Twenty-fifth Sunday After Pentecost
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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Afterthoughts: Bad Maps
Last Sunday, I spoke about how our maps can either help us or hurt us.
Get the wrong directions on Google
and you might be in for an interesting trip.
And the only thing that makes the Google Map app good is the input of good information.
If something is missing,
this missing piece may create havoc for the traveler.
The maps of the New World in the 1500s were full of errors, granted, they were done with the best information available, but they were still wrong.
Some had nothing where the Americas were.
Others had something, but not anything major.
But, beyond the geography, there was something much more misleading in the creation of maps.
Early maps showed images of cannibals in these new lands, which would have begun to create an image of the natives in the Americas that was incorrect. Not only that, but it would have created a hesitancy amongst explorers to come to the New World.
Maybe this was intentional.
Maybe they wanted the rewards of this new land all to themselves.
Either way, it created a map that was incorrect.
Our life maps can be the same way.
They can contain false presuppositions about life.
There can be misunderstandings about what life is really about.
Even misunderstandings of what a life of faith looks like.
And this can create confusion as we walk this life of faith.
Out of the many things that could falsely influence our life maps,
I want to look at some that I consider to be the most threatening.
The View of My Sin.
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
“We are our own worst enemies.”
These two phrases ring true in life.
Mostly because we really get in our own way.
I think the words from Jeremiah 17:9 makes the issue clear.
“The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?”
The word sin has the idea of “missing the mark.”
Specifically, it is missing God’s mark; God’s standard.
God’s standards about life.
God’s standards about faith.
God’s standards about love.
Sometimes when we think about sin,
We think of it as “all the really bad things.”
But sin is, in all reality, believing we make the rules.
It’s the created masquerading as the Creator.
Which, we know, is laughable.
We are messy.
We make mistakes.
Our feelings get hurt.
We lash out.
We are selfish.
We are impatient.
We expect things from others that we don’t expect of ourselves.
We crave love and yet withhold this same love from those around us.
We get anxious.
We can be rude.
We are human.
And this can be bad input for our life map.
Which is why, as I said on Sunday,
the Holy Scriptures must be the basis for our map.
Again, if we know that our vision is skewed,
We cannot allow it to influence our life map.
The View of the Other.
“Thank you, God,
that I am not a Gentile,
a woman, or a slave.”
This was the longstanding prayer tradition of the Jewish heads of household as they started his day.
You can see how this would have created an unhealthy view and, thus, an unhealthy environment to live in.
If you were a man, the “others” around you were suspect.
If you were the “others,” you would feel that suspect attitude.
And in either case, this would be bad input for your life map.
In one case, it would elevate your view of self-importance and lead you to believe that your place on the map was more important than what it should be.
In the other case, it would cause you to not see yourself as important enough to even be on the map.
I think this is why Paul writes these words from Galatians 3:28:
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Othering separates us from one another
and God’s intention is that we are one.
This is seen in Jesus’ prayer from John 17:20-21
as He prays to the Father before the crucifixion,
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.”
In our day, we may not struggle with what Paul was specifically addressing (men/women, Jew/Gentile or free/slave),
but othering is alive and well around us
(and maybe even in our communities of faith).
There are classic “otherings” like
black/white and men/women to name two.
But we also can see this in play in reference to things like:
- Political parties
- Denominations of Christianity
- Socio-economic status
- Educational achievements
- White collar vs blue collar
And if we engage in this type of thinking
This can be bad input for our map.
We are not better than the “others’ in our life.
We are all human.
In reference to sin and, thus, God, Paul writes in Romans,
“There is no one righteous, no not one.”
In addressing our differences,
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:12-14
“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.”
The reason othering can be harmful to our life maps is that it keeps us from seeing what true community should be.
It can keep us from loving and serving those who are different than we are.
The Presence of Suffering.
Suffering of any kind can take a toll on us.
While most of us have not faced the most severe of sufferings (famine, false imprisonment, slavery),
suffering, at some level, is a part of life.
Suffering for us can be emotional, physical or spiritual. It can be the result of choices made by us, the result of others actions or, simply, a part of life in a messy world (think cancer or other illnesses).
Religion can play a big part in how we view suffering,
During my time as a chaplain at Hospice of the Foothills,
I spent time with a lot of people who were suffering.
I found that for many Roman Catholics, suffering was seen as one’s obligation as identifying with the suffering of Jesus.
I found that those who identified as Buddhists viewed suffering in a redemptive way, much like the Roman Catholics, but with a more practical outworking.
I found that for many Evangelicals suffering was a direct result of sin.
(Think Job and his friends and their defending the character of God while trying to understand Job’s plight and suffering.)
We know this: if you are human, you will suffer at some point.
As the comedian and devout Roman Catholic Stephen Colbert once said,
“It is a gift to exist, and with existence comes suffering.
There’s no escaping that.”
But this is not suffering for suffering’s sake.
And, yes, suffering can be redemptive,
But that does not mean that the Universe is plotting against us.
And, yes, suffering can be a result of our actions and choices,
But, again looking at the story of Job (who was innocent) it may not be.
So how we know?
In a section of Psalm 73:16-17, I find a helpful realization and things like suffering and justice. The psalmist writes,
“But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I perceived their end.”
We have to enter the holy places to understand this life.
And this understanding needs to be an integral part of our life map,
Otherwise life’s obstacles are going to throw us and communicate something about life that simply isn’t true.
In restating what I said at the beginning of my thoughts,
The more we can extract ourselves from our life map and insert God’s wisdom, the better.
Am I saying that our lives should lack personality?
Am I saying that we shouldn’t be actively involved in our lives?
What I saying is best summed up in the words from Galatians 2:20,
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
In this life of faith.
Let us have faith in the God who loves us so.
And let us be a people who love his Holy Scriptures,
So that we might understand this life better.