As if there were only one of us…

October 23, 2016

Bible Text: Luke 18:9-14 |

Our annual diocesan convention was held this weekend.  Linda & Mike Broun joined Marilyn and I and a few hundred other Episcopalians at the SeaTac Hilton where we attended workshops, met new and old friends, worshipped, and attended to the task of taking care of the important work of the diocese.

 

We elected members to councils and deputies to national convention.  We heard presentations about the ministries of God’s people here in the diocese and abroad.  We voted to approve family leave for clergy and lay employees, and to reduce the diocesan assessment.  It was an easy convention without conflict or scandal--there were no overly contentious resolutions to vote on, and without exception, everyone accepted the results of the elections held.

 

I encourage you to speak to one of us directly to hear our thoughts on the convention.

 

The theme of this year’s convention was: Your Kingdom Come.

 

Over and over the readings chosen for the worship services spoke, in some way, to this theme, and the readings were only reinforced by the hymns.

 

It was the passage of scripture that was read at our Friday evening service, however, which captured my attention more than the others.  It is from Luke 17—just a bit before today’s gospel reading.  Listen to the words:

 

“The Kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or ‘There it is!’  For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.’”

 

The Kingdom of God is AMONG you.

 

It’s not a place, or a state of mind.  It isn’t a farfetched eschatological dream—it is, instead, the result of our intentions, and love, and hope and discipleship.  It is among us when we claim our identity as beloved children of the Holy One.  It is realized when, as a result of being the cherished of God, the ones upon whom God pours blessing, and grace, and mercy, we become so secure in that love that what another does or doesn’t do ceases to affect how we feel about ourselves.

 

Did you hear that?

 

Let me put it another way, this time quoting St. Augustine:

 

“God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”

 

God doesn’t love you in comparison to anyone else, God just love YOU; As if, in this whole wide, glorious, diverse world, God only had you—one puny representative of the human race—to pour love into.

We can’t imagine that kind of love—either as the lover or the loved.

 

I know this, because if we were really capable of holding on to this reality of being beloved by God, our lives and minds, and souls would reflect that knowledge onto all around us.  We would sail through our days in confidence, thoroughly certain that, whatever may come, we were loved by the Alpha and the Omega—the great I AM.  The fabric of the universe and the logic behind all that has ever been.

 

We wouldn’t worry about money, or our health and certainly not about how we are measuring up in comparison to God’s other children.

 

Unfortunately, it seems comparison is something we learn early on.  Younger children imagine their older siblings as perfect, even as the older ones often view the younger with disdain.

 

And it only gets worse the older we get.  It is not unusual for us to try to figure out where we are in the world, or how successful we’re navigating our lives solely in relation to how another is doing.  Are we keeping up with the Joneses?  Are we surpassing them?  Are our children out performing their children?

 

And then there are the others.  Those who can’t –for the life of them—seem to thrive at living.  Perhaps they got into waters too deep to navigate and are barely keeping their noses above the waves.  You know, those with the failed marriages, addicted children; perhaps there’s a bankruptcy or a failed ruined business thrown in; or a stint in prison.

 

And what do we say when we encounter them?  You know…“There, but for the grace of God go I.”  All the while sighing in relief –and with maybe the teeniest bit of self-righteousness.

 

“God, I thank you that I am not like other people,” says the Pharisee in today’s reading.  And my friends, at one time we have all—myself included—been the Pharisee.

 

The sin of the Pharisee is twofold.  He not only extols himself above his neighbor the tax collector; but to hear him talk, he is the one to be credited for his good fortune.  Listen again to how many times he says, “I” in this short passage, “I thank you that I am not like other people…I fast twice a week, I give a tenth of all of my income.”  He uses I four times in one sentence!  It is easy to see where his priorities are.  He is wrapped up in himself and God only serves as a sounding board for his boasting where there is neither mercy nor compassion to be heard---only pseudo gratitude composed of self-congratulatory drivel.

 

Over and over in this morning’s readings, from Sirach through 2 Timothy, we are told to be generous—to give of ourselves, to offer back to God as God has given to us.  But the Pharisee’s generosity stops with himself.  Yes, he gives 10% of his income as prescribed by Judaic law, but he has no generosity of spirit; no generosity of compassion, and without these, he will ever be enslaved by his need to out perform his neighbor.

 

Meanwhile, the tax collector, in typical kingdom of God style, becomes the one to emulate.  He is part of a despised profession, he is probably at least tangentially in cahoots with the Roman Empire and all he can do is ask for God’s mercy.  There is no self-deception with the tax collector, no justification for his actions, just an honest acknowledgment of who he is and, more importantly where he stands in relation to the Most High God.

 

His prayer is simple, heartfelt, and God hears him—and justifies him.

 

My brothers and sisters avoid self-aggrandizement.  There is no need.

 

It is akin to gilding the lily.  You are already loved as if you were the only person on the planet!  God has poured into you grace upon grace in the form of intellect, and life, and compassion and the capacity to love.  God is on your side and nothing you can do will make God love you an iota more, or an iota less.  You are the beloved, the spark of the eternal flame, made in the image of the Almighty.

 

The Kingdom of God is among you now---be generous with it, wallow in its glory.  Bring it forth and share it with the world.

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