Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Difference in the World

This week when I was at the seminary I saw that they have their seeds started for their community garden. How many of you have started seeds for this year’s garden? 
Every year gardening is leap of faith that out of devastation of fall and winter and maybe even last year’s mistakes, new life will grow. 
In Embracing the Seasons- Memories of a Country Garden, Gunilla Norris  laments the rapid growth of poison ivy which she says 
is often “the most luxurious crop on this property.” 
“I have learned to respect it and watch out for it…
Some people handle what is poison with poison.
They spray year after year, and eventually some parts of the garden are free of the vines.
I do not feel comfortable with this method,” she writes, “for I do not know what other effects I would be causing. But I do not feel comfortable doing nothing.”
There’s the challenge- do everything, or do nothing, only seeing the poison. 
She goes on to reflect
“I notice however that wherever there is a great deal of poison ivy, there is also a bounty of jewel weed. From jewelweed can be made an anti itching salve. Things are often paired like this in nature. They balance each other...
Poison ivy and jewelweed. 
Over time it is never just one or the other
How often do we think about being absolutely right about something and in being adamant we lose the fabric of relatedness and the situation becomes all wrong.
We keep forgetting that events are in relationship to each other.
Living with such tension is very hard
We will always be right and wrong
Safe and in danger
Strong and weak
Loving and uncaring
I know this as I walk here and despair over the profusion of poisonous leaves
Too much to ever get rid of 
These vines are here like the poison ivy aspects inside of me
I pray to have jewelweed inside me too.”

Seeing the jewelweed, is a way of seeing difference in the world. 
Jesus is talking to the disciples, whom he has just taken away and reminded that they are blessed to God.   Now he tells them what comes next.
Be salt and be light. Be the difference.

Salt preserves things, heals things, and as most of us know, it brings out the flavor in things in life. 
The world can’t endure without it, Jesus says. 
You are salt- you are no less essential for the well being of the earth. 
If your saltiness has washed out, or become diluted, what use is that?
Unsalty salt doesn’t have anything to contribute. 
Salt is a metaphor for wisdom. 
Elsewhere we hear in Colossians, “let your speech be gracious and seasoned with salt. So that you should know how to answer everyone.” 

Wisdom, holding on to God’s kingdom view, is essential. In a world where people can be tasteless, we are to be distinctive. 
Retaining the effect of wisdom is a hallmark of following Jesus. 
The gospel asks: Are we distinctive or just fitting in and allowing God’s word and kingdom vision to be diluted?
Are we responding to one kind of tastelessness with another? 
Be salt. 
It makes a difference.

Be Light- a light to the nations- Jesus
The world needs that  light- we the disciples are the way it is made visible
We are called to shine in the world
That light has to be seen. 
If we hide behind accommodation of the common world view, for whatever reason, we are hiding the light of Christ.
Why would you hide a light under a basket when the whole point is for it to be seen?

Look at our cross outside. You can see it from anywhere in the valley now.
So it should be for us as disciples- not personal private holiness, the witness of public exposure.
Our distinctive lifestyle should be visible

“But Jesus is specific here- it’s not so that we just improve or enlighten society, or that others see us and applaud our good works
It is for glorifying God to those beyond our doors. To show that  we are in a distinctive relationship with God through Christ and we are subjects of God’s kingdom first."
This view of the world is by all accounts distinctive. 

So much so that the prophets talked over and over about it, and Jesus and the apostles talked over and over about it. And maybe perhaps some of you are saying, “here she goes again,”
but sisters and brothers, “Our faith is not an abstract theory-
It reveals the difference that God’s grace makes in the real world.”
To live in the world that says “someone should” and hear Jesus saying- “you are the someone.” 
Christ’s words about the kingdom are about life together. The church is the story of God lived in a way that makes the kingdom visible
(Stanley Hauerwas) We must be a clear sign “of a people who have learned to be at peace with themselves, one another, the stranger, and most of all, God.” Of people trying to live more faithfully to God’s story. The church is where the stories of Israel and Jesus are told, and heard and enacted. There is literally nothing more important we can do as a response to God’s grace.
We embody the story- God and God’s love are not just something to be told and put back upon the shelf. 
We are to work to embody in our habits this story, in our worship, in our living.” 
 Well, what might that mean? 
Isaiah had a lot of words for us today. Words that lifts up an indictment of behaviors we see around us and truthfully sometimes in us. 
And calls us to fast from them. 
Instead of thinking that worship is a sanctuary and the rest of the week we just feed our fears.
What if we fasted from being malicious, dominating, pointing the finger, oppressing?
What if we stopped trying to kill the poison and started showing how distinctive it is to live in the kingdom of Christ?
To build up the devastated places 
To restore things
To live a well watered life
To share light where we can in the darkness.
To sprinkle the salt of wisdom in the midst of turmoil?
To be that jewelweed that is the antidote.
Isaiah tells us-
 If you do away with the yoke of oppression and the pointing finger and malicious talk
If you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry
And satisfy the needs of the oppressed

THEN, then… your light will rise in the darkness
The Lord will guide you always
He will satisfy your needs in a sun scorched land
And strengthen your frame
You (all of you) will be like a well watered garden
Like a spring whose resource never runs out
Your will rebuild the ruins
And raise up the foundations
You will be called the Repairer of Broken Walls
Restorers of Streets where people can live.

From the world’s perspective this may seem to contribute little to the cause of Justice, yet this is our conviction as Christ’s church:
that unless we take time to care for others, neither the world nor we can know what justice and peace look like. 
The world includes us when we choose not to make the story of God their story. 
The “world” in us refuses to affirm that this is God’s world, that we have a loving Lord, and that God’s care for creation is greater than our illusion of control. 
In a world of fake news
The church serves the world by giving the world the means to see itself truthfully. 
To ask what is going on and to stand within the world witnessing to the peaceable kingdom. If we and the world are to hear the story truthfully, it means that we must never cease being a a community of peace and truth in a world of fear. 
We can never let the world set the agenda.
A church of peace and Justice must set its own agenda. 
It begins with having patience amidst injustice and the violence in this world, to care for the widow, the poor and the orphan. 
Where we do this, and there are many ways we do-to God be the glory!
We also must ever look for where It is easy to fall into the poison ivy mode- we all have the ability to do so
God is calling us to place our faith in the God who is forming a new kingdom- our task is to point to this God 
and to the difference that grace makes in the world. 

To be the jewelweed amidst the poison, the salt that brings out new possibility, the light shining in the darkness. Instead of pointing to the poison, the tasteless and the darkness, point to another view- the view of the Kingdom of God
and the difference it makes that we serve a loving and saving Lord. 

As Madeleine L’Engle writes, 
 “We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, 
but by showing them a light that is so lovely
that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”
May it be so.  

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