Sunday, June 27, 2010

Life of Folk

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost, 2010
for Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Shoreline, Washington

A few weeks ago my wife and I attended the Northwest Folklife Festival at Seattle Center.

I love the Northwest Folklife Festival. So much creativity in one place!

As we walked around, we saw the usual acoustic guitarists, plumbing their trade, looking for a few dollars here and there; and then their bigger cousins, not far away, the rollicking rockabilly bands set up on sidewalk corners, wearing old-timey costumes, inspiring involuntary hand-claps and foot-stomps.

Walk a little further on, though, and the cultural milieu takes a different turn: belly dancers moving to the melody of a bassoon, two little girls looking on, their eyes wide. In the open, tent-like building just next door there were dancers of a different sort, square dancers taking their turn with Cajun zydeco.

Keep walking and there’s no telling what you might find. Marimba players and country western singers, Irish dancers and rock en espaƱol, high school jazz bands and gospel choirs, countless forms of creativity everywhere you look.

It is as if the walls of a great cultural center had suddenly fallen away, and the vibrant activity inside spilled out into the streets and the sidewalks, the parks and the public spaces. In fact, it is as if there are no walls at all anymore, as if there are no limits on what kind of thing can be done, no limits to the heights of creativity that can be achieved, no limits on the diversity of sound and color and shape that can be woven together into the tapestry of the world.

One of the reasons I love attending the Northwest Folklife Festival so much is that the kind of limitless creativity present there can sometimes be hidden in the everyday world we live in. It’s still there, of course, it’s just that sometimes we like to put it inside of neat little boxes. Classical music on this radio station, rock music on another. Lutherans in this building, Roman Catholics in another. Church over here, politics over there. Good people here, bad people there.

Our gospel story for today reflects this tendency we have to create boundaries.

A Pharisee has invited Jesus to dinner. Like most of us who eat with Jesus, the Pharisee didn’t quite know what he was getting into.

“Jesus,” Luke tells us, “went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table.”

Luke’s description is notable for what it doesn’t tell us. It doesn’t tell us that Jesus was welcomed warmly. It doesn’t tell us that Jesus was offered a drink, or a place to hang his coat, or a proper introduction to the other dinner guests. In Jesus’ day the polite protocol for hospitality was different; a guest was to be given water with which to wash his own dusty feet – a different mode of hospitality from ours, but the idea is the same. There are certain things you do to welcome a guest into your home. And the Pharisee didn’t do them.

Maybe he was rushed. Maybe he was distracted. Maybe he was nervous about having Jesus over for dinner – wouldn’t you be? For whatever reason, the Pharisee failed to do what he was supposed to do.

Jesus didn’t say anything. Maybe he could see just how nervous or distracted or rushed the Pharisee was, and so he let it go, and quietly forgave him.

But word got out, all the same. Word got out into the streets. Simon the Pharisee made a huge faux pas! He failed to offer Jesus water for his dusty feet! And now poor Jesus is sitting there with his dirt-caked toenails at the dinner table. How embarrassing!

A woman overhears this while she is standing on a street corner. As soon as she hears what has happened, she doesn’t hesitate. She goes out and buys a jar of expensive bubble bath, and goes straight to the house where Jesus is staying. She walks right in through the open door, kneels at Jesus’ feet, and begins scrubbing.

The other dinner guests are horrified. What is this woman doing? When Jesus does not share their disapproval, they become horrified at Jesus. What is he doing?

But Jesus knows. Jesus knows that this woman can only perform such radical, boundary-breaking service because the love of God, the forgiving and renewing love of God, flows through her life, and moves her to action.

God’s love is like that. As it flows through us, it leads us to do things that don’t fit within neat boundaries. God’s love moves us to color outside the lines, even if it means that things get a little messy, at least by our standards. God’s love is so plentiful it spills right over the boundary walls we set up, carrying us right along with it. And when we experience this love, we can find ourselves doing things we never thought we’d do.

Just ask Nathan, the prophet in our story from 2 Samuel. Nathan is God’s lobbyist, hired to speak up on behalf of God’s beloved people. The rich, Nathan says, have been stealing from the poor, God’s beloved. It is not a truth the rich want to hear, and in a world of boundaries Nathan never should have received a hearing. He might as well have stayed home.

But Nathan is moved by God’s love, moved not only to serve those in need but to advocate on their behalf. Nathan is sent by God to speak to those in power and to tell the truth about injustice. To do so, Nathan speaks a word of judgment about the broken present, and the broken future that will result from it. But Nathan also speaks a word of hope: All is not lost, for God’s love can put away even this sin, the sin of injustice; God’s love can renew even this world, and make it right once more.

And God makes us a part of this renewal. Whenever love moves us, like the woman at Jesus’ feet, to offer radical service to a neighbor in need, God’s love is there, renewing the world. Whenever love moves us, like the prophet Nathan, to speak up on behalf of a neighbor in need, God’s love is there, renewing the world.

This year I have had the privilege of working at the Lutheran Public Policy Office of Washington State. In my time at the LPPO, I have seen the boundary-crossing, world-renewing love of God reflected in the lives of God’s people.

I have seen God’s love reflected in congregations engaged in radical service to their neighbors around them, through soup kitchens and community gardens, food pantries and overnight shelters.

I have seen God’s love reflected in community formed across racial, cultural, and economic lines, people brought together to pursue God’s project of a more just and peaceful world.

And I have seen God’s love reflected in people who are moved to go to the halls of power, the city council or the state legislature or the US Congress, by writing letters and making phone calls and scheduling visits to advocate for and with neighbors in need.

God’s love moves people to do these things, to move beyond conventional boundaries and into the very body of Christ, a body that goes out into the streets and the sidewalks, the parks and the public spaces, and makes God’s creative, justice-making love known in the world we live in.

So how about you? What boundaries is God’s love moving you to cross this week?

Maybe God is leading you to write a letter to the newspaper or to an elected official. Maybe God is leading you to make a phone call to your senator or representative. Maybe God is leading you to sign a petition or simply to learn about one.

I cannot tell you where God will lead you next. But if you want to find out, you might begin in the same way our gospel story began today – at a table with Jesus.

There is a table here, and it is almost ready. Come, and eat with Jesus. Come, and discover that you are already filled with God’s love. Come, and discover that you are already have what you need to live it out in the world. Come, taste and see. Amen.

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