6/16/2013, Oh Grow Up

2 Samuel 12:1-10, Galatians 2:16, 19-21, Luke 7:36-50

In today’s Old Testament reading, King David is revealed to be a man of utter moral failure, an adulterer and a murderer. Paul’s letter to the Galatians affirms that no one can be justified by adherence to Law- only God’s grace allows a person access to Divine relationship.  And in the Gospel story, we are offered a lesson about sin and forgiveness from the perspective of Jesus. 

Smack before us are words that evoke all kinds of feelings:  sin and forgiveness.  Mea Culpa.  Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.

You know what came to mind for me when I read the series of scriptures today?  It was actually another verse of scripture that is part of a passage we all know very well.  It’s Paul’s grandly poetic description of love, found in the 13th chapter of I Corinthians.  The verses that really rang out for me were the ones with which Paul summarizes this passage.  He says, “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child.  But when I became an adult, I put childish ways aside.” 

As children, we likely had the image of God as the all-powerful judge sitting up in heaven.  God gave Moses the stone tablet of 10 commandments, from which all those other detailed laws in the Old Testament were derived.  Humans had to obey these commandments to the letter or risk grave punishment.  Relationship with God was impossible if one disobeyed these laws.  Personally I often felt I didn’t measure up to God’s standards.  Even though I felt guilt for certain things I said or did or didn’t do, and asked forgiveness in my prayers, that feeling of never being good enough always lingered.

But I’m in the process of growing up now and I have great hope that a good deal of humanity is also in this evolutionary process of growing up into who we have always been becoming… the image of God unfolding in Creation.  When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child.  But when I became an adult, I put childish ways aside.

There was a time in our lives when the lessons of moral boundaries and the consequences for transgressing those boundaries were important.  As children we needed to know that our actions in this world affect others for good or for evil.  It is right to learn to act with love on behalf of others, and to be sorrowful for what we do that is not born of love but of selfishness. We needed to learn self-discipline so that would we could develop the gifts within each of us. Our parental figures and religious authorities became the teachers for those developmental needs of childhood. Today the Church still uses the idea of sin as a control mechanism to  keep adult people in line.   The irony is that fear of being in a state of unforgiven sin often paralyzes us from being free to love and serve with abandon as Jesus did.   

As I’ve grown up, I’ve become convinced  that what Scripture says about God and grace and humans being created in the image of God is really true.  God IS love!  God’s love IS gracious!  We ARE created in the image of God to be reflections of that love and grace.

 This is our adult truth.  Religiously and culturally, it is time for us to grow up.  Most of us acknowledge the value of the religious and social rules that we learned as children.  Yet, we also have come to know intellectually that our image of God has been far too small and contained.  With our current knowledge of science and the nature of the universe, we are recognizing that along with all of creation, we ARE the image of God being revealed as time unfolds it.   Hold that thought…

As the Gospel story proceeds today, we see Jesus and his disciples sharing a dinner in the home of Simon the Pharisee. An uninvited woman of ill-repute comes to Jesus weeping and proceeds to anoint his feet with oil.  The host, who had not even been gracious enough to offer Jesus the traditional hospitable gestures of greeting, has judgmental thoughts both against Jesus and the woman.  Reading his thoughts, Jesus tells a parable.  He makes note that the woman, knowing she had been forgiven of much, is showing her gratitude with an act of self-giving love.  Simon the host, caught in his self-righteous attitudes did not even recognize that he too was a sinner.  His inhospitable behavior and judgmental spirit lacked love, for he did not recognize that Divine grace is extended to all.

The point of Jesus’ story is that people should trust that the loving God who created them has full knowledge of their weaknesses as humans and has ALREADY forgiven them of the ways in which they sin.  Sin, as it is used in the biblical sense, is a term that simply means, “to miss the mark.”  An archer who aims at the bulls-eye in a target is likely to often miss that mark until he is extremely practiced in his aim.  That’s the human condition.  And what is our target?  Our target is the image of God.  Our lives are a constant process of aiming towards the center of that which we already are.  Sin is the ongoing human state of not quite hitting the bull’s-eye of perfect love.  But we are free to keep trying because we are already forgiven for not being perfect.   That’s why the woman could make a risky offering of gratitude to Jesus:  she understood that she was already forgiven.  Simon didn’t think he was in need of forgiveness.  Therefore, his behavior was more inclined to judgment of others than to loving them. He wasn’t even aiming at the right target!

Allow me to mix metaphors here by reminding you of the story of a sculptor chipping away at an enormous block of stone. Another man asks him what he's sculpting, and the sculptor replies, "An elephant." The other man then asks, "How do you sculpt an elephant?" The sculptor replies, "It's really very simple. You just chip away anything that doesn't look like an elephant."

Sin can be thought of as anything that doesn’t look like the image of God. Forgiveness is simply the state of grace-given freedom in which we live that allows us to keep chipping away at the sin, to keep trying to eliminate what we sense as “ungodly.”   The hard thing about forgiveness is that we have to accept the reality of freedom. If we don’t accept this freedom, we wallow in the feeling of guilt. Guilt holds us back from risking ourselves to love fully.  We become afraid to aim at the target or to keep chipping away at the elephant for fear of making mistakes.  We are immobilized by fear of the consequences of doing it wrong.

This is childish thinking It afflicts us as individuals and it afflicts us in the institution we call Church.  “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child.  But when I became an adult, I put childish ways aside.” May we be bold in this community to set aside our childish ways and our fears.  May we become spiritual adults, growing into the image of God and reflecting the fullness of love into all of Creation.

By Sandi DeMaster