In our Scripture for today, the chief priests and elders of the Temple are clearly rattled. Jesus is in Jerusalem and he is causing a stir. The Chief Priests and elders, those who are in charge, are alarmed. I can hear them whispering among themselves “What in the world is he doing? Who does he think he is?” Until finally in our Scripture for today, they confront him demanding to know “By what authority are you doing these things?” “Who gave you this authority?”
I feel for these chief priests and elders.
I am sure that if I had been in their shoes, if I had been the gatekeepers for what was and was not to be permitted, I would have been wondering the exact same thing. Their question, would have been mine as well. For these chief priests and elders have a hard job. They have to try to keep things at the Temple running smoothly during what is a difficult and politically charge time. It’s not easy. The relationship with the state, with Rome is rocky. The chief priests and elders know that the peace they enjoy is a precarious one.
And then there are also problems with the people. The people are restless and increasingly frustrated. Basic needs are not being met. People are hungry and thirsty. There is housing instability, and growing economic disparity. The need for major change is becoming increasingly clear, but the way forward is not. And Rome is responding this unrest by locking up more and more of these hurting and angry people, and even alarmingly are crucifying so many.
The chief priests and elders have a tough job. It is a turbulent time. The only way through, as they see it is to play by the rules and insist that others do so as well. To hunker down and hold onto power and the status quo.
But playing by the rules of the world, especially the rules of Empire is not what Jesus is all about. The chief priests and elders demand to know by what authority Jesus is doing what he is doing. But Jesus sees right through them and their presumed authority. He sees how frightened and stuck they are. He sees how they have lost track of what really matters. He sees how misdirected they have become, insisting on preserving what they have instead of recovering what truly is important and leaning into the new things that God is revealing.
The chief priests and elders are hunkering down, trying to hold on to what they know, trying to keep things the same. But what I have always found it interesting that during his ministry, Jesus doesn’t seems to do so. Jesus never settled down in one place. He certainly could have set up shop in a nice synagogue somewhere up in the Galilee, but he did not. Instead, from the get go, Jesus was on the move.
The life that Jesus calls us into is not a static one. It is not one that is to be about guarding what is. Instead, the life that Jesus is calling us into is a life of growth, discovery and transformation. It is a life marked not by the preservation of what has been but the dedication to what can be. It is a life of bold challenge and unfolding liberation from that which imprisons us and others. It is a life on the move and it is a life marked by three distinct movements: movement towards our truest selves, movement towards the blessedness of others and movement towards the sanctity of creation.
Let’s take a moment to look at each.
Movement towards our truest selves. There is a rather remarkable assertion that comes up over and over again in the Biblical witness and that is that the God of all creation knows each and every one of us personally and intimately. We are created in the image of God. God knit us together in our mother’s womb. Even before a word is on our tongue, the Lord knows it completely (Psalm 139). God knows us and loves us perfectly, but the trouble is, we tend not to really know ourselves.
We spend much of our energies and time fortifying the vessel of our ego, a shell of identity built of what we have been told about ourselves, what we have accomplished and what we have come to believe. But deep within all of that is our truest selves. The soul self that is known and beloved before we have done or achieved a thing. This soul self knows our original blessing of belovedness and it is journeying back to the knowledge of ourselves that the first movement Jesus calls us to.
The second (and these three movements are not sequential. They can happen in any order and simultaneously and they are mutually reinforcing) the second is the movement towards the blessedness of others. Linguist and philosopher, Rene Girard has done amazing helping us see that very early on in our life together as a species we started to define who we based on who we were not. This opposition identity quickly was the breeding group to jealous and rivalry. This oppositional thinking has now become normative and in recent history seems to be escalating. I am, because I am not like you, is today’s cry.
The second movement Jesus calls us to is the dismantling of this rivalry and the violence it brings. We are called to journey into a deep truth that we are not rivals. We are brothers and sisters. We do not need to fear each other or compete for what we think is a world based on scarcity. In God, there is abundance and in the deep truth is that I can never fully be me until you are fully you.
The third movement is the movement is towards the sanctity of creation. The creation stories of the Bible tell of us a deep seated memory of being a part of all that is. We remember the goodness and harmony of creation and how we once dwelt among all that was. But soon we began to separate ourselves from the natural world. We began to see ourselves as dominate, superior, better than everything else and we began to see the natural world as our own. All the world became our stage and all the worlds resources became props for us to use and abuse in the drama of our lives.
The third moment that Jesus calls us to, is to rediscover the sanctity of creation. I read recently a piece by Franciscan Father, Richard Rohr who wrote that creation is the first incarnation of God and that we are not estranged but deeply belong to it. The world is not a stage it is our home. Mary Oliver in the last stanza of her poem “Wild Geese” puts it this way
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
The world offers itself to your imagination,
Calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
This is the third movement in what Jesus calls us to engage.
Now up until this point, I have characterized this threefold movement that Jesus is calling us to as a journey we are to engage. And to some degree that is true, but that is not the full story. For this movement, this growth that Jesus invites us into is more than a journey. It is a meeting place between us and God. It is communion.
Communion. In a moment we will share in it. We will partake of the bread and the cup and we will remember how on that night so long ago, Jesus gathered with his friends and shared a meal that changed their lives. What do you suppose was it that changed that bread into the body of Christ for them? What was it that changed that cup into the blood of Christ for those that were gathered? What was it that changed these ordinary things into something through which those that gathered could share in the very life and energy Jesus? What turned that simple meal into communion?
I believe it was love. Love infused and transformed that meal. Around that table, Love set those disciples set off into a journey towards their truest selves, towards the blessedness of others and towards the sanctity of creation. Love turned not just that meal but their very lives into communion and Love is doing that for us as well.
The Chief Priests and Elders demanded to know by what authority Jesus was doing the things that he was doing. They were scared and they lived in a scary time. We too may feel the need to hunker down, stay safe and try to ride out the times. But that is not what we are called to do. By whose authority did Jesus do all that he did? By Loves authority and it is that authority that is to govern our lives as well. For it is by Love through communion that we will find our truest selves, find the other as brother and sister, and find our place of belonging with all creation. It is by Love, through communion that is the Way of Jesus.
So on this World Communion Sunday, let us be recommissioned for communion. Let Love be on the move through us. Let healing and wholeness, salvation and deliverance, Let fullness of life be made manifest in us, through us and for all the world. Thanks be to Love. Amen