Sermon – March 24, 2019
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Starting last year, the Anglican Communion, the international body to which our Episcopal Church belongs, has been encouraging all its members to give up single-use plastic for Lent. You’d be surprised at all the places single-use plastic shows up. The cap on that cup of coffee you got to go. The bag you put your produce in at the grocery store. The container your yogurt came in: all single-use plastic.
When you start paying attention to all the single-use plastic in your life, it becomes pretty overwhelming. It’s everywhere. But out of sight, out of mind. We don’t think about how that plastic water bottle will take 500 years to decompose in a landfill. We don’t think about how those plastic grocery bags often end up washing out to sea and collecting in the bellies of birds and whales.
I don’t say all this to make us feel bad—and I’m as guilty as anyone. But I am glad that the Anglican Communion is asking each of us to pay more attention. I say all this to illustrate how much we, as a culture, value ease and convenience. We don’t use single-use plastic in order to destroy the environment or kill animals, we use it because it’s easy. It’s easier to use a plastic coffee cap than it is to wash our reusable travel mug every day and remember to grab it from the counter before we head out. It’s more convenient sometimes to run to the store and buy that roasted chicken that comes in a plastic container than it is to come home after a long day at work and cook dinner.
We’ve come to expect ease and convenience, and we’ve been sheltered from seeing the consequences until recently.
Plastic isn’t the only way our culture prioritizes ease and convenience over the harder, more complicated truths of our world. Many of us do the same thing with fossil fuels. Many of us do the same thing with the way we use water. Many of us do the same thing when we read scripture.
I know there are more than a few of us here who grew up in more conservative Christian traditions. I’m one of them. I grew up in Casper, Wyoming, where I went to services at my non-denominational church three times a week. The pastor in this church proclaimed that the Bible says LGBTQ people are an abomination. He preached that countries struggling with famine and poverty suffered because they weren’t Christian, because they were ignorant to the Word of God.
And you know, he had Bible verses ready to back up whatever he was preaching. One poached from Leviticus. One pulled from Paul. Another from Revelation. Looking back, it feels to me like a single-use plastic way of using the scriptures.
But there are a lot of ways to read the Bible. There are a lot of ways to interpret how God moves in our world and in our lives. That’s what Jesus is getting at in the first part of the Gospel reading today. He mentions Galilean Jews who were killed by the state for worshiping in a particular way, and then another situation where eighteen people were killed in an accident when a tower fell.
Jesus asks, “Do you think that because they suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all others?” No, he answers. That’s the easy, the convenient, the single-use plastic way to interpret what happened.
Here’s the harder, more complicated truth: everyone dies. The shooter in New Zealand will die just as Martin Luther King, Jr. died. No matter what kind of lives we live, we all die.
“No,” Jesus says, “but unless you repent, you will perish just as they did.” Not taking one verse or the other, but putting all of this together, here’s what I think Jesus is saying: Repenting isn’t about avoiding death. There’s no avoiding death. And, yes, we could talk about the other things this scripture might point to: life after death, heaven, resurrection. But that’s a whole other sermon—and probably an Easter sermon at that.
Repenting isn’t about avoiding death. Repenting is about living this life, and living it abundantly. Repenting is about living fully into God’s grace.
Grace is the lens through which I read the Bible. I look for it in every passage. To me, it’s grace that glues this whole complicated, messy, sometimes contradictory collection of scriptures together.
Grace isn’t easy or convenient. Grace actually doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in this world. Because grace isn’t about what we have earned, what we deserve. Grace doesn’t demand that we take a drug test before God can love us. Grace doesn’t demand that we can prove that we crossed the border legally before God can love us. When we screw up, grace grants understanding. Grace is about a love that covers us no matter what.
It sounds nice, doesn’t it? Grace is lovely. And it is so very hard.
It’s hard to give grace. The easiest thing to reach for when someone has cut us off in traffic, when someone has ripped us off, when someone has betrayed our trust, is anger, vengeance. Not love. And let’s be clear: holding someone accountable for their actions is as much a part of love as giving affirmation or granting forgiveness. Any parent, any teacher knows this. But grace is about making love the basis of all our actions, even when that action is telling someone how they hurt us. It’s not always easy.
Do you know what’s even harder than giving grace? Receiving it. Giving it to ourselves. How many of us dwell on the times when we do something wrong? Think about it for weeks, months, years? How many of us frame our entire identity on something harmful that we did? How many of us decide not to repent, not to change, because we don’t think we can be or do anything else?
Here’s the other thing about grace: it is patient. God is patient. God’s grace is there when you’re ready to reach for it, no matter how many times you’ve screwed up, no matter how many times you’ve let someone down, no matter your sins.
This time of Lent, this time of wilderness, is about confronting the challenges of this life, confronting suffering, confronting mortality, and deciding how you’re going to respond, how you’re going to change, how you’re going to repent.
How will you live into God’s grace this season?