The sermon for week June 05, 2011
Namaste part two: From Us to the World
Last week I talked about the concept of Namaste and how it fit into the farewell discourse. Namaste roughly translates to “The inner being in me greets the inner being in you.” Last week we heard Jesus telling his disciples that he the inner spirit in them, that they will indeed live out Namaste in their community, that he will never go away, his spirit will always be with them. Today we will speak of the challenges of living Namaste, to seeing Christ in everyone.
This being graduation Sunday, I thought it was appropriate to talk about a show that is about high school. I don’t know how many of you watch the TV Show Glee. Kate and I love it. I am particularly a fan of the show just to watch Sue Sylvester.
Sue is the coach of the schools’ cheerleaders and she only cares about two things: winning and destroying the Glee club who she sees as a threat to her program. Sue has the ability to be both horrible and really delightful at the same time. She continually speaks her mind and enjoys appalling people with the things she says. Sue's world view is about "power and winning" and she will do anything to win and has no room for weakness.
Yet we see Sue's softer side. Sue’s sister Jean has Down’s syndrome. Jean functions Sue’s moral compass and consciousness. Jean brings out the kind and loving aspects of Sues personality and reveals a little of the humanity behind the barb-wire curtain. However, in an episode 2 weeks ago Jean died.
Sue stands up and gives the eulogy. What she says can be divided into two parts. There is Sue’s part:
I miss my sister. Every night at 10 or so, she used to call me on the phone, and when I asked her why, she'd tell me that her body told her… she wanted to hear my voice. I miss my sister. The smell of her shampoo. The way she could always convince me to read her another book. When you love someone like I loved her, they're a part of you; it’s like you’re attached by this invisible tether and no matter how far away you are, you can always feel them. And now every time I reach for that tether I know there’s no one on the other end and I feel like I’m falling into nothingness.
These are Sue’s words. She responds through how she views the world. This loss is unexpected and sudden. She’s only used to winning, only used to dominating the competition. She doesn’t understand death and faces it with no hope. This is exactly the opposite response Jesus is telling his disciples to have after his own death.
The author of the Gospel of John states that Christians should be over and against the ways of the world. The world of the author of John, and of Jesus, largely consisted of the domination and oppressive system of Rome. Part of what it meant to be a citizen of Rome was to protect, maintain and promote one’s self at the expense of others. The worth of a person was determined by what they did or could produce or how many people they knew in high places and how many people they kept in low places. This way is the very similar to what the ancient Israelites were facing when they were slaves in Egypt.
In Egypt, the only worth of a slave was how many bricks they could make or haul in a day. There was no understanding other than that, and it was from this state of dehumanization that God saw to deliver the Israelites out of. The exodus paradigm, which surfaced again in the prophets and Jesus, is meant for all of us. We are not meant to live under the domination of Pharaoh or Caesar, whatever form that takes. (Borg, 143) Domination needs both violence and black-and-white thinking to survive.
Jesus is saying “Don’t buy into that system. Don’t be a part of that.”
The second part of the eulogy is Jean’s part which would be the Christian response. Sue continues and states:
Then I remember Jean. I remember a life led with no enemies, no resentments, no regrets and I’m inspired to get up out of bed and go on. I miss my sister so much it feels like piece of me has been ripped off. Just one more time I want to hold her. Ten more seconds— is that too much to ask? For ten more seconds to hold her? But I can’t and I won’t and the only thing keeping me from being swallowed whole by sadness is that Jean would kill me if I did. So for now I’m just going to miss her. I love you Jean. Rest in peace"
Jesus calls his followers to reject “business as usual” to reject the ways of the world which only view people through the lens of utility. What can we use people for, what can I get out of them, how can I control them and have power over them, how can I defeat my enemy? Sue and the world are both obsessed with these questions. Jesus and Jean want no part of that. Jesus is telling his disciples to be fully present in the world while at the same time not following the dictates of the world.
The world’s hatred of the early Christian community should be no surprise. The community’s love and witness pose a threat to its way of doing business. John’s wording can sound initially exclusive and sectarian. To translate John’s language to modern standards means that the disciples of Jesus are called and chosen out of the world to stand against it. That means to resist the tendency to dehumanize or even demonize one’s adversaries. Jesus’ commands us to love our neighbor and our enemy.
Jesus’ community must stand against the dehumanizing that the empires of Egypt and Rome are engaged in and seek to rescue, transform, and renew all of the world, and everyone in it.
Now I often get asked about all the judgment in the Bible. Bill and I talked about this often. We spoke often of those people who say they can’t believe in a God who gets angry. Our answer was “Yes, you can.”
How should God react to a child being forced into prostitution? How should God feel about a country starving while warlords hoard the food supply? What kind of God wouldn’t get angry at a financial scheme that robs thousands of people of their life savings while the criminals get away scotch free and richer than before?
It is to these sort of corporate sins that the prophets and Christ speak to: God acts. Decisively. On behalf of everybody who’s ever been stepped on by the machine by the empire; exploited, abused, forgotten, or mistreated. God will put an end to it. God will say, “Enough.” (Bell 38)
That’s what it means to be chosen to follow God. You are chosen, NOW. You are disciples, NOW. We are called to love, and love everyone and then your life becomes like Sue said. “When you love someone, they're a part of you; it’s like you’re attached by this invisible tether and no matter how far away you are, you can always feel them.” And Jesus tells us that every time you reach for that tether, it will be there, regardless if there is a physical presence on the other side. “I will always be with you” Jesus said. “Whenever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in their midst.” Death cannot sever the connection of Namaste.
We are called to live like Jesus lived. Like Jean lived. A life led with no enemies, no resentments, no regrets, no dehumanization, no oppression. We as disciples of Christ stand against any domination hierarchies like Rome and Egypt which are led by people like Sue Sylvester. And our only response is to love them, like Jean loved Sue. It transformed Sue’s life and leaked compassion little by little into Sue’s life until it overcame her.
This is the great challenge of the church: to call into question all of the world’s practices that do not show forth the love of God as known in the life and death of Jesus. Yet it is an equally hard challenge for we in the church to do this without redefining itself in terms of hate. You are called out of the world, you have been chosen by Jesus, and we respond as disciples in this community. It starts with seeing Christ in one another, on that personal level. Then it moves to the group realizing that it is called out of the world, that it is indeed divine.
Many stop there, but Christ doesn’t. Christ states that we are then to go out into the world and “make disciples of all nations” until we are all one.
May our work in this community help us to respond to our community. May our work in community help others to respond to throughout the state of Ohio. May our work in the state of Ohio, well you get the idea and where I’m going with this right? May we work to change the world so that “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Until there are no enemies, no resentments, no regrets, no dehumanization, no oppression. It has to start somewhere, it has to start some time, what better place than here, what better time than now?* AMEN.
Bell, Rob. Love Wins: A Book about Heaven and Hell and the Fate of Everyone who has ever Lived. Page 38.
Borg, Marcus. The God We Never Knew. Page 143.
Glee. (TV Series) Funeral.
O’Day, Gail. John. The New Interpreter’s Bible Volume IX, pages 745-750.
*last lines taken from Rage Against the Machine’s Guerrilla Radio from the album The Battle of Los Angeles (as was much of the message of the sermon).