Saturday, February 26, 2011

To Those In Exile

27 February 2010 – Isaiah49:8-16a/Psalm131/Matthew6:24-34
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Mount Calvary, Baltimore, Maryland

I Will Not Forget You

I will not forget you. Wait upon the Lord. Do not worry. Some of the most intimate descriptions of God’s care for us are bundled together this Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany. “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.” “But I still my soul and make it quiet, like a child upon its mother’s breast.” “Consider the birds of the air….the lilies of the field.”

Isaiah writes to a community of God in exile – Babylon to be precise. Israel cannot see beyond the present boundaries of exile, and yet God speaks as if they are already home. We might well ask ourselves, what mighty “empires” and false gods seek to keep us in exile? Seek to make us give in to ways that are not God’s ways?

I think looked at from that perspective, we can all find ourselves in exile somehow, somewhere – if nowhere else, in this chapel where we have been separated out from the main body of what has been your church home. Not that we do not appreciate and love this space, but the circumstances that have forced us into this corner of God’s vineyard seek to make us feel not at home.

Why even the Jewish people of Jesus’ time, although back at home in Israel from Babylon for some 500 years or more were not at all at home in the sense that the Empire of Rome had subjugated them and turned their homeland into an armed camp.

And as Jesus makes clear, things like mammon, a synonym here for what? Market forces? A money centered approach to life’s most basic needs? Being encouraged to live lives of indentured servitude to the commoditized pursuit of happiness through the acquisition of more and more things? That a life devoted to mammon is a life of exile from the kingdom of God’s most gracious reign. (Mammmon, by the way, comes from the same root as “Amen.”)

So the prophet encourages a people of exile to “come out,” to “show yourselves,” because God is already providing a way, a highway, an avenue to escape – a new exodus from whatever slavery may be holding us in check. Asking the basic question: Are you ready to partner with me for something new? Can we look beyond the boundaries constructed for us to see a way out of here? Can we imagine what a new life of freedom from the constraints of a kind of ecclesiastical bondage that seeks to subsume us all?

“I will not forget you,” sayeth the Lord, “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands!” God is that close. We are that close to God! And unlike tattoos that often proclaim our loyalties to one group or another, this inscription cannot be removed by laser or any other human technology – we are inscribed on the palms of God’s hands forever. Can we imagine that? Can we feel what that is like? It goes beyond being held in God’s hands – we are the very lines and creases of an eternity of working on our behalf to seek and maintain our freedom in God’s way!

Or, if that is unimaginable – the Psalmist in Psalm 131 sees us as a child held closely on mother God’s breast. “I do not occupy myself with great matters, or things that are too hard for me.” Can there really be only one way to love and worship the Lord our God? Are we really meant to be preoccupied with questions of how we can be church in “the right way”?

Or, allowing my soul to be quieted within me, can I see, as William Temple saw, that “The Church is the only human institution whose sole purpose of existence is for those who are not its members.”

Is it a coincidence that Jesus says we are not to worry about food, or drink, or clothing, and then later in the 25th chapter of Matthew says it is precisely those things that will determine our place in his judgment? “I was hungry and you gave me food….I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink….I was naked and you clothed me…”

Jesus so passionately cares for the poor, asserts Jason Bayasee, that he identifies himself more with them than he ever does with the church, its liturgy, the sacraments, the Bible, or whatever else we Christians tend to equate with Jesus. So that when the poor cry and pray for mercy we ought to be the answer to that prayer! Only when we crowd out our own worries for food, drink and clothing with what some have called “the fear of Jesus” can we even begin to be the answer to their prayer. We are called to “wait upon the Lord, from this time forth forever more.”

“Can a woman forget her nursing young,” asks Isaiah, “or show no compassion for the child of her womb?” We are God’s children. She will not forget us. She has inscribed us on the palms of her hands!

With that knowledge, with such faith, we are given the courage and the strength and the inspiration to step outside any boundaries any “empire” may try to impose to hold us in exile – to hold us in check – to keep us captive to forces we erroneously believe to be more powerful than the love of God in Christ Jesus who says, “You are my beloved – with you I am well pleased.”

Embrace the feminine power set before us in God’s word to us this day – it is no coincidence that we are at present a congregation of women refusing to be shut in by powers that seek to control and destabilize our life of faith.

So it is we pray this day: Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you – and to cast all our care on you who care for us as a mother cares for the child of her womb – preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide us from the light of your love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen! Vs Mammon!