St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
+Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Trinity – June 21, 2020
“And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.”
GOING through life you encounter many ups and downs, turns in the road, byways and forks. And you take some. You make choices. Your life takes directions you never expected. No one’s life seems to ever have gone the way they once imagined. We make new friends, find new interests, suffer losses and setbacks, feel attacked and overwhelmed. We adapt, retaliate, build walls, change course again. All this seems inevitable, a plot written by others, but stage by stage we’re calling the shots. One more turn and suddenly we’re all alone in a desert. How’d I get here? I finally get out a map and I’m not on it. This is nowhere. Reproach and recriminations ensue, but are met with a snarl and a proud glare, for now come the excuses…
Excuses are the place we run to when we find ourselves off base and uncovered. It’s all our fault, but we desperately want to find ourselves some kind of scapegoat, a reason, why it was actually a good idea, that everyone else was doing it. Confront us with our faults, mistakes and sins, and the first shot our minds take is “But I…” But I, but I, but I. It sounds like the ricochet in old westerns as gunshots struck the rocks between good and bad guys. But I!
It’s the oldest game of a guilty sinner. Eve and Adam ate forbidden fruit and immediately felt wrong. God showed up and they hid. “God called to Adam, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.’ God said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from that tree?’ Then the man said, (now here comes the excuse) ‘The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.’ God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ The woman said, (here’s her excuse) ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’” Gen 3:9-13 Excuses, diversions, rationales, the bounce back: “It isn’t my fault, God, it’s yours!” “I was tricked. The devil made me do it.” Pity Adam and Eve. They really didn’t know what trouble they’d started, but they felt the world come undone as they spit the seeds of that fruit out. Uh oh. This was going to need a pretty great excuse. Theirs, as it turns out, were quite lame.
The children of Israel, used to living in Egypt but having crossed the Red Sea, now wanted to return to idolatry with Moses off on a mountain top. Moses returned and there’s brother Aaron leading worship at the golden calf. He demanded an explanation. “You know the people, set on evil. They said, ‘Make us gods that shall go before us; as for this Moses, we don’t know what’s become of him.’ I said, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them break it off.’ So they gave it to me, I cast it into the fire, and this calf came out.” Ex 32:22-24 Right. Of course.
The Son of God walked the earth and men’s hearts yearned within them to change their lives and follow this holy one. But their lives tugged at them; they hesitated. One said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” But Jesus said, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Another said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell at my house.” But Jesus said, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:60-62
The Gospel today illustrates God’s invitation to a banquet at His table, so generous a salvation, and if we’d humble ourselves to receive it, we might find room in our busy lives to follow it. The banquet is free. It would be so easy to go. His former guests had officially accepted his invitations, then word went out to them to come, the king’s party was ready. And they each made a lame excuse. A new piece of land to see, some new cattle needed testing, a new wife. Excuses.
St. Paul’s flagship Epistle to the Romans begins by painting the fall of mankind. “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, changing the glory of the incorruptible God into images. God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts...” Romans 1:16-25 He maps out sin, from illicit sex to idolatry, malice, envy, murder, lies, evil invention, broken families, loveless and merciless lives.
And just when the Christian is congratulating himself for not falling for this tale of misery, chapter 2 opens: “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.” Romans 2:1
God wants to instruct us that when we are confronted with sin, as we are just about every day, don’t run for excuses. We act like we’ll be executed on the spot if someone finds a flaw in us, some act of selfishness, of pride, of thoughtlessness. We may think we’ve sheltered this little corner of our lives from God and everyone, but then it’s exposed and we want to walk it back to the bushes and find a way to plausible deniability. “I have no recollection of that, Senator.”
St. John’s great Epistle is wonderful for our aching consciences, “If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things… This is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.” Do you hear one word of reproach? In another place, John says, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin... If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:7-10
If we say we’re innocent, it’s plain as day we’re liars. Everybody wants to look good, and be approved. But we’re not that good, not perfect, not nearly so squeaky clean as we want people to think. But who ever said we were? Did God send His Son only for the worthy? He said, as a physician, He was sent only to the sick.
The refrigerator has to break down before Sears sends out the repairman for a warrantee service call. Our refrigerator is broken. Call already. Or, we can make excuses. “This milk will keep until tomorrow. I think it’s still cold, maybe it’s working and we can’t hear it.”
I think you all know that today America is broken. Not all of it, not everyone, but a cry is going up in accusation, fists are raised in the air, an inarticulate rage glows red hot, and pale fear waves a white flag, unable to say anything that helps one bit. ‘Racist’ you’ve been called, by class, by proxy, guilt by association. It may not be true, but it’s been true. Justice is demanded, yet there’s nothing that will satisfy this passionate, but ill-aimed, malice. Are we guilty? Do we take a knee? Is that the question we need to answer?
Racism has been an American problem for generations, and the great Civil Rights Movement was addressing a real local problem. Martin Luther King was right, and he was shot. On May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis, George Floyd was murdered on camera by a city police officer. The outrage may be disproportionate, the officer’s arrest and charges brought against him ought to be justice meted out, but there’s something else beneath this, maybe something we do owe. The wrong demands are being made, but a demand on our hearts and consciences might provoke more than just an indignant rebuttal.
No, I didn’t kill Floyd, nor did you. In fact, we are all in favor of equality and better life for American blacks. We’re good people for that, and we figure we’re done. Maybe not. The Samaritan didn’t owe the brutalized man on the roadside anything. He went over and above, because someone was hurting. Underneath the present outrage is an ache in the hearts of black Americans. It’s not just their problem, it’s ours too. We don’t have to confess abuse or discrimination, perhaps, but what if we confess our love?
Juneteenth: I had never heard of it before last week. June 19, 1865, was the day the final Confederate State was told the Civil War had ended and slavery was now over, in Texas as in all the USA. It’s the oldest celebration of the end of slavery in our land, but I only heard of it last week. It’s a good day, not a day to burn Seattle, but to love some real people who could use it. Not pity, not misplaced guilt, no. Love, appreciation, critically needed empathy and the offer of our humanity. If we owe any apologies, make them, and be Christian in it. It’s time to heal. It’s time to go an extra mile.
We’re not guilty of police brutality, but if we say we have no sin, we’re lying.
Fess up. Come out with your hands up. Surrender. Sign your confession. Fingerprints, booking photos, shoes and socks—take ‘em off, empty your pockets… Now, through this door please, without pride or pretense, no excuses anymore, and enter…
Come off the desert. We’ve found you. Welcome home at last.