“The Gift of Coming Together”
April 7, 2013
Here, in this space where we gather,
My hope is that each is touched by the Sacred — Not by my words,
But through the compassion shared.
May the Light of Life be yours.
FIRST READING: An Excerpt from The Prayer of Saint Francis: A Message of Peace for the World Today by Leonardo Boff:
“Where there is injury, let me sow pardon.
The dominant history is dominant because it is fashioned by the winners. They have poets who sing their victories, artists who raise monuments to them, and historians who enshrine their memory. But who listens to the voices of the victims unjustly wronged and defeated? …’Forgiving’ means opening the injured to this possibility. This is how we overcome the dichotomy between oppressed and oppressor; injurer and injured. We will then find ourselves on the same human ground from which we must together build a world where there is room for reconciliation and forgiveness. A world where mutual care, kinship, solidarity, and mutual respect constitute the permanent foundations for life.”
SECOND READING: Acts 5:27 – 32 (from The Message by Eugene Peterson)
Bringing them back, they stood them before the High Council. The Chief Priest said, “Didn’t we give you strict orders not to teach in Jesus’ name? And here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are trying your best to blame us for the death of this man.” Peter and the apostles answered, “It’s necessary to obey God rather than men. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, the One you killed by hanging him on a cross. God set him on high at his side, Prince and Savior, to give Israel the gift of a changed life and sins forgiven. And we are witnesses to these things. The Holy Spirit, whom God gives to those who obey him, corroborates every detail.”
I don’t do a lot of “series” in my sermon preparation because I don’t often know, week to week, where I am going. But several weeks ago, as I sat down and was looking at the Scripture lessons that were coming up, the three titles for today and the two weeks following seemed to tie in a little. So, we begin three sermons that begin with the phrase “The gift of …”, and we’ll see where it goes.
“The Gift of Coming Together”; that, I hope, sounds warm and inviting. It sounds like a welcoming sort of thing. It sounds as if I might be preparing to give you something that you would appreciate. Everybody likes gifts, right? We enjoy giving gifts, receiving gifts, thinking about gifts. What I want us to do today is think about how gifts bring us together. And I want to think about coming together as a gift; there are all sorts of warm fuzzies wrapped up in that. It sounds, I hope, like a topic you would want to hear something about. Gifts are great things; coming together is a great thing! It fills our minds with good positive feelings, like Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries. All are times when we are sharing gifts and coming together – and ALL of that is really good!
Let the warmth of that fill you and embrace you. Are you feeling good with the idea of gifts and giving and receiving? . . . because now I am going to throw you a curve ball!
What if I were, on the other hand, to begin by saying that what I really wanted to talk about was sin and forgiveness? Well, that’s about as warm and fuzzy as a rusty Brillo pad! But “sin” has been given a bad ‘rap’! When we think of sin, we tend to start thinking about those things that people say are sins! Things like lying, stealing, and cheating. I grew up being told that dancing was a sin, going to movies was a sin, playing any kind of card game was a sin, even going swimming on a Sunday afternoon was a sin; not to mention the big three; drinking, gambling…and that third one! It was almost as if there was this HUGE score card and if the score against you got too high and you got to the last inning … you lost!
Most of the time, I think that when the conversation comes around to talking about sin, folk either want to deny its existence or they begin to go that route of imagining the big scorecard-like scene when they die. I do NOT believe in a heavenly scorecard that we have to check when we die – I doubt that anyone here is surprised to hear that!
BUT . . .
The point I hope to make today, is that when we are talking about “The Gift of Coming Together” and “Sin and Forgiveness”, we are really talking about the same thing. Forgiveness is really about eliminating that which separates us from one another. One wonderful solution to avoiding having to work through forgiveness is to avoid doing those things that separate us, one from the other.
The gift we offer one another through the spirit of building togetherness is the same as the conversation I want to have about “sin and forgiveness”.
I think this gets complicated because church leaders have, over the years, wanted to try to make life easy for parishioners. And the history of that goes way back to Moses; and leaders in our Judeo-Christian heritage have been struggling with it ever since!
When it comes right down to it, church leadership can be a real struggle. Bringing people together for a cause is not all that easy. Nurturing people along a path while trying to build consensus and maintain a spirit of doing the best for all people, takes a lot of patience -and so, when Moses got tired of the crabby, grumbling people he was dealing with, he just said, “These are the rules! Ten of them! Follow them! Do that and you will be able to get along together.” Yes, it is a major over-simplification of the story, but on the other hand – it really does all boil down to bringing people together, or creating an environment conducive for societies to grow.
Are there days I wish I had the power of the Pope? Absolutely! Maybe because sometimes it is easy to say authoritatively, “Do it this way!” But following the rules does not build togetherness. So, no – I do not wish to work authoritatively! I want to be able to bring the gift of togetherness to everyone’s heart, so that we all want the same end result.
I want to avoid those things that separate us, and build on those things that bring us together.
Let’s take, for example, one of the laws of Moses, “Thou Shalt Not Lie”. Next thing you know, “lying” is being called a “sin” and boom, there goes the check mark on the scorecard! Well, there is no scorecard – but when two people in a relationship “lie” to each other, there begins to be separation. When another lie occurs, another brick appears in that wall that separates. Take any one of the Ten Commandments that Moses gave the people, and do the same thing. It is not about a scorecard, it is about avoiding those things that separate us from one another – and giving the gift of coming together. Once that wall between ourselves and anyone else begins to be built, then removing those bricks entails acts of forgiveness, acts of letting go of the divisions. These are our gifts to others of working toward togetherness.
The language around this has been misrepresented for decades (or centuries) for the reason of making life easier on leaders in faith communities, like Moses, who just wanted people to get along better together. “Follow these simple rules,” says Moses, “And you can get along together.” But, rather than hearing the spirit or intent of the law, the people, as is our way, became more and more legalistic – and the separations became more like checks on a scorecard.
So let’s look at the passage from Acts. Peter, the one most worried about rule keeping, is before the High Priests and says to them, “Jesus was put in a special place by the essence of the Sacred Among us, to give the people the gift of a changed life with all separations removed.”
What Peter is saying, is that we are witnesses to Jesus’ teaching us to listen to the SPIRIT of the law – that is, the essence of love upon which the law was founded. If we can treat one another with respect, love one another as we love ourselves, lift up the other’s needs above our own, if we do those things that Jesus taught . . . there will be no separation between us.
The phrase, “Go and sin no more” does not mean “don’t do any more bad things” . . . it means go and don’t be separated from your people anymore; be one with your community. Jesus did not die to remove all the marks on the scorecard . . . there is no scorecard! Jesus died struggling to teach people how to remove the kinds of things that separate us one from another, to show us all a way to give one another the gift of togetherness, of community.
And so, to you I say go – and give the gift of togetherness; go – and be one with those around you, be one with all!
Blessings Friends, Amen