I suppose when one is created in the image of God, self esteem becomes a matter of real importance!
One day the great Physicist, Albert Einstein, was searching for a paper clip. With his assistant’s help, he finally located one, but it proved too bent to be used. While they were searching for a tool to fix the clip, they came across a large box of brand new paper clips.
Einstein opened the box, took out a new paper clip and began to fashion a tool out of it that could be used to straighten the bent clip.
His assistant was, as you can imagine, quite puzzled. Why didn’t you simply use the new and perfectly good paper clip instead of trying to fix the old one? he asked.
Well, once I am set in a particular direction, Einstein responded, it becomes difficult to deflect me.
Unfortunately that reminds me of that terribly old joke, how many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb? It takes five. One to actually change the bulb, and four to lament how much they’re going to miss the old one.
This week, I decided that this kind of behavior carried to an extreme should have a name; I call it PerSEVeration, a disorder where people get stuck in a particular pattern of thinking and behavior.
Some educators know this behavior well; it occurs when children get stuck in repeated engagement of singular play, such as tearing paper, or drawing circles over and over again. In the extreme, this can prevent them from ever being able to move on to the next step in a process.
One of the suggested ways to help people move out of the repetition of perseveration is to create a diversion that is profound enough that it will snap them into a new cycle of thinking.
I’m pretty certain that Paul was concerned that the church could very easily fall into a kind of perseveration.
He asks the poignant question in our first reading this week as only St. Paul can: How can we who died to sin, go on living in it. . . Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of God, so we too might walk in the newness of life.
He was pretty certain that the earliest Christians who had grown up in the Judaic tradition would only be able to see the repetitive pattern of needing to follow all the Jewish dietary and ritual directions. They needed to think differently if they were ever to become good disciples of Christ.
He was pretty certain that his people had fallen into the circular thinking that God had created us depraved enough that we would need a Savior, and then only those who entered into the works of seeking out and climbing and clawing their way to that Savior would ever be able to rise above the depravation, and that God would leave the rest for dead.
But it was Paul who said, in the spirit of Resurrection and new life, Gentile or Jew, Servant or Free, Woman or Man . . . no more. It was the Pauline letter to the Ephesians, in the second Chapter, where we are told in the clearest of terms: For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.
Paul wanted Christians, 2,000 years ago to be able to move the conversation forward. . . to be able to take their heads out of the sand and see that God is ALWAYS doing something new.
Paul could have invented the phrase thinking outside the box. Those Christians who see Paul as their bulwark of conservative dogmatism are in for a grave disappointment I think. . . if they really take the time to study him.
If you really stop to think about it, the one religion that has caused so many people to feel outside the hope of salvation is our own religion. This happens through the perSEVeration of believing that we have the only keys to the kingdom, and that do not duplicate really means do not duplicate.
If creating a diversion is a good remedy for the condition known as perSEVeration or stuck thinking, then Paul has the answer in this morning’s Epistle. The answer is the Resurrection.
For Paul, the Resurrection isn’t about animating the resuscitated body of Jesus around Palestine like a marionette without strings. . . It isn’t even about the Body of Jesus at all for Paul.
Paul only speaks of the fact that Christ is risen, and by this he is simply making the claim that Christ and the new life in Christ is available everywhere and for all time. He also makes the point that this Resurrection is a metaphor of truth for the moment by moment resurrections that can take place in each of our lives 24 / 7.
I don’t believe the ever popular What Would Jesus Do? question is one that Paul would want to ask. Paul would want to say, Christ is Risen, Christ is Alive, now go out and act as if you believe it! You have been buried with Christ in his death, and now you are raised with Christ in new life. What difference is that going to make for you?
Crucify your old self to the cross of Jesus, and stand tall now with the Risen Christ. . . God is doing a new thing here, and new things require new thinking.
Crucify your old notions of an exclusive country club religion to that rugged cross, along with your notions that heaven is for some and not others.
If you’re among those people who haven’t looked at a new theological idea in 20-50 years, whatever you do, don’t label that tendency as guarding orthodoxy, for in the midst of a risen Christ among us, it could very well be a fatal fixation that keeps us in the grave!
There’s no room for self-righteousness. But there is plenty of room for a right relationship with Jesus Christ, the one who showed us that not only is death part of living, but that also we too can be resurrected, and that all things can be made new in our lives every Monday morning.
Don’t make the mistake of confusing perSEVeration with perseverence.
There’s also no place for those old familiar judgmental attitudes, I don’t care how much you can back them up with chapter and verse. There’s no place for condemnation, I don’t care how much you’ve grown accustomed to its face, or how many times you’ve drawn those repetitive perSEVerating circles of exclusion.
A person once asked Socrates why it was that Alcibides, who was so rich, so brilliant, so able a statesman and general, who had traveled so much, and seen so much of the world, was nevertheless so rude to others and seemed to be such an unhappy man. Socrates replied, Because wherever he goes Alcibides takes so much of himself with him.
Self-esteem is important for those created in the image of God, but let’s not forget it is our esteemed God that we image.
Also let us never forget that the seven last words of Christ were not, That’s the way we’ve always done it, and God never met a creative moment in which there wasn’t great rejoicing in heaven.
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