Sunday, October 14, 2012

And Jesus said, "One thing you lack: Wax on, Wax off."

A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, October 14, 2012

And Jesus said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."

Are you bracing yourselves yet?

Man, I know if I were sitting where you are and I just heard me quote that verse, I’d be bracing myself.

Here it comes. And conveniently placed in stewardship season, too. The Gospel reading about Jesus telling the rich man to give away all his money.

Here it comes. The holy putting on of the squeeze. The gunning for the green. The sacred shakedown.

Vito, would you please help this nice parishioner find his pockets?

Give. Give more. Give it all.

But why? That’s the question isn’t it? Why should we give?

And those of us doing the asking, we know we all are rational people who need and respect a well-crafted argument, so we don’t disappoint. We have honest, wonderful, sensible reasons to give.

We talk about how much money it takes to keep this place open and all the good works we do. We talk about ownership and responsibility and sometimes even about bang for your buck.

And it’s all good. It’s real. It’s true. And it makes sense. But somehow even at our best and most passionate and honest, it still all manages to sound kind of like an NPR-style begathon without the coffee mugs and tote bags.

But the question is still there, and it’s a good one. Why? Why should I give?

The answer I have for us this morning may sound simplistic. It might even seem so anti-intellectual that it offends us, which is why I think we usually try to find reasons that sound better. But I’ve finally come to realize there really is only one reason we give.

Because Jesus tells us to.

That’s it.

We give because Jesus tells us to. Because from the beginnings of the church 2,000 years ago, our foundation is not beautiful worship or good deeds but trusting that in Jesus Christ, God is saving us from lives of fear to lives of freedom. Trusting that in Jesus, God is calling us to a new life that is life at its richest and deepest and most wonderful.

And because of that, because we trust God, we give Jesus authority in and over our lives. Not just when it is convenient or makes sense but always.

Why do I give? Why should we all give?

Because Jesus tells us to

And if that doesn’t make sense or if it even seems like an infuriating abdication of our own intellect … well, no, it doesn’t, and yes, it is.

But there you have it.

Jesus used parables to teach tough concepts. So maybe this parable will help.

How many of you have seen The Karate Kid? I’m not talking about the remake, here. I’m talking about the original. The real deal. 1980s classic. Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita as Daniel Larusso and Mr. Miyagi.

It’s a great story. Daniel is an East Coast high school kid whose single mom has dragged him to Southern California for her new job … and he hates it. Life is awful. He’s alone in a new place, friendless and at the mercy of a gang of bullies who beat him up and are threatening to do worse. He’s angry and depressed and it feels like nobody cares. His world makes no sense anymore.

Daniel is the people of Israel in exile, only for him the promised land is back home in New Jersey and his wilderness is Reseda. You can almost hear him screaming “My God, my God why have you forsaken me? And are so far from my cry and from the words of my distress?” only for him Psalm 22 is him screaming at his mom, “I hate this place! I hate it! I just want to go home. Why can’t we just go home?... That’s it. I don’t understand the rules here, and I just want to go home.”

But since going home is not an option, there’s only one salvation Daniel can see: “I’ve gotta learn karate,” he says. He’s tried learning out of a book but he knows that’s not cutting it. He needs a teacher. A real teacher.

And then one day, he meets this elderly gardener from Okinawa, Mr. Miyagi. Something is different about this man. It’s more than just that he knows karate. There is something about him that feels safe. That feels like home even though he is so different. This man could teach me, Daniel thinks. Maybe if he could teach me, I wouldn’t have to be afraid. Maybe if he could teach me, life would start to make sense. Maybe if he could teach me, life might be good again.

And Mr. Miyagi agrees to teach Daniel, to be his sensei. But before he does, he looks deep into Daniel’s eyes and makes him promise something.

“We make a sacred pact,” Mr. Miyagi says. “I promise to teach karate to you. You promise to learn. I say. You do. No questions.”

And Daniel, having absolutely no idea what he is getting into, says “Sure. You teach. I learn. No problem.”

Daniel shows up the next day ready to learn karate. Mr. Miyagi hands him a sponge and points him to a lot full of antique cars. Wash all the cars in the lot. Then wax. Wax on with right hand. Wax off with left hand.

“Hey!” Daniel says, confused. “Why do I have to…”

“AH!” shouts Mr. Miyagi, “Remember deal. No questions. Wax on right hand. Wax off left hand.”

The next three days are the same way. Daniel arrives expecting to learn karate and instead is given another backbreaking and seemingly pointless chore. Sand the floor (make circular motion on ground). Paint the house (make motion side to side). Paint the fence (make motion up and down). And Daniel does it all. He doesn’t understand it, but he does it. And his confusion gradually turns to exasperation and finally to anger.

On the night of the fourth day, Mr. Miyagi comes back from a day of fishing, and Daniel is not only exhausted from painting, he is furious. And he starts screaming at Mr. Miyagi:

“I’m your karate student? I’m being your slave is what I’m being here. You’re supposed to teach, and I’m supposed to learn.”

“You learn plenty,” Miyagi responds.

“Yeah, I learned how to sand your decks, maybe. I washed your car. Paint your house. Paint your fence. I learn plenty.”

“Ah,” Miyagi says. “Not everything is as it seems.”

And then he proceeds to show him how every one of those seemingly senseless moves, repeated over and over and over again were ingraining habits in him, changing him, preparing him to use karate without thinking. In just four days, Daniel had mastered the basic moves that would save him.

From the very beginning, the basis of the church is a sacred pact. It is like the pact between Mr. Miyagi and Daniel only it is between us and Jesus: “He teaches. We learn.”

But over the centuries, the pact has gotten more and more obscured. The words are still right there in our baptismal service:

Do you turn to Jesus and accept him as your savior?

Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?

Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?

And like Daniel, having absolutely no idea what we’re getting into – how could we! - we say. I will. I will. I will. “Sure. You teach. I learn. No problem.”

And before the chrism is dry on our foreheads we start arguing with Jesus like Daniel looking at that sponge and the lot of cars. And before we know it, we have gone from “follow and obey him as our Lord” to “do those things he says that make sense to us.”

Before we know it, we are re-defining Jesus’ commands in terms of what the world has taught us is sensible. We are re-defining faithfulness as effectiveness. We are re-defining good stewardship of church finances as “being smart with our money” and “getting the most bang for the buck.” We are re-defining following Jesus as “going to church and leading a good life.”

And as we do, Christ’s individual claim on our lives becomes a distant echo, if we can hear it at all.

Jesus looks in our eyes and says, “We make a sacred pact. I promise to teach the secrets of life to you. You promise to learn. I say. You do. No questions.”

It has to be that way because from the beginning Jesus’ earliest followers knew that the things Jesus tells us to do by themselves make no sense.

Things like praying every day to a God we can’t see, hear, taste or touch.

Things like reading a 2,000 year old book every day to learn how to live our lives.

Things like giving away money that everyone else us tells us is ours and we should do what we want to with it.

Things like believing that a cross can be a throne and enemies are for loving.

These things make no sense in the eyes of the world. But we do them, because like wax on, wax off, we are changed by doing them. We become wise. We become loving. We become generous. But most of all we become like Christ. In fact, we become Christ’s. We become fearless and free. We become able to embrace life like a skydiver hurtling from a plane.

The more we pray and give our lives to Christ each day, the less anxiety has a hold on us.

The more we read the Bible and seek wisdom from it each day, the less the cacophony of this Fox News/MSNBC world tees us up and sets us off.

The more we give … not just to the church but anywhere. The more we give, the less hold money has on us and the freer we are to live and love and fully embrace this great gift of life God gives us.

The more we love, the less hate binds us. The more we lay down on the cross, the less anyone and anything else can have any power over us.

We follow the master to become like the master. Free. Fearless. And fully alive.

We’re hearing testimonies this month, so here is mine. Why do I give?

I don’t give because the church needs the money. I don’t give because I think it’s a good investment or because it makes me feel good.

I give because Jesus tells me to. And why does that matter?

Because I am Daniel Larusso – and I wonder if maybe you are, too. I live in a world that doesn’t make sense. A world where still every three seconds a child dies of preventable stupid poverty. A world where corporate criminals are lionized and single moms are spat upon. A world where friends and lovers can leave us but it's cancer that comes back. A world that makes me want to cry out like Job and the Psalmist and Daniel Larusso: “I don’t understand the rules here … and I just want to go home.”

I give because I’ve met someone named Jesus. I’ve met him in people who know him and are trying to follow him. I’ve met him in his words. I’ve met him in the stillness of my heart. I have met him in this place and in you. And something is different about this Jesus. Something about him that feels safe. That feels like home even though he is so different and he says things that are so strange. Maybe if this Jesus could teach me I wouldn’t have to be afraid. Maybe if this Jesus could teach me, I could understand. Maybe if this Jesus could teach me, I could be free and fearless and alive like him.

I give because in a world where so little makes sense, Jesus offers a promise of a love that is more powerful than any of the pain or fear or even death. So I give because I am trying to give Jesus authority in my life not just when it is convenient or makes sense to me, but all the time.  I give because I need to follow Jesus not because if I don’t I’m afraid of hell, but because it’s the only way my life makes sense.

And so, I pray because Jesus says so. I read the Bible because Jesus says so. I give because Jesus says so. And I’ve never regretted it. Not once. Because like waxing the cars or sanding the floor, every time I do, little by excruciating little, I know I’m becoming something. And I know that it is the only salvation I have. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment