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The Rev. Clare Fischer-Davies
St. Martin's Church
May 9, 2010
Easter V C
I began one of my first stewardship committee meetings here at St. Martin's with a bible study of a few verses in the first letter of Peter that included these words. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” The moment the passage had been read, Paul Langmuir announced, “I don't like it.”
Needless to say, this was not the reaction I had expected. I might have been drawing breath to ask Paul to expound on his dislike, but of course Paul never needed encouragement. “I don't like all this stuff about being chosen.” Again, I drew breath and again Paul kept on going. “I don't like talking about being chosen. It sounds like all those fundamentalists.”
That was my first theological conversation with Paul, the first of many, but one that I remember vividly because I soon learned that Paul, even though he never wanted to think about himself as being chosen by God, was a man of passionate likes and dislikes, always making choices, always discriminating in the very best sense of that word. He knew exactly what he liked, who he respected, and how he wanted to live his life. And I also learned that Paul was a deeply generous man, who was always extending the reach of his kindness and generosity. Paul is now in a place where all truth is revealed,, but I wish earlier I'd figured out a way to tell him that if Paul could be both discriminating and generous, then surely God can be that way, too.
The passages from the Gospel of John that we hear in the Easter season, seem to be full of discriminating language. The context is Jesus' last meeting with the disciples before they go out to the garden of Gethsemane, so we know the stakes are high, and he keeps saying things like “there will be some who love me and some who don't. There will be some who receive eternal life and some who won't. If you love me, the world will hate you, because the world hates both me and the One who sent me.” It all seems to be setting up a plan of salvation that lets a few people in, but keeps most people out – a plan that chooses a few lucky individuals to be that chosen nation, that royal priesthood, but shuts everybody else out.
Paul was absolutely right to reject that understanding of being chosen by God. It's a terrible misinterpretation of scripture that goes against the whole sweep of divine activity that begins at the very moment of creation. We proclaim that God is both discriminating and generous. God chooses to transform the world from death into life. God chooses – by speaking the word “Let there be light,” to bring order out of chaos, to create a world that bears fruit, and to call that to world into covenant, life-giving relationship.
Of course God discriminates. God discriminates against injustice, against hatred, against cruelty – against anything that corrupts and destroys the world God has made. We wouldn't want any other God – we yearn for God to discriminate against all those things that bring sadness and disorder. And I think we yearn for God to teach us how to discriminate, too – I think we long for God to teach us how to love what God loves and how to choose what God chooses.
God discriminates and God is generous. Gene Robinson said it last Friday so much more clearly than I seem to be able to say it. God is that generous father – who sits on the porch, looking down the road every single day, waiting for that first glimpse of the child who wandered away from home. And when at last that child comes into view, the father springs off the porch and sprints down the driveway and sweeps that wandering child into a welcoming embrace and showers that child with every good thing – just because the father is so happy to have him home again.
God discriminates and God is generous. God is so discriminating and so generous, that God chooses to come into the world as a human being, to suffer and to die as one of us, and by that death, to transform us into a people that no longer have to be afraid of death. We are caught up in that great life-giving, life-renewing work of God and called ourselves to be both discriminating and generous as we proclaim the life-giving power of God. We gather as a worshipping community partly to remind ourselves week after week, by word and by sacrament, that we are learning to choose what God chooses and to love what God loves.
And that means that we are learning to love the world.
There is lots of very specific geography in both the lessons from Acts and from Revelation. In Revelation, we hear the vision of the new Jerusalem – the center of the world – the place where all people will come and where no abomination will ever be admitted. The new Jerusalem will be a place of eternal light and peace, drawing all nations and tribes into its sheltering walls. The old Jerusalem was the site of the temple, the most sacred spot in the Jewish world. Christ’s body, the Church, has replaced the old temple, and the new Jerusalem is not just a sacred piece of real estate but a mystical reality.
And look what happens in the book of Acts. The apostle Paul is a peripatetic missionary, traveling back and forth across the ancient world, sharing the Gospel with whoever will listen and baptizing Gentiles like Lydia. Although Paul grew up caring deeply about Jerusalem, he believes now that God is calling him to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to people who think that Jerusalem is the holy city of a strange, backward religious cult – who don't care about Jerusalem – for whom the vision in Revelation is meaningless.
So Paul starts to create a new holy geography – a geography that has no center of the universe – but instead a geography in which every person, in every place and in every time, is equidistant from the heart of God. This is not my own idea. It comes from a great Christian thinker and blogger named Daniel Clendenin. He writes: “For Christians there is no geographic center of the world, but only a constellation of points equidistant from the heart of God. Proclaiming that God lavishly loves all the world, each person, and every place, the gospel does not privilege any country as exceptional. A Bosnian Muslim is no further away from God's love than an American Christian. A Honduran Pentecostal is no closer to God's love than an Oxford atheist.”
At Paul’s funeral yesterday, we invited everyone to the Lord’s table. I suggested that those who didn’t want to receive communion, cross their arms so that the clergy would know to give them a blessing instead. One woman couldn’t seem to get the signals straight, and I asked her, “Do you want communion or do you want a blessing?” And she gasped out, “I want it all.”