Here's what I like about today's Gospel reading. It's refreshing to think that the disciples were embarrassed into silence when they got caught arguing about who was the greatest. I'm afraid boasting about how great you are doesn't cause much embarrassment these days. Here in Silicon Valley, it's almost a requirement.
So we're right back to the question: how do we get in to see a soul specialist? And will our insurance cover it? The only insurance that the man in Capernaum has is an ambulance policy in the shape of four faithful friends. Even when we're sick, some of us would never go to a doctor if it weren't for people who love us enough to force us to go. If it's hard to get us to take care of our physical ailments, think how hard it is for us ever to admit that we have spiritual ones? There are times in our lives when we are only dimly aware that we are heading down the wrong path, that everything is out of joint and starting to spiral out of control. That's when we could use four faithful friends to stage an intervention. How many addicts do you think get into treatment by themselves? That's about how many sinners find their own way to salvation.
But clergy are not the only ones with a calling around here. The job is far too big, the challenges are too complex, and the old ways are too resistant to change for pastors to do it alone. Note that Jesus didn't call any clergy. He called everyday folk. If you want to fish for people, you need some fishermen. If you want to collect people, call up a tax collector. If you want to preach repentance, better be sure there are some sinners in the audience. The point is that all the raw materials (and I mean raw!) that Jesus needed to start a revolution of radical love were right there in front of him. And I strongly believe that everything we need is right here in front of us, too
I sometimes think how the world would be a better place if people were more like their pets. Forget the political parties; let's recruit some new candidates from the Humane Society! Remember the dog that was elected three times as mayor of a little town in Minnesota? Dogs are so electable because they are so lovable and, what's more, they seem to know it. They are certainly eager to share it. It makes me sad to think that the average person has so much trouble believing what the average dog seems to intuitively know: that they are beloved.
As Paul says, this is the church's job: to live in the joy of Jesus. No one else is going to make the rulers and authorities know that no matter how much money or power or social media presence they have, they cannot drown out the Good News. They cannot tweet away the Truth. They cannot roll back the boundless riches of Christ. Nor can they ban anyone's entrance into the kingdom of promise. You don't need any documents or DNA tests. With boldness and confidence through faith in him, anyone—and I mean anyone—can walk right in!
If recessions, droughts, hurricanes, and wildfires can't keep Christmas from coming, what makes you think you can? Nothing that is going on in your life right now, nothing that is going on in our country or world right now, can keep God's love from coming in the flesh. Christmas comes even when we don't have any money or any energy and when we feel like we are losing our sanity. Even if the worst happens and we have to cancel the celebration, God's not going to cancel the incarnation.
Though their circumstances were very different, all these women—Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, and Mary—sang about their struggles with the forces of evil. For Miriam, it was Pharoah's army. For Deborah, it was the Canaanite king. For Hannah, it was all the women who ridiculed her for not having children. For the unwed Mary, it was everyone who was going to question her story. Here is my question: how could these women do battle every day with the evil and injustice of life and still sing for joy?
Call it hormones or call it sisterhood or call it the Holy Spirit, but somehow they have found an inner strength that enables them to en-joy, to enter into joy, despite the fear their pregnancies have caused them, despite the heart-ache those boys will bring them. Mothers of healthy babies are lucky; they get to carry joy around in their bodies. But all of us—men, too—carry the potential for joy inside of us, even if we don't know it or can't feel it. Even if no brain scan or ultrasound will reveal it.
Joy is very much like love: precious to us because it comes at a cost. The deserts that we go through in our lives are the downpayments we make for the joy we will come to know.
If "Grace Actually" were a movie, this is how it might begin: We glance back at this year and wonder: where is the grace? Where is the kindness? Where is the decency? Where is the mercy? Where is humility? And what is wrong with humanity? But then we take a better look around and it isn't hard to see. Grace is everywhere. You won't read about it in the newspapers, but it's there, in a million small things and some big things, too. The truth is that every single day we are being rescued. Every single day someone is dying to one life and being reborn in another. Just go to a hospital. Go to a homeless shelter. Go to the bathroom and look in the mirror. In every single moment, we are upheld by grace. And when things fall apart, grace is what glues us back together. So all the bad news this year has given God all the more opportunities to give us the good news and it has made us all the more ready to hear it and to share it. Despite all appearances, grace actually is all around us.