Leaving your gift…
It was April 2003. Aron Ralston was on a hiking trip in Bluejohn Canyon (Utah). On that hike a boulder became dislodged, crushing his right forearm and pinning it against the canyon wall. Ralston had not told anyone of his hiking plans. He knew no one would be searching for him. Assuming that he would die, he spent five days slowly sipping his small amount of remaining water…trying to get his arm free. It was no use, he could not dislodge his arm. He eventually ran out of water, carved his name, date of birth and presumed date of death into the sandstone canyon wall. He videotaped his last goodbyes to his family.
You probably know the rest of the story. After five days of trying to lift and break the boulder, dehydrated and delirious, Ralston prepared to amputate his trapped right arm below the elbow in order to escape. He did so with a dull tool that you might get for free when you buy a $15 flashlight.
After freeing himself, he was still seventeen miles from his vehicle, and he had no mobile phone. He had to rappel down a 65-foot sheer wall, then hike out of the canyon in the hot midday sun. While hiking out, he met a couple and their son on vacation from The Netherlands. They gave him water and then called for help. He was ultimately rescued six hours after amputating his arm.
A story of incredible courage. The courage to do whatever it takes to get free.
The context of the passage from 1 Corinthians is an extended discourse regarding church unity. Paul’s argument unfolds in five steps. In 1:10-17, Paul names the problem—quarrels, divisions over leaders.
In the second step (1:18-25) he contrasts Christ crucified with the wisdom of the world. Two very different ways of being community.
The third step is a call to grow up. In 2:6-3:4, Paul declares that he DOES speak wisdom among the mature, but that he could not do so among the Corinthians. Their way of thinking keeps them from going deeper. They are stuck.
In the fourth step (3:5-23), Paul warns that all ministry must be laid upon the one foundation—Jesus Christ.
In our reading today we hear…Unity in the body of Christ is not based on loyalty to certain leaders. Unity is not about who planted seeds or watered them in your story. Unity is based on Jesus Christ and the wisdom of the cross. God brings the growth…unity in ways we can’t imagine.
What does maturing in Christ have to do with the wisdom of the cross? Paul compares it to moving from milk to solid foods. Moving from milk to solid foods can be disorienting. Did you ever watch someone trying to feed a baby with a spoon for the first time? It can be pretty messy. What’s this? Unhappy tears…
What Paul describes in Corinth, has broader application. There is a connection between immaturity and disunity. When there is an unhealthy dependence on spiritual mentors to spoon feed us, we can miss the critical journey…which is about the work of the cross being formed in us.
The wisdom of the cross involves moving beyond passivity. It is a call to move beyond dependence on being spoon fed. This can be difficult—even disorienting. (…talk some more about this journey in SS.)
Richard Rohr observes that the older he gets the more he notices that the people who change, and keep changing, are the only people who grow up…”
For Aron Ralston, change was dramatic. He had to amputate his arm in order to get unstuck. He had to lose a part of himself so that he could live. I wonder what that might look like for us…on the journey of faith…life…
Where are the places we get stuck?
What is required for the wisdom of the cross to be expressed in us?
Our gospel reading today was just two verses. The context of Matthew 5:23-24 is the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is talking to disciples. Jesus is talking about gathering for worship…about bringing our gifts to the altar.
But Jesus, like the Isaiah text last week, is looking beneath the surface of church attendance. He is addressing things that are sometimes hidden as we gather for worship. Jesus sees our strained relationships. There are points of tension between us and others.
Perhaps this is a significant way we get stuck in life—in which our faith development gets stunted. We get stuck in relationships. We experience pain. We feel violated and betrayed by others. We pull away… We carry anger towards others and God. Sometimes we don’t want to name this.
Jesus DOES name it. It is the reality of being human—even for those who gather for worship and bring their gifts to the altar. But Jesus does more than name our condition. He names the cure. Leave your gift at the altar and go.
This is not easy. We would rather just keep bringing our gift to the altar. We would rather practice avoidance, false niceness, even passive aggression. Perhaps we don’t even know how to enter the vulnerable space of being community in another way.
To leave the altar and go to the person can be painful. Like amputating your arm. We have to cut through the muscle of pride, the nerve of fear, and the bone of our calcified will.
Jesus says leave your gift….go…be reconciled to your brother and sister, and then come and offer your gift. This isn’t about power. This isn’t about being right. It’s not about putting up a good front and gathering for worship. It’s about reconciled relationships. It’s about healing.
We might think this verse is just addressing outright conflict. Might it also apply to the space where reconciliation does not happen despite our best efforts? Might this teaching of Jesus also call us to be aware of differences between us and to learn how to hold those?
To learn how to honor each other’s gifts, each others stories and pain, each other’s theology and politics. Is that what it means to embrace the wisdom of the cross in our relationships? What does it mean to be aware of these differences. What would Jesus have us do?
Perhaps it is a bit like when you are in a gathering and hear another pastor say: “Kids, you know that God wrote the Bible, right?” You hear this language and while you believe in God and the inspiration of Scripture, you wouldn’t quite express it this way. In fact, you find this language dangerous. You want to react. You want to bring correction somehow…to post something on Facebook…to write a blog post…to be snarky. What language did God write in? What was the writing instrument? But you don’t follow through on this snarkiness. You decide to just carry the disorientation—to hold it.
Sometime later you revisit it and examine the impulse behind your need to react…to deconstruct. To bring to light a more informed view of scripture. While reflecting on this, you are invited to come away from the altar, to hold the other person and their way of talking about scripture with love and peace in your heart. You are invited to make space for difference, for paradox, for contradictions in your heart…in the faith community.
That’s my story…what’s yours?
Are there relationships that need to be mended? Are there people you have a hard time being around…making room for in your heart?
May God give each of us the grace to allow the wisdom of the cross to do its work in us. May we be willing to leave our gifts…to go…to be reconciled…to make space for the other.