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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 9/28

When today’s story starts, Jesus has just recently gotten into Jerusalem. In the short time he’s been there he’s caused a big disturbance in the temple, healed the blind and the lame, and destroyed a fig tree. In other words, he’s created quite a stir. With everything he’s getting up to in the temple, he’s made the religious authorities more than a little nervous.

They want to regain control of the situation, so they challenge his authority to do what he’s doing. But Jesus isn’t playing their game, so he challenges them right back and puts them in a pickle. No matter what they say, they’re gong to look bad. So they refuse to commit to either side, afraid of the consequences.

With the chief priests and the elders it is all about saving face. Saving face supersedes everything, and prevents them from admitting their mistakes. They are stuck between saying that they were wrong and the possibility of being stoned by an angry mob. Let me guess which one would I pick . . . Now it’s easy to make fun of the proud, stiff necked religious leaders, their mistake seems so obvious. It’s even easy for me to do that until I think about myself and the fact that I’ve spent most of my life trying to save face which is rather ironic. You see, I was born without the ability to recall faces. I can see faces just like everybody else, but due to some faulty wiring, I can’t recall them later, not even my own face. You don’t want to know how many times I’ve walked straight past my own sister at the airport, even when she’s waving her arms at me. It is an incredibly embarrassing thing to do, especially because for most of my life I didn’t understand what was happening. I mean I saw faces and I generally had a good memory and everybody remembers faces so how could I not? It made no sense and I had no explanation for why I kept on walking past friends and family in a state of total oblivion. So I developed excuses. If I always looked at the ground, people might say I was distracted and didn’t see them rather than saying I was the rudest, most arrogant person they had ever met who was too good to even acknowledge them despite the fact that I looked straight at them so they knew I saw them. Sure, some people still thought I was arrogant and some thought I was anti-social, but it did seem to go better than offering the less than believable excuse that, sorry, I didn’t see them, which received looks that were part incredulity and part contempt. Even now that I know what the problem is, a neurological disorder called prosopagnosia or face blindness, the explanation route doesn’t tend to go too well. The normal reaction is an anxious inquiry of “But you know who I am, right?” (Umm, I just told them I have difficulty identifying myself in photographs and I hugged the wrong grandma at the airport.) Or anger that they have wasted so much time getting to know them and I cannot be bothered to remember them. I know logically that it’s not something I can control and I’m not trying to insult them, but I still find myself mumbling apologies, staring at my feet, while wishing that I could sink into the floor and mentally consigning another friendship to the dust bin. So whenever possible I find myself avoiding explanations and making any excuse that comes to mind. I want to save face and avoid that awful sick feeling in my stomach I get when I admit the truth and receive the look. So yeah, I have sympathy for the religious elite trying to save face in today’s gospel reading. The more you feel you have to lose, the harder it is to admit. The tax collectors and the prostitutes might have little to lose, but the religious leaders have a lot to lose and the prospect of losing all it all is terrifying. Nobody wants to lose the things in this life that matter to them. Instead we put a lot of time and energy into protecting them. But sometimes what we cling to so fiercely isn’t worth it. For me, I can always pretend to be better at recognizing people that I am, but there is a price in the end. I can smooth over gaffes, feign recognition, and invent excuses, but at some point it will all fail. They will make some minor change in their appearance and destroy what was for me a vital clue to their identity. Of course I will only realize this after a month of failing to recognize them, by which time I am in such hot water with them that they’re probably not speaking to me. At that point, explanations aren’t going to do me much good. My attempts to prevent the worst from happening unfortunately can’t stop it, but because I stand to lose so much, I still try it.

Now some of our weaknesses and vulnerabilities are more obvious than others. Being a prostitute? That’s a clear one. Being too scared to change your mind for fear of losing face, going against the traditions, or in this political season, being called a flip-flopper? It may not be as obvious to the outside world, but it’s still a problem. In the end though, we all have problems.

The solution though lies not in diligently whitewashing our problems, gritting our teeth or pretending that they don’t exist, like the chief priests and elders did, or like I have frequently done. The solution lies in confessing and accepting our weaknesses. It’s not a miraculous fix that’s going to instantly make everything better. Unlike some people, I don’t believe that my brain is going to be miraculously fixed. But that’s OK. God doesn’t ask for perfect people. He won’t start loving us only once all of our flaws are fixed. God welcomes his broken people. When Jesus says, “come” he means come as you are, not a brighter, better looking version of who you wish you were. He knows just who and what we are. The masks of perfection that we wear don’t fool him and only hold us back from addressing what’s wrong. We can get so caught up in how something looks that we can forget that how it looks is not the point. It’s not the surface, but what’s underneath, the content, that is important. Sometimes change doesn’t look good. Sometimes it comes at a cost. Unfortunately the cost of remaining as we are is higher.

God isn’t asking for an instant transformation into prefect people. All that is asked is that we confess the truth of our brokenness and acknowledge that in our weakness and vulnerability, we could use some help. This world asks us for perfection and can leap like ravening wolves at weakness. Just look at the way we treat politicians. Heaven help them if they accidentally breathed the wrong way twenty-two years ago. Fortunately God is not a TV pundit. He doesn’t hold us to the same impossible standard that we hold ourselves. God knows that we mess up. It’s what we’ve been doing since the beginning of time after all. Yet it hasn’t stopped his love. God accepts that we are “as is.”

Today’s reading ends with Jesus’ parable of the two sons whose dad wants them to work in the vineyard. It’s a story that involves no models of perfection, but it does involve one person who has the courage to change his course. Yes, the world admires steadfast stick-to-it-ness. Yet with our tendency to veer a little off course, course correction isn’t a character flaw, but an essential element to growing as God’s children. May we learn not to camouflage our faults, but to acknowledge them and grow in grace.

Vicar Joy Proper


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
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not me
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one who
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