June 14, 2020
2 Cor. 5:14-17
“Faith,” says Rowan Williams, “has a lot to do with the simple fact that there are trustworthy lives to be seen, that we can see in some believing people a world we’d like to live in.”
Some of you may remember that in our class on the Creeds a couple of Lents ago Williams’ little book, “Tokens of Trust” was a big help as we worked to get a better sense of our own historical confessions. In it he shares the story of Etty Hillesum, who was a young Jewish woman in her 20’s when the Germans occupied Holland. From 1941 to 1943 her published diaries and letters show how during this horrifying time she became more and more aware of God’s hand on her life. Imprisoned and in transit between concentration camps she wrote, “there must be someone to live through it all and bear witness to the fact that God lived, even in these times. And why should I not be that witness.” Williams reflects, “It is plain that she saw her belief as a matter of deciding to occupy a certain place in the world, a place where others could somehow connect with God through her – and this not in any self-congratulatory spirit or with any sense of being exceptionally holy or virtuous, but simply because she had agreed to take responsibility for God’s believability.”
That’s a great line: “she had agreed to take responsibility for God’s believability.” And, why not her?! After all, that’s exactly what it seems Jesus wants his disciples to do. Matthew tells us about it in today’s gospel reading. “Go out and proclaim the Good News: the kingdom of God has come near! Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” Take responsibility for God’s believability! No doubt, it won’t always be easy. Off the bat he tells them to take no money or supplies, which would have been scary I’m sure. (By the way, I’ve always heard that line as a reminder to those of us in ministry – which hopefully is all of us – that what we most need in order to do the work that God calls us to do we either already have with God or we will be given by God.) But, even that thought is a little scary because it requires us to trust; it requires us to act on the assumption that God will be acting through us. Anyway, the disciples would have been stretched in all kinds of ways: they would have to sacrifice, they would have to risk, they would have to step beyond the familiar, they would have to face rejection and risk failure, they would have to put themselves out there, even suffer as he tells them at the end of the passage!
On the one hand, it sounds horrible. Not really a recipe for growing the church. On the other, it is an invitation into a life of meaning and purpose, of hope and growth, a life that witnesses the sacred at work, a life that changes lives, makes the good news visible, and makes a good God believable.
We learned at our Midweek Boost that the Apostle Paul says the words “en Christo” or “in Christ” somewhere around 160 times throughout his letters. It is by far his favorite concept. We heard it earlier in Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation.” Notice the words aren’t, “If anyone is in Christ they are a new creation”? Instead, it says, “there is a new creation,” and that reflects a little trouble the translators have with this passage because what it literally says is, “If anyone is in Christ, New Creation!” It’s like a celebratory explosion of truth, or a homecoming into a divine reality that you had forgotten you were a part of. The speaker for our video was Richard Rohr who talked about what “in Christ” really means. To cut to the chase, it means to live in the flow of divine love, to live relationally with love coming in and love going out. It means to live in a community of mutual upholding that mirrors the triune life of God, and in so doing somehow participates in that life as well.
To get the sense of it just imagine its opposite. Just imagine a loveless life. Imagine a life where others are a means to your own self interests. Imagine the isolation of existing for yourself alone apart from the loves that ultimately make your life meaningful. (It would be a kind of hell.) I think that what Rohr is telling us is that to be “in Christ,” profoundly and deeply so, is not only to claim our essential relationality as the truth of our existence, but to intentionally broaden the circles of our love beyond the familiar to discover the greater whole of which we are all a part – to discover more love and therefore more of a certain kind of power.
My mom shared a Thomas Friedman op-ed in the Times in which he expresses fear that we’re on the edge of going in either direction as a nation, either toward greater isolation and nothingness or toward a greater sense of a unity that is colored by our plurality. He’s coined the term, “Out of many, we,” a riff on “E pluribus unum,” which he’s concerned is evolving into, “Out of many, me.” Here’s what he says, “But “Out of many, we” summons us all — people of every color — to a deeper commitment to pluralism: a robust appreciation of the distinctive contribution of every community and a commitment beyond rhetoric to make sure that each one has the schools, governance and policing that enables that contribution.
[He continues,] I like how Kay Coles James, the first African-American and the first woman to head the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, put it in a recent essay on Foxnews.com: “It’s time America takes responsibility and expands human flourishing to all of its citizens — not just the majority of them.”
I’ll tell you, I know that these are hard times. There’s so much pain and outrage and anger being expressed by and for our black brothers and sisters. I won’t and I don’t want us to gloss over it, but I’m feeling optimistic at the same time. I feel like it’s being answered with a desire for change. I keep seeing people of all colors being interviewed on TV, and I keep hearing them call for love. And, I really think that more people are are saying, in a way we haven’t before, that we want to give it. I think things are going to change. The world is looking for people who are “in Christ,” living in the flow of “love in and love out,” and the question we need to consider is, “why not us?”
 Tokens of Trust, pages 22-23.