Monday, April 09, 2007

Children in the Marketplace - Luke 7:28ff

We who are human don’t always want to grow up. We want to squabble like children over who did what to whom when the matter is trivial and avoid talking about it when the matter is serious. We act like children when we tattle to others instead of going directly to the other when we have a problem. We act like children when we blame the other for our own failings. We act like children when we don’t take responsibility for what we do. We act as children when we refuse to grow and mature. We act as children when we want simplistic answers rather than the simple answers that come from going through the complexities.

We are called to love God with our heart and soul and mind and body. We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. In these are contained the whole of the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:37ff paraphrased) But too often I hear the words of love without love. What is said to be love is really self-deception and self-centeredness.

I hear groups like Focus on the Family and Love in Action saying they love the homosexual without listening to scripture or the homosexual. They spend their time promoting their own idea of family without looking at what families are actually like and the say that they love while causing hurt to many of the people who pass through their programs. They are like children in the marketplace pretending that something is wrong (like a funeral) when it is of their own imaginations and desires.

These places do provide a relief. They may be the first place that someone can talk about their desires and hopes. But where they go wrong is in trying to fit everyone in a particular mold. God may will some people to have a change in orientation from gay to straight, yet that doesn’t mean that is God’s will for everyone nor that changing from gay or giving up same-sex sexual actions is right for everyone. These places go for the quick and simplistic rather than the thoughtful and righteous. Their love is in words, but not in their actions. And they are like the ones Jesus talked about who put heavy burdens on the back of others that they themselves are unwilling to bear.

We are called to grow up. We are called to become mature. We are called to take the road less followed and yet more beautiful. God knows that I adore the quick and easy answer myself. I would like to pick up any task and perform it perfectly in a short time. Yet there are some tasks for which I am not gifted and others which require much practice and sustained effort.

For every minute I spend preaching in a worship service or speaking in a public place, I spend one to two hours in direct preparation and more in continued work to educate myself. For every piece I perform as a musician I spend hours learning the notes, the rhythm, trying different ways, checking the acoustics of the performance space and more. In every piece I write or compose I spend hours re-reading and changing a word or a note, then changing it back.

And that what growing up is about. And that is what it means to become mature. We examine and look and revise and become who God creates us to be.

I adore the certitude of the fundamentalist and sometimes wish I could become that narrow. Yet, in my heart I know that I am called to examine doctrine and creed and interpretation of Scripture to make sure that I am following God’s will and not my own. And while I am called to look at the tradition which has been handed down I am also called to examine that tradition for where it has gone astray (I John 4:1 paraphrase). Too often I hear the Christianist viewpoint of those who believe that they are following the whole of the tradition when what they want is what they heard as children. And that wanting to have the same faith as what we heard as children is as empty as children playing in the marketplace.

Yes, we are called to have faith as a child, but we are called to mature and understand that faith as adults. We are in the process of being perfected rather than being already there. We who can call ourselves born-again Christians sometimes look back on that life-changing experience and stop there. But we are not to stop on the road to Damascus; (referring to Acts 9) we are called to go further in our faith to challenge ourselves and others to grow.

And then there’s the whole idea that being a Christian will bring health and wealth. Most preachers are more sophisticated than that and I don’t deny that some will find health and wealth in following the gospel, but more will face persecution and derision. The road of a Christian is that of being refined like gold purified in the fire. The road of the Christian is that of the athlete who trains daily to run the race and will be exhausted and sweaty with sore muscles and the possibility of strains and broken bones.

And while there are moments of perfect joy and completion in worship and work for God there are also dark nights of the soul where we cry out that we are alone and no other is left but us (I Kings 19) or when we say all that we have done is worthless (Ecclesiastes 2).

The road of a Christian is filled with thorns and brambles, with pits and traps, with sloughs and marshes. The path of a Christian is filled with longing for a home we have not known and a place we’ve never been. The task of a Christian is to be faithful in the midst of despair and a light in the darkest night. And none of that is easy. And all of that is work.

We want the quick answers, the childish tunes, the simplistic ways, but are called to go further into a deeper and richer world.

The one whom we come to follow was called a glutton and drunkard so we should look for those who are said to be promiscuous and unchaste and welcome them into the church and into our lives. The one we follow does not go around with a tightly pinched nose and a belly filled with triumph over another. Rather that one calls us to give up the riches and power to be with the poor in their slum and the prisoner in jail. The one we follow loves indiscriminately and does not count the words above the actions. The one we follow welcomes those of disparate lives – rich and poor, weak and strong, black and white, from all nations and races.

All are called to the feast, the table of our Lord. All are to come to the mountain where God dwells (Isaiah 65, 66). And in the end we will know the truth.

But we are not yet at the end of days even though we have been expecting it for over two-thousand years. We are in the time of ‘not yet’ where we know that God is coming – the signs are all around us – but are still preparing. And so for those who are Christian we live ready for a thousand years or a single day, for the next moment and for centuries of longing. And we work for the truth, to bring in the light.

The reason I mentioned Focus on the Family, Love in Action (and there are many more) is because of their emphasis that they have the answer in face of evidence to the contrary. Augustine in his book on the Literal Meaning of Genesis writes that there is nothing more damning to the spread of Christianity than those who take their self-understood views of what is in Scripture against the evidence that the pagan knows for it is in their field of expertise.

We see this happening also in the Creationist/Intelligent Design dressing up religion as science as well as the reparative and change therapies dressing themselves up as psychology. Even if they are correct the way in which they challenge other points of view without putting themselves under that same examination is anathema to following the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

We Christians are about the Truth even when it is difficult and hard. We Christians know that there are many who proclaim that they have the truth and who are unwilling to go through the effort of examination to see if they are following the truth or their own desires. We Christians test the spirit and examine the evidence. We Christians may express things simply but realize that there is more to know and deeper understanding to follow and that the simple expressions of love for neighbor are seen in the cup of water to the thirsty, the visit to those in prison, the walk with those who are stumbling, the clothes to those who are naked, the presence with those who are ill and more.

We are sometimes children in the marketplace screaming in anger that ‘they’ aren’t playing our game. But those who follow Christ give up that play time – though not the joy – in favor of learning more and being with and celebrating the love of God for each individual and the whole world.

We are sometimes children in the marketplace, but we Christian know it is time to grow up and become what God desires us to be.

We are children in the market place, but we are becoming mature and look forward to that day when we shall see in full.

Luke 7:28-35 [28] I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." [29](And all the people who heard this, including the tax collectors, acknowledged the justice of God, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. [30] But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.) [31] "To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? [32] They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.' [33] For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, 'He has a demon'; [34] the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' [35] Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children."

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