Friday, February 4, 2011

4th Epiphany, Year A, 30 January 2011

Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; I Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12
Preached by Rev. Jason Haddox

“The White House announced on Thursday that the economy will show significant improvement by September of this year.”

Well, not really. Our vocabulary word for today is Synecdoche (Suh-NECK-tuh-kee), which is a substitution of a single image or object for an entire complex of persons and events and intentions. We say “the White House” when what we mean is the presidential administration.

For Paul in the letter to the Corinthians this morning, the Cross serves as such a synecdoche. The Cross functions as a symbol (or kind of shorthand) for the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. The Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and the Ascension are all in it.

We are surrounded by images of this complex of events in this room. Right up front, we see the pendant cross over the altar. But it is missing something—it is all Resurrection and very little crucifixion. You cannot see the nails in the hands and feet; there is no sign of bloodshed. For that, we need the fourteen wrought iron crosses around the sides of the room, the Stations of the Cross. Good Friday in detail. And the windows—from the Creation through the Final Consummation of All Things, with the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension at the center. All these events and episodes, represented by one image: The Cross.

And it is STRANGE beyond our comprehension. God became one of us; to live and show us how to live in God’s world, as members of God’s family. We were so frightened by that new proclamation—which made no sense to us at all. “Blessed are the poor? Blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty? Blessed are the powerless?—God is with ‘them people’ and not the obviously powerful and well-connected and we’ve got it together?”

We were challenged by that preaching and teaching, by this Jesus who was clearly not interested in cultivating the kind of power-and-authority that the world he lived in—the world we live in—was interested in. Some of us were drawn to him, wanting to learn more. Some of us recognized ourselves in what he had to say about those who are poor in spirit, or those who long for justice and right dealings among human beings. Or those who are grieving over the state of the world. Or those who know they don’t have it all together, and are almost able to say so, in so many words.

Some of us were angered by these things. By the fact that Jesus seemed indifferent to “the rules” as we had always been taught them. That he sat down and ate and drank and hung out with the wrong kind of people. That he loved the unlovable, and forgave the unforgivable, and gave generously to the unworthy and ungrateful. That he did justice, and practiced mercy, and walked humbly and securely in the love and presence of God. And taught that that was what living in the kingdom of God looked like.

So we had to get rid of him. The world of “common sense and the way things are” could not bear to have its assumptions challenged in such a flagrant and subversive manner. So the powers that be—of privilege and status and being somebody by keeping somebody else under our feet—rose up in fear and hate and violence, and made an end of him.

But that wasn’t the end. God wasn’t finished, not by any means. When we had imagined and crafted the most horrible, degrading, shameful punishment that human beings could conceive, and had executed it upon a mere nobody (as it seemed to us at the time) God had something else in mind. Our loudest, most clamorous NO was met with “yes.” God’s Yes, in Jesus. The resurrection is God’s refusal—then and now—to take no for an answer. When we wanted to do away with the call of God to us—each and all of us—and slam the door and holler “No I won’t you can’t make me la la la la la…” God would not leave us alone in that shut-away stubborn fearful place. God refused to take no for an answer.

The Cross is the sign and symbol and synectoche for that reality. For us as Christians it is not merely two sticks tied together—it summons and evokes an entire story and identity and purpose. It is the sign of life, and more than just one life—of all our life in Jesus. It is the lens through which we see and make sense of the world around us; it is the banner that leads us on our life’s journey. It is the standard which judges the actions and behaviors of humanity, beginning with us who bear it on our foreheads and in our hearts. In it, we see the death of all things, and the new life which God promises. Jesus’s resurrection is for us all, and for the entire creation itself. And this is the scandal—the point of stumbling, the place of disbelief and mistrust and wonder: How can this be?

It is, because God will have it so. And declares it so: Out of the worst that humanity could imagine or do, God brings God’s best. Life, and light, and joy, and transformation.

In the font this morning there is water. I intend to have the font out in the aisle, with water in it, every time we have the Eucharist. (Altar guild, take note.) I invite you, when you come forward for communion, to take some water and mark the sign of the cross on your forehead with your thumb. Remember that you are baptized with the sign of the cross, and water, and the name of God the Holy Trinity. Remember that you are more than a consumer of commercial goods; that you are more than a cog in some enormous impersonal machine. In the water, under the cross, we are joined into something larger and more powerful than we can begin to imagine. It is as old as the cosmos, and it is as new as this new day. It is the way of life for us as Christians; the way that leads to real, true, full life. God’s life, in this world and in worlds we have yet to experience.

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