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Sunday, October 04, 2009

Committed Christians Should Be Committed

“Mark 10:2-16 (XVIII Pentecost)
The First Sunday of the Season of Creation – October 4, 2009 – The Episcopal Church of St. Paul
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

I went to seminary in the “bumper sticker capitol of the world” – Cambridge, MA – where every self-respecting car owner had at least five bumper stickers on their car – and that was just the rear bumper. I think I’ve shown considerable restraint with my new car, don’t you?

I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said, “Committed Christians Should Be Committed.” They meant, of course, that Christians who consider themselves “committed” – usually because they have been “born again” and “have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior” or use other such ‘code’ language – ought to be ‘committed’ to a psychiatric facility.

And there are days when I might agree with them.

One of our daughters once gave me a couple of bumper stickers, one of which said, “Sorry I Missed Church On Sunday, Mom. I Was At A Pagan Wicca Ritual Attended By Hundreds of Naked Women.”

That one wasn’t so much meant for my car, as it was to bust my chops. It did. The other one said, “I Love Jesus – Its His Friends I Can’t Stand.” That one went on my car.

One of the reasons some followers of Jesus can’t stand those who call themselves “True Believers” or “Committed Christians” is scriptural passages like this from Mark’s Gospel. Some of the Pharisees came to Jesus and asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife.”

And, Jesus couldn’t be clearer in his response. The short answer is Nix. Nein. Heck No. Never. Under any circumstances. Ever. Period. End of sentence.

But, but, but . . . the Pharisees said, Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her. Indeed, some tribes allowed women and men to divorce by saying it three times.

Again, Jesus couldn’t be clearer. Moses was soft on you. He was wrong. What God has joined together, let no one separate.

Furthermore, says Jesus, whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.

Well, there it is, then. Clear as day. No question about it. The answer to the question of divorce is a resounding, unequivocal “No.”

It is fascinating, when it isn’t disgusting to me, that the very Christians who take scripture literally – every sentence, word, comma and period – are the same ones to look away when ‘indiscretions’ happen to them.

Like a certain “family values” governor from South Carolina who had an affair with a South American woman he called his “soul mate” – while his wife and four children sat by thinking he was on a hiking trip.

Or a certain televangelist preacher who confessed his indiscretions on national television, his face streaming with tears of repentance and asking forgiveness – until he was caught a few weeks later with yet another Lady of the Night.

There are many, many more examples of hypocrisy but I’ll stop there. The bumper sticker “Committed Christians Should Be Committed” seems to make a great deal of sense, doesn’t it?

Except – I want to turn that saying on its head. Change the emphasis just a bit so you’ll hear it another way – a way that is meant for us all.

“Committed Christians Should Be Committed.” If we say we are committed, then we should be committed. Get it? Being a Christian is all about commitment.

No, this is not a case for scriptural literalism or biblical fundamentalism. I’m not going to mount an argument for or against the Episcopal Church’s position on divorce based on this scripture.

I’m happy to teach a class on that topic, if you want, but this sermon is not about divorce. This is a sermon about commitment.

Today is the launch of Creation Season in this community. It’s become a tradition based on the investment and commitment made by the previous rector and this congregation to ecological justice.

The banners on the wall depict the biblical story of Creation – from the “Big Bang” to the destruction and pollution of Creation. Mother Earth awaits our commitment to restore her to the goodness of Creation.

If it’s Creation Season, it must be the start of the Stewardship Campaign. In this church, Stewardship is as much about the way we care for the Earth and each other in community as it is about the dollars and cents it costs to do that – to be good stewards of all that we have by returning a tithe, a tenth, or some proportion of all that we have been given from God, to God, through the Church. Specifically, the Episcopal Church of St. Paul.

The theme of this year’s Stewardship Campaign is “Commitment.” If I could have made a bumper sticker for this event it would have been the one I’ve been talking about. “Committed Christians Should Be Committed.”

For me, stewardship is all about the commitments we make. It’s what we do with what we have after we’ve said ‘I believe.’ It’s how we live our lives, the choices we make about what we say we believe about what our faith teaches us that reveals who we really are.

One of the most powerful lines in the Harry Potter series is spoken by Professor Dumbledore at the end of the first book: “It’s our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are far more than our abilities.”

It’s been said that one measure of our values is our check register. It reveals our choices and our abilities, but what does your check register reveal about you? About how you put your faith, your beliefs, into action? What does it reveal about your commitments – what you are willing to pay for what you say you believe?

I think that’s what Jesus was getting at when he was talking about divorce. It’s not just about marriage for the sake of marriage. It’s about the commitment we make in marriage which Jesus wants us to take seriously – deliberately – intentionally.

At the end of this month, I’m co-officiating at the Interfaith Wedding of a young woman I’ve known since she was aged nine. The young couple has decided to participate in the ancient Jewish marriage custom of signing a Ketubah – a spiritual marriage contract.

Their Ketubah, written in Hebrew, translates: "I am my beloved and my beloved is mine. No man without woman and no woman without man, and neither without their faith."

Our relationship with each other, our membership in this church, is like unto a marriage. Some of us are here because we genuinely like each other. Some of us even profess to love each other. And, some of us don’t like each other much at all.

I like to remind folks – especially because I sometimes need to be reminded – that Jesus never said, “Like one another.” He said, “Love one another.”

Liking someone is fine, I suppose, but it’s really not necessary in Christian community. Jesus really doesn’t give two figs whether or not you like each other – or your rector, for that matter – and neither do I.

Jesus calls us to a higher level – a more difficult level of relationship – one that requires commitment to a higher calling that goes beyond the superficiality of ‘like’ and goes to the deeper level of loving one another as Christ loved us – despite who we think we are or who we say we are or why we are members of this church.

That’s not easy to do. In fact, it’s hard work. It’s often easier to just stay home. To allow our children’s sports schedules or other social commitments to keep us from making the commitment to attend church every week and work out our relationships with people we’re not overly fond of or even like very much.

Jesus says that’s not what’s important. Look deeper. Beyond the superficial. Under the surface. Indeed, look at the whole of creation and the reason God put you on this earth in the first place.

Look at all that God has done for you – the commitment God has made for you in Christ Jesus – and then ask yourself how it is you demonstrate your gratitude. What are your commitments to God? How are they made manifest in your life?

One other bumper sticker given to me by one of our daughters was this: “Going to church will make you a Christian as much as going to the garage will make you a car.”

She meant that to be funny. It is. And, it’s true.

Just showing up here in church on a regular basis will not make you a Christian. Commitment to living out the teachings of Christ Jesus will.

Because “Committed Christians Should Be Committed.”