September 22, 2019
The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity
(1 Timothy 2:1-8; Luke 16:1-13)
"I am telling the truth," says the apostle Paul, "I am not lying."
If only food companies had the same high standards. Unfortunately, they don't.
Have you ever picked up a package of Boneless Wyngz? That's a product spelled W-Y-N-G-Z. Despite the sound of the name, these chicken fritters contain "no wing meat."
There are no wings in Wyngz. Kind of surprising.
Such manipulation of the truth has a long history in the United States. Before the existence of the Food and Drug Administration, a bottle of ketchup could contain dyed pumpkin. Ground ginger might include pieces of tarred rope. Cans with the label "potted chicken" might be completely chicken-free.
So much for the good old days.
In 1906, the Pure Food and Drug Act established some standards for food safety. From that point on, poisonous, dirty or rotten ingredients were off limits in food production. The act also put an end to mislabeling, insisting that companies could not call something a particular food if it did not contain that food.
"I am telling the truth," said the apostle Paul, "I am not lying." As of 1906, cans of chicken have been required to do the same thing.
But producers of cheap imitation food didn't want to reveal their true ingredients, so they came up with a way around the rules. They decided to hint at what a food was like, without actually naming it. So when they invented an artificial pudding out of cornstarch, they called it Fruit Puddine.
No one could sue them, because they never claimed it was pudding.
These clever names may have been misleading, but they were entirely legal. In addition to Fruit Puddine, consumers snatched up an imitation grape juice called Grape Smack and a nearly fruit-free sugar-pectin mixture called Bred Spred.
Don't be misled by a jam jar full of Bred Spred. There's no jam in it.
Today, most people understand that these silly spellings are a way of saying, "This food is fake!" But oddly enough, a lot of people don't seem to care. They buy seafood spelled K-R-A-B, knowing that it isn't crab. People eat snacks with the label C-H-E-E-Z, not caring that it doesn't contain cheese. The cereal called Froot Loops -- spelled F-R-O-O-T -- remains popular, with virtually no one expecting it to be loops full of fruit.
When it comes to artificial food, labels often include artificial spellings. Truth doesn't seem to matter when consumers are in search of crabby, cheesy or fruity flavor.
The apostle Paul has a different agenda in his first letter to a young Christian named Timothy. Writing to this man whom he calls his "loyal child in the faith," Paul insists that God "desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." For Paul, salvation is not a quick fix for human hunger, a "bacon-flavored bit" that contains no actual bacon. Instead, real salvation is connected to the truth about Jesus Christ.
So what is Jesus made of, really? He's not an impostor, with a spelling such as J-E-E-Z-U-S.
Ingredient one: Mediator. Paul is determined to speak the truth about Jesus, the "one mediator between God and humankind." A mediator is someone who stands in the middle of two parties and tries to make peace between them. In order to achieve reconciliation, he must have a relationship with the two parties.
This is why the Apostles' Creed says that Jesus is God's "only Son" -- that is his relationship to God. And the creed also says that he is "our Lord" -- that is Christ's relationship to us.
Only Son. Our Lord. Jesus has a unique relationship with both God and humankind.
Standing between God and us, Jesus is able to do this work because he is trusted by both sides to be an effective mediator and pull us together. He knows that there is a huge gap between God's perfection and our imperfection, between God's power and our weakness, between God's holiness and our sinfulness, between God's graciousness and our selfishness. Only Jesus can stand between us. Only Jesus can bridge this gap. Remember that no man could actually see God and live – think Moses – well, we have Jesus in the middle to make us worthy to see God.
Ingredient two: Human. For Paul, Jesus is an authentic human, not an artificial product like Fruit Puddine or Bred Spred. The true humanity of Jesus helps him to identify with us and really help us in our struggles. The letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus is able to "sympathize with our weaknesses;" because "he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested."
The humanity of Jesus enables him to be with us in all of the difficulties we face. He is beside us, just as he was beside people for most of his earthly life.
The English priest Samuel Wells has written a book called A Nazareth Manifesto, in which he reminds us that Jesus spent most of his life in the town of Nazareth, simply living with people. The stories of the Gospels are focused mostly on the end of his life on earth, leaving out the years that he was simply "Immanuel," the name which means "God with us."
"Jesus is Immanuel before he is Savior," writes Wells. "By overcoming our isolation, Jesus saves us." So the second ingredient in the make-up of Jesus is that he is truly human, right beside us, sympathizing with our weaknesses and helping us when we are tested.
Ingredient three: Ransom. The apostle Paul understands that we are all captives to our sinfulness. We can try to change our ways, fix our mistakes and get ourselves on the right track, but our efforts are always going to fall short. In his letter to the Romans, Paul admits his own frustration when he says, "I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate."
Those words ring terribly true, don't they? We are slaves to sin and need to be rescued. Fortunately, says Paul, Jesus "gave himself a ransom for all." Jesus took personal action to buy us out of slavery. This ransom that Jesus offered was his own life through a crucifixion that was the worst possible way to die.
Fleming Rutledge, a retired Episcopal priest, says that "crucifixion was specifically designed to be the worst of the worst. It was so bad, good Roman citizens didn't discuss it in public." The death of Jesus was a ghastly sight. On the cross, says Rutledge, we see Jesus Christ "giving up not only his life but also his position as ruler of the universe and Lord of all that exists, suffering something degrading, dehumanizing and shameful." And why did he sacrifice everything? Why did he do it?
For our redemption. To be our ransom. Innocent Jesus died so that all of us could be rescued, forgiven and made right with God.
This Jesus is the real deal: Mediator. Human. Ransom. He's not a fake like Bred Spred, Fruit Puddine or the "cheese-flavored corn snacks" that go by the name of Cheez Doodles. Jesus is the one who offers us authentic salvation, saving us from sin and restoring us to a proper relationship with God.
How should we respond to this? Paul urges us to pray for everyone, since God "desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." We can talk with others about what we have discovered, following in the footsteps of Paul, who saw himself as "a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth." And we can "lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity," much as Jesus did when he lived with people in Nazareth.
Never underestimate the value of simply living with people and sharing their struggles. When Samuel Wells (mentioned above) was dean of Duke University Chapel, he led ministries in which people from the chapel did not try to reach out and save the poor. Instead, they "lived with their neighbors. They broke bread, chatted on the porch and at the bus stop with neighbors, and discovered the good that was already being done in the neighborhood."
According to Wells, the word “with” is the most important word in Christianity. Immanuel means God with us, and from his birth to his ascension Jesus saw his mission as being with us. Our challenge as Christians is to be with God and with each other in the same sort of way, sharing all of life's struggles and successes. This is what the real Jesus did, as "one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all."
Mediator. Human. Ransom.
Not Fruit Puddine, Grape Smack and Bred Spred.
When it comes to Jesus Christ, accept no imitations.
Let us pray.
That God’s abundant kindness will transform the hearts and minds of those who govern and legislate. We pray to the Lord.
That the concerns people have about money may never be greater than their readiness to welcome and cherish everyone we meet in the radical love of Jesus. We pray to the Lord.
For the Church, that through her the Good News of God’s love may be proclaimed to the poor and all in need of mercy. We pray to the Lord.
For the conversion of all those whose lives are dominated by envy, violence, or hatred. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to be generous and faithful stewards of all we have been entrusted with. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Holy and merciful God, we confess that, in a culture that places so much emphasis on external beauty, outward signs of success and "having it all together," we struggle to live from the inside out. We feel the pressure to look and act like something we are not, and all too often we succumb. We don our masks, pretend that things are fine when they are not, and keep our vulnerabilities hidden safely away. No wonder we feel ever more isolated and afraid, especially afraid that if the real truth about us were known, we would be rejected. O God, remind us again of the healing power of your love. Call us again into the light where truth and grace shine. Take our guilt, shame and fear and in their place renew us with your forgiveness and acceptance. For the sake of Christ, we pray. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA