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Last night – Lyn and I went to see Into the Woods. I didn’t know the story – so I was seeing it with fresh eyes. And I won’t say too much – because if you are going to see it – and you don’t know the story, I don’t want to ruin it. But throughout the film there was a steady theme of caution. One character in particular – suggests that we have to be careful of the stories we tell – And she means that both with our words – and the stories we build for ourselves with our actions – We have to be careful about the stories we live – and the stories we tell – Because they have lasting effects on other people. And she says specifically – on children – who are watching us. And listening to the stories we tell – and hearing – in between the lines – more than we might expect. There’s lots to be said about Into the Woods – but this particular theme is one that I’ve been thinking about a lot this week.
The media has been telling us some very difficult stories this week. Stories that hit me a bit closer to home than usual, I guess. I watched very carefully as Paris suffered this week. Immediately on Wednesday I was going through the rolodex of people – in my head – people I love – who are there – who might have been hurt.
And, fortunately – they weren’t. My folks are all fine. But it reminded me again – because I was back in that gut-wrenchingly helpless place – How it feels to know that a place you love is under attack – and to not know whether or not everyone you love is safe. Many of us who live in this part of the country know that feeling. Because of 9/11. Or because of school shootings. Or just because bad things happen from time to time. And for those moments when we don’t know – its terrifying.
And it’s very tempting – to give in to this fear – to this us and them mentality. One of the greatest gifts of the media coverage this week in Paris is that the world has seen something important from them. If this was a strategic attack – seeing to provoke the French people to fear their Muslim neighbors – it didn’t work. The French people – by and large – have not given into this us & them kind of thinking. They have stood with their Muslim brothers and sisters at protests – at rallies – and in police uniforms. Their relationship – as brothers – as citizens of France – is not thrown – or it seems even damaged – by an opportunity to fear – and hate.
The other story that had a lot of attention this week – that has been emotional for many of us in the church – Is the story of Bishop Cook – the Suffragan Bishop out of the Diocese of Maryland. Did anyone see that?
Bishop Cook was driving – very much under the influence. And her car struck a cyclist. And he died. The worst part is – every time more information comes out – it looks worse and worse. It is a tragic situation. And – like many stories like this – has raised some really important questions. About what it means to be a Christian in the world. About what it means to be clergy. And about what is expected of us – because we are called children of God.
Again, in this situation, there have been those that would like to draw lines. To give in to the idea that there are bad people – and we can just throw them over there – on the other side of the line – and not deal with them. While we feel good about ourselves over here.
Epiphany is season when we are invited to behold God – incarnate – in the flesh – in the world with us. Last week – I invited you to take a journey with the Wise Men to Bethlehem. To consider what gift you would bring to Jesus today – and to prepare to lay it at his feet. Behold the Son of God – Born like us – living like us – in a world where not all that much has changed. Yes – there’s been changes in technology, and industry – and lifestyle. But the core of who we are – as people – The core that encourages us to fear – And to label – and to divide people by drawing lines and boundaries – These things have not changed.
Behold Jesus in scripture – each time he comes upon one of those boundaries – one of those invitations to fear – and he disregards it.
When the mob would like to stone Mary for her sin – he reminds them to look at their own lives. And one by one – they drop their stones – coming to the realization that they are not able to judge her.
When the temple has been turned into a shopping district – Jesus holds the Jewish people accountable. Turning tables – and calling them back to the awareness of what the temple is meant to be.
When the sick, the poor, and the outcasts come to be with Jesus – to touch him – to learn from him – He breaks purity laws, breaks with convention, and touches them – loves them – heals them.
Even when he is crucified between thieves – he offers forgiveness – and promises of paradise.
Behold the lamb of God – who takes away the sins of the world – by living with us – by showing us a better way – and by dying for us.
Behold the lamb of God who never gives into fear – who always stands next to his neighbor – who doesn’t believe in sides – or boundaries – or difference.
In our Gospel today – Jesus comes up out of the water – And God’s voice booms down from on high – this is my Son – the Beloved. So too – at our own baptisms – when we are sealed with the Holy Spirit – And marked as Christ’s own forever –
We, too, are called beloved by God. We are all – each one of us – God’s beloved.
Jesus shows us that in every loving – rule breaking – action he takes. Every word he says that both calls us beloved – and holds us accountable.
Because we are beloved – we are meant to be changed. To live lives that are changed. That are different. To live lives more like his – where we refuse to alienate – to leave out – to name anyone outside of the love and forgiveness of God. Because no one is outside the love and forgiveness of God.
There are two points here.
We are all beloved.
And we are all expected to be changed.
To be better. To do better. To make better choices – and to work at that a little bit more each day.
If beholding God incarnate – in Christ – and in our neighbor doesn’t affect us – Doesn’t change what we do and how we do it – If the knowledge – that we are beloved – that we can never do anything to remove ourselves from the love of God –
If that knowledge doesn’t change us – Doesn’t encourage us to be different – Then we’ve not really let it take root in our hearts.
Behold the King of Kings. Born in a stable. Living a life – in which he refuses to draw lines – to leave anyone behind – But also in which he refuses to let anyone off the hook – Behold this Savior – and know that you are Beloved –
And let the knowledge of these things seep in to your very soul – So that you can live a changed life. A joyful life. An accountable life.
And begin again today by offering God something in the year ahead. Lay it at the altar. And when you leave this place – be careful the tale you tell – With your words and your actions. The story we tell is not ours alone – but it reflects on the story we all share – And that is Christ’s story.
And the fact that our story – reflects on his – makes it a great, great responsibility.