Sermon 2015-11-08

November 8, 2015

Mark 12:38-44

I want to talk for a bit this morning about what I call besetting sin—the kind of sin in a believer’s life that holds us back—keeps us from being who God has called us to be—gets in the way of relationships—inhibits our capacity for grace–for seeing beyond ourselves.  The sin I’m talking about isn’t one you find in the Seven Deadly Sins list—you know, the ones Gregory the Great came up with back in the Middle Ages: pridegreedlustenvygluttonyanger, laziness–didn’t make the cut of that list.  No, the sin I’m talking about is the sin of forgetfulness—what happens when we forget how fortunate we are, or how privileged we are, or how indebted we are…  Forgetfulness is what leads to self-righteousness, the forgetting of how much forgiveness we’ve needed—a forgetting that keeps us from extending the same grace we’ve been given to somebody else.  It’s what leads us to a sense of entitlement–the idea that we deserve certain treatment, certain regard–certain respect or honor or attentiveness to our needs.  In short, it’s the sin that makes “scribes” of us, in a biblical sense–the kind of people Jesus had such harsh words for in the part of Mark’s Gospel we just read…

See, Jesus has been noticing some things (what we can always count on from Jesus: that he’s paying attention, keeping his eye on what’s happening, noticing how people behave—how we treat one another…).  And what he notices is the forgetfulness of some highly religious people.  The scribes of Jesus’ day were a class of men (no women allowed!), men who prescribed regulations from the Mosaic Law for every single occasion and situation they could imagine–determined what the traditions were–how those traditions were going to be followed by the common people—the rank and file of Israel.  And what Jesus noticed was something obvious–he noticed how self-important these scribes had become.  It was evident in almost everything about them.  They wore these long, flowing tassels on their robes–dress designed to bring attention to the wearer as a person to be reverenced.  They loved to walk around town and be greeted with honor, with respect–greeted by their proper titles.  To be addressed like that was agreeable to their vanity.  Even their prayers were signs of conceit, words not offered for the ears of God, but for the ears and impression of others.  And as if that weren’t enough, Jesus tells us they’d even sunk to the place of using their power and influence to exploit widows—the vulnerable of their community–women who, when they lost their husbands in a patriarchal society, lost their social standing and all means of financial support.  Here was a forgetfulness that went down a path of gross evil, and Jesus noticed the hearts from which the scribes’ behavior had sprung. The grace and forgiveness they had received themselves had forgotten was now withheld from everybody else…

Now, when I read these words from the lips of Jesus, I realize something true about us, too—it’s not just a scribes problem, here–our forgetfulness (mine, anyway) can also lead to arrogance—to pompous clothing, pompous prayer, pompous behavior…  The only difference is that most of us are a whole lot more sophisticated in our forgetfulness than these guys were, right? More subtle, about it?  We do our forgetting in normal clothing—do it with a lot of pious behavior.  But it’s the attitude of our hearts that trips us up–keeps us from any real intimacy with God, or with others, or with ourselves.  The grace we’ve received becomes so easily forgotten, and we end up withholding it from everyone else…

A hundred years ago, when I was in high school, I played basketball on our school’s team, the Mighty Murray Pilots of St. Paul…  We weren’t great, but we weren’t awful, either, and there were some teams we were definitely better than—teams we beat every year–like not-so-mighty Humboldt High School (basketball not being Humboldt’s strong suit—they were terrible!).  But I have not forgotten the night our coach led us into the locker room at halftime–actually trailing Humboldt—been outhustled at every turn–our coach all crazy mad—ready to go all “Bobby Knight” on us…  And as we walked into the locker room, Coach Moynaugh spotted this big metal trash can–and with all his might, kicked it across the room—just blew it up!  And then he started to yell–at the top of his considerable, Irish lungs—yelled not at us, but at me—called me out–said, “Healy,” (we were pretty much on a last name basis at that point in our relationship!)—said, “Healy, Hoon Gee will make it in this game before you do!”  Hoon happened to be our least experienced player–of Korean descent—as short as I was tall–hadn’t grown up with the game…  But Hoon was a tireless worker–of indomitable spirit—an absolute joy to have on our team…  Me, on the other hand—I was born with a basketball in my hands–my dad a college coach–my brothers both having played before me–paved the way for me….  Everybody in our school knew who the Healy brothers were–who their father was—knew our basketball pedigree.  (I mean, my goodness–I’m six-nine!  Any questions?)  Basketball was a game handed to me on a silver spoon, but I had forgotten something that night—forgotten how fortunate I was–forgotten the privilege that was mine, the gift I‘d been given…  And in my forgetfulness, I took this amazing game–the game my daddy taught me is the greatest game God ever created—I took it for granted—failed to give it my best—failed to respect the game.  And my coach noticed–noticed and had the wisdom to show me something—something else–someone–else–a someone who took nothing for granted, someone who remembered, someone named Hoon

See, Jesus noticed somebody other than the scribes that day–somebody no one else saw, apparently.  We might say that here was someone who had every right to be forgetful.  Life had turned out to be so utterly cruel to her—given her a loss–the loss of her partner—her spouse–the kind of loss that, in her day, would have left her vulnerable beyond what any of us can even imagine, because compounding her grief is an economic reality—she is at the bottom of the heap—the plight of a widow in the ancient world meant scratching out a living completely dependent on the benevolence of others–every reason this woman should be forgetful of any kind of goodness from God, but she does not forget.  Somehow, here’s a person who’s learned to remember who God really is, and in remembering she trusts, even to the point of giving everything she has–all she has to live on—gives it back to the One who has given her everything in the first place.  And I wonder, don’t you?—how do we get a memory like that?  How do we get to the place in life where we’re able to keep from forgetting the most important thing, like whose we are and at what price?  How do we keep from falling into the swamp of forgetfulness and spiritual pride and arrogance?

Well, let me suggest that becoming people who remember is much more a conscious act of the will than we realize.  We gotta choose it.  Say it’s late evening–everybody else has either gone home or gone to bed.  The time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year—time to try figuring out where we’ve come from–where we’re going—time to sift through the things we’ve done–the things we’ve left undone–to look for a clue about who we are and who, for better or worse, we’re becoming.  It’s a moment of truth, but we don’t take it.  Instead, we turn on the TV, or we pick up a newspaper, a book, or we hop on the Internet–find some chore to do that could so easily wait ‘til tomorrow…  We cling to the present out of a wariness of the past.  And why not?  We’re tired, after all—got a lot going on–need any escape we can find, right?  This isn’t a dementia of biology; this is a dementia of choice.  We choose to forget what’s most true about us…

But meanwhile, there’s this deeper need going on inside–the need to go to the place of the heart—the place where with patience, with clarity, in solitude, we remember consciously to remember the lives we’ve lived.  It’s remembering on purposeremembering that God has been with us through all our days, whether we’ve known it or not—with us in our best moments and in our worst moments–healing us with his grace–wounding us healingly with his judgements.  It’s remembering that there has never been a time past when God wasn’t with us as the strength beyond our strength, the wisdom beyond our wisdom.  It’s remembering that we are here today only by the grace of Almighty God—the fact that we’ve even survived is a gift.  It’s remembering not only what God has done in our lives, but what he’s done in the life of the whole world.  It’s remembering, above all, what he’s done in Jesusremembering those moments in our lives when with only the dullest of understanding but with the sharpest of longing we have glimpsed that life in Jesus is the only kind of life that matters—that all other kinds of life are riddled with death.  It’s remembering those moments in our lives when Jesus came to us—came in countless disguises through people who in one way or another strengthened us, comforted us, healed us, judged us, by the power of Christ alive within them.  All that is the past.–all that is what there is to remember…  And because that’s the past, because we remember, we have this high and holy hope—that what he’s done he will continue to do—that what he’s begun in us and in our world he will (in unimaginable ways) bring to fullness and fruition.  Amen?

A new friend of mine just published a book—gave me a free copy.  Brad Hewitt is the President and CEO of Thrivent Financial–this amazing not-for-profit Fortune 500 company—and one of our good ministry partners here at Park Avenue.  His book is called Your New Money Mindset—it’s about how we can create a healthy relationship with money.  Listen to I a few pearls of wisdom I found, here:

  • “We live with this persistent misbelief that if we just had a little more (money), we’d be happy forever.”  (Anybody ever think that?)
  • “Before you can remake your habits, you need to remake your heart.”
  • “The more readily we share our time, energy and money, the more joy we discover in life.”
  • “The health of your relationship with money is not determined by how much money you have or don’t have.”  (Didn’t we just read something about that?)
  • “We break our persistent desire for more when we choose to live generously.”
  • “When we choose to give first, we begin to grow a healthier relationship with money.”

And then this one:

  • “We live generously toward others when we are grounded in God’s grace toward us.”

That sounds a whole lot to me like stuff the widow in Jesus’ story has figured out, doesn’t it?

See, you and I are loved by a generous God:

  • Got a God generous in creation
    • Got trees, plants and flowers beautifying our planet every time we turn around.
    • Got animals of every shape and size causing us to pause at their majesty (fox in my yard on Friday story…).
    • And we human beings complete the story—blended in color, in custom, in history, in perspective, the seven billion of us make up a tapestry of infinite distinction.
  • Got a God generous in community
    • Been given family—biological and adopted–given friends, neighbors, people here at church–where we get to love and support each other…
    • Where two or three are gathered, Jesus says, he’ll be with us…
  • Got a God generous in purpose
    • Been given lives with meaning—not some self-centered sense of satisfaction, but lives of impactful service for the good of others…
    • We believe that when we discover our calling, we can be energized to give of ourselves in ways that help us to know we’ve made a difference…  How cool is that?
  • And a God generous in forgiveness
    • While our human brokenness messes up of God’s good gifts, while creation gets spoiled by greed, while communities get fractured by selfishness, while too many people live aimlessly despite God’s amazing generosity, too many of us turning our backs on him, what do we get?  Well:
      • “God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
      • “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).

That’s what we get…

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