Ninth Week After Pentecost

Sermon by Rev. Sarah Goettsch on July 21, 2018

There is a big difference between the word “would” and the word “wouldn’t.”

This week saw a decided low point in our nation’s history, as even some from both sides of the aisle seem to agree, as Trump at first blames the American people for the tense relationship between the US and Russia, baffling the world with his preposterous claim of “Why would Russia interfere with the 2016 election?”  and then redacting it to “I meant to use the word ‘wouldn’t’…” in other words, “Why wouldn’t Russia interfere in the election?” So, which is it–would or wouldn’t? …because the words are not interchangeable.


This opens the door to yet another level of head-scratching scrambling of words so typical of this administration. Saying would when you meant to say wouldn’t is a big flipping deal when you’re talking about foreign meddling in a United States election. This tiny thing called a “contraction” makes a big difference in the meanings of words.


It  changes the sentence “It will rain today” to “It won’t rain today.”

It changes the sentence “He did get the job” to “He didn’t get the job.”

It changes the sentence “I did kill her” to “I didn’t kill her.”

This small contraction changes the meaning of the sentence entirely.


I’ve been reflecting a lot about language this week, not only in light of our president and his slippery way of saying a thing and then insisting he didn’t say it and if he said it he didn’t mean it and if he meant it and you’re offended then you didn’t understand it anyway…How tense and anxious we are these days when “would” and “wouldn’t” are switched out, depending on the audience. I’ve been thinking about the power in this tiny little contraction, this “n’t” that has the power to change innocence to guilt and guilt to innocence. It seems to me that life itself hangs in the contraction, in that small balance between yes and no.


I mean, what if Jesus had used language similarly? To the criminal crucified next to him on the cross, instead of Jesus’ promise, “Today you will be with me in paradise,” what if he would have said, “Today you won’t be with me in paradise.” Instead the life-giving command into the tomb of the four-days-dead Lazarus, “Come out!” Jesus would have said, “Don’t come out!” In today’s Gospel  reading, with hungry crowds pressing in on all sides, instead of “Give them something to eat!” what if Jesus had said, “Don’t feed them!” Within this tiny contraction, then, lies the difference between resurrection and condemnation, between life and death, between feast and famine.


Within this small contraction, life can end or life can abound. You  will be arrested or you won’t. You will be deported or you won’t. You will see your children again or you won’t. Which do we trust–the would or the wouldn’t? If we can’t trust words, what can we trust? Right now mistrust abounds, as falsifications and outright lies pour from our president’s mouth. We must be very careful to not transfer that same mistrust to the Word of God.


Jesus Christ is no human word; Jesus Christ is the Word of God wrapped in flesh. This incarnation is crucial when considering the kind of love that God has for us, this reality that God’s word is made of flesh and blood. It is not some slippery word that can be changed or twisted over time; it is not some formless, amorphous abstract Word. It is not just a spoken word, which can be edited, changed or revised to satisfy a particular agenda. It is a word of flesh and bone, a real Word that says, “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.” When God gives us God’s word, God gives us God’s own self.


Faith today is  radical thing, as life is increasingly defined by that tiny contraction, that line of demarcation between who’s in and who isn’t. Faith exists to fight for those who are pushed outside of that line, because that is what Jesus did and taught us to do. When confronted with one who eats and one who doesn’t, we feed the one who is hungry. When confronted with one who is clothed and one who isn’t, we clothe the naked. When confronted with one who is convinced he or she isn’t good enough, we offer the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is Gospel for everybody, that God’s word is one of love for everybody, regardless of whom we allow at the lunch counter, at the front of the bus, to cross our borders, to receive adequate healthcare, to access clean drinking water. Faith calls us into those zones in life that are designated for the “nots” and to proclaim radical inclusion.


There are so many times in life when the “nots” determine worth and acceptance…who makes the team and who does not…who is accepted into university and who isn’t…who gets the promotion and who doesn’t…who  gets a good diagnosis and who doesn’t…who walks away from the car crash and who doesn’t…whose house survives a tornado and whose doesn’t…who’s popular and who isn’t…May we have the wisdom to not confuse such times as the will of God.  It is not God’s will that one person affords a new bass fishing boat while another starves to death. It is not God’s will that one landfill overflows with water bottles and another land is parched by drought. Nor is it God’s will that I have two cars in my garage and my Namibian clergy colleagues walk and hitch-hike 100 kilometers to their next parish. Human injustice cannot be confused with God’s will or God’s justice.


Unlike human injustice, which seeks to make smaller and smaller circles determining who is in and who isn’t, God’s justice makes circles bigger and bigger—going from Adam and Eve to Sarah and Abraham to Hagar and Ishmael…from clan to tribe to nation to cosmos…In today’s gorgeous reading from Mark, as hungry crowds press in on all sides, Jesus collects 5 loaves and 2 fish. He doesn’t send some away who have the wrong color skin. He doesn’t send some away because of whom they love. He doesn’t send the children away or the old people. He doesn’t send the immigrants away or the unemployed. He doesn’t send the poor away or the mentally ill. He doesn’t look down at the 5 loaves and 2 fish and say, “It isn’t enough.” Instead, Jesus says, “It is plenty.” In that moment, when there is a decision to be made who is fed and who isn’t, who lives and who doesn’t, who is included and who isn’t, Jesus opens his arms to all.


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