Bridging the Chasm: Sunday March 31

On Bridging the Chasm of the Spiritual and the Human
The Rev’d William Roberts, Rector St Mark's NOTL
Homily Lent IV March 31, 2019


Joshua 5:9-12   Psalm 32   2 Corinthians 5:16-21   Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32


O loving and forgiving Father, lead us into all truth and teach us the ministries of reconciliation through your prodigal son Jesus Christ our Lord Amen.

Well even with this morning’s cold and snow on this late March Sunday morning, we have before us springing forth four very profound and important readings on this fourth Sunday of Lent

I remain thankful to the Thursday morning group that meets to discuss the readings in anticipation of these Sunday readings, and commend to you the papers that Rita and others have prepared from their discussions on the readings. Their various insights into the meaning and context of these readings are all very important.

From their discussions I was thinking that one way to frame or look at these readings - how perhaps to understand them  - is through a lens of a particular literary technique called ‘chiasmus’ an unfamiliar technical term that could also be called a ‘parallelism’.

It is simply the taking of a phrase of several words and then turning the same words around to give it an opposite but complementary meaning.

Some examples: A favorite one of mine is I think from FDR "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care”.

Or as my father, a brick layer in Hamilton, always told me “William, plan your work and work your plan”.

The title of what I think is one of the best parenting books out there is “How to talk so kids will listen, and how to listen so kids will talk”.

And then of course the famous JFK inauguration quote “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country”.

You get the idea. This literary technique, these ‘chiasmuses’ are quite compelling, putting opposing views into one view.  For those more mature of us they nourish our holistic and balanced worldview.

So today with these readings I propose that we look at them through the lens of another chiasmus which goes like this "We are not human beings on a spiritual journey but spiritual beings on a human journey”.

There is no doubt that Paul in his letter to the Corinthians today gets this. As he writes “from now on therefore we regard no one from a human point of view. If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation. We are ambassadors for Christ as spiritual beings where all things have become new”.

A favorite quotation of mine is from Thornton Wilder's play Our Town. At the beginning of the third act the Narrator of the action in Grover’s Corner NH, or could be here in our cemetery at St. Mark’s NOTL, says this

“We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being”.

So as we hear again this famous parable of the Prodigal Son, or what some refer to as the parable of the Forgiving Father, I see the father as a spiritual being on a human journey, and the son on a human journey finally seeking a spiritual home.  The reconciliation between them, as Paul sees Christ the human and spiritual reconciler, is really the power of forgiveness, of acceptance, of grace. 

For I trust we all want to be like the father who realizes that our sons and daughters sometimes screw up in their human endeavors, they become profligate and preoccupied by material temptations, and end up getting lost. Or those of our  sons and daughters who feel rejected of jealous, as the older brother in Jesus’ parable becomes envious and resentful of wayward siblings. They too in their own resentments get lost.

Grandfathers and grandmothers, can we be spiritual beings and know what it is to be on a human journey, to get lost, but with the Apostle Paul to see others no longer just from a human point of view. Or with  Thornton Wilder in the Our Town cemetery, can we look for the eternal in every human being. Can we become ambassadors for Christ, reconciling this human loss with the divine home. Can we rush out to embrace those who are lost, with forgiveness, with the ministry of reconciliation.

I know it is not easy. It takes a lifetime of our own getting lost and being found, our own little deaths and resurrections ,to come to this understanding.  Eventually we come to know the whole truth even as these ‘chaismuses’ try to express.

We will get to the point where:

  • People don't care how much we know until they know how much we care

  • We will talk so others listen, and listen so others will talk

  • We will not ask what our country, our church, or our hurting world can do for us, but what we can do for others.

Ultimately we will come to know that ‘we are not human beings on a spiritual journey, but spiritual beings who for a short time are on a human journey, called to practice this ministry of reconciliation.

And for this we say ‘thanks be to God’ Amen.

William Roberts