother-in-law and I’ll heal her right into making us comfortable and welcome!” No, Jesus goes to her bedside directly and lifts her up. That she is able to get up and make him welcome is an unneeded and unexpected gift – more love in action. Mark is showing us: Jesus is living humbly.
Similarly, Jesus doesn’t have the disciples at the door charging for each healing or cure or moment of hope. We’re not told of messengers bearing advertisements through the streets shouting out, “Get yourself cured for only ten shekels! A moment of hope for three talents! Only have a mite? Get a ray of heaven smile!” Instead, word passes as word always passes when hope slips into a city, borne on a current of joy and expectant gratitude. Mark is showing us: Jesus is loving his neighbors as himself.
Jesus doesn’t groan, “Leave me alone. Let me have my time off. I’m tired.” He understands that people are yearning to be with him, yearning for love’s transforming blessing. Instead, Jesus slips away, knowing his disciples will find him, and devotes himself to the Source of All. Mark is showing us: Jesus is loving the One with his whole heart and his whole mind.
Then, when the disciples find him, Jesus says, “Great! Let’s go on and do what I am here to do!” Jesus is answering the whole call set down by Micah: to live humbly, to love the Holy, to love neighbor (stranger, enemies) and family, friends, and self.
Transforming Love open our hearts to service without expectation of reward, of fame, of fortune, or even of joy. Instead, help us serve in the true life of love, generously, into our discomfort zones. When we find ourselves meeting our expectations proudly on the road, grant us laughter and self-recognition and humble joy that we may proceed another way. When we pride ourselves on serving others and forget to turn back to You, Beloved, do come gather us up and set us down in the garden of wonder, for a quiet time in full appreciation and awe in Your Creation, the diversity and abundance of gifts beyond our own, and the astounding miracles that occur in making space for them. Transform us in Love, Holy One, and keep on that transformation as we turn with you in serving goodness and peace in this world. Amen.