Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sermon for November 15, 2015

Who are the Broken?

If a man marries a woman and then it happens that he no longer likes her because he has found something wrong with her, he may give her divorce papers, put them in her hand, and send her off. After she leaves, if she becomes another man’s wife and he also comes to hate her and this second husband also gives her divorce papers, puts them in her hand, and sends her off, or if he should die, then the first husband who divorced her can’t marry her again.
When a man takes a new wife, he is not to go out with the army or be given any business or work duties. He gets one year off simply to be at home making his wife happy.
Don’t seize a handmill or an upper millstone as collateral for a loan. You’d be seizing someone’s very life.
If a man is caught kidnapping one of his kinsmen, someone of the People of Israel, to enslave or sell him, the kidnapper must die. Purge that evil from among you.
Warning! If a serious skin disease breaks out, follow exactly the rules set down by the Levitical priests. Follow them precisely as I commanded them.  
When you make a loan of any kind to your neighbor, don’t enter his house to claim his pledge. Wait outside. Let the man to whom you made the pledge bring the pledge to you outside. And if he is destitute, don’t use his cloak as a bedroll; return it to him at nightfall so that he can sleep in his cloak and bless you. In the sight of God, your God, that will be viewed as a righteous act.
Don’t abuse a laborer who is destitute and needy, whether he is a fellow Israelite living in your land and in your city. Pay him at the end of each workday; he’s living from hand to mouth and needs it now. If you hold back his pay, he’ll protest to God and you’ll have sin on your books.
Parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor children for their parents. Each person shall be put to death for his own sin.
Make sure foreigners and orphans get their just rights. Don’t take the cloak of a widow as security for a loan. Don’t ever forget that you were once slaves in Egypt and God, your God, got you out of there. I command you: Do what I’m telling you.
When you harvest your grain and forget a sheaf back in the field, don’t go back and get it; leave it for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow so that God, your God, will bless you in all your work. When you shake the olives off your trees, don’t go back over the branches and strip them bare—what’s left is for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow. And when you cut the grapes in your vineyard, don’t take every last grape—leave a few for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow. Deuteronomy 24, selected verses.

After the events of the past week, from the bombing of a Russian airliner, to craven killings in Beirut and Paris, there can be no doubt we live in a broken world. It feels like the fabric of the world is coming apart at the seams. We mourn as we try to figure out just how many steps away we are from destroying ourselves with our warring ways.

Our ecology is broken. Our economies are broken. Our social and class structures are broken. I feel afraid when I see us offer less than what God intends for the world.

Our churches are broken. Even life in our congregation can feel broken, sometimes. We disappoint and hurt each other and wonder how we move on together. We live in the gap between what we want to do and what we can afford.

The people we know and love are broken.
Lives around us are falling apart.
Marriages are broken.
Health is broken.
Hearts are broken.
Personal relationships are broken.
Our children are broken.

And as an individual, I imagine there are parts of your life that feel broken.
Hidden hurts.
Secret wounds.
Personal problems.
The fear that it will always be this way.

So, here’s a personal question. It’s rhetorical – just think about the answer in your own head. What’s one broken thing in your life no one knows about – that one particular area in your heart that you spend almost all your energy trying to hide?

If you would indulge me for a moment, I’m going to let you in on one of the things I try to hide. I have spent a lot of time striving for a flawless life. You could say I’m a recovering perfectionist.  Somewhere along the line, I learned that mistakes are bad. I learned to equate success with acceptance and mistakes as an invitation for others to express their critical disapproval of me. I want people to like me. I want people to think I’m great at everything. Maintaining that level of perfectionism can be really lonely.  In the name of perfection I hold my tongue, swallow my emotions, silence my truth, hide my heart, and protect myself from getting hurt. Perfection is my deflection tactic – a shield to protect myself from the judgmental eyes of critics who might think less of me if they knew what happens beneath the veneer of excellence.

And what happens when I can’t keep the act going? I run away. I will isolate myself in order to avoid what might be the judging eyes of others. My running looks more like emotional withdraw: put on the stone face, become impervious, don’t let my guard down, and maintain a thin covering of control.
That’s me. How about you? Most of us are hiding something and we’re afraid; afraid of exposure and embarrassment; afraid of rejection; afraid if people find discover who the real person is lurking behind our carefully-constructed public personalities, they will think we are frauds; afraid that we’ve denied ourselves some happiness and we don’t know how to find it. Most of us hide something, and then live in our personal hells as we try to manage our fears.

Some people think about hell as a place of fire and punishment – eternal darkness with a door locked from the outside. I think the doors of our hells are locked from the inside. C.S. Lewis depicted an image of hell as being a place where every person lives in complete isolation from others, thousands of miles away from the nearest neighboring individual. And they all chose it to be that way. No community. No vulnerability with others. Stripped of our humanity. Separation. Isolation. Living in hell is not something we need to wait for. We can experience that right here and now. And many people do.

What if it could be different? What if we realized that we are not locked into fear? What if we realized that we have the key to unlock the doors of our personal hells?

I began this sermon by reading a list of laws from the Book of Deuteronomy.  Many centuries after the death of Moses, the people of Israel faced conquest by foreign armies. That time in Israel’s life is called the Exile. Think about that word for a moment. Could there be a more lonely word? It means banishment. Separation. Hell. Many centuries after the death of Moses, a group of wise teachers see that the people of Israel are on the brink of exile because they have not been distinctive in their faithfulness. Their history book, beginning with what we call “Deuteronomy,” calls a broken nation to remember their past, to remember the law of God, and to remember the promises Israel made. The writers say, “The only way to find healing is through obedience to God.”

In today’s reading, we get a sense of God’s expectations. Some of these laws sound harsh or odd to us. For instance, “It is wrong to take a set of millstones as security for a loan.” It’s a way of saying, “It is wrong to deprive a family of providing for its basic needs.” The law protects the welfare of the community.

Other laws we have no problem understanding. Kidnapping is wrong. Respect the central dignity of your neighbor when you need to collect on a loan. Pay your laborers on time. Show compassionate justice to people who live on the edge of existence: refugees, children with no parents, citizens who have lost their security, wives who face divorce from disapproving husbands who control the household. The law protected vulnerable people and guarded Israel’s faithfulness to God.
I think vulnerable people on the margins of society suffer because other people in power are afraid. Fear takes people away from the covenant. We see it today. Some people are afraid that accepting refugees into our country will mean we are targeting ourselves for internal terrorism. I’ve seen some people claim that the Black Lives Matter movement is a foil for domestic terrorism. I think it’s because supremacists are afraid of a Black America. Those with all the wealth are afraid of what happens when those in poverty get access to resources like health care and living wages and are no longer dependent on the rich. Those in political power in our country are afraid of what happens when non-whites use their voting rights to disestablish them, so they devise gerrymandered voting districts and a cradle-to-grave prison system to strips voting rights away.

That’s hell. That’s not what God wants for those who are created in God’s image. Biblical law offered a vision for what it means for people to be connected in community and experience deep peace together. No islands. No self-made hells. We are made for healthy connection with God, with one another, and with our Selves. Wholeness comes through faithfulness to our covenants. Wholeness comes through obedience to love. Wholeness comes through a commitment to not only be healed, but to be healers – to never allow those on the margins of life to suffer at the expense of our fears. Wholeness is possible. By Wholeness, I mean facing the separations among and within the nations. I mean fixing the injustices and imbalances in our communities. I mean being transparent and vulnerable about our personal shortcomings. I mean not hiding our scars and scratches.

A king once owned a large, beautiful, pure diamond of which he was justifiably proud.  It had no equal anywhere. One day the diamond sustained a deep scratch. The king called in the most skilled diamond cutters and offered them a great reward if they could remove the imperfection from the treasured jewel. No one could repair the imperfection. The king was very distressed.  After some time, a gifted diamond cutter came to the king and promised to make the rare diamond even more beautiful than before. The king was impressed with his confidence and entrusted the precious stone to his care. The diamond cutter kept his word.  With superb artistry he engraved a lovely rosebud around the imperfection and he used the scratch to make the stem.

Each and every one of us is a scratched diamond and we are living in a scratched diamond world. It is beautiful and precious, yet blemished by the painful experiences of our lives. 
When life bruises and wounds our body, heart and soul, our scratches can become beautiful portraits of love. 
When pain and sickness touches our families and friends, our scars can be transformed into living memories of loving faithfulness and support.

When pain shocks our church and community, the fractures are not obstacles to keep us apart. They are opportunities to build bridges of reconciliation.

When violence rips our world apart, the wounds turn into reminders to unite and remember that love can be engraved over fear as engage in the hard work of peacebuilding.

What if we realized that we are not locked into fear? What if we realized that we have the key to unlock the doors of our personal hells? What if we really, really believed that we are more beautiful for being broken?

Healing is possible in our world, through obedient love.
Healing is possible in our nation, through faithful love.
Healing is possible in our church and community, through reconciling love.
Healing is possible in our families, through devoted love.
Healing is possible in your life, through authentic self-love.
To love is to be vulnerable. Our broken, scratched, fractured, bruised, bombed places unite us.

Today, we take the time as a community to pray for healing. It’s a chance to stand and say, “I am safe. I am supported. I am loved. I am enough. This is my covenant.”

It’s a chance to stand and say, “We are more human when we are incomplete. We are more beautiful for being broken. To be ourselves, to be human, to be faithful in our compassionate and just connections with each other, that is how we journey towards wholeness.”

Creach, Jeroma F.D. Violence in Scripture. WJK: 2013.
Thompson, Deanna. Deuteronomy. WJK: 2014.

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