Supreme Authority of All Things Driving

Gospel Lk 6:39-45Gospel of Luke 6:39-45

I have recently discovered that at some point in my past, a moment in time I am unable to recall, I must have been anointed, or appointed, or bequeathed, or elected as the supreme authority of all things driving. I believe this to be true, because, since I have been commuting approximately 90 miles every day to and from work for the last 2 months, I cannot help myself from commenting, criticizing, critiquing, or complaining about other people’s driving.

I make a concerted effort everyday I commute to work to do so in a spirit of prayer and reflection. I say prayers, listen to the daily readings (when I can get them to download on my phone), and refuse to listen to the radio all in an attempt to utilize my 45-minute commute as an opportunity to quietly and thoughtfully reflect on my relationship with Jesus.

I am somewhat successful, I would like to believe, until… Until a driver with a Utah plate, Montana plate, Arizona plate, Texas plate, or heaven save us all, a California plate fly by me in a construction zone, or a 65-mph zone, or any zone for that matter. Or, drivers claiming to be professional drivers drive like anything but a professional. Or, drivers talking or texting on their cell phones apparently oblivious to the fact that there are people using the same roadway.

Now, some might say, “Deacon, you should not be so judgmental of others.” Or, remind me of the words of Pope Francis, “Who are you to judge.” And I would absolutely agree with them. I should not be so judgmental of others and I am in no position to judge others. However, I am not judging.

When I am driving the speed limit and someone passes me at a much higher rate of speed, can I not observe that they are indeed speeding? When someone is driving in the left-hand passing lane at a much slower speed, can I not observe that they are indeed in violation of traffic law? When someone is texting or talking on their cellphone without a “hands free device” are they not, as studies have proven, just as dangerous as a drunk driver?

Absolutely, I can. In fact, we all can. We all have the ability to observe the behavior of others and determine if that behavior is right or wrong. That is not called being judgmental. That is called being in community.

Today’s scripture in Luke is not about judgement. It is about how to live with one another. Jesus is not instructing his followers to ignore each other’s behavior, nor is he telling them to stop from helping remove the “splinter” from their brothers’ eye, rather he is asking them to remove the beam of ignorance and self-righteousness first from their own eyes, then assist others.

The context of today’s Gospel is clearly stated in the beginning,

“Can a blind person guide a blind person?
Will not both fall into a pit?
No disciple is superior to the teacher;
but when fully trained,
every disciple will be like his teacher.”

Today’s Gospel is not about judgement. It is about relationship. It is about recognizing the fact that none of us…no not one…are considered righteous through our own efforts or works. It is about recognizing that we are all sinners, who also need help traveling this pilgrim’s journey. It is about recognizing that we all have a responsibility to our brothers and/or sisters when they are struggling and then respond in love, and with charity, and in the full understanding that we too have, are, and will continue to struggle living as disciples of Christ.

When I travel to work and observe wrong, illegal, and dangerous behavior I am committing no sin through the observation and recognition of that behavior. The sin I commit is when I call them names, insult their character, and dismiss their God given human dignity. Instead, I should lovingly, in charity, and with the full awareness that I too, at times, engaged in the very same behaviors, help them to do what is good, right, and safe.

Of course, I am limited by the nature of our relationship, am I not? I in my car, they in theirs. I have no opportunity to engage them in any meaningful ways. However, that is not the case here in church…is it?

My concern is… that as a community, a body of believers, we have quit caring about one another in fear of being called judgmental, biases, racist, or bigoted. Out of fear we have gone silent. Instead, of encouraging and helping one another, we sit quietly, close our eyes, and turn our heads. We intentionally ignore one another, build our silos and our echo chambers, and hope that somehow, and that someone else, will fix the damage done to our church by bishops, priests, deacons, and the laity who have abandoned the mission of Christ for the world. We exist in our own little worlds, and in our own little cliques, with these massive wooden beams in our eyes– wooden beams of denial, self-righteous ignorance, and cowardice. We hope that things will somehow get better, and yet refuse to take personal responsibility for ourselves and for our brothers and sisters.

Come to this altar today and ask God for forgiveness and receive the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ asking that our eyes may be open, and that our hands may be strong, and that our correction may be gentle and precise, and that we lift one another out of the pit, and that we may resume our pilgrim’s journey with our vision clear.

I Chose the Mustang

Gospel of Luke 4:21-30

My first car was a 1981 Ford Mustang. It was blue, it had tinted windows and leather looking plastic bucket seats. I had worked and saved money and right before the start of my Junior year in high school my parents and I drove to Casper, Wyoming, wandered the lots of every used car dealer, searching for the “perfect” car. The perfect car that I could afford, that is.

My father had helped me narrow the list to 2 cars. The 1981 Ford Mustang, the car I wanted, and a blue 1984 Ford Escort, the car my father wanted for me. The Escort was newer, had less miles, got better gas mileage, and overall was in much better condition than the Mustang. I chose the Mustang.

I remember driving that car home listening to Van Halen on cassette thinking I was the coolest kid in the world. I had worked hard, saved money, and now I was driving a car of my very own.

A car, for me meant freedom. I could now go where I wanted, when I wanted, and I would no longer ask permission to borrow my mother’s Buick. The Mustang was cool (though to be honest the 80’s were the worst period of design for the Ford Mustang) and I could play my music on the stereo as loud as I wanted. I didn’t so much buy a car that day, as much as an idea. An idea that fulfilled an expectation.

Expectations are funny. We all have them. We all believe in things, events, places, and most especially, people. The word expectation is defined as: “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.” A simple enough definition indeed, but what isn’t contained in this definition is the power, influence, and control our expectations have over our behavior.

Our expectations oftentimes drive our relationships. They influence our interactions with one other. They dictate how we work, if we work, and how we save or spend our money. Expectations dictate where we go, why we go there, and what we want when we get there. They determine how we behave in different social settings and how we expect others to behave. Our expectations have an impact on who we are, what we do, and what we want from others.

In today’s Gospel Jesus confronts expectations.

Today’s Gospel picks up right where last week’s Gospel leaves off. Jesus, after traveling the region of Capernaum, had arrived in his home town. His friends, relatives, and acquaintances were eagerly looking forward to his arrival and the miracles and signs that he would do there.

Instead, Jesus challenges their expectations and chastises their lack of understanding. Instead of performing wonderous signs and miracles he reminds them of the Old Testament stories about the widow and Naaman, both Gentiles. He reminds them that these Gentiles received blessings from God and how the rest of Israel, God’s chosen people, continued in their suffering.

He confronted their expectations in regards to birth-right and who is deserving of God’s blessings and, in essence, told them that their expectations were wrong. Their response to being told that their expectations were wrong is very similar to ours today. They were disappointed, which then turned into resentment, and then into anger, and in their anger, they rejected Jesus.

We do that.

We too have expectations of Jesus. We expect that Jesus will fix all our problems, eliminate our struggles, and make others think and behave the way we want them too. And when he doesn’t. When he doesn’t make money magically appear, or miraculously fix our broken water heaters, or cause those who are in opposition to us to align with our thinking, we become disappointed, resentful, and angry.

Jesus came to save us and to be our friend. A friendship founded in and fostered in love. He loves us and he expects us to love him and one another. When we altar that expectation we then run the risk of responding to Jesus the way his friends, relatives, and acquaintances did. We run the risk of rejecting him and denying him the opportunity to treat us as a friend.

Though I thought that all my expectations were met by that 1981 Ford Mustang, in time I learned that I had made the wrong choice. The inherent problems of a well-used car began to become evident shortly after I had purchased it. Now, knowing hindsight is 20/20, it is okay to say, because it taught me a lesson. A lesson that I frequently have to re-learn, but nonetheless, a lesson that is essential to my Christian walk.

That lesson is this: to put needs ahead of wants and live in love with God and with my neighbor.

My father witnessed that love to me when 1) he recommended a car that would have met my needs, and 2) allowed me to make the wrong choice. Today, as you come before this altar, I challenge you to examine your expectations and to ask God to help you align them in love…his perfect and all-encompassing love.

The hardest part of being a Christian is actually getting along with other Christians

Gospel of Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

Have any of you ever thought that the hardest part of being a Christian is actually getting along with other Christians? It’s not the faith part or the believing in the life, death, passion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that presents the most difficulty. It’s not the call to charity, to mercy, or to love the lost, hurting, poor, and vulnerable that causes problems. It’s not even that the entire world and all that is seen, unseen, known, and unknown created by an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present God that creates the greatest stumbling blocks. No, typically, the biggest problem with Christianity is having to get along with other Christians.

Am I the only one who feels that way? I am serious… am I the only one who experiences moments of frustration, annoyance, disappointment, and down right anger with other people who are devoted followers of Christ?

On the one hand I hope that I am. I hope that I am the only Christian present who has problems getting along with other Christians. I hope the rest of you have it all figured out and that I am the only one here lacking in Christian charity and love.

However, on the other hand, there is part of me that hopes that I am not. I hope that I am not the only one who struggles with this issue.

I find comfort in believing that I am not the only one who struggles with relationships. I find comfort and hope in the thought that I am not the only believer who has trouble getting along with other believers. Believers who profess the same belief in the same God; believers who profess the same name of Jesus Christ; believers who rely on the same Holy Spirit, and yet, just like me, find it difficult to get along with one another.

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. A feast that recognizes our Lord’s voluntary submission for the fulfillment of all righteousness, and the manifestation of his self-emptying for the salvation of mankind, in obedience to the will of the Father. Today, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we are called by the Church to recall the reality of our own baptism in light of the example of Jesus.

There are 4 things that I ask you to reflect upon this morning.

One, I would ask that you reflect upon the new identity of Jesus as revealed in the symbol of the dove and in the words of God the Father, “You are my beloved Son.” That is not to infer that Jesus was not always the Son of God (a many heretic has been burned at the stake, or worse, for such a claim) rather, that Jesus arose from the waters of the Jordan with the identity of service… service to mankind.

Second, reflect upon his obedience to the will of God the Father, “With you I am well pleased.” Jesus submitted himself to God and to his plan for salvation for the world and in so doing, fulfilled all righteousness. Jesus, a man without sin, yet in his holy perfection was obedient to the will of God the Father which was manifested in his baptism.

Third, consider Jesus’s visible demonstration of solidarity with humanity. He shouldered the burden of our sin, for he himself was without sin, and immersed himself in our pain, misery, brokenness, and suffering and carried our burden to the depths of the Jordan and, ultimately, to the height of the cross.

Finally, consider his self-sacrificing love. His baptism was a manifestation of his love for us. A love that was entirely of his free will and entirely for our benefit. A love that calls us to abandon our selfish desires and ambitions, and to cast off all our burdens, and pick up our cross, and follow after him.

I struggle today my dear brothers and sisters in Christ not because my fellow Christians are so difficult to get along with. I struggle today, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, because I forget the meaning, significance, and reality of my own baptism. A baptism that calls me to live my new identity as a child of God. A baptism that has given me the power to turn away from sin and live in obedience to the will of my Heavenly Father. A baptism that allows me to live in solidarity with you, my brothers and sisters in Christ. A solidarity that joins us together, in spite of our brokenness and pain, to be one in Christ. And finally, a baptism of love. A love that is so grand, so wonderful, so all-encompassing that God the Father gave his only Son for our salvation.

I would like to believe that I am not the only one who struggles living this pilgrim’s journey. I would like to believe that I am not the only one who finds relationships difficult and discouraging. I would like to believe that I am not the only one who needs to be reminded of the example of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and in that example find forgiveness, comfort, and hope.

As you come before this altar to day recall your own identity as a child of God, recall your own call to obedience and submission to the will of God your heavenly Father; recall the solidarity you share with the persons around you; and, finally, recall the self-sacrificing love which has called you, me, and the entire world, including those with whom we quarrel… to eternal salvation.