Stagger Down the Stories, an old sermon only mildly offensive

stories that define us:

Sermon for The Fifth Sunday After Pentecost

Proper 9, Year C

 Daniel P. Richards

the stories we tell define us as human beings

as communities as nations

what stories do we tell when we want to introduce ourselves

on a first date?

on our daughter¹s first date?

to explain why we go to war?

to explain why we go hunting?

i am convinced that we should tell this story more often

the sending of the seventy

we could all use the self-making of this story

no purse

no bag

no extra sandals

eat what is set before you

i’ve been around phoenix

you don’t greet anyone on the road

what strikes me is that this story is about trust

and how to be a disciple is to live in the world with open hands

i need this story

i overpack for everything

can you really live on the kindness of others?

this is not just a should do could do maybe think about question

this is a question that should lie at the heart of what we mean

when we toss around the word faith

this is also a story about equanimity

if they receive you into a town say

“the kingdom has come near to you”

and if they reject you so that even the dust of the town is odious

wipe it off

but still say

“the kingdom of god has come near to you”

this is about living in the eternal life

participating in the life of god

jesus tells the disciples that they have been given the power of creation


even “evil things” will be subject to you

will work with you

the reign of god

when we live the open handed life

the life of the wise

open to blessing and giving

living lightly in the world

trusting in the goodness of others

while remaining shrewd

we find that the creation meets us

that the reign is there

or here rather in our midst

“i have seen satan fall from the sky like lightning”

the power of creation

and yet we feel like we have only two options

hate evil and do nothing or launch ourselves against the wheel of violence

with violence

an example:

i am convinced that the life of competition

and the values of greed are killing us

that we don¹t tell this story because it goads us too much

and i tell you that i think suv¹s are the prime example

so i have a choice

i can attack them with violence

which some have done

i could keep eggs in my car for “spottings”

and so take revenge for the increased pollution and risk of death

that we all face and call it justice

but when i act in violence i keep the wheels of violence

(and retribution and oppression and anger and hatred and fear and ignorance)


i could set out to conquer them through the media

which is owned by  people who rely on them for existence

i could give up and shake my fist at them when i get a chance

but i don’t

instead i talk to people about christ-based ethics and values

meaning wise and real decision making

about how we are to be a people of just enough

and trust in god for daily bread and for protection

and a people who love others as well as ourselves

who love jesus and the world-family as much my own relatives

my own children even

we underthrow

we subvert

with all the power of creation

with all the power the creator has

it does no good to continue the violence and hatred

that has gotten us here

paul is right in galations when he writes

you will reap what you sow

one of the most haunting lines of history is from malcolm x

after the death of the kennedy he said

“i am an old farm boy and on the farm we knew

that the chickens we sent out in the morning

returned to roost at night

it wasn’t somebody else¹s chickens

it was our own chickens

you ask me if i am sad

i tell you that we have sent out chickens of violence and oppression

into the world

and now they have come home to roost

chickens coming home to roost has never made me sad”

do not sow to the flesh paul wrote

but sow to the spirit of god

how do we do that ?

in kindness gentleness self-control

when someone has trangressed lead them back in gentleness

bear one another¹s burdens

judge your own work and not your neighbors

work for the good of all

my religiosity is nothing

but this new creation is everything!

paul says

this new creation

the reign of god among us


in the synoptic gospels jesus quotes isaiah

today this scripture he says has been fulfilled

the spirit of god is upon me

to proclaim release to the captive

redemption to the poor/oppressed

give sight to the blind

and to proclaim the year of the lord’s favor

but he leaves out one of isaiah’s phrases

“and to proclaim the day of the lord’s vengeance”

it isn’t there

it isn¹t  jesus’s job nor ours

just because we’ve been adding it all these years

to explain god’snotfixingit or stoppingus

doesn’t mean it’s of god

so i vomit up the poison of my days

and eat the fresh fruit of a new land

flowing with milk and honey

where there is enough for all

somehow beyond my struggling to fixit

or hoard my undue share

and we sit by the river jordan

watching the snake crawl to the water and drink

and maybe even he is part of the peace that comes

when the defending and destroying has stopped

even our worst selves are welcomed

and transformed

i told the boy who had lost two fathers

that pain is like a two rocks in our chest

that we carry around

and that our job is not to get rid of them

but to know that they are there

and part of us

and to recognize them as our own

then i told him to sit with his father’s memory

(thankfully they are good)

and  to simply be with him and love him

and to take his pain into his love

and there it will be transformed

from a rock that is ugly and destructive

to a statue of remembering

and honoring

a marker of remembrance

that his pain is a marker of his love

and that is okay

and to love others as well

taking them in and transforming them

to a new family

and he is ten and he laughed

and said that’s what grandma does

(he is older than he should be

but blessed

and already part of the revolution)

i welcome you to any table i sit at

or stand at as my own sister my own brother

welcome to the revolution

oh you are so much a part of it

the other thing i want to tell you

is what i told a good friend who is begining

his own spiritual life after great healing

after great abuse and death

that eventually our job as christ in the world

is to be able to take unto ourselves

the whole world

to take all into our love

as surely as we are part of it all

o conscious dirt! or spiritual mud!

even bin laden even bush even ourselves

even earthworms and sharks and sparrows

even someday the raven

rumi said

there are a thousand ways to bow and kiss the ground!

may the rain in you be a baptism

and the spirit breathe through the tree of life

which grows at your feet

a word about violence

the scriptures – even ours

the recorded human experiences of god

the bible is holy in its humanity

the stories of faith that we stand in and study

but they are told from our side

and we are human

even moses bathsheba david mary paul

and we are hurting and angry and broken

even as we are holy and tender and compassionate

even as we are conscious we are dirt

and we are learning

so we justify our killing with god

and in anger we cry out for vengeance

for our pains

it is not enough to hope to attain to the bible

to reach the holiness of our ancestors in the story

seek not the masters

seek what the masters sought

so said hi my first teacher

don’t simply seek to find jesus

seek the world that jesus sought

don’t think that because isaiah made it

into the spiritual top 40

he wrote the perfect song for your life

we begin in the story already going on

but it is still going on we are living it

today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing

and amended

always we begin again

god is god of the present

of the living as jesus said

not of the dead

we aim our arrow at heaven

but i think it’s meant for us

here and now

i am always struggling with my vocation

loathe the traps of teaching the tradition

getting beyond the bible as textbook

or worse science book

or perfect

i hate perfect

there is a great example that i never get to use in church

women in la a few years ago were getting plastic surgery

to correct their ummmm . . . junk – too big too small too whatever

and the writer a beautifulstrong woman herself

admitted to being taken in by the selfdoubt about perfection

until she saw the before and after photos

and the women themselves

before they were different

individual unique and interesting

after they were same

bland boring perfect

give me a creek over a canal

a human being struggling with god

pissed and compassionate and imperfect

and loving and forgetful a lover of dubious taste

smelling of the body and the good earth

over the religious man dressed up and clean

and virtuous and smiling without laughter

give me a priest with tears broken on love

a thousand times before the correct one

don’t struggle too much

with being at the margins

only be ready for the moment

when the weaver needs your bending

even to the center of the mandala

that the present becomes


i think you cultivate gratitude like a child

like adam in the garden

by naming

i think poetry becomes my practice of gratitude

because i name my world through it

and the thousand moves of it

so i want to read you a poem

my credo is this  little poem by e.e. cummings

that i want to end with

may my heart always be open to little

birds who are the secrets of living

whatever they sing is better than to know

and if men should not hear them men are old

may my mind stroll about hungry

and fearless and thirsty and supple

and even if it’s sunday may i be wrong

for whenever men are right they are not young

and may myself do nothing usefully

and love yourself so more than truly

there’s never been quite such a fool who could fail

pulling all the sky over him with one smile

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