July 15, 2012
Gospel: Mark 6:14-29
1st Reading: Amos 7:7-15
2nd Reading: Ephesians 1:3-24
When I was growing up, my grandmother mail-ordered books for my sister with her name in them as the name of the hero. To us, it was incredible that my sister could become the main character of a book! I don’t remember much about them except that one had space aliens in it and another had something about candy, two very important topics for little kids. And my name appeared too as the big sister.
Today, we are co-authoring a story with God. It is even more than blanks left and names being inserted. God writes and we write and together we weave a story of creativity and hope and joy and challenge and suffering and triumph. It isn’t just a story to write and to read, but a story to live. It is a story of relationship, a life of relationship and a story we know the beginning to and the end of, but the middle is still in process.
We know the beginning. We know a loving God created us to be in relationship with God and with all creation and with one another. And we know that isn’t always easy. We know characters before us have screwed it up and been given second chances and remained in relationship and struggled and come through it.
And we know the end, that in the fullness of time, God will gather all things together, in heaven and on earth, and that we will all be together with God. Sorry to ruin the end for you, but I think you knew it anyway. In many good stories, you have a feeling it is going to turn out ok, but it is how the characters are going to get there that is so exciting. For instance, Harry Potter: You know he’s going to be ok because there are 5 more books, but you’re at the edge of your seat wondering how he’s going to get out of this impossible situation, and he always does. It is the same with us, that our story goes on, and God’s story goes on. Sometimes we’re at the edge of our seat wondering how.
Let’s look at the first reading for this morning. Amos was the very first prophet. We get the benefit of reading his story thousands of years later, but think what it was like for him to live this story. We know the beginning, and so did he, that God created him and everything and everyone around him for relationship. And we know the end, that God will draw everything and everyone back together. The middle chapters of this book are being co-written by God and Amos. You might not think God would co-write a book with a shepherd and arborist. He’s nobody special. But God had been trying to co-write with the religious leaders and kings of Israel and it hadn’t been going well. The kings wanted to write their own book with themselves as the heroes, and themselves getting the money and women and land in the end. God was tired of that kind of trashy novel. The story God wants to write is leading to an ending with everything being drawn back to God. The story these important people are writing is driving a wedge between people.
God wasn’t going to give up on Israel either, because remember that God is all about relationship. So God goes to Amos, who isn’t distracted by all these other concerns and gives him a message to tell about holding Israel accountable and holding up a ruler, a plumb line to measure them by, a kind of an outline to follow when writing.
I think Amos responds like any of us would when invited to co-author a life with God and to go and speak a hard truth to the rulers of Israel. “You don’t want me, God, I’m just little ol’ me. I’m nobody special.” But God says to him, “You’re exactly who I’m looking for, someone not too full of himself, someone in relationship with animals and trees who can translate that caring to people and show them how to care for each other and get back to writing the story that God has in mind for them.
What happens next is that Amos warns the people. They don’t listen. They go into exile. God stays in relationship with them. They start to get it. God brings them back to Israel and in some ways their story still goes on, as they write a story together with God. The beginning is clear, God creating them and loving them and choosing them. The end is clear, with God drawing them all together again. The middle is still being written about whether or not they love their neighbors as themselves and difficulties and joys they face and God walks with them through the whole story.
Ephesians also talks about this story the people of the church in Ephesus write with God. It affirms the beginning where God chooses them and blesses them. And I also think this is our story. This was for the early Christians. For later Christians, it also holds true. Notice in this story, God is very active. God is the hero, not us. God chooses, blesses, bestows grace, destines, redeems, forgives, lavishes, gathers, marks, and accomplishes. We are co-writers, though, too. Our active words are believe, hope, hear, and praise. We are more recipients and yet God clearly works through us, as flawed and helpless as we are, to bring the kingdom of God to those who need it most, to bring justice, to share, to love, and to carry God’s story to people who might not have experienced it before.
Now we come to John the Baptist’s story. Kind of a downer for the middle of the summer as we’re getting ready to kick of VBS! We know the beginning of the story. God created everything including John, Jesus’ cousin. As a fetus, John lept in his mother’s womb when Mary came with her baby Jesus bump to his mother Elizabeth’s house. John was a wild, fiery guy. And we know the end of the story, that he was gathered together with God who never left his side, despite a gruesome death and many difficulties. God and John were writing the story of his life. John was very aware of that plumb line, that measuring stick. Herod had crossed it when he married his brother’s wife. There was a lot of corruption in this family and John wasn’t going to keep quiet about it. And Herod knew John was right. He was afraid and intrigued at the same time, so he would go and listen to John sometimes. A part of him wanted to write the story of his life the way God would have it go. Part of him wanted to do what was right.
Unfortunately, he probably had too much to drink and was showing off for a big crowd and because of that did something he probably regretted the rest of his life. He had John beheaded.
One thing I really like about John the Baptist was that he didn’t really know who the Messiah would be and what he would be like. But he was still able to point to him. He went around stirring people up to give up a life where they were the hero of their own story and to let God play that role. They were baptized into a new life of repentance to get ready for the coming Messiah. John knew it was imminent, even though he didn’t know what it would look like or what it would mean. Still he was able to pave the way for Jesus.
So God is writing the story of our lives with us as the co-authors. We know where we come from, from our good and loving creator. We know where we’re going—to be gathered together again. And we’re still writing the middle chapters of our lives or maybe some of the later chapters. There are times when God is calling us in those chapters and we’re humbly declining. “But God, I’m just a regular person. You couldn’t really want to use me to help other people, to speak up when I see an injustice, to change the world to better reflect the story that God intends for all people.” And God is saying, “I said what I meant. I choose you. Now let’s get to work!” And we get to do God’s work, feeding people, visiting the sick and imprisoned, speaking the truth even when it hurts, giving of ourselves and our time, and praising and thanking God.
“In the fullness of time, God will gather up all things in himself.” When you hear this, do you think of heaven, after we die? I do, too. But there is something about the word “time” here that you might not notice. This is not about chronological time. It is a “kyros” moment. Earlier in the service we sang, “Kyrie eleison” or “Lord have mercy.” Kyrie refers to our Lord. Kyros is from that same word. A kyros moment is a God moment. We don’t have to wait until we die to have God’s kingdom here on earth. Jesus says, “The Kingdom of God has come near.” It is breaking into our world, even now. Now is the fullness of time, when God writes the story with us. God is here now. And we can help usher in that kingdom now when we do justice, when we love others, when we quit making ourselves the hero of our story and instead put Jesus front and center. Then others experience the kingdom here and now where everyone has enough to eat, where there will be no more weeping, where all are welcome and all know God’s love.