The Fast and Easy Redemption Center

The Fast and Easy Redemption Center

Sermon for Lent One Feb 21st 1999. The Rector at St. Stephen's, Pittsfield.

I drove up Elm Street the other day and saw this sign outside of George's Liquor Store: "Fast and easy redemption center". Then as I parked near St. Stephen's it was behind a car which displayed this single word bumper sticker "Whatever".

We who are serious Christians know that we cannot accept the current slogan of troubled youth "whatever". Nor do we believe that redemption is ever fast and easy.

Of course we know that we are being saved by God's amazing grace and that salvation is a gift. But it is precisely at the moment that we accept the gift that the struggle begins. Doing what St. Paul describes as "working out our own salvation with fear and trembling" is never easy. We cannot take care of our souls if we accept the determinism or apathy of "whatever", or the cheap grace of "fast and easy redemption".

We all recognise the importance of our bodies, and most of us take more than adequate care of them. In some cases we pamper them. We are grateful for our minds, for the ability to think, to plan, to discuss, to decide. We see the tragedy of mindlessness when our beloved ones develop Alzheimer's disease. We understand what it is to have a spirit, that part of us which can be beaten down by sarcasm or cowed by a bully, that part of us which can be enriched with music, art, the life of prayer or by the laughter of a child.

But what about our souls? What about this "me-ness" of me, the "you-ness of you"? Perhaps we only think about our souls when we encounter someone who is soulless, or someone who has sold his soul to the corporation. But what about our own souls? When the chips are down "who are we"?.

The readings present us with the options which will define our struggle for the wholeness and integrity of our souls. The Genesis parable with its charming tale of the man and the woman must be approached with caution since it has been wilfully misused to blame the woman for the ills of the world. Faith has no place for scape-goating. But the story does present the option of autonomy. Frank Sinatra was singing in the garden as the man eating the fruit, hummed along "I did it my way". This way of autonomy, this way which cries "for Christ's sake get out of my way", is the way which leads to the death of the soul, which in dying kills also the spirit of a spouse, a child, a nation.

And the wilderness story gives us the option of co-operation. This man Jesus, fresh from the waters of Baptism must now wrestle with a vocation which to be true to his call, must be a vocation of co-operation with the Holy One. And struggle he must, thank God, for his struggle enlightens ours. And he leaves the desert convinced that his soul, having been tested, will now live in communion with God. The angels are harbingers of that communion.

To care for our souls is to feed and nurture them. Christian parents will feed and nurture the souls of their children. And if their daily diet is rooted in endless television, video or video games then they are being fed soul poison. And if their daily diet never includes a reading of scripture and prayer with Mummy or Daddy, then they are mal-nourished. What is your care for the soul of your child?

What is our care for our souls? Do we believe that Jesus spoke truth when he asked "what will we profit if we gain the whole world --- yet lose our souls"? Do we believe that our souls are best served with a plateful of Letterman and "Friends"? Are we so afraid of our souls that we will drown them in drink or in apathy? "Whatever".

What is our care for our souls? Did anyone ever tell us that the soul must be fed by daily prayer, by frequent Eucharist, by community with other Christians, by coming to confession, by working for justice, peace and reconciliation, and by serving others?

How is your soul? What value do you place on it?

If we care for our souls, there will be no fast and easy redemption. If we care for our souls there will be struggle and wrestling with God. The choice is clear. On the one hand "I did it my way". On the other "I found co-operation and communion with God". It's the garden or the desert.

Lent is desert time.


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