Advent (the second coming)

There is no cloud of glory can define, 
no gates of heaven can confine; there is
no dogma, doggerel, or doctrine can describe,
no earnest imitation reinscribe him. 

Christ’s coming cannot be constrained or restrained 
by our rituals of mortality.
Our candles are dimmed, our illuminated 
manuscripts burned by the living Word… 

This is Omega and Alpha, ending 
and beginning, humbled only by love, 
by love, by love 
to enter this world and its contracting womb. 

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Christ, the King, the way, the truth, the life

Splendor and honor and kingly power
are yours by right, O Lord our God. (A Song to the Lamb, Canticle 18, BCP, 93)

‘Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”’ (John 18:37)

And Pilate infamously responded, “What is truth?” (John 18:38)

Because Pilate knew that truth was whatever he decided. The law was whatever he imposed. Justice, in Pilate’s estimation, was whatever he exacted. And truth? The truth could go hang from a cross for all he cared.

The visions of Daniel and of John of Patmos describe the kingship of Christ as one of glory, of dominion. But it is by his own blood sacrifice, says John, that he has freed us from our sins; it is by his love that he has made us a kingdom, priests to serve our God.

Standing before Pilate, Jesus conjures a vision of a kingdom in which the truth is not decided by the preferences of the powerful, nor is justice exacted by violence, nor does the law of the nations have the last word over it. The kingdom that Jesus brings is one in which the love of God stands resolute before the principalities that would lord it over him, and undermines them by refusing to accept the finality of their penalty of death.

As another biblical poet wrote, “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.” (Song of Songs 8:7) For love is stronger than death.

We have not yet achieved that kingdom among ourselves. We still live in a world where justice is decided by division and argument, where there is no consensus on the truth. Where a youth can take a gun he is too young legally to buy for himself and go out looking for the trouble. When he finds the trouble and becomes afraid for his safety, he successfully pleads self-defence for the deadly consequences of his decisions. Deadly for others, that is, not for him. And some see him, the survivor, as a martyr and a hero, and others see a travesty, an abortion of justice. We live where those who know the open secrets of our system see his young white skin as armour against the judgements of the world, while others still deny that such privilege exists.

We find ourselves in the place of Pilate asking, “What is the truth?”

Standing before Pilate, Jesus refuses to be drawn into his world of claim and counter-claim, power-brokerage and politicking. “I came to testify to the truth,” he asserts, even under the greatest imaginable pressure, for he knows what is to follow. He, Jesus, will not back down from the truth of God’s love, God’s justice which is mercy, which is the forgiveness of sins, which heals instead of harming, which is the reconciliation of the penitent and the hope of the sinner. He will not raise an army, of people or of angels, to save his own skin, because his reign, he tells Pilate, he tells us, does not depend upon unimaginative might or oppression, but rests in the enduring and creative power of God.

Daniel and John of Patmos each write their revelations, their visions of the kingdom come, from a position of persecution. Daniel has been captured by a foreign court and forced into exile and service to a foreign king who tried to eliminate the culture and language and religion of the Jews, who gave them new names. Daniel, whose name means “God is my judge”, was called by his captors Belteshazzar, after the Babylonian’s gods. John, in turn, has been exiled by the imperial persecution of the earliest Christians to the island of Patmos, where he awaits the judgement of God over the nations.

Daniel refused to submit to the attempted assimilation of his faith into the Babylonian ways. He held fast to the covenantal promises of God, and he looked with steadfast hope for the coming of God’s kingdom. In his vision, as in John’s he found his hope coming in the person of the Christ, the anointed and appointed embodiment of God’s mercy, justice, and reign. It was enough, even in those days of persecution, exile, and compromise with the powers that be to sustain both visionaries through long years of suffering. It did not eliminate the suffering, nor did it undo the injustices against them, but it allowed them to remain faithful, to remain true themselves to the faith that God had set within them, knowing that God is faithful and will prevail.

“Thy kingdom come,” we pray each and every time we gather, as Christians, as followers of Christ the King, whose reign comes with glory and dominion and with unending righteousness and justice, with truth. 

It is so difficult, in days like these, to imagine a universe in which truth is known and shared an accepted and agreed upon: but Jesus tells Pilate that he is bringing it, and Daniel and John, in their times of greatest trial, see it coming on the clouds.

Of course, there is the risk for any of us that we will discover that we were wrong in some of the so-called truths we espoused along the way; but God is just and merciful, and if we hold fast to the promises of mercy and forbearance, of the creative ways of love to conquer the dull blade of oppression, if we will follow the example of our King, loving our neighbours instead of taking up arms against them, seeking and serving the image of God in all people, not standing upon our privilege but standing alongside the humble, rebellious, the condemned Christ, then we will find hope to sustain us, for no empire will stand for ever against the love, against the truth of God, against the coming justice of God’s kingdom.

And so, to him who sits upon the throne,
and to Christ the Lamb,
be worship and praise, dominion and splendor,
for ever and for evermore. Amen.
(A Song to the Lamb, Canticle 18, BCP, 94)

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Armistice

It was supposed to be

the war to end all wars,

but one hundred and three years

past the eleventh hour, we are

still more accomplished at starting

wars than finishing, and

as the day digs its way toward noon,

shaking off the silence

and the poppies,

a free cup of coffee or

a ten-percent discount on

your diy supplies

hardly seems meet penance for

a century of sundowns over

an uneasy ending to

days and dreams that do not

rest in peace

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For All Saints and All Souls

The Imitation of Christ is a classic Christian medieval text attributed to one Thomas a Kempis, a monk who gives sound and searching advice for developing the inner life of the soul and binding it ever more closely to God. Our Centering Prayer group has been working its way through the book, and just this past week, the main characters in today’s gospel story made a cameo appearance as a cautionary tale:

The more finely you focus your attention on [Jesus], the greater your steadiness in passing through life’s successive storms.

In many cases, however, this focus becomes blurred since the mind much too quickly becomes distracted by anything delightful that may come within its purview. … Thus it was that several Jews came to Bethany to the house of Martha and Mary not only because of Jesus, but also to see Lazarus. Your focus, therefore, must be exact and on target, directed on [Jesus] and not on anything else that might chance to enter the range of your vision.[i]

He is the resurrection and the life, and it is to celebrate and follow Jesus that we come together. Still, as far be it from me to question the wisdom of my elders, I do wonder whether Thomas a Kempis is missing something if he looks away from Lazarus too soon.

The Jews who are with Mary and Martha today have come to comfort the sisters in their loss. They are there out of love for their friends and grief for their brother. Wherever there is love, we are told, there is God.

Whether it is the same crowd that returns later to check in on the family or whether they bring more friends to see the miracle that has happened so close to hand, we can hardly blame them for their joy and relief and astonishment at the sight of Lazarus restored, unbound, ransomed from death. What would we not give to see those whom we have loved once more?

Jesus himself looked upon the grave of Lazarus and wept. Jesus himself, having called Lazarus back into life, delivered him to his family and friends, saying, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Jesus did not look away from their grief or his death, nor from his resurrection, nor from his friends’ confusion and delight; he had compassion over it all.

Today, as we celebrate All Saints and All Souls, we do not look away, either, from those who have gone before us to their reward and resurrection. The saints whose example shines and the faithful souls whom we trust we will see again on that other shore: they call forth our compassion, our grief, our hope. With Jesus, we weep. With Mary and Martha, we wrestle. With the Jews who have come to comfort them, we are astonished by the miracle of resurrection, by the hope and glory of new life. And Christ has compassion over it all.

In the past year and half, and more, we have been grieved and injured by our inability to gather as we normally would around the families and loved ones of those who have died, especially those whom we remember this morning. 

We have refrained for good and noble reasons – to prevent further suffering, death, and grief – but it has been a burden. Coming together now to name those whom we miss, to honour those whom we have loved, to celebrate their memories: this is a blessing.

We come because of Jesus, because in him only is our hope and trust in the resurrection and the life eternal that we share; and we come also to see Lazarus, to see in our memories and our mind’s eyes, in our prayers to see our friends, to be reminded of that hope, of that reunion, of that compassion, the mercy of God that will not leave us forever bereft, that wraps the grieving in love.

Mary said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” But Jesus knew that life and death would continue after his imminent Passion, and that we would need to know that even in the face of death, even in the stench of death, even in the depths of the tomb of grief, that new life is ready to be called forth. He wanted his friends, he wanted us to know that he is with us, in life and in death, whether we see him in his body or not. Lazarus was his sign, his proof, his gift to us of hope.

So yes, we will keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life. And when our eyes are clouded by grief and closed by death, he will stand alongside us, and unbind us from our sorrow.

For, see, the home of God is among mortals.
He has dwelt with us as our God; we are his people,
and God is with us; and as surely as Jesus wept for his own friend,
he will one day wipe every tear from our eyes. (after Revelation 21:1-6)

Amen.


[i] The Imitation of Christ Book 3, 33.1, by Thomas A Kempis, translated by Joseph N. Tylenda, SJ (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1984), 170

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All Saints: crowning glory

The Daily Office readings for All Saints include a passage from the apocryphal book of Esdras which I recognized as one that had caught my imagination when I was writing about the heirloom dresses I was given by my mother when we found one another:

In the beginning, or very near to it, after God asked Adam and Eve who on earth had told them they were naked, and after seeing the flimsy job they did with their fig-leaf coverings, God sewed clothes for them. What it cost God to skin and clean the creatures whose hides formed the hiding place for shame is not described, although God had only just created them and clothed their own backs with fur. How hard it must have been to choose the raw material for Adam’s first coat; yet that is what God did, before they walked out of the Garden and away from the only Father they had ever known. One day, we are promised, when the children of God finally return from their long exile, like Adam and Eve, we will receive new garments, and the Son of God himself will finish clothing us: 

I, Ezra, saw on Mount Zion a great multitude that I could not number, and they all were praising the Lord with songs. In their midst was a young man of great stature, taller than any of the others, and on the head of each of them he placed a crown, but he was more exalted than they. And I was held spellbound. Then I asked an angel, “Who are these, my lord?” He answered and said to me, “These are they who have put off mortal clothing and have put on the immortal, and have confessed the name of God. Now they are being crowned, and receive palms.” (2 Esd. 2:42-45)[i]

The Esdras passage continues:

Then I said to the angel, ‘Who is that young man who is placing crowns on them and putting palms in their hands?’ He answered and said to me, ‘He is the Son of God, whom they confessed in the world.’ So I began to praise those who had stood valiantly for the name of the Lord. (2 Esd. 2:46-47)

It is the Son of God who crowns the saints with immortality. It is the Son of Love who tenderly sloughs away the stained cloth of sin and wraps them in lavish life; the Child of God who is Christ our Mother, in whom we are one family with all the saints and sinners who sing around the throne of God.


[i] Hughes, Rosalind C., A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing (Upper Room Books), Kindle Edition, 68-69

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What if we were to listen …?

A sermon at the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid, on Sunday, October 24th, 2021: Year B Proper 25. Readings include the healing of Bartimaeus and Jeremiah’s oracle of hope.

Jeremiah has spent years of his life, his health, his freedom, his being warning and lamenting and prophesying the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of all but the poorest people to Babylon, but it was never because he had lost faith in God’s mercy, trust in God’s faithfulness, confidence in God’s loving-kindness toward the people whom God had called together.

In the midst of it all, Jeremiah erupts with this oracle of hope, this affirmation of the endurance of God’s commitment to, God’s covenant with, the people who have put their trust in their Creator.

It is not the stuff of unrealistic optimism. The remnant that Jeremiah prophesies returns not in triumph – they are slow and prone to stumbling – but they are together. They return weeping, but God, their God, accompanies them with consolation. All of their troubles are not yet behind them – they return to a city razed to the ground and robbed of its Temple – but like the shepherd of the Psalms, the Lord will lead them beside calm, cool waters, even as they traverse the valley.

Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, whose name means “honour”, called upon Jesus, the Son of David, for healing and restoration. The people at first tried to quiet him; they did not understand yet God’s capacity for renewal, even resurrection. As soon as Jesus called to him, though, they became his cheerleader, changed their tune as though they had been rooting for him all along. Jesus not only healed Bartimaeus, but he opened the eyes of the crowd to the indiscrimination of God’s outpouring of grace and mercy. But it was Bartimaeus who followed him up toward Jerusalem.

Bartimaeus persisted and was heard and healed. The people of the exile remembered their God and they were led home. The people who stood on the sidelines, who did not believe that hope was at hand, were flustered by the unexpected answer of Jesus to the call for a blessing, a miracle. Somehow, even as they lined the streets he was to walk through, they failed to expect very much of him.

Do you ever wonder what happened afterwards, to Bartimaeus? Now that he was following Jesus with his eyes wide open, did the people listen to him any more kindly, or were they still telling him to be quiet, not to disturb their peace?

A few days ago, in an elevator, I found myself a little cornered by a gentleman who wanted nothing more than to share his faith that in God, all things are possible; that in Christ, forgiveness is abundant; that in the Spirit, we can find our salvation.

He was the sort of person that might make a stranger nervous with his intensity and his forthrightness. He was in a way like Bartimaeus, with his socially awkward outburst of belief in the power of Jesus Christ. “People say that he is dead,” he said, “but look, he lives in me! Look into my eyes, the windows of my soul!”

What could I say to him, Bartimaeus with his eyes wide open and his heart set on Jesus?

This time yesterday morning, believe it or not, I was standing outside the birth home of Martin Luther King, Jr, in Atlanta, Georgia. The buildings in the historical district surrounding his home and the Ebenezer Baptist Church where he and his father each once preached remain closed because of the pandemic, so I stood out on the sidewalk.

I stood out on the sidewalk like those people surrounding Bartimaeus. I stood outside like the people who told Dr King [who followed Jesus with his eyes wide open] to be quiet, to rein it in some, not to disturb my peace, with the people who would not listen to the urgency of his message until it was, to the eyes of the world, too late.

If only we could have spared the grief of wife and child, parent and sibling. If only more of us had listened instead of telling him to “be quiet”.

The stories of Bartimaeus, of Jeremiah, of blessed Martin, of Jesus, are a rebuke to those of us who would rather not be disturbed by the inbreaking of God’s justice, the kingdom of heaven.

We may well ask why, when Bartimaeus cries out from the roadside, we had not already found him medicine, sustained him in safety, instead of telling him to be quiet. Wherever injustice is administered and healing is hard to find, the gospel challenges us to do better at living and loving and listening. I live under the rebuke of Bartimaeus, of Jeremiah, of Martin.

But God will do good despite us. God will bring the remnant home, will walk beside the weeping with consolation. Jesus will bring hope and healing to the hurting, and he will confound those who say, “Be quiet! Don’t bother the Lord with your troubles. Don’t bother us either.”

But God will do good. Sometimes the call to us is simply to recognize the unexpected goodness of God and to follow it. To be patient, knowing that even in our weeping God is with us to console us. To walk in consolation beside others who are weeping. To sustain the hope of those looking for Jesus rather than to quash or to quiet it.

As much as I wonder what happened to Bartimaeus, I wonder, too, what happened to the crowd. Did anyone else have their eyes opened that day to grace? Did anyone else turn to follow Jesus up to Jerusalem, to the Cross and its confounding, the day of Resurrection?

Jeremiah spent his life, his freedom, his political capital, his health, and his strength on prophesies of warning and oracles of lament. Yet he knew that God is faithful, that God is good, that no matter the trials and temptations, the troubles and the turmoil, God cannot help but to do good to God’s people. In the midst of it all, he could not help but prophesy hope.

Because God will do good, with or without us. And blessed is the one who has their eyes open to see it.

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Repentance

To repent is
in some small, frayed
way to unknit
the fabric which has
woven my portrait in
such intricate and 
fascinating, colourful 
and false threads, 
pulling on the lie,
knotted and crinkled,
winding it back into
a small, dyed ball,
a little planet ready
to be moulded into
something less 
deceptively complete,
waiting with the patience
of yarn in a bowl
for the hook and the
needle, for the hands
of the Creator
to guide it into
re-presenting
(the image of)
something true


This piece first appeared at the Episcopal Cafe

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What would St Luke say?

Luke, the Evangelist, is also known as a physician. It is with care and curiosity that he records the events of the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles; it is for the healing of the spirit, soul, and body that he shares the good news of Jesus Christ with his patients, those hungry for salvation.

As we remember Luke this year, we may consider all of the healthcare workers, physicians, nurses, assistants, and orderlies who are stretched and stressed even more than many of the rest of us by this extended pandemic and its toll. We may wonder, with our guide, whence relief is to come.

Luke believes deeply in the power of Jesus’ name to heal and to restore the people. He also believes in the strength of community to amplify and to extend that power, that name. It is Luke who describes the cacophony of Pentecost, the communal care of the first churches, the intertwining visions and prayers and partnerships of those willing to spread the Gospel.

We are a community, not only within the church but around the world. There is nothing like a global pandemic to demonstrate how dependent we are on one another for our health, for our comfort, for our peace of mind and body.

Luke, physician and evangelist, knew the importance of the health of body and spirit alike, and the ways in which scientific wisdom, the understanding of the workings of creation, of creatures, of ourselves, reveals its Creator’s glory. 

What would St Luke say about getting a booster for the COVID19 vaccine as available? Perhaps it is not too much of a stretch to imagine that he, in sympathy and solidarity with his physician colleagues and support staff would welcome it. Perhaps it is not too forward to imagine that he would promote every measure to keep his community safe and well and together, to relieve the burdens of those who care for the health of others, and to increase the common good. 

Collect for St Luke (BCP, 244)

Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Follow

A sermon for the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid, Ohio. The gospel is the exchange between Jesus and the person sometimes known as the “rich young ruler”

This man and Jesus have to have had some history together. Their exchange echoes conversations that they have had in the synagogue and across someone’s dinner table. The man is caught on the cusp of conversion but, like many of us, he doesn’t really want to change. “What is it that you want from me?” he is asking Jesus.

And Jesus responds that he wants nothing from the man, only that he should follow the commandments of God, the commandments to love, to their logical limit, and that he should embrace the call to conversion that the Spirit has placed in his heart.

The episode ends in mutual sorrow. Jesus had come to love the man, and although he knew that the call was too much for him, he hoped against hope in his heart that at the last minute, the man would take the plunge and follow. The man had come to desire Jesus, and although he knew that his way was too much for him, he hoped at the last minute that Jesus might give him some other side route to salvation, and to face-saving.

There is so much anxiety in today’s gospel passage. The man is anxious not to lose Jesus; Jesus holds all the worry-burdens of love; the disciples are anxious about what this all means for them – will they lose the return on their investment, the all that they have put into following Jesus? Well, that depends what it is that they expect.

Contrary to the prosperity preachers, the blessings of God are not necessarily riches or ease of life, property, or influence. The ways of the world, especially of economic covetousness and corruption, do not bring the peace that passes all understanding.

It is difficult, I confess, to stand and preach this gospel from a place of relative ease in a country of relative wealth and damning inequality, in a church that has enjoyed some status through its generations, and that is not itself lacking in financial security, despite the day-to-day anxieties of the operating budget. This gospel is a challenge.

A person came into my office during this past week, while I was marinating in today’s readings: Amos with his scathing prophesies against the grasping great, and Jesus’ gentle admonishment of the man who was on the cusp of conversion. The person in my office had a lot to say about the churches and how they should carry on their business and what the money that you contribute on a Sunday and on other days of the week should be doing for the people, for the poor, for the good of God’s commandments, although they didn’t say it quite that way. The person had little faith that we were not using it rather for ourselves.

Now, I get to see almost all of your acts of generosity, large and small, as they pass behind the curtains. I know what some of you have given up in terms of respect and relationship to confess yourselves as Christians. And Jesus tells that you will not lose your reward, nor your recompense, for all that you have done for the sake of the gospel and to follow God’s commandments to their logical and loving conclusion.

But the person in my office, coming at that time and in that strange way, made me wonder whether they were sent as a prophet not to the individual person on the cusp of conversion, but to the church, to the parish, to the community.

Amos and the prophets, after all, were sent to preach to those in charge, not to each individual, but to the nation and its representatives. You have to wonder, if this country were to decide, as some already declare, that it was in fact a Christian entity, and if its elect were to hear the commandment to give up its wealth and its advantages to serve the poor and follow Jesus, what on earth would that look like?

More practically, the person got me to wondering: In the past several weeks, we have heard from a variety of people who have looked upon our church building and seen possibilities for ministry and service to the community that we may have room for.

We have heard from someone who wants to provide before and after-school accommodations for older children; from an organization that houses refugees and knows that we have an empty apartment; from a congregation, dwindled in size through the pandemic to a handful of faithful adherents, looking for just some small room to worship.

I do not know, yet, what will be practical and what will be reasonable for us to do in response to these overtures of interest. We hardly fill up our building at the moment, at this moment. You know that we have a new preschool tenant starting up, and that will be an adjustment because it is not the same program that was here for generations. I don’t know, yet, what will be workable, but our Vestry is working on those questions, and we will want to hear from you, too.

It doesn’t feel as though Jesus is asking us to give everything up, to give anything of much away, except a little access, a little exclusivity? But I have to confess that, at this moment, after that visit, it feels to me personally like a call to some sort of conversion, to some fresh thinking about how we can use spaces we no longer fully fill out for ourselves in partnership with other agents of the gospel, who see us, perhaps, as rich in resource, and as a sign of God’s providence.

Can I be honest? It feels risky even saying any of this out loud. But again, nothing is decided upon: I need your wisdom at least as much as the visitations of strangers. And I know that in each moment of decision and conversion and steadfastness, that Jesus loves us, and looks upon us with every affection, and wants us to succeed in following him, wherever that may lead us.

The man in the story is caught on the cusp of conversion, teetering on the brink of repentance, swaying toward Jesus but anchored by the lifestyle he has always known, the way it has always been.

And Jesus looked at him, and loved him, and wanted nothing more than to set him free. “Follow me,” he said. “Follow me.”

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To become whole

A sermon for the service of Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, including the Blessing of the Animals, at the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid, Ohio. Readings include Genesis 2:18-24


I heard not long ago of someone in this developed and modern country who had managed to grow all the way into a college-level anatomy course with the ingrained and erroneous belief that men and women have a different number of ribs, based on this story of Genesis.

But that is not what the text teaches. It is not what the Bible says.

These verses have been used to diminish the equality of women, and of those of genders other than male; but that is not what the text teaches. It is not what the Bible says.

The Revd Dr Wil Gafney explains in Womanist Midrash,

“It is curious; the animals are created with the ability to partner and mate; yet the adam is singular, pluripotent, but singular.”[i]

In other words, God has created the human complete in itself, and expects it to find its place in creation. 

Yet the human, the adam, is unsatisfied. It envies, perhaps, the animals. So God, ever provident, divides it into two.

Again, Gafney translates for us,

“God puts the creature to sleep and divides it in half … Rabbi Samuel ben Nachman taught that God split the earth-colored adam into two equal portions.”[ii]

Only after the division of the adam into two are the creatures called man and woman for the first time. Despite what the translators of the court of King James have led generations of English-speaking Christians to believe, these biblical origins of humanity are radically whole and equal and encompassing, before we were divided into binaries.

What would it take, do you think, for us to become whole again?

While the human was still in its whole and singular state, God did something remarkable. God delegated to the human the naming of every living creature on the earth: the dogs, the cats, the cattle, the fish, the duck-billed platypi, the pelican. God gave to the human the ability to define and to describe the creatures, and to choose how to be in relationship with them.

And God fully expected that the human would live in partnership with the animals, and find common cause with them, in the tending of God’s creation.

I heard this past week that the Department of Fish and Wildlife of this country alone declared more than twenty species of birds, animals, fish, and one plant extinct. Climate change, pollution, habitat erosion, human selfishness have wiped entire expressions of God’s creative diversity off the face of the planet.

What would it take, do you think, for us to become whole?

Genesis gives at least two answers here. 

One is covenantal love. The author looks at the example of two humans promising themselves to one another in marriage and describes them as becoming through that covenant of love, “one flesh”; as though they are restoring the wholeness of the first human. This, by the way, does not depend upon the gender of the people participating, since the first, whole human contained all genders in itself. Remember David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and their promises to be part of one another’s story, one another’s lives. It depends rather upon the self-giving, union and reunion, that the covenant implies. The covenant of love explains why we feel empty, as though a part had been torn out of us, when we lose the loved one to death or separation; it is as though we were divided into two pieces of clay.

God has also invited the human to make a covenant with each of the living creatures with which they share the earth: naming them makes the human, makes us responsible for their care and nurture. Some of us have brought particular creatures here for blessing today, that we have named and claimed and promised to care for, and we know how strong those bonds are; we are bound by the covenant, the promise, we have made to love them. But our covenant with creation is older and broader and deeper than these bonds of love. If we were to live into our covenantal responsibility for all creation, perhaps we would see fewer creatures go extinct; if we were to model the covenant of love that God has invited us into.

Because that is the second answer given here in the early chapters of Genesis to how we may regain our wholeness. It is God’s mercy, God’s providence, God’s loving kindness that plants the garden and sows the seed and humours the human, dividing it in two so that it may live in relationship with its mirror image, which is the image of God.

The stories of how we came to be divided, from creation and from one another, contain within them the seeds of our reconciliation. They are stories not of a descending order or unequal ribcages, but of the wholeness for which God created us, and the covenants of care, the covenants of love, which God has given us as a framework for understanding our relationship to one another, to the world, and to God.

It is into and out of love that God created us, and it is out of love that God sent Jesus Christ to be among us and to live for us the way of love, the way of wholeness, and it is love that will make us whole out of all of our diversity and encompass all of our humanity: love for the creation in which God has given us our place; love for one another; love for God, who is love, who has embodied love, who hates nothing and no one that God has made, as it is written in the Wisdom of Solomon:

“Because the whole world before you is like a speck that tips the scales, 
and like a drop of morning dew that falls on the ground.
But you are merciful to all, for you can do all things,
and you overlook people’s sins, so that they may repent.
For you love all things that exist,
and detest none of the things that you have made,
for you would not have made anything if you had hated it.
How would anything have endured if you had not willed it?
Or how would anything not called forth by you have been preserved?
You spare all things, for they are yours, O Lord, you who love the living.
For your immortal spirit is in all things.” (Wisdom 11:22-26,12:1, NRSV)

Amen


[i] Wilda C. Gafney, Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and the Throne (Westminster John Knox Press, 2017), 20

[ii] Ibid, 21

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