Let’s be scandalous!

John 15:12-17

Ba ism al Ab wa al Ibn wa Roho al Kudus, Allah wahed.

En nom de Dieu unique, Pere, Fils, et Sancte Esprit.

In the name of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

On the morning of Feb. 23, 1992, I was received into The Episcopal Church at St. George’s, Arlington. I had first come to that parish more than a year before, full of fear and trembling, for I was born and bred to the Roman Catholic Church, raised by Dominican nuns, trained by Jesuits priests, and I knew, on that first day I entered St. George’s, that what I was doing was a sin. I was turning my back on my heritage, my ethnicity, my training and my faith as a Catholic to worship – fully and freely – in a Protestant church.

On that morning in 1992, I listened carefully as The Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee, the 12th Bishop of the Diocese of Virginia, preached about what it meant to be a Christian.

“To be a good Christian,” he said, “you have to be boundlessly happy, entirely fearless and always in trouble.

To be a good Christian – one who lives fully into the scandalous message of Jesus – you have to be boundlessly happy, entirely fearless and always in trouble.

You are boundlessly happy, my friends, because God loves you, and what more could you possibly want to know, to experience, in your life? Isn’t that what we all want to know: That we are loved, from before time until the ages of ages?

The good news that Jesus brought in his scandalous message is just that: You are loved. I am loved. Each of us is and all of us are loved. Which makes us happy.

You are to be entirely fearless because the worst thing that will happen to you is that you will, one day, wake up and have breakfast with Jesus. And isn’t that what we pray for each time we pray the Nicene Creed? That we will have breakfast with Jesus?

The good news that Jesus brought us in his scandalous message is that because we are loved, we will indeed have breakfast with Jesus. So be fearless!

And you are to be always in trouble because, let’s face it, Jesus was always in trouble. It’s why his message of unconditional love was so scandalous. The sermons he preached – “Today the Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” – the miracles he performed – raising the dead, curing the sick, restoring lepers and shamed women to full membership in their communities – the parables he told – And who is your neighbor? – the people with whom he spoke and ate – the Samaritan woman at the well, Wee Zaccheus the tax collector – all of that was troubling to the powers-that-be, because the powers-that-be don’t like surprises, they don’t like having the apple cart (OK, it was probably a date cart) upset, they don’t like it when someone comes along and challenges the way things are. Because when the way things are are thrown out of whack, the powers-that-be no longer are in control, and that is very, very scary – for them.

The good news that Jesus brought us in his scandalous message was so troublesome that it cost him his life – and it is going to cost us ours as well, if we listen, if we act.

But not to worry: Because we are loved from before time began to the ages of ages, and because we will have breakfast with Jesus, so ….

Let’s get in some trouble.

Let’s be scandalous!

You know what the most scandalous thing was that Jesus said?

Listen, my friends … listen:

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. … You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit …

(Sung)

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?

Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?

Will you let my love be shown?

Will you let my Name be known?

Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?[1]

This is our call in life, my friends: Following Jesus, who is calling us – each of us – by name, asking us to go to places we don’t know – far away or close by – so that God’s love can be shown, so that God’s name can be known, so that God’s life can be grown.

And that, my friends, is scandalous!

Because it means that if we are faithful, we will end up in places we have never been (Samaria? Sudan? Haiti? The poor side of town? The other side of the tracks?) … we will meet people we never thought we would meet (The Samaritan woman at the well? The poor? The sick? The disenfranchised? Those people?) … we will let God’s name be known (as St. Francis is alleged to have said, “Preach the Gospel always … if necessary, use words.”) … and if we do all these things, God’s life, God’s love will be known.

Are you ready to live your life in this way?

Are youeach of you and all of you – ready to be scandalous?

(Sung)

Will you leave your self behind if I but call your name?

Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?

Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?

Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?[2]

If we decide that we are ready to say “Yes!” to Jesus, to answer his call, to live scandalously, upsetting the apple carts and overturning society’s ways – ways that make the rich richer and the poor poorer, ways that deny basic medical care to people, that leaving people starving when our storebins are overflowing – if we’re ready to do all this, then indeed we will live scandalous lives.

Mother Teresa, who knew a thing or two about being scandalous (touching the untouchables, welcoming the unwelcomed, loving the unloved),

Mother Teresa

offers us this advice:

The good you do today (she said) may be forgotten tomorrow.

Do good anyway.

Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable.

Be honest and transparent anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.

Build anyway.

People who really want help may attack you if you help them.

Help anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt.

Give the world your best anyway.

I can assure you: The most radical thing we can do in our lives is to love. The most dangerous action we can take is to love. The most scandalous deed we can perform is to love.

But … radically, dangerously, scandalously loving one another as Jesus loves us is exactly what we are called to do … no matter how hard it is, no matter how many obstacles we encounter, no matter what other people say, because really, in the end, the only thing that matters is love.

Doing this will not be easy. We will try to love, and find our love rejected. Others will heckle us and wonder if we’ve lost our mind and our way. We will be accused of tilting at windmills and called Pollyanas. But we know what Jesus is calling us to do, don’t we? We know that we are the ones who are called …

… to make the blind see, the deaf hear, the mute sing, and the lame leap for joy! And yes, we are called to raise the dead, and to proclaim the year of the Lord not every 50 years but every year, to set the prisoners free!

In this case, with this charge, it really does become all about us, because Jesus is talking to each one of us. This is not a message for the guy next door, the stranger down the street or around the world. This is a message for us.

The Rev. Dr. Peter J. Gomes

Peter Gomes understood that. Listen to what he has to say on this subject, this subject of God calling us:

The question should not be “What would Jesus do?” but rather, more dangerously, “What would Jesus have me do?” The onus is not on Jesus but on us, for Jesus did not come to ask semi-divine human beings to do impossible things. He came to ask human beings to live up to their full humanity; he wants us to live in the full implication of our human gifts, and that is far more demanding.[3]

God is calling us. God is telling us – again and again – that we are not created to live in a world where the people are hungry, either for food or for love. We, my friends, are created in the image of God, which means that we are created to live in love in community.

Being created in the image of God means, first and foremost, that we are created in the image of love. We know this because we know that we are not necessary to God. God is necessary to us, yes, but we cannot possibly be necessary to God, because God was before we were, and God will be after we are, so God does … not … need … us. Therefore, God must have wanted us, God must have desired us, God must have loved us into being.

And being created in the image of God means that we are created in community because we are Christians, and in our understanding of the Scriptures, of the Word of God, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit never work apart from each other. Since we are created in God’s image, we are created in the image of community as well.

Which means …

… That we are created in love and community to live in love and community.

Pretty scandalous, eh?

To have our whole lives dictated by the fact that like it or not, we are created to love? That we are created to love in community?

Now we could, if we wanted, be like one of my favorite literary characters and say, “It is hard to be brave,” said Piglet, sniffing slightly, “when you’re only a Very Small Animal.”

Because this is a seemingly overwhelming call that God is issuing to us.

It is hard to be brave …

But … unlike Piglet, we are not very small animals.

We are God’s beloved.

And we have a job to do, a mission to undertake: We are to love one another, not as just we love ourselves (trust me, on those days when I do not love myself, it is terribly easy for me not to love my neighbor!), but to love one another as Jesus loves us!

(Sung)

Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?

Will you set the pris-’ner free and never be the same?

Will you kiss the leper clean, and do such as this unseen?

And admit to what I mean in you and you in me?[4]

Living scandalously, is not, as I said, easy. But it is our call, it is, in fact, the very reason for which we were created, it is our mission in life. This is why God put us on this earth: to live in love and community, which is a very scandalous thing indeed.

I want to leave us tonight with a prayer by Archbishop Oscar Romero, the holy man of El Salvador who put his life on the line – and who lost his life

Archbishop Oscar Romero

– because he dared to live a scandalous life, siding with the poor and downtrodden, challenging the powers-that-were in El Salvador to do the right thing all the time. For his courage, he was killed while celebrating the Eucharist – literally while elevating the wine and saying, “This is my blood” – on March 24, 1980.

Archbishop Romero’s prayer for all of us:

It helps, now and then (he said) to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.

Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about:

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

Archbishop Romero’s prayer for us is my prayer for you:

Go forth from this place, my friends, and be scandalous.

It is what Jesus wants.

Amen.

A sermon preached during the Preaching Mission: The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, at Grace Episcopal Church, The Plains, Va.,

28 March 2011.

 

[1] Will you come and follow me … (v. 1) Words from the Iona Community © 1989 GIA Publications

Music Mary Alexandra, John L. Hooker, © 1996

[2] Ibid. (v. 2)

[3] Peter J. Gomes, The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, page number uncertain.

[4] Will you come and follow me … (v. 3)

 

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About Lauren Stanley

All my life, it seems, I’ve been on mission. And it’s all my mother’s fault. You see, when I was a child, my mother was adamant: We were to help those in need, those who had less than we did. We were to speak for those who could not speak, feed those who had no food, give water to those who were thirsty.

Comments

  1. Lauren, this is a magnificent sermon, and I’m so glad that you shared it with all of us. You have touched directly on something that has been nudging/prodding/shaking me for the past several months, and that is how we can more directly engage with those on the fringes and those who have been forgotten. As I told a group at TFCE recently, we should be about the business of being a light in the world – but a light that moves among the world, not one which expects the world to come to it. And by doing so, and by giving ourselves the opportunity to engage in these “scandalous” missions, we give those we help the opportunity to see Christ reflected in our faces – and more importantly, we can see the face of Christ reflected in those we help.

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