“Walking in love”
Before I begin, I’ve got a warning for you: Today’s sermon is a LOT longer than usual. So settle in; we’ve got some talking to do. And if you’re visiting, you’ll have to figure out why God sent you here today, what message God has for you in all of this. I’m glad you’re here.
I had a very difficult time writing today’s sermon. In fact, I spent most of the week running from these lessons. As most of you know, our good neighbor Goodwin House has denied us future use of the access road that we have shared these past 53 years if we build a new church here. So for the past two weeks a good deal of our attention has been tightly focused on how to respond:
- How do we listen to Goodwin House and understand its position?
- What would we think and feel if we were in their position?
- And, having listened and thought and felt through the perspective of our neighbor, and realized that both it and our self-interests cannot be accommodated, do we sue them?
As you know, we are trying to avoid drastic options by asking our Bishop to mediate. But will he? And how will he respond? And can we reach an agreement that allows us to proceed in time to avoid our redevelopment project being “timed out?”
So this is where we stand: thinking about whether to take drastic action against our good neighbor, and—what a coincidence—the gospel lesson for today is this: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Yes, yes, YES,” I thought. “Don’t let us become depressed again, Lord, no matter what the outcome.”
But what if Goodwin House is poor in spirit, and THEIRS is the kingdom of heaven? What then? What if NEITHER of us is poor in spirit, and together we are to minister to the people who are truly poor in spirit here in the West End of Alexandria—Goodwin House to the elderly, rich ones and we to the younger, poorer ones? What then? Hmmm.
But what does “poor in spirit” mean, anyway? I’ve been talking about “poor in spirit” as if this phrase means “depressed.” But actually “poor in spirit” means something more like “humble in spirit in relation to God.” We are all supposed to approach God humbly, aware that we are sinners and that we don’t have all the answers, that we need God, that God is God and we are not!
What if we are supposed to be “humble in spirit” in relation to our neighbors, as well as to God? I KNOW the answer to this question, but I don’t like the answer, so I ran some more. I turned to the NEXT beatitude, hoping for a different answer.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. In our binary world views, there are winners and losers. Losers mourn; winners rejoice; life goes on. But if we each, Church of the Resurrection and Goodwin House, continue our present course, won’t we both be losers? Sure, one of us would win, legally speaking. But wouldn’t we squabble in the Name of the Lord in front of the whole world? How then could we avoid bringing THIS shame on ourselves, on the Name of Jesus? Couldn’t we find comfort from God, not from mourning by losing or winning by ourselves for ourselves, but from winning together?
Yes, I know that to get what we want, to get what we believe we must have, we have to win. But Jesus advocates kingdom values that are topsy turvy, upside down from how we normally calculate values. In Jesus’ calculation, when we mourn, we do so not for losing. We mourn because we have sinned, and Christ Jesus comforts all who mourn their sin.
So if we aggressively pursue our own self-interests, and win, we still could end up mourning… ay, yi, yi; these kingdom values hurt my head. But here is where the third beatitude comes into play: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for THEY will be filled. Jesus says to walk the extra mile, turn the other cheek, and do not repay evil for evil—that THOSE are kingdom values. What if we gain the whole world only by giving ourselves away?
I spent Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at the Diocese of Virginia’s Annual Convention, where the theme was “Walk in Love.” You know, as I say almost every week (I bet you could repeat it with me), “Walk in love, as Christ loved us, an offering and sacrifice to God.” Actually, I left out a bit, didn’t I? Christ Jesus gave HIMSELF for us, an offering and sacrifice to God. This offertory sentence comes from Ephesians chapter 5, verse 2. Doesn’t “walking in love” take us to unexpected places? Gospel places? Don’t we have to give ourselves away?
A colleague told me at Annual Convention that her church, nearby, voted last week to leave its rented storefront space and seek a collaborative ministry arrangement with another Episcopal church about two miles away from hers. She doesn’t know yet whether that church will let them come, or whether their landlord will sue them for breaking their lease, or the Bishop will let them leave. But—to use a great metaphor that Bishop Susan used at Convention—they are lacing up their “Gospel Shoes.” What a coincidence that I would be told this story, eh?
“Walking in love” is what bless-ed people DO. And HOW they “walk in love” is to be merciful, to have a pure heart, and to be peacemakers. The beatitudes tells us: Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy, and Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God, and Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
I have to tell you, when I thought about applying THESE attributes of blessed people to our situation, I ran to the first lesson in search of another scripture passage on which to preach. And what did I find? We are on trial and God is the prosecutor. The whole DECK is stacked, the whole trial doesn’t look good: God has enlisted the mountains and the hills to be the judge and jury. And guess who made the hills and the mountains—God, the prosecutor! Our Hebrew scripture lesson offers us no place to run from the beatitudes today.
Even the Psalm gives us no place to hide: “Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle?” our Psalm reading begins today, “who may abide upon your holy hill?” And the answer is, “He [who] does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.”
Wasn’t it just last week that I told you I like to use the lectionary as the lens through which to discern, because that way I can’t “duck and hide?” Well, there’s no ducking and hiding here! So back to the beatitudes…
In another year I might tell you how the word that is translated “beatitude” might better by translated “esteemed.” Picture the people who surrounded Jesus: dispirited, physically ill, ostracized from the Temple, now being esteemed, healed, blessed. Now picture both Church of the Resurrection and Goodwin House, blessed beyond measure, each wearing our gospel shoes, blessing our world together.
Christ Jesus heals us ALL: the poor, the sick, the homeless, the aliens and immigrants. Christ Jesus turns “them” into “us.” And to all of US who are broken and dishonored, Jesus gives respect, esteem, and love. We, too, can walk in love instead of running from Jesus’ kingdom values, but to get there we have to turn our whole value system upside down.
Betsy Faga is a brave woman. She was able to talk to our Bishop, Bishop Shannon, briefly yesterday about his response to our situation. Turns out our Bishop has read the beatitudes, also (image that!). Our Bishop told Betsy he would be turning his attention to our situation on Tuesday. And our lawyer and the Diocese’s lawyer will be talking tomorrow. We are still hoping that the Bishop can convince Goodwin House to walk in love with us in a new way. In time to do us some good. But I can tell you from inspecting these kingdom values that WE need to walk in love in a new way with Goodwin House, as well. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Love will find a way.
Put on your gospel shoes, though. We got some “walking in love” to do.
For those who don’t know, I preach in my sock feet. (We can talk about why at Forum.) I’m putting on my gospel shoes now, and I am going to “walk in love” today to King and Patrick Street at 12:45 pm to do something about a White supremacist group that’s moved its headquarters into our city. At the 8 am service today Norm Taylor promised he’d bail me out, if need be. Put on YOUR gospel shoes and pick up your tired feet and let’s go do this AGAIN.