Sermon: Gathered Body

footprintsBy Rev. Denise Griebler at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church
January 27, 2019

Epiphany 3C    Annual Meeting Sunday

Luke 4:13-21, 1 Corinthians 12-20

Get comfortable in your body – best you can – as we begin – feet grounded – sit on  your bottom and let your back be straight but relaxed and just breathe – sometimes that’s enough! – you don’t have to do or think anything right now – just be here – relax your shoulders – relax your jaw – relax your cheeks and your eyebrows – and just keep breathing – enjoy being in your body as it is  – and staying relaxed and present, notice the people who are around you. Breathing.  Here.

Bodies are amazing.  Yours, mine, everybody’s body.  I was at the beach last summer with 5 year old Isaac.   We were digging in the sand – building a sand castle and digging out a moot that was filling with water as each wave washed up on shore.  All of a sudden, he looked troubled, and then he said, “Gramma D, I don’t ever want legs like yours when I grow up.”  I took a deep breath – because, truth be known, I have never appreciated my own legs enough – I always wished they were longer or skinnier or more elegant – but in that moment I felt a deep gratitude for them and smiled. I told Isaac I was so glad for the way my legs have carried me through my life all the way to this moment with him – for all of the places they had carried me and were carrying me still.  They brought me here with you today!  And then I asked him what he thought of Uncle Paul’s legs.  Because I think Isaac’s body looks like a miniature Uncle Paul who is really, really tall.  Well, Isaac said he liked Uncle Paul’s legs.  I told him I thought his grown-up legs were going to look more like Uncle Paul’s legs than mine.  And that they would carry him to amazing places all through his life.  And we kept on building and digging.

That was a good day.

It is good to appreciate your own body and everybody’s body.

Both Paul and Jesus are talking about a collective Body.  And we are that Body.  All of us.  From the cosmic where we are part of the web of all life – where the eagle isn’t more or less important than the mountain, where the trout isn’t more important or less than the river, where the trees are not more or less important than the sky, where human beings are not more or less important than the air.  (Even as I say this I’m fighting with the logic of that – my mind is working at constructing a hierarchy that just might make sense…  Isn’t air more important than any one species, even humans??  Why is it so hard to accept that we are all in this together?)

As a nation we talk about the Body Politic.  We have been struggling as a body – all stopped up.  I’ve just come from visiting my elderly mom and dad – mom gets stopped up and it’s really bad when that happens. That’s what the shut-down has been like for an ever-widening group of people.  I love that it was the air traffic controllers at La Guardia that got things moving again.  After almost a month without pay, they organized a sickout just at that one airport and threatened to bring air traffic to its knees all over the country and even the world.  Which is why Trump called off the shut-down. At least for the time-being.  It was this one little part of our collective body – air traffic controllers – who made the difference.

It’s like Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” (I wish I had gone to hear her speak when I had the chance.  Go and hear wise elders speak while you have the chance.  Be in their presence if it’s possible.)

I like the Message version of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.  He was clearly addressing a conflict within a community that had become divided.  Reminding them that they are the Body of Christ together – no one more or less important than anyone else.  If you are at all like me – there are times when I have exaggerated my own importance (which always has the effect whether intended or not of diminishing others and their gifts and their place in the community).  But more often, I have thought myself less important and have not fully brought my gifts.  It’s easy for me to feel like I don’t really belong.  That I don’t really count for much and that my gifts aren’t good enough or really needed.  Paul makes it clear that both mistakes are ridiculous and harmful to the collective Body.

Do you think that you and your gifts are more important than anybody else’s?  That’s not right.

Do you think that you and your gifts are less important than anybody else’s?  That’s not right.

Do you think that you don’t really belong?  That’s not right.

You are a part of the Body of Christ – A part of St. Peter’s.  You are part of how we have come to this moment. And you are part of how we will go and be and become what the Spirit of God is calling us to be and become.  Here.  Now.  In this community.  At this time.  We – all of us – were born for this.  The gifts we need are in you, in us.  We have everything we need to be the Body of Christ together.

It takes my breath away to think about that.  Which is why we have to keep breathing together!! What is God calling us to be?  To do? To become?  In this neighborhood?  In this city?  In this nation?  In and for this planet?

The gospel speaks to the heart of the matter.  If Paul is talking about how we are all members of the one Body of Christ – Jesus reveals the heart of the Body.  He’s fresh out of the wilderness. Remember?  Luke’s gospel roots us in the freedom struggle that has been passed down from generation to generation and is coming alive again in the midst of empire, and in Mary and her cousin Elizabeth who is pregnant with John.  Jesus gets born in humble and cosmic circumstances, he is presented at Temple when he is a baby – and then he goes back with his parents when he is a youth – then we hear about his cousin John who is baptizing in the wilderness – and when Jesus is about 30 years old – he gets into the river with John – the Spirit-dove lands on him and he hears and begins to know that he is God’s beloved child – God’s delight.  And then he follows the Spirit into the wilderness for 40 days and nights – a vision quest – a spiritual retreat – where he wrestles with the devil and his own demons.

Today’s lesson is Jesus coming off of that retreat, coming out of the wilderness.  He comes to his home community and he began to teach in his home synagogue.  He was handed the Isaiah scroll to read from and he found the place that revealed his heart – and now our heart.  It was his vision.  His mission.  And the vision and mission of anyone who would follow:  The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed to go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor – The Jubilee.”  He rolled up the scroll, handed it to the attendant. And he began to teach.  I like to imagine that moment.  I imagine him fully present.  Grounded.  Breathing.  Aware of everyone in that room.  And then he speak:  “Brothers, sisters, cousins, neighbors – this scripture has been fulfilled in by you hearing it.  And it’s happening right here. Right now.  In you.  In us.

And they didn’t let him get any further than that.  Because it was dangerous to talk that way.  Things were so tense, so divided, so oppressive that talk like that could throw it open and something could jump off.  It was fine to talk about freedom and helping people to see and eve to talk about the ideal of the Jubilee (you know what that is right?  Every 50 years a Jubilee was to be declared – debts were to be forgiven, foreclosed lands and houses returned to the families from whom they had been stolen or lost to them – the playing field was leveled – it was part of the law – but never practiced.  Kind of like the Water Affordability Plan passed by the Detroit City Council back in 2006.  Geez, the Kingdom of God might come right here on earth if you did such a thing.)

Anyway – it was too much to insinuate that those kinds of things could actually happen – and even worse to say that they were happening. Just by people listening and really hearing together. And if you read a few verses further on you find out that they threw him out of the synagogue, drove him to the edge of town and were going to throw him over a cliff – but he slipped away.

You know where he went?  He went to his friend Simon Peter’s house.  In Luke version of the story there aren’t any disciples yet.  It’s just Jesus and his cousin John.  Jesus goes to a friend’s house – Simon Peter’s house.  To gather himself.  To figure out what’s next. I think that’s interesting.  Here we are at St. Peter’s …. house.  Gathering ourselves, trying to figure out what’s next.

Jesus found Simon Peter’s mother-in-law sick with a fever.  He healed her and people heard about it and started coming to get healed.  Jesus kept trying to figure out what was next.  What he says is that he can’t just stay there.  He’s got to get out there and proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God – Good news for the poor.  Good news for the captives.  A new way of seeing.  A new way of living where no one is oppressed and where power and resources are shared by all. Not up in heaven or light years away, but here,  now.

I spent this week between my parents in Chicago – being with them as their bodies are aging giving out – and in court with the Gilbert 7.  More than once this passage from Isaiah was referenced.  It is the beating heart of the Gospel for our city in these times. Just as it has been the beating heart of the gospel all along.  I remembered being in that action back on June 18th.  How many of you were there?  If you weren’t there, you could go on line and see the video of it.  It was a powerful day.  We gathered as one body at Central UMC and march from there to the Water Board where we proclaimed the good news that everyone has a right to affordable clean water.  And then some of us got in the fountain at Campus Martius and symbolically collected water…. Others stood in front of Compuware and closed down business as usual in the downtown that Dan Gilbert thinks he runs…. We were mindful of Quicken Loans and Rocket Mortgage and all that had been stolen and lost and then celebrated as Detroit coming back….Others blocked the Q-Line – named by Dan Gilbert after Quicken Loans – an insult to people who need public transportation from their neighborhoods to work and back – who need public money to be used for public education,  not for a little toy trolley that only serves those who come to play downtown.

More than once, defendants said they – and we – did what we did because “the Spirit of the Lord is upon us to bring good news to the poor.”  What does that look like, what does that sound like, in Detroit today?  In the United States today?  On planet earth today?

By my lights, one of the things it looks like today is holding sacred space on this corner.  Affordable and accessible spaces have all but disappeared in this neighborhood and it will become more and more challenging for organizations and movements and people to have a home base, to have a place to meet to imagine and plan and work.  A place to be warm and eat and be in community.  Not to mention, to have a place to worship with a vision and a vocation such as ours.  Here’s who we say we are:

+We are an Episcopal/Ecumenical/earth-based congregation.

+We are participatory, active and committed to the often-uncomfortable challenges of inner and communal spiritual growth.

+We read scripture through the lens of the current moment and our location.

+We practice hospitality.

+We believe involving ourselves in the struggle for justice is spiritual work.

+We are called to speak truth to power and we are called to solidarity.

+We strive to walk this path together as we build beloved community.

We figure it out together.  Here.  Now.  At St. Peter’s  house.  You.  Me.  All of us.  One body.  Christ’s body.  Gathered here in the struggle and the power. How many times has the Spirit drawn near to St. Peter’s?  Think of all we have done.  Think of all the ways members have shared their lives with each other, with Detroit, with movement, with young people, with women, with refugees, with unhoused and living on the margins people?  And have we ever been a big congregation?  No.  But we would be glad for a few more people!

We are the body of Christ and each of us members in it.  We gather around the heart of Jesus.   His heart-song is our heart-song.  And we come to life when we breathe and sing and pray and act together – trusting that who we are and the gifts we bring are enough for this

time, for this place.

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