This affirmation of the resurrection has become very important to me over the many years.  It became a go to remark at funerals. It speaks to the hope in us that nothing in all creation or history can “trump” resurrection and grace.

Frederick Beuchner writes, “The New Testament proclaims that at some unforeseeable time in the future God will ring down the final curtain on history, and there will come a Day on which all our days and all the judgments upon each other will themselves be judged. The judge will be Christ.  In other words, the one who judges us most finally will be the one who loves us most fully.”

In hope in spite of the facts.  John

LENT II

Today’s Gospel is about judgment.  People have a hard time dealing with judgment, at least people have a hard time being on the “judged” end of judgment.

Paul Ricoeur in his book, The Symbolism of Evil, explores the cluster of experiences that make up the experience of sin and judgment.  They are: DEFILEMENT, ANXIETY, SHAME AND GUILT.

  1. DEFILEMENT:

Something happens and we feel violated, dirty, angry AND we have done nothing wrong.  It is the feeling when you realize that your house has been burgled.  You enter the house and what had been home is suddenly alien and you feel like you need to take a shower.

In the Peanuts comic strip, Snoopy, the beagle, used to kiss Lucy on the mouth, just so he could see her spit and yell about “dog germs.” I had a similar experience with my sister when she was little. One day the family dog kissed her on the mouth. She got hysterical over the “dog germs” and  could not be pacified until I gave her a slug of Listerine which tasted so bad that she just knew that the germs were dead.  In reality a dog’s mouth has less germs than a human one, but she “felt” defiled.

  1. ANXIETY – EXISTENTIAL:

One day when I was a young child, mother was going to the barn to milk the cows.  The milk bucket was face down on the well curb where it had been left to drain.  When she picked the bucket up a copper-head snake was coiled under it.  To this day I remember instant anxiety that produced.  It is no accident that the symbol of evil is not an elephant.

Existential anxiety is the realization that, “We won’t always be here!”  The day finally comes when the truth occurs to us that not only do other people die, but so will we.  Much of this anxiety is unconscious and becomes  “bound.”  Or in other words the society is deeply anxious and looking for a quick fix that usually promotes anxiety rather than cures it.

  1. SHAME:

Feeling of being “bad” – painful feelings of having lost the respect or regard of another person.  This may or may not be the result of behavior.  It is inner directed.  It feels like a stain on ones sense of self. Often shame is given as much as it is earned. 

  1. GUILT:

These are the rules.  If you keep the rules you are ok, if you break the rules then you are a bad person and must be punished. We often resist that being true so that we do not have to feel the pain.  But all of us have done things years ago that trouble us even today. 

  • Defilement – Anxiety – Shame – Guilt ­= sin, alienation from God, ourselves

and each other.  Nothing WE can do will fix what is wrong. — All of which leads to JUDGMENT. 

It is very hard for people to hear the bad news of judgment, even if it is true.  It is human nature to believe the worst about others and to deny our own  brokeness and sin.  One of the consequences of sin is that rather than being in God’s image, many of us have made God in OUR own image.

Our image of God is as if he was an old man at the top of a very long ladder waiting for us to get near the top, make a mistake/sin/break the rules so that he can hit our fingers with a hammer so that we lose our grip on the rung and drop like a rock into hell.

When I was in my early years of college there was a Dean at my university that would go over the senior’s records with an eye for graduation requirements that had been left undone.  He never let on about the deficit until they were standing in the graduation line, in cap and gown.  Then he came along, pulling people from the line, telling them that they would not graduate that day.  He enjoyed it.  

We can only hear judgment from someone who loves us!  Only then can it become insight. Because of the love, our defensiveness is overcome, and we hear the truth.  When we are loved we have the courage to peep through our fingers and admit, “Yes that is true.” 

This is “being brought up short”– the moment when we have the insight that things are not as they should be or could be.  Then we are left with a choice, what are we going to do?  Which leads us to the good news of judgment, namely, grace and forgiveness!

  • JUDGMENT, GRACE AND FORGIVENESS:

The good news is that there is grace available to us for new life.  We do not have that new life because we do not ask for it. The question then is, “do we trust Jesus or not?”  In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus grieves over Jerusalem, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gather her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

Robert Farrar Capon says this about judgment.

“If he (Jesus) has already done it all for me already, why shouldn’t I live as if I trusted him?”  If he has already reconciled both my wayward self and my equally difficult brother in law, or children or wife/husband – why shouldn’t I at least try to act as if  I trust him to have done just that and to let his reconciliation govern my actions in those relationships.”

            When we die we lose whatever grip we had on our unreconciled versions of our lives – And when we rise on the last day, the only grip in which our lives will be held will be the reconciling grip of Jesus’ resurrection – He will hold our lives mended, cleaned and pressed in his hand, and he will show home to his Father.  Sin is not something the human race has any choice about.  None of us will  ever avoid that trust in ourselves and that distrust of anyone else that lies at the root of the world’s problems.”

“It’s about progress rather than perfection.”

Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous

Lent is about judgment/insight/being open to grace.  The new life begins and continues – begins and continues over and over.

Frederick Buechner says this about judgment.  “We are all of us judged every day.  We are judged by the face that looks back at us the bathroom mirror.  We are judged by the faces of the people we love and by the faces and lives of our children and by our dreams. Each day finds us at the junction of many roads, and we are judged as much by the roads we have not taken as by the roads we have. The New Testament proclaims that at some unforeseeable time in the future God will ring down the final curtain on history, and there will come a Day on which all our days and all the judgments upon each other  will themselves be judged. The judge will be Christ.  In other words, the one who judges us most finally will be the one who loves us most fully.

God is not our enemy!  He is trustworthy and merciful. As the reading from Exodus? for today says, “Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.”  He wants more for us than we can ever want for ourselves.  “The one who will judges us finally will be the one who loves us most fully.”  That is good news indeed.

Amen.

THE TWENTIETH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

A family was driving in the car on a trip.  The little girl, who I will call Sally, insisted on standing up right behind her father’s head.  Finding this distracting he asked her to sit down.  And she did for a few minutes but then she forgot and hopped up behind his head.   Finally he stopped the car and turned around, sat her down and told her to stay there.   He resumed driving.   In a little while a little voice was heard from the back seat.  It said, “I may be sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside.”

Sally points to the dilemma in which all human beings live – that our insides and our outsides do not match up all that well. We can put on a good front (in public) but under our facade – there is pain and brokenness.  That is the human condition.

In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus tells a parable. A parable, by its’ very nature, is a story which contradicts and brings into question a commonly held belief.  Jesus says, “What do you think? A man had two sons.  He said to the first – go and work today.  The son said, ‘No,’ but later he went and worked.  The man said to his second son, go and work today. The son said, ‘Yes, I’ll go.’ But he never go there.  Which one did the will of the father.”  “The first one.”  “I tell you that harlots and tax-collectors will go into the Kingdom of God before you.” That harlots and tax-collectors would make it into the Kingdom at all was a shock. But that they would get in before the good religious folk was a deeply contradictory thought for them.

2 sonsGod’s call to us, as it was to them, is a call to attentive consciousness.  Religious people are qualitatively no different from sinners.  Nobody’s insides really match their outsides. The difference was that the sinners were conscious of their brokenness and the religious folk were not. Frederick Beuchner says that, “the Gospel is always bad news before it is good news.”  The bad news is that the Kingdom of God is not ours on our terms.  The Good News is that the Kingdom’s terms are better. What does this say to us?  We Christians find it fairly easy to make our outsides look good (at least when we think folks are looking).  But that is the easy part.  In our honest moments we admit that each of us is broken – that in us are deep contradictions – the dark and the light, good and evil, sin and virtue.  In the midst of our very best intentions we find the shadow.

St Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians, “ 5 Let the same mind be in you that was  in Christ Jesus,  6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,  7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.

Now, to our way of thinking, when we hear the word, “form” we think in terms of shape.  The form of something is the shape it takes.  This was not so for the Greeks.  To their way of thinking, the word, “form” refers to the outward expression a person gives to his or her innermost nature.  This is not assumed or varnished on the outside but proceeds from the inside, so that the outward form is a genuine expression of the inner reality.  What Paul is saying is that the glory of the Father is a genuine expression of Jesus’ nature but that he put aside the outward expression of glory and by his birth as a human being he put on the outward expression of servant hood.  He was not pretending to be a servant, but rather servant-hood was as much a genuine expression of Jesus’ inner nature as glory.

For example, what Paul describes in his letter to the Church at Philippi is the opposite of what happened to Jesus on the Mountain of Transfiguration. Jesus and three disciples went up the mountain.  There as Jesus prayed he was transfigured.  For a moment the outward expression of a servant was replace by glory. In this computer age we might say, his outward form of servant defaulted to the outward form of glory.  The account says that his face and clothing were brilliantly bright. Both glory and servant-hood are genuine expressions of who God is in Christ Jesus.  Jesus was consistent all the way through his being – without contradiction.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

How do we have this mind? The most basic and continuing step is to become conscious of who we are and who we are not. Then the process of integration begins and continues. We must be conscious of our inner contradiction.  This is painful and our natural reaction is to avoid such a state of being.

The story is told by Carl Jung of a pastor who came to see him.  The man was overworked and burned out. Jung told him to work eight hours a day and then spend the evenings alone by himself.  In a couple of weeks the pastor returned no better and perhaps worse off than before.  Jung said he was surprised that there was no improvement and inquired about the man’s following his instructions.  The man said that he had worked eight hours and that in the evenings he had listened to Mozart and read Shakespeare.  Jung replied that the man had misunderstood his instructions.  He was not to spend the evenings with Mozart and Shakespeare but to spend the evening alone with HIMSELF.  The man said that he couldn’t imagine anything worse that that.  To which Jung said, “The very person you can not stand to be with is the very person you are inflicting on everyone else every day!”

When faced with our inner brokenness we often do one of two things:  We ignore or deny our condition. Grace comes not by denial or ignoring. Graces comes when we face our brokenness, acknowledge our shadow.  The tension of facing our contradictions opens a crack in the shell of our ego and grace seeps in. We bring ourselves, the good and bad, to the Holy One and ask for healing.  The process of healing/salvation is that over time our insides and outsides can both reflect the new life that is ours in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

That is what happens at this Eucharist. We come bringing all our stuff with us and present the gift of our lives at the altar.  We, all the parts of us, meet the risen Christ, here in this bread and wine – and we go from here a little more whole than we arrived. The Gospel is always bad news before it is good news. The bad news is we all will die.  The good news is that we don’t have to die sick.  Come risen Lord and be known to us in the breaking of the bread.      Amen