Thursday, February 21, 2008

Where Faith is, There is Love.


"Sexier than Sex and the City, more desperate than Desperate Housewives, the Cosmo girl comes of age in this eye-opening memoir of vice, indulgence, and outrageous sexual behavior. Elizabeth Hayt entered her marriage with reservations. Once there, she found herself drowning in an ocean of wifely and motherly duties, and at 35, felt there had to be more to life. But she was terrified when her husband announced their marriage was over. She responded by ricocheting from one high-powered man to another in a post-marital celebration of dating that rivals anything Samantha Jones had to offer. From stripteases before media moguls to attempts at reaching the emotional core of Manhattans most lusted-after bachelors, Elizabeth revels in revealing the sex life of true players in the sexual politics of New York before finding love in a truly unlikely candidate, and more importantly, finding her own identity and self-esteem in the process."

So the book's description goes, of Elizabeth Hayt. H-A-Y-T. I'm no saint, Elizabeth Hayt wrote, and so she lived, I'm no saint. So she confidently proclaims to the world. It's hard to tell if it's a confession or an excuse. "I'm no saint." Make no mistake, this is not disillusioned wisdom. Her book is aptly titled, "A Nasty Little Memoir of Love and Leaving. I'm no saint." Unlike cults, we are asked to examine ourselves, to test if you are truly in the Gospel. What is my life calling? What am I supposed to do? How do I know I'm married to the right person? Who am I supposed to be? How do I know I'm married to the one God wanted me to? It may prove profitable to open in her world, our world, this fallen world… while we begin in our Gospel.

Mark 2:14 And as Jesus passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth and he said to him, "Follow me." And he rose and followed him.

Our Gospel lesson during Lent has the calling of none-other than the tax-guy, Matthew, the IRS agent. Like the agents in the Matrix, if you want to live, run away. Else, with their armed Roman guard, they'll juice the money out of you, because what you can't give they'll take. Was St. Matthew one of these vampires, sucking the life out of the brothers who he's supposed to serve?

He is called "Levi": perhaps indicating that he should be attending Levitical business, tasks related to temple ritual and service, rather than thievery with his thugs. I don't want to think of St. Matthew, my dear brother in Christ, as this kind of tax-man, taxing life, rather than giving life. There he is. Not a scoundrel as bad as others, but a scoundrel enough, that when Jesus eats with this tax-man, Jesus' name is the slur.

v.16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?"

Despite foreknowledge of his rejection by these older brothers, against the deadly condemnation of spiritual brothers, THE JESUS says to the Tax-man, "Follow me."

Love it. Demons shrill pain, gasping against life! The heaven's burst in song, as this prodigal son of Alphaeus, of Levi, of Jacob, of Adam, of the Almighty Father, RISES UP. Out of death's vice-grip, Jesus speaks Matthew alive, so Matthew may be the first, the primary Gospel, who gives you Jesus. Love it. Gotta love St. Matthew. In time, he teaches with clarity, that Jesus speaks you alive, into Faith and Love.

I won't compare the office, your cubicle or your duties with the tax-booth that boxed-in Matthew onto a shelf, useless for his brothers and faithless for God. St. Peter's, I won't compare you all with him. That's what the time after the sermon and service is for on your own. That's what the Holy Spirit's about. But know this now: In listening to the Devil's promises, one loves no one but themselves and secures faith in their works, casting themselves into the pig's feed to be eaten up by the voracious appetites of evil. There is no faith and love there. His venom kills neighbors and rings faith out. [twisting a towel]

But look what happens when Jesus speaks to our tax-man, Matthew:

v.15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.

Matthew opens his household. This is faith and love. Where Jesus speaks, there is faith. Where the Word is spoken, faith is created and sustained. So, because Jesus spoke life-giving faith into Matthew, there is love. Love for sinners and other tax-collectors like Matthew. No one's running away from this Agent. They are flooding to his Word of Faith and his works of love. It would be hard to imagine, but could Matthew do a greater work of his love for his neighbor? Do something greater than Holy Gospel? Perhaps. Matthew prepares his table, where Jesus promises to show up. Unlike the snake and his thugs, Jesus does what He promises. He shows up, like he promised. The Words of eternal life are both heard and eaten.

Centuries later, Luther was summoned at the Imperial Diet of Worms. While his whole career was fed on all of scripture, and the Gospels in particular, at that time it was the Gospel of Matthew that echoed most on Luther's lips and into the Lutheran confessions. Thanks to Matthew, Luther tells us, Jesus leads us to His cross, not a monastery. Luther once thought and lived firmly the way was the lonely way. Sad. A monastery is mono-nasty, where one is alone, loving no one, with no faith in God who provides the way. It is never the fault of Love, when the receiver rejects it. Good for us Luther as Matthew rose up from their earthy dungeons, to love neighbor by doing their job at hand. What if Matthew did not finish his 3 years of seminary with Jesus, never wrote the Gospel, and switched to another, a newer vocation? It's hard to know what one's vocation is, when one ignores Faith and Love.

"Follow me." This is both a command and a gracious invitation. Obedience to command and spontaneity of love for neighbors are NOT opposite views. Hayt should know better. These aren't merely ideas, but these are the real actions of God. Faith and love crushed the devils head at the cross.

And centuries after Matthew and Luther's pens were unleashed, Elizabeth Hayt's pen hit paper. Since then, she's had more than just readers, but a following. Followers don't always know they are following, nor that they maybe leading.

Publisher's Weekly wrote this about her book "I'm no Saint": "What keeps the reader's interest from page one of this fiery memoir is not the explicit sex scenes or the family drama, but an admiration for Hayt's sheer chutzpah in jumping into life headfirst. Now in her mid-40s, the author, who writes for the New York Times, among other publications, considers no detail sacred as she recounts her failed marriage and her numerous subsequent sex partners, cosmetic surgery and trials as a mother and emerging writer and art critic. While it may be hard for some to respect a person whose activities are fueled not only by desire but also by drugs, Hayt's honesty about her struggles as a woman who married early without a chance to discover her own path in life will resonate with many. As Hayt hits bottom with an addiction to cocaine, a love lost and a master's thesis due, she wonders if "anyone else was as sick of listening to me as I was." Luckily for readers, Hayt decided to pursue her dream of writing with a passion she once directed toward her love of excess. This memoir will speak to women who have taken on society's role as "wife, mother, and teacher" only to feel as though they were "passive concessions to someone else's expectations." End of quote.

Where is faith? Where is love? Christian ears could hope that what she meant by "is anyone else sick of listening to me as I was," that this was some kind of prayer. Then this could be proof that prayer in itself fails. Though I wonder if the certainty of the God's gifts were offered to her: Christ's promise in Baptism and the Holy Supper, where God does not abandon her, though man does.

As our tax man Matthew, I wouldn't want to think badly about Elizabeth Hayt, the desperate housewife. Their first duty was not an easy one. The new calling was not necessarily better. For Matthew it ended with his hanging. And Elizabeth preached a gospel of self-esteem your own way. (Making her body a burger-king fast food joint. Not a temple.) The Gospel of self, not really a Gospel at all. She suffered for it as did others along with her. For misery does love company.

But love and faith are singularly one. Be warned what new vocation you may be called to: it may just be the renewing of the one you already have, no matter how miserable it may seem. God does have a way of making things old things new again. Be warned with the Faith you were given, the Word that funnels you towards goodness outside humanity, a hope outside us, in hope that comes to us as he promises. Be warned that you love those next to you, even if they hurt you. For what comes first?

You don't use others, in order to feel loved. You don't love others, in order to be loved. We love because he first loved us. Where faith is there is love.

The faithful one, the Christened one, THE Christ Jesus said to Matthew, "Follow me." Love then wrote the book. In that book, Jesus spoke to Luther. Love then reformed the faith. In our day, the cross scorns the shame of Hayt for the sake of all people. Behold mothers, the son. He makes all things new. Even a tax collector. Even your job. Wife, mother, teacher. Husband, father, student. For this Son is the way that walks to the Father. Behold Jesus invites us, commands us: "Follow me."

The Christ Jesus speaks to you, so where Faith is, there is love for your neighbor in all you do. Amen.

(Lent Midweek
Hosea 6:1-6
Mark 2:14-17
Preached on 2/20/2007 and 2/21/2007)