(A sermon based on Luke 11:37-44 for Sunday, August 26, 2012)
Trying to be a real Christian while living a real life in the real world is tricky business. I mean, just think of some of the tensions with which we live.
For one thing, we know on the one hand that being Christian is not a matter of doing all the right things but we know on the other hand that we should and could do better at doing the right things.
For another thing, we know that we are limited because we are human but we know on the other hand that we can be more than we can imagine because of the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives.
For yet another thing, we know that our behavior is often of a higher quality than the state of our hearts but we know on the other hand that the state of our hearts is sometimes of a higher quality than the quality of our behavior.
One of the challenges we confront is to face who we are in all our complicatedness, who we can by grace-infused effort become, and the gap that lies between them.
I agree with Robert Corin Morris who said, “I’ve come to believe God wants us to develop awareness of the state of our spirit, for our own sake and for the sake of others” [Wrestling with Grace: a Spirituality for the Rough Edges of Daily Life (Nashville: Upper Room, 2003), p. 11].
I’ve come to believe that, too. I’ve come to believe that we need to learn to become aware of the state of our spirit so that we can by the grace of God and through the Spirit of God grow and develop that spirit that it might become more and more as God intends for it to be.
What does God intend? God intends for us to grow in the image of Christ; God intends for us to grow in the love and grace of Christ; God intends for us to grow into the best version of ourselves that we can be.
But what do we intend? Do we intend to tend to our spirits so that we can grow in the grace of knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ? Do we intend to tend to our hearts so that our way of living will be characterized by ever-increasing integrity?
The observation that William Law made many years ago is a valid one for us: “If you will stop here and ask yourself why you are not so devoted as the primitive Christians, your own heart will tell you that it is neither through ignorance nor inability but purely because you never thoroughly intended it.” [William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1955), p. 22].
Will we intend it? Will we commit together to tending to our spirits? Will we take steps to develop our spirits so that we will live our lives out of a solid center and bear good witness to Christ with our lives?
Sure, God still loves you and you can still be a Christian even if you settle for far less than you could be. But why would you settle? Why would you not want to be all that you can be by the grace and Spirit of God?
This story about Jesus having dinner with a Pharisee leads us to think about such matters.
One day Jesus was invited to dinner at a Pharisee’s home and Jesus went, which just goes to show you that Jesus would fellowship with any sinner, even a religious one (and those can be the hardest ones to abide). The Pharisees, you see, were very well-respected and very serious religious folks; nobody did religion any better than they did. They did all the right things in all the right ways. So the Pharisee could not believe that Jesus did not wash his hands before eating his dinner. Now, this was not a hygiene issue. It was a religious purity issue and by not washing Jesus broke the rules.
Jesus said to the amazed Pharisee, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you” (vv. 39-41).
Jesus said, in other words, that it is what is on the inside that counts. We can look mighty fine and holy on the outside but on the inside be an unholy mess. Jesus also said, in other words, that the best living and the best giving come from within us—but we must have something positive and good on the inside out of which to give! The truth is that we’ll still be a mess, but better a holy mess than an unholy one!
Do we have the problem that afflicted the Pharisees? Jesus said that they were full of “greed and wickedness” on the inside. He later said that they “neglected justice and the love of God.” Yes, they lived good and right-looking lives. Yes, they did right and good-looking things. But they had no inner storehouse from which to draw to help them to live truly good lives.
They did not understand that it really did all boil down to loving God with all their being (they neglected “the love of God”) and loving their neighbor as they loved themselves (they neglected “justice”).
We give out of what we have. If we have greed and selfishness, those are the store houses from which we’ll give. If we have love and justice, those are the storehouses from which we’ll give.
We can move every day toward tearing down the useless store houses and toward building up the useful ones.
Working together, the grace of God and the living of life will form us. Let’s live life in a way that will help us learn who we are so that we can submit it to God for correction and discipline. It’s not going to just happen; we have to want it to happen.
That means paying attention to what is going on in our hearts.
That means paying attention to what is going on in our prayers.
That means paying attention to what is going on in our relationships.
And it means not letting our religion stunt our growth or stand in the way of our progress…