Since We Can't All Get Along
So this morning is what we call the last Sunday in Ordinary Time. We are now out of the ordinary – onto something new – and never before (in my time of saying that) has that liturgical delineation so paralleled our secular reality.
We remember the death of Christ, as we turn to prepare for the birth of Jesus. The waiting and watching time of Advent. And perhaps the church’s wisdom in this is to remind us of just how incredible it is that God would choose to be born, knowing how that would be received.
This day is also known as Christ the King. And we hear that title confessed by several characters in the gospel – but they do so mockingly. There is no reverence of Jesus when calling him king – only derision. Like the devil at the beginning of Jesus ministry – who says, if you are God’s son, throw yourself from the pinnacle so the angels will catch you – the people echo that temptation this morning – if you are the King of King and Lord of Lords – prove it.
Jesus will prove it of course, but not in the way any would expect. But in a way that is always – a most astounding mystery. The hymn we just sang points to it – what wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to lay aside his crown for my soul, for my soul.
We believe the entire redemption of the world – the cosmos – happens through Christ on the cross. But sometimes what is even more incredible – and harder to take in – is that my redemption, my liberation, my forgiveness – was part of that too. What wondrous love – for me?
How does Jesus not hate on that cross? How does he not judge and condemn his persecutors? It’s not as if Jesus was a nice guy his whole life – floating through the towns and villages like some sort of stereotypical hippie type saying can’t we all just get along. Jesus got mad at the Pharisees and all the ways they thought they were better than. Jesus got frustrated with disciples who argued over who was the greatest more than seeking the least and the lost. Jesus got so angry at the economic practices of the temple that he stormed in and overturned the tables.
So what better time for Jesus to get angry than on that cross. Adoring crowds long gone - abandoned by his followers – having to listen to obnoxious hecklers jeer while he’s being tortured to death. Think about that, think about what you’d do, what you’d consider reasonable in this extreme situation. Jesus was a human being – how does he not lose it? Most of us lose it over far less.
(Speaking of which) This coming week is Thanksgiving. You know what’s great about Thanksgiving – spending quality time with family. You know what’s not-so-great about Thanksgiving – spending quality time with family. This past week – I talked to some people who had changed their plans – to avoid arguments. Because in this extra-ordinary time - the ways in which people disagree with one another is really intense.
There are many voices encouraging us right now – in our families, as neighbors with each other – to get better at listening and speaking. Speaking in ways that name our truth – without mocking or negating the truth of another. Listening in ways that let us acknowledge someone else’s perspective without an argument – or worse - violence. How do we get better at that kind of listening and speaking? Instead of getting baited – instead of getting angry?
When Jesus gets angry – it’s always true righteous anger. Like the prophets before him – he loses it over issues of justice. The poor who are exploited, the marginalized who are mocked and excluded, the people who profess belief with their lips – but don’t live those beliefs. He doesn’t get angry here – because that’s not what’s happening.
This is God putting Godself right at the crossing of where all our brokenness meets God’s wondrous love. On the cross we see compassion subsume all our sin.
So if we want God’s ways to be our ways – I think an important question is - Do you believe you and I – and everyone else – has the capacity to tap into that kind of love, that compassion ourselves? Yes. The answer is yes – even if you don’t believe it – God says yes. We are children of God – made in the image of God – in whom we live and move and have our being – so all the goodness of God we ever need is available to us right in here. But we have to get at it – sometimes we really have to dig for it – and we certainly need to practice and nurture that goodness.
A few weeks ago I led a class on self-compassion. Compassion is something we all get. Although sometimes we confuse sympathy or pity with compassion. Compassion is when Jesus gets to the tomb of Lazarus and weeps. Jesus feels the depth of loss that Martha and Mary feel. He doesn’t pat them on the shoulder and say, “There, there – at least he went quickly.” He feels with them.
I hear Jesus feel with when he says – Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. I hear Christ bearing the pain of the hatred in the peoples’ hearts. The pain of his disciples’ disappointment. The pain God feels with us when our hopes have been dashed.
To feel with others in this way is hard – and requires us to practice “feeling with” with ourselves. Self-compassion has a simple definition – in your moment of suffering, whatever it is, are you treating yourself as you would treat someone you really care about. Think about the last time you did something wrong, or forgot something, made a mistake, big or small – was the first thing you said to yourself something like – wow Arianne that was really hard, but it’s ok, mistakes happen, part of the human experience. Or was it more along the lines of – I am such an idiot! Having taught this concept in a variety of groups I can tell you the majority – teacher included – are familiar with the latter.
It’s easy and acceptable – and for some of us it’s how we were raised – to go straight to the seat of judgment when it comes to our own failings. So it makes sense – we’d do the same with others, especially people we don’t agree with. Self-compassion isn’t feeling sorry for yourself – or wallowing in self-pity. It’s choosing self-kindness over self-judgment. It’s choosing to remember we’re human and broken, just like everyone else. So we don’t need to isolate ourselves – thinking we’re the problem we’re trying to solve. And it’s staying mindful – acknowledging our painful feelings, knowing they too shall pass. Feelings aren’t facts – they’re feelings.
Self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. I see Jesus practice all three in his life before this moment. Through a life of connection and prayer. In the way in which he lets himself be human, in grief, in frustration, in joy – and in his ability to be present, mindful in anxiety-provoking, argumentative and painful situations.
So much so that he isn’t baited by the hecklers and he can turn in his dying to an unrepentant thief – who asks to be remembered – and speak love - truly I tell you today you will be with me in paradise.
The wondrous love God shares for us through Christ – God gives to us through Christ. If we want to live in a world where we respect the dignity of every human being – which requires deep compassion made visible in our listening and speaking – then we have to be that compassion. Sometimes it’s about doing – often the better part Jesus reminds us – is to pay attention and practice how we be.
Be still and know God – the nugget of wisdom in our psalm surrounded by versus of calamity and destruction. That compassionate way of being – like most of our God-given innate abilities – have to be relearned, nurtured and practiced. And practice is what lived faith is all about.
So as we leave ordinary time – let us pray the words of Paul – may all of us be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s wondrous love – knowing we are prepared to endure everything with patience – while joyfully giving thanks to God – who through the cross of compassion forgives all of us – equipping us to share in the inheritance of all the saints in the light. Amen.