Tuesday, September 4, 2012

6th Sunday After Pentecost 2012

There are few things in this world that can polarize a room like politics. Mention a few buzz words, and before you know it, there are at least two to three camps ready to vehemently argue for their side.
Political campaigns, of course only make it worse. Each potential candidate or candidate skims just enough information about their opponent to turn them from the mixed bags that all of us are, into raging, burbling baby-eaters that no sane person would ever consider voting for…
But this is the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from our politics. It’s no longer enough for a candidate to speak to actual, pertinent qualifications for the job—but instead we expect them to behave like guests on Jerry Springer.
And with our airwaves and internet sites crawling with campaign ads, the nonsense only serves to become like accelerants poured on open flames. Before we know it then, our metaphorical eyebrows are gone and we become the reflection of the pundits and poor statesmanship that pervades the political landscape.
So it’s really no wonder that our country has such a hard time getting around to doing all of the potential good it might do.

Luckily for all of us, there is nothing like egoism, or ambition in the church structure to make it difficult for us to remain a bulwark of hope, and a bastion of calm for the world…
Of course, if you believe that, I would like to speak to you after service about some really great time share opportunities in Cambodia.
In all seriousness, though, if we were to look at the state of things in a pseudo-family systems theory way, we might see that the behavior that we denounce in the public forum is indicative of our own issues in the social system. In other words, they keep giving us what we want—and whether we admit it or not—it all still sells. It all still gets us to tune in and even effects the way we interact… And so we continually find ourselves either voting for a party line, or the least vile of two evils—never actually seeing needed change in society, and certainly less and less civic unity.
The church in Corinth experienced something like this as well. Not only was it necessary for St. Paul to correct the community for some of its behavior, but he also had to defend his credibility against some supposed teachers who had become quite popular with the Corinthian community.

At a couple of points in his letter, Paul refers to these teachers as “super apostles” and counters their apparent false allegations against him by citing not only his lineage, but also his experience in way of defense.
By reading between the lines, it’s easy to see that these “super apostles” were not only charismatic, but also bragged about the things that they had supposedly done. And, for whatever reason, they decided to take it upon themselves to question Paul’s authority, as well as undermine his teaching.
In the section of the letter we read today, then, we see part of Paul’s response. He begins here, talking about someone he knows who had an experience—but reading on, it becomes apparent that it was Paul himself who experienced it—this vision, this drawing up into heaven. But what he experiences there, he’s not able to speak about. While we might consider this a cop-out, it might also be that what Paul experienced really couldn’t be spoken of—and that in the end, he did nothing himself to make it happen. There was no amount of praying, or rigorous ascetic practice that made it possible.
Even after this experience, however, Paul is not only reticent to mention it, but he also tells of some ‘thorn in the flesh’ that continues to plague him. And, no matter what he does or how he prays, he’s left to understand that Christ’s strength must be sufficient for him.

The turning point, then of Paul’s argument, is not to hold up this experience, or any other thing that he went through or did. His argument is that for all that he did go through, it’s his personal weakness, and reliance upon the strength of God that is his best credit.
What I think the lesson here is is that in reality all of our apparent accomplishments—when they’re used to make us seem bigger, better and more important-er than we really are, are really just emptiness. In fact, as it turns out, it’s really the content of our character and our ability to live together and be together that matters.
This isn’t just how it works in the Kingdom of God, either. In fact, there are a number of articles that are saying that businesses are not hiring based so much on experience anymore, as they are on one’s ability to work as part of a team. However, this takes humility—something that all of us learn throughout life, but are taught to downplay in favor of the illusion of success.
But the trick about humility (when it’s honest) is that it encourages others, it builds up the community—it shares in success without making any one person the hero. Humility recognizes that any one of us is incomplete without all of us. Because no matter how wonderful our moms think we are—or we think ourselves—we’re always better when we share our talents and strengths, and respectively rely on those of others.

When we live humble lives, our actions can truly speak for themselves. Our actions are no longer driven by a need for publicity, or popularity; they are instead about the people we seek to serve Christ through, and our own willingness to be transformed by that holy work.
What’s more, as people who do our best to be like Jesus, and continue his work on earth; we realize that those who follow the crucified one as leader can never put ourselves above him and his humility. Because after all, in him we learn a completely different kind of math, and a wholly different way of measuring success.
I honestly don’t know how well a political candidate would do if she or he were humble about their achievements, or even just willing to forego mud-slinging to campaign for public office. But if they could, it makes me wonder how much of a mirror it would hold up to the people of this country. It makes me wonder if it would challenge our notions of what we could be if we were really united as a country. How could such a national identity affect the international community?
I suppose we may never see such a thing in this life—mostly because humans have a track record for crucifying and assassinating people who lead in humility. But that said, if humility is that much more threatening to society than illusions of success; maybe we really should consider where the power really lies, and to whom the glory of success truly belongs.

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