Apples and Idols
A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA, February 10, 2016.
These times are hard. These times are challenging. These times seem crazy… Thank God it is time to step onto the Lenten path. Thank God it is time to get some perspective.
I am going to… shamelessly… quote from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s address that he gave to The National Press Club this past Monday. Bishop Curry was talking about the church and our times using the “E-word” the “Evangelism” word… a word that so often causes Episcopalians to recoil at its sound. His was a message of claiming our FAITH… in Christ and in the Gospel… a message that is most relevant to this Ash Wednesday moment when we cross over the threshold into Lent, taking on spiritual disciplines that are not meant to make us “more pure” or “more pious,” but rather are meant to lead us more deeply into the heart of God. Again, we don’t walk this journey simply for the sake of self- improvement. The ancient traditions of desert experience invite us to enter the challenges and the vastness of this season in order to move beyond ourselves… into a life that is deeper… and broader… and richer because we have dared to follow the path of the Spirit… into the silence…into disciplines… from which the word “disciple” has been derived… disciplines that lead us back home to the beloved community that is the whole of creation… a creation that was born from the depth’s of God’s love.
In speaking about ways through and beyond the strife of our times Bishop Curry referred to the work of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the retired Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, who is also a distinguished scholar and a great moral leader in the world. In his book Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence, Rabbi Sacks has written:
…religious extremism is happening in Judaism, in Christianity and in Islam… and more moderate, centrist voices are missing from the conversation. The old marriage of religion and culture has ended in divorce. Today the secular west has largely lost the values that used to be called ‘Judeo-Christian.’ Instead, it has chosen to worship the idols of ‘the self’: the market, consumerism, individualism, autonomy, ‘my rights,’ and ‘whatever works for you.’ The golden calf of the ‘self’ has been raised by the children of Israel in the wilderness again. That golden calf, that idol of “the self” may well be the most destructive reality in human society….
In no uncertain terms Bishop Curry emphasizes that: “self-centeredness, selfishness, call it what you will, frankly is a cancer that can destroy us all and, that left unchecked, will destroy the plant.” This is why we need Lent. We need the disciplines of Lent. We need the challenge of growing beyond our small selves.
Idolatry of the self is not the last word. The sign of the cross written in ash… imposed with the message that we are all merely mortal… implies also that we are fragile and fallible, that we are made up of star dust, and that we are also filled with possibility. That stardust has assembled, for a time, into the beings that are you… and me… and us… for a time. On this earthly sojourn it is for us to live into the love that created us… to live larger… both in ourselves and in great community.
In Bishop Curry’s message he also referred to St. Augustine of Hippo who, in the 5th century, wrote about Original Sin as, not simply disobedience illustrated by the bite of a forbidden apple, but Original Sin as: “that ubiquitous reality of self-centeredness, that hubris, that false pride that sees ‘me’ as the center of the world and ‘you’ as the periphery. Sin and separateness are not the last words.”
Curry then provides a illustration,1 an image, an analogy… of God’s love offered by a 6th century Egyptian desert monk. God has so created all that is that the whole of Creation is a like a great wheel with spokes going down and joining at the center. The wheel is the creation. We are the various spokes. God is in the center, God is the center… calling all creation to God’s self. In your mind’s eye… if you view the image of spokes being drawn to the center it is self-evident that the more we… the spokes in the wheel…the more we are drawn to the center, the closer we come to God… and the closer we come to one another… “The old monk said that love is the draw that brings us to the center… the center who is God, the one who truly brings us together as children of God.”2
Love is not about coercion, not about “my religion being better than yours, or my spiritual discipline being more pure than yours”… it is about turning our hearts and our minds and our souls to the center that is God.
There is much more to Bishop Curry’s message. I will include a link in the newsletter so that you can view his full address. He offers the blessed challenge of going deeply, of offering the whole of ourselves to God and to one another, that we may grow beyond ourselves for the sake of our own souls,
…for the sake of the world,
…for the sake of God’s deep peace and love that transcends our mortal understanding…
…for the sake of a divine love that is not a sweet a saccharine kind of love but a deep and abiding love that challenges us to grow…ever more… into and as a community of the beloved…
…a love whose identity rests in the simple elements of water, grain and wine…
…a love that promises to heal the brokenness within that is being expressed outwardly in all of the social, religious, racial and environmental strife that is plaguing our world.
God spoke creation into being in love… a love that seeks the well-being of “the other”. The miracle of love… is that when we truly lose ourselves in the love of God and in love of “the other” … that is when we truly find ourselves.
Jesus said: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:35)
The Lenten journey is the journey into the center, a response to God’s invitation and call to wholeness… a journey that invites us to let go into the disciplines of the season… that we may lose ourselves… and may find ourselves in a larger, less confined way… that we may find ourselves in deeper communion with God and with one another. There is no promise of comfort… only the promise of a path before us, a Lenten path that we are invited to walk as we are… starting now…
In her book, Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans has written of this time of confession that we share together as a people and as a community of faith. She says:
We come as we are – no hiding, no acting, no fear. We come with our materialism, our pride, our petty grievances against our neighbor, our hypocritical distain for those judgmental people in the church next door. We come with our fear of death, our desperation to be loved, our troubled marriages, our persistent doubts, our preoccupation with status and image. We come with our addictions – to substances, to work, to affirmation, to control, to food. We come with our differences, be they political, theological, racial or socioeconomic. We come in search of sanctuary, a safe place to shed the masks and exhale. We come to air our dirty laundry before God and everybody because when we do it together we don’t have to be afraid.3
There is no promise of comfort… only the promise of a path set before us, a Lenten path that we are invited to walk as we are… together… starting now…
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
1 Bishop Curry cited Roberta Bondi’s book, To Love as God Loves
2 paraphrased words of Bishop Curry
3 Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday, pg. 71.