Be on God's side
Thumbnail art: photograph by cem0030; used under license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en
Clare L. Hickman
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Ferndale
August 11, 2019—Proper 14C
Genesis 15:1-6; “Bird Shadows/Holy Spirit” by Callid Keefe Perry; Luke 12:32-40
I am a huge sports fan. And I emphasize “fan” because although I love sports in general, and can appreciate a game for the play itself, I do pretty much need to have someone to root for. Or against. Against works too. This is where I channel all that us/them energy that seems natural to human beings, and I channel it with gusto. When I say that Jesus laughs in his mother’s face when Notre Dame loses, I mean it!
But this is not to say that I pray for a particular outcome to a sporting event. God doesn’t take sides like that, as far as I can tell. God has no set preference for individuals, or teams, or nations. Not in Christianity, anyway.
Yes, God will be with you. God will be with you, God will be with you, God will be with you. It is, after all, your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Do not be afraid. Do not think that you are unworthy, or that your questionable worthiness will disqualify you. But do not just begin to believe that God is with you and forget that God is with other people as well.
It is good to recognize that you are blessed. That God is, so to speak, on your side. The danger comes when you or we use that as a dividing wall: when we begin to believe that God’s steadfast presence with us means that God must be against our opponents. The danger comes when we start to use it as a rubber stamp: God is with us, and therefore everything we do must be good and right and godly!
It is sooooo tempting. And it leads to so much abuse and destruction. Which is why I make this suggestion: Believe that God is with you. Believe that it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. But instead of jumping to a perilous “God is on my side,” try this instead: Try asking, “How can I be on God’s side?”
What would your life look like, if your aim were to go alongside God? If you were trying to follow God into God’s concerns, to focus on what God focuses on, to work for the things we see God doing? What would it mean, to be on God’s side as the Creator? As a Liberator? As One who promotes order, justice and fairness? As One who relentlessly seeks to rescue the vulnerable and poor and lost? As One who serves, One who forgives, One who loves bravely and dare I say recklessly?
Would your life look different if your constant goal was to be on God’s side? Not thoughtlessly, using God’s name to justify destruction or cruelty. But prayerfully, selflessly, joyfully. My guess is, you’ll know you’re on the right track if you find yourself recognizing more and more fellow supporters, rather than seeing yourself as spiritually chosen, superior. And given that this is the spiritual life, you’ll know you’re on the right track, if you are being constantly broken open and transformed.
Sounds good. Sounds terrifying. Put yourself on God’s side.
But how is it done? Where can we start? Is it an act of will? Does it require special prayers? Today’s gospel suggests otherwise, offering some very practical advice:
Do it with your money.
Seriously, take one of the obvious priorities of God that we hear about over and over in scripture, and send your money there. Send however much would grab your attention, and only you know how much that is. But send it, and your heart will follow. Give it, and you will naturally begin to care more about whoever or whatever you have sent your money to. Give it to the poor, give it to the sick. Give it to those who work to end oppression and to set people free. Give it to the Creation somehow. Give it to artists, healers, makers. Give enough that you have pushed past caution to give freely, and see how your attention and priorities flow right behind.
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be. So send more of it where God spends most of God’s time. And speaking of time: that too is treasure. So this doesn’t just work when you send money; it also comes from spending time.
Forget claiming that God is on our side. Spend time being on God’s side. Through that, you will be given the kingdom. The kingdom, which is not riches (despite what the prosperity gospel folks might claim), but riches can lead you there. Lead you to a way of seeing and being in the world that places you at God’s side.
A glimpse of “kingdom sight:”
Singapore by Mary Oliver
In Singapore, in the airport,
A darkness was ripped from my eyes.
In the women’s restroom, one compartment stood open.
A woman knelt there, washing something in the white bowl.
Disgust argued in my stomach
and I felt, in my pocket, for my ticket.
A poem should always have birds in it.
Kingfishers, say, with their bold eyes and gaudy wings.
Rivers are pleasant, and of course trees.
A waterfall, or if that’s not possible, a fountain rising and falling.
A person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.
When the woman turned I could not answer her face.
Her beauty and her embarrassment struggled together,
and neither could win.
She smiled and I smiled. What kind of nonsense is this?
Everybody needs a job.
Yes, a person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.
But first we must watch her as she stares down at her labor,
which is dull enough.
She is washing the tops of the airport ashtrays, as big as hubcaps,
with a blue rag.
Her small hands turn the metal, scrubbing and rinsing.
She does not work slowly, nor quickly, like a river.
Her dark hair is like the wing of a bird.
I don’t doubt for a moment that she loves her life.
And I want her to rise up from the crust and the slop and
fly down to the river.
This probably won’t happen.
But maybe it will.
If the world were only pain and logic, who would want it?
Of course, it isn’t.
Neither do I mean anything miraculous, but only
the light that can shine out of a life. I mean
the way she unfolded and refolded the blue cloth,
The way her smile was only for my sake; I mean
the way this poem is filled with trees, and birds.
Do not be afraid, little flock. May it be so, Amen.