Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Brother Reginald Martin Crenshaw, OHC
BCP – Epiphany 3 C - Sunday 21 January 2007
1 Corinthians 12:12-27
“Be the Change we want to see in the world.” In the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
"Be the change we want to see in the world." This saying by Gandhi is a fitting introduction to the Readings that we’ve just encountered. Today’s epistle and Gospel is not just an interesting conversation about the unity of the human race but a major challenge to us to sit up, listen, see and then act on that belief that we are one.
On Friday, at our novitiate bible study, I asked the novices to consider three questions as we considered the Readings for today’s liturgy. I would like you to consider these questions yourselves as well. They are;
- What attracts you about these readings and why?
- What do you resist in these readings and why?
- And, what questions do these readings raise for you? Answer for you? Not answer for you?
I invite you to reflect on your responses as you journey with me during this homily.
And so!... Well! Well! Well!
What would you think, if I came to worship with you and as your guest preacher I began as Jesus did with these words: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord."
Then I closed the Scripture from the Isaiah reading and said to you “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
What would you reaction be? You would look at me and say; "Who does he think he is? Isn’t that Reg, don’t we know him?" And you would whisper to each other the things you knew about me, hoping that in the whispering you would be exercising power over me and neutralizing the effects of my words.
You would continue: "How could he say something so arrogant and silly? How could he, as one of us, one of our kind, who is as poor and disenfranchised as we are promise us freedom? How dare he? We’re oppressed, we’re victims. Who does he think he is? Why would someone in the same condition as us talk to us about being agents in our liberation?" How can you be a victim and agent at the same time? That’s not possible.
Isn’t it interesting that those of us who experience oppression of whatever stripe, whether it be racial, gender, sexual orientation or poverty or, any of the “isms” will respond in anger, to the challenge that we are subjects, that we are agents rather than victims.
What are we really responding to when we are being confronted with reality of our oppression that makes us turn our backs and respond the way the people of Nazareth did? One possibility is that oppression is a life of trauma. We spend so much of our emotional life accepting our status as “other” and existing in a survival mode.
We have learned to live with being “Other” by suppressing our feeling about the injustice of it. The reminder by Jesus or anyone that we could be agents seems to invalidate all the energy created in accepting injustice. We feel we have wasted our lives in some way. And, we respond with an anger of recognition that we have accepted the role as “other” and “victim” as the only possibility for our lives.
The citizens of Nazareth weren’t just spiritually poor, they were relationally poor, economically and socially poor. They had been taught that they were nothing; that, their condition was beyond their control. And life, well, it just is. If all your experience of life supports this notion, how dare someone -- and someone who we know (Jesus) to be a person like us -- dare to present as good news that our blind eyes (existence) could be opened; that release from captivity was possible; that oppression could be overthrown?
In today’s reading, Jesus is addressing people who are marginal, who are against the wall. He is addressing the poor people of Nazareth not as oppressed people under the roman authority but people with agency. Speaking directly to the oppressed is different because usually it is the oppressor who is addressed. It is the oppressor who is criticized for systemic oppression. Don’t do that, your actions are wrong, always the analysis is of the oppressor action.
Rarely, are the people for whom agency is required spoken to directly. In this Lucan passage the people whom we always talk about as in need of being freed are addressed directly; the poor and the marginal themselves. This is rare indeed.
Maybe the people’s resistance to Jesus' call to agency and their response of anger comes because they realized that once you acknowledge, the reality of your situation you cannot remain the same. To encounter the reality means to deal with the shame you have been made to feel because of who you are.
Remember: Jesus is not addressing the oppressor but the oppressed themselves who in their acceptance and belief about who they are become partners with the oppressor and their role becomes one of being in collusion and supporting their own oppression.
Thus we talk about liberation in the abstract, as something that does not belong to us but to someone else. We are afraid to examine our lives and our options from the position of subjects. Instead we accept what’s been said about us. You are either racial inferior and you believe it in the core of your being and you respond to everything with that in your system. Or you believe that you are deformed and defective because of your sexuality, or you believe you can’t be this or that because of your gender.
Our brother Jesus is addressing each of us in our life situation and saying: "You are subject and agent and therefore, you need not live your live as victim." Jesus releases you from the captivity of victimhood and allows you to see that you can be other than victim. If you can deal with the pain of the oppression and look it square in the eye, you can go free.
And to bring this point further, today’s Corinthians reading is the proclamation of the metaphor of the one body. We are all part of the one body. One part is not only dependent on the other part but each part has dignity because all the parts have dignity. We cannot be free; we are not complete without one another.
Let me read to you from "The Message" translation of 1 Cor. 12: 18-26.
“By means of his one Spirit, we all said goodbye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything. This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized. Each of us is now part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain -- his Spirit -- where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves-labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free, are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive.”
We are inextricably bound one to the other. Can you see that? Can you feel that? Will you allow yourself to see and feel that? It is proclaimed in Corinthians as it is in Luke that we are subjects who are grace-filled agents; we can free ourselves because God is the source of freedom; God is at the root of freedom.
Last Monday we celebrated the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., preacher, civil rights leader and practitioner of nonviolence. Dr. King spoke to this nation as Jesus spoke to his people in Nazareth. He spoke to us as one who was not above us but as one of us. He spoke to us about our agency. And in his speech in April of 1967, he connected the struggle for racial equality with the struggle against war and militarism. His challenge to us was that, as agents, we could be the change that we want to see in the world. "Be the Change you want to see in the world.” (Gandhi) Be the change you want to see in the world, turn your back on victim-hood, stop participating in your own oppression.
We must Stop / Start / Continue. We must Stop seeing ourselves as victims. We must Start seeing ourselves as subjects and agents who can move beyond shame, dishonor and guilt. And we must Continue to strengthen the body of humanity of which we are all a part.
And so I have a dream which completes, Dr. King’s.
“When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black white, brown, Jews, Gentiles, Protestants, gay, straight, bi-sexual, transgendered, women who are feminists, women who are not., black women who are womanists, black women who are not, Muslims, Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, non-believers, Traditional believers, will be able to join hands and sing the words of the old Negro Spiritual, free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last.”
The road to real freedom, my brothers and sisters is for us to be the change we want to see in the world.