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Admit It: You Have Problems

Sermon, Church of the Holy Trinity, Toronto, June 13, 2004

Luke 7:36–8:3
Galatians 2:15–21
Psalm 32
2 Samuel 11:26–12:10,13–15


I'm sure you've all had one of those days, one of those times when it's, say, 6:30 or 7 or 7:30 and you haven't had supper yet and your wife or husband or partner or whoever is getting really hungry and kind of irritable and it's getting on your nerves, in fact a lot of things are getting on your nerves and you really don't need one more disputatious person adding to it, you're not hungry (maybe a little light-headed) and you could do fine without eating for a while yet but you might as well hurry and get something so that other person you're with will stop being cross with you and accusing you of being ornery and irritable when you know perfectly well it's not you who's being ornery and irritable… and maybe one of your friends happens by and says, "Get some food in you, man, before you chew someone's head off," and you say, "What are you on about? I'm not hungry!"


Or you could stop and say, "…huh." And notice that, actually, you are rather in need of food. And, come to think of it, you're tending to view things in rather a more negative light than you usually do. So you might as well get some food. And, now that you know why everyone else seems so annoying, you're a bit more in control of your reactions to them.

One way or another, I'll tell you this: When you're hungry like that, and you have some food, that food is going to taste good. Let me tell you, when you're that hungry, even though you're gonna be feeling pissy and whatever someone suggests to eat you're going to say, "No, I don't want that," even cheap food is going to taste pretty good. Better than really expensive food tastes when you're not especially hungry, I'll tell you that.

So this woman, here, in Luke's gospel, is like someone who noticed she's really hungry. Her awareness of her sins – the disjunction between how she's living and how she knows she should live – has come full flush to her. And forgiveness is like food. That's why she's so happy: because her sins are forgiven, her hunger has been slaked. The psalmist in today's psalm is in the same mood: he admitted his sin, which was tormenting him, and as a result he has become happy. Relieved. And David, too, in the first reading, admits his sin and experiences grace – well, of an Old Testament kind: someone still has to pay, his son, to be specific.

Pretty nice if you could get food just by saying you're hungry, eh? The parallel does break down a bit. You still have to go and get the food. But our inner lives, our hearts, minds, souls, what have you, are places where it's all already there. In fact, there's a heck of a lot more up there than we realize. More than we want to admit. Which is, in fact, the problem.

Now, what is sin? It's a complex thing. In fact, it's a complex. Psychologically speaking. In the terms identified by Freud and rather improved on by Jung. When you have something in your existence, in your mind, that's not in keeping with the self you want to be or think you should be or will admit to being, it doesn't go away. It's a set of inclinations, prerogatives, pragmatics, that kind of bounces around in there like its own little person, exerting influence in its way, like that unacknowledged hunger. Let me give you a couple of quotes from Jung:

…complexes are psychic contents which are outside the control of the conscious mind. They have been split off from consciousness and lead a separate existence in the unconscious, being at all times ready to hinder or to reinforce the conscious intentions.

…They are "vulnerable points" which we do not like to remember and still less to be reminded of by others, but which frequently come back to mind unbidden and in the most unwelcome fashion. They always contain memories, wishes, fears, duties, needs, or views, with which we have never really come to terms, and for this reason they constantly interfere with our conscious life in a disturbing and usually a harmful way. (Carl Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, trans. W.S. Dell and Cary F. Baynes (Harvest Books, [1933]), 79)

But we can't be without them. Everyone has them. Life is just too much to hold all in our conscious, and it's too full of conflicts to get through it without having things about ourselves that don't fit with how we want to see ourselves. Let me quote the next paragraph from the same book:

…to have complexes does not necessarily indicate inferiority. It only means that something incompatible, unassimilated, and conflicting exists – perhaps as an obstacle, but also as a stimulus to greater effort, and so, perhaps, as an opening to new possibilities of achievement. Complexes are therefore, in this sense, focal or nodal points of psychic life which we would not wish to do without. Indeed they must not be lacking, for otherwise psychic activity would come to a fatal standstill. But they indicate the unresolved problems of the individual, the points at which he has suffered a defeat, at least for the time being, and where there is something he cannot evade or overcome – his weak spots in every sense of the word. (Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, 79–80)

But there's just one more thing to note about this: This conflict, this suffering – it's normal. It's like hunger. You know it's there, you deal with it, you work through it. To quote one more time, "Suffering is not an illness; it is the normal counterpole to happiness. A complex becomes pathological only when we think we have not got it." (Carl Jung, quoted in Jolanda Jacobi, Complex/Archtype/Symbol, trans. Ralph Manheim (Bollingen/Princeton UP, 1971), 20)

There it is. David tries to ignore his wrongdoing. The psalmist thinks he can handle everything himself. But Paul says to the Galatians, "Give up!" And the woman with the ointment, she gave up. Stopped trying to fight it away and pretend it wasn't there. She admitted it and went to where she got help.

Oh, yeah. Help. That's the other element here. You have to admit you can't go it alone. You have to admit that your belief in your independence, your island-ness, is illusion – that everything is interconnected, that you're part of it all, and that you receive as well as give. And sometimes you just have to plain out throw up your hands. And you can get forgiveness: a chance to just stop carrying your burden alone.

Here's a parallel for you, something a little more concrete. If you have a ton of debts, the disagreement between what comes in and what goes out is getting wider and stronger, you've overspent and the interest is piling up and every month the hole gets deeper, eventually you have to declare bankruptcy. Nobody wants to do that. It's an admission of defeat: you couldn't do it by yourself. But you give up and let the bankruptcy trustee take over. Your problem is resolved. Not easily – it takes a fair little bit of rebuilding time – but once you admit that you can't do it on your own after all, a solution is found.

And it doesn't matter whether you're bankrupt because of an unforeseeable ecomonic downturn, layoffs, maybe an investment or venture that tanked, or whether it's because you just plain old overspent yourself. Just had to have that nice watch and that lovely coat and that TV set – or just went out to fancy restaurants and expensive bars night after night, maxed your credit cards and don't even have anything to show for it but a book's worth of hangover stories. Think about that: you can be a complete feckless irresponsible waster and still get that forgiveness. Once you admit you've been a complete feckless irresponsible waster. Protection from creditors doesn't just come to those we think deserve it. Forgiveness does not just come to the righteous. It comes to all who recognize they have a problem.

And we all have our conflicts, our complexes, our psychic debts. We all have transgressions against living in the fullness of what God made us to be. We're human. They're never going to go away. Certainly not from our just trying to stuff them in the closet or the basement. Some of us have tried to live good lives. Others of us have done a lotta rotten things. Some of us are deeper in the hole than others, perhaps. But we're all in this complex situation in our spiritual economy. So what do we do? Declare spiritual bankruptcy.

Spiritual bankruptcy?! Whoa!

Well, yeah. It's like going to a counsellor when you have an emotional or psychological problem. Let's get started with a little word association here. I'll say a phrase with some blanks in it, and you tell me what goes in the blanks:

Blessed are the ____ in spirit. The what? Poor. For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

That was fun. Let's try another. Blessed are those who ____ and ____ for ____. Who… hunger and thirst. Who, we might say, admit their hunger and thirst. Know it's time and past time for them to deal with that hole inside. For they shall be filled.

And now… I think it's time for the feast.



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