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21st Sunday after Pentecost - October 30, 2022

Updated: Nov 14, 2022

This morning is the third and final sermon in a series called One bread. One cup. One love.

The guiding question being, in such a polarized and polarizing culture – pulling us to a radical right or left, what might it look like for the church to move toward the radical center? To see ourselves and others as more than just our opinions (whether they be political or theological), to leave the tribalism, the partisan identities and rhetoric, as there is a difference between political thought and partisan identity – and to encounter one another, encounter the suffering of our world, encounter the real, encounter Christ in the center. The first week we looked at one bread through the feeding of the five thousand and talked about participating in the shared world. Last week we dove into one cup and into the story of James and John and the other disciples jockeying for a winning position and considered how the kingdom of God belongs to those who know how to lose. Now, we enter Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and see what it might look like when one love is at work.

Our son Jude, he’s a drummer – he comes home from school, drumsticks, practice pad, he’s starting to talk like a drummer, walk like a drummer, and he’s got the perfect hair for it too. He’s already way cooler than his dad ever was or will be. Thinking about Jude being a drummer takes me back, though. In the Fall of 1996, I was sixteen years old, my dad was teaching me to drive a stick-shift, I was sporting a pair of vans and tattered jeans, and lots of hemp necklaces. You 90’s kids remember hemp necklaces? I had what looked like a turtleneck of hemp (so embarrassing). And I loved two things more than anything – music and drumming. (Girls were in that mix too, but music was just more reliable.) After school, close the door to my room, throw on my headphones – and disappear. But it was around this time I started listening less to rock n’roll drummers and more to jazz drummers. Trying to find my way around the drum set the way they did, imitating (rather poorly) Art Blakey rolls, or Max Roach solos, strange time signatures and rhythms…and I fell in love with their ability to improvise, jazz being an improvisational art. I still love it. My two favorite jazz drummers being Joe Morello and Elvin Jones. Morello played with the Dave Brubeck Quartet, he was portly, dark rimmed glasses, lenses the size of coke bottles, a technical genius. Watching film of Morello drum is like watching a Harvard math professor work-out an equation on the board. After each song, you’d half-expect to find chalk dust on the lapel of his jacket. Elvin Jones, on the other hand, was the only drummer that could accompany Coltrane on his shamanic musical journey. When Elvin Jones played drums, he looked like a man falling out of a tree, reaching for every branch on the way down, not to stop the fall - just to find different ways to swing from them, letting gravity work its magic. Trusting that if Coltrane didn’t catch him at the end, McCoy Tyner’s piano would. I wanted to play like them. I wanted to be that good. When I was sixteen, I was learning how to improvise…

What strikes me as kind of crazy to think about…in that same fall of 1996 there was this Episcopal church in Amarillo, Texas – they were learning how to improvise too. They were learning how to improvise because their beloved Nave, their sanctuary, their sacred space - burnt to the ground in February of that same year. I cannot and will not attach words to such a heartbreaking experience. From the stories, I know that those of you who were here faced a different challenge every day – as you learned to be faithful in the face of uncertainty. And thank God for a priest named George Martin who led as interim through such a time and thank God for this woman to my right – who along with her husband Clifton, embraced the creative energy of God and improvised with you on the edge of catastrophe.

There’s something improvisational going on in our reading this morning from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. We’re in the fourth chapter, in what many scholars suggest is the heart of the letter. And it’s fitting that it’s considered the heart of the letter because it’s here where two things are emphasized, oneness and love. It’s thought by many that this letter was actually not intended for one church but was a letter that found its way to several different churches at the time, which deepens its meaning. Paul, sitting in prison, writing a letter to the churches…maybe about what he thinks matters the most. He spent the first of the letter laying a foundation – filled with the language of prayer, thanksgiving, grace. He reminds those who were once far off that they now have come home in Christ, they belong one to another, they belong to God. It’s like he was providing a time signature, a rhythm, a scale in which to play…and now here something begins to happen. Paul gets adventurous. You can hear it in the words: There is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and grace was given to each one of us…and he quotes Psalm 68…When he ascended on high he led a host of captives and he gave gifts to them…

But here’s the thing. That’s not what Psalm 68 says…Psalm 68 actually says, When you ascended on high you took many captives and received many gifts from them…Paul is now improvising on a Psalm, he’s improvising because of what he’s experienced in Christ…his words are not measured, they’re free flowing, poetic even… The old apostle’s imagination breaks free from the prison that confines him and he begins improvising and calling forth improvisation from others, “Christ gave all of you gifts…some as apostles, some as teachers, some as pastors…the list could go on…the point,” he says, “is that we all have something to give because we’ve all received, so we can speak the truth in love and mature and grow as one body in love.” This is not the careful articulation of a theologian…it’s more like Coltrane blowing the truth of his world like fire through his saxophone. There’s a fearlessness to Paul’s words. The churches he’s writing to…they need to be fearless too. They’re not safe and secure. They’re living in a world and a time that misunderstands them, doesn’t trust them, on one side they’re hard-pressed by an established religious tradition and on the other side they’re being persecuted by a political machine – they are on the edge of catastrophe. Yet…even in the midst of all that, Paul invites them to improvise. And they can risk doing that because no matter how different they may be one from another and no matter how the cards are stacked against them, they’re foundation is in the oneness of God’s love for them and their love for each other.

One bread. One cup. One love.

This sermon series, I have often used the phrase the “radical center.” When we hear that word radical…we tend to think of something that must be extreme, or a complete departure, advocating if not pushing for the above and beyond. But when I use that word “radical” it’s referring to something else. The origin of that word in the Latin…it means root. Which is why in linguistics radical denotes the root of a word, in music it is the root of a chord, in mathematics it is the root of a number. The root…the essence of the thing…the radical center. You know in another letter, Paul will get at the radical center of the Church – when he writes, “There will be those who demand signs and those that seek wisdom, but what we preach – who we are – it is a stumbling block and (listen to this) foolishness to the world.” And he doesn’t stop there, he writes, “…and God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, the weak things of the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised, chose the things that are not to reduce to nothing the things that are…” It’s foolishness.

Through this series we’ve heard a call to share, a call to lose, and a call to improvise. We’re scared to do all those things because when we do all those things, we risk looking like fools. But maybe we’re called to just that kind of foolishness. Why don’t we give-in to the foolishness of this whole thing? Maybe, we’d be less afraid if we knew we were fools. Maybe we wouldn’t be so afraid to sing our love song to the world beneath her window at night knowing in the end she’d break our heart; because something in us knows, has always known, it’s better to be a courageous fool than a scared prince. Maybe that’s why all the great art of the world points to that very thing…because that’s the radical center.

St. Andrew’s, we’re not talking about becoming something we aren’t – but about something we always have been. You especially, this is who you are. You know what it is to share generously, you know what it is to lose big, and you know what it is to improvise with one another. So, bring all the foolishness you got – all the foolish ideas and love you can muster. We want to hear it. We need it. This community needs it. This world needs it…a world tearing itself at the seams…needs a church like that. It might be the only kind of church that can make a difference. When all is said and done that might be what the Church really is.

A community of people radically centered in the foolishness of Jesus, embracing the shared world, as a joyful company of losers, improvising on the edge of catastrophe; nourished by one bread, one cup, and one love.


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