September 27, 2020
When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?’ And they argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?” But if we say, “Of human origin”, we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.’ So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And he said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
‘What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”
The past few weeks I’ve been re-reading “The Wounded Healer” by Henri Nouwen. It was the first work on pastoral care I read, given to me by my mentor, Pastor Ken. I was a young college student and was just starting to find myself drawn into situations of caring for others. I didn’t have a job in ministry yet, but I kept ending up talking with friends and classmates who were struggling. Reading Nouwen was like being given a map to a land I had been wandering through, lost. He spoke about the deeply felt sense of loneliness, a sense of dread that there are no mature adults in charge, and that our world is convulsing in response to terrifying situations where we could destroy life on this planet. In this loneliness and fear, we feel a desire to tap into deep spiritual truths, and push for revolutionary change. In this context, Christians who recognize their own pain, can connect deeply with others, and bring about healing and societal transformation. Re-reading The Wounded Healer, I remembered the sense of possibility that had coursed through me when I first read it. I wasn’t the only person who felt this way, and the painful loneliness and fear I felt wasn’t a liability. It was an invitation to be in community, an invitation to solidarity with those around me. A reminder that there was a different way to live, and the discomfort could be what reminded me to build mutual relationships with others who had similar pain. Nouwen connects our desire for the mystical, to feel connected to others and creation, and the Holy, connected to the yearning within us for revolution, for the world to be different, rebuilt with a cornerstone of mutual love. Through our prayer, meditation, and contemplation, we find ourselves strengthened to push for the Spirit’s revolution in the world, knowing our own souls worth, and seeing the preciousness of others, especially those demonized or marginalized by those in power. Engaging in revolutionary love, challenging the powers that be, we find ourselves in need of remembering why we struggle, and a cycle develops of mysticism and revolution, faith and works, both encouraging and strengthening the other.
I imagine I’m not the only one at this moment who feels like the adults have left us to fend for ourselves. Our National life is a nightmare, a horror shows of, fascism, misogyny, and white supremacy. What power do we have in the face of a Supreme Court that will shape our nation for generations, potentially turning back decades of progress for women, LGBTQ+ folks, those of us with pre-existing conditions, immigrants, and others? What authority do we appeal to when we may see our current president trying to steal the election? When Nouwen first wrote, it was the fear of nuclear war, but now we are experiencing the beginning of our climate being destroyed by human activity, with fires, powerful storms, and melting ice caps. What authority do we have to act?
It is to this kind of fear that Jesus speaks in our scripture passage this morning. At its core, our contemporary predicament isn’t all that different to his experiences two millennia ago. Our human condition, and our path to liberation may have changed somewhat, but much has remained the same. Those who have been called to lead the people, are worried about the power of revolutionary calls for change. They want clear power structures, the management of authority. Amidst their jostling for power, the Holy One is reminding those trapped in abusive systems of power that they are beloved. Tax collectors are like many of us who profit and benefit from unjust systems that seem inescapable. For those of us who are identified as White, or who identify as straight, you may see yourself with them. For men who see the ways in which we benefit from the oppression of trans folks and women, the tax collectors can be a reflection. For women who have privilege and economic security, but see neighbors who are struggling just to have enough to eat, and wonder why our tables overflow with laughter and abundance, while others wait in lines of cars miles long at the food bank, it is easy to feel trapped, just like the tax collectors did, being a part of an unjust world that helps us out. Or maybe our existence is reviled by others. As LGBTQ+ folks, or women who seek autonomy over your bodies, as folks of diverse abilities who seek accommodations so we can be part of society, in today’s world we might see the demonization of sex workers in Jesus’ time, and feel kinship. Wherever we are in this story though, the call is the same; find your own souls worth in the presence of this Rabbi from Nazareth, and when you’re ready, head out into the vineyard where the Holy Spirit has grown hope. join in the harvest, the gathering together of a new world. Find the source of delight, discover that God delights in you, and act to transform our world through the trusting of God’s love, especially when others don’t expect you.
Beloved, our worlds a bit of a mess. That’s the understatement of the year, isn’t it? We feel more divided and scared than I imagine many of us ever have. We may wonder, who am I to be loved? Who am I to act to bring change? We’re struggling to care for our loved ones. Illness and death weigh heavy on so many of our hearts. We feel isolated and lonely. We’re watching our kids’ lives change in ways that we never experienced, wondering what’s best. It can all feel overwhelming; who am I to be loved? And so, when we are invited to be part of Jesus’ family, it can make sense to say “no.” What do we have to offer? What energy is left, after the worrying? But there’s something tenacious about God’s love. Jesus finds us wherever we are, and his words can get stuck within us. As we enter autumn, I will continue to be inviting you to experience the call to be loved, and to love others. To be poured into, and to water the seeds of revolution Jesus has scattered in the fertile soils around us. I already am seeing you all at work; faced with loneliness, folks at Broadmead have invited us to come visit, breaking down the walls of separation, while also remaining safe. No one told them to do this; it emerged from a sense of being loved and wanting to love others. Our ministry coordination team has taken the initiative to reach out to our children in new ways. The session didn’t charge them to do this; it emerged from their love and compassion. If you’re feeling called to remember your own beloved-ness, if you are searching for someone to remind you that you’re not alone, reach out to Leigh or myself, or our elders, or Lorraine. This community is full of people answering the call to go and love, to be reminded that we are loved, and there is more than enough to harvest. You don’t have to ask permission. But if you need a guide along the journey, know you are surrounded by the prayers and presence of so many who can share the way to freedom they have found for themselves, as we prepare for the revolution that we can feel is coming. Let us journey together, confounding those who think they are in charge.