Oops! I did It Again
17 Pentecost B
September 20, 2015
In the name of him who loves us, who redeems us, and who sets us free. Amen.
The other day as I was taking an early morning walk in Huntington Park, the memory of a song hit me as I was rounding the corner around the big pond. And I thought its title was a perfect description of human behavior.
The song was a big hit in the year 2000 in the world of pop music. That’s 15 years ago. Where were you then, and what was your life like? A few of us were students or in training for professional careers. Many were in the middle years of our working lives or starting families. Some of us were approaching or already into retirement.
I can remember driving my daughter Emily to high school in the year 2000—it was her junior year. And lots and lots of times this song would be on the radio. And it drove me nuts.
OK----let’s put you out of your misery. The song that I’m thinking about is that Britney Spears classic, “Oops!...I Did It Again.” Now, I’m not so much thinking about the content of that song (which is probably a very good thing), but just its title. Oops!...I did it again.
And that is so true of human beings—all the time. We know how we want to be, how we aspire to be in God’s eyes—and nonetheless it’s pretty certain that we’ll fall short of our ideals, isn’t it? Oops! We’ll do it again. We’re not that innocent.
And so, I was struck by the way our readings today talk about 2 common human misbehaviors that we fall into / again and again. Oops. The first misbehavior is our tendency—either conscious or unconscious—to wound each other—and our resulting desire for revenge. The second misbehavior is our need to know that we’re better than others in some way.
So let’s take a look at these two unfortunate tendencies that we fall into again and again.
Our OT reading from Jeremiah and our Psalm describe occasions of betrayal. Both Jeremiah and the psalmist react in anger—which is the normal and predictable human reaction to being hurt. Jeremiah cries out to God that he was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. He was taken advantage of by his so-called friends’ evil deeds. But he uses his hurt and outrage in the healthiest way possible. He turns them over to God and asks God to work retribution upon these betrayers. Jeremiah cries, “O Lord of hosts, who judge righteously, who try the heart and the mind, let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.” [Jeremiah 11:20]
Likewise the psalm-writer asks God to save and defend him. He sounds like Jeremiah, complaining that the arrogant have risen up, and the ruthless have sought to take his life. And again like Jeremiah, the psalmist gives his outrage and fear to God, after affirming that it’s only God who can set things right. He prays, “Render evil to those who spy on me; in your faithfulness, destroy them.” These are mighty powerful and even violent-sounding words. But, again, the psalmist is doing the best thing possible by giving his very dark emotions to God and asking God to set things right.
So----Oops! We’ll do it again—we’ll hurt each other—and the we who have been hurt will want to take revenge. You know, anger and outrage are perfectly normal emotions, and we’re usually justified when we feel them. But it’s what we DO with them that makes all the difference. The healthiest thing is to give them to God to handle for us, trusting that ultimately it’s God’s justice that will prevail.
And now let’s turn to the second less-than-stellar behavior that we keep falling into—needing to feel “better than.” So we hear in the gospel that the disciples on the road had argued about who was the greatest. What in the world did that mean? I bet they were arguing about who Jesus loved best. I bet that was it. But really, who knows!
It’s true that competition and status-seeking are instilled in us at a really early age. Sometimes it just takes over and we live much of our lives seeking affirmation from people that we’re special.
And of course Jesus has the antidote here—which I hope knocked the wind out of the disciples’ sails. I hope it knocks the wind out of our own sails, too. Jesus says, if you’re worried about coming out on top, then that’s the opposite of where your mind and heart should be. Adopt the stance of a servant. Be a slave to others. Go so far as to be a child in others’ eyes: innocent, open, dependent, without guile OR status. Travel lightly. Leave the ego’s baggage behind.
Easier said than done, right? And, oops! we’ll do it again. We’ll fall into the comparison and competition trap. And it will make us unhappy, to say the least. It’s a game we cannot win / and a game we cannot leave alone.
Our epistle today has an interesting way of viewing our utterly human tendencies. James writes, “Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Submit yourselves therefore to God… Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” [James 4:1-3, 7a, 8]
Draw near to God. And God will draw near to us. We’re each on a lifelong journey through a lot of junk toward a beautiful destination. It’s incumbent upon us not to allow ourselves to be too discouraged by our foibles and faults, but to continue to own them, to confess them, and to outgrow them, with God’s help. Draw near to God and God will draw near to us.
After all, in the words of Anne Lamott, “God loves us just as we are. And God loves us too much to let us stay like this.”
So--who do we each need to forgive? What episodes do we need to give to God to be healed? And how might we all be more like kids whom Jesus holds and welcomes, and less like neurotic people, endlessly jockeying for position?
And even though we’re each so very far from being living saints, still, God adores us and knows us as his children [after the writings of Brother Curtis Almquist, SSJE]. Maybe even as his friends.