Sunday, July 28, 2013

Dead in Our Trespasses or Alive Together with God?

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
July 28, 2013

Year C, Proper 12: The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Hosea 1:2-10
Psalm 85
Colossians 2:6-19
Luke 11:1-13

Dead in Our Trespasses or Alive Together with God?
            I’m sure, like you, I’ve been fascinated, shocked, repulsed, dismayed and embarrassed by the latest revelations about Anthony Weiner, the disgraced former congressman who, until a couple of days ago, was considered the front-runner to be the next mayor of New York City.
            Until the latest news broke about his continued online misbehavior, his story looked like a classic American story of a great fall from power or fame followed by a glorious redemption and return. We’ve seen this story many times before – just ask Bill Clinton or the countless celebrities who’ve managed to bounce back from poor decisions and personal weakness.
            But, it looks like Mr. Weiner isn’t quite ready for redemption.
            Watching him at his news conference the other day, with his long-suffering wife at his side, I thought he looked not ashamed but certainly exhausted.
            More than that – worse than that – I thought his eyes somehow looked dead.
            I was reminded of Weiner’s dead-looking eyes when I began reflecting on today’s second lesson - from the Letter to the Colossians.
            Like with all the letters in the New Testament, we don’t know the whole story – we only have one side of the conversation - but it seems that the Colossians have been less than faithful as well. They haven’t exactly rejected their faith in Jesus. But, instead of being faithful to the Gospel, instead of being faithful to the Good News, instead of being faithful to Jesus, the Colossians have strayed a bit – looking also to philosophy and to other traditions for answers and for truth.
            Paul – or whoever wrote this letter, we’re not sure – is very unhappy about this turn of events. So he reminds the Colossians – and reminds us – of the great gift we’ve received in Christ. The author writes, “And when you were dead in trespasses…God made you alive together with him…”
            Anthony Weiner is someone who at the moment might be described as “dead in trespasses.”
            But, of course, he’s not the only one.
            We don’t have to look far to find people dead in their trespasses. In our own city there’s been an epidemic of gun violence – senseless shootings that are supposedly gang-related. If you follow the local news there have been disturbing stories of child abuse. And there are all the other horrors going on behind closed doors that we’ll probably never hear about.
            But we don’t even have to look that far. At one time or another – and maybe more often than we’d like to admit – we’ve been less than faithful and caring to the people we love and who love us. And we’ve all been less than faithful to God.
            More often than we’d care to admit, we’ve all been “dead in our trespasses.”
            It’s a story as old as humanity itself. God offers love and life but instead we choose sin and death.
            We certainly heard a very graphic example of unfaithfulness in today’s Old Testament lesson from the Prophet Hosea.
            Hosea lived during the 8th Century BC, a time when the people of Israel were divided into two kingdoms, Israel in the North and Judah in the South. At that time both kingdoms were under threat from much more powerful neighboring kingdoms.
            Hosea was a prophet of the northern kingdom, which was called Israel. And he prophesied as Israel began to weaken under pressure from the Assyrian Empire. Eventually, in the year 722 BC, the Assyrians finally crushed Israel.
            In his prophesies Hosea uses very graphic language and images – uses words we don’t usually say in church! - to describe what’s going on between Israel and God.
            According to Hosea, God told him to marry a promiscuous woman because in a way that’s what Israel has become. Instead of being a faithful partner with God, Israel has cheated – Israel has been promiscuous – choosing other gods, choosing to break God’s Law.
            So, we’re told that Hosea married the promiscuous Gomer who bears three children. (By the way, like something out of an episode of Montel or Maury, the implication is that Hosea isn’t the father of these children.) Each child is given a name symbolizing the broken relationship between God and Israel.
            Through the Prophet Hosea, God says some very stark and frightening things: “I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel.” “I will break the bow of Israel.” And, finally, through Hosea, God says the most frightening and terrible thing of all: “You are not my people and I am not your God.”
            It would seem that Israel was indeed dead in its trespasses.
            Yet, the good news for Israel - and the good news for us - is that God’s mercy always trumps God justice.
            So, even the harsh prophet Hosea ends on a note of forgiveness and hope. Hosea prophesied: “Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.”
            Israel was dead in its trespasses and yet there always was and always is the offer – always the hope – of life together with God.
            God’s mercy always trumps God’s justice.
            For us Christians, the ultimate sign of God’s mercy is Jesus. In Jesus, God comes among us. In Jesus, we see what God is really like.
            And in today’s gospel reading from Luke, Jesus teaches us how to pray.
            The Lord’s Prayer is so familiar to us, I wonder if we still hear it. I wonder if we even begin to recognize and appreciate the awesomeness of what we’re saying and what we’re doing.
            Through his teaching, Jesus invites us – we who have so often been less than faithful to each other and to God – invites us to have an intimate relationship with God – with the Creator of all that ever was, all that is and all that ever will be. Jesus invites us to have the same kind of relationship that he has with “Our Father.”
            And then Jesus invites us to ask for forgiveness while we also promise to forgive all those who have wronged us – all those who are indebted to us.
            God’s mercy always trumps God’s justice – God wants to open the door when we knock –God wants to give us only good things – fish instead of snakes, eggs rather than scorpions – God always offers love and life.
            Through his teaching on prayer, Jesus invites us, who are so often dead in our trespasses, to be alive with God.
            So, whenever we see a famous person like Anthony Weiner crash and burn, maybe we can use their misbehavior as an opportunity to take stock of our own lives – to reflect on the times we’ve been less than faithful and caring to the people we love and who love us – the times we’ve all been less than faithful to God.
            And when we face the times we’ve been dead in our trespasses may we remember that God, “Our Father,” is always ready to offer love and life, to offer mercy more than justice.
            May we who are dead in our trespasses choose to be alive together with God.