Thursday, April 15, 2010
If Everyone Sweeps His Own Stoop, the Whole World Will Be Clean
I remember my Grandmother telling me this. She was speaking as a Swede and the Swedes have a compulsive history with respect to sweeping – and I am not talking indoors. The Swedes were known to literally sweep their yards. If you visit Sweden you will find acres and acres of well kept homes. If you visit the communities of the prairie states with Swedish heritage, you will find many keeping up the old ways even though they are thoroughly American in identity.
This is not about cleanliness as much as it is about personal responsibility. Which makes this all the more confusion since the country of Sweden has become a welfare state where a huge tax burden is exchanged for cradle to grave care and guaranteed income. But that is for another post...
Personal responsibility has become an issue for me in an age where personal responsibility has seemed to disappear from our vocabulary. Go out and purchase a ladder and read all the warning labels on that ladder. The manufacturer is trying to prevent law suits by people who ignore common sense and who will not accept personal responsibility for their hazardous use of this tool. How much money do we pay for things that must include a financial buffer for those who will not heed ordinary wisdom or common sense. Remember the McDonald’s coffee lawsuit of some years ago?
Part of the reason that the Christian Gospel is finding a hard sell in the current culture is that we preach a Gospel of personal responsibility – not for working out your salvation but for acknowledging that which requires God’s intervention. Personal responsibility is the language of the first corporate act of most Lutherans on Sunday morning. I confess that I am by nature a sinner, that I have sinned in thought, word, and deed, in what I have done and in what I have left undone... It is unpleasant and it is depressing but it is the truth that is the prelude to the glorious and gracious words of absolution that follow. In the Compline office we find it even more specific. By my fault... by my own fault... by my own most grevious fault... Every time I say those words I want to say “BUT....” I did not have a choice, I did the best I could under the circumstances, I am no worse than others and better than most... but it counts nothing. The confession calls us to take ownership and responsibility for our sin. Unless and until we do this, the Gospel seems superfluous to our ordinary lives.
Our culture explains away evil as a disorder to be treated or s____ happens or it’s not my fault. People are not worse than they were before but we are better than we have ever been at avoiding responsibility for the things that happen to us, the things we say, think and do, and the evil from which we cannot escape. I was watching the Luther movie with the catechism class and we were discussing things in the movie. The kids noticed that the attitude of guilt was all over Luther and the people of his day and wanted to know why they felt so guilty? Indeed. Why don’t we feel that guilt, or accept responsibility, or acknowledge our fault? Luther was almost incomprehensible to them because they hardly relate to the idea of personal responsibility, accountability to God, and justice which might incur wrath and punishment. What was so real to the folks in Luther’s day is a forgotten idea to us today. But there is no explaining Christianity without it. Was God in Christ coming to make our good better or to redeem us from the evil that brings death, more death, and eternal death? Why would Christ have to die just to help us make our bad a little better and our good even better still?
Where there is no sin acknowledged, there can be no grace applied. Where there is no guilt crying out for relief, there is no absolution to erase that guilt. Where there is no admittance of responsibility for the sins we have thought, said, and done, there can be no redemption from sin and healing to eternal life. This is, I believe, what my Grandmother was trying to teach me. She was a woman of personal responsibility. Though she seldom ever said a bad word or had anything mean to say about anyone, she saw herself through the lens of sin and accepted this responsibility as the prelude to the glory of the cross which brought her cleansing from this sin and restored her. This is what she was saying to me in her little analogy about sweeping. It had little to do with the idea that we can sweep clean our lives or our world – on our own without God’s help. It had everything to do with personal responsibility for the dirt that is on our stoop, in our house, and so embedded in our lives that only God can make us clean.
Thank you, Grandma Monson.