SOAP BOXES & CHOPPING BLOCKS, WHO IS RIGHTEOUS?
(Excerpts from a sermon preached this morning at Shepherd of the Moravian Church, Fargo, ND)
What does it mean to be righteous?
People used to stand on top of soap boxes in the public square (to make themselves taller) and to sway the crowds politically. We have many such metaphorical soap boxes today: the podiums of the debates, social media, even this pulpit—though I’m pretty sure I'm tall enough for everyone to see me without any extra help. We must be careful when people take to these places of power and assert that they are right and someone else is wrong, for when we create the soap box for preaching rightness we consequentially participate in creating it’s opposite: the chopping block. A truly righteous person who stands up to speak the truth will only put their own sin on the chopping block—not a group of people, not strangers, not their enemies.
For to be righteous is to be fully integrated as a human being. To be righteous is to be made whole. To be righteous is to be healed from the illusions about ourselves and others. To be righteous is to be able to see clearly one’s own wrong, ones one shadow, one’s own sin. For our mistakes and our sins can be our greatest teachers. For once we know better, we are able to do better.
Once we have tasted of that inner holy sanctuary and been in the presence of the Holy of Holies, once we have been looked upon by our beloved and seen fully for who we really are, once we have been loved beyond what we feel we may deserve, once we have tasted this grace and this joy, then we know to be righteous is to be humble.
The New Testament gospel text for today in the book of Luke show us two characters: which of these are righteous? The Pharisee believes he is righteous and he goes about declaring all of the ways he has followed the social norms, the way he has followed the laws, the way he is righteous according to human standards… less than human actually, because he is enslaved and possessed and blinded because he has confused the powers of this world with the divine. He has conflated them. He cannot see his own sin. He cannot see his shadow. He cannot see the ways in which his actions harm others because according to this Pharisee only he is righteous and he looks with judgment upon others. He has not integrated his shadow. He lets other people hold his shadow, he lets other people take the blame for the consequences of his actions, in order that he may FEEL righteous, but he is not righteous.
In modern day psychology this is called projective identification: this is when you gaze upon a person and for better or worse they illicit a strong response within you, usually before you know them very well which makes ample room for the projection of self. Usually a part of self that we are uncomfortable with and haven’t been able to integrate yet within our own self-consciousness. (In broad strokes: if it is a positive projection we idealize them, if it is negative we demonize them.) We gaze upon someone else and those things that remain untended within, those sheep which have not yet come fully into the fold to receive the love and acceptance of the Good Shepherd wander off among the wolves. Parts of self wander off to the chopping blocks.
We have cast off our sins upon others so like the Pharisee, we may FEEL righteous, but those of us who blame others in order to feel better about ourselves are often those who feel most cut off from the love of God. And in our panic to make things right, we grasp for control in order to ease the anxiety. A fellow yoga teacher reminded me recently: we can justify anything with the mind, but the body doesn’t lie. If our righteousness depends on us rationalizing our superiority to others, then it is not righteousness we have found: but the ancient chains of slavery that we have been trying to escape since the Hebrews fled Egypt. If our righteousness depends upon rationalizing our superior to others, we are still enslaved because we have confused the powers of this world with the divine. We have conflated them. And we cannot see our own sin.
So do not use others to hold your sins. Do not objectify others. Do not allow others to serve as scapegoats to hold our own shadows. Do not enslave yourself to sin. The old ways have passed. No longer can we place our sins upon a scapegoat to rid us of our anxieties. Jesus has already agreed to become the scapegoat for all of humanity’s sins. Our mistakes are here to teach us. Once we learn from our ways of wrong, we are free. But we cannot be free unless we are willing to face our sins.
Jesus says that he goes to prepare a banquet before us and that ALL are invited. This means not only all parts of ourselves, not only each one of us, but every living being that has sprung from the light of source, all are welcome home.
Who is righteous? The righteous receive the invitation to return home, to enter the holy of holies, to walk through the sheep’s gate. The righteous hungers and thirst to be in the presence of the One Most High. The righteous have beheld the sin of turning away from source, of betraying self, of betraying soul, of betraying God, of betraying the earth, of betraying other people, of becoming complicit in acts of evil that lead to destruction of creation, that lead to years of traumatic pain, the righteous are able to behold the immensity of what we done in our consciousness and unconsciousness.
The righteous are able to behold and to beat our breasts and say ‘oh god have mercy on me, what have I done? How did I trade in this beautiful gift of life, of soul, of light? How did I trade in my inherent dignity and divinity to act like a monster? How did I trade that in to live a half-life? How did I trade it in to settle? To compromise?’… not the kind that aids in human growth and peace, but the kind of compromise that actively works to keep people unconscious, that actively works to wound others, that actively works with systems of power that want to prey on the weak and exploit the small, with powers that actively want to destroy the earth and treat God’s creation as if it’s a garbage can.
Wake up oh sleepers and rise from the dead, and the light shall shine upon you again. Come Lord Jesus, restore us, renew us. We behold what we have done to ourselves and others, we behold the pain we have inflicted on others, we are not afraid to descend into the truth of our being and to behold the depths that we find there, we walk with courage knowing that you have walked this way before us, and as we descend into the truth of our being, we will not lose love. New life may be painful, but we will be transformed, it may be scary, but ultimately as we make the hard journey of becoming conscious of waking up to the powers that God has given us to co-create and to bring into existence divine love on earth. We know that we walk this journey not alone. We walk it with the saints who have gone before us, we walk with Jesus our teacher and friend, we walk with with Mary and Mary Magdalene, we walk with the Holy Spirit, we walk with all the women and men who have hungered and thirst for righteousness for ages and ages, we walk together with eyes wide open to the horrors that we face, to the pain of humanity, to the systems and structures of power which continue to enslave us.
We open our spiritual eyes now to behold any place in our life that is in need of forgiveness and healing and we open our heart to receive the light of love pouring into our bodies now.
We receive who we are. We receive the soul of ourselves into our bodies. We declare that our bodies have been created as temples of light to shine the One Most High who lives within us. If you wish to receive a healing integration, say your full name, first middle and last or your baptismal name, say it three times inviting the light of your soul, that part of the divine which broke off and became you, to live fully in your body, and to expand into the world for the highest good of all beings. You are also a face of the divine. Receive who you are. You are the one you have been waiting for. Come Lord Jesus come. Lead us into the holy of holies, lead us into the temple of our bodies, keep us awake, keep us conscious and learning.
May the angels surround us as all the righteous people of the world rise up with humility and courage and love as we invite Divine Love to reign within us and upon the earth now and forever.