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 TWENTY FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Proper 25A

Today’s Gospel lesson continues the confrontations between various Jewish groups and Jesus.   In last week’s reading, the Pharisees asked Jesus if it were lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor or not?  They hoped his answer would arouse the Roman government who collected the taxes or alienate the people who despised paying the taxes.  He said,  “Give to the emperor what belongs to the emperor and give to God what belongs to God.”

Woe unto you...  James Tissot

Woe unto you Pharisees – James Tissot

In today’s reading they try their luck again, “perhaps he was just lucky last time.”  They send an expert in the law, a lawyer, to ask a simple question, “Teacher, which is the great commandment of the law?”  This was a point much debated by the religious leadership.  You notice that Jesus does not enter the debate but goes right to the point.  He said, “You shall love the lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

There was an old woman that loved to dip snuff.

  • When the preacher preached against adultery,
    • she said, “Amen, preach it.”
  • When he preached against drunkenness,
    • she said, “Amen, preach it.”
  • When he preached against stealing,
    • she said, “Amen preach it.”
  • When he preached against the evils of tobacco,
    • she said, “Huh! he’s quit preaching and done gone to meddling!”

So long as Jesus talks about loving God, that’s preaching.  But when he talks about our relationships with others, he’s meddling.  When Jesus says, “on these two commandments depend or hang all the law and the prophets,” the sense of it is that these two commandments are the two hinges on which the door of faith hang.  With only one hinge the door doesn’t quite work right.  The door never quite operates smoothly.   If one loves God, then one in turn works out that love for God in the marketplace of daily life.

Thomas Moore says that:

  • the mind thinks,
  • the body does
  • and the soul Imagines.

Paul Ricoeur in a sermon preached at the University of Chicago in 1980 speaks to the language of imagination that Jesus uses.  “ … The use by Jesus of an extreme language, such as the extravagance of a parable, or the hyperbole of the proverb: a log in the eye or a camel through the eye of a needle. Parable, paradoxes, hyperbolas, and extreme commandments all disorient only to reorient us.  But what is reoriented in us? – And in what direction? I would say that what is reoriented by these extreme sayings is less our will than our imagination. Our will is our capacity to follow without hesitation the once-chosen way, to obey without resistance the once-known law.  Our imagination opens us to new possibilities, another way of seeing, or acceding to a new rule in receiving the instruction of the exception.

As Ray Hart suggests in Unfinished Man and the Imagination, while the will is the intention to a specific project, the imagination is the intention of dominant direction.  It is at the level of dominant direction that we are overtaken by the disorienting logic of Jesus.”

Jesus answers Pharisees - James Tissot

Jesus answers Pharisees – James Tissot

Then Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Since you are all here, let me ask you a question, “What do you think of the Messiah?  Whose son is he?”  They said, “The son of David.”  He said, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’?   “If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?”  Jesus seems to be deliberately disorienting us to reorient us.  This work is done not in the will as I have often thought.  If I just tried harder, if I just worked harder.  If I just held my mouth just so and wished real hard.”   But what has to be reoriented first is not our will but our imagination.

What goes on us in this process of reorientation?

Disorientation: We realize that the way we thought things were is not the way they are. There are other possibilities some of, which are scary to us.  We are threatened. We then have a choice to make: will we continue in this new way of imagination or will we decide to turn and willfully go in the other direction?  This is the dilemma facing the Pharisees.   Jesus has just showed them that Messiah is superior to David. But what does that mean?

Reorientation:  We put ourselves in the place of others. We can see the possibilities and visions of God’s call to us. We will to move in the direction that the vision beckons.

·        We put ourselves in the place of others.

Many of the ethical problems that confront us are born from a failure of imagination.

·     We can see the possibilities and visions of God’s call to us.  The Kingdom of God is the chief message that the rule of God is breaking out in the world, one heart at a time.  We are called to live as authentic human beings.  We are free to choose.  And we can choose to turn to God and be energized by the Holy Spirit into a new creation.

·        We begin to make choices and will that we move in the direction that the vision beckons. This is not easy or convenient

At  10:39 we baptize the Higley twins  into the Body of Christ – the Church in this place.  These brothers are born with imagination.  Children often see  clearly the foolishness of adult systems and say so.  Our culture will work that out of these boys, as they grow older.  We make some promises to God on their  behalf.  We promise to bring them  up in the Christian faith and life.   We promise to immerse or marinate these brothers in the Christian faith and life. To do this we must re-orient our imagination – and allow the Spirit to guide us that we continue in the way that leads to our and their loving God with all our heart, soul and mind and our neighbors as ourselves.

Amen.

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