“This Brave New World” Sermon Series Begins

Date:  January 7, 2018

Title:  “Living in Silos”

Preaching:  The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard

Scripture:  Isaiah 60:1-6;  Matthew 2:1-12

Today is Epiphany Sunday.  Taken from the Greek word epiphaneia, “Epiphany” means disclosure, manifestation, unveiling or appearance.  At first glance, we might think it is all about the appearance of the Magi in Bethlehem.  But really what’s being unveiled, what gets disclosed is God’s kin-dom, announced in Jesus.  So who better to unravel the mystery than an outsider – a foreigner – a migrant – a Magi!

Right off the bat, just a chapter away from his birthday, Jesus is telling us that God’s Realm has more to do with inclusion and invitation than with any privatized, restrictive judgment..  In Jesus God is calling all of us to an expansive understanding of life and love and home.  So why is it we insist on seeking out silos – fortresses of separation and distance, instead of campgrounds, places where you are forced to connect, where distances collapse and communities grow up with presence and care?

Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest who founded Homeboy Industries, the world’s largest gang rehabilitation organization, put it this way:

Human beings are settlers, but not in the pioneer sense.  It is our human occupational hazard to settle for little.

  • We settle for purity & piety when we are being invited to an exquisite holiness
  • We settle for fear-driven when love longs to be our engine
  • We settle for a puny, vindictive G when we are being nudged always closer to this wildly inclusive, larger-than-any-life God. We allow our sense of G to atrophy
  • We settle for the illusion of separation when we are endlessly asked to enter into kinship with all.

So here we are, in the world where we have obviously settled all too often!  We find ourselves living in silos – intellectual, emotional, social fortresses which we think allow us to be self-sufficient and separate.  We surround ourselves with people who think like us, who act like us , who agree with us.  Even on social media we do this – friending the ones who hold our particular views of the world and unfriending those who offend us.   We willingly give up the economic & social diversity which has made this nation unique, by clinging to a false sense of security within separation.

And there is a reason for this.  We are at home in our silos.  Within the silo, we do not have to risk change or growth or – God forbid – finding out that we actually have more in common with those outside our tiny little world than we might have imagined.  In the silo we can pretend we don’t hear Jesus inviting us – or that we don’t notice our own holy longing for the Other… and for what Boyle calls “the mutuality of kinship”.  In Boyle’s words:

We need go no further than Jesus speaking to the gathered when he expresses his own deepest longing… “that you may be one”… I suppose he could have been more self-referential.  But it seems Jesus wants this to be about “us” and our willingness, eventually, to connect to each other.

So, back to those Wise Guys…it turns out that they knew all about Isaiah 60, the promise to a despairing Jerusalem that their city would become a beehive of productivity and prosperity.  It’s no wonder they thought Jerusalem would be the place to find the new king.  They had come a long way, and were only 9 miles off

But when Herod’s scholars point out it is not Isaiah 60, but Micah 5 they should be using as a road map…

But you, O Bethlehem…from you shall come forth for me the one who is to

            rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old…

 What makes these guys “wise” is their ability to leave their own silos of assumption about power and wealth, their silos of thought around privilege and authority, as off they go to Bethlehem.  Immediately they choose a new direction, a new alternative of life given not in power, but in vulnerability.

It turns out, if you really want to see Jesus, you have to be willing to leave your silo for the vulnerability of love.  C.S. Lewis puts it this way:

To love at all is to be vulnerable.

            Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.

            If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one,

            not even an animal.

            Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and  little luxuries;

            avoid all entanglements.

            Lock it up safe in the casket of your selfishness

            But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change.

            your heart will not be broken;

            it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.

 In this “brave new world” of 2018, silos have become much more common than campgrounds.  We used to define “community” based on location – a place, a literal place in the world.  One’s community was one’s school, one’s neighborhood, one’s church, one’s town.  Bill Bishop, the author of The Big Sort:  Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart, speaks to the rise of the individual as a guiding force in our culture today.  He says:

It used to be, people were born as part of a community and had to find their

            place as individuals.  Now, people are born as individuals and have to find their community.

 Now we have to find community.  And it isn’t necessarily easy.  The past few years I have engaged in a contemplative practice around the New Year.  I don’t really like making New Year’s Resolutions, those goals which are so easily set aside or outright discarded, leaving me feeling more shame than motivation.  Instead, I spend a little time meditating and reflecting and opening myself to Spirit while I seek a “word of the year”, something to guide me in my being and living.  The past two years the word was “Joy” –and it was great!  My focus was on finding joy in every day, noticing joy in simple moments as well as grand ones, and sharing joy in whatever way I could.  This year, I decided on a new word:  LOVE.  And I’ve got to say, I am ready for this year to end!

Love is a hard word.  It isn’t easy, any more than community is easy.  Because first of all, love – and the community it inspires – is insistent.  When you truly enter community and commit to community, you find you are loved despite yourself.  Even if you want to retreat, to hide away in your own little house, insisting you’re “fine”… people are going to show up at  your door with food or prayer or hope when you need it.  True community is not going to leave you alone.

 Then, community is humbling.  If people want to know you, then you’re going to have to tell them your story.  And when you do that, you recognize that love – and life itself – is a gift, nothing you have earned.  Then, if you want to know others, you will quickly realize you need God’s help to move beyond the illusion of separation.   You just can’t do it all on your own.

Community is also costly.  Community does not require you to purchase extravagant gifts or create gourmet meals for friends… but you will have to invest time and attention, two things in surprisingly short supply in this brave new world.

And finally, community hurts.  You cannot pretend you are not affected by the struggles and the sorrows of your sisters and brothers.  When you live in community you really do “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep”.

 Love and community.  They aren’t easy.  But they are worth it, because community  – as insistent, humbling, costly and painful as it might be – is also healing.   Moving out of my silo into our campground takes me nine miles from Jerusalem and a world closer to myself.  Again, in Doyle’s words:

For Jesus, the self that needs to die is the one that wants to be separate.

            It is the self that wants it all to remain private and thinks it prefers isolation to connection. 

We know that the early Christians believed that “one Christian is no Christian”…

 I think they were onto something there.  One Christian is no Christian.  We need each other to turn from Jerusalem and make our way to Bethlehem at last.


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