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  • The Rev. Arianne Rice

Love Builds Up

Good morning. Have most of you been to the Amish market up in Cockeysville? Well, I should say – the Pennsylvania Dutch Market – but you’ve been there, yummy homemade food – and beautiful handmade furniture.

For Christmas I gave my 2 year old niece one of those handmade wooden toys called Jacob’s Ladder. Its wood squares, connected and all you do to “play” with it is just fold the wood square down – again and again – and it seems to be a never-ending falling ladder. Those kinds of simple, no-batteries needed, toys you find at Amish markets - well I gave it to my niece, and then took it back and sat there playing with it for awhile.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so judgmental of fidget spinners?

Now I don’t know what your associations are with the Amish…for me – up until recently I’ve pretty much thought of them as a group of religious Christians who choose to live in community and in the past. Who deny themselves modern conveniences because it makes for a more rigorous life that sets them very much apart.

And then last week I learned something new, which may or may not be new for you. I was listening to an interview with Kevin Kelly – who is the founder of WIRED magazine and a tech author and guru kind of guy. And he is kinda fascinated with the Amish and the way in which the Amish do use technology, modern conveniences – because they are not opposed to convenience for the sake of convenience. Its less about what they can’t use – and more about how and why they choose to use what they do.

Their criteria being two-fold: one, will this technology strengthen my family and two, will it strengthen the community? Will it bring us closer together at home and closer to our neighbors. Having horses instead of cars, for instance, means about 15 miles travel – so shopping, church, visiting – all of that will be done within the community. And cars do get used – ie the Dutch market in Cockeysville – but for very specific purposes.

Within Amish communities there are even “Early adopters” – people who try out new technologies. So for a cellphone for instance – the bishop will give permission – yes, Ivan, you can try a cellphone out and keep it in your truck for work – and lets give it a year. And then they see – how that effects Ivan, his family, within his community, his work. There is thought and group discussion as to whether it is a tool that will build the people, the community up.

When most of us make these kinds of decisions – what to use, what not to use, isn’t it more based around - me, myself, and I. Do I want to use it? Will it help me? Will it make my life better – or, do I just want to be seen using it. One thing that is true of intentional Christian communities – like the Amish (who I’m not elevating to some better than us religious status, ok) – is that in healthy communities – the organizing principle is – what serves the common good. Not what is right or wrong – or good or bad – but what, builds us up.

This is what St. Paul stresses to his faith community in Corinth – as they bicker over which food is ok to eat. St. Paul is saying you can’t see forest for the trees – when your time is spent arguing over who is right. Knowledge puffs up. Love build up. Following Jesus is about making choices that build ourselves and one another up.

Now, I don’t know what the Amish believe concerning exorcism – a crucial aspect of this morning’s gospel. Perhaps you aren’t sure what Episcopalians believe, I mean how could the “frozen chosen” believe in something that’s best left to the movies - but actually – in “The Book of Occasional Services” – a handy approved liturgical resource which gives us things like Lessons & Carols and blessings over all these church objects – there is a page entitled “Concerning Exorcism” which – thanks be to God instructs me that if someone in this congregation would like one – I call the bishop!

“The practices of expelling evil spirits by means of prayer and set formulas derives its authority from the Lord himself who identified these acts as signs of his messiahship.” This gospel being a primary one – and the first one. The first public act of Jesus’ ministry in Mark – is to get his hands dirty with an exorcism of an unclean person - so that they could once again be part of the community

The Amish came out of the Anabaptist movement. Which, like us were one of the myriad of denominations that started with the Reformation. Episcopalians also have intentional communities, but they tend to be along the lines of the monastic or convent sort, monks and nuns. The Amish communities as you know, aren’t like that, they are just families. As if all of us, decided we’d take this Good Shepherd Sunday thing – to the next level. (don’t worry, not part of my vision)

And also, as you know, what really set the Amish apart in the recent past – isn’t how they choose technology, its how they chose forgiveness. You all remember, back in 2006 when school shootings were rare occurrences, a gunman went into an Amish schoolhouse and killed five children and injured five more.

The mother of the gunman, Tery, tells the story of driving up to her house and seeing her husband standing with the state trooper that morning. Her husband told her, it was our son. I will never face our Amish neighbors again.

And that week the Roberts held a private funeral for their son. Of course they did. Who could possibly feel more ashamed – more unclean than those parents. I imagine they did not want to be seen by anyone. But at the gravesite about 40 Amish arrived – surrounding them like a crescent. Tery, said – love emanated from them…but still I find it hard to accept that forgiveness.

What have you to do with us – the unclean spirit asks Jesus. Have you come to destroy us? The answer is no. Not destroy – restore. Jesus wants to restore that man – to himself, to his community. Jesus wants to restore you. God seeks ways to reach out and help us extend and accept forgiveness. Helping us work through what makes us feel unclean and ashamed. The gunman’s father said he would never be able to face the Amish again – because of that feeling.

An Amish father of one of the victims said – none of us would ever have chosen what happened. But the relationships we have built through this – you cannot put a price on that.

The relationships we have built through this.…..The people in this gospel story are amazed that Jesus would reach out to someone they all thought was evil – just as many of us were amazed that victims of such a horrific tragedy would reach out to the parents of one who committed such an evil act.

That is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ the Son of God. The good news is not an end – it is always the beginning of an action that risks restoration – that risks choosing love, forgiveness, healing – which often involves moving beyond – who or what is right or wrong. Because – a lot of the time – that part is in the past – it happened, its done. God moves us towards a new beginning – one that will amaze – and one that will restore us – and build us up – that is healing.

Everything with Jesus, starts with the value of one human being. He begins his ministry calling one disciple – and healing one person. And every interaction is the beginning of something new. So God surely intends us to know the possibilities of those beginnings in our lives. For everyone in Christ is a new creation. Our amazement of this good news is the beginning of wisdom, the psalmist proclaims – and those who act from this begin a good understanding – choosing words and actions that praise God forever. Amen.

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