The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost — The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh

The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost: September 3, 2017

Exodus 3:1-15  |  Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c
Romans 12:9-21  |  Matthew 16:21-28

Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church

While I was on vacation, I started reading a book called the Life of Pi, the story of a sixteen year old boy named Pi who gets stuck on a lifeboat for 227 days with a 450 pound Royal Bengal tiger in the Pacific Ocean. Early on in the book, Pi talks about his love of religion. As a boy, he was raised Hindu, but as a teenager he begins exploring the spirituality of other faiths around him–particularly Christianity and Islam.

Growing up in the Hindu temple with all its beauty and ritual, Pi experiences worship as the doorway into the transcendent divine mystery–the temple is a sacred cosmic womb–the place where everything is born.

Later on as a teenager, Pi watches the Sufi Muslim pause in the midst of his work to pray five times a day. From Islam, Pi learns that the ordinary grind of daily life becomes holy ground through prayer.

Questioning a Catholic priest about Jesus of Nazareth, Pi finds that God’s humanity is as compelling as his divinity. With the priest, he experiences how one can encounter Christ in another’s acts of compassion, listening and hospitality.

A faithful practitioner of Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam, Pi discovers that each religion enriches his own spiritual imagination bringing wisdom that guides him to live more fully and deeply in God’s love.

Then one day, Pi bumps into the local imam, priest, and swami on the street. Each religious leader eagerly greets him; each begins encouraging him to get more involved in their community. But when each discovers that Pi is practicing not two, but three religions, they all disapprove saying: “Your piety is admirable…especially in these troubled times. But you cannot be a Hindu, a Christian, and a Muslim. It’s impossible. You must choose.” (Life of Pi)

A heated debate ensues over which religion is better? Which is more valuable, more moral? Whose God is superior?

Again, they proclaim, “You cannot have all, you must choose only one.”

Pi responds: “Papa Gandhi says all religions are true. I just want to love God.”

Worshipping faithfully with these three religious communities teaches Pi that “the founding principle of existence is what we call love, which works itself out sometimes not clearly, not cleanly, not immediately, nonetheless inescapable.” (Life of Pi)

Pi becomes the burning bush of his town. He is the impossible wonder holding irreconcilable differences of faith while calling others to widen and deepen their love of God.

We see this same grace-filled living flame of love in Moses. Moses the oppressed who finds a family with Pharaoh his oppressor. Moses, a murderer on the run who finds a family with Jethro, the stranger, the foreigner, the priest of an idolatrous pagan religion. Moses, the estranged Hebrew who possesses the education and privileges of Egyptian royalty who finds a family with an enslaved, impoverished people.

In his soul, Moses holds all the world’s differences. All these animosities, all these opposites put together, and held in this one person. I almost get torn in two just thinking about all that tension and turmoil.

Moses learns that “love is not about balancing all the opposites within… love is about “holding” things in their seemingly unreconciled state to widen and deepen the soul. [Moses shows us that such] growth happens in honest community and committed relationships–love is learned in the encounters with ‘otherness.’ ” (Richard Rohr)

In today’s story, only Moses stops to see the burning bush. Why is that?… I mean, bush on fire… how could you miss that? Perhaps others passing by saw the fire, but what they didn’t see was that the blazing bush was unconsumed by the flames. After all, Mt. Horeb where the bush was located means “glowing heat”…maybe fires were common there.

Moses is the only one who notices that these seemingly irreconcilable things, a bush and a fire are dwelling, even thriving together.

Maybe Moses notices because he sees part of himself there in that burning bush. Maybe Moses stops not because he sees God in that fiery vegetation, But rather because in gazing into that blazing bush, He comes to see himself as God sees him. A living being surrounded by forces of fiery death and destruction, And yet still alive, still persevering, still thriving, still unconsumed.

Such seemingly irreconcilable things–fire and twig and leaf…such mortal enemies have found a home together. This sacred communion transforms vulnerability, death, and destruction into a thing of profound beauty and hope. And this same beauty and hope we see in Jesus, the living flame of love whose blaze brightly burns with the wood of the cross.

We live in times filled with danger, despair, division, discrimination, disaster. So much of what we read and hear around the globe tells us “you cannot have all, you must choose only one.”

So if we must choose, may we choose to hold irreconcilable differences together rather than trying to balance them or pick sides. If we must choose, may we choose to learn to love by encountering otherness rather than staying within our familiar, comfortable tribes.

If we must choose, may we choose love that is unconditional, abhorring evil and clinging to the good. May we choose mutual relationships honoring the divine in everyone we meet. May we choose to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to serve others. to rejoice in hope, to persevere in affliction, to pray and offer hospitality. May we choose to bless and not curse, to care and connect with the poor and vulnerable.

May we choose not to repay evil for evil, but to do what is right in the sight of all — even in the eyes of our enemies. May we choose to not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. May we choose to be Christian… to be known by our love. Amen.