March 17, 2019
God has Lent Us an Opportunity
Luke 13.1-9, Philippians 3.17-4.1 (The Message)
Rev. Sandra Larson
'Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer
Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
But held it up with a smile.
"What am I bidden, good folks," he cried,
"Who'll start the bidding for me?"
"A dollar, a dollar. Then two! Only two?
Two dollars, and who'll make it three?"
"Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice;
Going for three…" But no,
From the room, far back, a grey-haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow;
Then wiping the dust from the old violin,
And tightening the loosened strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet,
As a caroling angel sings.
The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said: "What am I bid for the old violin?"
And he held it up with the bow.
"A thousand dollars, and who'll make it two?
Two thousand! And who'll make it three?
Three thousand, once; three thousand, twice,
And going and gone," said he.
The people cheered, but some of them cried,
"We do not quite understand.
What changed its worth?" Swift came the reply:
"The touch of the Master's hand."
And many a man with life out of tune,
And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd
Much like the old violin.*
But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
By the touch of the Master's hand.
—The Touch of the Master's Hand by Myra Welch
Our false self is who we think we are, but our thinking does not make it true. Our false self is molded by our environment. Self-image may be an inflated notion of our own greatness…or a deflated, diminished sense of self. “I’m a princess,” or “A super-scientist,” imagines a little girl.
Our acquired self-image, which we might also call the false self, is our launching pad: our appearance, our education, our job, our money, our success, and so on. These put-on identities may serve as temporary ‘survival gear.’ External influences may bolster our ego to help get us through a difficult day. Yet, such inflated “Who’s Who” may be our social roles but they are not our ‘sacred role. Conversely, negative input may cause hopelessness and depression. “I’m a piece of dung,” a boy says in a poor Asian country. “I’m worthless,” say too many children who continue to see themselves as valueless throughout their life. In the Gospel story of the Baptism of Jesus, God tells Jesus, “You are my beloved child, with whom I am well pleased.” The implication of that revelation is that we are God’s beloved children, too. We have daily opportunities to demonstrate our family resemblance. We are made in the IMAGE OF GOD!
Our self-image is formed by our own ideas and input from parents, family and school friends and childhood frienemies. My grade school frienemies called me “Larsonic.” How was my life shaped by be labeled as poisonous? Our own imaginations and our surroundings prescribe our life. We stagnate when we continue to see ourselves as we saw ourselves decades ago. We may expend the rest of our life promoting and protecting our childhood image of ourselves--whether an inflated or diminished image. Our partner or spouse, our culture, and our religion continue to shape our identity.
No wonder Christian Education is a key task in churches.
We need to help the next generation understand the lessons that the Apostle Paul writes from prison, where criminal justice was not a priority. As we read from Paul’s letter this morning: “Easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites.
But there’s far more to life for us.”
Often self-image is negative. Many people see themselves as not beautiful or unloved. Most of us have known such misery. Religious groups have often belittled their members. Elite members of social hierarchies deprecate people “beneath” them. Any objective observer sees that America is the home of the have’s and have-nots. Jesus tried to show us that humanity should not be judged on human measures of success. Jesus treated everyone as a precious child of God.
I’m convinced that when Jesus ranted at the Pharisees, he was even offering tough love to those artificially ego-inflated men: Shape up, you Pharisees. Stop being such arrogant ingnoramuses.
You could use your talents and privileges for far better purposes.
According to our Gospel lesson today, Jesus even seemed to give tyrannical King Herod a warning to re-align his regal biases. Jesus also laments about all the people, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” Can we love others as Jesus loves us?
What an opportunity for a double blessing!
We try to see ourselves as unique or special--and distinct from others. Such ‘them and me’ thinking is probably necessary when we are young, but comparisons of people always causes problems. What violence results from the me vss them thinking that “I am certainly better than those people!” Far too many religious groups, nations and teenaged gangs cataclysmically belittle and deprecate people outside their circle. Jesus demands that his followers’ circle include EVERYBODY. I went to the prayer vigil at the mosque in Newburgh last night. What an opportunity to together with Muslims, Christians and Jews--all affirming that God loves everyone!
Jesus used the metaphor of “wineskins,” to describe our personal identity. Jesus pointed out that a wineskin container is only helpful insofar as it can contain good, fresh wine. He says that “old wineskins” cannot hold any new wine because, “they burst and both the skins and the wine are lost” (Luke 5:37-38). This metaphor reveals Jesus’ bias toward growth and change. People who are set in their ways try to convince themselves that “The old wine is good enough.” (Luke 5:39) Jesus claims that the adventure of being part of God’s beloved family is FAR better. Parents may love their multiple children equally. God loves each child infinitely (which is way better than equally!)
Unfortunately, many people stay entrenched in narrow-minded, falsely inflated or deflated notions of themselves. Jesus wants people young and old to embrace and celebrate the opportunities that God gives to us every day.
* * * * * *
With gratitude for insights from Richard Rohr
*Next vs. deleted: A "mess of pottage," a glass of wine, A game — and he travels on. He is "going" once, and "going" twice, He's "going" and almost "gone."