June 17, 2018

June 17, 2018

Rev. Canon Dr. William J. Danaher Jr.

(This sermon has been transcribed from live video.  Please click here to watch the video version.) 

Earlier this week as I was thinking about what to say today, I kept on going back to this part in the reading today from 2 Corinthians from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. And it’s this moment in which Paul says to the Corinthians, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view, even though we once knew Christ in that way. From now on, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation, behold the old has passed away. Everything has become new.”

And for me, that is in so many ways the fundamental claim of the gospel, which is that with Jesus in our lives, we can never be the same. We are new. We have been made new. We have been renewed. We see the world differently. We see ourselves differently and we see our life together differently.

And Christianity, particularly as we practice it as Anglicans, we often like to be as comprehensive and as roomy as possible. We don’t want to have anyone feel a little bit uncomfortable. But on this point Christianity becomes an either/or religion. Either you are standing with what is new or you are living in the past. Either you are standing with Jesus or you are living in honor of someone else, someone else is in charge. Either you are living for and standing in the way of life or you are following the way of death. Either you are embracing Jesus as lord or you are following your own desires.

Christianity at the end of the day is an either/or religion. We stand for life. We stand for love. We stand for our Lord Jesus Christ and we turn away from all of those things that would oppose life and love and our Lord. And this either/or is key. It’s something that needs to permeate all the way through to the core of our being. And it’s also something that needs to permeate our whole witness to the world around us.

And Paul gives these words in Second Corinthians to a church that we know was struggling with some incredible divisions. There was a division in the church in Corinth between those who are incredibly powerful and wealthy and those who are powerless and poor. There were divisions between those who felt they had been blessed with the spirit and therefore had a kind of higher place in the social hierarchy of the church and there were those who did not feel the spirit so powerfully in their lives and so they felt excluded. There were divisions in the Corinthian church over money, power, and sex.

And so in the same way, I think, that Paul is speaking to the Corinthian church, there’s a way in which Paul is actually speaking to us today. We are an incredibly divided society. We have incredible divisions about money, power, and sex. We have incredible moments in which there seems to be infinite economic distance between the rich and the poor.

So Paul’s word, Paul’s command to us to no longer look at anyone from a human point of view, but to see them from the point of view of Jesus Christ who died for all, and Paul’s admonishment to see each other as beloved by Christ, when Paul does this, he is trying to articulate a way for the Corinthian church to find their unity in Christ, to heal their divisions, by finding a love for Jesus that is greater than anything that could keep them apart from each other.

And that, for Paul, was the good news. And it was an either/or decision. And he frames it in 1 Corinthians with two amazing images. The image of the body in which he says we are all members of one body and each member has a role to play and that body supports one another and lives together and thrives together.

And then this image in powerful hymn to love. The first image he does in chapter 12, the second image he introduces, the hymn he sings, is in chapter 13 and the link between that vision of the body and that vision of love that believes all things, and bears all things, and hopes all things, and endures all things. The verse that links together those two incredible moments in 1 Corinthians, is Paul’s line where he says, “And I will still show you a more excellent way.”

So everything we are to be as Christians, everything we are to do as a Christian church, every witness that we bear in the world around us, it has to be a way in which we show the world and show ourselves a more excellent way, in which we demonstrate the unity of Christ, which is great enough to heal the divisions of humanity. We proclaim the newness of the gospel and its amazing ability to renew everything in all of those things we are called to be witnesses to Christ, Paul says. And that is the good news.

And that’s important for us to keep in mind because there has been so much said over the past week about what does it mean to be a Christian in the public sphere. What does it mean to follow Biblical principles? And this debate has happened because a new policy has come into place in which immigrants who come into the country who are illegal or without papers have their children taken away from them.

And my interest today is not to enter into a political fray. But when the attorney general quotes the Bible, he has entered my territory. And so I feel the need to correct the record. From the beginning, Christianity has never held onto one passage from Romans 13:1, as a sum total for what it means to be a political body in Christ. From the beginning of Christian discourse, the image that Paul speaks about was an image of the body. And we were supposed to see each other in society as a body that held itself together by love.

And Jonathan Winthrop on the decks of the Arbella when this nation was founded, for better or for worse, Jonathan Winthrop preached a sermon in which he did call us to be a city on the hill as Ronald Reagan rightly quoted. But Winthrop also said that we were to be a community that was united by love, one body, in which the needs of the poorest would be the same as the needs of the greatest and the richest.

Now the issues that we are facing this past week, they go beyond what any leader has done. They go beyond what any party has done. We have all contributed to the creation of that issue. And we are all called in our own way to bear witness to what might be done to make things better. So this goes beyond the politics of the present day. It goes beyond the polarized relationships between republicans and democrats. We are called, Paul believes, to the politics of God.

And all of this is stated in our collect for today in which we ask God to bless the household of the church. That term household is key because it comes from the Greek economia, the economy of the church, the household of the church. So we have been called to be part of that politics. And in this day and age, that means living and lifting up parables of grace and being fearless about caring for the last and the lost and the least in our society. And it means encouraging our politicians no matter their party that there is an excellent way ahead for them. That our humanity, that the morality of our community, hinges upon us finding somehow an excellent way, a way of love, and a way of living together as one body.

But there is even more than that. To live together as Paul would want us to do. To see in each other a new creation in Christ. It means that we have to lift up every moment in our lives where the love of God is manifest. And it is a happy circumstance that we celebrate fathers today. Because it is in those biological relationships that we begin to experience that transition from old to new, from nature to grace. Because in every relationship that is biological, there is a bit of a miracle going on. There is an incredible opportunity for growth and forgiveness and transformation and change and love.

And one of the great gifts in my life has been to be a father. When my first daughter was born five weeks premature and she came out of the womb beautiful and pink but just miniature because we had gotten some steroids in there, I remember taking her in my arms and I asked the nurses station if I could take her for a walk and they said it was okay, and I went into the elevator at the hospital. And I waited until no one else was in the elevator and then I began to chant the exsultet, the prayer and praise of the new life that comes through Jesus through the resurrection because I had been so profoundly blessed to have a child. And that even though we had experienced that contest between life and death with a premature child that in this case, life won.

And this was a reminder to me that I had to lean into all those moments when life wins. When love wins. When people reconcile. When people forgive. This is what I think is one image of what it means to be on that pivot point between the old and the new. Between nature and grace. Between death and life.

And my life in the church has been one in which I have been given the incredible blessing of people who have watched out for me as a father. And they in that way have completed the fathering I needed. And I have been blessed in the church with the opportunity to times be a father to somebody else.

One of my favorite moments came the first summer that I was at Christ Church Cranbrook when the youth group went down to the Dominican Republic and on the last day we had this incredible fiesta in which there was Dominican food, Dominican music, it was hot as Hades, there were lights in the little courtyard, and this other group of people came from Western Michigan. And one of the people with us, one of the young men with us, Michael Santoro, who lost his father at an early age, I saw him standing on the edge of the dance floor with that kind of fixed gaze that boys get when they want to ask someone to dance, you know they kind of – it’s almost like a missile that kind of locks on the target.

And I decided I would investigate and I walked up and I said, “Michael, what are you doing?” He says, “Well, I’m trying to get the courage to dance and to ask this girl to dance.” And no one had made a move at that point and I realized at that point I was called to be his father. And I said, “Look, Michael, you’ve got to cross that dance floor and ask her to dance. This is your chance and if you do this, it’s going to be scary, but those other boys, they’re going to venerate you like a god.”

And then he told me which young woman he wanted to ask dance and part of me wanted to say, “Michael, you might want to set your sights a little bit lower.” But in fact, I said, “No, I couldn’t do that.” My own father had taught me to always ask the young woman that was least likely to be asked to dance, but your first dance would be the young woman who was least likely asked to dance, and he said to me, “Because it’s more important that you get people dancing, and it’s more important that people know that you’re a good guy,” and then he said, “and I’ll let you in on a little secret. In certain endeavors, nice guys finish first.”

But there was no time for that kind of instructions to Michael. He was zeroed in. And so I said, “Michael, you’ve got to go for it.” He said, “Well why don’t you ask someone to dance?” I said, “I really don’t want to do that Michael.” But I looked across at the way and I saw someone, I went over and I said – I wanted someone who would be the least likely to think that I was trying to do anything creepy. And so I asked this woman if she would dance and she said she wasn’t moving so well with a knee brace but she would try. And I said, “Well this is for pedagogical purposes,” and so we danced kind of woodenly to salsa music.

And then Michael went across the dance floor and he asked this woman to dance. And initially he said it so quickly and hurriedly she didn’t know what he asked and she shook her head and he kind of went over and said, “Shot down,” to me, and then sat in the back. And then she got up and walked across the dance floor and asked him to dance. And then he was venerated like a god by the other boys.

And then the dancing began. And then Michael enrolled in dancing when he went to college because he realized it was such a good thing. We complete parenting in the church and parenting itself and fatherhood itself, it’s this moment in which there’s not just nature but there’s always grace. There’s always moments in which we need to complete the love and joy and peace that God promises us through our parents. We complete all of that in the lives of others because we need more than just one person to be our father or our mother.

And sometimes there are moments in which that role is thrust upon us and moments that we don’t quite know or understand at the time. I’ll never forget a moment about six years ago where I suddenly realized my father was having trouble with memory. We were at a family gathering and he was to wear a bow tie and he pulled me into the hotel room and he said, “I need you to help me with my bow tie. I can’t remember.”

And I remember vividly the moment he first tied a bow tie around my neck. I was standing and he was behind me and he was looking over my head and he tied the tie. And I have daughters so I don’t get to tie many bow ties. And so I had him stand in the mirror and I got behind him and I put the bow tie around him and I realized that I had gotten taller and he had shrunk a little bit and I could see right over his head as I tied the bow tie.

And I said to him, “Do you remember teaching me how to tie a bow tie?” And he said, “No, but it must have been special.” And it was. And the opportunity to suddenly father my own father became God’s grace in my life. It became the moment in which the new came into being and the old began to transition.

In what ways can you embrace the new life that God is calling you to today? In what ways can you be God’s love in the world around you? And just as importantly, here in your daily life. In what ways can you be a father to those who need it? In what ways can you forgive and be reconciled and love the father you have and so carry on in your own way the blessing that you have received? In what ways might we encourage one another to find a more excellent way?

These are the questions you and I have to ask ourselves in this day of days in which we give thanks to God for our fathers, and also in which we give thanks to God for the wonderful blessing of God’s son Jesus. Amen.

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