I preached this morning and the start came from my post on Friday about the Duggar Family scandal. Here's the manuscript....
The super Christian Duggar Family of the reality show 19 Kids and Counting was in the news again last week. Josh, the eldest son who was outed a few months ago for molesting his sister when they were younger, has now been revealed as having an affair and being addicted to pornography. He has admitted to this latest sinfulness.
My first reaction was Well, welcome to the club, Josh. The club of being human.
Being human of course includes the innate ability to be a sinner and do things we don't want to do- on a regular, if not daily- basis. This human ability also reared its ugly head when he acted as if he was "holier than thou," parading his faith and pointing fingers at others. Call it self-righteousness or grandiosity or even narcissism, it’s still the failing of human sinfulness.
When one sets oneself up as a judge and jury of others because one is better than others- more perfect, less sinful, etc.- the sinfulness is already active. I am serious when I say that even in his admission of sin, Josh Duggar continued his grandiosity- now he said of himself that he is "the biggest hypocrite ever.” St Paul in 1 Timothy claims the same for himself- the greatest of sinners.
One of the most important quotes I retain from my Seminary days was the one from the Hebrew Bible professor. The professor was liberal and progressive, but he got our attention when he said early in the course that
the longer you are in ministry the more you will be convinced that original sin is the only provable Biblical doctrine.
I know I have seen that tendency toward sin- as much in myself as in others. Yet the self-righteousness that denies this reality can easily be found in any ideological approach to faith. It ignores our human failings, believes that all we have to do is believe the right way, worship in the right way, act the right way, have the right politics (conservative or liberal) and we will be fine.
That ignores that ever present human reality of sinfulness that is at the heart of both the Hebrew and Christian Testaments. Sadly, it also ignores something just as real- that we are not sinners in the hands of an angry God, regardless of what some people have said and still say. Both these testaments are filled with the work of grace. Grace: free and unearned forgiveness and acceptance. Grace is the reality that in the midst of who we are, there is also a God who is far greater. Yet, in spite of this free gift, it is in our innate humanness that we find ourselves in a seemingly constant struggle. It’s like we have these two voices sitting on either shoulder.
No- don’t. Sure- go ahead.
Back and forth they go.
In today’s epistle lesson from Ephesians Paul puts this in the context of a struggle- even more- a war.
There are of course different ways to describe war. The theologian-novelist Fredrick Buechner has commented that one way to look at it is a war of conquest. One way or another we all fight to conquer the world, for our place in the world. With that kind of war, Buechner says, there are adversaries of flesh and blood. They are human beings like ourselves, each of whom is fighting the same war toward the same end and under a banner emblazoned with the same word that our banners bear, and that word is of course Myself, or Myself and my Family, or Myself and my Country, Myself and my Race, which are all really MYSELF writ large.
In this type of war we wear the whole armor of man, because this is a man's war against other men. Buechner says these are things like:
• The breastplate of self-confidence because if you have no faith in yourself, if you cannot trust to your own wits, then you will never get anywhere.
• Maybe there’s the gospel of success-the good news that you can get just about anything in this world if you want it badly enough and are willing to fight for it.
• Don’t forget, adds Buechner, the shield of security because in a perilous world where anything can happen, security is perhaps what you need more than anything else - the security of money in the bank, or a college degree, or some basic skill that you can always fall back on.
• Maybe there’s the helmet of attractiveness or personality"
But there is another way to look at this struggle that we all face- and ignore at our peril.
This says Buechner is the war to become whole and at peace inside our skins. It is a war not of conquest now but a movement of liberation because the object of this other war is to liberate that part of ourselves which has somehow become lost, that dimension of selfhood that involves the capacity to forgive and to will the good not only of the self but of all other selves. This other war is the war to become a human being. This is the goal that we are really after and that God is really after. This is the goal Buechner reminds us, that power, success, and security are only forlorn substitutes for. This is the victory that not all our human armory of self-confidence and wisdom and personality can win for us- to become at last truly human.”
This is where Paul talks about the belt of truth (and perhaps we might add, honesty) a breastplate of righteousness- living right. There’s the shield of faith, the shoes of the Gospel of peace.
What this boils down to is that we need to become real and honest about who we are- sinners. Then, and this is as important as admitting our human nature- we look, as Christians, to God as revealed to us in Jesus Christ. There we will discover the storehouse of those pieces of the armor of God. In today’s Gospel, Jesus says we will live because of him, that the spirit gives life and that his words are spirit and life.
That promise is renewed every time we come here and come to the Lord's Table. We confess our sinfulness and are reminded of the presence of forgiveness. Then, in the Eucharist Jesus words in John are made new week in and week out: Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.
Here we discover all the many ways that Jesus living Spirit is available. We may have looked in other places and in many ways, but in the moment of that discovery- and every time- we can join with Simon Peter: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”