Thursday, November 3, 2011

Oct. 30, 2011

Romans 3:19-28
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished-- 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. 27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. 

John 8:31-36
31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." 33 They answered him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?" 34 Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

I do not know how many of you caught this last Sunday evening, but on the television program Sixty Minutes,  there was an incredible interview with Steve Jobs biographer, Walter Isaacson.  Now, the fact that is authorized biography was published only three weeks after Jobs’ death would have made the interview fascinating in its own right, but there was more to it than that. In addition to sketching the private life of one of our time’s geniuses, his adoption and upbringing, how he started Apple Computers, the breakthroughs of the Imac, Ipod, Iphone and all the rest, Isaacson’s interview also revealed Jobs’ refusal to undergo surgery for a pancreatic tumor while it was still manageable.  The failure to do so and the hope that less invasive treatment techniques would work allowed the cancer to spread, eventually killing a man whose creativity and vision have forever changed the way that our culture functions.  When pressed by the interviewer as to “how a smart man could do such a stupid thing,” Isaacson responded that Jobs had a tendency towards magical thinking, believing that a problem can be avoided until it essentially disappears.  Now, it was this same sort of imagination and utter will power that led to some of the downright coolest gadgets that we now enjoy.  But it was also a blindness that, in very real terms, ended up costing Jobs’ his life.
            What is so very instructive about this story is that it demonstrates the innate human capacity for denial, and it is the same reality voiced by the question, “how could such a smart man do such a stupid thing?”  The trick, though, in attempting to answer that question is that it really has nothing at all to do with intelligence, but with something far more fundamental, something that we could begin to name as sin.   This denial is something that we humans all share, from little children to the late Steve Jobs, may he rest in peace.  You can see this everywhere in our midst, as we attempt to manage away guilt, to minimize pain, to believe that we are utterly in control of our destinies, both in the present and eternal sense.  Yes, this is the dark side of what it means to be human, this believe that we, like those Temple leaders battling Jesus, have not need of a freedom that is more radical than anything we can work up from inside ourselves, or anything we achieve through our politics, our creations and exertions of will and effort.  Yes, we can be dumbfounded by the Temple leader’s suggestion that they have never been slaves to anyone, given that the Lord first called the nation Israel out of slavery in Egypt, to say nothing of them being exiled in Babylon and then, even as they are having this discussion, occupied by the mighty hand of Rome.  No doubt, the Temple leaders are exercising a bit of selective memory here, but the issue runs deeper than needing to revisit their Intro to Jewish History course notes.  Instead, what we see at work is the same reality that kept Steve Jobs from getting that surgery; the blinding effects that sin has on the way the world is understood.  For make no mistake, this denial, this refusal to see the depth of the problem, this belief that, in the end, we can work it out on our own, this is something that we share with the Temple leaders, with a sixteen century German monk named Martin Luther and with that technological wizard named Steve Jobs.  For this is what it means to confess that we are indeed sinners; it means to face squarely the fact that we are in a mess from which we simply cannot extract ourselves, no matter our wit and wisdom, our proud religious heritage, whether we be children of Abraham or children of Martin Luther. 
            Thankfully, though, that is only the first act of the story, for here again these sweet words from St. Paul, “but now.”  Yes, this terror at our own mortality, this fear that we will be forgotten, that our greed and selfishness is all that is left for us, that is not the whole story, for there is yet another word to be heard. “But now,” and on these words, the whole of reality hinges.  “But now,” says St. Paul, “a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known,” and it is the righteousness, the freedom, that stands right in front of the Temple Leaders, the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  It is the righteousness of a God who has joined divinity to our flesh and from the cross offers us a freedom that is beyond our words, beyond our efforts. It is the freedom that comes from dying to our need to control and manipulate God and neighbor, and instead rising into the warm light of a Christ who gives without ceasing.  Yes, it is the righteousness that comes not from denial, fear or our futile attempts to manipulate the world around us, but a righteousness that allows God to be God, a righteousness that revels in the good things that God gives, and in the peace that the Christ lavishes on you all. Indeed, it is a righteousness that allows us to be honest about ourselves, honest about out fears and our failings, knowing that we are yet loved, yet cared for by the Christ who forgives sinners, and yes this occurrence, this realization that we are loved and forgiven by Christ, this will always strike us as strange, as bizarre.  In the words of Martin Luther, “For (Christ) is near us and in us, but always in a form which is strange to us, not in the appearance of glory but in humility and gentleness.”  And it is this strange mercy of God that empowers us to love one another, to love the whole of God’s creation without concern for whether or not we are being noticed. 
            And as we celebrate Reformation Sunday, which is really a celebration of one man, Father Luther, being found by this grace, by Christ’s strange and gentle righteousness, there is no better way to again enter the story than through the baptism of Lillian.  For this is one place, the font, where this righteousness gets enacted.  For it is in these waters, these waters that are joined to Christ, that Lillian will be put to death and raised into the new life of Christ Jesus.  And all this will happen to her before she can speak or decide, so intent is Christ on making her a beloved child of God that he will not wait.  And, truth be told, you and I are no different from this precious babe.  We, too, have been given a righteousness, given a peace, given a joy that we could have never anticipated or produced, that “strange” righteousness that comes from the Christ who is so very gentle, so very loving to us all.  So, then, dear people, enjoy this: enjoy the fact that God in Christ knows you more deeply than you know yourself and loves you totally and without condition.  Enjoy the fact that your lives are secured by the God of cross and empty tomb, and that the baptismal waters that were poured over you named as a child of God.  Revel in the goodness of your neighbor, knowing that they, too, are beloved of this God, and that we are now given the freedom to care for them without agenda or stipulation.  For the Son has indeed made you free.  In Jesus’ name, amen. 

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