28 October 2005

Invited and Welcomed into Wholeness (working title)

Texts: Isaiah 35: 1-6, 10; 1 Peter 2:21-24; John 6:47-51.
Sermon given at the Seminary Chapel, 10/28/2005.

We are a broken people. Each and every one of us bears the wounds of our life in one way or another and to one degree or another. None of us are immune from the diseases and the harms and the hurts and the angers that infect our lives, and all of us are in need of healing.

Some of us carry wounds that are easily seen, that are visible and uncomfortably on display to the world. There is no hiding from people who will treat you differently, from the people who act as though you are somehow lessened by a disability, are defined by it, rather than enriched by the self-knowledge that grows from it. They are not deliberately harmful, but they are afraid that their bodies will grow older, that they will lose their strength, and that they will lose who they are. They aren’t afraid of the wounds others bear but of the potential that they too will be wounded in such a way. But strength comes from knowing yourself, not from the abilities we have. Our strength derives from embracing ourselves as we truly are, rather than how we would most like to be. Strength is in defining yourself rather than letting the world define you. In the ministry of Jesus, it was the wounded and the broken who knew how to fully embrace the renewal and healing offered by Christ. It is those who suffered and endured who truly knew themselves and who came to Jesus in hope. By becoming so emptied and humbled, they were opened to grace.

Others of us are wounded in deep, invisible ways: in our spirits, in our minds. We hide our woundedness, as if we were the only ones in all the world to experience pain. We hide our brokenness because we are ashamed… because we are too proud to admit our flaws exist, even to ourselves… because we care more about how people regard us and think well of us than about who and what we really are.

I have been to those dark places and moments, when I was so consumed by fear and pain that I didn’t know right from wrong, I didn’t know up from down, and I didn’t even know how to come up for air. I had lost my bearings. I know what a frightening place that can be, and how hard it is to open yourself up to the judgment of other people, to be vulnerable to the world.

We have been battered by life, by people we love, and by ourselves. We bear these afflictions, and they weigh us down. They burden our lives, and we carry them with us not because we want to, but because they’ve consumed us to the point where we have forgotten what life is like without them. We scarcely know what a child-like joy is like anymore. We’re leading busy, fractured lives. We’re worried about this paper, and that meeting, and we’ve lost sight of what it is like to be surprised by joy. Some of us have hidden our wounds so well that they appear healed but silently bubble and fester beneath the surface. In all the ways we are wounded, known and unknown, visible and invisible, I am here to tell you that you are not alone… remember that you are not alone, no matter how lonely you feel. We have all been torn by sadness and damaged by the thoughtless words and actions of others. We are a broken people.

We are broken, not just in our individual bodies and lives, but in our life together. Let’s be honest… churches can be among the most dysfunctional places, precisely because we think we’ve got it all together or because we’d like to think we’ve got it all together, or because we’d like everybody else to think we’ve got it all together. Because we say the peace, we think we’re really at peace.

But how many of us are angry at our brothers and sisters in Christ?
How many of us might be outwardly friendly but inwardly seething, nursing some deep-rooted anger or hurt, that we would be embarrassed to reveal?
How many churches today have taken up their banners and gone to war with one another?
How many denominations are torn and split apart?

It’s not a pretty picture. And it does not reflect the Gospel truth of reconciliation. How many of us have lost sight of the pivotal shared belief, the one from which everything else derives, the one which centers us as a community? We’re not a community because we like each other, because we live in the same city, or because we have the same beliefs. We are a community because we have faith in Jesus Christ. We are a community because we are oriented towards God, and it is because of that orientation to the One beyond ourselves that we know how to relate to one another. We have faith in the salvation offered for us by Christ crucified. That is the gathering place for us as Christians, for our communal life. When we gather at the table today, we are united with Christ and one another and we are healing the wounds that have divided us. We are united not just those around the table with us, with those we can see, but with the whole Church. Not just the Episcopal church, but the church universal and catholic. We are united into the body of Christ with people that I’ll admit I don’t really like all the time. And if I’m being honest, there are some I don’t like any of the time. I may not like what that woman wears to church, or how those people over there do their liturgy, or the theology of this group or that. I may not be friendly with them, but Christ invites all of us to the table. Being at the table together means learning to understand and love one another, not agreeing in every way.

I can’t begin to count how many times as I grew up in the Bible Belt that I heard, ‘Jesus died for your sins, to save you from eternal damnation.’ But that isn’t the entirety of the sacrifice on the cross. Jesus died to welcome us into wholeness, to welcome us into the fulfillment of the Word, into His death and resurrection.

In the Gospel today, Jesus is inviting us to partake of holy manna, the bread of heaven, his body. He tells us that the bread he will give for the life of the world is his flesh. I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel just a little bit queasy. Jesus challenges us, challenges me, to move beyond our dis-ease, our discomfort. We are coming to the table of God, which can be and should be an uneasy place. Jesus wants us on our toes. He is challenging us to think here, to know that this is something fiercely important. This isn’t the bread of our ancestors, the manna that fed them in the wilderness. This is the Bread that feeds us in a deeper way. This is the Bread that nourishes us in the very depths of our heart. We feed on Jesus in our hearts by faith, and we are fed with spiritual food. This isn’t just your average everyday Wonder bread. No. This is the Wonder, enfleshed and crucified for us. This is the bread come down from heaven to invite us to reconcile and return to God. We are returning to God in remembering this moment of invitation, death, and resurrection, turning back to the One who made us and who embraced our humanness, our humanity.

Jesus is inviting us to the table, inviting each and every one of us into wholeness. We are a broken people, and Jesus is here today and in this moment of remembrance, inviting all the broken and wounded to the table, to eat of the bread that was given for us. For us, the damaged and dejected, the ones who have no hope but who can find hope in God. Jesus isn’t saying we can come if we shape up. He isn’t saying that we can come to the table if we’ve got our life in order.

Jesus is inviting us to the table as we are. He is welcoming us as the people of God to take and eat, not to take and be perfect. We are bid, when we participate in the Eucharist to remember, not only Jesus’ sacrifice, but who we really are. When we join in the remembrance feast, we come before God, as the paralytic and the possessed in the Gospel stories came to Jesus, knowing our flaws, knowing our need for healing and reconciliation, and knowing that God loves us anyway.

Jesus has invited us to the table, welcomed us into His wholeness, and enfolded us, broken and lost, in His loving embrace. By His wounds we are welcomed into the healing Isaiah wrote of: to see and hear clearly, to leap as a deer and to sing out joyously. By His sacrifice, we are renewed and restored, invited to fully realize our potential as the people of God. As we gather at the table today, remember that we are loved, embraced, and welcomed by God.