Harrowing Of Hell
February 11, 2018

Are We Fooling Ourselves?

Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

“Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are useless. In their case the god of this world has blinded their minds, to keep them from seeing the light of Christ.” (2 Cor 4:3-4)

That line from the Bible today makes me want to buy a Ram truck.  You know what I mean?

If you didn’t watch the Super Bowl you might not know what I’m talking about.

Let me explain. Ram Trucks ran an ad during the Super Bowl with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice resounding with words from his sermon The Drum Major’s Instinct, as images of people serving people flashed across the screen, with a Ram Truck in the background. There were firefighters, and military folks; there were neighbors helpin’ neighbors, and boys prayin’ before a football game; there was even a mom dressing her daughter for school.

And in the background, you heard Dr. King’s sonorous voice proclaiming:

“If you want to be important, wonderful.  If you want to be recognized, wonderful.  If you want to be great, wonderful, but recognize he who is greatest amongst you will be your servant.  That is the new definition of greatness.  Everyone can be great!”

Nothing wrong with Ram trucks, and nothing wrong with trying to sell more Ram trucks, but where this ad hit a nerve, was that it veiled something more true than what was being represented and people intuitively knew it, and they were right.

Because if you were to keep listening to Dr. King’s sermon you would hear:

And they just live their lives trying to outdo the Joneses. They got to get this coat because this particular coat is a little better and a little better-looking than Mary’s coat. And I got to drive this car because it’s something about this car that makes my car a little better than my neighbor’s car.

You didn’t hear that in the ad.

Is Ram guilty of the sin of omission? I can’t say for sure, but I do think they are guilty of fooling themselves.  I do think they are guilty of veiling the greater purpose of Dr. King’s intentions for their own benefit. Well, I’ll just say it again, I think they’re fooling themselves. And they are not alone.  There is an epidemic of fooling themselves in this nation, and in this city, and in this neighborhood, and in this church, and in this pulpit.

You may recall Jesus saying something about trying to extract a splinter from our neighbor’s eye while ignoring the log in our own. (Matt 7:1-5)

We all have veils, to use Paul’s word. And we have veils for our veils, and we have thicker veils to cover those veils up. Maybe that isn’t the case for you, but it sure is for me.  I get an A+ for fooling myself.

I want to buy a new car, to better fit my big puppy dog.  True and I’m fooling myself.

The AirBNB we run out of our basement was set up to enhance my communication with my daughter who is away at college. True and I’m fooling myself.  I want this church to grow so the name of Jesus resounds on the lips of all of Seattle. True and I’m fooling myself.

Here is the issue with fooling ourselves; the stories we tell always have truth within them, but at their core, behind the veil we find ourselves at the center, rather than Christ.

People who serve do drive Ram trucks. I have a big dog, and a bigger car would be helpful. I do communicate with my daughter way more because of this AirBNB. And I can say honestly that I work hard to put the name of Jesus on the lips of Seattle, and yet, still, there are veils, and veils of veils that blind the mind to the reality that we have put ourselves at the center, and not Christ.

The Greek word for veiled, Paul uses in this 2nd letter to the Corinthians, is calypso.  Some of you may recognize it as the name of the nymph in Homer’s epic The Odyssey.

You may know the story. Odysseus finds himself washed up on the island of Ogygia. He is met there by Calypso, the beautiful daughter of Titan. She cares for him, as she falls in love with him. Odysseus repels her seductive ways for a while, keeping front of mind his mission to return home to his wife Penelope in Ithaca.

But over time Calypso’s lavish generosity pulls a veil over Odysseus’s mind, as his mission to return home fades. The good life Calypso provides Odysseus traps him behind a veil of ease and comfort, keeping him from the more authentic life, the transformed life. The good life steals from Odysseus his real life, as he acquiesces to a steady state of fooling himself.

Outside intervention rips the veil off.  That is often the case. Homer names this intervention Zeus. It is painful for Calypso and for Odysseus. Having the veil ripped away is never comfortable and is often painful. But in the end, it returns Odysseus to his right mind and right mission, returning to Ithaca and Penelope.

It is interesting to me that the authentic life, the mission driven life, isn’t always the easy life, we see that in Odysseus’s case.  Penelope could never be in the same league as Calypso, and life in Ithaca would never be as easy as life on Ogygia.

Sometimes the good life keeps us from living the mission driven life. Sometimes we are more interested in the truck than the service, and we fool ourselves by saying, “When I get the truck, then I’ll serve.” That phrase can be said a thousand different ways incidentally: “When I can afford a ring, then we’ll get married;” “When I retire, then I’ll volunteer;” “When I’m not so busy, then I’ll pray;” “When the kids go to college, then I’ll return to church;” “When I get the truck, then I’ll serve.”

The question really isn’t: “Are we fooling ourselves?” We are fooling ourselves. The question is: “Why should I pull off the veil?”

And maybe you shouldn’t (pull off the veil). Maybe you really are exactly in the mission field God has set you in for this particular season of your life.  And this is good and as it should be. On the other hand, maybe your good life is covering up the real life God imagines you could live. I can’t say in your case. Maybe you can’t either.

Which is why we have Lent. It comes as a gift from our ancestors, encouraging us to scrounge around looking for corners of veils; to lift them up, and peak underneath to see if in this corner of my life or that corner of my life I am veiling the light of Christ; I am putting myself at the center and ignoring a brighter reality.

Here is where I go first to look for veil corners, to the things that make me comfortable, to the things I value and set as a high priority; the things that occupy my mind.

So, return with me to a comment I made earlier about how I want our church, Epiphany, to grow so the name of Jesus sounds upon the lips of all of Seattle.

I think about this parish. I pray about this parish. And I am given piles of affirmation because of this parish, and that gives me pause to look for veils; to ask myself if  I am fooling myself in some way.

So, I take this question to my small group each year on our retreat. And I ask them to reflect with me on my mission and the light of my passion and the veils of my pride.

You see as Rector of a growing, dynamic church in a mainline denomination which, generally is atrophying; I am afforded recognition and respect by my peers. My voice is better attended to. People call and ask what I think, or what I would do, and I most confidently in my most sonorous voice give counsel…humbly, yet with the stirring of pride; like a guy with a new Ram truck.

I’d like to say that when this pride is revealed through confession to my small group, the sin is expunged, and I am transformed. But that isn’t true, transformation doesn’t happen that way, it is incremental.  It takes time and attention. It takes more than one Lent.

One veil is lifted, and then another, and then another, over time, maybe even through the years. And that is OK, because with each veil cast off,  the light becomes brighter and brighter.

So, this Lent I invite you to ask yourself, “What makes me comfortable?” “What do I value and set as a high priority?” “What occupies my mind?”

Then set the answers to those questions into in the broader context of your life, like we set Dr. King’s words from the Ram truck commercial into the broader context of his Drum Major’s Instinct sermon.

Then see what you see. Maybe you’re exactly where you should be, or maybe there is more light that could be cast upon the mission God made for your life.