Friday, June 26, 2015

wide open.

1As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2For he says, 
     “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, 
          and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” 
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see — we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
11We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. 12There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. 13In return — I speak as to children — open wide your hearts also.

So, to this day, my husband doesn’t believe me when I tell him that I ran cross country. I really did. It was in high school and I ran for three years. It was intense. We ran every day, sometimes twice a day, before school and after school, before our jobs at pizza parlors and ice cream shops, in the rain, in the heat, on weekends, and on vacations. I remember one Thanksgiving I’d just gorged myself on turkey and oyster stuffing and that cranberry sauce in a can, and then I tied up my running shoes and ran a straight line down the Grant County roads, past nothing more than corn and soybeans and more corn.  

And when it came time for a meet, when it was race day and we’d warmed up and eaten our bagels and drank our water and stretched our calves, we’d line up at the starting line, our fingers on the start buttons of our watches, and wait for the gun. We were a line of anxious, nervous, overly-carbohydrated girls, ready to endure the pain of the next seventeen to twenty-four minutes. And the gun would go off and we’d run. We’d slap through mud and up hills, cut each other off at the turns, stick our elbows out to catch a competitor’s rib or two. And then, after the laps around the baseball fields and through the narrow trails between cheap high school landscaping, we’d see it. The finish line. 

And with our lungs on fire and sweat dripping behind our knees, we were then expected to kick it in to high gear. Give it our all. Accelerate through the pain, even though our tank was on empty, and pass one more girl, shave off one more second, leave it all on the course, as we used to say.

And yet, it was such a fine line between keeping a little bit in reserve, just in case, and then having that to accelerate to the finish line, and finding that extra something that you didn’t know you had to push you to the end. 

Were you doubting your workouts, your strength, your preparation, your very self so much that you felt like you had to be conservative, pace yourself, take it easy in the beginning, just in case you tripped on an exposed root or got a cramp or spent too much in the beginning and had nothing left at the end? Or do you start the race with your whole heart, with the throttle wide open, with only the hope that somehow you can sustain it, somehow you can make it to the finish line before you collapse from exhaustion?

Do you keep some in reserve?
Do you let it all go and hope that somehow you’ll still have enough to make it through?

Do you keep your heart tucked safely behind your ribs, or do you wear it on your sleeve, vulnerable to anyone with a knife or a stick or an active email account or just a really sharp pencil?

In our reading today, Paul has opened his heart wide. He’s risking making a fool of himself, resorting to begging, and even violating societal rules of boundaries and humility. One commentary says, “Whatever may be his fear of appearing foolish, of violating decorum and going “too far” [Paul] does not scruple to open his heart wide.” In the words of my therapist, he is “oversharing.” In this pleading, vulnerable plea to the Corinthians, Paul doesn’t have anything left in his tank. He gives them everything he has. A wide open heart.

I think this text makes us a little squirmy. A little squeamish. Seeing Paul be this emphatic, this emotional, this over-the-top. It’s like you’re eavesdropping on your neighbors’ domestic dispute, or watching the nerd profess his love for the cheerleading captain. It’s like you’re in the next aisle while a bewildered and exhausted mom is doing everything she can to appease her temper-tantrumming two year old so she can grab the groceries and go. It’s like Paul is on the Maury Povich show trying to woo his girlfriend back and convince her that even though it’s not his baby they can still be a family, they can make this work.

Paul is almost boasting about how much he’s given up for this community. Boasting about how humble he is. This isn’t the clearly articulated argument Paul. This is passionate, wild, no holds barred, everything but the kitchen sink Paul. Paul at his wits end. Paul throwing everything he has at the church in Corinth to make them understand, to help the “get it.” 

And I think we’re all a little scared of passion. We’re all a little scared of emotion and vulnerability and revealing our need. We want to keep that in reserve. We want to put it in canning jars and keep it in the basement just in case we need it someday. But really, I think it’s because we’re embarrassed by our passion, by our hearts open wide. We don’t trust that we’ll still be loved if we reveal all that mess inside of ourselves. 

And here Paul is, revealing his mess. Laying it all on the line. Cashing in his chips and prying open those dusty jars of pickled cucumbers. 

I think the Corinthians were very comfortable with their 10% tithe. They wanted to love God with 10% of themselves, 10% of their time, 10% of their resources, maybe 10 and a half percent of their love. Any more, and people might look at them like they’re freaks. People will think they’re being counter cultural, they’ll think they’re in a cult and drinking kool-aid and they’ll have to start letting in the hungry folks from the street and the lonely folks from the retirement homes and the over-sugared kids with ADHD. 

No. 10% is good. 10% is manageable. I can make it to the finish line if I just use 10% at a time. Pace myself. The Corinthians wanted a gospel of reason and moderation. Something they can put in a box and take out and polish on holidays and pass on to the kids when they die. Something that is orderly and makes sense and is simple and understood and doesn’t ask more from us than we think we can reasonably give. 

But Paul says no. Don’t keep it in reserve. Use it. Use it now. Open wide your hearts. Lay it all on the line. Be vulnerable. Be real. Show your mess. Take risks. Let others in. 

"When someone hits you on your right cheek, give him your left also. When someone takes your cloak, give him your coat as well. And when someone forces you to walk one mile, walk with him two." 

Open wide your hearts. 

Start a ministry where you serve free food to anyone, and you worry about funds and sustainability and practicality later.
Open your doors to folks who will probably use your bathrooms to bathe themselves and will fill their coat pockets with sugar packets.
Share a story you’ve never told before with someone who feels ashamed all the time.
Go beyond signing facebook petitions and giving lip service to the atrocities of racism and ask hard questions of the NRA, of our capitalist system, of our white majority. 
Start uncomfortable conversations. 
Refuse to accept that violence is the norm of our day.
Listen to those living on the margins. Try doing something their way.
Let yourself feel the pain of all the really tough things you have suffered in your life. 
And then share that pain with someone else.

Give up your desire to please and to keep this false sense of “peace” and challenge the status quo, explore and learn something new, follow your bliss and do that thing you say you’ll do when the kids are grown, when you retire, when you finally land that job or pay off that debt. Step out of the boat, walk on water. 

Because when you open wide your hearts, then, then you can receive the messy stuff of grace.
And then you can give away all that messy, gooey, sticky grace.

Let your heart be a mess of intake and outtake, a traffic jam of inbound and outbound, a thunderstorm of colliding high and low pressures.
Open wide your hearts. Take the risks. Stand up for justice. Demand change. Stand in the line of fire for the sake of another. Be vulnerable. 

This isn’t efficient. It’s a clusterfuck. It’s collision and reaction and explosion and confusion. It’s everyone speaking in different languages and yet still somehow understanding each other. It’s walking around with flames on your head. It’s God making connections and healing hurts and raising the dead. It’s pandemonium and chaos and mystery and connection. 

It’s what grace looks, and feels, and sounds and tastes like. 

Open your heart. That place where arteries and veins come together. Where the blue and the red meet. Where the abundance of oxygen and the lack of it comes back to this muscle of sinew and energy and electric pulses. 

Open wide your hearts. It’ll hurt. Like open heart surgery. But it’s where the life is, Paul says. It’s where Jesus is.

Because it’s not enough to cry about the Charleston shootings all alone. 
It’s not enough to pray for justice alone. 
It’s not enough to sit alone with our social media and pass along articles and cat videos and instagram food porn. 

It’s not enough to just shake our heads at all the gun violence in our country and then move on, pretending that only the mentally ill, or those in the inner city, or those who are somehow asking for it or those with the absentee parents are the ones who get gunned down.
It’s not enough for us, who live a life of relative privilege, to sit on the sidelines while government agencies fly the confederate flag and pretend that it’s not offensive. That it doesn’t mean what you think it means.
It’s not enough to feel what we feel alone with our tv dinners and our one cup coffee makers. 
It’s not enough to be so desperate for community that you zip up your heart and join a group of white supremacists or mail envelopes full of anthrax or travel to Syria to join ISIS.

Because closed hearts turn in to hardened hearts. And once your heart has calcified, nothing can get through. Not grace, not peace, not joy or Jesus.

Open your hearts —wide. 
And then get ready for the collision. The collision of human hearts all tangled up and bleeding together. The collision of vulnerability and grace and sacrifice and joy and the messiness of humanity. Get ready for the traffic pile-up of forgiveness and change and transformation.

Get ready for the collision of humanity and deity. Of God, who was made into messy, vulnerable, open flesh, open wide, for all of us.
Open wide your hearts. Don’t leave anything in the tank. Run the race with wild, persevering, abandon. When you collapse at the finish line, you’ll land among all those soft mushy open hearts. You’ll be embraced by the widest, wildest, most vulnerable heart of all. The heart of Christ.

Thanks be to God.

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