Goodness

Sermon for Sunday, April 14, 2019 || Palm/Passion Sunday C || LUKE 19:28-40

“I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” Jesus says these words to some Pharisees, who want him to corral his exuberant disciples. If we lived anywhere else in the world besides New England, I would be tempted to take these words of Jesus merely as metaphor, as a turn of phrase intended to illustrate the remarkable nature of the event taking place. But if you’ve ever walked a New England beach then you’ve heard the sound of the stones singing – small stones that used to be boulders and aren’t yet sand. The stones sing with a quavering voice, a thousand violins playing the same note but each with unique rhythm and tempo. As the waves flow out, the stone symphony plays the chords of creation, joining the great company of the myriad instruments in God’s terrestrial orchestra.

If we attune our ears and eyes and hearts, we can hear these chords and we can witness all of Creation praising God. This praise happens when God’s creatures fulfill the purposes for which God made them. The sun praises God by shining. The thunder praises God by crashing. The rain praises God by watering the earth, the gazelle by running, the wolf by hunting, the rose by blooming, the bee by pollinating. Each member of the great symphony of Creation praises God in an unique way, and all work in concert to glorify the Creator.

Well, all except for one glaring exception. We humans rarely join the symphony of Creation. Down through history, we have slowly but surely forgotten how to read Creation’s score, forgotten that we too have parts to fulfill in God’s orchestra. If the sun praises God by shining and the rose by blooming, then what purpose do we humans fulfill that allows us to join the symphony of praise?

We are able to join in praise to God when we remember that God created us to display one fundamental attribute: goodness. God created everything that is, Genesis tells us, and at the end of each creative session, God pronounced the new creation Good. So, at the fundamental level of our human nature is goodness, which is a reflection of God’s delight in Creation. The manifestation of that goodness is our praise to God. We embody this praise when we sing and dance, when we laugh and pray, when we love, when we serve, when we work for justice and peace and respect the dignity of all beings.

The trouble appears when we forget that goodness remains at the core of our human nature. Instead, we focus on all the malignant attributes that attack our goodness, and we start to think this tumorous growth is what defines us as humans. How often have you heard a negative attribute explained away because it’s “just part of  human nature.”

“She’s just jealous because the boss likes me better.”
“Well, jealousy is just a part of human nature.”

“I can’t believe he lied about where he was last night.”
“Well, dishonesty is just a part of human nature.”

“How could those people think such backward things?”
“Well, prejudice is just a part of human nature.”

We make the worst mistake of our lives when we attribute these negative actions to human nature. Our fundamental nature is Good, and anything else is a distortion of the goodness by which God brought us into being. These distortions of our goodness (also known as “sin”) warp our relationships with God and with each other. We start playing our instruments out of tune, thus adding unnecessary dissonance to the symphony of Creation.

But when Jesus rides that donkey’s colt down the Mount of Olives, he takes subverts the tumorous distortions of human nature. On his way to the cross, which is the epicenter of the distortion of the Good, Jesus begins showing that goodness still exists, despite the malignancy eroding the nature of humanity.

First, he tackles the distortion of power. Notice that his parade is rather incongruous. Anyone would expect a king to enter the city on an armored warhorse with weapons-laden legions flanking him. But Jesus rides in humility, on the back of a lowly farm animal. He displays that humility (which is one manifestation of goodness) has more majesty than any imperial power could ever muster.

While Jesus subverts the distortion of power, his disciples tackle the distortion of terror. While fear is sometimes a helpful emotion, terror is not simply “really big fear.” Terror is an extension of power meant to control. But at this moment in the Gospel, the disciples walk directly into the most dangerous situation in their lives unabashedly praising God with joyful voices. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” They display courage, another manifestation of goodness, and their courage subverts any attempt by the distortion of terror.

The rest of the Gospel plays out in much the same way. Jesus subverts the distortion of greed when he overturns the tables of the moneylenders in the temple. He subverts the distortion of fame when he tells his disciples that he is among them as one who serves. He subverts the distortion of revenge when he stops the retaliation during his arrest and heals the slave’s ear. And in his greatest display of goodness, Jesus defeats the distortion of domination by willingly giving up his life. Jesus brought all our distortions of human nature to the cross and died with them. And in his resurrection, he shows us that these distortions of our good nature have no ultimate power over us.

Because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we have the ability to access the goodness at the core of our human nature. We have the humility and courage necessary to let God excise all the malignancy that distorts our relationships with one another and with the rest of Creation. We have ears to hear the symphony of praise playing all around us, and we have the music within us to add our own harmonies to Creation’s orchestra.

And when we fail, when we once again forget our goodness, we can be silent, we can be still, and we can listen. And we can reorient ourselves by hearing the stones themselves shouting out on our behalf, singing their praise to God.

One thought on “Goodness

  1. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. -Galatians 5:22-23

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