Thursday, July 11, 2013

Sermon: "Mockingjays and Chameleons, or, the Case of Codependent Peter" (St. Paul and the Very Foolish Galatians Part 2/6)

"Mockingjays and Chameleons, or, the Case of Codependent Peter" (St. Paul and the Very Foolish Galatians Part 2/6)

Preached at South Wedge Mission
Rochester, New York
9 June 2013
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Text: Galatians 1.10-12, 2.1-16


-Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Gal 1.10)

-Ever since I was a little kid, my mom often told me that I was a “chameleon.”  And not just because of that phase when I bought baggy shorts and started wearing long sleeve t-shirts under short-sleeved ones like all the skater kids – despite not actually owning a skateboard!  Or when, after college I made the horrible mistake germane to young white activist types of trying to dreadlock my hair. 

-No, see, I’ve always been good - am still good - at assimilating the styles of those around me (even if someone else’s cool wallet chain looked ridiculous with my Abercrombie and Fitch khakis!).  On the postivie note, I think I am deeply atuned to particular nuances and stylistic and tonal particularities, which enables some great impressions, creative musical improvisation, and is a virtue when it comes to reading and interpreting texts.  It’s served me well as I’ve always had a diverse group of friends, and can adapt to a number of circumstances and situations.  As St. Paul says elsewhere, “I become all things to all people.”  Being a chameleon is a major asset for ministry.
-And also a major curse.  Because if there’s one thing every pastor knows, if only secretly in their heart, it’s that one of the main incentives for taking on such a challenging and otherwise borderline insane calling is our almost universal need for three things: admiration, affirmation and approval.  Being able to change colors to fit the color scheme at hand is also convenient for giving people what they want to hear – though not always what they need.

-And it’s hard to remember who you are after so many changes.  Redefining myself to achieve other people’s ever-shifting standards of approval ultimately means that I am always allowing myself to be re-defined by what I think are their standards.  The message my life speaks, then, is not something distinctly me – not what God gifted to me in my creation.  I am like that Mockingjay bird in the Hunger Games – a mutation of separate creatures spliced together, able to imitate, but ultimately, easily employable and influenced by the deceptive and destructive forces of the Capital.  I’m still a slave to power outside of myself.

-I share all this because if I’m honest, I really feel for St. Peter in today’s reading from Galatians.  Peter, Jesus’ number one discipline, his right-hand man, the person many believe was commissioned by Christ to be the universal head of the new church movement and beyond – he hasn’t really changed much.  Because in so many ways, it feels like he is a fellow chameleon too.

-Because after being called by Jesus, witnessing the life death and resurrection of Jesus, and performing miracles and preaching in Jesus’ Name, Peter is still, after all that, struggling with his need for approval.  He’s a biblical poster-child for codependency.

-Just look at his bio.  When Jesus asks the disciples who they think he is, Peter’s the first to have the right answer – “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!”  A few verses later, when Jesus is talking about being crucified, Peter speaks the group’s (understandable) trepidation at being mutilated and killed, only to be called “Satan.”  He’s ready to walk on water to Jesus, but he freaks out when he sees the waves, and calls out to Jesus for help.  At the Last Supper, when Jesus corrects him for trying to avoid having his feet washed, Jesus promptly rebukes him, leading Peter to request a full body washing!  The man can’t hold his own to save his life.

-And then, of course, who could forget Peter’s big low – denying Jesus three times on the night of his darkest trial, because he was afraid of what the guards and servant girls might think about him?  Or, as he and John walk along the seashore with the resurrected Jesus, and Peter is told he will be crucified one day, and Peter promptly asks, “well, what about the other guy?”

-This is the same Peter – the already saint still sinner Peter – we meet in Antioch, who is also the brunt of a major butt-whooping by a very unhappy St. Paul.  Because now, after having approved of Paul’s somewhat unorthodox ministry to the Gentiles (read: non-Jews), a ministry Jesus himself gave and the “watchdogs” at Jerusalem approved, Peter’s at it again.  He’s in Galatia, and instead of backing Paul – instead of making a powerful statement, as the head of the church, of Gospel inclusion, Peter’s decided that it’s best for him to eat with the Jews – the other circumcised folks.  They DO have the power, after all.  And after a lifetime of fearing other people, why should he let go of his codependency now?

-And I wonder – are any of us really that different than Peter?  Have we desired approval and security and a sense of self so badly that we’ve allowed ourselves to be defined, not only by other problematic folks, but also, at the expense of those who are already on the ropes?  Whether in the high school locker room, or in the pseudo-safety of facebook and blog comments, or in our work environments or our families, have you, like Peter and me, betrayed your deepest beliefs and convictions of what you know is just and right…because you were afraid of losing approval?

-And see, I wonder why we really desire approval so much at all.  Aside from the whole being-included-with-the-winning-or-the-cool-side of things,, or the desperate need to be known and accepted and understood, or just the desire to get ahead and find security and safety, I think it gets down to something more.  I think we seek the approval of others because, secretly, we don’t really approve of ourselves.  We deny approval to others as well – get mad when others don’t meet our standards, want to be like us, give us their approval – because, honestly, we are as harsh on ourselves as others are.  Tied to their conditional love, we practice conditional love against ourselves.  And then, turn that on others.

-And it’s because, I think, we forget the Gospel.  That simple, yet profound truth, that we are not justified by any works of the Law or anything we can be or do on our own.  But are claimed by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and given an unshakeable identity, because in through the lens of the cross, we are able to see ourselves for who we truly are: God’s beloved.  God’s always-already claimed children.   Defined by God alone, and God’s work in Jesus Christ.

-Jesus, the one who came, not seeking our approval, but seeking to give us the approval we could never find from one another.  Who was disapproved by us – rejected, because he forced to play our idolatrous codependency games, and placed in a position of utter disregard and scorn: crucified, outside the city walls, in the place of a criminal, a traitor, an outcast.  Jesus, who offered to us and proved to us the original approval, the “it was good!” of God’s original creation.  Jesus, who by the cross, crucified codependency, and gave us back ourselves.

-Jesus was the ultimate chameleon - taking on our humanity and everything with it, and giving to us God's divinity, and everything with it.  Death and disapproval and destitution and codependency - for grace, truth, joy, peace and love.  

-See, that’s why I think it’s so crucial that, as we learned last week, Paul leads with his own story.  Paul has no delusions about needing approval from the Galatians like Peter does.  Because Paul is unafraid to tell his own death and resurrection story.  To share how the Gospel has worked in his life.  He has no secrets, has no qualms, and so, is able, with brutal honesty and seeking reconciliation and restoration, to confront Peter.  And to confront him publicly, in order to restore him to the truth of how reality really is.

-Because in Christ is revealed the true nature of the world.  That we were made for relationship, with God, and with one another.  Not to be chameleons, always changing along with everyone else’s changes.  But resting in the unchanging, always and forever love of God for God’s creation.  Not seeking approval from others, or seeking to give our own fickle approval to those seeking it from us – but, having known ourselves as definitely approved by God – a deal signed in the blood of the cross – we are free to simply share with others the Gospel that they too are claimed by God.

-And we are given freedom. Freedom to eat with Gentiles, and enemies, and outsiders, and unexpected guests, and the weak, and the absolutely worthless in others’ eyes.  Free from using church as a vehicle for political causes, or denominational battles – all of which, in the end, are also covert battles for approval and acceptance in culture and in halls of power.   Free to stop trying to fit people into an unstable system of our own devising – and instead, to discover, with wonder, uncertainty, risk and delight, how each of us, as unique and unrepeatable manifestations of the creative love of God – fit into the story, God’s story.  The story of reality.  Whether we approve it or not. 

-And we’re free to confront one another in love too.  Free to tell the Peters and Matthews and chameleons and mockingjays in our communities that we are backsliding.  That we are falling under the spell of the lie.  That the way we are living is proclaiming, not a world approved by God, but a God approved by the world, and a sense of self utterly at the whim of the crashing waves and driving currents of turbulent waters on which we should be walking freely, rather than sinking desperately.

-The Gospel gives us a true sense of who we are in God.  It gives the gift of boldness.  Of a willingness to be radically honest.  To stand up for those who are disapproved, regardless of whether we are approved of or not.  We need to hear it again and again.  Because all of us are, in a certain sense, mockingjays and chameleons.  We are made in the image of God, and so, are called to reflect God’s colors.  Called to sing the songs of humanity back to one another in such a way as to sing them in the key of grace. 

-We can do so, bringing others with us as together we strive for freedom, because we know ourselves in Christ.  As approved, accepted, affirmed, and admired by the one who alone needs no approval from anyone.  But delights in sharing it with everyone.  With you.  With me.  With all. 

-In Jesus’ Name, Amen.  

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