Sunday, March 16, 2008

Living in the Tension - A Sermon

On this strange day in the Church year where we start outside of the church yelling Hosannah and end up in here yelling Crucify, there's a word we need to talk about.  It's in the news and it's in our scripture.  That word is Tension.  The tension that we all live in and that brings us all to the breaking point time and time again.

We all know the sad news of our governor -- tomorrow to be ex-governor.  We know the good he had done in the past and the shooting star fall he had in less than a week.  How can there be such entirely opposite traits in one man?  It was like a light switch.  One minute there's a bright light and the next that light has been extinguished.   Between the light and the dark is the tention.  When we are at our best, that's where we live.

Historian and Sociologist Parker Palmer said in a recent speech that living in the tension is our calling.  He speaks of it in terms of finding ourselves between two possibilities and choosing to allow them to work themselves out rather than go for the quick fix.  

The example he gave was the 18th Century Quaker John Woolman.  In the 1740s John Woolman became convinced that owning slaves was against the will of God.  He took it to his Quaker meeting to discuss, and they were not convinced.  Some of them owned slaves and did not want to give them up.  But, in the Quaker manner, they agreed that if God had put this in his heart, they should listen.  So, the Quakers agreed to pay for Woolman to go around the countryside and talk to all the Quaker meetings, trying to convince them of the rightness of abolition.  If he could convince them, they would believe.

For more than twenty years, he traveled the country preaching release of the captives.  He died on a trip to England trying to convince English Quakers, but never saw his dream fulfilled.  And yet, not too many years after his death, the Quakers throughout the country agreed that slavery was evil and abandoned the practice en mass.  80 years before the Civil War.  

Their willingness to live with the tension -- to say, "We're not sure what the answer is, and we don't have to have it right away" gave them a united and inspired answer -- that turned out to be faster than those who wanted abolition "right away."

I bring this up because the notion of living in the tension is vital.  Just as the temptation to jump quickly to conclusions or actions -- the human tendency to go from light to dark with the flip of a switch -- resides in all of us.  

Just look at those two radically different gospel passages we lived through today.

We -- the crowd -- cheer Jesus entering Jerusalem on the donkey.  We yell, "Hosannah" and lay our palms down.  And less than a week later, we scream, "Crucify Him!"  We cheer on the soldiers who whip him and nail him to a tree.  Like a light switch -- we jump from the light to the dark.

That light and that dark does not rest only in our governor -- nor is it limited to those folks in the bible.  It is in us all.  Living in the tension is the balancing act of neither believing that we are all dark or all light, of neither losing hope when we fall short, nor of taking ourselves too seriously when we are good.

If Palm Sunday teaches us anything, it is that we are constantly balancing that light and dark side, constantly living in the tension.  We are intensely complex creatures, and yet God loves us completely -- not just when we are good.  Not just when we yell, "Hosannah!"  No -- God loves us even as we cry "Crucify."

That's living in the tension, and that is our calling.

Good thing, too.  After all, Anglicanism is the "both/and" denomination.  Both Protestant and catholic.  We, of all denominations, can understand what it is like to feel tugged in different directions -- both with their good and evil.  We know how easy it would be to just fall into one camp or another and close off the other.  But that's not who God calls us to.  We are called to live in the tension.