Tuesday, October 14, 2014

I Do The Very Thing I Hate (Romans 7:15-25)

Romans 7:15-25
July 6, 2014
Calvary - St. George's Church, NYC

My dad used to smoke three packs of cigarettes a day every day. It used to seem like he was always smoking; it used to seem like he always had a cigarette in his hand.  He smoked outdoors, and, yes, these were the days before most everyone avoided smoking indoors. I remember praying every night before bed with my mom and brother for dad to stop smoking. I even went so far as to raise my hand one Sunday morning during prayer request time to ask the pastor to pray for my dad’s addiction. It didn’t seem to have any effect. My dad kept right on smoking.
One day, while my dad was driving me home, I asked him why--if he hated smoking so much--he didn’t just quit.  In the past my dad had made it very clear to me that smoking was bad for you and that I was never to light up, but until then I had never asked him why he continued to smoke. I had never been that direct before.  In response, my dad told me that the reason he didn’t stop smoking was because he loved it. Loved it. I remember immediately correcting him, “No, you’re addicted to it, but you don’t love it.”  But my dad didn’t back down.  He told me that while he knew it was bad for him, and for that reason he hated it, he also loved it.  I was baffled.  How could he say he loved something that killed him? More than that, how could he say that he loved something he hated? How could someone hate and love something at the same time?  Despite my protests, my dad affirmed his conflicting viewpoints, and my little mind was introduced to the complex irrationality that is the divided will.   
This memory came to mind while I was reading this morning’s epistle lesson. In it Paul writes, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”  How many of you can resonate with this kind of inner conflict?  Maybe for you it isn’t smoking.  Maybe you’ve tried to diet, but you just couldn’t keep at it.  Maybe you’ve tried to deal with your bad temper, but it just won’t go away.  Maybe you’ve tried to stay under your credit card limit, but another month goes by and you’re still in the red.  Maybe you’ve tried to stop resenting the success of others, but when they’re successful in keeping their diet and you aren’t, you can’t help but resent them.  You know the kind of people I’m talking about, don’t you hate them!... “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"...Or Are You Envious Because I Am Generous" Matthew 21:23-32

Matthew 21:23-32
September 28, 2014
Calvary - St. George's Church, Manhattan
Last week's gospel lesson, the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard, reminded me of the parable of the Prodigal Son. In that story there are two sons. One is reckless and doesn’t care about his family; the other is unswervingly dutiful and all about what’s fair.  Many of you know how the story plays out. The prodigal becomes broke, starts sleeping on the side of the road, and ultimately returns to his family and his father (maybe not even all that repentant.) But the father is overjoyed to see this son who had earlier wished him dead.  The father not only receives his son, but gives him a robe and his ring, and throws a lavish party. And, if you read a lot of Christian literature, you might think the story ends there, only it doesn’t.  For the parable of the Prodigal Son is actually a story about 2 sons. When the prodigal's older brother, the unswervingly dutiful and fair son, finds out that his brother has returned and has received a hero’s welcome, he is upset. This isn’t fair, he thinks. So he refuses to join the party; he refuses to join his family. The father hears about his older son, and leaves the party to find him. When he does finds him he tells him to join the family, join the party.  But the older son objects.  He says I have served you unswervingly all this time and here you go and throw a party for your decadent son who deserves nothing more than for you to disown him. I will not come into the party…  At this, the father says "‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” The parable ends with the invitation to the older son to join the feast, to join the family, but we aren’t told what the older brother chooses to do.  As we read the parable, we find that we—the readers—are being confronted with the question.  We, the older brother type—the unswervingly dutiful; those who are all about what’s fair—are posed with the question, “If the undeserving are invited too, will we join the feast?” Or are we envious that the Father is generous?
Last week's parable was very similar. We were told the story of a landowner who went out to hire laborers for his vineyard.  At the beginning of the day he found laborers and agreed to pay them the usual daily wage for their work. Then at 9 am he found more and agreed to pay them the same. At noon the landowner finds more. Then at 5 o’clock—the end of the day—he finds laborers standing around and invites them to work in his vineyard.  Evening comes, and the laborers are paid, the late arrivals first, the early birds last.  When the early birds finally come to receive their pay, they are upset. For despite the fact that they had agreed on receiving the daily wage they assumed that they’d be paid more than the people who came after them. More especially than those who came at 5 o'clock. They cry out in protest, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” At this the landowner replied, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong, did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?... Or are you envious because I am generous?”