Sunday, September 30, 2018
2018/09/30 - Cut it off
There are at least two themes in today’s readings – the big one has to do with how we see people who are not part of the in-crowd, and I have a story to tell which you’ve probably heard something similar before, but I want to give it a new twist. But first, I want to touch on the 2nd reading – James seems to be speaking out against Wealth – but I think it’s deeper than that – and I think it actually pulls a deeper meaning out of all the readings. It’s about stumbling blocks or obstacles. As you listen to each reading, consider what it tells us about how we block or try to block God from working.
Imagine you’re going into battle back in the days of sword and spears. What kind of armor would you wear? The lightest option is leather armor – which would provide ‘some’ protection against a sword but not much help against a spear. You can upgrade to chain-mail – which is like a shirt made of chains – which improves our defenses, but is a bit heavier – or we can go all out and wear plate armor – like the typical knights used to wear – the full body steel suit which would repel most weapons of the day. Yeah – if we wanted to play it REALLY safe, we’d go with the plate armor. On the other hand, those suits weighed like 45-50lbs, SO you’d expend a bunch of your energy just moving around. You wouldn’t be able to turn your head much to see dangers coming at you – you wouldn’t be able to move as quickly to avoid a hit from a spear – you’d get really hot and sweaty in the suit – come to think of it, If I were going to battle, a plate armor suit might be the worst option.
That’s like all of the securities we fill our lives with…and I think that’s what James refers to in the second reading. We build up our bank accounts and insurance – we have our freezers full and our canned goods stashed up – we exercise and eat right to maintain our health – in all these ways, WE are in control – we have put on our heaviest armor to protect ourselves from whatever life throws at us.
But James is saying that all of our man-made safe-guards will actually be our stumbling block. By maintaining total control of our lives, we effectively push God out of the picture. He can’t save us – or at least we can’t RECOGNIZE that he’s saving us, because we think our defenses and our armor are what saves us.
That’s what James means when he said “your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you;”. The gold and silver aren’t bad, but God gave us that wealth so that He could bless others through us. The greatest joys in life come from sharing what God gave us – so when we hold it close and put our trust in the wealth instead of God, not only are others missing out on the blessings, but WE miss out on being the instrument of God’s action, so we don’t accept the blessing God is trying to give US!
We are all going into battle – the battle for our own soul. Take a hard look at what we have in our lives that is a stumbling block – things that will trip us or others – things that prevent God’s Spirit from acting in our lives – whatever we’re carrying into battle which is a liability, drop it here – cut it off, as Jesus says…. Better to enter battle without it.
To tie that idea to the other readings, let me tell a story:
Imagine you’re walking along and accidentally fall into a well. You’re not hurt too bad, but you’re like 10 feet underground and the sides are too slick for you to crawl out, so you do the only things you can do – you lift a silent prayer –God help me! And then you shout at the top of your lungs – HEEEELLLLP!
A minute later, an Islamic man comes to the edge and reaches a hand to help you out – but you withdraw your hand and say – leave me alone – your people attacked out country – I don’t want your help. Confused the man leaves – and you go back to doing all you can do – God help me! And you shout for help again.
This time someone of a different race comes to the edge and reaches a hand to help you out – but you withdraw your hand and say – leave me alone – my parents told me never to trust your kind. Confused the man leaves – and you go back to doing all you can do – God help me! And you shout for help again.
Next, a person of another Christian faith comes to the edge and reaches a hand to help you out – but you withdraw your hand and say – leave me alone – you’re not a in the real Church – I don’t want your help. Confused the man leaves – and you go back to doing all you can do – God help me! And you shout for help again.
You’re getting really weak now, but you keep shouting – the next day, a Catholic comes to the edge and reaches a hand to help you out – but you recognize him as from a family who your family doesn’t get along with for political reasons – you withdraw your hand and say – leave me alone – I don’t want your help. Confused the man leaves – and you go back to doing all you can do – God help me! But you’re too weak to shout for help again.
Next thing, you wake up in front of the pearly gates – and you realize where you are and you’re ticked off – God – how could you let this happen? I trusted you to help me! God said – I sent help four times, but you wouldn’t take the help. Who in the world COULD I have sent that you wouldn’t have had a prejudice against?
Obviously, my story is exaggerated, but the point is that God can and does act through every person in the world – and any time we try to draw boundaries around ourselves about who is In and who is Out – we are blocking God’s action. If we continue drawing those boundaries, they’ll get smaller and smaller until we are the only one left in the IN crowd and we’ll even find fault with God and block Him as an outsider.