What I'm Writing
I love libraries.
One that I really enjoy is the Northampton Forbes Library.
It has a great selection, a wonderfully new book section, an-always-in-process-community puzzle project, and desperation Keurig for coffee.
It also has some coed bathrooms, which it being Northampton you would sort of expect.
This is a long lead to up a image.
There, and you’ve smelled it, there is a smell that’s not just body odor, not just sweat, but comes from spending too many nights outside, and finding too few showers. Sometimes, and the last time I was in that library, this smell can hit ya in gut when you walk in the bathroom.
That’s the other thing about this library; lots of folks without homes to go to tend to find the warmth and comfort it offers an inviting place to be.
I tell you this, not to gross you out, but to use that image to speak to the idea of connection. Because, often times, when we think about meeting people, and getting to know them, and seeing the Christ in them. It’s on our terms and not on theirs.
Call this a little nudge.
In thinking about what I would speak to you about today, I thought about and prayed into these two old texts. The first from Isaiah; all wonder and splash. The second from the sermon on the mount; all hopeful and strong.
As I was thinking about these two passages and how they play together, the key to opening them both, seems to me to be the idea of connection.
There’s a team of psychologists at work today, who’ve recently published a book, that looks at the idea of people being social. Now, it’s no surprise that people are social, but what struck me, and the scientists, was how wired for sociality, socialness, being social, we all are.
I’m paraphrasing here, but these scientists argue that being social drove the evolution of the relatively large brains we have. They describe it as: we didn’t get these big brains to become MacGyver. We got em so we talk about the now classic television series. Or to talk about Kim Kardashian. Or whatever, or whoever, or however this or that matters.
This is pretty cool, to me at least, because it makes ancient so much more wonderful, and colorful, and so much easier to connect to. It makes taking something like Isaiah, written much later, and gives me hope that it’s possible to connect across the centuries, and across cultures, and the mists of mystery.
Now, I’ve thrown a lot at you, strange smells, human evolution and socialness, a prophet, and Jesus on a hill. What’s my point? Where’s this going?
The key is connection.
The most fascinating thing those social scientists taught me was that there is no difference, brain wise, between the pain of a physical injury – bumping your head, or taking a fall – and the pain that comes from disconnection found in things like shame or embarrassment. Put one of those fancy things on your head; and the same areas of your brain will light up.
This is amazing to me! Simply stunning!
I had no idea.
And, it’s not in the Gospel we read, but it’s sort of implied. I love it when something that is in the text, and feels true, can sometimes be proven by scientists and people who might not care in the slightest what their work does for people of faith.
The best line: “evolution made its bet that suffering was an acceptable price for all the rewards of being human.”
That could almost be a faith statement.
Hear it again: “evolution made its bet that suffering was an acceptable price for all the rewards of being human.”
Enter the prophet and Jesus.
The prophet reminds us that God is good.
That good things are planned for us. Isaiah was not writing from a place that was easy. Scholars, different scholars, tell us there are at least three different groups behind the authorship of Isaiah. And, mostly, things were not going well for them. This little group, our spiritual ancestors, were always getting pushed around or abused by somebody more powerful.
So, it’s surprising then, that these people can find the courage to offer hope, not just for themselves, but to other people. That great banquet, and comfort, and death being a memory was offered to all. Maybe not the best way, but I believe it is this spirit of hopeful connection that allowed this little scrap of scripture to stand the test of time.
And, then to Jesus, speaking not to the crowds, but to his own followers, his own disciples, the people who had laid down their nets to follow him. Remember, these are words that were targeted to the people on the ground, doing the work of the early church, at a time, much like this one, when the world was a pretty hostile place for faith.
Jesus reminds us that the connection he’s asking people to do might be painful. It might be hard. It might, forgive me, smell like an unwashed body, too close for comfort, but human all the same.
Jesus would agree with those scientists that said, “evolution made its bet that suffering was an acceptable price for all the rewards of being human.”
Of course, he would have said, God, and spoke about taking up your cross to follow him.
This is almost the place to leave you, but there’s more and there’s honest to Goodness Good News.
The Good News is that taking the time, the risk, choosing to connect, with your fellow human beings comes not a price. Something we might understand.
But, that connection, also comes with a blessing.
It comes with the stuff of holiness, the banquets on a hill, the finding of justice in the streets, the end of all the wars, the feeding of the hungry, the great change and challenge to all the world understands.
The empty tomb. The Risen Christ. The Baby in the Manger. The angels singing. The world transformed. God Triumphant.
Not just cost, but blessing to.
And, that is good news.
So, what we do?
We take the risk of connection, both in our increasingly isolated and lonely lives and in our communities of faith.
If I may preach to you a little: the time was when a place such as this could stand with its head and steeple high. Maybe wag its finger. Tutt-tutt at the social decay. And, wait for people to come.
No more, my good people, the world has too much of that. What it needs is a humble, faithful witness, that can find it within itself to fall down on its knees, beg for forgiveness, and face the pain of really connecting to a world.
That is increasingly out of control, out of balance, and in need of comfort and care.
So in this time of Thanksgiving, when the world, at least our portion of the world is mindful of the blessings and bounty of the season.
Dear people, take time to connect. Find ways to reach across the political divides that sometimes divide families. Search for ways to mend fences left broken by family struggle. Seek ways to offer love to a stranger, welcome to a foreigner, and love to those left broken and battered by all that life can sometimes bring.
For I promise you this, and hear me, on this Christ the King Sunday, this great crescendo of the Christian year, this time when we celebrate that God took the risk to step a little closer to being human. Knowing that pain and suffering might come. But, trusting, dear people, that each and everyone of us, and all the people who have been, and ever will be. Were worth it. They were worth, and we are worth, the cost, and more that cost of connection that cross, comes with a blessing.
Dear people, go, and seek that connection with your fellow creature, man or woman, child or elder, human or animal, and go knowing that in your connection you offer the blessing of the season, of the Christ, and the of the Holy Spirit.