Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Year C Advent 1 WED 2018 Unwinnable Situations

Year C Advent 1, 5 Dec 2018
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Unwinnable Situations”

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Luke 20:19-26
19 When the scribes and chief priests realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people. 20 So they watched him and sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him by what he said, so as to hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor. 21 So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. 22 Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 23 But he perceived their craftiness and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose head and whose title does it bear?” They said, “The emperor’s.” 25 He said to them, “Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 26 And they were not able in the presence of the people to trap him by what he said; and being amazed by his answer, they became silent.

Jesus had become a threat. Plain and simple. It was hard for the religious leaders to put up with because they knew the place he held in the view of the people. They knew where their bread was buttered, and if they made an outright threat against Jesus they know that the people would pick his side.

And so they tried the oldest trick in the political playbook. I see it weekly, if not daily, in the divisive times we find ourselves in. THE TRICK? IF YOU CANNOT SILENCE THE MESSAGE, ATTACK THE MESSENGER!

And because they were so wily and cunning, they tried to give Jesus enough rope so that he could hang himself. Notice the lie they start with (a lie from their perspective, anyway). “Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth.” They started with something they DID NOT believe, because it is what the people thought and what the people wanted to hear.

They asked Jesus a question that could not be answered with a Yes or No. “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” If he said yes, then the people who hated the Roman sandal at their throats would have turned off to this teacher they liked. If he said no, then that would have been treason. It was a no win situation.

It is like the lawyer who asked, “When did you stop beating your wife?” There is no way to answer that question.

Or the First Mate who was trying to get revenge on his Captain who wrote him up for drunkenness, put in the Ship’s Log: “The Captain was sober today.” By noting the obvious, it sounded like a rarity.

By putting Jesus in this unwinnable situation was their tactic, but he was no dummy and saw them as the crafty ones they were. He asked for a coin. It had Caesar’s head. Give to him what is his, and to God what is God’s. He did not define what that meant, or what he thought. As I said a few weeks ago, when in a troublesome situation be like Jesus, “Reframe, and step up.” He did not stay at the level of the problem. He took the conversation to a higher level, or a deeper devotion. Both are the same.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in an unwinnable situation. I had to give bad news to a situation that could be explosive if acted upon openly, or backstabbing if handled in a passive-aggressive way. Either way it could be ugly, and probably would be. I dreaded it. But I kept having this nagging in my gut I perceive to have been the Holy Spirit. So instead of avoiding, or getting in the mud, I chose a path of grace and love. I said the hard thing in grace and love, and I was shocked. What was potentially awful, became filled with honest tears, sincere hope, and authentic appreciation. I actually got a thank you from someone I thought might become an enemy. God is good. Grace is great. And with God on our side we are bigger than any situation the devil throws at us. See today’s epistle reading. [1 Thessalonians 2:13-20]

As we find ourselves in unwinnable situations, may we have the patience, wisdom, and graciousness of Christ. When it seems the hardest or darkest, confront it and bring light and truth. Speak the truth in love, as Paul said, or Reframe, and Step Up. Either way it has never failed me yet. Amen.

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Blessings, Rock