I have a divided mind.
I am going to describe it to you –
metaphorically, it is a kind of Jeremiah/Jesus split.
My first mind is not unlike Jeremiah’s rant
we heard today, or that amazing
and powerful poem by Marcus Wicker.
This first mind of mine, is best described by a memory.
It was Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
where Katy and I were hunkered down
in a cabin on the edge of a cliff
without running water or electricity,
and literally, at the end of the last gravel road
on the far edge of its northern most reaches.
For twenty-four hours or more,
the sky above the ocean
opened fire with lightning bolts,
scattershot streaks and flashes
stabbing the waves and the land.
The wind shook the cabin
and rain raked the house in sheets.
When finally, there was a moment of calm
on the battlefield,
we wandered out to peer over the ledge.
Standing on the lip of the cliff
staring at the sea raging below,
the waves against the rocks were so white
it looked like milk.
The ocean seemed even more immense
than usual, angry and shouting
with noises I had never heard before.
To be sure, I had never
witnessed the ocean from a wild place like that,
nor seen it so wild
with so little to protect me from it.
The sheer power of the ocean
overwhelmed my rational mind
and tingled every one of my senses.
Then it happened.
In a flash, I saw the surface of Mars –
instead of raging waves
I saw dry, red dust frozen in airless space.
I saw the end of life as we know it,
there at the moment of the ocean’s unassailable vitality.
It was clear to me
that one day, hopefully long beyond
any of our lifetimes,
the Earth would no longer be
the blue-green beauty we know today.
And just as clearly,
I could see the culprit
was our lust, our deadly
that usurps all things to its own desire.
There would be no reprieve,
no pardon from an Almighty God
who insists on a happy ending.
In my Jeremiah-like vision
the end was both judgment
and logical conclusion.
That is one half of my poor, pathetic mind.
I wouldn’t share it with you, except
Jeremiah did it already.
The other half
has to do with a memory also.
Or I should say, the other half
is highlighted by another memory.
This is a story that appeared in a novel,
one that I wrote and so I know where it came from.
Turns out, I didn’t just make up this story,
rather, it was one told to me directly
by some of the people involved.
An older woman who lived by herself,
came to visit a priest one day.
She was troubled, and in search of advice.
She told the priest about a chance encounter
with a woman from Hong Kong,
a very young, petite waif who spoke
broken English and seemed unsure of herself.
They met one day as both wandered around
the local grocery.
It turns out the young Chinese woman
lived by herself and was completely isolated
except for her American boyfriend.
The older woman befriended her
and showed her how to use the supermarket,
helped her with information about the bus schedule,
and agreed to meet her on another occasion.
Over time, the young immigrant
and the retired American
Eventually the young woman
invited the older woman to her nearby apartment.
As the young woman introduced her around
to the constellation of family through photographs,
the older woman was suddenly filled with horror
when they stopped in front of a large framed image
of the American boyfriend.
It was a married man the older woman knew,
in fact, a vestry member at her congregation.
He had a wife and two teenage children,
and clearly, he had brought this young woman back
from one of his many business trips to Hong Kong,
and set her up in an apartment.
The man’s deception,
abuse, and amoral conscience
found a particularly interesting expression
in his church life as well.
It seems that this man’s congregation
was in a search process for a new rector,
one in which the Search Committee
had become bitterly divided over one candidate.
The candidate had in fact, impressed
everyone on the committee,
even the man in question.
However, there was one thing about the candidate
that half of the committee
could just not reconcile with.
He was gay.
He had a long-term partner of several decades, and
this was before same-sex marriage had become legal.
Ironically, this same congregation,
had once had a gay priest as its rector,
a man well-loved by the congregation
but who was not open about his sexuality
even though it was widely recognized.
By the time the Search Committee
had to get down to making its decision,
the man with the secret Chinese concubine
had become a warden in the congregation.
He just could not reconcile the idea
of an openly gay rector as his children’s priest.
What kind of morality message would that be, he objected.
As it turns out,
the candidacy of the gay priest was rejected
and eventually, the congregation
called a rector who turned out to be divisive,
bizarre, and paranoid.
Okay, that was a long story for a short punch line.
The “Pharisees and Scribes” of Jesus’ day
are not dead.
They populate our churches
and all of society
certainly as much as two-thousand years ago.
In fact, it seems to me
that everyone here and elsewhere,
carries within us a bloated spleen of hypocrisy,
bigotry, ignorance, and just plain stupidity.
Clearly the ancient stories from Jeremiah and Jesus
about self-serving religious leaders
are not fairy tales.
Those stories are not mere distant shadows
of a more primitive society
or any kind of absurdly inflated examples
of human foible.
If we are willing to look in the mirror,
they are us – some of us
more than others, to be sure,
but all of us nonetheless.
So the other half of my double-mindedness
is this story of Jesus
eating with tax collectors and sinners.
The Disney version of this story
would have Jesus yucking it up
with migrant workers and hired hands
from The Grapes of Wrath
in a scene we could all feel good about.
And we could get away with that
if it weren’t for one little word.
It was translated into the King’s English as “sinners.”
The Hebrew word is Resha’im.
By now, “sinners” sounds a bit quaint.
We’re all sinners, right?
But resha’im actually refers to, “the wicked.”
To quote the well-known scholar J.P. Sanders,
(Jesus and Judaism), it refers to people who have
“sinned willfully and heinously, and who
did not repent.”
That sounds a lot like the church warden I spoke of,
who, by the way, never got outed as far as I know.
In rabbinical literature, resha’im
is usually translated as “the wicked.”
So, to put a fine point on it,
Jesus welcomed and ate with the wicked.
In Jesus’ world, the wicked were mostly
people who had professionalized their sins,
in other words, those who did bad stuff
and made money off it.
You know, credit card companies,
pharmaceuticals, and vaping manufacturers
just to name a few easy targets.
So I would paraphrase the Gospel of Luke this way:
“Now all the traitors and criminals were coming near
to listen to Jesus. And the bishops, priests, preachers, nuns,
and New Age yogis and gurus, grumbled out loud.
‘This guy welcomes the wicked,
and EATS with them, for crying out loud.’”
The Disney version, or how the church domesticated Jesus,
has the Pharisees getting upset with Jesus
because he ate with people who didn’t wash their hands
or who mixed up meat with dairy products.
That Jesus is more like Errol Flynn playing Robinhood –
in black and white, not even color let alone digital!
We like the Disney Jesus better
because the Church is led by Pharisees like me,
and composed of rulers and privileged folks
like most of us.
That is the sociological reason
we domesticated Jesus.
The theological reason we housetrained him
is the Church sells repentance and forgiveness of sin.
Do the right thing
and get the reward.
It is a formula for a well-ordered institution
But do the right thing and earn forgiveness
is not exactly how the gospel-Jesus did things.
Jesus says, “God forgives you, now go and repent.”
We say, “Repent then get forgiven.”
One is, “you are forgiven, IF”
while the other is, “you are forgiven, now go.”
One is conditional, and one is open-ended.
I really want to hone in on this now,
because nothing could be more startling
or disturbing to our way of doing things.
Jesus declared that the wicked,
not just the mildly sinful,
but the wicked and the evil,
are included in the Kingdom of God.
But get this, they are included
even if they do not repent.
While still wicked
and while still having made no restitution
and while still not having confessed
and while still not paying for their crime…
Jesus ate with them.
Jesus announced that God loved them
and then he forgave them
without their having earned it.
At the Last Supper
Jesus turned to Judas,
whom he knew had betrayed him
and was going to participate in his arrest,
and invited Judas
to drink from his cup.
Jesus fed him a piece of his own bread.
So, the other side of my double-mindedness
also has a vision.
It is the vision of a forgiveness
and an acceptance,
and a love so stunning
it destroys all our assumptions
and wipes out our penchant for justice.
Well, that is my Jeremiah-Jesus headache.
I hope you do not have such
disturbing visions and double-mindedness.
But if you have been listening to the Gospel all these years,
I am sure your whiplash is as painful as mine.