December 8, 2013 by Ken Dale
?Sacred People? ? what comes to mind?? Nelson Mandela? Mother Theresa?? Saint Francis?? Pope John Paul II?? Moses?? Abraham and Sarah?? It?s Advent and nearing Christmas ? Joseph and Mary?
I couldn?t help but steal or perhaps borrow, the title of one my favorite books by Fred Buechner:? Peculiar Treasures.? It?s a wonderful collection of descriptions of and reflections on 125 people and one whale from the Bible .? It speaks of the holiest of them and the most profane of them but shows them all as God?s people ? and as human beings.? Buechner?s description of Moses is that he was less like Charlton Heston with some fake whiskers glued on and more like Tevye the milkman after ten rounds with Mohammed Ali.? But he ends saying nobody had ever known God?s name before Moses did, and nobody would ever have known it? afterwards except for his having passed it on; and with that thought in his heart up there on Pisgah, and with that name on his lips, and with the sunset in his whiskers, he became in the end a kind of burning bush himself.
Remember Zaccheus the tax collector up in the tree looking for Jesus?? Buechner describes him as a sawed-off little social disaster with a big bank account and a crooked job, but Jesus welcomes him aboard anyway, and that?s why he reminds you of all the others too.
It?s Advent and Christmas ? consider some more timely.? ?Again this morning we have heard of John Baptist.? Buechner writes of him:? John the Baptist didn?t fool around?He subsisted on a starvation diet…wore clothes that even the rummage sale people wouldn?t have handled.? When he preached, it was fire and brimstone every time.? The Kingdom was coming all right, he said, but if you thought it was going to be a pink tea, you?d better think again.? If you didn?t shape up God would give you the axe like an elm with the blight or toss you into the incinerator like what?s left over when you?ve lambasted the good out of the wheat?one of his favorite ways of addressing his congregation was as a snake pit.
We remember Joseph and Mary ? like all the others in the story and stories of God?s people ? just ordinary people ? but people willing to answer the call of God in their lives.? They are sacred people who usher in the presence of love.? One cannot help but mention Nelson Mandela ? and the example of his life ? filled with changes as he began with love, turned to violence, and then returned to love ? changing a nation and even the world in which he lived.? How powerful that after unjustly being imprisoned for 27 years that he emerged with the power and the wisdom to forgive those who imprisoned him ? at least in part, that burden of not forgiving them was not something he wanted to carry in his life.? When he became president he embraced those who preceded him in that government ? he did not give them a cold shoulder or turn his back to them.? He knew the wisdom of unity and how much could be celebrated and accomplished in that unity.
What a great day to celebrate that South African term Ubuntu ? that celebrates that we are all one ?in the bundle of life? as Desmond Tutu captured it!? We are all together, as Mandela has said, with care, respect, helpfulness, trust, unselfishness, and sharing in our experience of community. [Note – you can watch a video “Ubunto Told By Nelson Mandela” on youtube] ?That is what we are called to.? Paul speaks of it in our lesson from Romans this morning ? May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify God?Welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed you?? To use Mandela?s words ? this is a universal truth ? a way of life.? To use Desmond Tutu?s words ? ?there is no such thing as a solitary individual,? ??I need you to be you so that I can be me? ? the person belongs to the bundle of life!? The point is to recognize that everything and everyone is sacred!? Ubuntu speaks of the fact that you cannot exist as a human being in isolation ? we are interconnected ? I love the rough translation of it ? ?I am because we are? ? it is all about so much more than the individual ? it is about God and God?s desire for God?s creation!
God puts to good use those sacred people like Isaiah, John the Baptist, Joseph and Mary, and God acts through the lives of these sacred people for the benefit of all God?s people.? They, each and every one of them, like Nelson Mandela, are playing a role in a story that is far greater than themselves.
As people of faith we are no different ? we, like they, are just ordinary people but we can make a difference if we too are open to answer the call of God in our lives.? That call may be to be a voice of forgiveness, a voice of unity, a voice of caring, compassion, respect ? to be a person who is open to let God?s gift of love and God?s gift of peace affirm the worth of each and every person.
And how can we help but smile when we see ourselves as the same type of ordinary people that Fred Buechner captures as ?peculiar treasures? ? we all have our gifts, and we all have our quirks, our shortcomings, our imperfections, — maybe not ?saw-off little social disasters? like Zaccheus, or one who appears to have gone 10 rounds with Mohammad Ali like Moses – but still God can and does use us each and all in very surprising ways.? And that is most likely to happen when we are able to smile from deep within ? from the soul ? in faith, knowing that in some way we are each and all a gift ? a special gift ? and one of God?s children.? I can?t help but think that was what was behind the smile on Nelson Mandela?s face ? a smile that was as much in his eyes as it was with his mouth ? it was a deep joy that came from within ? and knowing and even experiencing the reality of ubuntu ? that unity of all people being in the one bundle of life ? despite the differences of race, nationality, politics, or whatever — I mean look at all the dancing and celebration of his life that are happening in South Africa ? how can one not be touched by the diversity of those dancing?? Yes he changed a nation ? but in so many ways he also changed the world ? and established friendships with the world-famous and the unknown ? he knew the reality and the possibilities of ubuntu – that ?we all need each other and everyone is sacred.?? Yes we are sacred people ? yes God uses us.
It is my hope and prayer that ubuntu can be experienced here in the community ? the family ? that is this church.? We are God?s peculiar treasures for sure ? I share Paul?s desire May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify God?Welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed you?
??????????? We are part of God?s long line of peculiar treasures ? a collection with the possibility in Christ for ubuntu — I close with Buechner?s final words in his book:? Why are they treasured?? Who knows?? But maybe you can say at least this about it ? that they?re treasured less for who they are and for what the world has made of them than for what they have it in them at their best to be because ultimately, of course, it?s not the world that made them at all.? ?All the earth is mine!? says [God].? ?and all that dwell therein,? adds the Twenty fourth Psalm, and in the long run, that goes for you and me too.