St John’s Episcopal Church, Kirkland
Before the beginning there was God, there was only God, so all that would ever be was somehow God before it was other. And in that time before time when there was only God, for reasons we can only wonder at: God made God’s self smaller so that for the first time there might be room in existence for something other than God.
And so the whole infinite expanse of space and time came to be, because God drew back just a tiny bit of God’s self to make room for what we boggle at as massive, as so huge we cannot begin to grasp all of it.
But all that is found its existence in God’s willingness to become less, to make room.
In our lessons last week God set before the people fire and water, blessings and curses, life and death. And God commanded the people to stretch out their hand, to make their choice. Choose life God commanded and it sounded like a plea, but it was still a choice.
God made a choice in those moments before creation.
God sets before each of us a choice.
Free and unconstrained.
Life or death.
Life as God measures it looks different than we might expect.
For God, choosing life means leaving part of your hard work in the field for others to reap, so that no one is hungry, and no one has too much.
For God choosing life means doing justice, even when no one can see.
Life means justice before profit, and the good of our neighbor as important as our own.
It seems so simple in Leviticus, but every generation discovers for themselves how hard it is to live into the nature of God, how good we are at convincing ourselves that Life is hard, and Death is smarter.
There is always an excuse: the harvest was small, we need it all. There might be a famine next year, we need it all. My neighbor isn’t trustworthy, I have to stay safe, that rich man can help me out…
Jesus knows us, because Jesus lives inside our skin. Jesus lives with the same brain awash in survival chemicals and all those urges that served our ancestors so well as they struggled to be the evolutionary branch that didn’t go extinct. But now those same traits get in our way.
Jesus got us, and Jesus loved us. And so Jesus didn’t go easy on us. Because life is that important.
There is a famous Zen koan, or teaching, that goes like this. One day a famous Zen master was meditating in his house when a robber burst through the door, waving his sword and yelling for the master give him all his money.
The master pointed toward the drawer where he kept his coins but then said “my son your coat is thin and worn and it is cold outside, take mine there by the door, it is very warm.” The man laughed at the master, thinking him foolish, grabbed the coat and the money and ran.
A day later a soldier dragged the robber into the master’s home and asked “Master, this man was caught with money he shouldn’t have and this fine coat which looks like yours, did he rob you?”
“Oh no,” the master replied quietly, “I gave it to him.”
Shocked and disappointed the soldier released the man and went away in a huff. But the stunned thief was so overcome that he stayed and became a student of the master.
Jesus looks at his human family around him and he feels the fear in their hearts: the fear that someone will get more than them, the fear that there won’t be enough for them, that someone will hurt them, the fear that drives every closing of a fist, and shout of anger, and hardening of heart.
Jesus hears humanity beating on God’s door, waving our swords and demanding what isn’t ours. And Jesus reminds us that God makes room.
Like the zen master God made room for generosity, for another to thrive, for everything that exists to simply be. God laughs and says “child, put down the sword, you may have my gold and everything else besides.” Jesus tells his disciples that they too must make room. That they, like the zen master, must hold things lightly.
Because God does. Because somehow our bits are God-bits. Somehow God’s perfection, God’s mercy, God’s generosity are our inheritance, they are our DNA.
We are most fully human when we are like the thief who becomes the Zen master, when we love our enemies, when we chose generous love over fear and security.
Jesus’s words are not idle, they are not philosophy. They are his life, they foreshadow his own end. The divine in Jesus is this: the willingness to make room for the other even when that means ones own death. The human thing to do when soldiers came for Jesus, would have been to fight, to insight a riot, to whip up the crowd, to protect his own life behind a shield of violence. To strike first, to strike fast, to strike hard.
But in Jesus flowed the blood of mortal and of God and so, rather than harm the hair on the head of even one of God’s children Jesus walked to the cross willingly. Jesus made room.
You are the stuff of dreams and legends, you are a child of God. On the ladder of your DNA angels ascend and descend in their multitudes.
You are the thief, and the Zen master.
Daily, God holds back God’s own self so that there is room for you in this world.
Daily God sets before each of us fire and water, life and death and every day, God pleads with us: chose life, make room.