Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Most Complicated!

There is an Indigo Girl song called the least complicated.
One of the verses goes like this,
Some long ago when we were taught
That for whatever kind of puzzle you got
You just stick the right formula in
A solution for every fool”
It would be nice to believe that life was as simple as we were taught it was as kids.
It would be nice to believe that everything had a correct answer.
It would be nice to believe that our problems were easily solved.
But most of all it would just be nice to believe that we somehow can control things.
That all we need to do is eat our vegetables, work hard, do our best, not curse, be nice, and everything will work out.
The religious version of this is that all we need to do is pray, attend worship, give money, care for the poor, and follow the Ten Commandments.
If we can do those things then we can control God.
We can make God act in the way that we find appropriate.
Not only that we can then put people into boxes.
Here are the good people, the ones who follow the rules and do what is right.
Here are the bad people, the ones who break rules and deserve what is coming to them.
How I wish that life was so simple.
Instead it is more complex isn’t it?
Bad things happen to good people.
We don’t always get what we worked for.
We don’t always get what we deserve.

Now that can work out one of two ways for us can’t it.
Because depending on how we view ourselves and life not getting what you deserve can either be a great thing or a horrible thing.
If you believe that you have worked hard and put in your time, and that you are really great at something then you would expect more.
If you don’t get it you are angry that more has not been given.
But if you feel inadequate or guilty and you get more than you deserve and are thankful.

Today’s Gospel we have the portrait of two kinds of prayer.
We have the self-righteous person who feels that he has done some great things.
And the sinner who knows that he is in need of God’s mercy.
Now I am sure that we have all heard a sermon (in fact I may have given one at some time) about how this parable is about humility.
That the lesson we should get from this is to be more humble.
I think that is a trap because then we make humility the key to unlocking the puzzle.
The way we control things in life is to be humble.
The best way to be a Christian is to be humble.
This is not a parable about a humble man and arrogant man.
It is a parable about who is in control.
Are you in control or is God?
Who has your life?

The Pharisee who prays about how great he is never mentions God.
What he talks about is himself, how great a religious person he is.
“I have done…..”
He has made himself the center of the universe, the answer to all his problems.
If things are not going well all you need to do is work harder, be better.
Perhaps you could give some more money to the church this year and then you will really know that you are a good person.

This is the way it worked at one time.
The more you did religiously the better person you were.
If you were worried about paying for your sins simply pay to get sprung from purgatory early.
The whole reformation was fought over this central idea, that we as humans could somehow control God by doing good things.
By giving more money, going to church more often, confessing our sins, praying really serious prayers.
At the heart of the reformation is the idea that we cannot control God.
We cannot decide how or when God gives out grace and mercy.
God simply gives it out without our permission.
We have no control.

Again this is a good news bad news kind of thing.
If you think that you have control in your life what I said just really annoyed you.
But if your life is constantly out of control then what I said is good news.
It means that it wasn’t intended for you to have control, but it was intended for us to rely everyday on God.

Again this week I was reading what people wrote on their cards last week.
People wrote all the things in life that they were thankful for, all the blessings that God has given.
What I noticed is that none of them were things we really have control over.
Lots of people wrote they were thankful for their families.
We don’t get to choose our families.
We are born into them.
Some people wrote they were thankful for their health and we don’t always have control over if we are healthy.
I have learned that lesson this year.
As many people I know have cancer, and all of them are very healthy people.
They don’t smoke or drink a lot, they are not over weight.
And yet they have cancer anyway.
The number one thing that people wrote is that they we grateful for a loving God who forgives sins.
And we certainly have no control over that.
It is only God’s enduring love that gives us grace in our lives.

Now I don’t want my message to be misunderstood this morning.
Because there are lots of people who like to have control in their lives.
I don’t want the message to be just give up control and everything will be all right.
Or that people who like to have control are somehow less faithful.
That would simply be another way to say that in order to be better you just give up control.
It would be another way to answer the puzzle.
My message is that all of us depend on the grace and mercy of God.
Nothing we can do to mess that up.

The issue is how we see our lives.
Are they based on what we do, or what God has done and will do?
Are we on our knees every night thanking God that we sinners have another day of life?

It takes lots of guts to admit that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.
It takes guts to admit our brokenness.
Do we dare to admit to ourselves and to others that we are not as good as we let others think we are?
Do we allow people to see us as sinful people, forgiven by a loving God?

One of the things that is interesting to me about the sinner in this parable is that he never says, “and now I am going to go out and try to do better.”
There is no better.
There is only our life, our brokenness, our sin, and how God has redeemed us and set us free.
At the center of it all is a loving God.

Here is the question do we dare believe it to be true?
Do we dare believe that God is in control?
All the evidence points us away from it.
Think about all the ways that we mess up our lives.
All the ways we don’t measure up.
All the ways our world is sinful and scary.

Can we say with confidence, “The Lord is my rock and salvation, whom shall I fear.”
Even in these times, even with our controlling selves can we rely on God’s grace?
Can we let God be in control?

There is no perfect answer.
There is no way to make everything fine.
There is no way to make all the puzzle pieces fit perfectly.
But there is God.
And the God we know in Jesus Christ tells us that we can be justified not by what we have done, but by what God’s love has done in us.

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