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Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C

John 14:23-29 - link to NRSV text
Joel 2:21-27 - link to NRSV text

The graduating seniors from the high school youth group did indeed preach last Sunday, and indeed they did an excellent job. They preached on Jesus' command to "love one another as I have loved you." What impressed me most about their sermon is how open they were in talking about the barriers and struggles they (and we) encounter trying to live into that command.

They're a tough act to follow, and I'm preaching this Sunday, so I want to build on the important things -- the crucial things, the foundational things -- they said to us last week. Those things were crucial and foundational for those of us who want to follow Jesus because when Jesus says, "those who love me will keep my word," the word he is referring to specifically is the "new commandment" from last week's sermon, the commandment from John 13:34 to love others as Christ loves us. Last week's gospel told us that our love proclaims whose disciples we are; this week's gospel builds on that by saying that our love for others is how we experience God's love for us, and how we make where we live into God's house, God's home, the place where God's Spirit lives on earth.

Some of you have heard me talk about the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem. When Jesus was growing up, that was the place he was told was God's house, God's home, and he was told what made it possible for God's Spirit, God's holiness to be present there to an extent not possible any place else. Such a holy place had to be carefully guarded and protected. The conventional wisdom is that pure things are pure because they haven't come into contact with anything dirty. As soon as something dirty -- even something little -- penetrates into something that's clean, the dirtiness has spread, and the whole thing is dirty. For example, let's say I'm baking a cake for a special dinner. I've made the batter, and I pour it into the pan. Then I remember that I need to scoop out the catbox before the guests arrive, so I make my way to the bathroom where the catbox is, set down the cake pan next to the box, and start scooping the catbox. Just a little tiny piece of what I'm scooping from the catbox falls into the cake pan. Can I go ahead and bake the cake, and tell my guests that there's only one chunk from the catbox in the cake, so if they get the slice of cake with the cat-generated surprise in it, they can just pick it out, or let me know and they'll get a new slice? I don't think so; the minute the tiniest chunk from the catbox gets in the cake, the whole cake has to be thrown out. That's why not very many people would have the cake pan anywhere near the catbox. Pure things have to stay well away from dirty things to stay pure. If your hands are clean, you can't touch something dirty, or your hands will be dirty. So God's people guarded the purity of the Holy of Holies very carefully, because if the wrong sort of person, a dirty person, got in, the place wouldn't be clean. And God's house has to be clean, right? Conventional wisdom is that God's holiness, God's purity, means that God can't live in a place where impurity or sin dwell.

But you know what's coming, don't you? How much does Jesus teach conventional wisdom? St. Paul puts it well: Christ's wisdom is foolishness to the world. The world says that you make a place clean by separating out the dirt, by keeping dirt in its place, in the flower beds outside. I think some of our anxiety about dirt and what to do with it springs from our knowledge that we are dirt. We see others as dirty because they remind us of something in ourselves that we don't want to face. We have to make our boundaries between us and them, pure and impure, clear because we don't want others to think we're like those people, the ones who do those awful things. Those people are dirt; our hands are clean.

But God formed each and every one of us from the dirt; we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

This is not bad news. This is Good News. Because God's Spirit does not dwell in spotless temples of white marble, but in earthen vessels. The temple where God's Spirit dwells, the place where Christ and God the Father make their home on earth, is in the dirt. It's the Body of Christ. We don't need to get rid of the dirt to make Christ's home, to be Christ's Body, to build the temple; we need to love the dirt.

This is in no way saying that we should take God's presence among us lightly, or that we can experience the fullness God wants for us without hard work done intentionally over a lifetime. But it's not the sort of work we might think. It's not trying to get rid of what's dirty, or trying to be different from those dirty people out there. It's the work of seeking out those we're tempted to think of as dirt, whoever that is, and loving them as Christ loves us. If we want to experience God's purity, we need to go out and make some mud pies. Because as we learn to love those who stretch our ability to love, we see the face of God. As we learn to love dirty people, we can recognize that we too are people of earth, of dirt, and we experience what we can't understand with worldly wisdom: God's holiness, God's purity does not flee from dirt, but requires it, as God's purity is pure love and forgiveness.

So "do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice!" Don't let your hearts be troubled. Open the doors of God's house WIDE. Invite every creature of earth to come in and join the feast. Don't fret about whether they'll track in the dirt from outside. Don't look for ways to make people ashamed of dirt; proclaim God's word that God is in the midst of God's earthy people, and God's people shall never be put to shame.

Thanks be to God!

May 11, 2004 in Easter, Joel, John, Year C | Permalink

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Dylan's lectionary blog: Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C

« Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C | Main | Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C »

Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C

John 14:23-29 - link to NRSV text
Joel 2:21-27 - link to NRSV text

The graduating seniors from the high school youth group did indeed preach last Sunday, and indeed they did an excellent job. They preached on Jesus' command to "love one another as I have loved you." What impressed me most about their sermon is how open they were in talking about the barriers and struggles they (and we) encounter trying to live into that command.

They're a tough act to follow, and I'm preaching this Sunday, so I want to build on the important things -- the crucial things, the foundational things -- they said to us last week. Those things were crucial and foundational for those of us who want to follow Jesus because when Jesus says, "those who love me will keep my word," the word he is referring to specifically is the "new commandment" from last week's sermon, the commandment from John 13:34 to love others as Christ loves us. Last week's gospel told us that our love proclaims whose disciples we are; this week's gospel builds on that by saying that our love for others is how we experience God's love for us, and how we make where we live into God's house, God's home, the place where God's Spirit lives on earth.

Some of you have heard me talk about the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem. When Jesus was growing up, that was the place he was told was God's house, God's home, and he was told what made it possible for God's Spirit, God's holiness to be present there to an extent not possible any place else. Such a holy place had to be carefully guarded and protected. The conventional wisdom is that pure things are pure because they haven't come into contact with anything dirty. As soon as something dirty -- even something little -- penetrates into something that's clean, the dirtiness has spread, and the whole thing is dirty. For example, let's say I'm baking a cake for a special dinner. I've made the batter, and I pour it into the pan. Then I remember that I need to scoop out the catbox before the guests arrive, so I make my way to the bathroom where the catbox is, set down the cake pan next to the box, and start scooping the catbox. Just a little tiny piece of what I'm scooping from the catbox falls into the cake pan. Can I go ahead and bake the cake, and tell my guests that there's only one chunk from the catbox in the cake, so if they get the slice of cake with the cat-generated surprise in it, they can just pick it out, or let me know and they'll get a new slice? I don't think so; the minute the tiniest chunk from the catbox gets in the cake, the whole cake has to be thrown out. That's why not very many people would have the cake pan anywhere near the catbox. Pure things have to stay well away from dirty things to stay pure. If your hands are clean, you can't touch something dirty, or your hands will be dirty. So God's people guarded the purity of the Holy of Holies very carefully, because if the wrong sort of person, a dirty person, got in, the place wouldn't be clean. And God's house has to be clean, right? Conventional wisdom is that God's holiness, God's purity, means that God can't live in a place where impurity or sin dwell.

But you know what's coming, don't you? How much does Jesus teach conventional wisdom? St. Paul puts it well: Christ's wisdom is foolishness to the world. The world says that you make a place clean by separating out the dirt, by keeping dirt in its place, in the flower beds outside. I think some of our anxiety about dirt and what to do with it springs from our knowledge that we are dirt. We see others as dirty because they remind us of something in ourselves that we don't want to face. We have to make our boundaries between us and them, pure and impure, clear because we don't want others to think we're like those people, the ones who do those awful things. Those people are dirt; our hands are clean.

But God formed each and every one of us from the dirt; we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

This is not bad news. This is Good News. Because God's Spirit does not dwell in spotless temples of white marble, but in earthen vessels. The temple where God's Spirit dwells, the place where Christ and God the Father make their home on earth, is in the dirt. It's the Body of Christ. We don't need to get rid of the dirt to make Christ's home, to be Christ's Body, to build the temple; we need to love the dirt.

This is in no way saying that we should take God's presence among us lightly, or that we can experience the fullness God wants for us without hard work done intentionally over a lifetime. But it's not the sort of work we might think. It's not trying to get rid of what's dirty, or trying to be different from those dirty people out there. It's the work of seeking out those we're tempted to think of as dirt, whoever that is, and loving them as Christ loves us. If we want to experience God's purity, we need to go out and make some mud pies. Because as we learn to love those who stretch our ability to love, we see the face of God. As we learn to love dirty people, we can recognize that we too are people of earth, of dirt, and we experience what we can't understand with worldly wisdom: God's holiness, God's purity does not flee from dirt, but requires it, as God's purity is pure love and forgiveness.

So "do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice!" Don't let your hearts be troubled. Open the doors of God's house WIDE. Invite every creature of earth to come in and join the feast. Don't fret about whether they'll track in the dirt from outside. Don't look for ways to make people ashamed of dirt; proclaim God's word that God is in the midst of God's earthy people, and God's people shall never be put to shame.

Thanks be to God!

May 11, 2004 in Easter, Joel, John, Year C | Permalink

Comments

The comments to this entry are closed.