Monday, August 9, 2010

11 Pentecost, Year C, August 8, 2010

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Psalm 50:1-8; Hebrews 11:-13, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40
Moral Decisions, preached by Rev. Peter Courtney

Jesus also said to the crowds, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, `It is going to rain'; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, `There will be scorching heat'; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?"

How is it hypocritical to predict the weather based on local versions of the farmer’s almanac? Perhaps in the first century when there were no alternatives to folk wisdom about weather, people who could predict it accurately would be held in high esteem. I lived in the desert for a year. Trust me, weather forecasting isn’t very hard. “It will be hot/very hot/dangerously hot today.” Likewise in Hawaii: “trade winds 5-20 mph, temperatures in the 80’s with chance of late afternoon showers.” These days predicting the weather in Augusta is pretty easy too. “any chance of rain less than 80% means “No rain”.”

Predictions, like those Jesus mentions, are not all that hard to make. Try these:
“There will be at least one or more major oil spill every decade followed by intense hand wringing and blaming of a) government regulators, b) mine owners/managers c) God.”
“The drop-out rate will continue at 50%, SAT scores will barely maintain previous levels” followed by intense handwringing, finger-pointing and blaming of school superintendants whose tenures continue to shorten.
“The Athletic Director/Coach of fill-in-the-name-of-a major-college-program arrested for fill in the other blankfollowed by intense handwringing, finger-pointing and blaming the a) college president, b) NCAA regulators c) the crazed fan base for whom winning is everything d) God.

Jesus’ dire predictions of what was going to happen and what he was sent to do are his wake up call. Jesus says “Enough of this late-inning hand wringing. Enough of prognostication about simple things like weather predictions. Pay attention to what is actually going on now. Don’t forget to look in the mirror during the hand-wringing and blaming portion of the process.”

What distracts us from our own lack of responsibility for at least some of these enduring social problems is that we have had some success in dealing with some others. The sea-change with regard to tobacco use in America is nothing short of a miracle. I have lived in two tobacco states. Both of them were among the first and largest to adopt smoke-free policies for virtually everyone. Even in Nevada which is so libertarian it has laws against passing laws, even there smoking is now hard to do indoors. This leaves smokers out in the broiling heat. We have all seen smokers huddled next to office buildings trying to avoid pouring rain as they fill up on fumes all because most of us don’t want them on us.

Jesus’ violent wake up call is a religious one. Religious wake-up calls used to be a dime a dozen. They came so often and with such splenetic frenzy that people learned to ignore them. We still do.

The truth of the human condition is that if it doesn’t seem to affect us, we don’t care too much. We liked cheap Chinese imports until they started poisoning our pets and our children. We liked cheap interstate highways until the bridges began to fall. It is exactly this kind of self-satisfied attitude that Jesus finds to offensive in religion.

The problem with threatening people is that it is almost impossible to make a moral decision under duress. If some one says they will hurt you if you don’t do what they want and you do it to assuage the threat, you have not made a moral decision.

We make moral decisions when we consciously decide to change our behavior because it benefits the larger community. Recycling trash comes to mind. I believe in it. I think it helps everyone especially in the long run. And I don’t always do it with the fervor my spouse thinks appropriate. Jesus is warning me that I can predict the weather, but I am no good at predicting my own behavior. This week I am working on making moral decisions since Debby is away and I am doing all the trash.

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