Dec 9, 2018
“The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain”.
Eliza Doolittle, from “My Fair Lady” may be refined. But let me be honest, I ain’t. Don’t get me wrong, I hope that I know enough manners to not get kicked out of, or at least, not stared at when I’m at a fine restaurant. I know the fork goes on the left, but don’t get me started about what is that plate is called, the bigger plate placed under the littler plate, but plate that isn’t used for eating.
That’s what I associate with being refined—a word that we heard in that reading from Malachi. I know, Malachi is not talking about etiquette; instead a refiner’s fire. But isn’t it the same thing? The hard work of a refiner is to heat the metal to shape, form, and mold the metal and burn away impurities, and in Eliza Doolittle (and other-makeover stories) show us it’s hard to burn away accents, habits, and the way we are used to living to act refined. I think it’s no coincidence the same word is used.
Of course, and this is a point I shared at one of our Monday night Sacred Roots experiences, being refined is actually very relative. The rules of etiquette are cultural and differ by context. There is nothing inherently evil with having your elbows on the table or eating with your hands. One way is not empirically superior than another or more pure than another—that’s elitist—judging others by your own standards, rules, or traditions. And, if we’re honest, none of us like that.
I think that’s why I was so interested to learn that in our second reading, in the letter to Philippians, in verse 10. Where we read, “so that in the day of Christ you maybe be pure and blameless”. that a different and really more accurate translation of the word “
eilikrineis – which we just heard translated as “pure” — is better or also translated as “sincere” — it might be nuance, but I think its not inconsequential—the difference — pure (as in perfect) verses not deceitful, honest.
Perhaps what I Paul saying is that he is hoping we can be honest before the Lord and before others—not pretending to be all pure and perfect.
Take Donald Trump (I know I mentioned him last week, but he really is an easy sermonic illustration—and I mean that because he’s just so out there, and a reference that most of us know as opposed to how I began the sermon with that line from My Fair Lady (that only connects with when we are honest a small portion of the population who go to the theater and I mean regularly not just to see Hamilton). However, Donald Trump isn’t just a great sermon illustration because he is always the example of what not to do. Sometimes he gets it right. Take this week at the state funeral for the first president Bush. A lot of stink was made when pictures where published of the service and the Trumps are just standing there—not singing hymns and not reciting the Apostle’s Creed. I actually suggest we should give Donald some credit here, because this might be the most honest we see or hear him. Obviously, the faith that is expressed in those words means nothing to him. Which would your rather have, honesty or lip service? Sincerity or pretense?
I think this is what is at the heart of our faith, really. It doesn’t need to be about making ourselves perfect, acting all pure—because I don’t know about you, but for me that’s just acting. And I imagine it’s not just young people who look at the church and dismiss us for acting all holier than thou, when we’re not—for judging others, for not acting lovingly towards all—even (and especially one another)—for being more concerned about ourselves—appearance of love—for more lip-service to love than living it out.
Let us listen to John the Baptist, to the prophet Malachi, to Paul—to God’s Word, and hear instead of some call to purity and perfection, let’s start with a call to sincerity, because what gets in the way of the coming of the Lord in this world isn’t just our brokenness, but our fake holiness. The first step towards healing, is admitting we’re sick. And that is really really hard. That’s what burns. Isn’t that the first step in addiction? Admitting. Owning it. That’s the work we do to prepare the way. Think of it this way, the refiner has to see potential in the metal to put it in the fire of the refiner. And God sees that in us, not purity but potential. So with fire of God’s forgiveness— we’ll love, we will live love, we will feel love—for others, feel it in and for ourselves—and that is worth a lot more than just saying the right words—the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.