This is the sermon the Rev. Kevin Johnson preached at St. Alban’s Theatre Arlington, for the featured live streamed service for the Ninth Sunday of Pentecost, July 25, 2021.
If you’ll remember, few weeks back we talked about the notion that when Jesus crosses the Galilean Sea something is always afoot. I think that was the sermon in which I observed that everyone always looks and sounds better with a group of back-up singers and the choir jumped right on board with some doo-wap doo wops and ooooh-mau-maus. Anyway, back to crossing over.
This week’s gospel reading, which is really two vignettes – the loaves and fishes and Jesus’ walking on the water – this week’s reading is two vignettes that John has, I believe, purposefully put back-to-back to reinforce the opening statement – “After this, Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee….” You see, once again, John is telling us that there is something really important here about the action of “crossing over” that connects to divine, even miraculous, realities.
So, with this mind I began thinking about what happens when Jesus enacts some type of miraculous sign. More specifically, I paid attention to what happened just before Jesus stirs up the divine. What I observed is that all of the divine acts and major moments in Jesus’ life begin with him crossing over. Here’s just a few examples.
In the story about the good Samaritan, the goodness of the Samaritan occurs on the other side of the street. The priest and Levite weren’t willing to physically cross the street. But, the Samaritan does. He crosses over and God’s divine character of generosity and mercy spills out into the world.
And these crossings over occur not only in the physical way – walking across a street – but also in the cultural norms way. Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well is a clear cross over of societal, ethnic, and religious boundaries. Jesus crosses over these boundaries to get to the woman – “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” Yet, in the action of crossing over Jesus is able to know the woman well enough to know her fully, and love her fully, as she fully is – “He told me everything I ever did.”
In the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Syrophoenician woman he crosses over religious taboos about who deserves the mercy of God. At first Jesus hesitates to step across the taboo – “…it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” (BTW: I gotta say that it kills me every time I say those words out loud. I’m like, “Jesus, dude, you’re killing me. Do you not hear yourself?” Then I’m like, “Hmmm. How many times do I do the same thing, reserving the mercy of God for those who, in my judgement, “deserve” the mercy of God?” Busted myself.). Anyway, at first Jesus hesitates, well, he doesn’t hesitate, he chooses to not step across the religious taboo about “those people.” But, the woman, the woman, she persists and calls Jesus out on his lack of ethical courage – “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Whelp! Busted. Jesus crosses over the taboo line and the divinely miraculous is all stirred up – a little girl is healed.
And these crossing overs are not just about external barriers – physical or societal. These crossing overs sometimes have to do with – as we call it in the world of coaching – self-imposed limits. That is, our internal concepts about our own capabilities or authority – self-imposed limits.
Here’s one: A wedding feast, the wine runs out, early in the party. Mary looks at Jesus. Jesus is like, “Who me? Nope.” Scripture fancies it up a bit – “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” But, Mary quickly gets to heart of the matter – Jesus’ self-imposed limits about who he is and what he is called to do, and what he is ready to do. Mary says to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you,” knowing full well that her son is capable, and called, and ready. Mary, in this first stirring up of the divine, pulls Jesus across the divide. Jesus crosses over and water becomes wine of amazing abundance and quality and joy! The feast goes on and on and on.
It is in the action of crossing over – whether that is physically going to new territory, whether it is about stepping across societal norms and taboos, or whether breaking down our internal self-imposed limits – it is in the action of crossing over that the divine is encountered and stirred up.
Many of us in this diocese, in fact, I’d say all of us in this diocese because we are all in relationship together, we are living in cross-over moments. We have left the known – or, maybe more truthfully were shoved out of the known – either way we are no longer where we were – physically, emotionally, spiritually – and are being invited to cross over. Perhaps we can take heart from Jesus’ lived experiences and discover that it is in the cross over moments that the divine gets encountered, that the power of God gets stirred up, that miracles happen – people are healed, the assaulted get taken care of, there is more than enough bread for everyone (and I mean everyone, just go to today’s Ephesian’s reading if you think some people don’t deserve to eat the bread of God), and the best wine flows in abundance, of the highest quality, and the feast continues.
Indeed, it is in the “crossing over” where we discover and we stir up the divine. So, let me ask you; let me ask myself, too: ‘Where are we being called to cross over into these days? Both individually, and communally?’
Who is waiting broken up in the gutter across the street, waiting for us to cross over? What stranger is sitting on the lip of the well waiting to be known fully, and loved fully as he is? What societal outsider yearns to partake of the bread of God’s mercy? What abundant, generous joy of God are we holding back by our self-imposed limits?
What is our cross over moment this day? What divine miracle is waiting to be stirred up by you showing up? Amen.