The Sixth Sunday of Pentecost
July 21, 2019
The readings for today are:
Click here to access these readings.
We have before us here this morning a really magnificent reading from Paul’s letters. I mean, each week we have something magnificent to read here on Sunday morning, as the week begins anew, but today we’ve got something particularly nice. It’s like that nice, big, shiny apple out of a bushel of really good, juicy ones, or a sandwich that doesn’t taste any different from other sandwiches, but because you’ve used some tomatoes fresh from your garden, and the bread is just out of the oven, and you’re eating it with a good friend, somehow the sandwich just tastes so much better. Here is one of those good passages from the Bible, and it’s good because it tells us so much about Jesus.
Now, we often say that we are healed in Jesus Christ. All the pain we experience, all the hurt or the worry or the despair, all of it is healed in Jesus. The Bible tells us that we are made whole in him, made fully alive and fully human, when we live in Jesus. In Jesus we are made who we were meant to be, who God created us to be. And all this healing happens, all this fullness and wholeness, because of who Jesus Christ is. Now, Jesus doesn’t heal us as a doctor might. Doctors work on our bodies – the physical stuff that makes us who we are. A doctor might give us medicine, operate on us, or tell us to exercise a bit more or eat more fruits and veggies. And this is good and important to living a healthy life in this body while it lasts.
Jesus, however, heals us differently than all this. Jesus is the life at the heart of our lives. He is the life that helps us heal emotionally and spiritually, the life that helps us forgive those who wronged us, that helps move us from a life of despair to a life of fullness and goodness, even if it’s still tough. Jesus is that life that brings us away from sin and hatred and into a life where we can see the light of God all around us: in the ground, in the sunshine, in those around us, especially those who we don’t know, and, perhaps most of all, in ourselves.
And Jesus can do this, Jesus can heal us and make us whole, because of who he is: the firstborn of all creation, the image of the invisible God, the one who holds all things together. Now, this can all seem like theological and mythological language. It’s all really easy to say, but what does it mean that Jesus is the firstborn of all Creation? Or that he is the foundation of all reality? I mean, we all know what a foundation is. For the past we months we’ve seen that new addition to the First Community Bank go up. And the first thing they did was dig into the ground and set a firm, flat bed of concrete down. Then they built up more concrete to create the foundation. And this foundation is, of course, so very important, and not just so that the building doesn’t sink into the soft mud, but because it dictates all the other pillars and supports of the rest of the building. If your foundation’s off, your building won’t be straight. Is Jesus like that? A sort of foundation to the whole world so that, when we build and live our lives, we won’t get stuck in the mud and our walls won’t fall down?
This is an example, of course, of getting too deep into a metaphor. I mean, this metaphor of the foundation of a building, it’s a good one, but it’s not enough. Jesus as the foundation, Jesus as the cornerstone, Jesus as the blueprint – all these metaphors can help us understand how Jesus Christ acts in the world and in our lives, but at the end of the day they’re not enough? And they’re not enough because Jesus isn’t just some blueprint that you look at everyone once in a while and is important to have. Jesus isn’t just a rock that gives you a sure foundation. And Jesus certainly isn’t a set of rules that, if you follow them, you’ll have a happy and comfortable life. Because Jesus is a person: a full, living person. So Jesus isn’t just the rules of, say, baseball. He’s the coach who knows the rules backwards and forwards, who sits with you and teaches you how to play from the time when you’re just old enough to pick up a bat. He’s the one who watches you and, with a firm and discerning eye, can give you advice on perfecting your swing or change how you’re throwing the ball so that you don’t thrown your arm out. He’s the coach who, when you win a game, takes the whole team out for pizza; and when you lose, knows why you did and will work with you to improve. Jesus is the coach who loves baseball so much that he seems like the game itself, that coach you want to impress not because you want to look good but because if you impress him you know that you’re really living the game, because he loves it so much, too.
And this, of course, is just another metaphor for Jesus. It’s not perfect, but it helps. It helps us understand what this strange, beautiful, hopeful, founding and grounding presence is in our lives. Metaphors like these help us to understand that person we encounter in our prayers, that makes our prayers more than just a bunch of requests but a relationship, a communion, with something beyond ourselves. Metaphors like these help us to understand the fact that helping others, especially those who look and live a lot differently than we do, that helping them is a good in and of itself, regardless of whether we get anything back or not. And metaphors help make sense of what’s going on in the Sacraments, why we feel the true, reconciling hand of God in the Sacrament of Confession; why a bit of oil on the forehead on Thursday afternoons here at St. James can bring us into the presence of the Almighty God; and why partaking with the whole Church, across time and space, partaking with them in the Eucharist, where we are given the gift of that same Life of Jesus Christ in a little bit of bread and a tiny sip of wine, how all that can continue us on the path to wholeness and oneness with God our Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth.
Because these things we say about Jesus: we’re not just playing around. When we stand up to say the Creeds, we know that they are speaking to a truth that is deeper and more profound than any of us. When we live a life with the Sacraments and the Bible and the Church, we find that at their center, at the center of all we do, is the beating heart of all Creation. When we look to where all the metaphors are pointing, where all our Christian lives are directing us, where all of Church history is singing and preaching and proclaiming about, we find: Jesus Christ. In him all things are alive, because he himself is alive. At the end of the day, all metaphors fail me, because it is not in metaphors that we believe, but in our God, living and true, who breathes upon us Life whenever we turn to him.