Monday, June 14, 2010

Pentecost 3C

Who do you want to keep out of God's kingdom? Everyone has their list of people whose names they'd like crossed out of the Book of LIfe. Even now, I'll bet there's someone in your mind that you hope will be enduring eternal heat blisters while you're enjoying heavenly bliss. We ALL have names of people in our heads who we'd like to see on the outside looking in on God's heavenly banquet. Everyone carries a list.

"You know, pastor, " he said. "There are a lot of PEOPLE in our churches but there aren't very many CHRISTIANS."

"I beg your pardon," I replied.

"There are too many people who go to church but don't live by God's law, they live just like everyone else. They're fake Christians," he said.

"Is that right?" I replied, turning my chair to indicate that this was a conversation I no interest in being a part of. But he didn't take the hint.

"Yeah, too many people think they're Christians but they really aren't. There's no repentance. No outward evidence that they they believe in God. There's too much immorality. Too many concessions to the secular world. They don't believe in the Truth of the bible."


"Really?" I replied, hoping my monosyllabic answers might discourage him. But it seemed to do the opposite. He was just getting started.

"People think that they can sin and still be part of Christ's church. The bible is clear, God HATES sin. God demands obedience from us, not disobedience."

"But didn't Jesus die for our sins?" I asked.

"Jesus may have died for our sins but that doesn't mean we can still go on sinning and expect to go to heaven," he replied.

"So, we can stop sinning if we just put our minds to it?" I asked.

"Yes," he said. "God gave us free will so we can choose to sin or not to sin."

"If God has given us the freedom to sin or not to sin then why did Jesus have to die for our sins, why didn't he just tell us to strengthen our wills to live in obedience?"

And from there it was on. He had pushed my last button.

This was a conversation I had with a young man at last week's synod convention. It's a conversation I regularly have with people. People who see more sin than grace in the world. People who want to divide the world into two competing camps: those who deserve to be in God's favour, and those who do not. And they usually know which camp they fall in to. And they're glad to let you know where you spiritually stack up.

I tell you this story not to show off my stellar debating skills, but to show you that Pharisees are alive and well; people who don't really trust that faith can make us well. They don't trust that God is active in the world and in peoples' lives.

Just like we heard in today's gospel.

Jesus is having dinner at a pharisee's house. In the middle of the meal a "woman of the city" (and you know how THEY can be!) comes in, lets down her hair, falls all over Jesus, kissing and caressing his feet, which is all much more that the religious people at the table can tolerate.

"If this man were a real prophet," he said in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear, "he'd know what kind of woman this is. He see that she's a sinner!"

Jesus repondes in an interesting way to this charge. He says, "Do you see this woman?"

The implication is that the host, the self-righteous religious person doesn't really see the woman. He only sees a "sinner." That's all he sees.

But when Jesus looks at her, he sees a "daughter of Abraham." A member of the family, someone who has a claim on God's goodness and mercy. Jesus sees what the pharisees cannot: a precious child of God. The religious leaders only see walking, talking, sin.

If you're listening closely, you'll notice that I might fall into the trap of reverse-phariseeism: passing judgment on the pharisees as if I'm somehow better than them. It's easy to condemn the self-righteous religious folks for the sin of condemning others. But if we're honest with ourselves we'll know that we're not any better. We have a foot in each camp. We're the self-righteous religious leader who makes up lists of who is in and who is out. And we're the sinner in need of forgiveness. Both. At the same time.

The challenge for us today is to see in ourselves both the self-righteous religious person and the sinner. That's not easy. We're too close to ourselves. We can't always see in ourselves what others see in us. We justify our own behaviour while magnifying the flaws we see in others.

Thankfully, we have a God who see us just as we are: children of Abraham and Sarah, sisters and brothers of Jesus. The fellow I was visiting with at convention couldn't see his fellow Christians as fellow followers of Jesus. And I have to admit, I had trouble seeing him as a member of Christ's family. I didn't want him at the same communion table as me. I like to think of myself as better than him, more inclusive, more welcoming, and more accepting. I like to think that my vision of God and the world is bigger than his. And that makes me a more faithful Christian.

I want to keep him and people like him out. That makes me no better than him. I only want people around me who think like me, that way I won't have to be challenged. I only want people who affirm what I already know, so I won't have to be pushed. I only want to be around people who see the world the same way I do, that way I won't have to grow. I am the religious leader in this story. And that makes me the sinner in need of forgiveness.

So I'm glad that I'm not in charge of who gets in and who stays out of God's kingdom. I'm thankful that that's a job for someone much more forgiving than I am. And I'm glad it's not up to you as well. We human beings are better at drawing lines than opening doors. We're better at locking gates than we are at opening borders. Our limited vision makes us barely see beyond our own noses. But God's vision is as expansive as eternity. God's mercy never ends.

So, who do you want to keep our of God's kingdom? Who's on the Top Ten? I want you to hold on to that list of people whose names you'd like erased from the Book of Life. That list is now your prayer card. Those are the people God wants you to pray for. And as you pray for each person on that list, those people might also be praying for you.



Anonymous Anonymous said...


9:06 PM  
Blogger 淑瑄 said...

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