Sermon: Proper 5 RCL B – “The Other”

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A fellow had just been hired as the new CEO of a large corporation. The current CEO was stepping down and met with the new hire privately in his office, where he handed him three numbered envelopes.

“Open these if you run up against a problem you don’t think you can solve,” the first CEO said.

Things went along pretty smoothly for the first six months, but then sales took a downturn and the new CEO began catching a lot of heat. He went to his drawer and took out the first envelope. The message read, “Blame your predecessor.”

The new CEO called a press conference and tactfully laid the blame at the feet of the previous CEO. Sales began to pick up and the problem was soon behind him.

About a year later, the company was again experiencing a slight dip in sales, combined with serious product malfunctions. Having learned from his previous experience, the CEO opened the second envelope. The message read, “Reorganize.” This he did, and the company quickly rebounded.

After several consecutive profitable quarters, the company once again fell on hard times. The CEO went to his office, closed the door and opened the third envelope.

The message said, “Prepare three envelopes.”

About a week ago one of those funny memes circulated on Facebook.  I’ve no idea if Teddy Roosevelt actually said it, but he was quoted: “if you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”  It is easy to blame others, reshuffle, reorganize, put up smokescreens, but on many occasions, our problems arise from inside our own skin.

To my knowledge it was never required reading, but if you attend Deacon Janie’s class, you will most likely have to read Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  It is a fun monster read, but it also explores this idea of the “other” person in us all.  That “other” who has a tendency to get us into trouble.

Dr. Jekyll writes: “With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to the truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two.”  Continuing on he says, “If each, I told myself, could be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable; the unjust might go his way, delivered from the aspirations and remorse of his more upright twin; and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path, doing the good things in which he found his pleasure, and no longer exposed to disgrace and penitence by the hands of this extraneous evil. It was the curse of mankind that these incongruous personas were thus bound together—that in the agonized womb of consciousness, these polar twins should be continuously struggling.”

St. Paul sums up the issue that Dr. Jekyll is experiencing: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”  Yet Jesus says, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.”  So within us all are these polar twins, Jekyll and Hyde, constantly divided and at war within us, however, in order for us to stand firmly in our faith, those divisions must cease.  So how do we evict the evil and remain righteous?

First, we must understand that until we are reborn through the resurrection, we will always have this battle with in us, but the battle within can be brought into some control.  

It is an old story, but one worth repeating:

One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

“My dear one, the battle between two ‘wolves’ is inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.

The other is good. It is: joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a moment and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee replied, “The one you feed.”

To subdue this battle within, we must not feed or entertain the evil desires that spring up inside of us.  We must overcome them and perhaps one of the best ways of doing that is by practicing acts of righteousness, of good.  You want to rail against someone—pray for them instead.  You’re invited to participate in something that is not becoming—go and perform some act of charity instead.  Whatever the “other” Mr. Hyde is pressing you for, turn it into good.  When you fail, remember the words of Jesus, “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter.”    As St. John tells us in his first epistle, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  There is only one catch to that statement.  Jesus continues, “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”

“Guilty of an eternal sin.”  That one has confused and concerned people for centuries.  What did he mean?  Have I committed that sin?  Am I eternally damned?  Many have written on this topic, but it was Billy Graham who put it into words I can understand: “The unpardonable sin is rejecting the truth about Christ. It is rejecting, completely and finally, the witness of the Holy Spirit, which declares that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who alone can save us from our sins.”  The unpardonable sin is recognizing that Jesus is the only one who can redeem the Mr. Hyde in you, knowing for certain that he can and is willing to atone for your sins, and then rejecting him outright.  The eternal sin is the intentional and unwavering rejection of the Truth—of Jesus—for by refusing Him, He cannot save you.

There is story of a magnificently handsome young man sitting in a congregation.  After service the young man stayed for confession.  He confessed so many terrible sins that the priest was horrified.  The priest says, “You must have lived long to have done all that.”  The young man replied, “My name is Lucifer and I fell from heaven at the beginning of time.”  “Even so,” said the priest, “say that you are sorry, say that you repent and even you can be forgiven.”  The legend has it that the young man looked at the priest for a moment and then turned and walked away.  In his pride, he could not ask for forgiveness.  He refused to try again to follow the ways of God and left that place eternally damned.

St. Josemaria writes, “You tell me that in your heart you have fire and water, cold and heat, empty passions and God: one candle lit to St. Michael and another to the devil [you are trying to be on good terms with both]…. Calm yourself.  As long as you are willing to fight there are not two candles burning in your heart.  There is only one: the archangel’s.”

There is a battle that rages within us all, but there is only one flame that burns: the flame of Truth.  Through the grace imparted to you, practice your faith and overcome evil with holiness, recognizing that nothing is possible without Jesus and the Holy Spirit working within you.  Do these things and in the day of trial, you will stand.

Let us pray: “Holy Michael Archangel, defend us in the day of battle; be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray; and do thou Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust down to hell Satan and all wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.”

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