We’ve made a THING!

“We’ve made a THING!”

Thoughts on the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 17, 2019

by Rev. Jim Ryan,  jimryan6885@gmail.com

We celebrated Black History Month with an Opening Litany that was taken from prayers of 4 of the Giants of that history.  You can find the Litany at the end of this document.

In the Blessings and the Woes that Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel (Luke 6:20-26) we hear of circumstances that are easily associated with personal actions.  And when stated as contrasting realities they become more clearly signs of one side or the other in life – sometimes representing extremes – as in poor and rich, hunger and full-stomached, weeping and laughing, being ostracized and pandering to.

This morning I would like to focus on another aspect of these contrasting circumstances and actions.  The point is this.  There are the personal realities we can identify with.  But there are also the structural realities that make such circumstances so.  When Jesus blesses those who are poor and hungry, those who weep and who are shut out, and when he warns the rich, the overeaters, the laughers and those who pander for status, we should be clear, as I’m certain the members of this community are very clear, that there exists structures that make the rich, rich and the poor, poor, the hungry, hungry and the full, full.

These are the socio-economic structures that make people to weep and to laugh, and that make distinctions between who is shut out and who is to be favored.  Yes, there are structures that make it so; structures and systems that are humanly created and that can be humanly transformed or destroyed when that becomes necessary.

Before there was a fake national emergency with its fixation on structures – be they walls or barriers or steel slats or cages – there was a social structure which continually festers in this society within a cauldron of racism and fear-mongering.  Despite all facts and trends to the contrary which currently document historically low levels of so-called illegal border crossings – anywhere along our southern border – we find ourselves living alongside a bizarre alternative universe that would make for great reality TV if only it were filmed.  But, maybe it already is.

The overlap between these two universes consists of social structures that keep the poor, poor and the hungry, hungry; structures that make people to weep and to be shut out.  I wonder, wouldn’t it more directly target the violent cause of migration out of Guatemala, Honduras, and Salvador if the money spent on physical barriers was to be spent on breaking down oppressive socio-economic barriers in those countries?  Or is that too obvious?

It’s the social structures that are root and branch when well-being is honestly addressed.  And that brings me to the contrary of such woeful structures, namely, the blessings of social structure, because such structures also exist.  I’m brought to this because we gather in hope under God’s promise of blessing in community.  In particular I want to bask in the glory of this community, especially as it is a social structure for good.  I don’t mean to do this so as to unnecessarily pat ourselves on the back.  And I certainly don’t intend to lay groundwork for construction of a new institution.

All I want to do in inviting our focus on this structure of who we are is to reach beyond personal choices and give thanks to God for this community we have formed, this outpost of the Body of Christ.  Out of many possibilities, my thoughts on the blessing of this thing we have created under God’s providence have surfaced and rolled around within me as a result of death and passing.

Here’s what I mean.  In less than 6 months we have had 4 funerals of persons who were connected to our community either as a member or through relationship with our members.  They all passed on in different ways and under different circumstances.  But this community was called upon to join in the celebrations of their lives, to give collective thanks, and to come together in ritual prayer at the invitation of their families.

My thought is simple really, although I confess it has profound resonance in me.  The thought is that we are blessed that we are here.  We have made a thing of beauty.  This community exists whether it is 2 of us or 50 of us.  When some gather, we all gather.  In these 4 liturgies of farewell and reassurance, in particular, each of us took our own part with the sense, I’m sure, that some of us are all of us.  We have created a structure that is built on more than personal choice.  This structure of faith has identity and we present that identity to the world.

God forbid that this structure would become an institution, but I do believe that it is more than any one or group of us.  And, God also forbid, were we to dissolve next week it makes the beauty and the blessing of this community no less real.

In his doctoral dissertation, the pastor and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer used the term “empirical church” to, in part, describe this gathering that becomes more than just the praying and the willing.  He says the function of empirical church is 1) the gathering of the assembly, 2) the celebration of sacrament, 3) the carrying out of office (ministries), and 4) conducting pastoral care.

Bonhoeffer’s focus was directed at state-sponsored churches in early to mid-20th century Germany.  He wanted to make the point that church is not automatic in some institutional sense – after all he was a Protestant pastor.  As we are all aware, the gathering of God’s people (sometimes known as church) takes work.  Further, Bonhoeffer made the positive point that a community of believers is more than a collection of individuals who choose to pray together in one place on Sunday morning.

Church – this gathering of believers – is a structured community in which God’s presence and action is recognized, in which Sacrament is a bond of grace that makes a difference in the world.  This blessed structure becomes a location in which people can promise to other people that, within its confines, one may find comfort and challenge, nourishment for the journey, and blessing on life’s way.

It looks like we have created and structured such a THNG.  God makes it so!

          A Prayer

All praise to you and your holy presence,

God of blessing and fulfillment.

Whether we arrive here out of sorts

or ready to give thanks,

now enter our hearts.

Warm them with your promise and your love.

We hope to spend this time in this space

 aware of your blessing

and the blessing we are for each other.

We expect grace to fill this awareness of you

such that we will laugh and not weep,

be filled and not go hungry,

feeling the welcome of your blessing in us.

It is you who makes it so.  Amen.

Litany of Civil Rights

         Leader:   Sojourner Truth believed that if she was to do

God’s work on earth, Divine Providence should

be with her each step of the way.   She prayed,

“Do for me, God.”

All sing:     We are marching in the light of God.

We are marching in the light of God.

Leader:   Harriet Tubman, just before guiding runaway slaves to freedom,

would pray,

I’m going to hold steady on You, an’ You’ve got to see me through.”

All sing:     We are marching in the light of God.

We are marching in the light of God.

Leader:  Frederick Douglass wrote of his dependence upon God,

I have only one life to lose. I had as well be killed running as die

standing. Only think of it; one hundred miles straight north,

                         And I am free! Yes! God helping me, I will.

All sing:     We are marching in the light of God.

We are marching in the light of God.

Leader: Coretta Scott King prayed,

We pray for Thy divine guidance as we travel the highways of

                         life. We pray for more courage. We pray for more faith and above all we

                         pray for more love.”             

All sing:     We are marching in the light of God.

We are marching in the light of God.

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