Saturday, November 14, 2009

Religion’s biggest critic…

…has been sounding off on Sundays lately. How rude.

He criticized our clergy and lay pillars of the church:

Teaching in the temple, Jesus said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation." He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on." Mark 12:38-44

He knocked our splendid buildings, attractive leaders, social justice causes and lucrative end-of-the-world market share:

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, `I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs." Mark 13:1-8

As someone paid from widow’s offerings to put on a long robe to sit in an honored place illuminated by stained glass to wield my personality to please people to influence their thoughts and enlist them in causes, I consider my cage duly rattled.

Jesus is religion’s great critic. He shows us again and again that we turn those good things which should point toward God into idols – false substitutes for God; pathetic little “gods” in and of themselves.

Maybe I am having a midlife crisis. Maybe I’m just nuts (a neurotic Episcopal priest? Now really…). Maybe Satan is trying to induce despair. Or maybe there is a loving God, opening the eyes of my faith to see all the unloving falsehood I’ve built up to imprison my soul.

Am I going “secular”? Not in the least. Causes are not God. Nor are the pathetic and inconsequential cultural gods of “My private spirituality” and “I see God everywhere in everything!”

When Jesus summarizes “the law,” he is telling us the essence of religion as a visible, communal expression of shared spiritual life. And what he endorses is not secular do-gooding on the one hand or ritual piety on the other:

Jesus said, "The first commandment is this: Hear, O Israel:
The Lord your God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your
God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your
mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love
your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment
greater than these."
Mark 12:29-31

Something’s gotta give. I’m failing the basics if strong, thoughtful and heartfelt love is the measure. I've really become one of those sad people dressed up in religion to hide a sick soul.

And my present “religion” is no cover at all. Anglicanism, admits its own Archbishop of Canterbury, is on a trajectory toward "chaos." The Episcopal Church devours widow’s houses to pay for lawsuits to confiscate church buildings paid for from other widow’s estates. Bishops smile and offer the people a choice between heresy (lack of love for God) and schism (lack of love for neighbor). Sick as I am, I can read the words of Jesus and see that I’ve draped myself in a sick, unloving religious system.

My one shred of hope is that the great critic of religion is also the doctor who comes to help the sick:

…Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Mark 2:17

With all of the sin-sick people down through the milennia, I call out, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."


The Underground Pewster said...

He will!

TLF+ said...

AAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamen, Pewster.