July 7, 2000

"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death." And again, further on in the same letter, "who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies, who is to condemn? It is Jesus who died, yes was raised . . . who intercedes for us."

Freed from condemnation, our own and that of others. For as Julian of Norwich, that remarkable and altogether free – in a Gospel sense, woman of prayer and deep insight, saw many centuries ago, "There is no wrath in God . . . for I saw no whit of anger in God – in short or in long term." She continues, "In God’s sight we do not fall, in our sight we do not stand. As I see it both of these are true, but the deeper insight belongs to God."

Her experience of God in Christ ran quite counter to the dominant religious sensibilities of the 15th century in which she lived, and worked in her a boldness and a daring – an interior confidence nurtured by prayer and the sacramental life of the church which allowed her to say with humble assurance, "As I see it." As I see it there is no condemnation, there is no wrath, instead, there is all compassion. A compassion made flesh and dwelling among us in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

This isn’t good news: it’s shocking news; it’s threatening news to those who make their living by warding off the divine wrath through rites and ceremonies and systems of sacrifice. No wonder Jesus was done in.

"Humankind cannot stand very much reality," observed the poet T. S. Eliot. And what humankind can bear least of all is the unbounded and unselective and sovereign freedom of the divine compassion.

I think here of the parable of the workers in the vineyard: the ones employed at the end of the day received the same wage as those hired at dawn. "Unfair," the latter group complain. "Are you envious because I am generous?" the landowner replies.

God’s generosity is revealed in God’s compassion: it is the "fullness" we receive, the "grace upon grace" which is ours in Christ. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Dare we live this as true? Dare we live it personally and as a church? Isn’t this our vocation?

And what is compassion, but to suffer with and enter into another’s truth, another’s joys and burdens, another’s ambiguities and paradoxes, another’s struggles to be faithful, another’s moments of grace and imperfection. To welcome others in the power of the love with which Christ loves us and gave himself for us is to give others room in which to reveal and not simply defend themselves.

"I will listen to what the Lord God is saying," the psalmist tells us, "for he is speaking peace to his faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to him." Where are our hearts? Are they turned? And remember conversation and conversion open the way to our being turned. Are we ready to hear what God is saying, perhaps through the all too human voice of another? Are we ready to make that journey to that field that lies beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing? Are we ready to enter that open place the psalms speak of where compassion embraces us in communion and bound and free, Jew and Greek, male and female, and all who stand in opposition to the other discover in ways that pass all understanding that they are one. One, not in some feat of human joinery, but one in the power and force of God’s desire. Compassion is not simply a divine attribute, it is revelatory of the very nature of God.

"You are set free," Jesus declares in the Gospel. And the woman bent over for eighteen years stands straight and praises God. It is the Sabbath. The leader of the synagogue, who sees only the law, is scandalized: "There are six days of work, come on those days and be cured." But Jesus’ work, which is Abba’s work is Sabbath work: "and ought not this woman, a daughter of Israel, whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?" Jesus makes no apologies. He is engaged in sabbathing, Jubilee work, setting free, raising up, making whole, making new. Compassion is his very food. And it is ours as well. And therefore, as we make our home in today’s readings of scripture, we might ask ourselves: what must be released in us in order to stand straight and to welcome God’s compassion? Why is God’s compassion at times a threat? What bent-over attitudes and perceptions and practices must be acknowledged in me and in us in order to surrender, to die, to let go, and thereby enter into the new space, the open field where there is no condemnation "because there is no whit of anger in God – in short or in long term"? Amen.