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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sermon for October 7, 2012

Gospel: Mark 10:2-16 1st Reading: Genesis 2:18-24 Psalm 8 2nd Reading: Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12 Pointillism is a painting technique developed by the impressionists where an entire painting is made out of a bunch of little dots of color. When we stand close to the painting we can see all of these tiny individual dots. When we stand back from the painting, our eyes combine the colors together and we can make out shapes and images. I thought of pointillism as I was reading the scriptures for this morning. I thought of God as the painter, standing alone with a blank canvas. God was thinking, it is not good for God to be alone. God was lonely. So God took up the brush or spoke a word and started to apply color to the canvas. There are two creation stories in the Bible, but the one we have for this morning says God created humankind. Humans, made in the image of God, are not solitary creatures, either. There is one dot on the canvas, the human, and then God created every bird of the air and animal of the field. Other dots start appearing on the canvas. Each animal has a relationship with the human and the human names them, one by one, identifies and classifies them. Even though God creates so many different species of animals, one isn’t found that is a true companion. A cat may come close for some of us, yet a cat can’t understand our problems or share in deep conversations with us. A dog may come close, but a dog isn’t going to live as long as we do and share a lifetime of memories and give us the kind of companionship that a spouse can. All these dots are appearing on the canvas and the human is relating to all of them like the dots in a pointillist painting are relating to one another. Yet, none is found to be a true companion. There is still something missing. So God dips that paintbrush in the human dot, which hasn’t dried yet, taking a bit of that hue and texture and makes another similar dot on the canvas. The human says, “This is what I’ve been looking for. This is at last someone just like me, in fact is part of me.” And the relationship between those two points is one that God says cannot be undone. The relationship of the painter to the painting cannot be undone. The relationship of the dots to one another cannot be undone: humans to animals, the dirt to the plants, the sky to the water, the humans to one another. They are part of a bigger picture that God is creating. Between the dots there is harmony and discord, contrast and highlight, almost a vibration of movement between the colors and shapes. God sees both the individual dots—it says in the Bible that God knows the number of hairs on our heads—and the bigger picture, something that we may not be able to see because we are flat on the canvas in our own little world, playing our part, where we can’t see it all coming to life. That is where sin comes in. We are obsessed with our own little dot and we think we are on this canvas as an individual. Certainly, God loves us for the unique individual that we are and even calls us by name. But we get stuck there. We don’t see the relationships. We don’t honor the relationships with children, with our spouse, with creation. We don’t see the bigger picture. Let me tell you a little about the context of these writings. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago how children were disregarded at the time Jesus walked the earth. A Roman letter has been found from this time in which a man tells his wife who is expecting a child that if it is a boy to keep him, but if it is a girl to throw her out. That’s how little children were regarded at the time. Women had no options if they were divorced. A man could recover and go on. A woman would be shunned by her family and society and have to become a prostitute or starve. A woman would have never asked for a divorce. It was a way for a man to discard something he didn’t have any need for anymore. This is about caring for the weaker. This is about caring for someone other than ourselves. Jesus says in the Gospel of Luke, “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit to you is that?” Everyone does that. That’s just another way of being selfish. Jesus is talking about a different way of living. He’s talking about what God’s Kingdom looks like—God’s painting where everything is interconnected and relating to everything else, not just a series of dots. We read these scriptures and feel ashamed because of divorce or broken relationships, but that’s not what it is about. It is about the more powerful taking seriously their relationship with the less powerful. It is about the strong caring for the weak. It is about the group rather than the individual. It is about the bigger picture instead of the little points of paint. So the same is true of our relationship with God’s creation. We see the plants with regard to what they can do for us, rather than their part in the whole picture. We don’t care for the animals that God has given us responsibility for. Yes, we shower our pets with toys and love. But we treat the animals we use for food in horrific ways. We have distanced ourselves from our food production so we don’t have to see what God’s good creation endures so we can have a steak. Many children don’t know how a carrot grows. We don’t know who picks our food or what pesticides they are exposed to or how young the children are who are stooping ten or 12 hours a day to put food on our table. We think we are only responsible for our dot. But we are related to every other dot on that canvas and we are responsible to them. Recently a fire at a factory in Pakistan killed almost 300 workers. That factory makes clothes for Wal-Mart. There had been many complaints about conditions there, but there had been an inspection the week before and it was found safe for workers. Those that do the inspections have the interests of the big business at heart. Any workers who have tried to change the system to look out for worker interests have been fired. We selfishly demand cheap clothes in our country and Wal-Mart owners are the richest in the world, they demand pay beyond our imaginations. Our dot has failed to take into account the other dots that surround us. We feel helpless because it is so complicated. When we change our relationship to one dot, it affects the next and so on. If we buy clothes at Wal-Mart, maybe we can afford to give more to charity and help people close by. And whose to say that garments we purchase at Fred Meyer are made under more humane conditions. There are so many dots, where do we start. We are overwhelmed. Our first reaction to these readings may be to feel guilty. God created us to be in balanced relationship with everything in God’s good creation. We are out of balance. We deny that relationship. We don’t take our responsibility seriously. For that we could surely face the death penalty. What good does feeling guilty do us or others? We assurance of God’s grace and forgiveness. That allows us to take a serious look at what we’re doing and how we relate to each other. It allows us to be honest with ourselves about what we are doing to hurt others. It allows us to confess what we’ve done and continue to do. It allows us to go to those we’ve hurt and make amends for what we’ve done. Then it allows us to one by one, starting with the dots closest to us, start changing the way we relate to others. It allows to admit our relationship to the other dots around us and see how we can better work together, how we can respect and honor that relationship. It allows us not to put ourselves at the center but to shape our lives around the littler, more faint and vulnerable dots around us, whether that is animals and plants, whether that be children, whether that be our hungry neighbors, someone battling mental illness, the elderly, the factory workers in Pakistan, or whoever. It is one thing to see these paintings in a book. It is something else entirely to see them in person where you can stand close and far away and see how big or small the canvas actually is. The colors are so much more vivid and alive in person than in a book. This is how God sees creation. This is the painting that is in process, the Kingdom of God. We don’t yet know what the image will be as God continues to paint the picture and the beauty of the points play off each other in a magnificent display of creativity and balance and love.

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