"What Love Is This? Solidarity."
Rev. Paul Mitchell
Vashon United Methodist Church
Vashon United Methodist Church
May 19, 2019 -- Fifth Sunday in Eastertide
Acts 11:1-18; Revelation 21:1-6
Jesus was a transgressor – someone who steps across, steps over; climbs over, goes beyond. In fact, it may be the simplest and most direct definition of what Jesus did – his job description, so to speak. Jesus’ essence is the most human one can be – the meeting place of creator and created – the perfectly embodied essence of self-giving love. The fully realized course of action that flows from this essence is transgression. Jesus literally steps across boundaries of class, race, culture, gender, and nationality. Jesus transgresses again and again the rigid and time- and place-bound rules of holiness-as-separation to demonstrate the lengths to which God’s love urges us to go. Jesus even goes beyond the limits of sin and death. And all along the way, Jesus calls us to join in the transgression. You might imagine, then, that I should have chosen “transgression” as the unexpected form of love that we encounter in the resurrection life. And it could have been, except that transgression is not the goal of resurrection love – it’s merely a means. Transgression is a way to get to what lays beyond what we perceive as the limits of this life. Transgression is a necessary step toward solidarity.
Followers of Jesus often lose track of Jesus’ radical invitation to “Follow me. See what I see. Love who I love. Do what I do.” Peter is the prime example – despite his earnest intentions and efforts. Throughout all four Gospels, Peter bungles it time and again. And yet it is Peter who Jesus calls the foundation of the church. If we left it only to the Gospel stories, we might think nothing ever came of Peter’s trial and error learning, nor of Jesus’ persistent love – Jesus way of forgiveness, generosity, hospitality, inclusion, and justice. Then last week, we saw Peter living out the boundary crossing persistence of resurrection love. He brought the disciple Tabitha back from the gates of death to pursue the work she had yet to do. Soon after, Peter is visited by a life-changing, world-changing, transgressive vision. For the sake of God’s saving, reconciling, wholistic project, the cultural boundaries are set aside. This was a critical turning point for the early church, in which what of the teaching of Jesus would be considered central. What was once forbidden territory is now seen as a new creation – for the sake of solidarity.
As you might expect, word gets back to headquarters, and Peter is called out on the carpet. Peter seems still to be a little dazed when he recounts his vision, but he cannot deny the power of his experiences, or the consequences of his transgressions. Suddenly, the dam has burst, and the baptismal waters are surging forth. Something new is being born – a new creation that transcends – indeed transgresses across boundaries of class, race, culture, gender, and nationality – for the sake of solidarity.
Solidarity became meaningful for me as we watched Polish laborers organize to resist the state control of unions in their nation in the 1980s. Solidarity, perhaps obviously, comes from the word solid, which in its original meaning meant “not empty or hollow,” from Old French solide “firm, dense, compact,” from Latin solidus “firm, whole, undivided, entire,” figuratively “sound, trustworthy, genuine,” a suffixed form of the root sol – “whole.” Solidarity means whole – just like the Hebrew word shalom. It doesn’t necessarily mean uniform – merely not empty or hollow – not missing any pieces – at peace with itself. In fact that same root word, “sol” is also the root of the words salubrious, salutary, salvage, save, and salvific. That’s right. The root of solidarity and the root of salvation are the same. Our salvation is when we come together whole – not just as individuals, not as carbon copies of one another, but as a whole body.
Another derivative of the same root is the “holon.” A holon is something that is simultaneously a whole and a part. We are, each of us at the same time, a body and part of a body – a complete human body and a part of the body of Christ, an individual and part of the body politic, a species and part of our planetary body, a global entity and part of the body of creation. Jesus calls us into intentional, mind-and-heartful solidarity with each of these bodies.
I think this is what the Apostle Paul was trying to get at when he wrote to the proto-Christians in Corinth, “The body is one, even though it has many parts; all the parts – many though they are – comprise a single body…. And that Body is not one part; it is many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” does that make it any less a part of the body? If the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the body were all eye, what would happen to our hearing? If it were all ear, what would happen to our sense of smell? Instead of that, God put all the different parts into one body on purpose. If all the parts were alike, where would the body be? They are, indeed, many different members but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” any more than the head can say to the feet, “I do not need you.” … If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members share its joy.”
Paul, of course, was talking about the Body of Christ – the resurrected body that is the holon comprised of one and many in Christ. But what I want to convey is that the actions of Jesus spilled over the limitations of the body – whether it was the body identified as Jesus from Nazareth who visited healing on the child of the Roman Centurion, or the child of the Syrophoenician woman, or the Samaritan woman at the well, or the Gentile bodies who were possessed with legions of spirits – all without regard to the body to which they belonged – or whether it was Peter or Paul or Tabitha as agents of the body of Christ. The action of Jesus was to transgress these boundaries and cultivate or nurture solidarity without expecting or even requesting uniformity. As human beings, Jesus calls us into solidarity with all that are human, without having to be the same. As living earthlings, Jesus calls us into solidarity with all life on earth, resplendent in its diversity. As stardust, Jesus calls us into solidarity with our planet, our solar system, the galaxy and the universe.
I re-learned recently that elements with nuclei larger than hydrogen and helium were created in explosions of super-novae. We are literally made of stardust – life from a now dead star. At whatever scale of body we are speaking, it is fully in line with the biblical witness, our Christian tradition, the reasoning of our hearts, and our embodied experience to say with intuitive healer Carolyn Myss, that “Love is the fuel of our physical and spiritual bodies.” Our bodies are the engines that transform the energy of love into matter that matters.
So, what does that mean for us? Clare Nolan of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, an order that is involved in providing social services in about 70 counties, with a particular focus on women and girls in vulnerable situations, tells us that “The entwined mystery of spirit and incarnation are alive. Yes, solidarity is not an easy slogan but a demanding [spiritual] practice.” She goes on to say that:
“In our time when humanity is pushed and pulled through a vast wilderness, when refugees are massively scorned, when parents cannot protect children against violence and hunger, and when riches are hoarded as if life and salvation depend on extraordinary accumulation, it seems an apt season to re-examine solidarity.
“… solidarity is not primarily a feeling; it is relationship and action. Yet I am aware that my own sense of solidarity is so fleeting as to be an illusion. Solidarity requires entering into the experience of another. Within the struggles or suffering of another, it implies a bond that moves to action.
“When I seek [solidarity] with the ‘other,’ as my heart opens toward [the] other, it … impels me to strive beyond personal interconnectedness and to work for changes in social realities that impede human dignity. Solidarity then is an endless meeting of self, of other, and of transformative activity.
“For even as I encounter this "other" in solidarity, I discover the other — that divine illumination of our universe, from whom generosity and [solidarity] flow.”
The story of Peter’s vision – the vision of animals clean and unclean, and the admonition for Peter to make a sacrifice is not really about food. And it is also not a demand that Peter and the other Jewish followers of Jesus adopt practices that are foreign to them. Instead it is to say that God is in solidarity with humanity through the risen body of Christ. Consider this. The sacrifice Peter was called to make was to erase the boundary that had been drawn between Jews and the rest of the world. Peter reports to the leaders in Jerusalem, “The Spirit told me to go with them and not make a distinction between them and us.”How, then, do we simple, weak, privileged, and tired, wise and foolish followers of Jesus practice this radical resurrection love of solidarity?
Simply this: Weep with those who weep.
Laugh with those who laugh.
Touch the untouchables.
Eat with the hungry.
Play with the child.
Visit the captive.
Forgive the sinner.
Confront the oppressor and comfort the oppressed.
Wash each other’s feet.
Hold each other close.
Tell each other truth.
Guide each other home. Invite each other to abide in the boundless state where all love originates. Follow Jesus in stretching the limits of home ever wider. Our love is not our own; it is God’s, and God the Source is without limit, without end. There are no parched places God will not drench if we ask. Live the words we all too easily forget to see every time we are in this place: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Solidarity; for the sake of Love.