Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Preached at St. Paul's, Carondolet on November 28, 2010. The Gospel text was Luke 7:28-35


“The Pharisees and lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.”

That phrase leapt out at me.

I can just imagine the confusion the Pharisees and lawyers must have felt. What was Jesus talking about? They were following the letter of the Law – something they had studied all their lives.

Perhaps it impressed me simply because I am in the midst of reading Desmond and Mpho Tutu’s new book, Made for Goodness. For whatever reason, it is an age old quandary – why am I here? What is my purpose?

It is easy to get lost in all the information available – both then and now. The Pharisees thought they were doing what God intended for them to do. Here Jesus was talking about being baptized. What difference did that make to these men of the Law? It is so difficult to wrestle with the idea of what is known and that which is unknown.

In a world where there are so many unknowns, we reject the idea that God created us in goodness, for goodness – the point of the Tutus’ book.

Maybe that idea is just too simple to grasp.

St. Augustine wrote that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. But what does that mean? How do we find rest in this rush, rush world? Especially at this time of year? For that matter, how do we find God?

We hunger; we crave…something. This hunger eats away at us daily; causes us to seek and to sate that craving with things that take us so far away from the ideas of goodness and God’s purpose for us.

God blew breath into the first human – ruach – the breath of God.

God made those first humans and said, “It is very good.” Not just Good. Just good was for all the other aspects of creation. For the humans, God said it is VERY good.

We are made by God, for God, in goodness, for goodness.

It’s not that we SHOULD be good…it’s that we ARE good.
God said so. And that lives within us each moment of every day.

Yet even with that, the things that people fear most are alienation, separation…of being cast aside. We want to belong so badly that we seek out those things we that cause us to stray so far away from God’s purpose for us. Our lives are too often centered on trying to belong and … then, conversely, trying to run away. We want to be a part of things but when things get complicated we adopt the ‘fight or flight’ stance. We either join in some sort of fight… or we run away.

Yet if God created us all with the same goodness and if we are all called to love one another, then there has to be an understanding that we need one another
– every last one of us needs every last one of us, the first, the last and the most, the least – regardless of how complicated relationships make our lives.
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Recently, four of the world’s religious leaders, including the Dalai Lama and our own Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, met at Emory University in Atlanta. One of the leaders, Lord Jonathan Sacks, Britain’s chief Rabbi stated that spiritual happiness is the “greatest source of renewable energy that we have.”

Spiritual Happiness...Greatest source of renewable energy.

As an environmentalist, this is a profound statement to me.

All the leaders agreed that the more we give, the happier we are. My grandmother used to say that the more we give away, the more that comes back to us.

If we do need one another, if that is the way that God created us and if God’s purpose for us is goodness, made in goodness for the sake of goodness, then I think it is safe to assume that the answer to the question of God’s purpose for us is fairly clear.

Do good. Not for ourselves…but for others. Do good.

We reject God’s purpose for us when we put our needs above the needs of others or when we make ourselves the center of things. And it’s easy to make ourselves the center of attention – one way is to take on too much – to be in charge of this or that. To have to control so many things.

We live in an I, Me, Mine culture which promotes the idea that the individual is far more important than the whole…and that we actually have some right that others should cater to our … quirks. It keeps us from seeing very far from our own center point of being – rather than being centered in God, we center ourselves on ourselves. Not very stable. Mainly, it keeps us centered on that which we know.

The unknown scares the living daylights out of us. It scares us into a stubborn ignorance.

That is basically what the Pharisee’s and the lawyers did: John & Jesus, young men, newcomers telling the same story with a very different spin on it. How could they possible know all that these wise, learned men know, these men who had dedicated their lives to study the Law?

But John and Jesus did. They knew God’s purpose for themselves and they knew that it was to do good for others.

Advent is a time of meditation and reflection while awaiting the coming of something so spectacular and phenomenal that it alters our lives forever. It is a time where all creation is reconciling itself to God.

On this 2nd Sunday in Advent, this Scripture reading from Luke calls us into a no uncertain recognition of God’s purpose for us -- reconciliation – with one another, this creation and with God.

When we reconcile ourselves to one another and to this great creation, we reconcile ourselves to God.

The only unknown in this is just to what extent will our lives be transformed.