Matthew 18:6; Matthew 23 :1-4, 12
Is your faith making you thrive?
Religion is a funny thing and more than ever it is a controversial thing. It used to be that religious faith was an accepted part of daily life and its practices were generally seen as leading people to wholeness. In the United States. As long as people didn’t get hung too much in their identity as a Presbyterian, a Methodist, a Baptist or a Roman Catholic, co-existence was possible in towns across America. But somewhere in the seventies faith and politics got intertwined in such a way that it started tearing at the fabric of society. Now young people who are not church goers are starting to have more of a sense of ethics than religious Christians. They are more tolerant of differences, less racist, more inclusive and more interested in social justice. This is an amazing development. They are creating communities that may not have a creed, but there is an unspoken value system This a hard time for the main line church.
Friends, when we consider ourselves religious, the first issue we must deal with is the truth. We must accept a creed as true or at least as ringing true. To say: “it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’re nice” does not hold water. What you believe or don’t believe will eventually lead to actions. and other consequences.
However, there is another way to evaluate religious faith and that is: “ how does your religion deal with your wounds?” We all have wounds, you see. I don’t mean when you hit your thumb with a hammer or tripped on concrete steps or you had a gash that took forever to heal or a surgical scar that keeps hurting. No, our wounds are the hurts and traumas we accumulate along the way on the journey of life. Like the wounds that Astros player inflicted in the Dodgers player with his blatant racism. There are wounds because of losses and because of rejection or because we weren’t able to do something everyone else seemed to be able to do. There are wounds from well-meaning parents because of what they said or didn’t say. There are wounds from marriages and courtships. There are wounds made of anger and wounds made of sadness and wounds made of anxieties too deep to reveal. What religion does with those wounds can be an indication of whether you should stay away from it. There is such a thing as toxic religion. We can find no clearer example of toxic religion than the religion of Isis which is different from Islam practiced by hundred of millions of peace loving people around the world. The wounds of the driver, whatever they may be, of that pickup in New York this last week had been exploited by an ideology that points to God but leads people to unspeakable evil.
Another way religion can handle our wounds is to deepen them. This is what is happening in the Gospel readings. Jesus is berating the religious powers for pushing people down while their own practice is just skin deep. He also warns those powers not to create wounds in the young, wounds of guilt and fear. Our cover verse tells us that the truth of our faith will set us free, not hold us down and cripple us.
Another way our wounds can be handled is by ignoring them. Sometimes religion glosses over people’s suffering as if it is nothing to be concerned. Not to be cheerful is bad. It forces their followers to swallow and hide their pain. Religion can even disavow the wounds it has created. Some of the best novelists in my home country grew up in restrictive, guilt ridden religious households. They spent their lives trying to write it away. Finally, religion can deal with people’s wounds by controlling them. And that is going on in our text also. Because people are wounded they are more likely to yield to control.
Friends, is your faith making you thrive? You know those Kaiser Permanent ads that always end with the word “thrive.” It’s a good term, because this is what our faith is supposed to do: it is supposed to make us thrive. We are not supposed to be controlled or exploited or hurt over again. We are supposed to open like a flower and grow and make the world smell better. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t deal with our own way of wounding others. We should face that and then we must accept forgiveness.
Friends, the beauty of the Christian message is that acknowledges the roundedness of the human heart and soul. In some ways it is all about the wounds. The saving act of God comes through the wounds of Christ. Theologically speaking in the communion we served today the wounds of Christ meet our wounds. It’s like that old romanticized blood brother thing when the Native American and his white friend cut their finger and bring their wound and blood together. Not medically advised these days of course, but it is the meeting of wound and wound.
Friends, the celebration of our faith every week as a family is meant to make us all more whole and because of that wholeness we will be better equipped to make the world around us more whole. May God through the Holy Spirit empower us.