We celebrated Dominic’s feast day on August 8. This year marks the 800th year of the Order of Preachers, and we remembered together Dominic’s story, his passion for the preaching, his joy, his vision, his life of poverty, and his steady and strong belief in his call to preach the Gospel to all nations…and Christ’s accompanying promise heard at the end of Matthew’s Gospel: “And know that I am with you always, until the end of time.”
It was Matthew’s gospel Dominic carried with him, and this season we’ve been hearing it at daily Eucharist. This week we read Chapter 18: how to be church. We hear the disciples’ query: who will be the greatest in the kingdom of God? Certainly not the high and the mighty, Jesus answers, but the children and the childlike, needy and vulnerable, aware of their weakness and desperate for God’s love and the care of others. We could put it thus: God’s holy ones are the holey ones.
In God’s reign holes are essential and are splendidly on display. Ouch. Humans play cover-up. We pretend to others and ourselves that we’re well put-together and on top of things, but truly, we ache to be mended and complete. And God loves holey humans. For by God’s grace and the mercy of one another, these holes which are our shame become our salvation, because they are the places God can enter and fill us and feed us and save us. As Paul experienced it, in our weakness, God’s power has room to work. “For when I am powerless then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12, 9-10)
So this is church, Matthew’s and ours: a throng of holey people on their way to wholeness, always a bit scattered and tattered, seeking and celebrating Christ Jesus as our unity and our salvation. There is no need for shame because we all share the amazing grace of being made whole in Christ. Here is the mystery of the Body of Christ, the church. We holey ones find holiness as a people called to wholeness.
But becoming church isn’t instantaneous. We bring our healing holes, our bonding in Christ, but our unity is a fragile thing, and requires constant tending. Even as sisters and brothers living in the unity of the Spirit, we develop tears in our common baptismal garment, loss of trust, impatience with the process, dwindling energy for the mission. Matthew’s community and ours: a life for and with others, grace shared, yet sin always in the mix. Not easy then or now.
We (or more often They) fall short of our Christian call. Disagreements simmering, harsh words and sharp elbows, jealousy, jockeying for position, hoarding. The Gospel we hear this week reminds us of our duty to correct gently, to call each other to reconciliation and to forgive generously out of the grace of forgiveness we have been given. This is community life. This is where we meet Jesus.
So add to the inner story the challenges and discomforts that come along with Gospel living in the world. They say we disdain the customs of our culture, disturb the peace of our families, rock the boat. Accusations and rumors abound. But we have been taught in parables, learned our truth upside-down, been lost and found in Jesus, so we’re a bit disoriented in our world, fragile, searching for treasure in odd places, low places. Power, wealth and popularity won’t save us or the world. We have a different truth. We find life in letting God’s love work in and through our holes. We are all tattered and battered and thirsty and weak—and full of joy that God has room to heal us and fill us and empty us again, as we join in the kenosis of Jesus, his pouring-out of life that keeps overflowing into and through us and beyond us.
For Matthew’s community and ours, Jesus remains Emmanuel, the God who chose in Christ Jesus to spurn the fanfare and to go undercover–and then dying and rising, pop up through the holes in you and me and our neighbor, never on a reasonable schedule. There goes the coffee break. On Dominic’s day we heard Paul reminding Timothy that the call to preach the Good News comes in God’s time for your neighbor’s need– convenient or inconvenient.
Throughout the Gospels, and down through the centuries, the message of the Gospel and the call to holiness and wholeness is preached imperfectly by holey people to other holey people. And yes, life as church is too much like life in general and sometimes more than we think we can handle. Yet the Gospel lives on in us, God’s Spirit always pulling and pushing, soaring and singing, and drenching us in love – which we then happily and haphazardly drip on each other.