Taking A Long Look…

Mark 14:42-52, I Cor. 3:5-9, 2 Cor. 4:7
August 27, 2017
Mary Hammond
   It is a foundational truth of the Christian faith that the ‘Imago Dei,’ the image of God, rests in our bodies and our very beings. The Quakers speak of “the image of God in every person.” You and I bear the imprint of that image. Even in the times when our hearts feel flooded in darkness, we still bear the image of the divine. A Taize chorus proclaims this so powerfully in these words, “Our darkness is never darkness in your sight; the deepest night is clear as the daylight.”
   We bear this treasure, this ‘imago dei,’ in earthen vessels (II Cor. 4:7). We are fragile; we are broken; we are needy. Yet in the midst of all that hard reality, we are beautiful; we are amazing; we are god-breathed. We are welcomed, and we are forgiven.
   Our bodies age and grow frail. Our spirits age and hopefully grow wise. Yet, both are embraced in the deep, everlasting love of God. These are foundational truths of our Christian faith.
   There is also a foundational paradox about the ministry we share together as Peace Community Church. That ministry belongs to all of us, and yet to none of us. PCC is my church and not my church. PCC is your church and not your church.
   Fundamentally, foundationally, PCC is God’s church. The Apostle Paul speaks so clearly of this understanding in his first letter to the church in Corinth: “Who is Apollos? And who is Paul? We are simply God’s servants, by whom you were led to believe…The one who plants and the one who waters really do not matter. It is God who matters, because God makes the plant grow…For we are partners working together for God” (see I Corinthians 3:5-9).
   In parenting, we often speak of “my kids,” or “our kids.” This is very common speech. Yet in our agonizing moments, when we can do nothing but throw our beloved progeny on the heart of God, we are reminded once again—“Ah, these children just pass through me. They have belonged all along to God and not to me!”
   Why, then, do we need to consciously recall the fact that PCC is God’s church, not mine, yours, ours, or even ‘Steve and Mary’s’? For a number of reasons. First, what we do, we seek to do in the power of the Holy Spirit, not in our own strength. Second, what we discern, we seek to discern in the power of the Holy Spirit, not in the designs of our own imaginings.
   This congregation, like many around the country, is smaller than it has been in more than two decades. Yet the urgency of these times seems greater with each passing week. How can we rise to this occasion–both in who we are and in how we serve one another and the world? We need to radically depend on God’s Spirit who guides, sustains, challenges, and comforts us. Only in this way can we faithfully embody our mission as Peace, as Community, and as Church.
   Let’s take a few moments to look at a short passage in Mark’s Gospel, which strikes me so differently after Charlottesville. Jesus is facing his final days on earth. He has eaten his last supper with his disciples. He has warned them about a betrayer in their midst. He has agonized and prayed all night in the Garden of Gesthemane while his disciples slept. The moment of reckoning is near.
   “Get up, let us go. Look, here is the man who is betraying me!” Jesus announces.
   The Gospel writer continues, “Jesus was still speaking when Judas, one of the twelve disciples, arrived. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs and sent by the chief priests, the teachers of the Law, and the elders.”
   I could not help thinking about the white supremacists, neo-Nazis, KKK members, and militias two weeks ago, showing up in Emancipation Park with their helmets and shields, AK-47’s, baseball bats, and flags. They came prepared for battle, just like those who pursued Jesus that fateful night.
   Judas is the “inside man,” the “infiltrator,” playing both sides. He greets Jesus with a kiss, a signal to the others that this is the man to seize. The armed group grabs Jesus and arrests him. After the High Priest’s slave is wounded with one of their swords, Jesus calls these ruffians (as Petersen describes them in The Message Bible) out. He challenges their weaponized approach, saying, “Did you have to come with swords and clubs to capture me, as though I were an outlaw? Day after day I was with you teaching in the Temple, and you did not arrest me” (Mark 14:48-49a).
   I am reminded of the interfaith clergy group from Charlottesville and around the country who gathered for prayer, witness, and solidarity, two weeks ago in that city. For years, so many of these clergy had been gathering with their congregations to teach and preach, sabbath day after sabbath day. Nobody had touched them there. And yet, this time, at a Prayer Vigil in a church on a Friday night, the building was surrounded by torch-carrying white supremacists and they could not safely leave. On the streets Saturday morning, they faced down white, mostly young, heavily armed and angry men, shouting anti-gay and anti-semitic epithets, taunting them about the veracity of their faith.
   Everything had changed. A moment of reckoning had arrived.
   Jesus does not usher a call to battle, which his followers could have quickly spread to his adoring crowds and among the Zealots, who were itching for armed rebellion. Instead, Jesus is arrested. The horrified disciples “cut and run.”
   Only Peter remains. He warms himself by the fire in the courtyard of the High Priest’s house, pretending he has no connection to Jesus. He plays it safe. Peter is sort of “halfway in.” He’s in the story enough to go to the courtyard, but not in the story enough to own up to the truth of his relationship with Jesus.
   Judas has pretended to be on Jesus’ side, but when opportunity arises, he shows his true colors. We need to be careful here. It is so easy for us to view Judas as ‘other,’ to avoid identifying with him. Perhaps we need to be willing to see the faithless and duplicitous within ourselves.
   Most of the disciples present that night simply withdraw. The turn of events is too shocking and too frightening to endure. They choose their own safety over the very real risks of engagement. One young man even leaves his clothes behind, running away naked in order to resist arrest.
   And where are the women? Invisible in the text. Not mentioned until Jesus is hanging from a cross.
   I, for one, am glad that this is not the end of the story for Jesus’ followers, or we would not be sitting here today. And it is not the end of the story, thankfully, for us, either.
   This week, I attended a Conference Call, “Charlottesville Clergy Speak: Stories from the Frontline,” sponsored by Faith in Public Life. One speaker has researched conflict in other countries, not just academically, but by traveling, witnessing, and studying what forces come into play. The phone connection was too poor to catch her name, but let me share some of her words of wisdom and warning. She said that conflict creates its own feedback loops, with trigger moments readily attracting opportunists. Over time, conflicts can escalate and polarize populations to the point where there are no more people left to stand up. It is critical for those of good will to create a positive vision, to stand for something, not just against something. It is also crucial to cross as many relational divides as possible in preparing for future challenges. Relationships always matter; knowing one another matters.
   Jesus stands up for the Realm, or Reign, of God. He puts his body on the line, and he is executed by the State. One speaker emphasized that this is the risk we sign up for when we agree to follow Jesus.
   Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us that we cannot stamp out hate with hate; only love can do that. To resist evil in the power of the Spirit, we must also challenge the politics of demonization and mutual contempt. The witness of peacemakers, both past and present, can help us learn how to do this in periods of rapid and hardening polarization.
   The name, ‘Peace Community Church,’ keeps calling us back again and again to our mission. God is inviting us to prepare more fully for the days ahead by seeing more, learning more, speaking more, risking more, and loving more.
   All of that gets us back to whose church this is. Not mine, not ours, not the clergy’s. It is God’s church; we are God’s habitation. We bear the imprint of the ‘imago dei’ in our very bodies and in the community we create with one another. Our work may at times seem scattered for as small a congregation as we are, but it is vitally connected.
   The efforts we make to bring healing to ourselves, our neighbors, and our planet—to call out our own prejudices, our societal polarization, and our national mythologies—these all embody one work, and it is all God’s. What a gift we share together and with countless others around the globe, to be called as partners and co-laborers in God’s rich and abundant field of grace. Amen.