Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Year A Proper 24 Wed 2017 When Religion Gets In The Way

Year A Proper 24, Wednesday Homily 25 October 2017
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“When Religion Gets in the Way”

Matthew 12
1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” 3 He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. 5 Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

9 He left that place and entered their synagogue; 10 a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

In today’s Gospel reading we see the foundational conflict of the Jesus way of loving God. In it, we see Jesus doing and teaching his disciples in ways that were contrary to the religious practices of the day. And as a priest in the Church of God, I stand here and attest, that sometimes Religion gets in our way.

Now before we upset too many applecarts, let me frame what I am saying here. What is “religion?” When in doubt, I do my etymology. Religion is a late word, actually. Its foundation is religare from the Latin for the verb “to bind.” Think of it as to re-ligament ourselves to God. Then in the middle ages, it was a specific thing,  religio was the vows of a monk tying him to his order meaning “obligation, bond, or reverence.” So, the strictures of religion were applicable to only a very committed subset of people who believed. Hold onto that, we will be coming back. So then, religion then became the rules of the faith, the motions we go through to express our inner faith.

And when we put the rules before the meaning, we get into problems. The Pharisees were acting as the religious police, making sure people were upholding their standards. Jesus was having his disciples eating in a forbidden way on the Sabbath. Then he was healing people on the Sabbath. They were more worried about Jesus missing the boat when he was actually at the airport.

When I try to uphold my values by enforcing them on you, then I am deeply into error. I would not expect you to fulfill the vows I have taken as a husband or as a deacon and priest. It is not fair to you, and it is unfair to the vows themselves. The Pharisees were the ones who were so close to the way that Jesus taught. Simple, moral lives. A deep devotion to God. A belief in an afterlife in God’s presence. But, and there is always a but, the legalism, the strict enforcing of their way or the highway kept most from ever coming to God.

Jesus saw that their religiosity was getting in the way of HOPE for the prostitutes and tax collectors that were finding a way home in Jesus’ teachings. To use a modern phrase applied to many things we do as Church, “Their eyes were so fixed on heaven that they were no earthly good.” I pray that that never be said of us. Or as Jesus put it, “Deal with the log in your own eye, before you try and get out someone’s splinter.”

Jesus said after people complained about him reaching out to the tax collector Zaccheus, 9 Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’” (Luke 19:9-10)

I love my religion. I love that it keeps me grounded and connected with God, most days. I seek God, and most days my religious practices give me the sense that I am finding God and there is work being done in my life.

But when I project my worries, fears, and inadequacies onto others, then my religious practices cease being a scalpel used for surgery on my soul, and it becomes a weapon that harms, hurts, and kills that glowing ember of hope in others.

We all know someone who has thrown up their hands in a “Why bother?!?” knowing that they will never be “good enough” to be religious. And somewhere along the way far too easily fall into the trap of thinking religion is the point, and not relationship. Jesus did not come to make bad people good, or rude people polite. Christ came to make the lame to walk, the blind to see, and dead to rise to life. He was about transformation, not comfort.

And for me, when I feel myself falling into that trap of religiosity, I lean back on the Grace upon Grace that Jesus showers on each and every one of us, and I try to project that instead. Let your religion be about you and your walk with God, and invite, don’t enforce it on others. Amen.

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Blessings, Rock