Paul reminds them that to live, truly live, means we need to face things head on – and to view every other person as sister and brother. To care. To be concerned. To be loving. That as hard as that might be at times, it is the only way to be open hearted, and being open hearted is how God’s power to change the way things are – the way things are in the world, and in the lives of individuals – is most often made manifest.
Message by Rev Jenny Carter
July 1, 2018
(Based on 2 Corinthians 8:1-15)
Whether we are young, or old, or in between, as we live our lives we cannot help but be shaped by the experience of simply living. We can be “taught” many things by parents and teachers and a wide variety of “others” whose job it is to instil certain facts into our brains – but it is through the simple act of living that we actually learn, and grow and become the people we eventually become.
Sometimes the lessons are hard. Sometimes what we learn can break our hearts, and when that happens, we are provided with an opportunity to think things through, forgive those we need to forgive, and work through the situation. Which is good, because then we can embrace our living with open and generous hearts.
Sometimes though, the experiences break our spirit. When our spirits are broken, we do not have the spiritual energy to work things through, and our focus becomes one of survival, and when that happens, our hearts close. And of course, there is the third category of life lessons – the ones we are oblivious to. Or perhaps better said, the life lessons we choose not to learn, lest they mess with our comfort or our understanding of the world. When this happens, we have, in the biblical understanding of it anyway, hearts that can become like stone.
As people who follow Jesus, and by that walking in faith, come to know God – we are called to have open and generous hearts. We are called to wake up to what is happening in our lives and in the world. We are called to work through the hard bits, forgive those who hurt us (not because it frees those who hurt us, but because it frees us), gather up the lessons we learned from that experience, and move on in our living.
Hard experiences don’t have to close our hearts, or make our hearts like stone. Our faith teaches us that no matter whether the times are easy or difficult, what we choose to do with those times makes all the difference. That choosing to learn and to grow in the ways of love and compassion for self and others, which is what the gospel of Christ is all about, then, when all is said and done, we cannot help but have anything but an open heart.
I want to tell you about Science Camp, and what I learned there. To be clear, I learned nothing about science. In fact, I didn’t have a passion for science back in grade 8. My passions as a 13 year old were more in the realm of getting to skip a week of school and hanging out with my best friend. While I don’t remember anything we were taught about science that week, that camp taught me a lot about how the world got so mixed up.
The poster advertising science camp stated that it was a week of adventures in science. That girls, grades 8 through 10, could sleep in a tent, cook their own food, have wilderness adventures through hiking and canoeing, and learn all about biology and geology and physics in the great outdoors. First life lesson, posters lie.
What the poster didn’t say was that just for the fun of it, the bus would drop us off two miles from the place we were to be camping, and that each little group of us would have to carry all of our gear, and all of our food for the week, those two miles. The poster didn’t tell us that it was going to rain for most of that week. It didn’t tell us that 12 year olds are horrible cooks, and that the new girl who shared our tent would have a habit of kicking sand into the food just as it was about to be served and that we would have to send her to the lake for water as we served up our dinner if we wanted to eat our Kraft dinner without the added “joy” of sandy grit.
The poster never mentioned that the teacher leading science camp, the only adult present, would walk around camp with a swagger stick giving out demerit points and that he would bring a big Doberman pincer name Trigger who loved to bark and snarl at kids. The poster didn’t tell us that a group of grade ten girls would be in charge of the running of the camp, and that they would take wicked delight in handing out creative and humiliating punishments for those small groups that received the most demerit points for that day.
No, the poster never mentioned those things. Nor did it mention the fact that this particular science camp was more like a female version of Lord of the Flies, where those girls who were in power, never missed a chance to demonstrate their power. We grade 8’s took the brunt of it. If we came in last in a canoe race, they would punish us by making us haul their water or do their laundry. If we looked at them funny, we would be brought into the middle of the group at “meeting” and be shamed, or have to run the gauntlet of knotted wet beach towels, wielded by zealous 15 year olds.
What I learned at science camp is that science camp is a lot like the world in which we live. That sometimes those with less power experience cruelty at the hands of those with more power. That sometimes the people who are in charge, are very poor leaders who don’t want to hear about how it really is for those under their care. That sometimes people use their power to hurt and to shame, instead of to support and to care. That sometimes, when you make the system brutal enough, those who are being victimized will begin to turn on each other in an attempt to save themselves. That sometimes, you need to simply dig in and get through a bad situation, do the best you can, and never forget who you are and what truly matters. That sometimes it takes decades to come to terms with things.
That’s what I learned at science camp.
In many ways, we all are living, or have lived, in science camp. And we need to find a way through those experiences. The options are the same: we can work through and forgive and learn; we can break and remain broken; or we can ignore. Yet as people who follow Jesus we know that the first option is best, and that no matter how shattered we might be, we don’t have to remain broken. Healing is always possible.
That is what the gospel is. The gospel of Christ, the good news of our faith, is that we don’t have to let the powers that be decide who we are, and how we shall live. Even if we are in an intolerable situation, or have zero power to change things, we still have dignity and worth. We have the power to heal and to overcome. Yet, as Paul reminded us today in our reading from 2 Corinthians, we need to stand on the side of God, and we need to view our lives and our world through the lens of the gospel – to see the world as God sees the world.
That is what Paul was trying to convey to the church in Corinth. While that particular church had done a lot of learning and growing since Paul wrote his first letter to them, they still did not understand what it was to be a community of faith. In so many ways, they had chosen the third option. They had chosen to ignore those things that didn’t immediately impact them. They had become insular and inwardly focused as a people. They may have had good reasons, they were living under the brutal scrutiny of Rome, and persecution was beginning to foment, and there were many good reasons to keep a low profile. Life was hard enough as it is, without drawing attention to yourself.
Yet Paul reminds them that to live, truly live, means we need to face things head on – and to view every other person as sister and brother. To care. To be concerned. To be loving. That as hard as that might be at times, it is the only way to be open hearted, and being open hearted is how God’s power to change the way things are – the way things are in the world, and in the lives of individuals – is most often made manifest.
He reminds them that an open heart is a generous heart. That when our hearts are open we give the things we are able to give. We share good things, practical things, so that others might have what they need. He reminds them that it is by being generously hearted, that we experience in new and profound ways, God’s presence.
An open heart is a passionate heart. Paul invited the Church in Corinth to become passionate about the good things God was doing in the world. To become passionate about being able to make a difference in the lives of the poor and the oppressed, by standing with them and sharing out of their abundance.
We too are being reminded of the importance of having open, generous and passionate hearts. To discover, or rediscover, where the gospel meets us on the road of our faith. For some of us it is social justice, for others it is care of the poor or the lonely, for others it is a call to mysticism and an ever deepening experience of the holy, and for still others it is following the spirit’s call to innovation so that the living tradition we all inherited might be passed along to another generation. We all have a passion born of the gospel, we just need to give ourselves permission to live it out.
When we live out our gospel passion, whatever that looks like in our life, then instead of the science camp world in which we live leaving its mark upon us, we leave our mark upon it. And that changes everything.