The Very Reverend Donald W. Krickbaum DKrickbaum@aol.com
Dean, Trinity Cathedral
THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
JUNE 9, 2002
HOSEA 5:15-6:6. PSALM 50:7-15. ROMANS 4:13-18. MATTHEW 9:9-13
Last Sunday I spoke of how I believe that we must build the church on the rock of prayer and deep spirituality. Now I want to speak about who I believe we should be as a community of the faithful who have built our house on prayer.
Terry Waite, the former aide to the Archbishop of Canterbury, said:
The role of the church and of faith is to enable the weak to be strong, the strong to be just, and above all, to enable the just to be compassionate. For in the world today, compassion is so desperately needed.I think this should be the statement of ministry of the church. Having been around the church for a long time now, having been a part of innumerable committees, the chapter, vestries, diocesan boards, you name it, I have watched us struggle with grand plans, mission statements, goals and priorities about our corporate life. We have had five year plans, programs for education, evangelism, "planting" and "growing" churches, the current 20/20 Vision of the church, and the lists go on, but the thing that is often missing in our statements about who we are and what we are called to do, as well as being noticeably absent in our actual corporate life, is the element of love and mercy. Oh, yes, we would say that love and mercy go without saying, but I think we must say it and live it very consciously and deliberately. Sometimes, it is as simple as the old story of the little girl who prayed, "God, please make all the bad people good, and the good people nice!" I think Terry Waite's statement is a grown up version of that wonderful prayer, for in the world today, and most certainly in today's church, compassion is so desperately needed and yet too rarely seen.
I was the preacher when Bishop Said was consecrated and I took that opportunity to publically thank the Presiding Bishop for his courageous leadership and vision of a most compassionate and inclusive church. Two of the visiting bishops who were present would not even speak to me after the service out of their disdain for the kind of vision Bishop Browning had for the church. One of the clergy of our diocese told me that I had certainly had not done my reputation any good by saying what I had said. There is a desire among many in the religious institution to be successful by maintaining the church as a self-preserving institution more concerned about its internal life, liturgies, and customs, and who is in and who is out, than it is the mission to love God and to bring the love of God to all people. That is often the narrow attitude toward others even within the Christian body, not to mention their attitude toward other faiths. I have had mostly positive response to some of the recent interfaith statements I have made and programs I have been involved with, but I have also had some pretty strong attacks because of what I have said. One priest friend of mine sent me a very angry email cursing me for things I said in dialogue with the Rabbi and the Imam. I am deeply concerned about where we are headed as the people of God and I will continue to preach inclusiveness, compassion, forgiveness, unity, and love as long as there is breath in this body. I will call on us all to respect the dignity of one another and respect the faith of all who seek God. I will work diligently for Christians to open the doors of our minds and hearts to all of God's faithful, even if they are not Christian. And I will continue to declare that where I serve the church there will be no outcasts!
In the Old Testament, the prophets continually sought to call the people of Israel back to a position of love and care for the people of God rather than preoccupying themselves with their solemn assemblies (which the psalmist reminded the worshipers that the Lord detested when those things overrode the commandment to love one another). This morning we heard the prophet Hosea call Israel back to its true identity:
What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away early. Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets, I have killed them by the words of my mouth, and my judgement goes forth as the light. For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings" (Hosea 5:15-6:6).
It was Hosea that Jesus was paraphrasing in today's Gospel with the story of how we was criticized for the kind of people he hung out with -- tax collectors, prostitutes, outcasts, and sinners. He obviously preferred their company more than that of the supposedly "good" people who were not very nice to those who differed from them. Then he said, "Go and learn what this means, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners" (Matthew 9:13). "Go and learn what this means!" he said.
I remind all of us of the most basic ethic of the community of God's people -- the love of God and the love he gives us to offer to others. This is the source of energy for the ministry to which we are called. The primary Christian ethic to love God and love one another is the foundation of the fellowship of the faithful and is the basic ingredient in our life together in the church. The first century pagan governor, Pliny, even while persecuting the church, was compelled to say, "but see how these Christians love one another." Does that describe us today? While we continue to say that the love of God and the love for one another is central to our corporate life, I question if we are actually living that way.
God's immediate and ultimate relationship to his creation is one not of power but of affection. God's power is subordinate to his love. In spite of all the evil and suffering and the bad things that happen to good people and bad alike, God relates to us in love..
Through Christ, God stirs us up to action wherever we are and with whatever we have, so that his love can be translated into human form and human effort. Peter Gomes, of Harvard University, said: "That God should show his love, that God should take his ultimate action in the form of a creature, a human, means that all creation, and all men and women, have somehow been elevated to participate in that ultimate act of God, and that the character of that action, both divine and human, must be out of love and compassion and not out of prudence or power. . . . and if God can invest himself and his love in the unlikely form of a man born of a woman, who suffered as we suffer and died as we shall die, dare we invest less in humanity than God? Dare we invest less in ourselves and in our world than God? Ought we not to take the sign of God's love for us in Christ as a sign that we are lovable and the world is worth loving? If that is so, can there be any possible limit to what we can attempt as God's representatives in the world?"
This, I believe is what is meant by "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." The solemn assemblies, the sacrifices, the rituals, and the laws are simply there to be vehicles by which the love of God is expressed and celebrated. As ends to themselves, as the sole focus of the church and its people, these elements of our corporate life become idols and barriers to the true nature of God and his church. We go on year after year with the "pretentious routines of a disordered togetherness" and we wonder where have all the people gone? Probably, the same place as the Spirit of God, slipping out of the grasp of the ecclesiastics, going out into the world to seek and offer love and reconciliation. How tragic, because the church does have the tools with which to truly bring God's people into a place of harmony and love where we have the use of worship, of word and of sacrament to nurture us, heal us, and strengthen us in this fellowship of faith to be the incarnation of the action and the compassion of God in the world. Peter Gomes went on to say: "indeed, the acts of God become the actions of the men and women who know and love him, and seek to serve him."
We are a liberated people who are sent to be liberators--setting the world free to be loved and to love, to be reconciled to one another and to be the reconcilers, to be fed by his love and to be the feeders of those who hunger and thirst for true righteousness and peace. That is the call of every Christian. Our role is to enable the weak to be strong. We do this by opening our doors to all who hunger in any way: physically, spiritually, emotionally, socially. By care and nurture, by inclusion and reconciliation, by serving and loving, the weak are made strong. We all require the strength that we gain from one another.
Being strengthened, the people of God are called to be agents of justice and peace in the community. Our ministry must be a prophetic one, championing the need to provide a just and peaceful society in which to live. We are called to be social activists, bringing to all the desire of God for true shalom -- peace and harmony.
We are to bring compassion and love to a world and a church sadly bereft of love. We do not always treat one another with much love. Love must reign supreme in our hearts within our fellowship of faith and be extended into the larger community around us. We must always ask of ourselves, "Is this (whatever I am doing or saying) the most loving thing to do?" "What would Jesus have me do?" Let us pray that our lives will be so transformed by the love of God that his acts will become our actions -- the actions of men and women who know God, and love God, and serve God.
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