Reacting to Atrocity


Biblical Texts: Luke 7:18-28, Matt 5:1-12
Full Sermon Draft

St. Augustine, in a sermon long ago, said: Bad times, hard times, this is what people keep saying; but let us live well, and times shall be good. We are the times: Such as we are, such are the times.

We have been hearing lots of calls for action and change in the wake of another school shooting. But most of the calls that I’ve heard have been forms of taking something away from the other guy. Take the guns away. Lock up or medicate the mentally off. Everybody thinking they are safely on the other side of some bright moral line. Nobody looking at the culture that we collectively produce and allow. Looking at that would put us all on the same side of that moral line. We might have to repent i.e. change. But, such as we are, such are the times.

Until we are willing to really change, to live well as Augustine would define that, things like Newtown will continue to happen. We are simply staring in a mirror. And the deepest gospel, in the middle of this Advent season, is Come Lord Jesus. That is the only thing that finally changes the image in the mirror.

Curving Inward vs. Emptying Out

Biblical Texts: Mark 10:23-31 and Ecclesiastes 5:10-20
Full Draft of Sermon

The deeper theological term that this sermon circles around is kenosis. This contrast used as a summary refrain: The city of man seeks God to add to itself, The City of God seeks God to empty itself, is the kenosis statement. Every path of discipleship involves some emptying of the self. I’ve applied this here in a stewardship frame; it was budget preparation day. The first step in a robust spirituality is often a turning back to God, an emptying from ourselves, of a determined percentage of income. (The traditional response is the tithe, but the important point is putting kingdom values first.) The American church from what I’ve experienced has a problem right here. It is just not willing to turn over finances in a serious way to God. The reasons are legion and many are legitimate. But those reasons pale in comparison to the distrust that is built by not surrendering a portion to God.

But I think this applies in a much larger way to today. There is a much reported phenomenon of spiritual but not religious or the new “nones” in reply to religious beliefs. And I’ve got a big problem with most of that. And yes my current livelihood depends upon the religious aspect, so I am a partisan. But the call of Jesus is to turn our gaze away from our navels (stop being curved in on ourselves) and in this age to turn toward the cross which is the ultimate emptying of self. And Jesus’ vision in not a personal spirituality, or at least not exclusively. I can’t be like the rich young ruler looking to add spirituality to everything I’ve already got. Jesus’ vision is incarnational. The church is that incarnation. The church is the place where a true spirituality is created. The church is that 100 fold return of brothers and sisters…and persecutions. If it is not, it isn’t fulfilling its purpose.

The City of God

Text: Mark 10:2-16
Full Draft of Sermon

Augustine is one of those people who even if we have never read him still influences our thoughts. He influences the categories that place things in without us knowing it. Two of those categories are the City of God and the City of Man. We tend to slip into a little too dualistic thinking, making the City of Man all bad or evil. That isn’t really the case. The City of Man has its good and proper things. In fact it is usually good enough that we refuse to consider something else and spend out days desperately grasping what we have in the City of Man.

In Mark 10 Jesus lays out core distinctions between the Kingdom or City of God and the common perception. And he starts with marriage and divorce, which to be polite, Jesus is beyond the bounds of polite discourse.

But core distinction that he is trying to get at I think is this. The City of Man runs on accommodation. Because everything in the city of man comes with an expiration date, everything runs on making accommodation. The City of God runs on absolution. Accommodation hides. Absolution reveals. Accommodation eventually fails. You run into something that can’t be accommodated. God never runs out of grace. And that’s it, the currency of the City of God is grace. It buys nothing in the City of Man; but its what opens out eyes to something better.