Christ in Us: A Living Sanctuary
“A student is not superior to the teacher; the follower is not above the leader. The student should be glad simply to become like the teacher, the follower like the leader. “If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of the household! “Don’t let people intimidate you. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, and nothing is hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in darkness, speak in the light. What you hear in private, proclaim from the housetops. “Don’t fear those who can deprive the body of life but can’t destroy the soul. Rather, fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna. “Are not the sparrows sold for pennies? Yet not a single sparrow falls to the ground without your Abba God’s knowledge. As for you, every hair of your head has been counted. So don’t be afraid of anything—you are worth more than an entire flock of sparrows. “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will acknowledge before Abba God in heaven. Whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before Abba God in heaven. “Don’t suppose that I came to bring peace on earth. I came not to bring peace, but a sword. I have come to turn ‘A son against his father, a daughter against her mother, in-law against in-law. One’s enemies will be the members of one’s own household.’ “Those who love mother or father, daughter or son more than me are not worthy of me. Those who will not carry with them the instrument of their own death—following in my footsteps—are not worthy of me. “You who have found your life will lose it, and you who lose your life for my sake will find it.
Who We Are
Who needs a pep talk lately? This call jesus gave to his disciples; to bring about healing, restoration, end marginalization and exclusion, and expel demons- to rid the world of the evils of violence- well, its both a big call, and a radical call. Sending us out into a world to participate in the work of setting things right, (righteousness) as God intends won’t be easy- mainly because God's righteousness, equity, justice, mercy, and inclusion, does not resemble how our world is structurally set up.
The modern world functions by have's and have not's. A few haves, have much- much wealth, much power, much privilege. But the many have nots, have little to none of those things. It is not fair, or Godly, but it's perpetuated- and the American Dream Myth of if you work hard enough you can also be in the "have" category, is just that- a myth. Systems & policies regulate, control, enforce- those who have, continue to have- and those who don't- dont. It is our “normal.”
So when Jesus says to his disciples, go change It- It had to have caused them to question what they were in for in saying ‘yes’ to this call. It's not like any of them had any special gifts or skills that would have qualified them to speak truth to power, or dismantle systems of corruption. Not one had taken a community organizing course or had a degree in marketing or political science. The disciples were armed with only 2 things. Love, and the Holy Spirit. As it turns out, that's all we need.
But they did need a game plan to start to undertake this call- so Jesus gives them, no pun intended, a pep talk. So, he starts by telling them to heal the sick and raise the dead and cure leprosy and cast out demons- but then, like any great coach, he lays out their skills and strength- “You've worked hard, and learned a lot- You've had a great teacher, you know what to do- act like me, live like me- love like me- and don't let anyone intimidate you out there- it’s radical love and inclusion, shout it from the rooftops, you hear? And don’t let anyone stop you!
And then, like any great coach, Jesus warns them of what they will face on the playing field, what to watch out for-
Now look, says Jesus- you’re gonna be in some physical danger from time to time for standing up for what's right. We’ve been over this, "there’s going to be persecution." There has never been a movement for justice where people were not put in physical harm. “But, listen,” Jesus says, “that's just your physical body- standing up for the least of these will keep your soul at peace- your conscience clear, your humanity intact. You may get beat up out there,” says coach, “but by God you can look in the mirror every day and know you've done the right thing."
"What you do have to fear is the one who can destroy both your body and soul in Gehenna."
And here's where we need to stop a second-
First who or what is "the ones" which can destroy body and soul- the very essence of who we are? Actually, maybe we need a quick reminder of that essence. We are created in the image of God- like Jesus's mother Mary we carry the Christ within us- - the spirit of the living God is present in our every breath. Our essence, our core, embodies the divine- we are walking, breathing, living sanctuaries of God.
The thing is, most of us don't see ourselves that way. The world rarely affirms who we are: God bearing, holy, pure, righteous, living sanctuaries- and so our image of who we are, gets skewed. Over time, we begin to take on the identities the world gives us-and in the process, can lose track of who we are. The more we live into the systems and structures- and take on what they say about us, the more difficult it becomes to hold on to our essence.
And so Jesus warns the disciples of this because once we fully give in to what the world tells us about ourselves, we begin to believe what the world tells us about others- we start ascribing to that myth of haves and have nots, and want to see ourselves in the have category- and we can get so swept up in that myth, that we lose our essence- we stop seeing one another as living sanctuaries, we begin to polarize and demonize, and dehumanize others not like us- the gift of seeing each other as holy vessels of God- as God's children- becomes the myth- we’ve lost body and soul. This is one to fear… because it happens to us so slowly that we often don’t realize it until we find ourselves pushing a 75 year old man down the steps and marching on as if he didn’t exist- or holding a conversation while our knee crushes the throat of a man gasping for air. ‘Fear the one who can destroy body and soul- in Gehenna.
What is Gehenna- the word we translate so often as Hell? Gehenna is named in several places in the Bible as a place of child sacrifice. Later it became a place to burn community waste and garbage, so it was literally a place of eternal fire. So the place we end up when we lose our body and soul is a place of hellish violence where the innocent are sacrificed.
We don’t have to think very long to find modern "Gehenna’s"
where innocents are sacrificed, for no crime except being who God created them to be... it’s all over the news- videos of the slaughter of blacks by those who have been so swept up by the demon of racism they have lost their humanity-
And sadly the place of sacrificing innocents is not limited to black lives, its all people of color. It’s Those in the LGBTQ+ community who, for no reason except loving who they love, have been sacrificed, hated, abused, marginalized, denied benefits, employment,(well, until this week, thank you supreme court) health care, and even a place in church- sacrificed by those who have gotten so swept up by the demons of homophobia and biphobia and transphobia that they have lost their ability to see ALL as children of God. The number especially of those murdered trans community individuals rises around us.
We see Gehenna in the families on the border- where innocents are sacrificed and children ripped from their parents. Gehenna are the cities and schools across our nation where economic disparity keeps poverty and hunger alive and well. We could go on and on… and being aware of them, having compassion for the least of these, allowing the pain of that situation rip our guts out- and not turn away from it, and not become hardened to it, and not stay silent about it or compliant in it, is what Jesus is calling us to.
My co-disciples of Christ, we have a chance today and every day to work toward peace. Godly peace. And yes, near the end of this pep talk Jesus tells his disciples he came not to bring peace, but a sword… and when you consider that the peace most of us understand is secured and maintained through violence one can understand why Jesus might say this- that kind of peace is anti-Christ. Instead, God’s peace is brought about through non-violence. And we’ll talk more about that in the weeks to come, but make no mistake, Jesus is clear about not returning evil with evil- Jesus came to reveal to us a non-violent God. The sword Jesus speaks of is a division, a consequence of people standing with the least of these. And many in our own congregation have felt the pierce of that sword that comes as a result of speaking out for Godly justice and mercy. Others have felt the unbearable pain of division in those closest to them.
But take heart today my friends and co-laborers in Christ- though the work is difficult, and the fight is long and painful, each of us has everything those first disciples were armed with- Love, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus gives them and us encouragement, “Are not the sparrows sold for pennies? Yet not a single sparrow falls to the ground without your Abba God’s knowledge. As for you, every hair of your head has been counted. So don’t be afraid of anything—you are worth more than an entire flock of sparrows.
This is who we are- this is why we can endure the fight. Only in knowing and believing what God says about us can we go and bless and heal and restore and cure and expel- knowing that God’s got us, no matter what. Only by embracing that radical inclusive love can we see ourselves in our true essence… Christ in us; living sanctuaries.