A New Framework


Sermon Preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, January 17, 2021

Every person, every organization, every religion, every community, every parish has a framing story. That story is the glue that holds the group together, and gives it meaning and purpose. The Gospel gives us an example of that on a small scale.

The 10 Lepers formed a cohesive group bound by their disease and the social stigma that came with it. The framing story, as tragic as it was, even broke down the old ethnic hatred between Jews and Samaritans, for the ten included a Samaritan. Many times it is only tragedy that opens our eyes to the truth that we refuse to see when all is well.

Out of their healing by our Lord came a new framing story that broke their fellowship. Now they were cleansed and healed and ready, after a visit to the priests, for reentry into society. What a tremendous change! How would they respond? What did they learn from their experience? I am sure they learned much. But only one had an epiphany, a theophany, and recognized it as such. The Samaritan, just as delighted and joyful as the other nine, was the only one who returned to give thanks.

There is a famous quote by Meister Eckhart that says, "If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough."

While the Samaritan took a moment to acknowledge his healer and savior, the others hastened a return to their former framing story before leprosy. The Samaritan hastened instead to embrace a new one. A framing story that now centered around Jesus Christ.

There is a saying among the inmates I got to know well and love dearly about how to succeed after release. It goes something like this, "For a former inmate to succeed he must go somewhere and do something different than he did before, The man who wants to make it should not go home." In other words, he or she must embrace a new environment where a new framing story can be embraced.

All human beings share a common framing story. Created by God in his image to grow into his likeness is where that story begins. Different cultures fill out the story in different ways with the language of myth and metaphor. Everyone lives inside a world of stories. And when the story is interrupted with new information or different people or ideas, then it can either be seen as a threat to the common good or as a moment for creative and courageous reckoning. Far too often we choose the former path and so begin to live our lives hunkered down in gated communities, behind parish walls or in self-perpetuating cults. When fear becomes the core of the framing story disaster is the end result.

Brian McLaren speculates on what would happen if we actually took our Christian framing story seriously.

"But if our framing story tells us that we are free and responsible creatures in a creation made by a good, wise, and loving God, and that our Creator wants us to pursue virtue, collaboration, peace, and mutual care for one another and all living creatures, and that our lives can have profound meaning if we align ourselves with God’s wisdom, character, and dreams for us . . . then our society will take a radically different direction, and our world will become a very different place."

Christ offers us a new framework, a new way of life predicated on the presence of kingdom of heaven on earth and not on the kingdoms of this world. "My kingdom is not of this world," he told Pilate. Let’s look at the entire verse from John's Gospel. (John 18:36)

"My kingdom is not of this world; if it were, My servants would fight to prevent My arrest... But now My kingdom is not of this world.

And remember, the kingdom is not in the future, for if it is within you, as he said, then it is fully present even now. That becomes our new framing story. We can choose to accept and embrace the Lord’s Good News and live our lives accordingly or continue to ignore it and choose to live as if the Lord had never come.

Do you remember the story of the Zen monastery attacked by Samurai warriors? It is told in a number of different ways and here is how I learned it. I will shorten it for you. A Zen Monastery came under attack from a company of fierce Samurai warriors. On their way through the buildings they wrecked much murder and havoc until they came to the central courtyard. There they found the Abbot sitting quietly on the ground deep in meditation seemingly undisturbed. He did not say a word until the head Samurai came up to him menacingly and said, "Do you not know that I have the power to kill you?" The Abbott looked up and replied, "Do you not know that I have the power to let you?"

Didn’t Jesus say much the same when he told Pilate that he had no power except what had been given him by God. Did he not do the same on the Cross where he said that he had the power to call down legions of angels to defend him and did not call them? Did he not tell Peter to put down his sword saying, "Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword."

Over my over thirty years as a priest I have seen and resisted the temptation to live in fear of this world. A ministry based on fear and judgmentalism, on the law and not grace is the opposite of what the Lord revealed as the reason for his coming. Instead I believe that what we must do is not harden, but rather soften ourselves to meet with love and compassion the suffering of people in the world in which we live at this distinct moment in history. We must be willing to admit that things are as they are and not as we always want them to be. And here are our marching orders from Isaiah:

"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor..." (Isaiah 61:1-3)

"Behold," says the Lord, "I make all things new." That could be true of us if we are willing to let go of our fears, our outdated presumptions, our old framing stories, and adopt the Gospel as our new and only one.