Sunday, June 28, 2020

Year A, Pentecost 4, Romans 6:12-23, Matthew 10:40-42

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
And Righteousness.
And our World View.
You’d think that after all the years that have passed since Jesus walked among us we’d have some degree of agreement regarding such basic simple concepts such as these.
What is sin?
What is righteousness?
What is evil?
And what is good?
Our answers to those basic questions form our world view.
What is good, and what is evil?
Plato, that ancient Greek philosopher, suggested that there existed an ideal to which everything in the real world ought, to a greater or lesser degree, to conform to.  The Platonic Ideal.
There is in his understanding a perfect table.  And every real table is measured against this ideal.  The degree to which each table conformed to the ideal is the basis upon which it was deamed to be good, or bad.
That is one way to view the world.
That everything ought to conform to a particular ideal, and any deviation from that ideal is evil.
But is this a human construct, or is this of God?
Another example of this is our yards.
Think of all the effort that we as humans devote to getting our yards to conform to our own vision of the ideal.
A lawn is supposed to be 100% Kentucky blue grass.  We douse our lawns with herbicides of one sort or another so that nothing else grows.
And then we draw a line and create a flower bed and there we want roses, and iris, and dahlias to grow, but no grass.
And then we draw another line and call it a garden, and in the garden we want strawberries, and potatoes, and corn, and peas, and all sorts of other edible plants.
And then, in order to maintain our lawns and gardens we weed.  Day after day we weed. 
Now there is an interesting concept.
God actually never created any weeds.
That something is considered a weed is a human idea.
We want a Kentucky blue grass lawn and so dandelions are considered a weed, as is crab grass, or clover.
And the grass that grows on one side of the line we draw becomes a weed if it grows on the other side of the line.
You see, we have this ideal to which we expect everything to conform, and any deviation from that ideal is considered bad.
But that is a human point of view.
If we look at the creation around us it is diversity, not uniformity or conformity that abounds.
And when God looked at all he had made he said “It is good.”
This basic issue of diversity versus conformity gets more complicated when we talk about humans, and what is good and what is evil in our lives.
Is there an ideal human being?
And ideal to which all people ought to conform?
And is our basic worth as a human being dependent on the degree to which we conform to one ideal?
One way of understanding the Christian faith, or any other religious movement, is that there is an ideal Christian life and our calling is to conform our lives to this one ideal.
OK, that sounds alright.
But where it gets dicey is when we seek to identify the ideal human life and being.
Every race and every culture shares a unique perspective on life.  And even within a given culture there are variations of the human experience.  Some of those are celebrated.  Some are considered deviant.
Who I am as a human being is shaped by where I came from, my ancestry, and my cultural upbringing.
I’m of Norwegian ancestry, I grew up in the farm country of South Dakota, and I have been shaped by the values my parents instilled in me.
But my experience is different than that of a person of another race, who was raised in another place, and who learned different values.
If I had been born to a Lakota family on the reservation in South Dakota my experience of life would be entirely different. 
OK, we know that.  We live with that.  We know that the perspective of a person from Tibet is going to be different than that of someone from Sioux Falls.  We know that.
But where life gets difficult, and sin enters in, is that we as humans make value judgments.
We define an ‘ideal’ human life, and judge any deviation from that ‘ideal’ to be evil.
Our own culture has been dominated by people of northern European ancestry.  Our values, and culture, and way of life have been dominant.
That in itself is neither good nor bad.  If you grew up in Japan, the same could be said for that culture.
But when we take the next step and define any variation from this northern European culture as evil you end up with the most fundamental basis of racism, and sin.
Our sinfulness leads us to conclude that one race is inherently better than another.
And it doesn’t stop there.
We have an ideal regarding every aspect of life and everything else is considered inferior.
Most of us would state emphatically that we are not racist, nor are we white supremacists. But this sin runs deeper and more pervasive than most of us would ever care to admit.
We would deny that we believe white people are inherently superior to black people. 
But, almost everyone of us, deep down, believes in the superiority of western civilization to all others. 
And not only that, we link western civilization to Christianity in a way that maintains not only our ‘superiority’ but that this is ordained by God as righteousness.
One of the ways that this has played out over the years is that Christian missionaries spent an enormous amount of effort converting people, not just to Christianity, but to western civilization.
When I was growing up we used to have missionaries come and make presentations from the mission field.  We saw before and after pictures.
Africans were pictured in their traditional attire before conversion.  And then after becoming Christian they would be wearing western attire, white shirts and black slacks, for the men, dresses for the women.
Missionaries would use the terms ‘evangelize’ and ‘civilize’ interchangeably.
This fundamental belief in the superiority of western civilization is probably never more evident than in our interaction with the Native Americans.  We so believed in our superiority that we took their children to raise them as white people.  That still troubles me because it was happening even in my life time.
What is the point?

Is diversity part of the goodness of God’s creation?
Is it to be celebrated and embraced?

Or is righteousness defined by conformity to one ideal and norm for all?

I believe that when we seek to impose our ideals on all people and force their conformity to those ideals we are dealing with our own sinfulness.  That’s my conviction. 
I believe that God created a diverse world in which the rich variety of life is the ultimate good, not evil.
And that we are called to celebrate this diversity, not  despise it. 
Racial tensions are running high in our world.
The “Black Lives Matter” movement is in the forefront of the news.
Why is it important to say “Black Lives Matter”?  The reason is that for far too long black lives have been devalued as deviations from the norm. 
It is true that “all lives matter”, but that is not our legacy.  We have clung to the notion that some lives matter more than others, that some humans are inherently superior to others.
We have lived our lives believing that there are good plants, and weeds.
But God didn’t create any weeds.
God didn’t create any weeds.
God looked at all he had made, and behold it was good.
Exceedingly good.  That’s the point.
It is our sinfulness that leads us to believe that deviation from the norm is evil.  That conformity is righteousness.  But that belief leads to hatred and death, the consequence of our sin.
To understand the basic goodness of all creation is to open ourselves to love and acceptance.  And that leads to life.