Sunday, October 28, 2012

28 October 2012 -- Proper 25 / Pentecost 22

PROPER 25 / 22 Pentecost—28 October 2012
St. Paul’s, Durant  — 9:00

[Track Two]  Jeremiah 31:7-9  |  Psalm 126  |  Hebrews 7:23-28  |   Mark 10:46-52

   From the Collect of the Day for this Sunday, Proper 25 – it’s on page 235 of the Prayer Book, if you haven’t already looked it up:

Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command.

    “Make us love what you command.”  That’s kind of an odd phrase, isn’t it?  We don’t normally associate “love” as a response to a “command.”  “Commands” are to be obeyed, not to be loved!  But then, “odd” phrases are fairly common when we’re talking about God—God often does not fit very neatly into our categories!

   We are familiar with the idea that God commands certain things of us.  The words of our liturgy, the words of Holy Scripture itself, speak often of what God commands.  Perhaps the most obvious example is the “Ten Commandments.”  Often, though, don’t we too easily translate the concept of God’s commandments into the equivalent of commands in our own human world (a fallen human world)?  If a military officer gives a command, he or she expects it to be obeyed; if it is not obeyed, there are various sanctions that can be brought to bear upon the disobedient.  A commanding officer has the power of command, the ability to enforce commands, to coerce obedience or at least to punish disobedience.  Now, power in itself is morally neutral; many officers are good commanders who use their power wisely for the common good.  But it’s also true that in our fallen human world, power does tend to corrupt, and some human commanders use their power for their own self-aggrandizement, to gratify their own need to coerce the obedience of others.  And, against the background of that common experience within our fallen world of the connection (sometimes corrupt) between command, power, and obedience, we look at the commandments of God.

   Many, hearing about God’s “commands,” judge that God must be a tyrant—possibly because the only human commanders or authority figures they’ve ever known have been tyrannical—and so they reject God.  I think there are many who have fallen away from faith for just that reason.  Even worse, I think there are many who worship God on exactly that basis; there’s a kind of twisted spirituality that revels in groveling before a tyrannical God—and then in turning to the world in the tyrannical image and likeness of that god.  You may have noticed that some of the folks who talk the most about “God’s commandments” are the most eager to impose their own commandments on other people.

   Obviously, I don’t think that’s at all a picture of what God is like, or what God’s commandments are about!  God is not just the biggest toughest kid on the block!

   Notice that in today’s Collect we ask God to make us love what God commands in order that we may obtain what God promises.  There’s a key, I think—God’s promises.  Not just that God’s promises are a reward for our obedience, though there are some folks who seem to think that.  But that wouldn’t really be a promise—that would be payment of a wage earned, on the basis of a contractual condition fulfilled — a point that St. Paul makes in the letter to the Romans. [4:4]  God’s promises are unconditional—they are the promises of a loving Father.  Or rather, there is just this condition—not that there is anything we have to earn, or prove ourselves worthy of, but simply that we do have to put ourselves in a position where we can accept and receive God’s promises.  God’s promises are always there for us—the gift is always offered.  But if we ignore it, if we turn away from it (and we often do!) then the gift cannot be given.  A gift is freefreely given, freely received.  If I have to earn it, it’s no longer a gift.  If it is forced upon me, it is no longer a gift either.  I don’t have to deserve it, but I do have to choose to accept it.

   Look at blind Bar-Timaeus in the Gospel today.  When he hears that Jesus is coming by, he doesn’t just sit there wishfully thinking, “Golly, wouldn’t it be nice if Jesus helped me.”  He starts to yell at the top of his lungs:  “Have mercy on me, Son of David, I can’t see you, are you there?  Yo, Jesus, do you hear me? have mercy on me!”  When Jesus calls him, he springs right up, throws off his cloak, and scrambles, claws, gropes, pushes his way to him. And when Jesus asks him, “What do you want?” Bar-Timaeus doesn’t just stand there and shuffle his feet and mumble, “Well, gee, you know, aw shucks.”  He’s got the chutzpah to come right out with it:  “Duh!  I want to see again!”  Bar-Timaeus has reached out his hands to accept the gift of healing.  He knew he had to choose to do something—not to sit still, but to move where he could receive the gift of healing. And he made the choice. And that’s what Jesus is replying to when he says, “Your faith has made you well.”  Your trust has made it possible for you to be healed.

   You may remember that in the Gospel two weeks ago Jesus told the rich young man to give away everything and to follow him; but the rich young man couldn’t do it.  Last week when Jesus asked James and John what they wanted, they asked for places of honor and power in the Kingdom.  But Bar-Timaeus throws away his cloak -- the only possession this poor blind beggar had, and the only means of his paltry income (because he spread his cloak in front of him to collect alms from the passers-by).  And when Jesus asks Bar-Timaeus what he wants, Bar-Timaeus doesn’t ask for honor or power, he asks for vision.

   To love what God commands.  Not just to feel warm and cozy about the Ten Commandments.  Not even just to obey them out of some kind of sense of duty (though I suppose that beats disobeying them out of rebellious self-centeredness!).  God, after all, is not a petty tyrant who gets a kick out of being able to boss people around.  God’s commands are not arbitrary and ultimately unintelligible rules to which we must conform.  For what is it that God commands?  Is not God’s command, finally, “Choose life, so that you and your descendants may live”? [Deuteronomy 30:19] —live fully, live authentically, live in love, live with God in God’s kingdom?  Is it not that God’s commands are the guideposts, the roadmap, the key to the door, of Life, life to the full, now and forever?  To love what God commands—to care deeply enough and passionately enough that we will choose to do what we have to do in order to be where we are able to accept and receive God’s promise of fullness of life.

   And yet even the choosing to accept is not a matter of our own accomplishment alone.  And so we start by asking God to “increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity.”  For the bottom line—once again—is that it is all Gift.  It is always all Gift.  To be received.  

Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command. 

No comments: