“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”
Poet Muriel Rukeyser

Saturday, January 13, 2007

One Body: homily for Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

One of my earliest memories as a young girl is attending Easter services. At the time I lived in Salt Lake City and on this day my mother, great grandmother, and I went to temple square for services. I was all dressed up in my Easter best. The hall was very crowded. I was distracted by all the hats and people squeezing in, until the Mormon Tabernacle Choir began to sing. I remember their voices and the view from my pew like it was yesterday. I must have been 4 years old, but I was awe struck.

To this day, the image of that Easter morning is my vision of the Christian life: lots of people all gathered to celebrate. We come from different backgrounds, different expressions of our faith. Tonight we are gathered, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal, each with our own practice of faith and particular beliefs.

Eugene Peterson, a pastor, professor, and author of many books on our Christian faith has written a version of the bible called, The Message. It is not an interpretation it is a reflection an offering of our scripture in common language which aims to unpack the meaning of the passages, not the literal interpretation. The Messages says this :

“You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you're still one body.”

As we gather to celebrate this week, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we are invited as one body with many parts. It is our baptism that unites us in this body. Through baptism we are all given the gift of the Spirit.

We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything. (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.) Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit—where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive.

In baptism we are all brought into the family. At St. Hilary’s where I serve, in the month leading up to baptism we prepare the candidates for the day. And we add them to our weekly prayer list, praying for them by first name only: in baptism we all have the same surname, the same last name: Christian.

Tonight we gather as that family, the Christian family. I am Terri Christian, this is Bob Christian, Coleen Christian, and Peg Christian. You too are named Christian. Like any family we are not all exactly alike. We express ourselves in ways authentic to who we are.

But even as we express ourselves in separate and unique ways, we are one. The image of a choir conveys this one-ness in a very special way. That is why I like that we celebrate this night with an Evensong. Singing together is a form of prayer. We gather, each of us with our own voices, some high, some low, some soft, some loud, some trained, some not. And as we gather to sing and pray we learn how to blend our voices in sweet music. We learn how to harmonize as one voice. We become for a time one voice, the Christian voice.

But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance. …What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own.

I invite us on this night to think about and pray about those things that we have in common and not worry about the things that make us different. Focus on our baptism, the one common event that makes all of us here Christian, a name given through the Trinity of God our Creator, Christ our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit who is the giver of life.

The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don't, the parts we see and the parts we don't. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.

Think about the ways in which we can be a blended voice harmonizing into the universe. Ponder how we can be more alike and sing about our common strengths: love of God, love of Christ, love of one another, love of self. In a few minutes we will raise our voices and sing the beautiful hymn. There’s a sweet sweet spirit in this place.

I can only imagine that as we sing this hymn God will look upon us and smile, like a parent experiencing a moment without sibling rivalry. God will smile and indeed a sweet sweet spirit will be in this place

Playfulness of Mary and Jesus

Two girls were speaking about church:

First girl: "My pastor said we could have 16 husbands."
Second girl: "Are you sure?"
First girl: "Yes. At the last wedding at the church I heard him say, four better, four worse, four richer and four poorer.

Two Connecticut College psychologists asked thirty couples to rate the humor in twenty-five jokes, cartoons, and comic strips. The study showed that couples who agree on what’s funny are more likely to like, love, and want to marry each other than those who didn’t laugh at the same things…
(Murstein, Brust) (Cited in Bernard Asbell with Karen Wynn, WHAT THEY KNOW ABOUT YOU, New York: Random House, 1991, p. 202)

Joan Chittister says:

God made laughter to show us that things are seldom as bad as they seem. Laughter liberates and laughter uplifts. When laughter comes into a life, nothing is too difficult, nothing can defeat us.

She continues: There are some things that must always be laughed at in life:
1. Laugh when people tell a joke. Otherwise you might make them feel bad.
2. Laugh when you look into a mirror. Otherwise you might feel bad.
3. Laugh when you make a mistake. If you don't, you're liable to forget how ultimately unimportant the whole thing really is, whatever it is.
4. Laugh at situations that are out of your control. Like when you find yourself in public wearing mismatched shoes.
5. Finally, laugh when all your carefully laid plans get changed: when the plane is late and the restaurant is closed…You’re free now to do something else, to be spontaneous for a change, to take a piece of life and treat it with outrageous abandon.

And laugh when your mother asks you to do something about the lack of wine at the wedding. Often people interpret this line in John’s gospel when Mary asks Jesus to do something, and he responds Woman, what concern is that to me?, People interpret this as if Jesus is being short or harsh with his mother. But it is also possible that Mary and Jesus are being playful, like many families are with one another when there is an inside joke in family or between family members.
Jesus may have been playful with Mary and her with him. Why not? It’s possible. The written word so seldom expresses the emotion behind the word. So it’s possible that this is really a playful time.

Mary has every reason to be certain that Jesus will do what she asks, she goes on to tell the wine stewards to do what ever he asks. She knows what he is about to do, she is confident that he will do it.

And, of course Jesus does exactly what she expects. He fills the water jars with an abundance of wine. And not just any wine, excellent wine, the best wine. An abundance of the very best.

This playfulness between Mary and Jesus gives us a hint into the nature of God and humanity, of the divine and the ordinary. I think God is playful with creation, that creation has within its being a playful nature. Sometimes, often times we humans are far too serious. God calls us to be playful and we take God seriously…

So, what might this playfulness look like? How about some of the creatures on this earth, like a rhinoceros or a platypus? There’s a sense of humor. What about blizzards and snow storms and deep cold weather, there’s a sense of humor, reminding us that we really do not have much control over the weather or this world. Reminding us to laugh at ourselves when we get too full of ourselves. What about having a conversation with our children. Kids are naturally fun loving and bring out our playfulness. I urge each of you to come to the meeting about the results of the survey we took in April. I encourage you to meet with the vestry members and reflect on how we see ourselves, and I hope you will do so with both a sense of seriousness, and a sense of humor. If we can’t find a way to laugh at ourselves now, when will we?

Jesus is playful with his mother, why not? Why not think about the ways in which we too can be playful? If we get too bogged down with heaviness, worry, and concern, we will limit our ability to see God’s creativity in our lives and world, we will limit our ability to laugh and see the joy in our lives.

I suggest that part of our discerning time in the weeks ahead include some time for fun and laughter. It may seem odd, but I think its right. Laugh at ourselves and the ways we have been stifling the spirit from our fears or anxiety. Laugh at ourselves because we fail to trust God. Let’s be playful with one another like family, like Jesus and Mary.