1 Corinthians 2:1-5
The New American Bible translation of Isaiah 58, overseen by my teacher John J. Collins, speaks out and grabs our attention. We are wounded! The suggestion is of a longtime wound that cannot be healed. The only remedy possible will be efficacious, but it will also change the way we live our entire lives. We are henceforth to see the world with new eyes. We are to own that it is a place where the hungry and the homeless and the naked suffer all around us without solace. And we must redress these grievous wrongs. Only then will our incurable wound close and heal:
Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
The Septuagint word for flesh, σπερματος (spermatos), adds yet another dimension; it not only suggests the prima materia that would develop into the flesh of a human in utero, but also one's own flesh-and-blood, one's seed, one's children. In the course of one sentence from Isaiah, we are taken deep within ourselves touching upon our own woundedness and even our identity, — our own flesh and our flesh-and-blood.
Should we choose to decline Heaven's version of how our world must go, — feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, covering the naked — we are tasked with the challenge of hiding from our own flesh, as the NAB describes it. Hiding from our own flesh. Heaven help the man who attempts to flee from himself! And this brings us closer to the classical definition of sin. Sin at its heart is alienation. First and foremost, we are alienated from God. Those who pray the Hours of the Church have said these words thousands of times during Friday Vespers:
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned,
and done that which is evil in thy sight,
so that thou art justified in thy sentence
and blameless in thy judgment.
In the Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus describes this alienation in terms of salt losing its savor or essence. At that point it is good for nothing and thrown underfoot to be trodden upon by men. For how can saltiness be restored to salt once it is lost? This is a dire picture, even hopeless, given the terms Jesus has set for it.
Let us go back, therefore, and ask the obvious question: what could possibly be so urgent, so precious, that we are willing to sacrifice anything for it, even essence, our identity, the love and respect of our family and friends, and the friendship of God? What is this all-important thing? It is ourselves. The choice not to feed the poor nor provide for the homeless nor clothe the naked and cold is a choice for .... us instead of them. For many, self-interest is a dominating pastime and driving passion. Should this surprise us? Sin by its nature is always a choice between our own selfish desires and God.
And where do we run should we attempt to hide from ourselves? We become more and more absorbed in our own image as if painting a mirror could change the one who peers into it. We go shopping for new clothes. We attempt a make-over. We constantly renew our photographs on Instagram or Facebook. Finally, desperately, we seek to "find ourselves" in the office of a psychotherapist. The alternative to God and to authentic relationship with each other is us. Perhaps you've seen the magazine.
It dawned on me that the great symbol for this is St. Paul's otherworldly sentence: "At first we look through a glass darkly but then face-to-face." The Apostle Paul spent his entire life seeking God's face. As a young Jew, as the student of the great Gamaliel, as one who sought prominence among the Pharisees in Jerusalem, Saul of Taurus besought the face of God but with ever greater mania kept finding his own ego. He looked through a glass darkly trying to find God. Have you ever looked into a dark glass, perhaps an oven door or the tinted window of a car? What do you see? You see only yourself. It is not until we come to clarity, emptying ourselves, ridding ourselves of perceived needs that enslave us in the end, that we begin to peer into a clear glass and see God's face, not our own.
The dark glass will only fill us with a terrible loneliness and emptiness. The ancient name for this fruitless journey into ourselves is superbia, or Pride, the first and most powerful of the Seven Deadly Sins. It is the ancient foe, whose craft and power are great. And we find that that we have sacrificed everything, even our lives, in order to get back nothing. The self-help movement with its infinitely receding promise of beautiful images is a distinctly Western phenomenon, mostly an American religion. Yet, its darkness is universally understood.
Here in Hawaii, one bumps into practitioners of Aikido. Its banners and signs, identifying little academies, are common. Its disciples think of themselves as being warriors of the light. The artform they practice is to let darkness slip past them without being touched by its toxic effect. Each human, they believe, is either a vessel of the pure, white light or one who holds on to darkness, which will kill them spiritually. Examples of dark energy, following the precepts of Buddhism, include carnal desires. They mention all of the Christian Deadly Sins in their literature, in their own religious language, of course. And the deepest darkness of all is ego. Masters of Aikido have told me that they can see the white light or black energy within and around each person, as if anyone could hide it. One friend told me that he was surprised at the brown energy he saw in one who was reputed to be an Aikido master.
What do we see when we are able to look into the pure, clear glass St. Paul writes about? We see God. What is God like as a practitioner of human life? We have only to consider the life of Jesus for a reliable report. He is a healer. He is filled with compassion for those who are least among us. His will is that no one go hungry; he feeds many thousands. He takes very little for Himself, and He is willing to give everything for us. Most important, He wants us to be close to Him, even to be like Him. A Carthusian reflection goes something like this: "I became human, so I could be like you. If you do not become more like God, I shall be greatly offended." We are to look into a mirror and see .... God. Will we accept His invitation, even His divine command? Will we become more and more and more like Him? Surely, it is the greatest adventure of our lives.
That is what we have before us this morning. Yes, it will change the way we live our lives here on earth. And it will cost us many little things that we think that we want. And yet everything is at stake: we stand at a crossroads. Our God came to earth, giving everything, so that we would choose the right path. And He said,
Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life will save it.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.