Our lessons this morning address the realities of life. The reality of life is that we struggle; we become impatient and seek to intervene with God’s guidance; we like to be in control; and, blinded by our own self-seeking goals, we too often overlook God’s invitation into a life of peace and joy. But, God does not abandon us, even when the realities of humanity lead us to feel forsaken.
Reality is a cost of our humanity. In contrast to costly humanity, we could be God’s tin soldiers; God would wind us up and we would praise him. We would be robotically polite to one another, each of us accurately and efficiently fulfilling our responsibilities to one another. Perhaps there would be no evil or tragedy – certainly, there would be no violation of the Ten Commandments.
Somehow, I suppose, we would have to be programmed to love God and love our neighbor, since that is where we experience God’s presence. But, it would be love lacking free will – wind-up love, love out of a can, so to speak. Well, I just get more and more confused trying to imagine life without the costs and frailties of our humanity – life without the joys and sorrows that are intrinsic in our humanity.
God created us with free will, and with free will comes the reality of consequences.
In our Old Testament lesson, the people of Israel are struggling with the consequential realities of life in the wilderness. In chapter 20 of Exodus, Moses goes up to meet God on Mount Sinai. There, Moses receives the Ten Commandments and an assortment of other laws and guidelines mostly specific to worship. Actually, there are thirteen chapters of these laws and guidelines that Moses is instructed to put into effect among the sojourning Israelites.
As I said, it is in Chapter 20 that Moses leaves the people to go up the mountain. We are now in Chapter 32, and God and Moses have become aware that their visit has gone on too long. Feeling abandoned, as we read in our lesson, the people of God take matters into their own hands. Deciding that God and Moses have forsaken them, they gather all their precious metal possessions, melt them down, and fashion a golden calf to serve as their god.
A reality of our humanity is that sometimes we are not willing to be quiet long enough to listen for God’s voice; we are not willing to be patient with God’s will for us. We want to take matters into our own hands, and when we do, we really foul things up, as did the Israelites in our first lesson. And yet, the privilege and ability to foul things up is part of our gift of free will; every element of creation has the gift of freewill.
Christians for the 1st century had similar ups and downs. From prison, Paul, writes to the church in Philippi addressing the reality of a conflict between two of the church leaders, Euodia and Syntyche. Conflict is a reality of Church; Church is human relationship; conflict is a reality of our humanity. The two women about whom Paul is concerned apparently are waging a power struggle within the church at Philippi. Paul exhorts the Philippians to be patient as they seek to help Euodia and Syntyche. Among other requests is the admonishment to “let your gentleness be known to everyone.”
Gentleness is, what the Apostle Paul would label, one of the fruits of the spirit. This admonition to “let your gentleness be known to everyone” came to mind again and again last week as we blessed our precious pets; our pets teach us the necessity of gentleness. Even when they are disobedient, our pets require our gentleness. Would we want them to be tin soldiers, marching about in complete obedience, fearful of our wrath? Would we want them to please us out of fear of punishment? No, our pet’s love for us is pure even when they fear we have abandoned them, and our love for them is pure even when they are disobedient. Gentleness guides our relationships among the harsh realities of life’s struggles. We are to help one another with gentleness; gentleness is a fruit that needs more reality.
Yet, gentleness does not seem to be a reality of our Gospel lesson. This lesson is the continuation of a tense conversation between Jesus and the elite religious leaders of the Temple in Jerusalem. There are thousands of sermons here. But, for today, I just want to highlight one message of the lesson, which is to be prepared – to be open and available to God’s invitation to life in communion with God and with one another. Jesus emphasizes that, unlike the man without the proper wedding robe, we are to seek to be prepared when we come to the feast – to recognize the heavenly banquet of eternal life – to recognize our host as a friend and not a stranger.
As confirmed by our Gospel lesson, judgment is part of the reality of our earthly lives. As teachers and students and parents and policemen and wherever we find ourselves in our adult lives, we affirm that laws and guidelines and the necessity of judgment are part of the reality of our earthly lives. Thus, we affirm the necessity of being prepared to follow the guidance of authority.
How is it that we are to be prepared? Unlike the Israelites of our Exodus lesson who fell prey to mob mentality, be quiet; listen intently and patiently for God’s message. Listen to the admonishment of the Apostle Paul, “Let your gentleness be known to everyone.” In spite of the difficulties you will face, never give up on God, be prepared, and “let your gentleness be known to everyone.” Make that a reality of your humanness.
Sometimes the costs of humanity seem so severe that we feel God has forsaken us, or that God has judged us unprepared, hopelessly disobedient, and tossed us into the outer darkness. Human love and loss are a great paradox. Don’t give up on God; in his infinite wisdom, he made us human. In our wisdom, we accept the realities of our cost of humanity. We truly would not want the wind-up life of a tin soldier even with its simplicities.
Remember our precious pets who teach us about patience and gentleness and the reality of God’s unconditional love even when we make such a mess of our lives with our impatience and disobedience and spiritual blindness. When the realities of our humanity tear away at our faith, God calls us to be patient and gentle with ourselves and to let our gentleness to known to everyone as we accept Jesus’ invitation to the heavenly banquet spread before us now and in the age to come.