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Safety on the Plain

This was a bit of a week. Ben and I went to NYC (delayed wedding present of Hamilton tickets 🙂 ) and then it was straight home for me to go to Hamilton, The Town-Not-Show (much less hip hop, much more white) and join in the diocesan visioning retreat.

So, by the time I got to Sunday morning, my brain was all mushy. So there was that.

I wrote the sermon half in sentences, half in notes in my notebook, and managed (I think) to sound coherent and thoughtful, and not just say “There was a plain? And also security isn’t safety? And walls are bad.” which was my basic hope.

I went back and typed it all up, because several folks asked for a copy. What is here isn’t exactly what I said, but it should be a fair representation of what I preached.

Also, the fruit/vegetable story is entirely accurate and is A Thing That Happened in 2004. I have witnesses.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

February 17, 2019

Epiphany 6

Luke 5

One time, quite soon after 9/11, I went to a government function with a lot of security.  As I was passing through the checkpoint, I noticed the posted sign: No weapons, No Metal, No bags, no signs….no fruit.  

This confused me, so I struck up a conversation with the Marine who was inspecting me.  “No fruit?” 

“No, ma’am.”

“How about vegetables?”

“No fruit, ma’am.”

“Ok, I get that, but I could conceivably do some damage with a carrot, like if I threw it.  Or an eggplant.”

He looked at me for a second, stone-faced.  “Ma’am, do you have a carrot?”

“Oh no, I would never! This is hypothetical situation. Like, how would you count a tomato…”

He cut me off. “No fruit, ma’am. No weapons.”

“No, sir!  No, of course not.”

He did not have a demonstrable sense of humor about the situation.

I got to thinking this week about emergencies.  About crises.  And how we handle them.  All the readings today reflect on where we put our trust, when danger looms, and the world warns us that safety is at a premium.  What do we do?  Where do we turn?  What do we trust to keep us safe?

In today’s gospel, Jesus essentially outlines two basic approaches to this conundrum.  He lays out the Beatitudes—those pronouncements we are all pretty familiar with, hopefully.  Blessed are the poor, blessed are the peacemakers, things like that.  

Now, importantly, these Beatitudes are not Matthew’s Beatitudes.  Gordon Lathrop, a renowned liturgist, said once that meaning derives from one thing set next to another, and so we need to consider the context of these particular Beatitudes.  Notably, Jesus is standing in a whole different place than in Matthew.  Literally.

In Matthew’s gospel, this is the sermon on the mount.  So, the first thing he does is go up on a mountain, and gather the crowd below him, at his feet, and talk to them from high above, making sweeping pronouncements.  Blessed are the meek!  For they shall inherit the earth!

But catch what happens in Luke!  Right at the start, Jesus goes the other way! He goes DOWN the mountain, to the plain, and starts addressing the disciples and the crowd from BELOW.  And whereas in Matthew, he addresses the entire crowd, here he singles out the disciples specifically.  “Blessed are YOU POOR. For you shall be rich.  Blessed are YOU HUNGRY.” etc. These aren’t sweeping pronouncements we might write off to being about a future state; these are instructions for specific people, in a specific place and time.  Hey you!  Blessed are you!  You, right there!  This is much more pointed.

And then Jesus goes a step further.  Not only does he lay out what is Blessed—he also lists out what brings woe.  Woe to you rich, for you will be poor.  Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will be weeping.  Woe when everyone speaks well of you, for such their ancestors did to the false prophets.  These things may seem great now, but they will not end well for you.

Ironically, the list of woes that Jesus illumines is precisely where we so often put our trust.  Riches, and status, and power, and strength, are precisely the things that promise us security over and over again in this world.  In moments of crisis, it is precisely these things Jesus warns about that the world tells us will deliver us safety.

In reality, Jesus tells us, these things do not protect us.  They do not save us.  Security which the world promises is not safety.  

Counter-intuitively, Jesus tells us that the very things that promise us security over and over will, in fact, doom us.  

It is only through vulnerability, only through solidarity with the other creatures of God, only through mercy, peace, justice—only through opening ourselves up to the reign of God will bring us true safety.  Everything else just takes us farther away.  

But ooooh, how we’d like it to be so much easier.  How much we’d like it if safety could be conjured up through a simple ban on all fruit!  Or in building a bigger tank!  Or in a larger stockpile of weapons, or in one more massive fortress.  

The problem with these solutions, however, and the reason they bring us so much woe is the disconnection.  They isolate us.  Were we to spend our lives building walls and fortresses and stockpiling more and more food in search of security, we would never have to contend with the humanity in each other.  We would never have to realize how indebted we are to each other, how much we depend on each other.  We would never have to recognize how much God loves each and every one of us, and how much each and every one of us reflects God’s image.

When we put our faith in the idols of security, in the things that bring woe, we never have to grapple with ourselves or with God.  We remain utterly alone.

But God loves us little dust-creatures so much that God calls us to something greater.  Impossibly, God loves us fallible, desperately mortal humans so much that God graciously hands out eternal abundant life in our very mortal-ness.  God gives us total safety, total life and freedom right when we are at our most vulnerable—as if we are standing undefended on a plain.  The more connected we are to God and to one another, the safer we are and the more life we find.  Even as the world chants in our ears that danger is all around—we find our life and help in God and these connections.  No idol gives us that.

The solution, then, to any human emergency is found only in each other.  Is found only in God.  The way out of our mortal peril, in any turn of circumstance, is in being Christlike with each other, and with the world God has given to us.  And in this way, we bless the world.

Amen.

About megancastellan

Episcopal priest, writer, wearer of fancy shoes.

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