It’s that time of year again……primary season. That means commercial after commercial after commercial. And unfortunately, beloved, we are not talking about commercials that share a candidate’s dream or vision of what can be. We are talking about commercials that simply hammer down on the opponent or opponents; commercials that are filled, as St. Paul would say, with “evil talk” In many ways, sound pollution filling the air.
In some ways, I think these political commercials are a barometer of our society, taking the pulse of our American culture and mindset, and beloved, it ain’t pretty. It seems there is plenty to be angry about……plenty of reasons to remain divided…..smaller and smaller patches of common ground on which we as a people can stand together.
St. Paul tells us to “put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
It makes you wonder, doesn’t it, if the world in which St. Paul lived in was anything like the times we find ourselves living in. But, beloved, while the times were vastly different, the reality of conflict and division, polarization and danger were very much a part of Paul’s life and culture. So, how then, can Paul simply say: Put away all bitterness? Leave anger and wrath alone…..Set aside your malicious and evil talk and be tenderhearted; choose kindness; forgive.
All too often it feels like that old joke: Well, now come to think of it, you can’t get there from here……..How? How can we possibly get there from here?
Well, if you’ve known me for a while, you know that I often say (somewhat jokingly even though it is no joke) there is always one correct response to any question, and that right answer is:………(Jesus!)
I’m not being a Pollyanna, pie-in-the-sky, some kind of hippy-loving Jesus freak when I say that. I really believe Jesus is the answer. Let’s look at Today’s Good News:
Jesus says (again….he said it last week, and it will come up a few more times this month): I am the bread of life. The bread. The food. The thing that feeds our hunger……
Jesus is the answer because Jesus is the food. Gandhi once said: “There are so many hungry people in the world that God could only come in the world in the form of food.”
Hunger is emptiness…..hunger, beloved, often shows up as anger, malice, wrath, polarization……revealing an emptiness that goes beyond our stomachs……an emptiness that resides in our gut---in the Old Testament, the gut was the seat of our compassion and our mercy. Oh Beloved, we are hungry.
But there’s an antidote to hunger, and that antidote is food…..bread…..Jesus.
As we feast on Jesus, as we walk this way of Love that is Jesus, as we come to this communion and remember that we bring our lives before God in the offering, asking God to bless our lives, to break our lives open so that, like Jesus, our lives can be shared with others…..as we consume the bread, the food, the sustenance that is Jesus, we are being reshaped and reformed.
Beloved, the beliefs we repeat weekly in the prayers and the texts of this worship, the actions we undertake Sunday after Sunday, the music that swims in our bloodstream and the words that remind us what this is all about----take, bless, break, share---these repetitions are like water dripping on the stones of our humanity, smoothing the rough edges, reshaping the jagged corners, refocusing our sight and sharpening our hearing so we can see God at work in us, in one another and in the world, so that we can know and be known by Jesus, this eternal bread, this essence of what it means to live abundantly (Give us this day our daily bread).
And as we become what we receive, God lives more and more within us---this is the truth we come to know in Jesus: God with us; God dwelling within humanity.
A few months back I shared with you that St. Columba once said: “Joy is the echo of God’s life within us.”
So, now I want to circle back to my opening question: How do we get there (tenderhearted; choosing kindness; setting aside malicious and evil talk) from where we are? How do we go from tearing others down to building one another up? How do we become imitators of God and live in love as a fragrant offering?
We resist. We become resisters. And beloved, the resistance to evil and malice, the opposition of anger and wrath is joy. Joy is the resistance. For joy comes from God’s presence within us, within our lives. Now, you may be thinking, there she goes again with that Pollyanna, idealistic, JesusFreak talk again. But, bear with me, beloved. Maybe you know some folks like the folks I know.
Folks who have every reason to be anger, disgruntled, and full of fear. Some of these folks have had a lot of hard luck; some of these folks have made their own hard luck. A few of these beloved folks I know have been handed a life-ending diagnosis. And as we all know, these kind of diagnoses also come with painful and scary roads.
And yet, beloved, these folks I know, they exude a warmth, a love, a joy---there’s really no other word for it---they talk about their blessings. And yes, they talk about their fear or their worries; their wonderings and questions, but the shadows do not define them or limit their capacity for love, for grace, for joy. These folks I know, and again, you probably know or have known some folks like this----they have something not everyone has. They have Jesus, that second person of God who is also called the Word and has been known by other names and known by names we have probably never even heard since the Word has always been; they have that indwelling of the divine.
These folks I know, they believe the promise. The promise that there is more than this life we can see and know in these very mortal bodies. The promise that God is working toward their wholeness---a wholeness that goes beyond this life we now know---a wholeness that isn’t dependent on the breath we take, but comes from the Spirit that we receive.
And because they have Jesus, they have joy. “Joy is the echo of God’s life within us.” Oh Beloved, this isn’t easy. But it is. But it isn’t. We who demand our independence must first become dependent. On God. On one another, recognizing we are each other’s business. And we who pride ourselves on self-reliance must come, come to the table, come and join the community of the diverse, the broken, the faithful, the faithless, the sinner, and the saint, and lift up our hands so that we can receive. Receive what we don’t have the capacity to give or provide for ourselves.
Jesus is the bread, the food, the stuff of life abundant. Take; eat; let joy resound within you as your truest self---as one made in the image of the divine----takes shape and form and dwells within you. As Civil Rights leader and organizer Bayard Rustin said: “Let us be enraged about injustice, but let us not be destroyed by it.”
Beloved, instead: Let us be the resistance---the echo of God leaking out in the form of joy---resisting the wrath, the malice, the division, and instead speak and live the Way of love, members of one another, God’s beloved community.
Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.