Pentecost – Proper 8
Wisdom of Solomon 1: 13-15; 2:23-24; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8: 7-15; Mark 5: 21-43
THE REV. JAMES M.L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
So, a big week for the Supreme Court. Their ruling earlier this week in upholding the affordable care act was certainly eclipsed by their ruling announced Friday, in favor of marriage equality for all, a decision that is already being heralded as the civil rights victory of our age. The Bishop of our Diocese, the Right Reverend Andy Doyle, has posted a video of his wise and thoughtful response to the Supreme Court’s decision and its impact on the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, and upon General Convention, the triennial gathering of the Houses of Bishops and Deputies of the Episcopal Church going on right now in Salt Lake City, Utah. History was made at General Convention yesterday when both houses elected, for the first time ever, an African American Bishop, the Rt. Reverend Michael Curry as our next presiding bishop, who will begin his nine year term in November this year.
Regarding the Supreme Court’s decision, there is much more to be said about this historic moment in our civic and in our religious life together, and we will do so together as a parish. As happens often in our news cycle, a story, like that of the Supreme Court’s decision, receives so much attention, that other important events that happened last week go virtually unheard.
I want to share one of them with, a story about a woman Elisabeth Elliot, who died recently at the age of eighty-eight. Elisabeth Elliot, and her husband, Jim, were missionaries in the deepest jungles of Ecuador amongst the Auca Indians. Elisabeth and her husband felt called by God to bring the gospel to this fierce tribe, which had no outside contact with the world at the time.
After much planning and months of groundwork, they made friendly contact with several members of the Auca tribe. Two days after their first meeting, several warriors burst out of the jungle and speared Elisabeth’s husband, Jim, and three other men, to death. The missionaries were armed, but when the attack came, they only fired their weapons in the air, as they had agreed they would in such an event. The incident made headlines around the world in Time, Reader’s Digest, and Life magazines. So if you were Elisabeth, think about what you would have done. Gone back the United States, given up, lost your faith in God?
Less than two years after her husband’s death, Elisabeth left her home to live with the tribe who had murdered her husband. She also brought her daughter, Valerie, a toddler at the time. For most of us, living with the people who murdered your spouse and the parent of your child would be unthinkable. Elisabeth Eliot saw it as God’s call.
She lived, peacefully amongst the Auca tribe for two years, and discovered that the tribe’s need for God mirrored her own need. In a book she wrote some years later detailing her experience, Eliot wrote that “the Aucas are…human beings, made in the image of God…[w]e have a common source, common needs, common hopes, a common end.” Elisabeth Elliot is a hero for her stance that all people even those who inflicted great harm, are worthy of God’s grace.
For the last few weeks, we have heard parts of a letter written to a church in the city of Corinth. Corinth, positioned on the Greek cost, was a commercial and financial center of the Aegean world. The New Testament contains two letters written to this church by the Apostle Paul: 1 and 2 Corinthians. The letter we hear from today, 2 Corinthians, was written sometime around the middle of the first century, or about twenty years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. To put that in a bit of context, the earliest written Gospel in the Bible is the Gospel of Mark, and that wasn’t written until about ten years after 2 Corinthians.
Paul understood this church, he knew the people there well, and he knew that the hallmark of the Corinthian people was that they were passionately committed to being the best at everything. They wanted to be the best public speakers, the best in trade and commerce, the must cultural, and they considered themselves the “best” Christians. Paul himself wasn’t very impressed with this Corinthian bravado. In fact much of 1 Corinthians is devoted to deflating their over-sized egos.
However in this second letter, Paul encourages their desire to excel, to be the best, but not at all the stuff they thought was important, but rather to try to be the best in their generosity toward others who were not like them. Paul understood the Corinthians had no problem sharing God’s grace and love with each other, but when it came to others, the outsiders, the outcast, the Corinthians were guilty of stifling that free-flowing grace, keeping it to themselves, and refusing to share it with others. This selfishness is what Paul found so troubling about this church he loved so much, but struggled with so dearly. He struggled with how people in this community claimed to be followers of Jesus, and yet were so selfish and shrewd.
Priest and author Frederick Buechner writes: “We have within us, each one of us, so much more power than we ever spend, such misers of miracles are we, such pinch-penny guardians of grace.” What he’s saying, of course, is that, tragically, the church is full of people who don’t hear the message that God’s abundant grace is for everybody. This was the Corinthians problem.
It is not our job to judge who deserves grace, or who deserves mercy. That was the sin the church in Corinth. And it is what our nation is struggling with today. Dylann Roof, the twenty-year old young man who murdered nine people in a Bible study two weeks ago in South Carolina, is not someone I want God to be graceful toward. I am unable at this moment to move past anger. I don’t have the language to articulate my feelings of sadness and rage. I am ashamed and embarrassed that at this moment, I don’t want God’s grace to be extended to him.
And my struggle with this is precisely Paul’s point. In my desire to channel or limit God’s grace, I am committing the very sin of the church in Corinth. I struggle with seeing God’s grace be given to someone I cannot understand – who seems so different from me, and I need your help to show me how. There are parishioners of Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, who have forgiven, or are ready to forgive Dylann. Their understanding of the limitless grace of God bestowed upon all people, even those who murder, recalls the graciousness of Elisabeth Elliot, who befriended and loved even those who took her husband and the father of her daughter from her.
In the midst of unspeakable tragedy, God’s grace always survives in ways we cannot nor should understand. Our job is not to understand the grace of God, nor is to be micro managers of God’s grace. Our job is to be conduits of God’s grace whether in the jungles of Ecuador, the streets of Charleston, the steps of the Supreme Court, or in the most important place of all – our hearts. AMEN.