Pentecost 17 September 16, 2018 – Gathering Sunday

The Rev. Janet Campbell

PENTECOST 17  Proper 19  Year B

Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 116:1-8; James 3:1-12; Mark 78:27-38

 

Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Rev. Janet Campbell

 

 

For those who may wonder,

seeing the walls of the church entryway

all boarded up,

we are not going out of business.

 

In mid-July,

sometime during the night,

someone managed to break

two of the glass panels . . .

making a nickel-sized hole in each,

from which deep cracks spread

across the entire panel.

 

We don’t know who did it

or why,

but we found a big pointed rock

lying on the ground near one of the panels

that appeared to be

the weapon of glass destruction.

 

Replacement panels

are even now being made.

 

Then, just this past Friday,

at about 8:30 or so in the morning,

more vandalism . . .

 

This time a neighbor saw what happened,

and our newly-installed security cameras

even captured it on video:

 

A young woman

who had camped here overnight,

and who had been asked

to move on

 

shouting in anger,

throwing rocks

at the building,

one hitting a glass panel

which cracked

all the way across,

 

another shattering one of the glass doors

which collapsed

from top to bottom

in a cascade of pieces

that looks on the video

like a waterfall . . .

 

then shouldering her backpack,

she hurried away.

 

And so,

this Gathering Sunday,

a day for

joyful reconnecting

and new beginnings

after the summer,

 

and it is that,

 

I find myself thinking

about the brokenness of things;

not just glass entryway walls and doors

 

but

broken hearts,

broken dreams,

a broken society . . .

 

and Jesus,

broken on a cross.

 

The broken heart

of a young woman

with nowhere to sleep,

nowhere of her own to be,

 

who is asked kindly,

but asked,

several times across

the last two weeks,

by me, by our Office Manager, by our Sexton,

to pick up her meager possessions

and leave.

With no healing available,

to take up her pallet and walk,

 

because this is not a place

where people may stay over night.

 

Until, finally, we

and our building

become the implacable face

of all that is against her.

 

I find myself thinking

of the broken hearts and dreams

of so many people

who have no home,

so many who struggle with mental illness,

so many who are abused, oppressed,

discriminated against . . .

 

and a broken society

that allows this to be so . . .

 

a society unable,

perhaps even unwilling,

to get it together,

to find the time, energy, resources

necessary to care for

its own most vulnerable people.

 

I find myself thinking of our own

broken hearts,

 

broken because we know

we are part of

that society,

 

broken by

the sadness that,

for all we try to do

in the face of all these troubles,

it will never be enough,

 

broken because

this hurt to our building

hurts our hearts as well,

 

and takes away attention, energy, money

that we would rather spend

on our mission and ministry.

 

Broken because

as wonderful and glorious

as life is,

there are so many ways

it can hurt our hearts.

 

 

I find myself thinking of

the broken heart and body of Jesus

on the cross.

 

This latest breaking of our building

took place on September 14,

the Feast of the Holy Cross

 

the day on which we celebrate . . .

celebrate! . . .

the Roman empire’s obscene instrument

of agony and death,

used to humiliate and torture and murder thousands,

including Jesus . . .

 

Holy Cross Day

on which we celebrate

that God

brought out of Jesus’ pain

and apparent defeat,

and can bring out of any pain

and apparent defeat,

new life.

 

Today in Mark’s Gospel

the shadow of the cross

falls across the hearts of Jesus’ disciples

as he asks them,

 

“Who do people say that I am?”

 

They answer

what they’ve heard . . .

 

“John the Baptist;

Elijah;

one of the prophets.”

“But who do you say that I am?”

he responded.

 

With the authority and power

they had seen in Jesus,

who else could he be

but the Messiah?

 

He ordered them

not to tell anyone . . .

 

. . . because of the expectations

attached to that title:

the arrival of Israel’s long-awaited

Warrior King.

 

He had no plans

to raise an army

to drive out the Roman occupiers.

 

He had come not to conquer,

but to love, heal, and serve

and in so doing

reveal

God’s desire and intent

for all God’s people

 

a way of being

he called the kingdom of heaven.

 

He planned only to follow the path

God had set before him,

 

a path he was increasingly certain

was leading him

to a fatal confrontation

with the religious and civic authorities

threatened

by his teachings and popularity.

 

It was time for his disciples

to know it.

 

So he told them:

he would suffer,

“be rejected by the elders,

the chief priests and the scribes,

and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

 

Through his complete giving of himself

to the mission to which God called him,

even when it led to a cross,

he would became the sign,

in his final weakness,

of God’s power

to transform defeat and even death

into new and risen life.

 

That, I hope,

is our answer to

Jesus’ question,

“Who do you say that I am?”

 

Which leads to the question

who do we say that we are,

we followers of Jesus,

Christ Church in Tacoma?

 

Who do we say that we are,

this Gathering Sunday

amidst the broken glass

and panels of wood that block the light,

 

with our own darknesses,

our own oft-broken hearts,

 

who do we say that we are

in a society and a world

both broken-hearted

and heartless  . . .

 

I say we are a collection, a gathering,

of individuals

of different personalities, backgrounds,

gifts, quirks, abilities, challenges,

hopes, disappointments, struggles

 

who together are the glorious living body

of the Risen Christ

in this place and time . . .

 

a sign, in our own weakness,

of God’s presence and power

in the world . . .

 

for in and through us,

God is doing, will do, things

we could never do alone.

 

We can’t solve the problems

of our broken society

but we can seek to bring healing

to the suffering,

we can seek to love and to serve.

 

We are weak, yet,

in God,

we are strong.

 

Strong, resilient, resourceful . . .

creative, determined, generous, faithful.

 

It is God who watches over us,

God who helps us.

 

Gathered in our somewhat battered building,

which, after all,

is only a building,

although a much-loved building

 

we are the church,

 

telling our story

in scripture and in song,

voices lifted in prayer

for the hurting world,

 

nourished and strengthened for service

by our fellowship

and by the bread and wine

that feed us with the very life,

the very being,

of the one we follow . . .

 

As Jesus followed the path

of love, healing and service,

there was no promise

that he wouldn’t suffer,

but there was the promise

of the faithfulness of God,

who would sustain and support him

in and through that suffering

even in and through death.

 

We, too, have that promise.

 

“Those who want to save their life will lose it,”

Jesus said to the crowd,

“and those who lose their life for my sake,

and for the sake of the gospel

will save it.”

 

If, for the sake of the gospel,

we set ourselves to be

the heart and voice and hands of Jesus,

loving, comforting, helping

the poor and suffering,

the lost and lonely,

freely spending our time, our energy, our resources,

our very selves for others,

raising our voices on their behalf,

risking, giving everything . . .

 

we will have found life at last.

 

Who was that woman

who broke our door and windows,

I wonder . . .

 

What is her life,

that small being

of flesh and bone

slinging the stones of her helplessness

and anger at this

massive concrete building . . .

 

Davida against Goliath . . .

 

What is her story?

What has happened to her?

What will happen to her?

 

If the police find her,

as they thought they might,

I hope to visit her,

hear her story,

tell her ours,

especially the part about Jesus.

 

Might there be healing for us

and for her

in this unhappy

crossing of our paths?

 

Our wounded building,

our wounded lives,

are overshadowed by the great concrete cross

that rises high above our courtyard

and our neighborhood,

a sign

of self-offering and sacrifice.

 

What will we discover

about who we are,

and who we say we are,

from the vandalizing of our building?

 

Will we take this

as a setback

or a push forward?

 

Will we see in it a challenge

to be more faithful,

more courageous,

more loving,

more healing,

more generous,

more self-giving,

more serving?

 

Will it move us to try to protect ourselves

from the world’s brokenness,

 

or dare us to be even more open

to the world’s brokenness?

 

Who do we say that we are?

 

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