Sermon for August 8th, 2021
Before I really begin my sermon this morning there are two fancy theological terms that I want to make sure we are all acquainted with: anthropology and Christology.
Anthropology is the study of human beings.
Christology is the study of Jesus Christ.
In the church world, your anthropology is your view of the role of human beings in history. How willing and capable are human beings to do good things, to change themselves, and to make a positive impact on the world?
Your Christology on the other hand is your view of the role of Jesus Christ in history. Was he a cool and clever teacher that just came to teach us how to help ourselves and then was put to an untimely death, or was he God incarnate, the savior of the world, who offers his life as a sacrifice for our sins?
I am sure that I have mentioned this before, but I have what you might classify as a low anthropology, exceedingly low actually, snake belly low. What that means is, that I basically think human beings are pretty awful creatures. We have neither the will, nor the capability to be consistently good or smart. Now I want to point out here that I didn’t come to this conclusion from reading the Bible, or at least the Bible isn’t first place where I saw evidence of humans being bad and dumb. It was history. I was a student of history before I was a student of the Bible. And what history has taught me, is that throughout time, human beings have NEVER been consistently good (magnanimous, self-giving, compassionate, loving, caring, honest, trustworthy), we may have breakthrough moments, but we have never been consistently good, AND we have NEVER been consistently smart (and by smart I mean ‘wise,’ using our brains and making decisions based on good evidence). We have never done these things consistently. Never, never, never. Yes, we can, and have accomplished amazing things, we can build amazing buildings, we can treat and cure lots of diseases; and we can, at times, be very noble, we can sacrifice our lives for the lives of others, we can be giving and loving. But we have never, not in the thousands of years of recorded history, we have never proven ourselves capable of being consistently good and smart without fail.
Now you may start to object and say that this is a very pessimistic, negative view. You may think that this sounds depressing and hopeless, but it’s not at all. In fact, this low anthropology of mine is the key to the joy, the peace and the hope I have in this world. Granted, I don’t emote a lot, and I may not very often jump up and down and squeal with glee, but I do have great joy and I have a powerful hope, but they don’t come from my anthropology; my joy and my hope don’t come from any expectations I have for my fellow human beings. My joy and my hope come from that other fancy theological word we just heard: my Christology. I have a high Christology. My joy and my hope come from God. Specifically, my joy and my hope come from what I believe that God has done and revealed in Jesus Christ.
Human beings have consistently, throughout time acted in selfish and self-destructive ways, and God has shown us in the life of his son Jesus Christ, that that is NOT his will for us or our lives. Jesus calls us to forsake sin, to repent and change our lives, BUT he also still loves us enough that he is willing to die for us while we are still these sinful, awful creatures. Jesus commands us to love God and to love our neighbors, and he knows darned well just how incapable we are of doing either one of those things with great consistency. How is the devoted follower of Christ supposed to live with this tension?
You know, I think the Apostle Paul gives some great practical advice sometimes. Paul is well aware of this tension between our sinful selves and what God is calling us to be. Sometimes Paul describes it as the difference between the Old Adam and the New Adam. In his letter to the church in Ephesus that we heard a portion of this morning, Paul is distinguishing between the Old Man and the New Man. And he makes the point, that while we are often inclined to do one thing, what we need to do, as followers of Christ, is the exact opposite.
Do you remember that Seinfeld episode where George came to the realization that his life was such a mess that he should try to always do the exact opposite of what he would normally do? I think that is what Paul is sort of trying to suggest here. The old man in you is inclined to do this; why don’t you try this for a change? Instead of lying for your own sake, why don’t you try telling the truth for someone else’s sake? Instead of stealing, why don’t you try working and not just working for your own benefit, but working so that you will have extra that you can share with others? Working for someone else’s sake. Instead of using your words to tear people down, why don’t you try using them to build people up? Instead of being bitter and angry all the time, why don’t you try being forgiving? Try doing the opposite. This is important advice, because NEWSFLASH, human beings are not always naturally inclined to do the right thing. We are complex creatures with a whole range of emotions and motivations for why we do what we do, but what history has proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt in my opinion at least, is that we are not capable of being consistently good or consistently smart.
If your worldview is such that you need other people to be good or smart in order for you to find some peace and joy in the world, well I’m sorry but you are setting yourself up for a life of frustration and misery. You are expecting humans to be something that they are not. If your daily happiness is contingent on everyone else around you doing what they ought to do, showing care and concern for others, or being simply competent or rational or reasonable, then I hope you like being miserable, because you’re going to be. If your hope is based upon the belief that humanity as a whole is going to someday wake up and be consistently good and smart, well I guess I just don’t see much hope in that. If you think that human beings are just going to wake up one day and start being nice to one another and sensible in all their decision making, then you believe in miracles even more than I do, and I believe in the resurrection!
Now that doesn’t mean that I don’t think there is room for anger when people do selfish and stupid things. Oh no. Of course there is room for anger and disappointment, but you have to find a way of letting go of the anger and getting past it, or it will eat you alive. Anger isn’t sinful in itself, but it can become its own sin real quick if you don’t watch it. It can become resentment and despair and hatred. And you know what happens when you let yourself hate something? You become it. You will become the very thing you hate. If you go around resenting people for being sinners, you’re going to become the worst sinner of all, I guarantee it.
You know, living through all this covid stuff, I am remined on a daily basis how much we humans are neither consistently good nor smart. Yeah, we can be amazingly compassionate and clever sometimes, but we can also be selfish and dumb. All this time I find myself stuck here in the middle between folks who can’t be bothered to take the most basic and reasonable precautions, not only for their own sakes but for the sakes of others, and then on the other side are the hand wringers who either live in constant perpetual fear of every sneeze, or who think that if we keep people from living that we will somehow be able to keep them from dying. Fear and resentment on this side; fear and resentment on that side.
You’ve got the people that don’t want to pay any attention to science at all, and then you have the people that think science must have the answer to all our problems. You’ve got the people who don’t think we should bother trying to fix anything, and then you’ve got the people who think we can fix everything.
And here I am, stuck in the middle, I’m sure with a whole bunch of other sensible folks just like myself. Naturally I think that I am sensible and that anyone either to the left or the right of me is foolish, but there we are. Do I get angry? Yes, but I’m not going to let the fact that humans insist on doing what humans have always done steal the real joy and hope from my life. You know, if it weren’t covid, there would be some other reason for you to be annoyed with how other people are behaving. How they vote, how they drive, what color they painted their house…people are going to continue to make bad decisions and sometimes, sadly, those decisions are going to have a direct effect on you. But it has ALWAYS been this way, ever since our ancestors started building their mudhuts next to each other. You can’t get 4 chapters into the Book of Genesis before you find humans getting annoyed with one another and even killing each other. If my hope, as a Christian, were based upon humanity’s ability to make good decisions it would be a very flimsy hope indeed.
But you see, that’s not where my hope resides. As I said, my anthropology is low, but my Christology is high. My hope and my joy come from Jesus. Now that doesn’t mean that I think Jesus is just going to fix everything for us; it’s not that simplistic. Someday God’s kingdom is gonna be fully realized on earth, but that will be the last day and it will be a day that comes in God’s time, not ours. But until that day comes, Jesus has shown me a better way to live; it is a way that frequently involves doing the opposite of what I am inclined to do. But even when I fail to do that, even when I fail to live the way that God wants me to live, even when I fail to be good and wise…there is still love and there is still forgiveness. That is why Paul says “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” I am reminded that no matter how sensible I think I am today, at some point in my life I have not been good, I have not been smart, and I have needed forgiveness. That is the way humans are. My hope and my joy are not based on the unreasonable expectation that humans on this side of glory are ever going to be anything else. My hope and my joy come from knowing that each and every time we fall, God is there to forgive us and pick us back up again. Yes, I think God wants us to make good decisions, but I know that he still loves us when we make bad ones. That is good news, that is true joy, that is real hope. And that my friends it doesn’t come from anthropology; it comes from Christology.