June 23, 2013: Let Fire Rain on Them




Terry Pierce on Luke 9:51-62

"When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.  When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?"
Last week, we met Jesus on the western side of the Sea of Galilee among the Gentiles.  A man, a Gentile, possessed by demons is there when Jesus arrives.  Jesus casts the demons into a herd of pigs who run into the sea and are drowned.  Now, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem.  He sends messengers ahead of him to a village of Samaritans.  Once again, he is traveling among those the Jews would call non-believers.  This time, they turn away from Jesus because he doesn’t believe what they believe or worship the way that they worship.  And Jesus’ friends say “Let’s rain fire on them and destroy them.”

In 1534, King Henry VIII separated the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church.  While part of the reason had to do with a marriage he wished to have annulled, this was the time when the Protestant movement was developing and countering the authority of the Pope with the authority of the Bible.  Over the next 25 years, the Church of England swung from a  Protestant orientation and the persecution of Catholics to a Catholic orientation and persecution of Protestants.  In 1558, Queen Elizabeth I established the Elizabethan Settlement.  The people were tired of the warring factions; of the polarization and disagreement.  The Elizabethan Settlement established a middle way, the via media, between Protestant and Catholic.  It was based on the principle that continues today in the Episcopal Church.  We are a community of people who may differ in our beliefs but who participate in a common worship that incorporates both Protestant and Catholic liturgical forms. 

 We are a community of people who share a common form of worship even when our beliefs are radically divergent.  In a world where it seems often to be the case that people in disagreement are calling for fire to rain on those they disagree with, we are called to respond to our disagreements with a willingness to take hand with each other, to pray together, to listen carefully to those we disagree with, and to allow space for the holy spirit to move us to action that is good and just.

 This week, the Supreme Court declared Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.  What that means is that marriage between two same-sex people that is recognized under state law is also recognized by Federal law.  It does not mean that states that don’t recognize marriage or civil union between same sex people are required to do so. People who are very, very dear to me are celebrating and people who are very, very dear to me feel that something important in the fabric of the country has been torn.

 Several nights ago, people who are very dear to me spent the day and the night at the Capitol protesting actions by the Texas Legislature affecting women’s health decisions and other people who are very dear to me were terribly distressed by their actions.

Over the time I’ve been here, some of you have tried to talk political issues with me, mostly without great success.  I come from a family that believes in participating in the political process and I was taught early on to understand the issues and to vote and to be willing to get out in the world and work for what I believe is good and just.  I read about the issues and I have opinions and I vote.  But I am reminded in this place that we are called as a community to hear how we are to be God’s people and to serve God’s creation.  One of the ancient principles of our tradition is that the word of God is interpreted in community not individually; so to hear God’s call in my life, I have to step out of the way of my personal beliefs and opinions so that I may hear through the community that is the body of Christ.

I have come to believe that the polarization of the conversation in this country is far more dangerous to the health and well-being of all of God’s creation than any political action taken or not taken can ever be.  As the focus of our legislative bodies increasingly moves to gaining power in order to impose the will of one faction on another faction rather than finding ways of compromise and collaboration, we become increasingly estranged from those whose beliefs differ from our own.  And in that estrangement, it becomes increasingly easy to rain fire on another human being or community – to call people names or to turn away from bullying because we don’t think the person being bullied is worthy of protection or to discount someone’s beliefs because they differ from our own.  In the polarization, the voice of the community is lost in the cacophony of individual and personal belief and opinion.

I spend a lot of time in my car driving on the freeway.  I'm pretty anonymous in my car.  There are a lot of things that other people do that I don't like: I don't like it when people don't take turns - what I want to do if you try to get in front of me and it's not your proper turn is everything in my power aside from hitting your car to keep you from doing that.  I don't like it when people tailgate, particularly if I'm driving the speedlimit or a bit above - what I want to do if you tailgate is to slow down to the slowest possible speed I can get away with and hope that you'll be blocked on all sides from getting around me.  What I'm likely to do in any situation where, in my judgment, you have stepped outside the boundaries I deem appropriate is use language in the privacy of my car that would never come out of my mouth in public.

In other words, in the anonymity of my car, I can be mean and angry and dangerous to other human life.  In the anonymity of my car, fire rains down on those who have done me no real harm.  In the anonymity of my car, I am a member of the community of my self interest...the community of what I want and need in those moment is more important than the wants or needs of anyone else.  In the anonymity of my car, I am a member of the body of Terry and my actions separate me from my membership in the body of Christ.

Our tradition is founded on a way of being in community with each other that counters polarization.  The middle way, the via media, calls us to worship and to wait.  It calls us to listen to each other.  It calls us to forgive and lift each other up so that we can move forward together.  It calls us to look out for the other guy even when he does something we don't understand, like push to the front of the line.  It calls us to be careful in our communication of those who disagree with us.  It calls us to look for the areas where we agree and build on those areas. 

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori closed her communication about the DOMA decision with this but I think it applies equally well to many other issues that are before us.

"I am deeply aware that faithful Americans find themselves on all sides of these issues, including those who have not yet clearly discerned an effective or appropriate response.  It is possible to disagree AND work together for the good of the larger community.  That is the bedrock of our democratic political system.  It is also the foundation of life in the Body of Christ.  Together we can help to build up the whole community, particularly if we have the courage to listen deeply to those who hold a different view.  The Episcopal Church has an ancient tradition of attempting to hold divergent views together for the sake of deeper truth.  All are beloved of God, and the flourishing of each is what we believe God intended from the beginning of creation.  May we help to build a beloved community in which each and every person is treated with dignity, knowing that each and every one reflects the image of God."

I am a newcomer to the St James community.  What I have witnessed since I arrived is a group of people who often have radically divergent views of the issues of the day come together and feed the hungry and care for the children and worship God.  We are and we are called to continue to be a reflection to the world of how the wounds of polarization might be healed.

 

Amen.

I rejoice in St. James' history as a place where people of differing views come together to worship God, to cook for the hungry, and to care for the children. Let us continue to listen deeply to each other and to hold this foundation of life in the Body of Christ - that we are called by our tradition to respond to disagreement by taking hand with one another and worshipping God.I rejoice in St. James' history as a place where people of differing views come together to worship God, to cook for the hungry, and to care for the children. Let us continue to listen deeply to each other and to hold this foundation of life in the Body of Christ - that we are called by our tradition to respond to disagreement by taking hand with one another and worshipping God.I rejoice in St. James' history as a place where people of differing views come together to worship God, to cook for the hungry, and to care for the children. Let us continue to listen deeply to each other and to hold this foundation of life in the Body of Christ - that we are called by our tradition to respond to disagreement by taking hand with one another and worshipping God.

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