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Dismemberment & Re-memberment - Sermon for 18th Sunday after Pentecost

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A body sometimes needs to break apart in order to be put back together correctly.  The body of Christ is not fixed, but fluid, and we need not fear dismemberment if it means a better life. 

 Please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The text is included for your convenience, but it is not entirely like the delivered version, which includes nuances that can't be read.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

September 27, 2015  - Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost.  

"Dismemberment & Re-memberment".  Text is from Mark 9:38-50

Greetings to you, my sister and brothers, saints and sinners, children of God.  Wow, what a smorgasbord of things are going on.  Not the least of which is not the caution Jesus says about what causes people to stumble. 

Now having read this passage when I was but a young child, I found it quite a bit troubling, but not quite insurmountable. I actually had a pretty strong faith as a twelve year old, even if my understanding of scripture was somewhat lacking, and I found that while I was prepared to do everything I could do for God, the thought that we might have to start removing parts of my body in order to be sure that I had a place in heaven was daunting, but nevertheless seemed to be something insurmountable. I mean, people can live without hands or feet or eyes, right? 

Leonardo da Vinci - shoulderandneck3.jpg
But with these passages in mind, the logical conclusion of this passage to the growing adolescent with hormones and an awkward sexuality made the requirements of dismemberment far too much of a burden. It may have even b een just what I needed to turn me away from scripture and a path of strong faith once and for all, rather than the biblical literalism that was prevalent in my life at the time. There just had to be a better way for me to reach spiritual nexus than one that was focused on self-depravation and the eventual misery that insured in my life.  Some people are very fortunate to have been granted freedom from lust in their lives. I was not one of them. 

But that was over 35 years ago, and I've learned in my studies not to shy away from difficult sounding passages in the bible. And that even while here, in the midst of Mark, Jesus appears to be making some harsh pronouncements as to how one fails to achieve salvation. What we may very well have is some other consideration. Because one of the things about Jewish purity is that people who were debilitated or handicapped were somehow less than whole human beings. That there must be something wrong with someone who had lost an arm or an eye, or a leg, and those people could not in any way have a part in the gathering in the temple. 

But here is Jesus turning yet another custom up on its head. Because in telling people that they have to dismember themselves in order to be closer to God is in fact the opposite of what one would expect. And Jesus is reminding us that we cannot look at people's disabilities and judge them based on that. If one is taking his commands very seriously, then one is marking themselves in order to be close to God, and to look at the marked person and say, well, this person's sin earned them that mark is to ignore the log stuck in one's own eye. 

In fact, while these verses may themselves be a stumbling block to the biblical literalist 14-year-old, they do have their own context and remain very much in the spirit of a grace filled life. And when we look at Mark's community when we read this, the people for whom he was recounting the life of Jesus, a community fraught with hazards from both inside and out, we can say that that having a member who continues to create discord and strife and never seeks to construct and build the body of Christ, thereby causing the community to sin against itself or against the world at large, to pluck out that member. 

And while we may look at that and take it to mean some kind of shunning, it might not even be that harsh. Cutting off a member of the body of Christ might mean only removing that member and putting them in another place in the community, or it might mean guiding them to a better community for them, a better living situation, away from the community they've been harming and a means for them to find their own path in the body of Christ with people who are more like them than different. It does not have to mean the community that had nourished them up until that point stop loving them, it simply means lovingly letting them go.  

Separating is hard, but sometimes it must be done. Shaking things up is hard, and moving things around may create discomfort in the whole body, but if the body of Christ is suffering, it may mean that things have to be taken in hand. Just as surgery often creates pain in order to heal, just as removing a sick tooth in order to keep a healthy mouth must be done, just as abrading the skin is sometimes a sure way of making a scar disappear, at times the body of Christ needs be reorganized, by moving parts around in order to keep it well and whole.

I have known pastors who were fearful of other church bodies wanting to take their members away, as if they were in competition with one another. At times, Public Christian leaders do what these disciples do, acting as if someone is doing a certain job, that is somehow taking away from them. This unnamed man, casting out demons, doing so in Jesus name, grinds and grates Jesus' followers because he is not among them. It would be like us complaining that another church is feeding the public in Berkeley for free one night a week or renting out their space for a dozen twelve-step groups. It sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? But that's the same thing as another church meeting the needs of a broken soul who has decided that they don't fit with us.

But it can all be looked at differently. Losing a parishioner to another church is not always a bad thing. If someone is not finding their spiritual guidance at one church, then finding that path at another is wholly and entirely within the spirit of God. 

Would that every person I encountered on the streets or even online, who I gave witness to in some way or another, who began to change their perspective from something that I might have said show up in these doors, encouraged to try the faith once more in their lives, show up at our mass on Sunday mornings. It would be a really nice thing to see all the pews filled end-to-end and the offering plates overflowing.  

But the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to deliver that good news to others, does not work in such a manner, delivering it solely to one pastor, one evangelist, one individual. Anyone who finds their way into the doors of any church has all too often received the message of love from numerous sources. And if someone I witnessed to, having rejected the gospel at one time, winds up at the doors of a church down the street, how can I possibly consider that an evangelical failure on my part? The body of Christ is built up and someone has found the way. The good news is shared, and we now have a new partner to do the good work that the church does in the neighborhood and the world. 

Sisters and brothers, we are together in this mission. And as a witness as many of us have been, people who have been told that they could not possibly hold the life of the church in their hands, whether because of our gender, or sexuality, or history, or disability, we know that God's spirit goes where it goes, uses whoever it uses, and that coming to Jesus is not something that we do by virtue of who we are, and often acts...

And let me tell you, I understand this, deep down inside as someone who felt unworthy of God's love for so long, someone who thought himself rejected by God because of who I loved, 

...God's Holy Spirit acts in all of us for the people of God in the most amazing and incredible ways and in the most amazing and incredible places. 

On Saturday morning I am privileged to be the outside sponsor for a group of inmates at San Quentin, gay, bi and trans inmates, who have themselves either felt rejected from other Christian communities there or have found the comfort among people more like them in a place where finding comfort can be difficult on many days. 

Yesterday morning we were talking about brokenness. And I listened to men, some of whom were convicted of murder and who have spent ten, twenty, thirty years behind the walls, share about their own journey. I say I sponsor this group, because I do not lead it, and yesterday I barely even spoke a word. But the grace that I find in these broken souls and the Holy Spirit I hear coming from their lips is like nothing else I can share. And the gratitude that they share that we outsiders come and join them is touching in a way that words fail to explain to me. 

But here is the body of Christ, in men who society believed, rightly or wrongly, needed to be cut off from the rest of society. Like Jesus told us of the hand... cut it off, and yet they nevertheless found themselves remembered in Christian community behind the walls, and even dismembered from there because of their sexuality, and remembered together in this Saturday morning group, and we are able to be members of their group. And the separating makes the body of Christ stronger. 

And so, beloved sisters and brothers, we sometimes need separation. We sometimes need to come apart, in order to build ourselves back. We cannot always know what that coming apart can do to us, and sometimes it happens for us without having to do anything about it. But we become better, and we grow, and we become stronger, and we build up the body of Christ, and we see and work and do good in the world, and eventually, with God's mercy and lovingkindness and a little work on our part, we thrive, and truly become a place where all who are broken seek refuge find welcome, healing, and safety.

God wants us in community, sisters and brothers, as the body of Christ, living and rebuilding and hoping and loving, with the Holy Spirit making us strong and growing and propelling us to do his will in the world.  And that is good news. 


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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on September 27, 2015 1:36 PM.

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