August 23, 2015 “ 13 Pentecost, Proper 16B
Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
I saw a bumper sticker recently that I thought was pretty funny: Dyslexics of the World UNTIE.
Each Sunday of the year has a collect assigned to it. The one for this Sunday is the briefest of them all: Grant, O merciful God, that your Church being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples¦. Right to the point. May we be united. May we show forth God’s power. Maybe because it gets right to the point I am immediately drawn to ask a couple of questions: What is unity? What does that look like? What is God’s power? What does that look like?
St. John’s, by virtue of its age and location, is broader than most parishes. Maybe the best example of that is that on most every Sunday we have at least four and sometimes five generations present. We even have several families who span four or five generations. They are united by virtue of being in that family but my experience is that those individuals within those large families disagree a lot.
Another example of our broadness is that we have some folks who are pretty wealthy by worldly standards. We have a large number of folks who are poorer in comparison.
We have hundreds and hundreds of some of the most delightfully strong willed people with strongly held convictions which can get divisive. But somehow we are united by our love of the Lord and our love for this church. We can’t agree on lots of different things – what temperature it should be in here, what kind of music we should have, how things should be done, what the clergy needs to be doing or what the Vestry needs to be doing. We can’t agree on very many things at all but we are together in our love of the Lord and our love for this church. Orthodoxy really isn’t about what we believe; it’s about how we worship together and love the Lord.
There’s a lot of talk these days about how polarized we are in our country right now, in our church, and in the world. There are lots of examples of Us vs. Them, that’s for sure. Democrats and Republicans, conservative and liberal, Christians and Muslims, rich and poor all seem to be pretty divided. Whenever I hear about how bad things are with the world, I’m reminded that things have always been pretty bad in the world. Someone said in a bible study this week how amazing it is that all the struggles we read about in the bible are still going on. Maybe we are polarized more now than ever before but we’ve always been polarized.
When we elect a President with even 55% of the popular vote, which only represents half of the registered voters and only about a quarter of all our citizens, we call it a landslide election. After we elect a President we then conduct approval polls. These days a 40% approval rating is huge. Usually at least half the people are upset about something. We’ve always been divided.
I listened to an entertainer on the radio recently talking about her move from London to America. She commented that she had never been called a black entertainer in England. In America that’s her label. Since I heard that I’ve been paying more attention to how often I or someone else refers to someone’s race when we discuss people. Whether people are black or white is just a little too important, isn’t it? Or rich or poor, or Democrat or Republican, our kind of people or the other kind of people¦. But as someone else said in a bible study this week, If we weren’t divided that way, we’d be divided another way. We always have been.
But we are united by at least one big thing: we are all sinful and broken. None of us is who we want to be. We all are powerless in some way or another. We all have struggles that we cannot solve. We all hurt and suffer. We want more and need more. We are united by that one big thing. And we come here to remember that an even bigger thing unites us: we are loved by God. You know it’s true that we are most divided when we feel superior. Our weaker times in life draw us together. We are united in our struggles and there we come to know the love of God in a more real way.
The other thing the collect gets me thinking about is the power of God and what that looks like. I tend to think of power as the ability to make things different than they are. Another collect we read at another time of the year proclaims that God’s power is manifested chiefly in showing mercy. God’s power is not exhibited in his ability to make us do right. God’s power is exhibited precisely when we do wrong. In our failings and weakness, God enters to transform us and shape us. That’s redemption: not making us follow the rules but taking our shortcomings and using them to deepen and enrich our sense of being part of God’s world.
In the Old Testament lesson, Joshua is giving his farewell address to the elders and leaders of Israel. The people are now in the Promised Land but Joshua is one of only two people still alive who were with the people in Egypt and through the struggles of the Exodus and the Wilderness. The people now have gotten a little puffed up and are beginning to form camps and subgroups. They have forgotten where they came from. Joshua reminds them of what unifies them: they were all broken and in desperate need of help “ they were and are all sinful. And God rescued them and brought them to this new place “ God’s mercy provided for them. He calls on them to get over their divisions and pay more attention to what unifies them: their sinfulness and God’s love for them.
Psalm 34 speaks of God’s love for the righteous. The righteous are not the ones who are doing right. The righteous are the ones who are right in their hearts, the ones who know they need help, not the ones who know they are better than everyone else. The righteous cry and the Lord hears them and delivers them from all their troubles. The righteous need help and ask for it. The righteous know they are sinful and come to know God’s forgiveness.
In Ephesians, Paul gives his famous put on the armor of God speech. Listen to what that armor consists of: a belt of truth; the breastplate of righteousness; shoes of peace; a shield of faith; a helmet of salvation; the sword of the Spirit. All of those things are things which cause transformation in the one wearing the armor, not the other people they are dealing with. Right after he tells them about putting on armor, Paul tells them to pray at all times. Remember your need for help and the reality of God’s salvation.
For several weeks now we have been reading about Jesus as the Bread of Life. All that talk about bread started with Jesus feeding the 5000. Then the Gospel of John spends a long, long time describing how Jesus feeds us for all of eternity. It’s when we are hungry and in need that we know the nurturing salvation of Jesus Christ. When we are arguing and fighting with each other about who is right and who is wrong, we are so full of ourselves that we can’t be empty enough to receive the very bread of life which Jesus Christ brings us.
Be hungry. That’s what all our lessons tell us today. Don’t be full: full of your own answers, your own will, your own ability to change the world. Be hungry, be empty, be humbled. We’re all the same. There’s not a whit’s difference between us, no matter what we may think. We are all in this together. And God is in there with us, to forgive us, to have mercy on us, to save us and redeem us and transform us. Quit trying to be different from them, whoever them might be. Be united in your need for the cross of Christ. Be united in the great love of the resurrection.