Benediction Online

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sermon for: Sept 7, 2008 (St. Benedict’s, Los Osos CA)
Brian H.O.A. McHugh, Associate priest
Season: Proper 18A_RCL_Pent XVII

[ Note: all Scripture quotes are from Eugene Peterson's The Message"]

As I pondered the readings for this Sunday, I found most of the readings uninspiring. This happens every now and then. Usually it means that I’m in a discouraged or cynical mood. The constant drone of politics will always do it. Usually in these circumstances I produce a “comfort sermon”. Most of us like to come together as “church” to be comforted. To be reassured that “all will be well” both in this life and in the unknown Beyond; that God loves us unconditionally. This is OK. Of course we often make the assumption that if God loves us unconditionally, God approves of us and what we do. This, of course, is not necessarily the case. But, I don’t want to get off on a rant, especially since rants are pretty grim. Aside from their message, maybe that’s why the prophets were so “without honor in their own country”. So, I would like to engage us in a conversation. What does it mean that God is Love – if you agree God is? What does it mean that the Gospel is a Gospel about Peace and Reconciliation – if you agree it is? I will try to take a balanced look at both the Bad News and at the Good News today.

“Israel” is a symbol for Humankind. God chooses all Humankind as Her people. God loves all Humankind equally and unconditionally. This, I think, is clear in both the Hebrew and Christian Bible – despite the fact that various sides are always trying to co-opt God for their own ends. All peoples tend now and then to confuse God’s will with their own cultural values, especially in times of distress or threat, or of scrambling for power.

Today, we hear God sending His “son of man”, the prophet Ezekiel to “speak to Israel” – remember, that’s us. The message is pretty “grim” and unequivocal: 'Wicked man, wicked woman, you're on the fast track to death!” Now, I think this is constant state of human affairs. We live on this fine edge between spiritual death and life most of the time - and I think we all know it. The lament that God has heard from Israel is the lament of Humanity when we are able to be honest: "Our rebellions and sins are weighing us down. We're wasting away. How can we go on living?” And God in frustration replies, “As sure as I am the living God, I take no pleasure from the death of the wicked. I want the wicked to change their ways and live. Turn your life around! Reverse your evil ways! Why die, Israel?'”

“Why die” indeed!? There is an old joke about a man arriving at the Heavenly Gates prepared to show his excellent credentials to St. Peter for instant admission. Peter just asks to see his chequebook; that will say what he truly valued. What Peter would see in the World’s chequebook today is a vast amount spent on weapons of destruction - this is the prevailing symbol of Death hanging over us all today (except for Costa Rica, which courageously has no military). As I look around the World today, it feels to me as if we are all on the Path to Death, both spiritual and physical. Fanatical extremist terrorists of all religions and cultures; hate-and-fear-driven skinheads of all stripes; ethnic gangs who (as the mayor of Santa Maria said Wednesday) would as easily shoot you as say Hi; governments who permit millions of their people to die or suffer or be raped or starve in order to stay in power; rapacious corporate capitalists, communists, oligarchs, all of whom in their own ways ruthlessly limit freedoms in order to allow the few to become fabulously rich or powerful while the majority – including now the “middle classes” in our society – struggle along managing as best we can, while the growing number of the poor slip further and further into desperation.

Oh, I know that many of us are “doing ok” in the parts of the World with enough economic power to provide the essentials, especially in America – but we are a very small percentage of God’s people. Maybe I’m only seeing the dark picture. If so, I can’t help it. I’ve been raised on the Gospel since I was four. I’ve heard about God’s equal and unconditional love for each and every sparrow that falls. I’ve heard that the heart of the Hebrew Scripture is Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and your neighbour as yourself. I’ve heard that the summation of all of Jesus’ teaching is, Love one another as I have loved you. I have heard and sung about justice for the poor and the oppressed. I have heard about the Good Samaritan, that my neighbour is anyone in need. I have heard about being my sister’s keeper. I have heard about it not being possible to worship both God and Money/Power - what does the Psalm say today: Give me a bent for your words of wisdom, and not for piling up loot. 37 Divert my eyes from toys and trinkets. I’ve heard about the core ministry of Peace and Reconciliation that has been given to all who have taken up the Way of the Cross.

I can’t help asking myself why, if there are over two billion Christians in the World whose Faith is centered in Love, Justice and Reconciliation, (not to mention one billion moderate Muslims, peace-loving Buddhists, etc), why is the World such a mess? And since I live here, where many of our elected leaders profess to be Christians, either Democrats or Republicans, why do I not see our foreign and domestic policy defined or at least powered by the core Christian values of Love, Justice and Reconciliation, or our Christian politicians walking the Way of the Cross – the Way of self-giving even unto death that all of God’s people may have every blessing for Life that God offers? Or, for that matter, Life, Liberty and Happiness, with equality and Justice for all? Have I heard wrongly? Is it just simply true that Power Corrupts? If you see it differently, I’d really like you to help me with this. Is the way that I understand the Gospel completely skewed? This is the conversation I’d like to have with you, my fellow travelers.

Of course there is Good News. God, we read in Ezekiel, does not want us to die. We know in Jesus that God gives His life to give us Life. God makes a home in every human heart, and is willing to suffer rejection in order to be there when we need Her. Psalm 119 says, God has taught us lessons for living; given us insight; commanded us on the path to Love and Justice; revealed eternal Wisdom; shown us “straight paths”; made many promises that He has kept; counseled us; preserved our Life. We are here because, I hope, we have experienced this. There is only one crucial catch - it is all dead unless, as the Psalmist says, we make our whole life one long, obedient response.

Paul says to the church in Rome in today’s reading, “The law code—don't sleep with another person's spouse, don't take someone's life, don't take what isn't yours, don't always be wanting what you don't have, and any other "don't" you can think of—finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. 10 You can't go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love.

He ends by saying: Dress yourselves in Christ. The question is, just what does this mean for how we live our lives, as individuals, as a church; and what is our witness to our local community and to our nation?


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