God's Story, Your Story and Our Story Through the Eyes of the Gospel Writers:
Empathy Today and It's Significance for Being the Best Neighbors In The Public Square--Owning Our Story And Loving Ourselves: a Reflection on Ezekiel 33:7-11 and Matthew 18:15-20
Good morning, friends. We begin a four-week series this morning entitled “God’s Story, Your Story and Our Story Through the Eyes of the Gospel Writers: Empathy Today and Its Significance for Being Best Neighbors in the Public Square.” Our resource book for this series is Brene Brown’s The Gifts Of Imperfection. Please contact the church office at 949-837-2323 or Laura McCallum at firstname.lastname@example.org to obtain a copy.
The focus in this series is the cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice. Living these cardinal virtues, wholeheartedly, is essential for building character rooted in empathy. Then, we can demonstrate actions of compassion that exude tenderness, vulnerability, knowledge and power. Living these virtues, empathetically, is necessary to be best neighbors in the public square.
Prudence is the quality of being cautious. It is care, good judgment as well as wisdom in looking ahead. Prudent behavior shows care and thoughtfulness. The cardinal virtue of prudence informs empathy. And empathy demonstrates grace. Robert Farrar Capon writes the following about prudence,
The first thing I think you have to say is that while you and I may be worried about seeming to give permission, Jesus apparently wasn’t. He wasn’t afraid of giving the prodigal son a kiss instead of a lecture, a party instead of probation; and he proved that by bringing in the elder brother at the end of the story and having him raise pretty much the same objections you do. He’s angry about the party. He complains that his father is lowering standards and ignoring virtue--that music, dancing, and a fattened calf are, in effect, just so many permissions to break the law. And to that, Jesus has the father say only one thing: “Cut that out! We’re not playing good boys and bad boys any more. Your brother was dead and he’s alive again. The name of the game from now on is resurrection, not bookkeeping.”
My friends it takes our experiences of prudent empathy to assist us in owning our story and loving ourselves.
From time to time, I struggle with owning my story and loving myself. And that struggle, at its core, is my inability to address sin consistently and practice its remedy of confession and forgiveness. Just like in Ezekiel’s day, I must deal with my wickedness before I can walk with others to warn them of the destructive nature of my sin and theirs. Ezekiel 33:10 reads, “…Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them.” God takes no delight in our wasting away.
God wants us to turn from our wicked ways and live. This is the theme of the texts in Ezekiel 33:7-11 and Matthew 18:15-20.
Ezekiel 33:7-11 asserts that we do not need to waste away in a life story that we attempt to revise through denial and image management.
Matthew 18:15-20 announces a process for us to turn from our wicked ways, not waste away and live. Here it is: cultivate humility, take caution in not placing stumbling blocks before others, treat others with care and thoughtfulness (prudence), make consistent and systematic attempts to resolve conflicts redemptively and experience forgiveness in relational, not transactional ways. Matthew 18:19-20 reads, “Again I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Christians should not pit themselves against one another or others. We must avoid the urge to be popular, affirmed and right. Instead, let’s seek truth, fact, morality and community.
To identify, be empathetic, with another’s situation and feelings demonstrates care and thoughtfulness. It opens the door for words and actions of prudence. In this regard, Brene Brown in The Gifts Of Imperfection writes, “Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help.” To own our story, love ourselves and love others, we need to say that we are all-in with owning our imperfections and wanting to demonstrate our love for self and others prudently. Prudence is care, good judgment as well as wisdom in looking ahead. Remember, prudent behavior shows care and thoughtfulness.
Do you want to own your story and love yourself? Brenda Salter McNeil, the author of Becoming Brave, the resource book for my five-week Pastor’s Study beginning October 14, reminds us that to own our story and love ourselves, we must know why we are on the planet for such a time as this. McNeil writes, “Why did God cause you to be born at this time in history? What is happening in the world today that called you forth?” Your story has historic influences and current implications for a better future.
On this Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost answer this question. Do you define yourself by grace, which embraces you in your brokenness and moves you forward in wholeness? Therein lies the success of owning your story and loving yourself. From that place of being embraced by grace, your life, then, will exude care and thoughtfulness (prudence) in your being the best neighbor in the public square. This path of owning your story and loving yourself is not the path of least resistance. Stay connected to God, yourself, others and the disconnections in the world.
The definition of prudence provided is adapted from Mirriam-Webster, Dictionary.com and the Concise Oxford Dictionary. Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon and Three (New York City, New York: Harper & Row, 1982), 152. In the three paragraphs of textual analysis above, I have benefited from the thinking of John W. Wright, Lincoln E. Galloway, David J. Schlafer and Raquel St. Clair Lettsome in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery, Cynthia L. Rigby and Carolyn J. Sharp, editors, Connections, Year A, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 281-283, 283-285, 294-296 and 296-297. Brene Brown, The Gifts Of Imperfection (Center City, Minnesota: Hazeldon Publishing, 2010), 20. Brenda Salter McNeil, Becoming Brave (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2020), 51. Some insights in this paragraph are adapted from Brene Brown, The Gifts Of Imperfection (Center City, Minnesota: Hazeldon Publishing, 2010), 1-21.