September 2, 2018 – The Reverend C. Waite Maclin

ST. GEORGE CHAPEL

TENANTS HARBOR

SEPTEMBER 2, 2018

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost
 

 

As I was thinking of what I might preach about this morning, our last time together in the chapel till next summer, word came in the news about the not unexpected but still sad news of Senator John McCain.

His death as the death of all people brings us to that universal community of tears.

 

I want to spend a few minutes reflecting on the life of this brave man for he so represents the challenging words from the gospel:

 

Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;

in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

 

And Jesus continued:

 

“Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

 

John McCain was a man of integrity, A man who spoke his truth with small concern for the consequences. A man who withstood torture and degradation few of us can comprehend. A man who believed in compromise when many in his party saw it as weakness. A man who gave that iconic gesture of thumbs down during the crucial vote on the Affordable Care Act in the Senate. A man who refused repatriation after his capture in Vietnam until all of the prisoners were released. A man who challenged a supporter when she disparaged the life, religion and even being of Barack Obama

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Now in “full disclosure” – I did not vote for John McCain in the general election and disagreed with him on many of his positions. However I did admired him, particularly in this time of little courage on our political scene. What cemented that admiration was a visit I took a number of years ago to Hanoi, Vietnam and where he was kept prisoner, “The Hanoi Hilton”. The place was stark, brutal, and must have sucked the very breath out of its prisoners.

 

And you know,

 

I admire heroes, whether captured or not!!!

 

Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

 

As we see in the Gospel reading this morning, Jesus challenged the given wisdom of his day, the given wisdom of his tradition, the given wisdom of his faith – not because they were wrong or evil, but because

when misused they, like the Hanoi Hilton, sucked the very spiritual and life-giving breath out of these people whom he loved and came to save.

 

There were often encounters such as this. Jesus was not challenging them because they were upholding the Law of Moses. Being a Jew, he also believed in the Law. He was going deeper saying that to concentrate on “hand washing in a ritualistic, rigid manner” was to miss the whole point. “It is your attitude, it is your unthinking automatic responses, it is your holding on to what you have been told for generations and never questioned.” There is nothing profound about this unless it goes to the heart of what you have been taught to believe.

 

Oh, and do we not all have those places in our own lives where we hold on to the symbol and the external, thus missing the deeper truth.

 

 

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So, in some sense, John McCain is a model for us as he tried his best to get at the essence of things as he saw them.

 

Jesus’ point is clear. It is those biases, conscious or unconscious, it is those biases which have been formed from our history, our family lore, our culture, even our religious traditions, our “given wisdom” that causes our problems, large or small.

 

And sometimes we do not even know they are there. The present discussion of “unconscious bias” is so important because even in the best of times those biases blast out when we least expect them and we are startled when they do.

 

I want to share with you an event of which I am not proud but from which I have learned a much deeper lesson.

 

I had a pastoral counseling practice for 29 years. I have always seen myself as open, liberal, egalitarian –

 

just about a perfect specimen of a human beingJ

 

One day there was a knock at my office door. The visitor was African American, in a ratty overcoat and shabby clothes. My immediate response before he opened his mouth:

 

Sir, if you will come back later I think I can help you out. He replied: “Oh Mr. Maclin, I am not here for a handout, I want to become a client.

 

I was embarrassed, chagrinned and ashamed. May I also say, the gentleman and I developed a firm and life giving relationship for us both for two years. Unconscious bias comes out of us when we least expected it, not because we are “bad” people but because it is ingrained, given to us from we not know where. It is in accepting that  reality in ourselves that we are made free.

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Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

 

There is a profound line from “The Rainmaker”, a 1956 Broadway Play by N Richard Nash. Starbuck is a self-proclaimed Rainmaker , a charlatan who comes to  this drought ridden western town and promises to bring rain for $100.00. He seduces Lizzie Curry a spinster in a family that is trying to marry her off. Her brother Jim becomes furious and wants to fight Starbuck. His father intervenes and says to Jim:

“You are so sure of what is right, you don’t know what is good.”

The Pharisees, like most of us were so sure of what was right that they did not know what was good. They get a bad wrap from too many preachers who never lived the hard lives of the Pharisees.

So, what do I want for all of us as we leave this holy and lovely place until next summer.

I want us to stay alert to ourselves, our biases, both conscious and unconscious.

I want us to forgive ourselves as we stumble through this journey of living,

I want us to hold before ourselves, models of light such as John McCain. Using their light of integrity to guide our own.

AND . . .

I want us to know that this Jesus whom we worship in love and hope is by our side holding us in all our perfections and imperfections as Children of God.

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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