Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sexagesima Sunday

2 Corinthians 11:19 - 12:9 / Luke 8:4-15

And that which fell among the thorns, these are they who have heard, and as they go their way are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not ripen

There is an episode of the 1980s television revival of The Twilight Zone ("The Curious Case of Edgar Witherspoon") which presents to us a man clearly free from the riches and pleasures of life. This otherwise harmless old man spends his entire day digging through the local garbage to seek not discarded things of value, but rubbish — a paper clip, a doll's head, a wire hanger. Nothing in his life seems to contribute at all to his personal comfort. He does not pursue any sort of worldly distraction. He neither chases after money nor indulges in money once gained.

Yet, Mr. Witherspoon is something of a public nuisance. While never overtly hostile or dangerous, this odd, old man has no time for pleasantries. He is cut off from any meaningful relations with his neighbors. He only has time for his unceasing and driving need for worthless, but always quite particular, articles of trash.

Why he does this, we later discover, is because he hears voices which instructed him to build a machine, a machine made from the cast-off trinkets in the garbage dump, to keep the world in balance and to ward off global disasters. Apply a doll's head just so, and an earthquake in Santa Barbara is averted. Knock something else out of place, and a tidal wave will wash away an island nation. And so, Mr. Witherspoon has no time for ordinary human interaction; the fate of the world is quite literally in his hands (and in his apartment). While free from the riches and pleasures of life, Mr. Witherspoon, kind as he may be, seems altogether choked by the cares of the world.

We who hold to the faith delivered once for all to the saints can easily fall into the trap of Mr. Witherspoon. Like this batty old man, we too know that there is important work that needs to be done. Scoured of impurities by the waters of Baptism and forged into a firm but supple instrument by the fire of the Holy Spirit, we respond, as we grow more fully into conformity with Christ by that same Spirit, to the slightest touch and prompting of God. We grow to see, as he sees, the cares and needs of the world. We come to love, as he loves, all those whom the heaviness of a world which longs to be set free threatens to crush and bury. So long as we keep this in mind, the riches and pleasures of life can be seen quite easily as goods, but distracting ones, and readily abandoned as inconsequential to our own happiness and our neighbor's flourishing.

Yet, with all of this insight, we can be drawn just as easily away from God's Word by these legitimate concerns as we can by the beautiful trinkets and baubles by which God has decorated it. Staring ever too closely at the darkness of the world's woes, our eyes can grow accustomed to the dim, and we might not feel any comfort with our fellows in the clear light of day. Indeed, such detachment from ordinary human interaction — a cup of tea on a quiet afternoon, a good book and a cold and rainy day, a walk with a friend through the park to see the setting of the sun, gazing at the stars with a child first awakening to the wonder of it all — not only dehumanizes us, it can be all the harder to resist precisely because we convince ourselves that it is a response to the hard demands of the Gospel.

But, resist it we must!

God indeed has assigned us a task, and there is plenty of work to be done. Make no mistake, this is no counsel to sloth. Even so, we are not made nor have we been redeemed for a life of drudgery, to lose what is enobling of human life in a grim determination to save the world, which, after all, God has already done in Christ. We ought rather to heed the words of Adam to Eve in the work of the great Puritan poet John Milton:

Yet not so strictly hath our Lord impos'd
Labour, as to debar us when we need
Refreshment, whether food, or talk between,
Food of the mind, or this sweet intercourse
Of looks and smiles, for smiles from Reason flow,
To brute deni'd, and are of Love the food,
Love not the lowest end of human life.
For not to irksome toil, but to delight
He made us, and delight to Reason join'd.
(Paradise Lost 9.235-243)

Brothers and sisters, the cares of the world are many, and will be there when you return. Are you ready to let God keep the world for a space, and enjoy a bit of leisure, the holy leisure in which God's Word will hold fast, and bear fruit in patience?

No comments: