November 15, 2015 Pentecost 25 – God and Irish Proverbs

May those that love us, love us.
And those that don’t love us,
May God turn their hearts.
And if he doesn’t turn their hearts,
May he turn their ankles,
So we’ll know them by their limping.

I turned my ankle the other day and I began to wonder who God was trying to tip off at my approach.

Nobody ever looks at it that way, do they? From the perspective of the person with the turned ankle, the person laying there on the ground, bleeding in my case as I landed on the knee of the other leg, turning the flesh covering my kneecap into something a little less attractive than it was before, and it wasn’t that hot to begin with.

I cried out something extremely un-pastor-like and sat there for a second, wondering what I had done to deserve such treatment, what I could possibly have done to merit such a turning of the ankle as I experienced that evening, doing nothing more challenging to the established order than returning my recycling bin to its place along the fence.

But then I thought about the old Irish toast and I couldn’t help but wonder who was being warned at my approach, who was it that I didn’t love?

I know that is unfair and not at all what the originators of the toast meant, they meant it as lighthearted and cheerful, something you’d tip back a pint of lager at the end of and revel in the company of friends but still, there is the implication that there are people who do not love us, and the request is that God will turn their ankles to mark them for us.

Or mark us for them.

I think that so many people use the Bible for that kind of early warning system, looking for sings and listening for them when the book is read, when they read the bible themselves, assuming of course that they read it. The book of Mark even points us in the direction of wondering who it will be, who it will be who steps forward and says “I am he” and tries to lead the people of God, only to lead them astray.

I came to hate this scripture while I was a chaplain in Minneapolis. We had a fellow chaplain who was a member of a more conservative faith tradition, the kind that holds you, you sitting there in the pew personally responsible for the salvation of your neighbor, the kind of tradition that absolutely has to start with the belief that they are the righteous and everyone else is the lost, even other Christians, in order to hold themselves together as the protectors of God’s will.

I came to hate hearing this woman repeat it every time any one of us chaplains spoke a word of theology that contradicted or even questioned something she held as truth. Coming from a Lutheran perspective where what we truly love in all of this theology is the argument, the discussion, the wrangling itself, this was horrifying to me.

We’d say that Salvation comes through faith alone, sola fide, and not through the works of man and she’d whisper under her breath “Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.” As if to confirm to herself that she was right and we were the ones leading people astray.

The confessional Lutheran in me knows full well that I am making a mistake in almost everything that I do, with every step I take and every word that I speak. Luther’s admonition to Philip Melanchthon to “sin boldly” was not an encouragement to act foolishly but rather an acknowledgement that it is impossible for us to do otherwise. We will sin and so we might as well do it boldly and trust in the grace of God more boldly to redeem us and our words and our deeds.

So someone telling me that they had the unvarnished truth, that any human had the unvarnished truth was not just challenging to me, it was terrifying. Imagine the demands that makes on your life. Imagine the shame and the guilt that kind of belief must impose on a person. There is not room for trust in God, the Lutheran in me says, when you place such trust in the righteousness of people, and anything that diminishes trust in God is inherently bad.

So contrary to what she was saying, I thought that instead it was she who was leading epopel astray, down a punishing path of faith in the ability of Mankind to achieve a measure of righteousness on their own and to do it in God’s name and to give God the credit / blame instead of allowing for the notion that we may indeed have it all wrong; we may indeed have  no idea what is in the mind of God and that to trust in God’s grace above all else is perhaps the best we can ever manage, and even then, only falteringly, hesitantly, imperfectly.

In trust there is peace, and freedom unknown to those who insist that they have a single truth and that all must accept it.

Think about that for a minute. Think about how many times you’d have to prove your righteousness in a day in order to continue believing that you had the exclusive keys to the kingdom. Think about the burden of resisting anything that challenged or confronted your beliefs. Think about the weight you’d have to carry around in order to hold up your end of what you think of as the “deal” between you and God, that you would be the goad to drive others to God, and to be responsible for them, personally responsible, so that the last day would be a thing of terror and regret for all those along your path who you let down, who you failed to save.

It would be like the priests of old, the ones mentioned in this morning’s Hebrews reading, who went to the temple time and time again, always having to make the sacrifice, always having to do for the people the thing that they could not do for themselves, to secure God’s favor.

Now think about Christ on the cross, offering Himself up, not as a sacrifice, a temporary moment in time to be repeated over and over again but as the sacrifice, one perfect moment of God giving of the divine self so that whoever placed their trust in that sacrifice might never find faith a burden, might never think of their God as anything but completely and eternally on their side.

Who would pick the former way? How is that even possible?

By using the yardstick of the Bible and her church’s interpretation of it, our colleague judged all things, always on the lookout for something that didn’t seem right, something that might point out the coming of the anti-Christ, the second coming of Christ, the presence of the false prophet, anything she was called upon to rail against and to condemn.

I think that was her turned ankle. That was what it was that made her, for me at least, a cautionary tale to warn me of how faith can drive you to seek out others, not for the sake of the love of God but for the sake of your own righteousness. She looked out upon the world with eyes veiled by suspicion, always on the lookout for fault, always alert and ready for a fight.

I don’t want to live that way, and I don’t think God wants us to.

I don’t think that God wants us to always be on the lookout for the turned ankle, the foe we must fight, the wrong we must correct. We should be open to seeing them, to be sure, but when you make it your practice to seek the things that are wrong you will always find wrong somewhere, you will never want for evil and despair in the world and you can feel righteous and above it all if you’d like.

But if you try and trust God, to place your faith in the cross of Christ as the final sacrifice demanded of us and trust that in the final analysis, it will be God’s righteousness that delivers you and not your own, well just think of the freedoms you will enjoy!

When you do see wrong, and you will, you won’t have to puff out your chest and declaim prophetically against it, you might actually just lean in a little and see what can be done to fix it, what might God want to happen in this moment. You could try and change it, not to show how righteous you are but instead to shine forth how great God is.

Each night when you lay yourself down you would never have to count up and weigh the actions of the day, determining which need repentance and which are laudable. You could instead lay down and count the number of people you encountered, all children of God, and consider how many new friends you have because you approached everyone with hope instead of fear.

Each time you roll your ankle, collapse and land on your other knee on the hard, so very hard concrete of your driveway and you shout out something not exactly holy you needn’t repent of your weakness in shame but instead you could remember that God in Christ took on our weak form and while it never mentions it in the bible, I assume that Christ turned a divine ankle once upon a time, or got the divine hand closed in a door, or stubbed the divine toe and cried out in pain and frustration and that in all of that, Christ did it to be closer to you, to know what it is to be you; not to judge, but to save.

It takes a lot of faith to give of oneself without reserve. It takes a lot of faith to approach someone as a brother whom you have never met. It takes a lot of faith to trust in God and God’s provision for us to not take upon ourselves, upon our all too narrow shoulders, the weight of the world.

You have to trust that God has it already. That Christ has borne that weight all the way to the cross and beyond and it no longer need burden us at all but instead empower us to see more clearly, hear more freely, move more purposefully, and if we limp, then to limp humbly in the face of all that has been done on our behalf.

So that we might live, truly live.


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