Sometimes a rope can be your best friend. This was made clear to me one starry night in Alpharetta, GA. I was house sitting over the Summer for a friend whose family owned a polo farm. In the early morning hours I was awakened by the sound of a large animal on the gravel driveway. Having grown up with livestock, I did what seemed the right thing to do. I went and got a halter and led the horse back into the corral. Suddenly I realized in my stupor that I was barefoot, and one misstep of a large herbivore could have been most unfortunate. At that moment I was glad for a threefold chord.
Other times I have appreciated the value of a good rope have involved rock climbing. The type of climb determines the rope. A static rope will offer more strength and stability, but if it pulls tight with too much force it can snap. A dynamic rope has more give to it, though it cannot bear as much weight.
Today we are celebrating the grace of God made known to us through covenants, and we have been given the metaphor of rope, the definition of love, and the assurance that God abides in us if we abide in God.
“When I was a young man and went to seminary school,” [that’s a Doors reference I have always wanted to make] I found that all the cool kids had bumper stickers – much like the bumper sticker theology wall at C.U.P.S. They proudly brandished statements like Eve Was Framed, or Question Authority, or the truly rebellious, In case of rapture, can I have your car?
So, naturally I set about to find a fitting statement – something that was not merely sarcastic, but truly reflective of my faith. And lo and behold, in a shop in Little Five Points in Atlanta, it came to me – Denial is not a river in Egypt. I placed it tenderly on the rear window of the cab of my small, beat up, yellow pick up truck – and everyone who knew me agreed that it seemed fitting.
In the book of James, we have been hearing about the way in which our denial of healing relationships and restoration for others is actually a denial of healing relationships and restoration for ourselves. We’ve been told that we even lose our sense of self – our true self – when we fail to see others as God’s beloved creations. When we assign value based on needs we deny what we know to be true – that value is not based on skills or abilities or public professions or any other human trait. Value is assessed only on the love of God.
I met a guy the other day who is a computer programmer. He’s one of the parents on my son’s soccer team. When small talk led to the inevitable, “So, what do you do?”, he stated his occupation and followed it with a shrug, a smirk, and the moniker of pride and shame, “Geek.”
What a transformation that term has gone through, thanks to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs – the patron Saints of technology. [Owen Rachal interrupts, “Excuse me, Zach? Technically speaking – St. Isidore of Seville is the patron saint of the Internet, computers, computer users and computer technicians. He is the patron saint of technology.”]
Thanks, Owen. As I was saying, Geek used to be a term of derision and shame. Children’s songs were composed about the weak and pitiful creature known as the pencil-necked geek. But not anymore! Now they are our heroes and members of squadrons of deployable helpers for our technical needs.
I must say, I have a bit of geek envy sometimes. Computers are so accessible and the commercials tell us that technology is our slave. So, I should be able to figure out how to make it do most anything, right? I should at least know what all the options are. Do you ever feel like that? Do you ever get frustrated because you don’t even understand the question it is asking?
G.I.G.O. is a programmer’s acronym for Garbage In Garbage Out. It is used to describe sloppy program design that results in a computer program that functions less elegantly than it could or should. It also represents a certain knowledge of best practices – or at least the ability to see certain errors that are not obvious to the uninitiated – and, therefore it functions as a type of Pharisaic code.
One could easily use the phrase Garbage In Garbage Out to describe the scriptures we have read today. Psalm 15 tells us that God only tolerates the blameless – those who speak no evil, do no evil, and will not hear of it done. These are the ones who will abide in the tent of the Lord.
James comes across with the one-two punch to tell us that good only comes from God, and that if we hear about Jesus but do not love like Jesus then we are lost even to ourselves. We are pretenders going through the motions of faith. And so our correctness of doctrine and good intentions mean nothing unless we walk the walk. I must admit that although I am honored to stand here every week and hold this holy conversation with each of you, the hardest part is walking out and attempting to practice what I preach.
Some things in life are simply unacceptable. People all have their thresholds, though. For example, there are some people who will send back an overcooked steak in a restaurant and some who will not. Everyone has his own reason. Maybe you feel that you should get what you are paying for. Maybe you don’t want to cause trouble. Maybe you want to be helpful by making sure the management and kitchen know the quality of their product. Maybe you’re with a group and you don’t want to hold anyone up.
As for me, I used to be a lot more picky about it than I am now. Part of me hopes that I am not jinxing myself or the lunch bunch [group that meets monthly in local restaurants] today, but I do believe that in this context coincidence is easier to justify theologically than instant karma. God’s love and activity is both bigger and more particular than my sandwich.
I am certain that God’s influence is in all things – even a sandwich, or a conversation, or the choice to act or withhold from acting. And I am certain that the temptation to make choices that are not in keeping with God’s will is in all things – even a sandwich, or a conversation, or the choice to act or withhold from acting.
Have you ever been so engrossed in a book or a project that you did not notice that the lights were still off until someone else turned them on? Or how about looking for your glasses when they are on your head or your keys when they are in your hand along with five other things? These are moments that make you say, “Duh.” These are moments that confirm our humanity by our obvious limitations.
These are moments that remind me of comments of elders from my youth. Comments like, “Don’t you have enough sense to come in out of the rain?” Or, “If your head wasn’t attached, I bet you’d leave it somewhere.” Of course whenever I would tell my mother that I was trying she would simply sigh and say, “Yes. Yes, you are.” Then again, one of my favorite of her euphemisms was, “Boy, you talk like someone a tree fell on.”
I’m not sure what the current phrase might have been for that type of thing in Jesus’ day – maybe they accused him of being in the sun too long – but I get the sense that the Jews who were following Jesus were thinking that he had gone a little loopy. Some of them had been following him around the country side. All of them had either seen or heard of his great miracles – particularly feeding the 5,000.