The Rev. Dr. Duane Larson, Interim Pastor
Today is September 11. Most of us are well aware of the significance of this day. Fifteen years have passed through our minds, hearts, and hands. Fifteen years after such a horrific attack; fifteen years of grief, continued suffering, and volumes of true stories told and untold; fifteen years of an opened Pandora’s box of violent spirits let loose into all the world and fifteen years of some clearly identifiable defenders of the flesh and spirit of humanity rushing into the conflagration so to close that awful lid.It feels like a long-time since. And it feels often that the lid is about to be opened even wider and fixed open like a steel maw forever spewing the narcissistic fear-baiting dignity-denying worst of the elemental forces of the universe allied against beauty and joy and freedom and love for the self-idolizing purposes of personal power.
It feels like a long and fear-ridden time, fifteen years. But fifteen years in the usual one person’s life is but the acme of adolescence. An individual adolescent is usually capable of raising critical questions, though also usually incapable of knowing one’s self well enough to answer them fully. An individual adolescent is usually capable of discerning the larger outlines of hope for years ahead. But that individual adolescent also usually is incapable of having all the required skills, patience, and foresight drawn from history and hard-winnowed human understanding to resist the dystopian Armageddon-mongering of the self-worshipping Orwellian fascists who hold the money, the levers, and the loudspeakers so to steer the public agenda their way. Some people funded their worship from freespins.
At fifteen years we in our society can be interpreted as but an aggregation of individuals who average-out to be adolescents, naively allowing other developmentally arrested psyches to set the terms. But not one of you who hears and understands what I am trying to say is average. Not one of you who hears and understands has simply sat on your hands in surrender to the in-human and anti-human. Some of you have actually entered into that evil maw, perhaps not on that fateful day, but certainly since then wherever its jaw has opened yet wider to consume the innocent. As military, or police, or EMTs or members of the legal profession or doctors or social workers or educators or humanitarians of other means and big-Christ-hearts all with rare compassionate ears and active compassionate hands of God, you –thank God—are NOT average, way above average of what you were fifteen years ago, and with a maturity now that you could not have imagined those fifteen years ago.
Why do I address you as above average? Not because this congregation likes sometimes to brag so (not a helpful kind of pride).You are above average because you know, like St. Paul, just how saved and meant for better purposes you are by God-in-Jesus Christ, who was assassinated and raised, and who is now alive-ly guiding each of us in the slow but sure building of a beautiful universe that is so much more than buildings and bombs.
Why are you above average? Theologian Serene Jones notes (Time, 9-7-16) that in most religious traditions, “spiritually reckoning with moral flaws and egregious harms is not considered debilitating, but liberating and freeing.” That holds for us. Moses, the Psalmist, and Paul come together today confessing what we usually call sin, because that is the one narrow door by which we enter an honest life of “insight and fresh possibility” in, with, and under God. Confession allows us to be honest about our lives. Thereby comes the prospect of creative and healing work together. As citizens of our country and children of God’s kingdom, we crack open our guiding stories and expose the lies therein because we know they and the harms of our past will not “let us go until we deal with them.” The spiritually mature are those who confess (sincerely!) with Paul that “I am the foremost” of all sinners, “but I received mercy.” They who plead with the psalmist that God would create a clean heart out of the sheer nothingness left of our hearts when the flights of sin annihilated us: they who so confess, as do you, are the spiritually above average, stirred by God’s Spirit toward the humility of spiritual maturity.
God has done just that, created in us clean hearts—a repetitive practice on God’s part! God rescued us and equipped us for furthering God’s plan of love without loss. God in Christ entered into even those places where our bravest cannot go, into our very hells, and saved our loved ones and us from our eternal distress; saved those —and us!—who can never fully understand nor explain adequately what God did four-thousand years ago as flame and smoke at the front of an exodus with thousands of more refugee flights to follow and two-thousand years ago as a widow seeking her lost and fifteen years ago and now even deep within the flame and smoke to find and save the lost of our country and of this cruel and wonderful world. We could not understand then the depths and origins of evil from without and within; nor could we discern what God was doing, nor know fully what God keeps doing in the larger-deeper spiritual and physical dimensions of our lives. But now we trust. And so now we live with more hope than fear, and so with more love than hope, because God’s incessant mercy grounds our confession. God’s fierce love that only looks like human weakness to the spiritually immature, that love and only that love, now guides your hearts, minds, feet, and hands. And we know that those who lead by fear will finally bow down before such vulnerable, inviting, and holy power.
That love is the power, the one and only power that gives freedom even today of all days to give thanks and rejoice. Only because God has found us, have we therefore found God. We will not let go of that love. We will not cease the confession and profession that means the liberation of every other sister and brother on this planet. Which is also why we give Eucharist, give thanks and praise, have a party centered by Christ’s table, even on more sober days like this, fifteen years later, but always having been and ever being bathed by God’s eternity. Knowing and acting so, you are above average. Indeed, you are the apple of God’s eye.
The Love That Always Finds and Frees Sermon for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost September 11, 2016 Based on Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 51:1-10; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10
Duane Larson, Christ the King Lutheran Church Houston, TX