Sunday, June 12, 2016

June 12, 2016
The Third Sunday after Trinity
The alarm clock failed. The dog threw up. The kids couldn't find their shoes. Finally, you're out the door, armed with a iced coffeein the travel mug and the car phone on speaker. 

Meeting begins in 30 minutes? Commute takes 40 minutes? Speed limit remains 55? No problem.

Hang a left to glide casually into the carpool lane set aside for cars with two or more passengers. You hope maybe nobody will notice that it's just you and the radio. Accelerate to about 70. Gotta love these commuter lanes! Even if the law's out in full force, the price of a ticket is worth every dime. Hundred bucks for shaving 15 minutes off the clock? A great deal, especially considering the half-dozen times nobody caught you. A cost-effective no-brainer.

In our time-crunched, multitasking world, drivers who are ordinarily law-abiding citizens are increasingly disregarding the rules of the road. Speeding tickets and HOV violations have basically become the cost of doing business. The same people who would argue that shoplifting a roll of Life Savers is a crime will slide through red lights and roll through stop signs without the slightest pang of civic-minded guilt. Gotta keep moving.Can't spare a minute.

The consequence for a don't-have-time-to-follow-the-rules-of-the-road culture is an occasional ticket. So what? Society has come to regard ticketed drivers not as criminals but as victims of overzealous law enforcement.

Need to double-park to pick up a quick package? Scoot into a handicapped spot to drop off a colleague? Nothing personal. Just a time-saving tactic. And who can argue with saving time? 

Jesus grew up in a culture with more legal codes to throw at people than a state trooper waiting for an out-of-state city slicker on a rural back road. Flip through the pages of Leviticus and Deuteronomy for a colorful sample of infractions. Often, the most serious offenses demanded the most serious penalties. 

Many of the Jews of Jesus' day were serious Jews who took their lives and their law seriously. Then comes Jesus, who plucked grain on the Sabbath and consorted with an array of unclean people from lepers to bleeding women. And he did it without remorse, to the utter infuriation of first-century law enforcement officials. 

Jesus himself refrained from imposing the stiff penalties of the law upon others, choosing instead to pass out warning tickets with a grace so foreign to the culture that people staggered away from his presence with a mixture of bewildered relief and evangelical zeal. Once he even charged a law-abiding citizen to sell all he had and give it to the poor. Jesus let the sinners go with a word of encouragement, but challenged those who followed all the rules to make a dramatic detour. 

All of which brings us to a few observations: The church has a history of being legalistic. We enjoy the idea that there's some sort of litmus test for Christian spirituality. A moral or political line is drawn in the sand; step over it and you've stepped out of communion with the Christ Body.

Unfortunately, these notions change over the years. Yesterday's heresy is today's orthodoxy, and, this being true, we tend to trivialize sin. For starters, we don't call it sin; we refer, instead, to our mistakes, shortcomings and failures. We regard ourselves as morally challenged, perhaps, but not sinners. Mistakes were made, but nothing that can't be fixed - by us.

The trivialization of sin results in a meaningless - or absence of - confession of sin. No point in confessing what we not only consider venial and unimportant, but scarcely sin anyway. Granted, we may read a printed prayer in unison as a part of the liturgy, but we're not likely to wrestle much with the spirit-crushing, soul-wrenching reality of our sin.

Of course, the functional equivalent of the confessor today is our therapist who is likely to blame the mess we've made of things on some dysfunction or as-yet-unnamed syndrome. We prefer the jargon of psychobabble or medical language because it sounds reassuringly guilt-free. We rely on the latest pharmaceutical product because popping a pill is an easier fix than plodding through penance, or even popping a prayer. 

By now we've learned that it's not sin at all: it's a hereditary predisposition, a chemical imbalance or temporary insanity. 

Then the apostle Paul weighs in. He seems to lend some weight to the antinomian argument: "No one will be justified by the works of the law". If following the rules of the road will not get us to our destination, then why bother at all? Paul, of course, is writing to Gentiles who were - from a Jewish standpoint - natural-born sinners, and to Jews who prided themselves on their connections: The rules of the road would save them. Or so they thought.

Paul sees us as humans in need of salvation, and in this text he talks about transcending our humanness through Christ Jesus. Life is not merely a journey simply traveled by obeying the obvious rules of the road. Life is meant to showcase the grace of Christ to a world filled with people who are terrified of detours, people abandoned on the side of the road, people who have been dented and crushed by repeated hits, people sputtering along with very little fuel left to keep them moving forward. Maybe our business is something more than getting ahead. Maybe our business involves something higher. Maybe we are called to help others along their journey too, in the great hope that we will all end up in the presence of the living God.

The cost of doing business in our 21st century world involves making daily decisions which have us choosing between the legal and the illegal, the ethical and the unethical, the graceful and the sinful.

Paul's point is that from the standpoint of the law, we try to see what we can get away with.

But from the standpoint of grace, we try to see what we can give away. In the first case, we function out of an ethic of duty and obligation; in the second, we work out of an ethic of love.

Where does the power for this ruleless living come from? It comes from our total identification with Christ in his suffering. "I have been crucified with Christ," Paul writes, "and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me."

This life is a life of faith, he goes on to explain. Faith renders the breaking of petty laws, and pursuing petty and self-serving agendas unnecessary. 

In other words, the cost of doing business has changed. 

It's no longer sin but sacrifice; no longer folly, but faith to follow the rules.
Let us pray.
Father God, help us to understand that all rules, that of society and that of religious, have been set in place as a system to not only keep order and civility, but to ensure that we all live in a life of love and care for God and others. 
When we learn to live as Jesus taught, we will discover that no rules are necessary when we follow the two commandments He most often spoke of – to love the Lord God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our minds; and to love our neighbor as ourselves. When we do this, we fulfill all that God – and society – need.
Often times in our hustle and bustle world, we “slide” through our stop signs of life giving no thought to the potential consequence other than that of our own self-centered will to get to where we want in life faster. Help us to learn better patience and obedience to Your will and to the speed at which You desire our lives to move.
Lastly, Father, help us to know that when we do fail to love You or others by our actions that fail this directive or in following smaller laws, that we are not called to come to You out of fear and do extreme acts of penance. You are a God of mercy and do not require extreme acts of penance as much as our willingness to learn from the failure and thus go about life in better imitation of Your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. We ask all this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +
The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.