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Can we mention the name?

Mar 22, 2016

Sermon for the Chrism Mass

Tuesday in Holy Week



God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God…the source of your life in Christ Jesus…

(1 Corinthians 1)


Well, I come to you today healthier, more hopeful, than I have been for some time.


I’ve been afflicted with a thorn in the flesh, an inflamed piriformis muscle in my left hip. My physical therapist, Pyramus, is helping me get through this crisis. Six months ago I limped like Jacob into his office after a visit to a sports medicine doctor. The only thing I can do for it is long-term physical therapy. I basically have had to learn how to walk again, this time more carefully.


My physical therapist, Pyramus – a name that makes me think of a Mall in New Jersey -- always asks and I always respond with the following liturgical dialog:


"So, Robert, how are you doing."


"Pretty good."


"How is your hip?"


"Pretty good, better."


"Well, Robert, we have to keep working at the base of your condition, that muscle located in your hip, running laterally, it’s the foundation of how we walk, and you need that foundation. we have to work at your piriformis muscle to get you walking right."


I did not know I had such a muscle – actually two of them – and now I know I need it to walk.


Pyramus, my physical therapist who at one time was a seminarian in the Philippines, and loves to talk about politics and religion with me while he engages in pain and torture – that’s what p. t. really stands for, not physical therapy, pain and torture – he says things like "We’re gonna make a plan for greater movement, strengthening your core, making you able to push off from a strong foundation, restore function. You know, Robert, to be able to walk, you have to lean forward while pushing off backward."


He has some issues with the fact that I walk like my father, with my left foot flaying out a bit. He thinks that might contribute to the inflammation. But the newest thing is teaching me to get over my flat-footedness and learn to walk correctly.


He is about one third my size but throws me around ruthlessly. He twists my leg, pushes into my hip with his elbow, makes me do things I have never done and makes me say things, well, think things I hadn't said in years....out loud. Stretching my quads, I believe my knee was behind my back, over my head. He has me leaning on my left leg, trying to squat on it. And for that hour two times a week, my left hip and everything about it is front and center. My brain is working, heart is working, sweat is pouring all for what is the focus: my inflamed piriformis muscle in my left hip.


It’s a matter of working at the foundation of how I walk.


Let me tell you why I’ve given this recital to you:


It may be foolishness to some, perhaps even some of you, dear friends: I believe Jesus Christ, Son of Mary and Son of God, is my Lord. At great cost he has rescued me from real powers of sin, evil and death, not with silver and gold, but with his holy and precious blood, his innocent suffering and death in order that I may be his and serve him. That is what Holy Week is about, this Chrism Mass is about, these vows we renew are about. We are getting at the foundation in order to learn how to walk. In God's love, Jesus Christ died for me in order that I may be his.


Sisters and brothers, we are founded on this foundation. We walk following him. In Holy Week you come to the rock-solid foundation of our faith; all other ground is sinking sand.


Do you remember the funeral for Pastor Pinckney of Mother Emmanuel A. M. E. Church in North Charleston? I remember seeing our Presiding Bishop on that stage, right behind the preacher. I was proud to see her there. But what I remember most is what the preacher, Bishop Battle, the head bishop of the A. M. E., said. First, a few slow words of soft introduction, and then he paused and before thousands in that arena and knowing he was before a nation and world, he said, "Aaaaahhhh.....Can I Mention the Name?"


And the arena erupted in praise ‘cause he named the firm foundation, Jesus. And, ohhhhhh, the clouds....the heavy cloud of death, the heavy cloud of evil speaking deep in hearts and powerfully alive in this world, the heavy cloud of our sin and our societal sin that would avoid and hide and play down and seek to move past racism like a Levite on the Jericho Road, and the heavy cloud of cultural correctness that would suffocate the name of Jesus under the generic pillow of Deism-at-best all suddenly dissipated, and the clouds gave way, gave way to the murdered and risen Son of God whose light broke through radiantly.


Can I mention the name?


Can we?


This week we center on Christ the center. But that’s the case every week…right? This week we come back again to the firm foundation that we walk on: God's Word announced to us, outside of us, announced in the life-story, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus who reveals the heart of God to us. That’s the foolish foundation on which I walk.


It’s much better than what Pyramus and I are discovering and developing. The only foundation. The rescuing Son of God and Mary who emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being found in human form. (Phil 2); the God who chose to be seen in the likeness of sinful humanity, in order that we might be his!


This God-human who took our sin, death, and bound-will, and gave us his faithfulness, life, and ability to see the love of God in a happy exchange; his death for our life, his resurrection for our resurrection.


As we gather on this Tuesday in Holy Week to set apart these oils, renew our vows and continue together to work on our racism and our mutual conversation and consolation and our reconciliation, let’s remember the rock solid foundation of it all and let us always be ready to make our defense to anyone who demands from us an accounting of the hope that is in us.


My physical therapist is working on my foundation. Can we work together on our foundation? Can we work together on – how does Ephesians say it? – Can we talk about and bear witness to Christ Jesus the cornerstone…can we talk about the saints and apostles whose foundation we are built upon so that we might be built up together into a spiritual temple…can we worship together, today, aware of the hope to which we have been called, all the riches of our inheritance, the power that is at work in us?


At this annual Chrism Mass I assume we have a common foundation. It is, after all, Holy Week. Today I want to mention it, to name the name of our foundation in your hearing, Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for the sake of the world. I'm not talking about judging one another's faith. I am talking about building upon one another's faith in the living Christ we love, as we walk together in him as the church.


Pyramus, my physical therapist, talked to me about walking. He keeps saying, "Every time we make a step forward we actually have to push backward too. The firmer the foundation we are on, the better we are able to move forward." I never thought about walking in quite that way before, but it’s true. Every step should have us leaning forward but also pushing backward from the firm foundation under us. This is how we actually walk. The firmer the foundation, the better.


Luther leaned forward upon a rescuing Christ because he pushed off the scriptures, early church leaders like Athanasius and Augustine, the creeds. He pushed solidly backwards so he had a foundation to step forward. He mentioned the name. He leaned into an external word, and a boundless God who fills the finite with infinite grace, grace seen in manger, cross, tomb, water, oil, bread, wine, you, me, Tanzanian, Japanese, Brazilian, in Ferguson and Flint, in Staten Island and in North Charleston, there are so many places to name – wherever the word about him is proclaimed.


All we need is here. The living Christ, scripture, creeds, confessions to push off backwards from. A firm foundation. Christ is here, ever with, ever ahead. We need to lean into Christ even as we push off from Christ. What’s an Alpha and Omega for if we can’t do that?


Pyramus keeps saying, "We have to have a firm foundation. We have to know the truth about our condition. We need a plan for greater movement, stengthening, able to push off from a strong foundation to restore function. For us to be able to walk together, we have to lean forward while pushing off backward." We have to, always, joyfully thankfully and prayerfully, ahhh....we have to mention the name, Jesus!


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo



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