Date: May 7, 2017
Title: “Don’t Give Up!”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Before Walt Disney – before Pixar – even before Road Runner & the Wiley Coyote, we have had a vision of animation. We find it all throughout the Biblical record. Visions of animation – people whose lives have been full of life, people who have modeled for us what it is to be lively, spirited, enthusiastic, eager, active, vigorous, vital, exuberant, alive and animated.
These are people who understood the wisdom of Quasimodo’s gargoyle friends in the animated film “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”. Early on in the story we find Quasimodo longing to leave the belltower as he looks down at the town square at the festival about to begin. And, through the magic of animation, the gargoyles come to life. When Quasimodo says he just doesn’t feel like watching the festival that year, one of them asks, “Have you ever thought about going to it?” And then goes on to challenge the hunchback by saying “Life is not a spectator sport. If watching is all you’re going to do, you are going to watch your life go by without you.” Wise words from an animated gargoyle. Life is not a spectator sport. And neither is faith. There is an old Hasidic story that has Nahum of Bratslav saying:
When I appear before the heavenly tribunal and I am asked, “Why did you not lead your people like Moses?” I shall not be afraid.
When I am asked, “Why were you not a David who worshipped me and shepherded your people?” I will be calm.
When they query, “Why were you not Elijah who spoke the truth and brought forth justice?” even then, I will not shake.
But when they ask, “Nahum, why were you not Nahum?” It is then I will tremble from head to toe!
Life is not a spectator sport. And neither is faith, in days of ease and in times of struggle. St..Paul knew all about God’s calling to participate. He lived an Animated Faith, to be sure. Born “Saul”, in the city of Tarsus, he was both a Hebrew and a Roman citizen. He started his religious career as a zealous persecutor of Christians, believing it was his responsibility to protect and defend orthodox Judaism. Following an encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, Saul becomes Paul, who goes on to become the greatest evangelist and missionary for Christianity in the first century. Paul was highly acclaimed, and widely appreciated for his teaching and his preaching, and yet he was not without his critics. Things didn’t always go swimmingly for Paul.
His second letter to the church in Corinth is proof of that fact. Previously he had sent another letter, and had visited Corinth along with Timothy, to answer his critics. Apparently it didn’t go so well, for here he is, writing another letter to dispute those who have questioned his motives, misinterpreted his actions, or taken his words out of context. Here Paul writes a second time, to defend himself and his ministry. Surely it would have been easier for Paul to have given up on those pesky Corinthians! It would have been quicker, and some probably thought cleaner, to just let them go their own way, to let schism take the place of anxious connection.
We all have those relationships which challenge, frustrate and at times, even annoy us. I think of the co-worker who insists on doing everything by him/herself without any help; or the family member whose politics cannot be discussed in polite company. What about the neighbor who encroaches on your peace and quiet, or the fellow believer who interprets the faith so much differently than you? And I wonder how many times we have been tempted to draw lines in the sand meant to convey conviction, only to find those lines are only obscuring relationship? And how often do we find those same lines leading us to walk away, to give up and let schism take the place of anxious connection?
But then along comes Paul who writes: Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart….For it is the God who said, “let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts …
These must be among the most encouraging words in all the Bible, especially for we who are UMs today. You know we are in the midst of challenging times for our faith, and painful days for our denomination. We groan when we see headlines plastered across the NY Times and the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal and countless other places – headlines which paint us as rigid, discriminatory, and unloving – everything this congregation is not.
I confess I have felt myself nearly overcome by despair over the time, the energy, the money we are spending to fight each other over what seems so self-evident to me…the reality of God’s inclusive love for EVERY ONE, the fact that all God’s children are welcome at this Table, and that “all means ALL”. Lately it feels as if we are standing by the bed of a beloved hospice patient, fervently praying for a miracle while resisting the temptation to pull the plug. Then I read this passage and I remember that the very same power that brought Light to creation is offering to illuminate us all. I remember that same power is in fact shining through us, just like the sunlight is streaming through our windows! So we do not have to lose heart. And we do not have to choose between watching from the sidelines or simply giving up. We can, in fact, find a way through this present turmoil. Even if on the outside it looks like things are falling apart, on the inside, God is always making room for new life. And there is not a day that goes by without God’s unfolding grace being offered to each and every one of us.
It is God’s grace we receive at the Communion Table. It is God’s grace we take from this table to the streets. It is God’s grace that enables us to say we will not give up. We may be afflicted, but we are not crushed. We probably are perplexed, but we don’t need to give in to despair. We may feel persecuted, but we have not been forsaken. We may be struck down, but ultimately God will not let us be destroyed. God is with us, from the beginning of time to this present moment.
So now is the time for us to stand together. Now is the time for us to claim our United Methodism, which is open to all persons and truly seeks redemption for all of creation. Now is the time for us to who we are as followers of Christ. Now is the time for us to live an animated faith, one that is lively and spirited, energetic and excited, enthusiastic and active, vigorous, vital, exuberant and alive. If we can do that, we can surely find our way forward.
In the apostolic tradition begun by Paul, let me close by sharing a letter of sorts from the bishops of our part of United Methodism. You can find it at this link: https://vimeo.com/216034412 May God’s grace truly be with us all… from the Table to all God’s world of animation and life. Amen.