Saturday, April 16, 2016

Year C, Easter 5: "Tov Meod!"

'What God has made clean, you must not call profane. '

There is an old preacher's story:
In times past, when Latin was the language of the learned class, there was a teacher who was dying.  Impoverished in his old age, he was dying in a pauper's hospital that was as much a laboratory for medical research, as it was a place of healing.  While he lay on his bed, two doctors were making their rounds and discussing in Latin the experiments and research they would perform on the death of each of the patients.  When they got to the teacher's bedside, one of them said, "And what shall we do with this vile creature?"  The teacher, being fluent in Latin, responded, "How dare you call vile a person for whom our Lord offered his life!"

During the course of the conversations in our Church with regards to sexuality over the last few decades, there was one parishioner in particular who could not broach the subject of homosexuality without quoting the passage from Leviticus, "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination."  And it was not simply a specific act that he considered an abomination -- it was the people.  In doing so, he joins a long line of people, that truthfully probably includes all of us, who routinely make value judgments about the worth of other human beings.

'What God has made clean, you must not call profane. '
"How dare you call vile a person for whom our Lord offered his life!"

Of late, I have been reflecting about how even the shape of our Gospel proclamation continues this age old tradition of beginning with a declaration of our being "vile", or "profane", sinners to the core.  We begin our worship with confession, "I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed!"  "Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift,"  Justification, yes, but (and this is a big "but") only in the context of confession & repentance.  Our theological roots demand that we begin with the utter depravity of human kind.  It's the first word.  The first word, apart from which the Gospel makes no sense, we are convinced.  And yet is it the first Word?

"What God has made clean. . ." can be interpreted from the standpoint of redemption, that is, what once was "profane" has now be made clean.  Or it can be interpreted from the standpoint of creation.  God made this clean!

"God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good."

That evil is present in our world, I do not deny.  I have had to confront the reality of my own failings too many times to deny this.  But is that where we must begin?  With an understanding that the world and all that is in it is fundamentally evil, including our own selves?  I wonder if our very understanding of the Gospel is tainted by our preoccupation with sin.  And I wonder what it would be like to begin our conversation with one another, to begin our worship, not with "I am in bondage to sin and cannot free myself." but with a simpler, more gracious Word:  "Tov Meod!"  Good.  Exceedingly Good.

I have been so indoctrinated into the Lutheran  understanding of the Gospel that to consider beginning with the Goodness of creation seems like heresy.  Can I consider myself an "Evangelical" Lutheran apart from a theology rooted in an understanding of the sinfulness of all humanity".  There are voices from my past that declare that "No, no I can't be considered Evangelical, if the starting point for my theology is anything other than sin."

Interesting, that the Bible does not begin with "sin", but the goodness of all creation.

How does the conversation of life change if this is our starting point?  If I encounter my GLBT neighbor with the words "Tov, Meod!", that is "exceedingly good", on my lips instead of "abomination", does it not radically change the conversation?

Actually, what I am yearning for is not that radical of a proposition at all.  We recently welcomed into the world our first grandchild.  As we first held Jasper, it was as if the whole creation was screaming "Tov,  tov meod!"  I just cannot imagine holding a newborn in one's arms and declaring "Vile!", "Profane!"  "An abomination!"


Child of God.  Created in God's image.  And God's Word was "Tov, Tov Meod!"  That is the heart of the Gospel message.

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