Pentecost 20 October 7, 2018 – with Commemoration of St. Francis of Assisi

The Rev. Janet Campbell

PENTECOST 20 Proper 22   Year B

with Commemoration of St. Francis of Assisi

Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 8; Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16

 

Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Rev. Janet Campbell

 

 

 

There’s a lot of food

on the table of the Word today:

 

The creation of the first human beings;

The God-given glory and honor

of humanity;

A debate on

marriage and divorce;

Musings on children and the kingdom of God;

A theological take on Jesus:

son of God, the exact imprint of God’s very being,

and his suffering and glorification;

and Saint Francis,

on this Sunday

closest to his October 4 feast day . . .

 

How much time have we got?

 

Each of these dishes alone

would make a full meal;

let’s try a few morsels

of each and see

if we can create

a harmonious and manageable repast.

We might start with a taste of

the kingdom of God,

where everything

begins and ends and begins again.

 

MUSINGS ON CHILDREN AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD

 

The Kingdom of God,

says Jesus,

belongs to those who receive it

as a little child.

 

Like a little child in what way?

 

Like the little child who tumbles out of bed

and greets the morning

in all its newness

with joy and wonder –

 

Like the little child who toddles through the day

with not a worry in the world,

trusting that everything she needs

will be given to her –

food, drink, clothing, shelter, guidance, protection,

an occasional band-aid –

and  love.

 

Or, like the little child

of Jesus’ time,

when most children’s lives were

hard, precarious, and short.

 

The kingdom of God,

said Jesus,

belongs, unexpectedly,

not to the wealthy, the privileged,

the powerful . . .

but to such as these children:

 

society’s most vulnerable,

those

with no status,

no privilege,

no rights.

It is those,

the poor and needy,

who see in Jesus

the dawning of a new creation

and greet it with joy and wonder.

 

It is those,

the poor and needy,

who have no reason

to trust in the things of this world,

 

who experience in Jesus’

words and actions

the foretaste

of a just and abundant life:

 

a life of

respect and dignity,

equality and justice,

and the food, drink, clothing,

shelter, guidance, protection,

that come with them,

 

along with the

occasional band-aid –

 

and  love.

 

 

A DEBATE ON MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE

 

“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

the Pharisees asked Jesus,

to test him.

 

Jesus knew it was a test

and he knew the law . . .

 

In that culture,

marriage was a practical matter,

arranged for the well-being

of the husband and his

extended family.

 

The man was the subject

in the marriage,

the woman the object.

 

The honor of the man

was always at stake in his marriage,

and if his honor was at risk,

he could divorce his wife

simply by writing

her off.

 

But Jesus pointed his questioners

toward a deeper understanding

of the nature of this relationship

as found in the creation story:

 

a mystical union

of two human beings

established by God . . .

 

in which God has a stake . . .

 

It is not to be casually sundered.

 

Testing Jesus

with the question today,

we would need to ask it

with the understanding

that woman and man

are of equal dignity

(which our culture proclaims

but fails to practice),

and that, happily, marriage

(and, sadly, divorce)

are possible for same sex couples as well.

 

 

Then we might ask

not for a reading of the law –

civil or religious:

 

But . . .

 

Would Jesus insist on

the continuation of a relationship

where there is neglect, abuse,

abandonment, betrayal,

with no possibility of

repentance and change?

 

Or . . .

 

Would Jesus give up

on a relationship

strained by

misunderstandings,

frustrations, mistakes,

life’s challenges . . .

before every effort has been made

toward healing and reconciliation?

 

 

THE CREATION OF THE FIRST HUMAN BEINGS

 

There are actually

two versions in Genesis

of the creation

of the first man and the first woman.

 

The one

we heard today

was obviously chosen

by the shapers of the lectionary

because Jesus refers to it

in today’s gospel.

 

In that version,

God created the male person first . . .

then, from the rib of the male,

the female person,

created for the male

as a helper and partner,

and incidentally, a subordinate

from the get-go.

 

In the other version,

God created humankind,

male and female,

together,

created them (both of them)

in God’s likeness,

both the woman and the man,

made in the image of God.    [Gen 1.26]

 

The first parents of all humankind,

the ones whom

the biblical version of Ancestry.com

would show at the root of every family tree

the world over . . .

 

transmitting the divine image

to their descendants

female and male,

yellow, black, brown, red, white-skinned,

gay, straight, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered . . .

through all the generations

from that age to this . . .

 

That image

has been disregarded,

disrespected,

in every generation

in countless ways . . .

 

three ways so prominent

in our lives today:

 

in women, people of color,

persons of non-straight sexuality

or non-binary gender identification.

 

It is to these children of God

that Jesus particularly speaks

when he proclaims the kingdom of God . . .

 

It is to such as these

that the kingdom belongs.

 

THE GOD-GIVEN GLORY AND HONOR

OF HUMANITY;

AND A THEOLOGICAL TAKE ON JESUS’ SONSHIP

AND HIS SUFFERING AND GLORIFICATION

 

The psalmist,

in awe of the magnificence

of God’s creation,

marvels at the glory and honor

with which God has adorned human beings,

having put all created things

under human care.

 

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews

drawing on that psalm,

sees Jesus in the incarnation

taking on

the glory and honor with which

God has adorned humanity,

a status lower only than that of the angels,

 

and in his suffering and glorification

bringing to fulfillment

God’s creating action

in human history:

 

 

the raising of all humanity

(all of humanity,

in all its wonderful and diverse manifestations)

into the life

of the risen and glorified Christ.

 

WHICH BRINGS US TO

SAINT FRANCIS – AT LAST! . . .

 

. . . and a life transformed

by sharing in the sufferings

of Christ.

 

Francis of Assisi,

a son of wealth,

who,

in his youth

was quite the 12th century playboy:

lover of fancy clothes

and evenings of wine, women and song;

 

student of the arts of mounted combat,

captivated by the romantic notion

of riding gaily off to war

to defend Assisi against

its rival city-state

of Perugia.

 

The result of that chivalric folly

was a year as prisoner of war

in the squalor

of a 12th century dungeon . . .

 

where

he began to see the misery

of others he would not even

have noticed before:

 

the penniless, the sick, the petty thief,

who, unlike wealthy Francis,

had no hope of ever being ransomed

from their captivity,

 

for in those days,

that was how you got out.

 

Unfamiliar promptings

of sympathy and compassion,

concern for others,

stirred within him . . .

 

moved him

to share his food and water,

to try to bring some cheer

into that cold, dark place

with the lilting troubadour songs

of his former evenings

on the town.

 

After his own ransom and return home,

while working for his father in the marketplace

selling expensive fabrics: silks, linens, velvet,

Francis brusquely turned away

a ragged beggar pleading for alms . . .

 

and then,

moved by those same promptings,

abandoned his father’s stall and wares

to run after the beggar

and give him

everything in his pockets . . .

to the laughing derision

of his friends.

 

Soon he would be found caring for lepers

suffering in the lazar houses of Assisi –

 

For in all these suffering ones

he saw the image of God,

he saw Jesus,

calling him

from his self-serving life

of privilege

and pleasure-seeking,

 

to a life of poverty, compassion and service of others . . .

a life of smallness and suffering

in the way of Jesus.

 

That’s a very spare account

of how Francis came

to his life

of radical humility and simplicity,

and paradoxically,

(it may have seemed to others)

his life of great joy,

for he was full of love and praise for God.

 

Francis has inspired countless people

all around the world

down to this very day,

including, but not limited to,

Christians of all denominations.

 

Following Jesus,

he embraced

his own smallness in the great, wide world,

and his oneness

with all the small,

the poor and sick,

the hopeless and forlorn.

 

He saw God at work in

the intricate interconnectedness

of all creation,

 

and how the flowers of the field,

the birds of the air,

the beasts of the forests,

the fish in the sea . . .

simply by being,

in their very nature,

their own real selves

and their own right size,

lived holy lives of praise

and thanksgiving to God.

 

He saw how it all fit together,

a foretaste of the kingdom of God.

 

THE FORETASTE OF THE KINGDOM

 

And so we wind up

where we began,

with the kingdom of God . . .

 

the vision Jesus sets before us

of the beloved community

of respect and dignity

of justice and peace

of equality and well-being

for all . . .

 

the vision

for which we yearn,

for which we work,

to which we hold fast,

against all the challenges

of this life,

against all the insults

of this time,

and this world.

 

The way there is the way of Jesus,

the way of St. Francis,

the

Way of Simplicity and Appropriate Smallness . . .

the Way of Self-Offering and Service . . .

 

knowing ourselves

not more than nor less than,

but of equal value and use and dignity,

inextricably united

with everything God made and loves . . .

one with all things and all beings

made by God to work together

for the common good . . .

 

It is in this way of

simplicity and smallness

service and self-offering

that we do the things that matter:

the soothing of a fevered brow,

the casting of a single vote,

raising a child in the way of Jesus,

sharing our resources for the sake of others,

praying,

working for social justice,

living lightly with the creation,

insisting that, yes, Donald,

there is global warming and climate change . . .

 

It is in this way of

simplicity and smallness

service and self-offering

that we manifest the honor and glory

with which God has adorned us . . .

 

Smallness

become great in God’s service,

 

for it is God who is at work in us,

enabling us both to will and to work

for God’s good kingdom.

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