2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Well, here we are: I am back, and you are back, we are here in this building!, at long last. Hello, you all, and at the same time, hello, summer! A lot has happened since we saw each other last, and now it is summer and we are in for more change.
When I checked to look what readings we would have this Sunday, I actually laughed out loud – could there be greater irony than having to deal with sinful Eve on my first Sunday back, and with decidedly dark, strange words from Jesus?
I have to say, I was actually perturbed by the fact that the lectionary would assign the story of Eve talking Adam into transgression to go together with a Gospel passage that speaks about sin and at that unforgivable sin. Who puts such lectionary cycles together? To be sure, I have no trouble using the lectionary, but very likely no women were on that Commission, or maybe one or two token women.
You know, the systems that we like to think are outdated and we’re making good progress on, like the patriarchy, like the suppression of Black people and people of color, all those systems still work exactly the way they are designed to work. And so, at the mention of Eve in the garden, we all know she is responsible for the beginning of the end. The patriarchy is living proof that we have not forgiven Eve to this day.
During my sabbatical, I had much wonderful time to listen to the radio and podcasts, read the paper extensively, go deeper, take in the world around me, and what people are thinking about. I learned so much.
-I watched the process of coming/crawling out of Covid, the successes of vaccination;
-I learned of professionals talking with folks who have fallen victim to conspiracy theories, political or vaccine related, not unlike any other form of addiction.
-I see the ever growing efforts since the death of George Floyd, to break through the racist systems we have in place in each and every aspect of our common life. When you just put your eyes and ears and heart to it, it is shocking.
-I am anxious for youth who cry for help with their mental health, their needs for safe places, help with addiction, their angst about climate, wanting to be heard.
With all that – what is before us as The Word today, the theme of our readings is more timely than I wish it was, falling apart, the harmony falling apart in the garden Eden, and the many ways in which the metaphorical houses we have built are divided.
I feel that our time asks us more than previous decades to confront ourselves with truths that are uncomfortable. Why not find comfort in the fact that God’s word comes to us in strong terms, with images and ideas from centuries past that still have this amazing power to lay bare the diagnoses for ourselves, in our own times?
The strangest thing this morning is maybe where the gospel is hidden – in a violent, scary image. Jesus in a parable describes himself as a criminal, breaking into a house, – it’s got to be at nighttime -, violently wrestling down the strong resistance put up by the owner, tying that person down, and then going on to plunder.
What is that about? What loot, what spoil Jesus is after?
It’s another image for the hard work, dear friends, it takes God to locate us, find us, through Jesus. It’s a struggle, in the darkness, to claim us/ to rescue us for the kingdom of heaven/God’s reign; wrest us away from the systems and ills that tie us down.
We are the loot, we are Jesus’ precious spoil. From this perch we can now calmly and clearly look at all that bedevils us.
It may well be that this is not the right message for you today, finding solace, comfort in being loot, the booty of Jesus. That is why we have the whole of the liturgy, and more Sundays, with different, more approachable texts.
Now another image.
Do you remember the verbal exchange Jesus has with the scribes who came all the way from Jerusalem to tell him he had Beelzebul in him and was casting out demons in the name of Beelzebul, who is the general of Satan’s army of demons? Jesus counters with the divided house: a house that’s divided will become weak, split and come crashing down.
Well, isn’t that the truth? Golly, in our families, isn’t it sometimes force fighting against force, threatening to take everything and everyone down with them? Never mind Mother’s Day or Father’s Day (which is coming up).
By forces I mean, for example, Covid protocols at weddings or funerals, estate decisions among heirs, care for the elders, coming out as gay or trans, the forces at play between teenagers and parents.
Other “houses” where forces are pulling/wrangling, are the systems of racism, and patriarchy. We have yet to learn the whole history of Black people, and to tell it; and this congregation has yet to call its first female senior pastor.
What other “houses” do we live in, figuratively, in which we deem ourselves safe? The assumption we have about our democracy, this nation’s place in the world is one of those “houses.” Also the assumption of how this earth is here to feed us, sustain us, at all cost. These are all “houses” which we have built, in which we live, in which we feel secure.
Will we take notice when they fall apart? Are any falling apart?
Are we actively taking down our own houses which we so desperately need to survive?
From our perch, sisters and brothers, safely held and securely gathered in Jesus’ loot bag, precious spoil, we can afford to take a deep breath and check ourselves. With the eyes of faith we see God’s reign, the kingdom of God. Demons are cast out, gone for good; people are made well. Faith is given us as a gift; we need to be open for it, but we need not strive or struggle for it.
So, rest assured, and as Paul says elsewhere, fight the good fight. Maybe you’d like to hear more specifically how to go about breaking down systems, houses, that hold us hostage, or hold together the houses we need to survive, that are falling apart in your world. But that is your work. Your work of faith, which is already happening and which you can join, bearing some good fruit.
When God is in the garden with Adam and Eve, God does not kill them as announced, they do not die. The fruit of transgression is that Adam and Eve now know. Their eyes are open. Harmony is not anymore innocent one-ness, but knowledge is necessary to live in this world.
God gives them clothes as the garden gate closes behind them. And when Adam and Eve know each other, they procreate, new life is born. Eve discovers the force of creation at work in her, and upon the birth of her firstborn son, Cain, she says, “I have produced a new human with the help of the Lord.”
We are all imbued, bestowed, with creative forces to build, to put things together, to heal things fallen and falling part. So, dear ones, go forth from here today with good courage and faith, precious spoil. Amen.