the Sunday of the Passion

14 April 2019

Luke 22.14 – 23.56
The Cross isn’t there simply for the sins.
It’s there for the love!

“Transformation is often more about unlearning than learning.” “Transformation is often more about unlearning something old than it is learning something new.” That’s a quote I came across, this past week. Something written, something said, by Richard Rohr. American author. Spiritual writer. Franciscan friar based just a few hours down the road from here in Albuquerque. And according to the website, “one of the most popular spirituality authors and speakers in the world!” And the words, taken on their own, make a whole lot of sense. Transformation, transfiguration, change – especially here in the church – isn’t so much a matter of learning something we’ve never known before, as it is unlearning something we’ve taken for granted. Some misconception. A false impression. Mistaken belief. That’s what makes transformation so difficult. It takes blood and sweat and tears – blood, sweat, tears, and a whole lot of time – to uproot something we once learned, something we’ve held true, but really, truly isn’t. It’s a lot easier to transplant or to sow. Take, for instance, the story of Adam and Eve …

Genesis, chapters two and three! Adam and Eve! The garden! The serpent! The tree! We’ve heard about it from the very beginning. It’s, no doubt, one of the first bible stories we learned. And right from the start, it was all about sin! God says, “Don’t!” And naturally, that’s, exactly, what they do. Adam and Eve! Their children! Their grandchildren! Their children after them! On and on! Generation after generation after generation! Right down to us! To ours! And we, too, do the same! Original sin, we call it. By nature sinful and unclean! At least, that’s how the old red hymnal put it! And it all started there in the garden. With Adam. With Eve. And the serpent. The Fall it’s called. The Plummet. The Plunge. And in all fairness, it’s an ancient way to understand the story. It didn’t start with us.

It’s that story – of sin, of the Fall – that’s given Lent its meaning. And for most here in America, it’s that story that gives meaning to this particular week. Palm Sunday. Maundy Thursday. Good Friday. Even Easter morning. It’s all about sin! It’s all about sinning! Thirty-four days ago – not counting Sundays – as a cross was smeared onto our foreheads, it was god’s warning to Adam, there in the garden, after the Fall, that was spoken to us. “Remember! You are dust and to dust you shall return!” We’ve blinked. And we’ve squirmed. We’ve looked down and we’ve looked away. Then, we’ve looked in the mirror. We asked god to forgive us. We’ve prayed. We’ve fasted. Given time and talents and treasure. We’ve set aside the alleluias and dragged out the kyries. But what if …

What if the story isn’t’ about all that? What if – and this is where transformation enters in – what if god, simply, isn’t angry with us! What if god isn’t as disgusted when god looks at us, as some preachers let on. What if the only person disappointed in us … is us! Each of us, all of us, have sinned. We’ve fallen short of the glory of god. We feel bad. We feel guilty. And according to popular opinion, it takes Jesus to make things right. It takes his suffering and death. It takes a cross. And voilà, Word of God, word of life! “In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us and for his sake God forgives us all our sins!” But what if it was right, all along! What if, there in the garden, it wasn’t god who was disappointed, but us! Embarrassed, ashamed, that we weren’t better. Embarrassed, ashamed, we weren’t more. What if, there in the garden, we were embarrassed and ashamed, not because we were sinners, but because we weren’t perfect! That we didn’t, that we couldn’t, that we wouldn’t, no matter how hard we tried! Embarrassed, ashamed, that we were just people. Plain. Ordinary. Do better, no worse, than millions, than billions, just like us! What if the great sin was that we weren’t satisfied with be just us? Incomplete. Inadequate. Imperfect.

We sing our songs. We say our prayers. We listen to the preachers, drone on and on, week after week after week. And when all is said and when all is done, we’re still us! Doing what we don’t want to do. Not doing what we want. We reach down to grab hold of our bootstraps and discover, once again, we’re still barefoot. But what if … what if , after all this time, we’ve been wrong. What if, after all these years, I’ve been wrong. What if god doesn’t love us in spite of ourselves. But what if god loves us because – BECAUSE – of ourselves. And the only ones who don’t know it, the only ones who can’t see it, are you and I! We eat the apple because we don’t believe anyone can love us. We eat the apple because we believe we’re not worth it. Worth the time. Worth the trouble. And so, we hide. Hide at the time of the evening breeze. Naked. Exposed. As god comes walking. Seeking us out. Calling our names. Not because god loves us IN SPITE OF ourselves. But because god loves us! Because god just loves us!

We say we’re not angels. That we’re not perfect. That we make mistakes. And god say, “I know! I made you!” It’s like our mothers and fathers … our sisters and brothers … our wives and husbands and daughters and sons … none of us, none of them, always do what’s right. None of them, none of us, never do anything wrong. And if they – if we – were loved only in spite of ourselves … well, we would be very lonely people, indeed. And the same is true for god. The same is true for god.

Jesus didn’t come to make things right. They were never wrong! Jesus didn’t come to reconcile us. Jesus came to tell us, to show us, that god never went anywhere! We don’t need to be re-conciled. We’ve always been “conciled.” We’ve always been together. We just didn’t know. We just didn’t realize. We might, once, have been hiding, naked, ashamed of our humanness, but god has been loving us – loving all of us, all along.

Are we perfect? Of course, we’re not perfect! But we don’t have to be! Do we makes mistakes? Sure, we do! Do we use each other? Abuse each other? Absolutely! But does god ever stop loving us? Not since Eden! Not for a moment! Not a single breath! Not one beat of the heart. God doesn’t love in spite of. God doesn’t love notwithstanding. God. Simply. Loves. We’re not saints. We’re not angels. We’re people. We’re just people. And that’s all we have to be. That’s all we have to become.

So, some things are hard to unlearn. Some, even, impossible. Especially if there seems to be a kernel of truth. But my friends, not everything is about sin. Not even believing. But everything, everything is about grace, about charity, about love. Remember you are Christ’s. Remember you are Christ’s. And Christ’s you shall, forever, remain.