Monday, July 9, 2018

To Be Given

PROPERS:         PROPER 9, YEAR B    
TEXT:                 MARK 6:1-13

ONE SENTENCE:        Henri Nouwen’s description of the Christian life as being analogous to the four-fold Eucharistic action encourages us to share our blessings with the world around us.
The following sermon was preached extemporaneously
and this text is an approximate recreation of that sermon.

            I had originally planned an entirely different sermon for today, but I encountered something very rare and remarkable: a constructive item on social media.

            As I reflected on that posting – shared on Facebook by Ronnie Miller – and prayed about the essence and truth of that posting, I decided that the message of that post would be the thrust of my sermon today.

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            The post shared by Ronnie was written by a young woman, who was one of his Facebook friends.  It was based on a true experience of this young woman.

            It seems that this young mother was in a store with two sons – one older and one younger.  The store was something like Dollar General Store.

            The older boy had a package of glow-sticks in his hand.  The younger child wanted one of those glow-sticks and was fussing loudly in protest.

            The older boy gave the younger one one of the glow-sticks – and that placated the young one for a few moments.

            However, the older boy took the glow-stick back from his little brother – which elicited more crying from the young one, now empty-handed.

            The older brother took the retrieved glow-stick in his hand and bent it.  If you know glow-sticks, it is the bending or breaking which activates the lighting the stick provides.

            The older brother gave the now-lighted glow-stick to his little brother and said: “I had to break it so that the light would shine.”

            There is great truth a Christian wisdom in that story.

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            I was reminded of a book I had read many years ago.  It was written by a Dutch, Roman Catholic priest, Henri Nouwen, and published in 1992.  He died in 1996 at age 64.  But he wrote prolifically.  My favorite book of his is entitled, “The Wounded Healer.”

            But this Facebook story reminded me of another book, “Life of the Beloved.”  It is a compilation of Nouwen’s letters to a young friend, who was either an agnostic or atheist.  The letters were Nouwen’s efforts to explain to this young man the value and meaning of the Christian life.

            Nouwen was a deeply reflective priest, and he had expertise in psychology, pastoral theology, and spirituality.  His letters focused on what is called the four-fold Eucharistic action. If you follow what we will be doing around the altar in a few minutes, you will see those four actions.

            The four Eucharistic actions which Nouwen described as being present in the Christian life is what we do with the bread at the Holy Communion.  The bread is taken, blessed, brokenand given. Taken, blessed, broken, and given.

            Nouwen said that those are analogous to the Christian life.  We, too, are taken, blessed, broken, and given.

            First, each of us is takenby God – as his own.  This is primarily done through baptism as we are adopted by God as his children.  We are allchildren of God, and he takes us as his own. Like the bread, we are taken in his hand and are held there.

            Then we are blessed.  Each of us has been blessed in remarkable ways.  I don’t know what your life has been like, and I do not know how you see your life.

            I used to be very active in politics.  I was acquainted with a national political leader who had been hurt very badly as a young man.  That experience could have either made him open and compassionate or bitter and resentful. His choice was bitterness and resentment. He could not see his blessings – which were many.

            Perhaps your life is led you to be bitter and resentful.  But let me say this:  We have allbeen blessed in amazing ways. If you are here today, you have been blessed – to be in this church, in this community, in this state, in this nation, in this world.

            Next, we are brokenby life.  Let me be clear:  I am not saying that God breaks us. Life experience, as part of human existence, breaks us.  That brokenness may come in the form of a relationship gone awry, a death, an illness, a divorce, a lost job, or maybe chemical dependency.

            Whatever manifestation the brokenness comes in, we are allbroken in some significant way.  It is the price of human existence.

            The challenge for us is how that brokenness affects us.  Do we dwell, wallow, in that brokenness, or are we open to the resurrection which God offers us?

            A long-time element of my own personal theology is something I call existential redemption.  It means that no matter what life deals us, God is seeking to bring new meaning, new purpose, new hope, new direction to our lives. 

            The great 20thCentury theologian, Paul Tillich, called it the new being.  It does not negate the pain of the loss, death, or experience, but it does give us hope for the future.

            Finally, after we have been taken, blessed, and broken, we are given.  We become the bread of life for the world around us.  We become what the Roman Catholics call their final communion before death, viaticum – provisions for the journey.

            Keep in mind that Jesus is the ultimate model of these actions.  He was takenas God’s own, he was blessedin his ministry (while also blessing many others), and he was brokencompletely on the cross on that first Good Friday.  

But two days later, he was resurrected and given anew to the world of his creation.

            We are now given to that world.  Just as Jesus sent his disciples out two-by-two in the gospel lesson today, he sends us out to be food for the hungry, companions for the lonely, comfort for the grieving, and hope for those in the grips of despair.  We, who have been taken, blessed, and broken, are givento the world around us.

            Just as we take, bless, breakand give the break at this altar, our lives reflect the actions of the Eucharist.  We are meant to feed a hungry world – in many different ways.

            Our call is to give ourselves, out of the experience of being taken, blessed, broken, and given,to God’s children.  And that means allpeople.  We are allGod’s children.

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