July 24, 2016, St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Norwich, Vt.
Proper 12, The 10th Sunday after Pentecost
Sermon by The Rev. Karen S. Sheldon
The Collect of the Day
O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
There is much to say today about the readings alone, and yet I know we've come together today with deep concerns about what is happening in our country and the world right now, and those feelings need to be addressed. The church represents sacred space, however, consecrated to God, who as we all know does not indulge in partisan politics. One might say God is omni-partisan, since he cares for and understands us all.
We need to honor that, keeping in mind, however, that some things transcend politics and simply have to be said. Today's media coverage being what it is, for instance, one can't tell millions of people worldwide that a presidential candidate ought to be killed. That's an invitation to some poor distraught soul to go out and do just that. Responsible speech is more important now than ever.
In the interests of commonality, and because I personally have great compassion for the universal human predicament, I've picked a few problem areas that will never be addressed by the media. The first and most basic has to do with the game of Blindman's Buff, or Bluff, as you may have heard it growing up, which we are obliged to play in this life. I'm referring to the fact that we are born into a world of infinite dimensions, only three of which we are able to see clearly. A fourth we can recognize only in sequence as we observe living things growing and declining through time. Yet we are constantly bombarded with intuitions of higher truths that can't be proven, and often seem counter to our own self-interest. It's as though we are born blindfolded and spun around a few times, and then turned loose to grope for some kind of handhold on ultimate Reality.
But, whatever we happen to grasp is only partial, illusory, never more than a brush with the surface, a mere whisp of truth among contradictory truths which are equally compelling. Finding our way through this maze is a challenge. I think we should be commended for playing this game at all.
We have learned that faith needs to be whole-hearted and focused in order to be effective, and yet that very focus closes us off to other helpful insights. A juggling of belief and non-belief is required of us in order to survive in the world. We have to fly high and keep our feet on the ground at the same time, all the while groping in the dark.
This seems relevant right now, because I think we need to have compassion for one another as we all try to work our way through this very confusing life. Those who disagree with us are not our enemies. They are fellow laborers ploughing the same stony field. We have an obligation to support or criticize and correct, but not to hate or destroy.
The second problem area is the realm of a genuine enemy, who is hiding behind every bush and tree. His name, as you might imagine, is Fear. We don't seem to be very highly evolved in that area. It's hard to find an aspect of our lives that's not in some way shaped by fear, however subtle it may be.
We're still very tribal it seems. We fear 'the other'. The other sex, the other nationality, the other skin color, the other way of thinking. We fear some kind of contagion from the disabled and the poor. We increase fear with guns. We ward it off with status-seeking, with feelings of superiority, with acquisitiveness, with greed. Fear ruins health. It ruins relation-ships. It directs our lives away from dependence upon God and the higher life of the spirit.
Fear builds walls. It shuts doors and closes hearts against the unfamiliar or the new. Fear is the weapon of the terrorist. And it is the tool of the false prophet who would control us by making us afraid, and then presenting himself to us as our savior. It's interesting that Jesus never used fear to attract his disciples.
If we change our thinking and speaking about racism, or economic justice, or women's or gender issues, it's a step forward, but real change only comes with the change of heart that substitutes love and understanding for fear. We have to pray for that change. It doesn't just happen.
A child delights in playing Blindman's Buff because he's safe among friends at a party supervised by a responsible adult. We, however, can feel very much alone in our quest, even though we know that Christ is the responsible adult in the room with us. We have to grow into that trust, if we are to abolish fear.
We have another powerful enemy whom we might call Myopia. She's our near-sightedness, our inability to see the needs of others, to see the larger picture, to recognize the need for change or to see beyond the scope of our own self-interest. She is our tendency to be caught up in the everyday world to the extent that, as we prayed in the collect, "we lose sight of the eternal in passing through the temporal." We don't look, because we don't want to see. We don't want to see, because we don't want to do, to stretch, to change.
Our perception of time is a bit myopic as well. Thanks to technology, we now expect everything to happen all at once. We want to speed up the film. We want to binge-watch the whole TV series at once and be done with it. But life doesn't work that way. Old ideas are deeply implanted, and they don't disappear overnight even for those who really don't want them anymore. We all evolve at our own pace, and when we forge ahead with success, we have to expect that others will lag behind, and that their repressed dissent may boil over irrationally before it goes away. In some cases rightly so, when justice is too slow in coming, and inequality persists. We're experiencing that now.
I don't see a cause for discouragement in the protests that are going on today, only in the senseless killing that makes matters worse. Changes are badly needed and long overdue.
All four of today's Scripture passages relate nicely to our current situation. Israel was having a very bad time when Hosea wrote in the 8th c. before Christ. They were threatened from outside by Assyria and inside by angry dissent. A period of prosperity had led to laxness
in religion and the worship of Canaanite gods, as well as participation orgiastic cultic practices. There was crime. Hosea chose to mirror their infidelity to Yahweh with his choice of a promiscuous wife, and more. He viewed the hard times he saw coming, not as the direct result of wrong living, but as the justifiable wrath of an angry and vengeful God.
The God of that time was conceived in the image of man, not the reverse. His love
for mankind was enduring, but he had to be begged and cajoled into changing his mind and restoring prosperity. A little of that still exists today. It is a view of God as outside of ourselves, in which we are related to God only as children, yet on a very long tether.
It was assumed one could know God's law and keep it. Exploring elsewhere brought doom. The prophet/priest of Moses' time brooked no questioning of his authority. In the backstory to Psalm 85 from chapter 16 of the Book of Numbers, Moses puts down an attempted coup by causing the earth to open up and swallow his challengers along with all their families and goods. A fire and a plague destroy their followers. As Turkey's president rounds up his many thousands of dissenters, following their attempted coup, we can see that very little has changed.
Look now at the way Paul expresses his insights about God. It's quite different. He separates out different levels of the spiritual world, and warns the Colossians against setting their sights too low. Don't be side-tracked by philosophy or angel cults or lesser entities! Go right to the head. Participate -- that's an essential word -- participate in Christ, who possesses the fullness of God. He reminds them, and us, that we have been baptized into Christ. That is, we have given up our dedication to the material, worldly level, and have opened ourselves to Christ consciousness. That makes an enormous difference. It gives us the freedom to co-create in our small way with God. Put differently elsewhere, it means we are no longer abject slaves to God, but heirs through Christ.
When Jesus gives the disciples Luke's simple version of the Lord's prayer, the word 'Father' recognizes our inheritance, as does the phrase, 'thy Kingdom come'. Not in some
future time as a golden city in the sky, but as a fullness, a plenitude, as the world of many dimensions we cannot see, but when it is enlivened in us, can change our reality for the better.
The simplicity of that abbreviated prayer is beautiful.
Our family relationship to God is set forth.
Our desire for the divine to impinge upon our lives.
Our dependence on God for life and sustenance is acknowledged.
Our desire and act of letting go of lower things.
And our humility in admitting that we haven't got it all together yet.
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.
Then we have Jesus -- not telling us to obey laws we can't understand, but only to ask and to keep on asking to be shown, and to know that doors will open for us and that everyone who asks will receive the Holy Spirit, everyone who seeks, shall find.
This is quite different from building walls, and shutting out, from discriminating and fearing for our safety. It's the end of the game of Blindman's Buff. It's the taking off of the blindfolds we were born with and walking in the Light. Amen.