As I think on the scriptures we have read today, I am reminded of the play, by Tom Stoddard. The two lead characters stumble upon a traveling band of actors that call themselves “Tragedians,” because they only perform tragedies. When asked if these were works of antiquity, their leader replies:
“We're more of the love, blood, and rhetoric school. Well, we can do you blood and love without the rhetoric, and we can do you blood and rhetoric without the love, and we can do you all three concurrent or consecutive. But we can't give you love and rhetoric without the blood. Blood is compulsory. They're all blood, you see.”
Blood is compulsory in the story of human history. Even as we continue to search for our evolutionary roots we can’t help but ask questions about blood. We spill it. We keep it. We honor it. It doesn’t matter if the blood indicates royalty, ethnicity, or just family – blood matters. Not only is it essential for life, but blood indicates our loyalties. We’ve all heard the phrase, “blood is thicker than water,” and it is true that most people would rather be with family or tribe than that which is foreign unless they are forced to leave.
One place that we find ourselves crossing the divide between strangers and friends is the church. I’ve even heard it said that your church is your family of choice. As nice as that sounds, the idea of choosing your religion is fairly new. As , a well renowned Lutheran Pastor, recently put it in an interview, “people are now choosing symbol systems to help them make sense of the world,” whereas those used to be inherited. Sometimes these symbol systems include the church. Sometimes they do not.
The good thing about this is that we are more sincere when we make these choices. The bad thing about it is that we are more able to deny those relationships that make us uncomfortable. Yet, we who follow Christ are truly bound by someone else’s choice. We are bound by someone else’s blood.
Have you ever thought about it that way – that we are like blood brothers and sisters? Maybe it’s a guy thing, but I have secretly always wanted to cut my hand and bind it with a friend like they used to in old stories before blood born illnesses made us crazy about hygiene. And yet, I believe that is exactly what happens when we share our burdens and even more so when we experience life together.
I think that is why it is sometimes harder to share joys than it is to share concerns. I’ve seen this in prayer groups and worship service with people ranging from age 5 to 100. It’s always the same. We are happy with and for one another when good things happen, but nothing unites you with someone else like sharing a burden – especially when it is something that you have no idea how to respond to.
Of course, when we get pushed too far out of our comfort zone we can do and say some strange things. Just look at Job’s wife! “Haven’t you suffered enough? Just curse God and get it over with!” says the woman who also lost everything, including her children and their families.
And Job corrects her, reminding her that God is the source of all of life in its fullness – the good, the bad, and the ugly. The thing that is hard for us as modern thinkers is that this was written at a time when the question of the presence of evil with a just God wasn’t an issue. The question that Job was written to answer is, “Why do you believe?”
Job’s friends come later and challenge him over his faith and practice, but they come up dry. Eventually the drama plays out before God, and we find that the purpose of all the hardship was not only to prove that God was God but to prove that faith is not dependent on blessing. If anything, faith is the essential tool for understanding and getting through suffering!
For us all the world is indeed a stage and we are all tragedians. The world for all of its complexity and beauty is imperfect. Sometimes screws fall out of the place they held together. Sometimes people feel rejected and no one is there to tell them how unique in all the world they are except for those who tell them that power and dominance and violence are effective means of control.
And yet God suffers with them as God does with us, because God knows that suffering is not the last word. The last word is the first word, which is the only word. And that word is God. The letter to the Hebrews reminds us that God spoke the universe into being. God corrected Kings and nations through prophets. And God spoke a final and complete word in the person, teaching, suffering, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And that final word which makes everything make sense is redemption.
Whether we know it or not we need redemption. It seems like that word gets thrown around a lot these days – mostly in competitions. More and more I hear of people saying that they need to redeem themselves, and maybe you can when it comes to a cooking show or a football game. But the author of Hebrews reminds us that redemption doesn’t come from covering up a failure with a success. Redemption comes from recognizing that, no matter what we have done or had done to us, God is with us – constantly choosing to love us into higher levels of response to God’s love. In fact – so says Hebrews 2:6 – somewhere, somebody said that we have been given a lot of responsibility (it’s actually a quote from Psalm 8). Yet we can’t even see all that is under our care. But we can see that Jesus suffered.
We can understand that we are united in the experience of suffering and limitation – not just with Jesus but with anyone. Through the suffering of Jesus we can know that we are a part of his family of choice, and through his resurrection we can see the possibility of peace and redemption for all of God’s creation!
And so we become a people that are able to say that all lives matter – that’s what the table of Christ is all about. We become a people that are able to say that blue lives matter without denying the fact that black lives matter. We can even say that black lives matter without denying that all lives matter equally.
And today with the help of , we can even say that orange lives matter. Innerfaith will be the local recipient of a portion of the , and I’d like you to see how suffering and redemption come together in the work that they do.
I’ve edited this video down a bit, but you can find the full version on their website. I also want to acknowledge that our connection with them is through the C.U.P.S. Basket Ministry. You will not see any gift baskets in the video, because the children get new toys. The gift baskets C.U.P.S. provides are for the other family members that would otherwise be neglected.
Blood is compulsory. We’re all flesh and blood, you see. As it has been said, “What Christ has assumed, Christ has healed.” And today we celebrate with Christians throughout the world because God has chosen to be known to us in suffering and redemption, and God has given us faith to proclaim peace in a world bent on self destruction. It’s just that simple. It’s just that hard.
But hey, you’re not alone. We have each other, and in the space between us we might just find that there is more joy than we can contain, more hope than we can imagine, and a message that truly flows through us as a life giving force. Let us then be drawn to the table of Christ that we might be sent into all the world, and to God be the glory, now and always. Amen.