Saturday, February 4, 2017

See Who You Are. Become What You See. (RCL Proper 5A, 5 February 2017)

See Who You Are.  Become What You See.
Reflections on Matthew 5.13-20

RCL Proper 5A
5 February 2017

Saint Faith's Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

While I was a student at Nashotah House, one of my professors, Jim Griffiss of blessed memory, occasionally addressed me as 'Dr Leggett'.  I thought that I was being teased for being a bit of a 'know it all', not an unfair gibe, I must admit.

One day I caught Fr Griffiss by himself, so I asked him why he called me 'Dr'.  'Because that's who you are,' he responded, 'you're going to be a doctor of the church.'  Now in those days I had no plans for doctoral study and only thought of returning to Colorado to serve as a parish priest, an honourable profession, dare I say.  But within five years and with the support of the faculty of my seminary, I was off to Notre Dame where, in 1993, I earned my doctorate.  Fr Griffiss' prophecy was fulfilled and even though I have left academia to return to my first love, parish ministry, I try to be a 'doctor', a teacher, of the church.

Last week we heard the early verses of Jesus' first 'sermon' to his disciples.  Today we continue to hear him address them, address us, as 'the salt of the earth', 'the light of the world' and 'a city built on a hill'.  These are not what Jesus hopes his disciples will be; it is was he knows them to be, right now, right here, in the nitty gritty reality we call life.  True, we have much to learn about who we are as Christ's disciples.  True, we often fail to live faithful to that identity.  But the foundation on which we build is the certainty that we are 'the salt of the earth', 'the light of the world' and 'a city built on a hill'.

Diana Butler Bass, whom I mentioned last week, has written that Christians have sometimes thought that belonging to the disciples of Jesus required two earlier steps.  First, one had to believe, that is to say, have the right set of doctrinal understandings about God and Jesus.  Then, with this toolkit in hand, one had to behave like a disciple.  With the right belief and the right behaviour then one could claim to belong to the disciples of Jesus.

She points out that Jesus actually reversed the order.  "Jesus did not start with questions of belief," she writes, "(instead), Jesus's public ministry started when he formed a community."   Jesus invites the first disciples into a friendship that is the foundation of a new community where relationships are based on love and service.

It's often risky to compare the church to a family, but I'll take that risk today.  I am a member of the Leggett and Broom families; this is a reality created by my physical birth to a Leggett father and a Broom mother.  I belong to this family and nothing can change this.  Growing up in this family I learned how to behave by observing what my parents did and did not teach me.  I learned the stories that explain why certain family members were remembered and why others were not so often remembered.  I learned what was expected of me.

Over time I began to believe in my family.  Now let me remind you that the English word believe originally meant 'to hold dear, to love, to hold in one's heart'.  To believe has more in common with love than it has with doctrine.  I believe in my family, because I love them, despite our faults, our foibles and foolishness.  I believe because I belong and I behave as a member of this extended clan.

In the eucharist the presiding presbyter or bishop holds up the consecrated bread and wine and says, 'The gifts of God for the people of God.'  This phrase is a condensed form of what Augustine of Hippo is supposed to have said to his congregation:  'The gifts of God for the people of God.  See who you are.  Become what you see.'

See who we are.  We are the body of Christ, right here, right now.  We are bread broken and wine poured that seasons the world so that others can taste God, that enlightens the world so that God's compassion and love in the here and now can be seen, that gathers the world into community based on a shared humanity.  This is why our failures are so often front-page news:  the media remembers who we are even when we forget who we are.

Become what we see.  When we fall short of living out our identity as disciples of Jesus, it is not a time to despair.  It is an occasion to re-commit ourselves to becoming who we already are.  This is a counsel of hope, because we belong to a community of faith and we witness in others how the disciples of Jesus behave.

In the aftermath of the attack on the mosque in Québec City by a young Québecois of European and Christian heritage, Christians joined Jews and others in forming circles of faith around mosques in Canada and the United States.  Because they belonged to the children of Abraham, they behaved as children of the one God, the Holy One of Moses, Jesus and Mohammed.  The tragedy did not create a shared identity; it aroused the shared identity enshrined in our heart, our soul, our mind and our strength.

We who are the disciples of Jesus know that we live in a world beset by movements that use fear and exclusion to gain and to maintain power.  But the disciples of Jesus are and are called to be a movement that uses hope and inclusion to build and nurture communities of welcome and compassion.  It is who we are.  It is how we behave.  It is how we love.

"Is not this the fast that I choose:  to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?  Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard."  Isaiah 58.6-8

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