Preached on 27 August 2017 at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Snohomish, Washington
The twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16, Year A
We all live our theology. The theology we live is what we truly believe and trust to be true, deep in our souls, in our hearts, in our bones. It’s what we stake our lives on about the way the world works and about the nature of God and how God interacts with us and the whole of Creation.
Now, the theology we profess – whether it’s a Creed we say or what we tell others or ourselves, we believe – is something different. That may be what we think is expected of us or what we aspire to, but it’s often not the theology we stake our lives on.
The goal is to bring those two in line with each other; so that the theology we profess and the theology we live are the same. In my opinion, my job as a priest and our job as the church, as a community of faith is to help each other in that regard. Sometimes it means learning to recognize and articulate the theology we live. Other times it means having the courage to step out and live, even if it’s only in a single action, as if we truly believed what we say; to take the risk of trusting God to be and do what we say God is and does – and possibly learning something new about God in the process. It takes practice and repetition, a lifetime of it, as we build a sort of muscle memory in our soul. Otherwise, our aspiration is nothing more than a wish.
In today’s gospel, Jesus asks us two questions that are worth pondering, especially at this time in the life of the church, and, for that matter, in the life of our country.
“Who do the people say that I am?” The people on the street, people in other churches, other faiths, non-believers? Here are some:
Judge, Friend, Savior, Healer, Teacher, a self-improvement program, a really good man, the Son of God, the one who receives the punishment I deserve, just a guy who may have lived a really long time ago. What others have you heard?
The other question Jesus poses is this–
“Who do you say that I am?” Who do you say God is? And who does your life say Jesus is? In other words, how do you embody your faith, your theology?
What do you believe, deep in your soul? What will you stake your life on?
To help get you started, I’ll offer my answer to Jesus’ question. This is the theology I aspire to,
- Jesus is the incarnation of God – but I still can’t say what that means pre-nativity and post-resurrection.
- Jesus is the one who shows me God and redirects my focus to God; at least when I pay attention.
- Jesus has a claim on my life for God who loves me, and cares deeply about my well-being and that of the whole world. But my family, my children, and my husband also have a claim on my life.
- Jesus suffers when anyone in the world suffers, especially when we inflict suffering on one another. And Jesus rejoices in acts of mercy, kindness, justice, love, and so on; when we open our hearts and communities to welcome others, especially the stranger.
Then the harder question, how do I embody that faith?
In listening and being fully present to another.
In sharing myself, my story, and my resources with others; and being open when they share themselves and their stories.
Remembering those who are in any kind of need.
Helping with donations or actions, those organizations who work to help others and to counter injustice and reform unjust systems.
When I know deep in my bones that I am connected to every other being. Loving my neighbor as myself is loving myself because there is no separation.
Who do you say Jesus is?
This time of transition is a particularly fitting time to consider these questions not only as individuals but as the people, the community of faith that is St. John’s. You began that work when you were developing the profile. Now is a good time to return to them and go deeper.
Phase one of this transition is drawing to a close, letting go of and grieving what you have lost.
Phase 2 is about to begin. You will be learning about each other, you and Eliacin. You’ll be sharing your stories and answering these questions together.
Who do you, the people of St. John’s say Jesus is?
How do you embody that faith? If someone were to look at St. John’s from the outside, what would they guess you believe about Jesus?
Here’s what they might see:
A bunch of people having dinner together twice a week and talking with each other outside beforehand and afterward.
Those who live with the pain of addiction coming together to support each other in their recovery.
When someone dies, a flurry of activity in and around the church.
A love of beauty, from the well-tended gardens and grounds to the building with its stained glass.
If they step inside, they will see people committed to a beautiful, historic building.
They will see the whole congregation devoted to and engaged in beautiful worship.
They may sense the holiness of this place, not only as they come to the altar to receive the blessed sacrament of real bread and wine, but also the holiness in the people gathered here.
They will notice the love for those who have gone before as we pray for them in worship and keep them close in the columbarium and memorial garden.
They may delight in the energy and enthusiasm of the children.
They will find welcome in a cup of coffee, a bite to eat, and friendly conversation.
If they keep coming, they may learn about your commitment to caring for the environment and to justice in the world, and to caring for your neighbors.
They will have an opportunity to discuss their questions of faith rather than being given pat answers.
What do you think they would see? What does it say about who we believe Jesus is?
As you ponder these questions and particularly as you seek to grow in your faith as a community, to move toward living the faith you aspire to, I suggest we listen to what Paul has to say to us today.
“I appeal to you brothers and sisters, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God which is your spiritual worship.” Bring our whole self, body and soul, and offer it to God, not only as we come to this holy altar, as we come to worship, but each and every morning as we begin our day.
“Do not be conformed to this world,” he writes, “but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God; what is good and acceptable, and perfect.”
This is about the whole community embodying the gospel; learning to live the theology they profess.
I still have a couple of weeks with you, but even after I leave here, I will continue to pray for you and Eliacin as you get to know one another, and learn to live out the gospel; as you offer your whole selves, body and mind and soul, as a living sacrifice to God.
You are holy and acceptable to God; Jesus has made you so.