Sunday, January 27, 2013

Homily for Septuagesima



Matthew 20:1-16; 2 Corinthians 9:24 – 10:5; Exodus 17:1-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

As the news of the Sandyhook massacre began to break, there was a great amount of misinformation and conflicting accounts. This is understandable as reporters first on the scene were trying to make sense of a confusing situation that was still unfolding. At one point it was reported that there were two or more shooters. When it was confirmed that there was only one shooter, he was misidentified as his brother in New Jersey. There were reports that the shooter’s mother was in the school, but it was later reported that she was found dead in her home. The number of victims reported dead or wounded continued to change for at least thirty-six hours. I do believe that this confusion and misinformation is understandable, as reporters were doing their best to get the facts and report on them.

However, after a couple of days, it became clear that reporting the facts had been replaced with telling a story. Objective reporters quickly transformed into subjective storytellers, spinning and maintaining a narrative, a story. That story goes something like this: Mass shootings like those at Sandyhook, Aurora, and Columbine are the result of too many guns, the easy availability of guns, and semi-automatic and fully automatic guns labeled “assault rifles”. It doesn’t really matter which news network you watch, which newspaper you read, or what mass-media means you access news and opinions from, they are all telling, essentially, the same narrative and story. Is that because the story is true? Evidence suggests otherwise. But, that is the crux of the problem – the contemporary news media, indeed, our culture, do not seem to be concerned with evidence and truth, but with the telling and fostering of a narrative, a story.

Now, perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising, for, we, as a culture, have effectively denied the existence of truth. This is the result of a philosophy called Post-Modernism that came into being in mid-twentieth century. Whereas Modernism, which preceded it, encapsulated the philosophical quest for knowledge of truth and the nature of truth, Post-Modernism posited that all truth is but a human construction, based upon, not what is absolutely true in itself, but upon human assumptions and predispositions. Today, people are less concerned about what is true than what is true for you. This is another way of saying, “What is your narrative or story? And, what then is your meta-narrative, the story behind your story?” And so, we no longer desire or believe in the truth. However, the first to disbelieve in the truth were not modern philosophers the likes of Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Kierkegaard, but more ancient Post-Modernists like Pontius Pilate who infamously questioned “What is truth?”, and, earlier still Satan who tempted Eve by asking “Did God really say?” and then directly contradicting the truth of God’s Word by saying “You shall not surely die.”

Truth be told, Satan’s meta-narrative lies behind the story we like to tell ourselves – that we are good, decent, and faithful people, better than most, and that we deserve God’s favor and all the blessings we enjoy in life. After all, Satan’s temptation amounted to this: It doesn’t really matter what the truth is. It doesn’t really matter what God says in His Word. You can be like God yourself, deciding for yourself what is good and evil, right and wrong. No one can judge you, therefore, judge for yourself, by your wisdom, knowledge, and rule. And that’s exactly what we do. We think that by being obedient to most of God’s commands, as we judge both His commands and our obedience, that we are doing well and deserve and merit His favor. But, this is a lie, and that is the truth.

Jesus’ parable about the workers in the vineyard exposes our meta-narrative for the lie that it is. Jesus masterfully takes a story about work, merit, and wage and says that it is about the kingdom of heaven. In the parable, a master hires laborers to work in his vineyard, at different times throughout the day, and promises them each a denarius at the end of the day. At the day’s end, he paid each of them one denarius, regardless of how long they had worked. Those laborers hired first are outraged, expecting that they would receive more than those hired later in the day. Now, why would they think that? Did they not agree to work all day for a denarius? Why should they be disgruntled if the master pays everyone the same, regardless of their hours worked?

Ah, but this is where their, and our, meta-narrative is exposed. Remember, Jesus’ parable is not about equal pay for equal work, but His parable is about the kingdom of heaven. What is earned for our sin and rebellion is not a wage of money, but a wage of death. And, what our Master Jesus pays out is not money, but forgiveness. As forgiveness is His alone to give, and as we all merit only death, Jesus chooses to give to those who trust in Him last the same forgiveness that He gives to those who have trusted in Him for years. Why would you begrudge Jesus’ generosity in forgiving those who come to faith late in their lives, or in ways that are different from you?

You see, their, and our, meta-narrative is about fairness and equality – these are our underlying assumptions which lead us to outrage at the perceived injustice that those who worked little get paid the same as those who worked much. However, whether we are talking about wages earned for hours worked, or the forgiveness of our sins, what our Master Jesus does with His forgiveness is His choice alone. Ironically, in the parable, every man received exactly what He was promised, regardless of hours worked. In the kingdom of heaven, however, we are happy to not receive what we have merited for our sin, death, but to receive, instead, that which we have not merited, earned, or deserved, forgiveness, by the grace, mercy, and love of God in Jesus Christ.

We don’t like the truth. We can’t handle the truth. When our First Parents sinned and rebelled against God, they hid in fear from their Creator. When He called to them, they blamed each other, and, ultimately, they blamed God Himself. They created meta-narratives, stories, to cover their misdeeds, to justify themselves, to pass the buck, and to put themselves in a good light. When it comes to horrific tragedies like Sandyhook, Aurora, and Columbine, the story that is not being told, and one that reflects the truth of the matter, is the story of mental disorder, depression, anger, and hatred. These are truly at the root of such violent and horrific massacres. Ah, but that is a story we want to hide, ignore, or debunk, because that story, that truth, exposes how irreparably broken we are by sin.

Our culture has worked hard for centuries to push God, His Word, and Truth out of the meta-narrative of our existence. Men, who do not find their lives’ value and meaning in being the holy creation of our good and holy God are left to create another value and meaning for their lives. What they create is a narrative, a story, one that says that we are simply the most advanced species in a long chain of species that originally evolved out of some primordial soup of chemicals having their origin in the Big Bang, wholly by chance, with no intelligent direction or design. When this is your meta-narrative, then the value and meaning of any human life is not in itself, but is determined by someone else who, like the laborers in the vineyard, are going to value their own lives and well-being above those of others or yourself.

It’s pretty clear that the Sandyhook shooter did not find value or meaning in his own life. Likewise, he did not find value and meaning in the lives of his victims. Since Roe vs. Wade was decided in 1973 and unrestricted abortion became legalized, over 54.5 million babies have been killed because someone else decided that their life and well-being was more valuable and meaningful than the lives and welfare of unborn children. Of course, the narrative that permits this horror to continue is one of equality and fairness, of women’s rights and a woman’s choice to decide what happens to her body. Do you see why it is necessary to tell a story and not deal with the truth? You have to get God and His Word out of the picture in order to justify an atrocity, in terms of death count, even worse than the holocaust.

Here’s the truth: We live in a godless culture of death. The culture of death leers at us daily: pornography and the degradation of sexuality, substance abuse, violence, broken families, children abused and abducted, and the growth of the abortion industry as it gobbles up lives, money, and our future. Death is our wage for sin and, since we cannot avoid it, we have done the opposite, we have embraced it and celebrated it and made it a human right. That’s a meta-narrative, created and sustained by men to avoid the truth.

What is truth? God’s Word is Truth. And Jesus Christ is God’s Word and Truth made flesh, who lived and died for you and for your salvation that you might have rich and abundant life. Jesus Christ is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life through whom you have access to the Father. There is no other way, no other story, for He is the Truth. Therefore, as the ancient Didache says:

There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways. The way of life is this: First, you shall love God who made you. And second, love your neighbor as yourself, and do not do to another what you would not want done to you.

[…] The way of death, on the other hand, is this: It is evil and accursed—murders, adulteries, lust, illicit sex, thefts, idolatries, magical arts, sorceries, robberies, false testimonies, hypocrisy, double-heartedness, deceit, haughtiness, depravity, self-will, greediness, filthy talking, jealousy, over-confidence, loftiness, boastfulness—those who do not fear God. The way of death is the way of those who persecute the good, hate the truth, love lies, and do not understand the reward for righteousness. They do not cleave to good or righteous judgment; they do not watch for what is good, but for what is evil. They are strangers to meekness and patience, loving vanities, pursuing revenge, without pity for the needy and oppressed. They do not know their Creator; they are murderers of children, destroyers of God's image. They turn away from those who are in need, making matters worse for those who are distressed. They are advocates for the rich, unjust judges of the poor. In a word, the way of death is full of those who are steeped in sin. Be delivered, children, from all of this!

Yes, little children, may you be delivered from all of this, for Jesus’ sake.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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