Sunday, February 6, 2011

churches, cracks, sinners, lights.

Epiphany 5a Sermon
February 6, 2011
First Luth Church of the Trinity, Chicago
Winter Chapel
Rev. Thomas R. Gaulke

Text: Matthew 5:13-20

Christ's call,
to let our lights shine,
(I think)
is not
a call for us to pretend.

Christ's call,
to let our lights shine,
(I think)
is not
a call for us to pretend.

It's not
a call
for us to pretend we're happy,
or to pretend we're confident.
or to project an image of success
or security among everyone we meet.

Christ's call,
(I think),
is not a call to us
to appear to others as if, at all times, we were in control.
Or as if we've got-it-all-together all the time.

It's also not a call for us to look super-religious or "faith"-filled
or joy-filled at all times.

Christ's call, I think,
is not a call for us to wear buttons that say:
"To BLESSED to be STRESSED!"

Christ's call to shine
is not a call to pretending
that we are special

because of how many people we've helped

or because of what university we went to

or because of all the books we've read.

There is a difference between shining and showing off.

Christ proclaimed, from the Mountain Top,
just a few sentences ago,
(in last week's Gospel text)
to his disciples, and to the crowds gathering
that:
blessed
are the mourning
and the meek,
and the poor in Spirit--
that means blessed are the folks who are lacking in faith.

Blessed are the hungry and the persecuted.
And those who thirst for justice.

Blessed ARE the stressed.

Blessed are the broken and the cracked
and the longing...
the yet unsatisfied, struggling,
the crucified folks of society.

Today Christ tells those same people,
a couple of sentences later
in the Gospel,
(and today Christ tells us)
Christ's crucified body,
that they, (that we),
are the salt of the earth.
That we are bright lights.
Bright lights that nobody better *&%^%$* hide under a bushel basket.
('Cause if they try, we're gonna set that basket on fire.)

Christ calls them and us
to let our lights shine.

To let our lights shine.

But the call of Christ
to let our lights shine
is not
a call for us to pretend.


Christ's favorite insult in the Gospels,
as far as I can tell,
the objects of much of his insulting,
were the folks that Christ loved to call:
the hypocrites.

The word hypocrite,
in the Greek that the Gospels are written in,
comes from a word that refers to a stage actor.
An actor who wore a mask in Greek plays.
Someone whose job it was to play roles.
To be covered.
To be dis-guised.
To project to the crowds something other than who the actor really was.

Christ's call to let our lights shine
I think, is quite the opposite.


There's this song,
It's a camp song.
It's a pretty song.

I don't know who wrote it.

(But We have sung it here before).
but the words go
(and please don't let me wreck this song for you)
It's still a good song, no matter what I say about it.

But the words of the song sing:

"Lord prepare me
to be a sanctuary
pure and holy
tried and true
and with thanksgiving
I'll be a living
sanctuary for you."

Many of you know that,
in my opinion,
one of the many calls of the Church,
and especially of the church in North America,
in our time,
and perhaps especially in congregations like our own,

is the call for us to be sanctuaries
(safe places)
in our communities.

I believe church as sanctuary
is one of the major metaphors the church should start using again
to describe its ideal self in society,

Sanctuary...


But not at all in the same way as the camp song imagines a sanctuary.


Rather I tend to imagine that the kind of sanctuaries
(or safe places)
our congregations are being called to be in our communities
are sanctuaries
that would probably never self identify
as pure
or as holy
or even as tried or true--
well, maybe "tried."--
(unless we really nuanced those words a heck of a lot).

But that those sanctuaries would be sanctuaries
and safe places, rather,
for the poor in spirit, for the weak in faith,
for the kinds of folks Jesus ministered to:
the outcasts, the downtrodden,
those whom societies and popular religion
call sinners.
Or impure.
Or unclean.

Sanctuaries, I think,
would be the kind of place where we wouldn't have to write
"Sinners Welcome"
on our church signs.
Because our light would be shining so brightly in the community
that folks already know
that this is a place where we
(sinners)
come to celebrate the birth of God among us,
God's coming to us,
God's loving us,
God's embracing us
simply because of who God is.
Not because of who we are.

That this is a place where we celebrate forgiveness,
reconciliation,
and redemption
for all people.

Especially (in the words of Luther) for rot-gut sinners like us.

There's another, kind of campy song,
called Anthem.

Bob's going to lead us in singing it in a second.

It's written by a guy named Leonard Cohen.
(He's a sinner, too).

The refrain of the song is really simple.
It goes:

"Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, there is crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in."

"There is a crack, there is crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in."


If we don't sing the song perfectly, that's okay.
In fact, that would almost be contrary to the message if we did.

It's my impression, that if we are to be sanctuaries today,
here in this place,
in a world that, often,
expects perfection--in lot's of ways:
in how one looks,
in how one dresses,
in how one performs
or produces,
in how one portrays one's self in the public sphere,
in politics,
in the mayoral debates,
on social media networks...
In a world where we're supposed to have an answer when someone asks:
"What do you do?" because people are defined by what they do...

It's my impression that the Church today,
as a sanctuary, a safe place,
as an alternative institution
amidst the world's call to put on the mask of success
and of perfection
and of I've-got-it-all-together-ness,
Amidst the worlds call to pretend...

that the Church,

as alternative institution,

is called to not pretend.
To re-move all pre-tenses.
To remove masks,

To be a safe place, a sanctuary where
folks can remove their masks,
a place where folks can admit their impurities and their unholiness,

and a place where folks can be
the cracked and broken people Christ calls the salt of the earth,
the cracked and broken people Christ calls the light of the world,
and the cracked and broken people God calls the the church,
the crucified Body of Christ, standing in the hope of the Resurrection.

The Church, I believe, is called to be a place of un-pretending.

It is in being such a place,
I think,
that we just might shine some light into this world.

It is in being such a people,
that Christ's light just might shine through us.

Amen.

(Followed by the singing of Leonard Cohen's Anthem):

The birds they sang 
at the break of day 
Start again 
I heard them say 
Don't dwell on what 
has passed away 
or what is yet to be. 
Ah the wars they will 
be fought again 
The holy dove 
She will be caught again 
bought and sold 
and bought again 
the dove is never free. 

Ring the bells that still can ring 
Forget your perfect offering 
There is a crack in everything 
That's how the light gets in. 

We asked for signs 
the signs were sent: 
the birth betrayed 
the marriage spent 
Yeah the widowhood 
of every government -- 
signs for all to see. 

I can't run no more 
with that lawless crowd 
while the killers in high places 
say their prayers out loud. 
But they've summoned, they've summoned up 
a thundercloud 
and they're going to hear from me. 

Ring the bells that still can ring ... 

You can add up the parts 
but you won't have the sum 
You can strike up the march, 
there is no drum 
Every heart, every heart 
to love will come 
but like a refugee. 

Ring the bells that still can ring 
Forget your perfect offering 
There is a crack, a crack in everything 
That's how the light gets in. 

Ring the bells that still can ring 
Forget your perfect offering 
There is a crack, a crack in everything 
That's how the light gets in. 
That's how the light gets in. 
That's how the light gets in. 



2 comments:

  1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_e39UmEnqY8

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  2. "...the Light gets in...the Light gets in...the Light gets in..." - what a view!!! Reminds me of the dazzling image of removing thick curtains from window, of the Transfiguration, of the Resurrection...

    Indeed, we turn into the salt & the light of the world, never by human pretense, but only insofar as we trust & allow the divine Light to embrace, saturate, & transform us broken earthly vessels - so brilliantly that, it cannot help but shows, to all, the saving power, and the unconditional love, of God, for all...

    The Church is to be such a safe place, for people to experience God's powerful all-embracing love, waiting & calling for all, to come home, JUST AS THEY ARE, and be ever so deeply accepted, touched, changed, made whole, made new, by God...

    Amen.

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