July 17, 2011 (Fifth Sunday After Pentecost)
July 17, 2011
Proper 11: 5th Sun after Pentecost
The Rev. Betsy Tesi
Today we welcomed Jack into the family of God, as we celebrated the visit of part of our far-flung St. Mary’s family. Members of our St. Mary’s communities are spread across the country and across the globe, and I’m sure more than a few of us flash our AAA card as we travel.
Ah, if only our church membership was like a AAA card. “I have an Episcopal card,” I would say breezily at the tea shop, “Can I get the 25% off and a free scone with my tea?” I would casually pull out my Episcopal card when my tire went flat, and the tow truck would chant the liturgy while changing my tire. And, naturally, the snacks. Ah, the snacks! An Episcopal card would get you at least a two for one scones.
Alas, in reality, there is no membership discount card that goes with church memberships… that I know of. Instead of a magical card that we sign up for, our Christian community is much more complicated, giving us hints of birth and adoption to consider as we try to make sense of how we are all connected. In moments like these, we are given glimpses of hope of a kingdom becoming.
Our Romans reading today is both fascinating and frustrating. It is frustrating because it is Paul. Despite it being Paul, it fascinates with the language of birth and adoption. It tantalizes with hope.
Let’s get the frustrating bit out of the way. If you had a Bible handy and looked up this reading, you’d find we were in the middle of one of Paul’s many discourses and rambles. In this one, he sort of focuses on community. However, this being Paul, his logic is circular and his wordiness extreme. We have a number of professors and professional writers in this community: is it just me, or would you mark Paul off for grammar and repetition? He certainly is neither clear nor concise. I’m sure that, in Greek, this is a model of brilliant discourse. In modern English, it’s repetitive, circular logic. It’s difficult for our modern ears to follow. Let us all now sigh deeply. I’m glad we got that off our chests.
In this epistle, I hear a tension between adoption and birth, and the agony of waiting in hope. Paul seems content to wait for something we can’t possible see or image in- the unseen hope. Yet I wonder if, in the models of birth and adoption as adding to the family of God, perhaps we do catch a glimpse of hope, after all? We are told that we are given a spirit of adoption- that we ourselves are adopted as joint heirs into the Kingdom. We ourselves are claimed just as if we were God’s very own children. And creation itself is “groaning in labor pains”. There’s a huge amount of hope in this reading; creation itself joins us in eager anticipation of what is happening. The kingdom of God is being realized, in tangible ways, right now.
Yet Paul wants to insist that hope is not hope if we see what we hope for. He wants to insist that we hope for what is not seen. This is what I’ve struggled with all week… isn’t it easiest to hope for something for which we catch a glimpse in other people?
I think that Paul is a little dour in his writing. He has a hard focus on the difficulty of labor, on the agony of waiting. We hear about the frustration of being in that inwardly groaning time when we are writhing in pain and awaiting. I have a few problems with that. First, I’m a professional aunt, so this is a world view according to Betsy and is subject to your own take on the matter. For me, there is no difference between a child you create and a child adopted. Family members and a number of friends have adopted or fostered, both domestically and internationally. The waiting and anticipation and preparation they went through was absolutely as real as any biological family. On the other hand, I am now at the age where most of my friends are busy starting their families. At any given moment, a dozen friends at least are pregnant or just home with newborns. Every last one of my biological mom friends is well aware that labor is going to be uncomfortable and difficult- but not one of them is dour about it. They are often eager to go into labor, because by the end of 10 months, they are so excited to meet this little life which they helped create. Whether you face the agony of waiting through the long adoption process, or the pain of creating life from scratch: the anticipation of the joy is what brings you through it. Paul got stuck in the wrong place- in the dimness of the middle of the pain. And he wants to me to cling to an invisible hope throughout all that?
I take issue with Paul’s statement that “hope that is seen is not hope.” I think part of the grace of God as revealed to us through Jesus is that we catch glimpses of the Kingdom come, and those glimpses fuel our hope. How many parents to be put up those ultrasounds on their fridge? How many adoptive parents have posted pictures of their promised children, waiting eagerly until they meet them in person? Even we who are non-parents can probably think of times when we caught glimpses of what we hoped for. When Bingham called to offer me this job, I couldn’t formally accept until I had spoken to my Bishop, but I changed my computer desktop picture to a picture of Oregon! When Martin was in grad school, I snuck my old Master’s gown into his closet so every time he opened it, the black sleeves would flutter out at him. Sometimes, a little picture of what we are hoping for is enough to carry us through the darkest times. Sometimes, being around others who have been through the struggle and now know the joy gives us an idea of what hope looks like.
Something changed when Jesus came to Earth. We caught a glimpse of the sort of relationship we could hope for with God. Jesus was hope, embodied. In Christ, in that give and take which Jesus has with Almighty God, with the spirit descending to rest on God’s people now. What we do in worship- in words and action- makes visible signs of the hope we have in Christ. Don’t we catch a glimpse of hope in this community surrounding this family today, in baptism? Our final hymn today states that “the love of God is broader than the measure of the mind”. Something changes for us and in us when we are brought into this body of Christ. Something tangible happens. In these drops of holy water, in these blessings we speak over infants, in these people who join us who are just a part of the wide community of St. Mary’s which stretches throughout Eugene, and Oregon, and Idaho… down to Arizona, and out to New York where Adrienne and Nathan now live, to across the pond to England where Ted and Penny, and back here to Eugene where Nick and Helen complete our global circle… don’t we have a glimpse of what is might be like to be eternally named and known, no matter where we are? Don’t we catch a glimpse of boundaries broken, of a love beyond words, of a broad communion in Christ?
That, my friends, is a beautiful hope to catch a glimpse of.