FIfth Sunday of Easter (April 28, 2013)
The Rev. Franklin Wilson
“Get up, Peter; kill and eat …. What God has made clean, you must not profane.”
“See, I am making all things new.”
“Where I am going you cannot come.”
This sermon proclaims what the readings declare: Christ makes the profane sacred. Christ Jesus’ crucified death makes sinners holy. The hallowing of things profanes God. This is “glory.” Further, Christ’s sacrificial death remakes “love.” Love is no mere feeling, but self sacrifice for the unlovable. The sermon shows forth Christ’s sacrificial death for profane sinners as resurrection—the only new and eternal thing under the sun.
Though essentially good, Gawpae looked bad. Like most young men, he’d had frequent rows with his folks and siblings. From his mother he’d inherited a dreamy personality thought by his kinder teachers as “contemplative,” but seen by his father and coaches as “lazy,” “soft,” or (worse still) “intellectual.” He liked to read, and saw conventional things in unconventional ways. Still, like your average bomber, you wouldn’t pick him out as a revolutionary.
Working in the shop after school, or on weekends, and summer breaks, Gawpae heard but ignored his dad’s constant refrain: “Quit your day-dreaming and get to work.” His father believed in work. Work was his father’s creed, “Kill and eat” his motto. Though he liked to eat, Gawpae believed in something else. Call it “kindness” or “patience,” or maybe even “charity.” Hardly a day went by without Gawpae’s charity crossing his father’s temper. “Get to work,” ordered the paternal boss; and Gawpae asked, “Why?” “Because I said so! That’s why!” replied his father. The voice sometimes hurled a sarcastic barb, “Why? Because some people like to eat, and have a roof over their heads, and a place to sleep. Any more questions, you lazy walloper? Now get to work!”
Gawpae took to hanging out with n’er-do-wells. Not because he was like them. In fact he wasn’t like them at all. They were the desperate, lost, and rejected sort who naturally take to camaraderie—the way stray dogs gravitate to packs, and roam about getting into mischief. So it was with Gawpae and his lot.
Maybe it was because he was different than the rest that he stuck out more than the others. And maybe it was because he stuck out that they came to regard him as their leader. Not a guru exactly, and certainly not a teacher in any professional sense, but more a kind of “alpha male” among people who wouldn’t have known what an “alpha male” was. Certainly, in his own mind, Gawpae was anything but an “alpha;” perhaps more like a “beta” or a “zeta” or even an “omega”: first and last among misfits. Their misfit identity consisted in not knowing what to do, and his in doing what he knew—patience, kindness, and maybe you could call it charity toward the uncharitable.
He’d ask them, “Why do you guys keep hanging out with me? Don’t you have anything better to do?” “Get a life,” he’d urge them, “Go out and do something!” He was beginning to feel and sound like his father: “Do something!” But they seldom did. Other than eating, and drinking, and hanging around, what was there to do? Work? They’d left all that behind when they started hanging out with him. Their work was avoiding work, even as he urged them on: “Do something!” But they didn’t.
A pack of stray dogs is one thing: people call that a nuisance. But a pack of young stray wandering men is another altogether: people call that a public danger, a high risk deal, trouble waiting to happen. Something went missing? Probably Gawpae and his gang. A local disturbance? Probably Gawpae and his crew giving the authorities grief. Public drunkenness at a wedding? Rumor has it one of them got hammered and went joy riding on a Sunday afternoon. You know the story. They all turn out the same way. You can’t have that sort of thing. Can’t tolerate it. A bad influence. A worse example. Pretty soon somebody gets hurt; even killed. Lives and reputations ruined. Consequences cold as the grave, and bleak as a prison cell. It’s an old story; a common story. Our story.
“Kill and eat….What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Really? Call the dirty clean? The profane holy? The dead alive? Eat that stuff? Die for it?
Near the end, Gawpae calls it “glory;” he even calls it “love.” Commands it. His persistent patience; his silent kindness answered with the ugly profanity death boasts. The profanation of life impregnated with our hungry lust for emptiness sold full: like a national championship, or a super bowl ring, or the next big religious thing while people stand at graves and weep; and children go hungry, and men hunger for in prison cells: for what? The glory of God? God with the dead? With the drunk? God amid humiliation? Violation? The utter despair and loss of all value, trust and pride? No, not that exactly. But yes, something close to holy as bad: the shocking participation of God—the eternal God—right there in the ugliest, deadliest thing you can imagine. God mixed up with all the profane mess, all the pain, all the humiliating confusion, loss, lies and death. Therein lies truth—or something close to truth—as close as flesh to blood: the truth we all seek amid the countless lies. Gawpae’s own ugly death bound to beautiful mercy, and something we do not yet know but name as resurrection.
Resurrection is the only new in a world of old death, grief, and shadowed light. For now, resurrection remains a word, a hint, a hope, a promise amid the ruins; a flower on a grave, his alone empty, all ours overflowing.
“See, I am making all things new.” “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” “It is done! I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.”
We thirst. We all thirst. Yet he gives the water of life. Here in this font. Here at this table. Here flows life forever more. Now it appears a profane waste—nothing but a lazy waste of time and money. But then! Then it will be revealed for what it is: Glory, the holy-profane weight of God, the cross of Christ. The self-sacrifice called charity—the sacrificial love of One who exchanges his holy life for our profane death. Lord have mercy. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.