Place-Making and God

Reverend Katherine G. Dougherty
Sermon Text: 

Proper 20

  Mark 9: 30-37, Year B

September 23, 2018

Place-Making and God

         Over the last several weeks, we’ve been exploring ways of engaging with God.  Two weeks ago, we found ourselves standing alongside the deaf-mute gentleman as Jesus opened both his and our ears to the idea that by connecting with one another we open ourselves to God’s grace and love.  Last week, we continued exploring ways of engaging with God by contemplating the idea of being friends with Jesus first.  Though that may initially seem simplistic in nature, what I’ve heard from folks this week is how they never imagined reaching out to Jesus as if he were simply a friend whom we could chat with, rely on, and laugh with.  This thing called faith can often times seem so big yet could it be as simple as being friends?

“They had argued with one another who was the greatest.”

         And this week, we once again rub up against our own human nature and desires as we witness the disciples arguing over who was the greatest. Who among us has not at one time in our lives or another wondered if we mattered.  We’ve probably all been a part of such arguments.  From sibling rivalry, to athletics, to competition in our work places, to political differences throughout history, and everything in between, greatness…or more specifically this idea of if we matter…is a question with which we all live.  It is one of the primary questions at the heart of our conflicts, injustices, anxieties, and insecurities. Whether we ask it aloud or silently to ourselves, we want to know, “Do we matter?  Do our opinion, our hopes and dreams, our values, and our way of doing things matter?  Where do we stand on the food chain of life…how do we each stack up… are we important…valued …noticed?

         Tied to this question is the concept of place-making or in other words...belonging.  It seems to be an essential strand of who we are as humans – this need to belong…to have a place in the world.  Is there a place for me in this family…in this community... in this church … in this country?  Is there a place for my religion, my political views, my race, my nationality, or my sexual orientation in this society?  Is their room here for me?  

         Individuals and communities, alike, struggle to establish and find their place. We live in a world in which we are expected, taught, and encouraged to create a place for ourselves.  Parts of society say to be strong – elbow your way in if you have to.  Make your own way in this world.  Fight for your place!  And yet, is that what Jesus would have said to us?

         Who are the greatest?  How does the world measure our value?  Watch the news, study advertisements, check social media and we’ll find our answers.  Our society tells us the “great ones” are usually wealthy, ambitious, and powerful.  They have status, reputation, position, and possessions. They are the influential, popular, and beautiful people.  But is that the truth we want to live?  If our ears and mouths have been opened by Jesus’ healing touch, are those the voices we want to listen to and the words we want to speak?

         There is nothing wrong with being successful unless it comes at the cost of another.  When our place in this world comes at the exclusion of another or at the cost of our environment, we are no longer speaking of love.  We are no longer seeing our neighbor as ourselves or following in the way of Jesus.

         Comparison, competition, fear, discrimination, and violence become our tools.  Those who may take our place or invade our space are seen as threats and are often oppressed, marginalized, and evicted.  Humans are great protectors of what is deemed important.  The fear of losing that which matters to us – that which we hold important to us – can override our senses and drive us to act in ways that do not reflect God’s message of love and abundance.

         Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.”   I often use his words to ground myself, because there are times, when my Irish blood starts to boil, and I want to shout about the injustices I see and in doing so start pointing my finger at “those who are wrong” or those with whom I don’t agree.  Though it may be very, very hard, as someone trying to live out the Gospel, I am called to recognize that “those folks,” are afraid too.  They are afraid of losing their place too.  

         Jesus was a place-maker as well…but in a different way. He entered this world not seeking to make a space and place for himself, but for us.  His “place-making” was for others.  Jesus’ way of place-making is the story of the cross.  It’s the meaning of being “last and servant of all.”  It’s the reason he took a helpless, little child into his arms as his illustration of the importance of caring for others….of valuing those overlooked by the society and the importance of making a place for all.

         Jesus comes to us today in the Gospel to remind us that we are all place-makers, and that is okay.  The question is…are we working to make a place for only ourselves – or those like us, or are we creating a place for others?  It’s a choice between the world’s “greatness” and the children of God.  By our actions, we answer that question everyday in our homes and businesses, in our schools, while running errands around town, and in our conversations with others.

         So how do we balance our human nature and desires with God’s call to us?  How do we walk as friends with Jesus and at the same time want stability and the knowledge that we do matter?

         If we crave a place where we belong and are valued…what if we also worked to help create places for others to feel like they belong as well?  

         If we wonder if we fit in…what if we helped someone else to  fit in.

         If we want to know if there is room for us in this world and in this country…what if we began by making space for others. 

         By opening ourselves up to God and walking this life with Jesus, we always have a place where we belong…might we share in that abundant love by making room for others?  THAT space and place…is called the heart of God, and it’s bigger than we could ever imagine!

Amen -

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