For those of you who are here most Sundays, you will likely have heard me talk about this notion of God that you sometimes hear non-Christians or unfortunately, even many Christians espouse: that there are three gods. There’s the God of the OT, angry, judgmental, vengeful, much like the worst of human tyrants who gets his way by commanding people to commit acts of war and violence on others. Then there’s this teddy bear like Jesus who is just pure love and acceptance of all things. And then there’s this Holy Spirit who, far too many folks, even some professional theologians, think is sort of the unhinged part of God … doing a ‘new thing’ whenever human beings need a reason to justify whatever it is they’re doing.
And I’ve said to you that we are much to be pitied as believers in the God of Scripture if what I’ve described here is true. Why? For a really simple fact: if the picture of God – three sort of loosely affiliated people or concepts of justification is our God, then we are left in our sin. And concretely, what that means is that when we die, the measure, value and meaning of our lives would amount only to what we accumulated, and only what is valuable in the eyes of the particular society in which we lived: 15th century Spain, a 17th century English resident 19th century Victorian England, the United States up until the 1960s. Or even today’s supposedly free and open world. Woe to you then, if you were a person of relatively immediate African descent, woe to you if you were a woman, woe to you if you were a third or fourth son, woe to you if you were a small man born into a family of physical laborers, woe to you if you were intelligent and capable, but unfortunately Catholic in 17th century England, woe to you if you were male or female and intelligent but born a mere commoner, woe to you if you were born today with all the freedom and opportunity in the world but faced tough circumstances and did not fulfil expectations of our culture, woe to you if are over 40, past the cultural best buy date. Woe to you if you invested in stocks and bonds or borrowed on heavy credit to pay for a home and then lost it all in one of many recessions we’ve had. Woe to you if you’re a man and enjoy helping and working with people, you’re not really a man are you? Woe to you if you’re a woman who is exceptionally intelligent, strong, independent, articulate and assertive, yet also nurturing and loving. You’re not really a woman are you? Sorry folks: none of you is worth much by societal standards.
We, along with every person at every point in history, lives within historical circumstances that define value, worth, and meaning in very particular ways. These values and our worth is often measured by how much we accomplish in accordance with some socially set measure of value. Now let me say at the outset that this is certainly an important aspect of living together in community. We need some means of living, working and making decisions together. So we need some form of governance, law, stability, and education, that can help us to make decisions, to make changes where necessary, and to live together where we inevitably have competing interests, and limited resources. The difficulty arises when we live our lives as if this is the only reality that exists; as if these human constructed ways of living are the only reality that we have.
Paul reminds us that those of us baptized into the Christian faith hold that there is a more important, and more true reality to which we are tied, and by which our lives and measured. He says to the Church in Collossae: Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God (this God we hear of in the OT), This Son, sent into the world for our sakes by his Father is the firstborn of all creation. Why do we say this about him? Because he exists eternally, one with God the Father, this one we often think of as the God we hear about in the OT, and therefore, in the Son, Jesus Christ, the firstborn and therefore true human being, all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers--all things have been created through him and for him. Paul gets really philosophical here when he says: “He himself is before all things (that’s because, as the beginning of the Gospel of John puts it, he is eternally one with God and was not created but is the origin of all that is created), and so in him all things hold together, since they were made in him and are being perfected in him.
Really practically then, Jesus’s own life is the measure or the standard for our own lives. We are judged, our acts, words and deeds, are judged in accordance with his own life: his words and actions. He took on human flesh and became one of us. Then he lived an historical life with us that ended in his murder at the hands of his own people and many non-jewish participants and onlookers. To interpret that slightly differently: he lived his life, including his death in a way that bore faithfulness to God and to his Jewish people and his non-jewish people, the gentiles: he loved God and neighbor. And in this, he changed our fate. We were headed to the dust, to mere ashes, with a life measured solely by our lifetime of busy accomplishments, accumulations, success by our society’s standards, where love, empathy, hope, joy, sacrifice, and commitment have absolutely no meaning, so long as we accomplish our particular version of busy goals. God said, and he shows in Jesus’s response to Mary and Martha, that this busyness of accomplishment, of ladder climbing, of changing the world, of owning a home, of getting our own way in relationships, of beating down or out those with whom we disagree, of winning our particular theological or political or social battles, is simply not the reality by which our lives are right now – right this instant – and for all eternity, being measured.
To live as if this is your reality leaves you living estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, to what it means to be a truly human person. To truly live, Jesus says to us in our gospel lesson this morning, you must set aside those things of the world by which we measure life, value and worth, and attend to our true reality: the reality of God’s life as shared with us in Jesus’s own life. And what does this life look like? It is a life of service for the sake of others. It is a life in which we commit our lives to reestablishing for ourselves and in our relationship and commitment to and with others, what it means to live in the way that Jesus lived and lives with us. Concretely, it means fulfilling our promises to one another. It means not deciding to do our own thing when it suits us. It means looking for Jesus just where he is – precisely the act of Mary – even when it doesn’t suit us, when it doesn’t fit our agenda, when it challenges us and makes us struggle, even sometimes hurt. It means being present to where Jesus is in the life of another in every given moment of life. It means getting stuck into our relationships with one another, not walking away, not chastising, or beating down, not busying ourselves with work that makes us look strong, powerful, worldly, wealthy, worthwhile … it means making the sacrifice necessary to love others to the end of our lives. And so sometimes this means setting boundaries with people too, saying, ‘no, this isn’t right, and here’s why,’ but always explaining why; not simply judging as if our lives and our actions and words are somehow consistently holier or superior to those of another. At the core, our Gospel and epistle lessons this morning are about remaining bound, as Jesus did with us in his death, and as, Mary and so we, are called to do: to love God, manifest to us in his Son, and to love one another, as we seek Jesus Christ at work in their lives. This is what it means to be alive: to love. It is simultaneously the most simple of claims – the point of life is to love the other; and yet the most profoundly difficult life to live. To love is not to radically accept all that happens, every claim that’s made. To love is to go up to Jesus Christ himself – as he reveals God to us in the Scriptures – to allow him to permeate our bodies and souls and so our hearts and minds – and to share him, the world’s reality, with all whom we encounter.
This morning, we celebrate the ministry and the life of Ann. A faithful member of this community whose words and actions gave shape to the community, the life and the witness of this parish. As we recognize her commitment to God, and ask God to preserve her life and her witness, we look for those places in our own lives, or in our community’s life, where her work built and continues to press us into God’s bosom so that we might be strengthened – as individuals and as a community – to share the life and love of God with others. AMEN.