2 Corinthians 5
14 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view;[b] even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view,[c] we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,[d] not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2 Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3 While I kept silent, my body wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up[a] as by the heat of summer. Selah
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”
and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah
6 Therefore let all who are faithful
offer prayer to you;
at a time of distress,[b] the rush of mighty waters
shall not reach them.
7 You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah
8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9 Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle,
else it will not stay near you.
10 Many are the torments of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD.
11 Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
Ephesians 2 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
2 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ[a]—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
Beloved siblings in Christ, we are protestants. This means a significant part of our understanding of Christianity comes from our reformation, which acknowledges that we are sinners, we are a hot mess. We need Christ to return us to who we are meant to be. As protestants we have two sacraments, the Lord’s Supper, and Baptism. It’s interesting because the Lord’s Supper or Communion is something we do every month here. Every month we celebrate and acknowledge that one of the last nights of his life, Jesus gathered his disciples and had the last supper. But with Baptism, it is something we only do once in life. Paul Galbreath writes what it means he to baptized in his book, Leading Through the Water, what it means to baptized is and he writes; “ ‘Are you ready to change your life?’ In some times and places, the wording of this question might be more churchly, but that’s the bottom-line question the church asks candidates for baptism. Paul Galbreath asks the question of us. If our answer is yes, Paul invites us to undertake a journey to discipleship saturated with baptismal images by gathering a cadre of traveling companions…” Many of us have said yes to this question. And if you haven’t been baptized yet and would like to say yes to this question, we would love for you to be baptized in this Church.
We have been doing a wonderful outreach program entitled “Faith and Film.” Each week we watch a different Disney movie and then explore the themes in our service on Sunday. We’ve been having a wonderful time. This last Wednesday we had 9 kids running around the sanctuary, acting out the film, enjoying being part of our Church, and making friends. I encourage you to join us and connect with some of these young families. This week’s film was entitled Moana. And we are going to watch a clip from this film. And the entire film is sort of take on the classic Greek myth of The Odyssey; a hero’s journey. A young woman sets out to restore the heart of Tefiti. Tefiti is an island is falling apart because her heart has been stolen and she is now a lava monster and has taken over and destroying G-d’s creation. And as we watch this film clip, I want us to view the girl Moana as a metaphor for Christ, and us as the lava monster. I mean it’s a slight exaggeration…but each of us are trapped in sin and struggle that we can’t free ourselves from without the gift of Christ. Jesus returns us to who we are meant to me.
Daniel Migliore, a theologian at Princeton Seminary writes, “Christian freedom is the beginning of a new freedom from the bondage of sin and for partnership with G-d and others. This fresh start has its basis in the forgiving grace of G-d present in the humanity of Jesus with whom we are united by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is the perfect realization of being humanin undistorted relationship with G-d. He is also the human being for others, living in utmost solidarity with all people, and especially with sinners, strangers, the poor, the disadvantaged, and the oppressed. He is furthermore, the great pioneer (Heb. 12:2) of a new humanity that lives in radical openness of G-d’s promised reign of justice, freedom, and peace,” (163-164)
One of my favorite local theologians is Father Gregory Boyle. He is the founder of Homeboy Industries. A non-profit that provides gang members in Los Angeles with job opportunities, therapy and way out of gang life. He writes;
“Most of the Masses I do in the probation camps take place on Saturday morning. Then I race home for an afternoon of baptisms, weddings, quinceaneras at Dolores Mission. These usually start at one or two in the afternoon. I have a narrow window of half an hour one day between my morning Masses in the camps and mu one o’clock baptism, so I stop by the office and go through the day’s mail. I’m not there fifteen minutes, when this woman in the thirties walks through the door. I immediately glance at the clock hanging on the wall. I check how much time I have left before the baptism and am already lamenting that I most probably won’t get to all the mail.
I find out later that the woman’s name is Carmen. She’s a recognizable figure on First Street, and yet this is her first visit to homeboy. Today is the moment she chooses. Carmen is a heroin addict, a gang member, street person, occasional prostitute, and a champion peleonera. She’s often defiantly storming down the street. Usually shouting at someone. She’s a real gritona, hollering at men inside at the Mitla Bar as she stumbles out to the sidewalk. I’ve heard her a number of times, arguing loudly on the pay phones with relatives or friends, “Daaammmmmmnnn, JUST LET ME STAY TONIGHT.”
Now I have seven minutes until my baptism. Carmen is a dusty blond, which couldn’t be the color G-d originally gave her. She’s attractive but worm, by heroin and street life. She plops herself into one of the chairs in my office and cuts the fat our of her introductory remarks.
“I need help,” She launches right in, brash and something of a “no-shit-sister.” Ooooohhh,” she says, “I been ta like fifty rehabs. I’m known all over…nationwide.”
She smiles. Her eyes wander around my office, and she studies all the photographs hanging there. She multitasks, and her inspection of the place doesn’t derail her stream-of-consciousness rambling. The family will arrive for the baptism in five minutes.
“I went to Catholic school all my life. Fact, I graduated from high school even. Fact, right after graduation, is when I started to use heroin.” Carmen enters some kind of trace at this point, and her speech slows to deliberate and halting.
“And I…have been trying to stop…since…the moment I began.”
Then I watch as Carmen tilts her head back until it meets the wall. She stares at the ceiling, and in an instant her eyes become these two ponds, water rising to meet their edges, swollen banks, spilling over. Then, for the first time really, she looks at me, and straightens.
Suddenly, her shame meets mine. For when Carmen walked through the door, I had mistaken her for an interruption.
Author John Bradshaw claims that shame is the root of all addictions. This would certainly seem to be true with the gang addiction. In the face of all this, the call is to allow the painful shame of others to have a purchase on our lives. Not to fix the pain but to feel it. Beldon Lane, the theologian, writes: “Divine love is incessantly restless until it turns all woundedness into health, deformity into beauty and all embarrassment into laughter.”
Yet, there is a palpable sense of disgrace strapped like an oxygen tank onto the back of every homie I know. In a letter from prison, a gang member writes, “people see me like less.” This is hard to get through and penetrate. “You’re no good.” “You live in the projects.” “Your mom is a basehead.” Your dad’s a tecato.” You’re wearing the same clothes today that you wore yesterday,”…
“part of the spirit dies a little each time it’s asked to carry more than its weight in terror, violence, and betrayal. “By the tender mercies of G-d,” Scripture has it, “the dawn from on high will break upon us to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death to guide our feet in the way of peace.” How do those who “sit in darkness” find the light?
The poet Shelley writes, “To love and bear, to hope till hope creates from its own wreck the thing it contemplates.”
How does one hang in there with folks, patiently taking from the wreck of a lifetime of internalized shame, a sense that G-d finds them (us) wholly acceptable?
Part of the problem is that, at its core, we tend to think that shame and sin, if you will, happen to someone else. My shame can’t meet Carmen’s unless I dispel that notion. I remember a woman who came to Mass every day at Dolores Mission, and during the time of petitionary prayer she always said the same thing…For sinners, so that THEY…It was never “sinners, we.” It seemed outside of who she was. Yet, it’s precisely within the contour of one’s shame that one is summoned to wholeness. “Even there, even there,” Psalm 39 tells us—even in the darkest place, we are known—yes, even there. My own falsely self-assertive and harmful, unfree ego gets drawn into the expansive heart of G-d. It is precisely in the light of G-d’s vastness and acceptance of me that I can accept the harm I do for what it is.
There is a longing in us all to be G-d-enthralled. So enthralled that to those hunkered down in their disgraced, in the shadow od death, we become transparent messengers of G-d’s own tender mercy. We want to be seized by the same tenderness; we want to bear the largeness of G-d.”
Every week we have a prayer of confession. And every week we are forgiven. But when we are forgiven we aren’t created into another being; we are returned to who G-d mention us and created us to be. Thanks be to G-d.