Thursday, February 3, 2011

Six Degrees of Separation

Epiphany 5, February 6, 2011, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Rev. Paul Moore

A number of years ago I visited a Tsachi Indian friend of mine in Western Ecuador. He knew of my fascination with hawks, so he was proud to give me one. It was a Roadside Hawk (Buteo magnirostris,) very common in the area. He had shot it with his muzzle-loading shotgun. One pellet had pierced it through the fleshy part of the neck, dropping the bird to the ground, but not killing it. He had it wrapped in a rag, it had been almost 2 weeks. The bird was languid, but still breathing—amazing. I took the bird and assessed the damage. I dropped a few drops of water down its throat. Within minutes the bird struggled to get out of its raggedy strait-jacket. It was weak, but more than anything it was dehydrated, and a little water revived it. I took it to the city, rehabilitated it, and gave it to a falconer friend of mine.

I am an Episcopal priest, this Indian man is a farmer, our lives could hardly be more different, yet we share a friendship since childhood that just won't go away. I spoke to him about the hawk. “Don't you realize, my friend, that the health of the environment on which you depend is measured by the health of its top predators, that the air they breathe is the air you breathe, the water they drink is the water you drink, and the earth they live on is the earth you live on, and if they’re in trouble so are we?” Point granted...he’s not stupid. “So why did you shoot it?”

“Because that kind kills my hens’ chicks that I sell in the market.” Point granted...

John Guare wrote a play called "Six Degrees of Separation," based on an idea put forward by the Hungarian Friyges Karinthy. It claims that we are all linked together through no more than six degrees of separation. It is a radical call to a sense of community. If that is true of hawks and farmers, how much more true is it of the Church.

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You are a city on a hill.” In each of them He makes the negative comparison. Salt that is no longer salty is thrown into the gutter. A lamp serves no purpose under a basket. You cannot hide a city on a hill. His meaning is clear. The faith is personal but not individual. The faith is one's own, but also belongs to the world. We as Christians are connected to all the rest of creation by far less than six degrees of separation.

Therefore, “If your righteousness does not exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees you will never enter the Kingdom.” The Scribes and Pharisees were anally retentive about all the little jots and tittles of the law. So what does Jesus mean? Isaiah describes it. What is the fast required of by the Lord? Loose the bonds of injustice, let the oppressed to free, share your bread with the hungry, clothe the naked, and don’t hide from your own kin. The life of the community of faith is inextricably bound up with the life of the community at large. We normally think of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees as making an outward show of perfection while hiding the brokenness within. In reality, they were individually perfect while the world around them was none the better for it! If our world around us is a mess perhaps it's partly because our faith has not seeped out past the boundaries of our own skin.

The Church is a place where we as a body gather up the whole world and offer it to God. This happens as each of us lives our faith at home, at work and at play, but it must also happen by the way we as a body live in this place called Planet Earth. Last week I was at the deployment support dinner, a wonderful ministry to the families of our deployed service men and women. I stood in line and picked up the divided Styrofoam plate. Annoyed, I turned and said (rather harshly, I admit,) "Who brought in the Styrofoam?"

The guilty party (a person for whom I have the highest respect and regard) humbly approached me. “I did, sir,” she replied, “but I will not stay after and wash dishes!”

“Can we use paper?” I retorted.

So graciously she said, "I'll see what I can do."

The contribution to the brokenness of the world by my harsh tone must be duly noted, but Styrofoam contributes much more to the brokenness of the world than it does to its health. Must we break the world on purpose before we offer it up to God? Going green is not just popular, it also happens to be a light in the darkness of what we've made of the planet.

The Church is a place where we consciously and intentionally design our life in such a way that we are salt, we are light, and we are obvious about it! All of our ministries, from outreach to worship, seek to bring about that integrity between the corporate life of St. Christopher's and our "footprint" in our world. If the world doesn't come to somehow reflect more of the nature of God because we walked this road then we have truly lived in vain.

One of my seminary professors this semester told this story in our first class. His grandfather belonged to a Holiness church. The Holiness Tradition at its most extreme believes that we can achieve a state of sinlessness in this life. His grandfather’s brother was a minister in that tradition. One Sunday afternoon the two brothers were watching some boys play ball on a Sunday afternoon, leaning on a fence together and discussing life. The ball went wild and ended up at their feet. Now working on Sundays was considered to be a sin, and returning the ball would be work. So the uncle says, "Arthur, throw that ball back to those boys. I haven't sinned in 20 years and I'm not about to start now!"

How is it not a sin to ask someone else to do it for you? No, sin is like everything else, it breaks us all by no more than six degrees of separation. Therefore the Church should be about being goodness in the world—all the way out through six degrees of separation.

No comments: