Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Such a Man

Epiphany 4, January 29, 2012, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church

 I'm really not this snooty, but the other day while I was working in the office I had Beethoven's 3rd Symphony in E Major playing on my iPhone.  I found it delightful background music for my work. It filled the place with peace, and, though I'm usually not one to have background music going, I found it enhanced my productivity.  Now, as I said, I'm not really that snooty.  In fact, if you were to ask me to identify the symphony from an unlabeled list of them by listening I would be at a total loss.  I just happen to have it on my phone, and I just decided to play it.  And I liked it.  I liked it not because my taste in music is so refined, but because it's just good music.  It carries a power in it that has made us continue to play it even though the composer himself died in 1827, more than 180 years ago.  There is an innate beauty about it which is compelling.  I know you know what I mean.

It's not unlike other experiences we have all had.  A sunset grabs us and sits us down almost forcefully on a log to watch as it blazes out the last moments of a day.  A bite of food suddenly makes all your taste buds burst into full sensory flower.  A fragrance wafts by and your heart is filled with the joy of a childhood memory.

Now imagine meeting someone who just commands your loyalty by his or her very presence.  It might be your grandmother or a favorite uncle, perhaps a boss at work whom you admire, or a sports hero.  It's not really that they have high position or command great companies of men, though they might, it's more than that, and less at the same time, something that calls you out of your small-self and into your big-self.  Being with that person somehow opens all your pores and makes you breathe easier, you know that what they say is true and right and good, and you are ready to depend on it with your life.  I have not met many people like that in my lifetime.  I have thought I found such people many times, only to be disappointed with their feet of clay.

 But in today's Gospel lesson such a person walks into church one day.  His goodness is so compelling and so present that any and all things evil just have to flee.  Even the evil spirit knows who he is, he rightly calls him, "The holy one of God."  Everyone is left with their mouths open in amazement.  Nobody they had ever known ever spoke with such inherent authority.

 This kind of authority is not achieved or earned, it is given.  It is given by God.  It is not a uniform that one puts on, like that of a policeman, that confers the power of another, but it comes by the vesting of the heart by a heavenly uniform, that makes one into a certain kind of person.  In Jesus' case, it made Him into exactly what He was anyway.

 Jesus is here this morning.  Some people can feel His presence, others cannot, but that is inconsequential, really.  We know He is here because He promised to be present among two or three who gather in His name.  We have gathered in His name, as we do every Sunday.

 Before this kind of authority there are only two possible responses.  Jesus got one in Jerusalem, and the other in Galilee.  One can resist it, fight it, try to gain power over it, and ultimately fail, or one can surrender to it, follow and it and finally, find in it the source of life and peace.

How could one resist such goodness, you ask?  Oh, but we do all the time.  We tend to lash out at things we cannot control.  My big one is people merging into 70-mile-an-hour traffic at 50 miles-an-hour--in front of me--makes me crazy!  But you've all heard these quips, too:
·         "I'm not going to vote because my one vote won't change anything anyway."
·         "You can't trust a 'raghead,' they're all radicals who will talk nice to your face and stab you in the back when you turn around."
·         "The problem with society today is that there are too many __________ (fill in the blank.)"

We tend to try to control things we think we can control.  We over-manage, we undermine, we strategize and scrutinize and double-guess.  We value shrewdness over genuineness.  We cause others all kinds of grief just so we will look good to someone else.  And when we fail--it is always someone else's fault!  Anything that has the power to pull our chains and punch our buttons has become an idol that wields an inordinate amount of control over us.  Idols will always ultimately crumble under their own weight, leaving us sitting in the ashes of our own castles.

Or we can surrender.  Surrendering is not the act of a spineless sap, that is abdication.  Surrender is the hardest, bravest thing a person can do.  It is a recognition that God is truly bigger than oneself, and at the same time incomprehensibly good, and therefore worthy to be trusted with life's quandaries and conundrums.

Surrender is what the prophets of old did when they faithfully proclaimed the Words of God.
·         Surrender is what St. Paul did when, though meat offered to idols was no issue with him, would rather not eat meat at all for the sake of a brother or sister.
·         Surrender is what happens when the Command Sergeant Major faithfully makes the General's wishes become a reality.
·         Surrender is what happens when a volunteer at the church shows up, works until the work is done, and then looks for more.
·         Surrender is what happens when you stop for the needy, extend the benefit of the doubt, and clean up after the party.
·         Surrender is when another's weakness is more compelling than our strength, another's need more than our resources.
·         Finally, surrender is not affected one way or the other by recognition.

Jesus is here this morning.  What will it be?  The sovereignty of the ego, or the surrender of the heart?

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