St Francis of Assisi Church Castle Rock, CO
Exodus 20, 1-7 + Psalm 19 + 1 Corinthians 1, 22-25 + John 2, 13-25
The problem at the Temple was not the money changers and those who sold oxen, sheep and doves. They had to be there for the required sacrifices of the temple to take place. The law that prescribed the offerings and sacrifices. The Jews could not use the Roman currency which had Caesars’s image, so they had to change money into the Temple currency. The issue Jesus has with all of this, and especially with the Scribes and Pharisees who run the place is that in spite of all those offerings and sacrifices, nothing is happening, no change. They bought forgiveness without repentance. They bought sacrifices without every making any. In spite of all that religious activity, nothing ever changed: the poor will still poor, outcasts stayed out, sinners kept on sinning without every reforming their lives. All they had to do was buy another dove and keep on going. This is repugnant to Jesus who has come to preach repentance, conversion, and change. There was no faith. It was all just a mechanical repetition of the same old thing without ever producing what he and the Baptist before him called for again and again: repentance. Change, repent, be made new, let the glory that belongs to the children of God shine forth.
Christ Jesus is headed to Easter, to glory not just for himself, but for and with all of us. Two weeks ago we heard the Gospel of the Transfiguration, that moment when Jesus came into the presence of God. His mission on this earth is to take us there, to lead us to Easter and to glory. There is a problem however. There is not enough glory in our lives, and most of the time, we are not much of an Easter people, and the problem is something we don’t much like to talk about: sin.
All of us are engaged to one degree or another in a personal, ongoing battle with sin and vice. We are living through an age of serious moral decay. I think that is why Islam looks at us and is inclined to call us “infidels.” Cheating and Lying are a way of life today. Our culture is not about life. It is about pleasure. There is not enough faith, the kind of faith that grows from repentance and change. Although anger doesn’t make most of us murderers, our lust doesn’t make most of us rapists, and our greed and envy do not make most of us outright criminals, together with gluttony, arrogance, and sloth, there isn’t much glory, and those who have to live with us are miserable. Our failure to live up to the glory that is ours is as tragic as the unhappiness our evil causes.
Every deadly sin fuels harmful social phenomena: lust-pornography; gluttony-substance abuse; envy-terrorism; anger-violence; sloth-indifference to the pain and suffering of others; greed-abuse of public trust; and pride-discrimination.” As long as there is any trace of these evils in our lives, we are less that human and less than what God has made us to be. We have in our faith a treasure of wisdom and tradition, teaching and revelation that leads us to a life of virtue and balance, holiness and joy; that is glory! It is not that pleasure is inappropriate, but glory comes from character and virtue, and a right relationship of one’s self to others and to God. That is where we find pleasure, and that pleasure leads to glory.
So, I am inviting you to spend three nights this week reflecting upon “The Seven Deadly Sins”. Unlike our bodies influenced by our genes; our souls, our spirit, and the lives they animate are free to be shaped by our choices. We can choose to be whole. We can choose glory. We can repent and change. There is more and better in us than we have chosen to become. One of the startling facts of life in our times is that no one wants to admit to sin and take any responsibility for its consequences. Too many these days have no sins. They just have issues! So, call it what you want, but it is deadly, and there is an alternative if we choose to change.
We have been given our nature, but we choose our character. When we say someone is a good man or a good woman, we do not suggest that they are people in whom there is no inclination to evil, but rather that they are people who have wrestled and still wrestle with it and never give in because their quality and their goodness comes from the struggle. Those people are truly noble. These are people of virtue, character, and nobility. The work of Jesus and his expectation that we change leads us to glory, to Easter, to virtue and nobility.
“Morality is like art, said G.K. Chesterton, “it consists of drawing a line somewhere.” We live in an age in which no lines seem to be drawn at all, or those that have been drawn are being erased. In my 73rd year of life and almost 50 years as priest I have come to recognize that an unhealed wound, a kind of sinful restlessness, afflicts humanity and robs us of glory.
Bruce Springsteen, “The Boss” wrote a song that describes our age when he sings: “Everybody has a hungry heart.” I think we are hungry for glory, hungry for the life we should have had by God’s will and God’s original plan for us. But we have traded our glory for something else, and sin is the consequence. Our hunger is for God and the glory that comes from being in God’s presence. The glory of Jesus Christ came from his willingness to suffer in obedience to the will of his Father. Calvary was no short – cut to glory. There isn’t one. We will have no glory and no Easter from a short-cut either. We cannot fill ourselves with things that do not satisfy, that do not fill us or lift us or hold us up.
I want to propose to you that while there are seven sins (not issues) that lead us to death there are seven virtues that when taken seriously lead us to life. It means that we learn from today’s Gospel that we have to change and that what we do here cannot be a shallow and mechanical repetition of the same old thing again and again as it had become in the Jerusalem Temple. Nothing there ever changed. That cannot be so with us. We have to change. I invite you to give three evenings this week for the sake of the truth and glory; three evenings in this church for the sake of life itself, your life. Tonight we shall reflect upon Pride and Envy, tomorrow night Anger and Sloth, Tuesday night Greed, Gluttony, and Lust. I’ve saved the best till last! I hope to see you again for prayer tonight night when we might begin to consider how it is that we satisfy our hungers and our thirst, because “everybody has a hungry heart.” What it will take to satisfy that hunger is found here and nowhere else.