A Sneaky God, Some Muddy Feet, & You: A Sermon for the Last Day of the Gay Christian Network 2017 Conference
(Scripture starts at 18:25 and sermon starts at 30:00. Readings can also be found here.)
We are too familiar with the worlds of the Bible.
Worlds both secular and religious that believe our destruction and oppression is the due payment for our God-given lives. Worlds that like a thief come to us not to offer life and life abundant but to steal and kill and destroy. Worlds that seek to surround us with storms, to send us into the back of the boat terrified and unable to move. Worlds both secular and religious that respond to our proclamation of a God who is loving and merciful and compassionate with hatred and violence. Worlds that say: Crush what is weak. Segregate what is different. And when you have power, use it to declare your might, your dominance, and your grandeur.
We know this world too well. We have lived in this world too long.
Yet it is precisely in this world that God’s best work is done. Not in a perfect world to come. Not in a present world where the popular and powerful compete for who is considered the most valuable. But right in the face of every destroying power, right into the heart of all the mess of humanity and every wicked thing that has been done to us or that we have done to each other, comes God — sneaky, subversive, finding a crack in everything.
This God declares through the prophet Isaiah to a people in desperate exile in Babylon that the chosen of the Lord will not be a grandstanding politician but a servant. A servant so compassionate that bruised reeds and dim wicks, what the world considers useless and failing, will be treated with faithfulness and justice. Through the prophet God expresses a preferential option not for what the world values but for those on the edges, those who are closed out or locked up or hidden away.
This God appears to Peter, sends him out from his safe Jewish setting into the house of a pagan named Cornelius, opens his eyes and ears and mouth to recognize that the God who first chose the people of Israel is showing no partiality but is working for the liberation of every nation and tribe on earth.
God shows up at the banks of the Jordan alongside the voice crying out in the wilderness and declares that righteousness looks like being baptized in water that is half mud, united with all the wretched from Jerusalem and all the countryside of Judea who have come to confess their sins and be baptized.
This sneaky, subversive God descends in the form of a common bird, as the same dove that in her bringing of an olive branch freed Noah and the animals to find the salvation of dry land — God descends to say that this man, this Jesus, this backwater Nazorean who spent his childhood growing up a refugee in Egypt, this man with dirty feet and dreadlocked hair and calloused carpenter’s hands is the very place where the Spirit of God rests.
And God tears open the heavens — could choose to dominate and terrify, to declare with finality that God is God and all the baptized sinners should cower in fear and devastation — God tears open the heavens to say this, this is my son. This is what it means to be God. This is my Son, not the powerful or the mighty or the terrifying, but the beloved. The most important word that God could speak over Jesus’ unity with us in baptism is love.
And God too breaks into our worship, finds us in every time and place over the thousands of years that Christians have gathered, to breathe in a spirit of hope and wonder when we confess in the creed: this world, beautiful and broken, is God’s creation, and was made with purpose and care. And into this world God was born, fully human, vulnerable enough to suffer and die, powerful enough to proclaim that death does not have the last word. And in this world by that same spirit of God that spoke through Isaiah and descended in a dove and opened Peter’s eyes we are united with the whole church, not only with those who stand around us but the saints who have gone before us, never perfect but always perfectly forgiven.
And God breaks into our worship, is great enough to be worshipped by all creatures, grand enough to be our vision and wisdom and true word, and then small enough to be held in our hands. God is not too grand to not be found in something so simple as bread and wine. In the face of a world so wretched, so terrifying, so heart-stopping in its quest to crush us, God is finding every way to break in, to come close, to hold us and be held by us.
See, the radical action of God in the long arc of the universe is that God chooses us. God sees how the lost and last and least are rejected, sees leaders snuff out flickering candles and break already bruised weeds, sees humanity meant to be one keeps dividing and dividing and dividing along racial and cultural lines, sees how the world looks for salvation in power that dominates and conquers, and God comes to us. Over and over in the stories of Scripture and the miracles of our own lives we see that God is constantly breaking down walls to seek out the bruised reeds, the cast aside pagans, the fearful sinners with their feet sticking in mud, and says: You. You. You. I came for you. I’m here for you. I choose you.
What would it mean for your life to believe, to think and trust and act as if, God had chosen you? What if God has chosen, is choosing, will continue to be choosing you– you on the edges, you in the closet, you fighting for your life, you unsure of your next step. What if you are the flickering candle, the outsider who longs for peace and healing, the bystander on the banks of the Jordan who hears the voice of God saying: You. You. You.
You are the one I came to find.
You are the one my beloved Son longs to walk beside.
You are one whose journey will be strange and long and winding,
and you are one who will never be alone.
What if the story is true?