Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Self-interest OR Faith

Sermon Preached for Pentecost 20, Proper 23C, on Sunday, October 10, 2010.

    Listen to the radio, read a blog, or watch TV and you find that Americans are tied of politicians who confuse their own self-interest with the good of our country.  Maybe some will no longer have that problem after November. On the other hand, folks are not so sure about Wall Street or corporate America, either.  There once was a time when the chairman of General Motors said "What's good for General Motors, is good for America."  You don't hear much talk like that anymore.
    Speaking personally, however, it is a bit more difficult.  How does a husband and father separate his interests from what is good for the whole family?  Or a wife and mother separate her interests from what is good for the family?  We speak of family in broad terms but it is lived out in the specifics where husband, wife, parent and child distinguish between self-interest and the good of the family.
    The same is true in matters of faith.  Although the familiar story of Ruth and Naomi is often read at weddings, it is not about marriage but about faith and the choice between what seems the obvious self-interest of the person and the call of faith.  Ruth was caught between what was in her self-interest and the call of God. Her dilemma is our dilemma.  We daily must distinguish between what any reasonable person would say is in our interest and the call of faith, trusting in God and walking the way of the cross.  Today we explore this as we look at Ruth and Naomi.
    Ruth was a fairly young woman who had lost her husband.  Her self-interest was not so different from how we would define our own self-interest.  She wanted family – a husband, children, a home, and a future.  Don't we all want that?  This self-interest was not something bad or evil but the very pattern God has built into us – the desire for one to love, for one who will love us, for children and family, a home today and a future with the person we love.  It is common to all of us, isn't it?
    Ruth wanted to live with who shared her values and ideals, a common culture and community, a people like her in every way.  This desire for community is common to us all, is it not?  We want a place, a place to belong, where people know us and we know them, where we share common values and live together in a community of caring.
    Ruth hoped for a future.  She had hopes and dreams and desires for a future – a simple future of children and grand-children, of family gatherings and a place where everyone called home.  Ruth is not so different from us, is she?  But that is not what she got.  She married a man not from her country or faith.  She learned from him and his mother, the God of Israel, the God of mercy and grace.  Then her husband died and she was left childless.  What to do?  She could have returned to her kin, to her old way of life, and to her former religion.  Or she could return with her mother-in-law to a foreign land and live as a child of God.
    Ruth's faith was rooted not in reason or understanding or her self-interest.  Her faith was in the promise of the God of Israel and for this faith she left behind a family, a homeland, the potential of another marriage and family, and the pursuit of a normal life – in order to go with Naomi to the land of Israel, trusting in the God of Israel.  Her eloquent words were directed not romantically to a husband or dutifully to her mother-in-law, but to God.  Where you go, I go... where you live, I live... Your people shall be my people... Your future shall be my future...
    It is almost like, "Not my will but Thy will be done..."  It is as if she is saying she has no home but where God is, no family except the family of faith within the family of God the Church, no future except the future that rests in God, and no tomorrow but the one He has created.  Now that is a pretty deep faith.  Ruth has chosen to deny her self-interest and to trust in God alone.
    The path of faith is not a mix of our wills and God's will, what we think is in our interest and what God thinks.  We do not negotiate an agreement with God in which we give and He gives, we get and He gets.  The path of faith is alien to our reason and foreign to the way the world defines life.  It is as strange to our ears as Ruth's desire to cling to Naomi and trust in God –  when everything inside of her is saying, "Go home, find your own path of life, build a future for yourself..."
    The path of faith is generally unreasonable and seems foolish.  The path of faith is usually contrary to the way the world works or to the way the world thinks.  The path of faith is trust in God, not works; trust in the Lord not what we control; trust in Christ and not our righteousness. We cannot explain faith to the world – only the Spirit can teach faith – but we can witness  this faith to the world.  We can demonstrate to the world faith in Him whose grace has won salvation for us.  Faith lays down reason and self-interest and looks to the cross where we are raised up with forgiveness, clothed with new life, given the gift of salvation, and granted the grace of eternal life.  This is the path of faith – Jesus Christ and Him only.  You can never trust Christ too much or yourself too little.
    Ruth stands as a powerful example of faith in a story in which God is barely mentioned.  Yet it is God who called Ruth to be His own, joined her to His family and people, and bestowed upon her the future He prepared for those whom He loves.  It is God who gave her heart the gift of faith so that self-interest and reason would not rule her.
    It is no different than what we saw in the Gospel lesson for today.  Ten lepers received healing from Jesus.  Nine saw their self interest in reclaiming the life they thought they had lost due to the terrible disease that had afflicted them.  Nine saw God’s gift to be the freedom to seek their own way again. But one saw something more.  By the power of the Spirit, one healed leper resisted that self-interest in order to return to Jesus, to bow before Him in worship, and to see His future in Jesus only.  This is the path of faith, the path the Spirit calls us to follow.  When the future is unknown and when our nature says to seek your way to get what you want, the Spirit calls us to faith in Christ alone.  God grant it.  Amen.

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