Speaking the truth in love
I have to confess.
I love the old video arcade game Ms. Pac Man.
If you don’t know that game
you have a little yellow smiling head—
with a big mouth.
Ms. Pac Man wears a bow on her head
and lipstick on her lips.
To play the game you manipulate Ms. Pac Man
through a series of mazes as she eats little dots—power pellets—
along the pathway.
Sometimes she gets to eat pieces of fruit that appear—
an apple, a cherry, a banana—they are the bonuses.
But there are always these ghosts
that are after Ms. Pac Man.
They want to eat her.
But the ghosts are kinda cute.
And they come in array of bright colors.
So if you don’t pay attention,
you can forget that the ghosts are the enemies.
But the ghosts don’t forget--
their goal is to be the end of Ms. Pac Man—
and the end of the game.
I thought of Ms. Pac Man and the power pellets and the ghosts
as I read Paul’s letter to the Galatians this week.
Paul seems to be saying to the Galatians,
there is this very distinct line,
between the “power pellets” that nourish your life,
and the “ghosts” that want to destroy your life.
Paul warns his friends
that many are living on the wrong side of the line.
On this “wrong” side of the line
are these colorful, tempting empty things, “ghosts.”
Paul gives us a long list of these ghosts,
the behaviors that keep us bound as slaves
Paul ends is ghastly ghostly list by saying,
I could go on.
But we say, “OH, PLEASE, DON’T!!”
We think you have covered it all, Paul.
That’s quite enough.
It’s hard for any one of us
to escape without at least one conviction on that list!
But Paul does go on.
Paul also gives the Galatians a list of the “power pellets,”
the ways of living that truly give life.
Things like [using Eugene Peterson’s words from THE MESSAGE]
affection for others,
exhuberance about life,
Keep on the right side of the line my friends,
Now it is easy to think of Paul as a rather dour, self-righteous character.
Pointing a finger,
saying, you better watch out.
You better get right with God.
But there is another way to hear these words.
We can also hear these words as words from a friend.
Words from someone who really, really cares about us.
Someone whose eyes are wide open
to the dangerous and destructive paths
we sometimes travel.
Someone who sees the ghosts paused to devour us
and cares enough to speak the truth in love.
Paul is letting us know there is a choice.
The Catechism in our Book of Common Prayer says:
“From the beginning human beings have misused their freedom
and made wrong choices.”
I doubt there is one of us here today
who would claim to have never made a wrong choice.
God offers us incredible freedom.
We can’t choose every twist and turn of our lives--
But we can choose and do choose
how we respond to the twists and turns,
how we live the life we are given.
If we don’t want to draw an either/or line,
we can think of our life, our being,
as a circle.
Inside the circle God has gifted us with joy and peace,
with patience and kindness,
with generosity and faithfulness,
gentleness and self-control.
All that is light and love.
This is the original blessing from which we all begin.
But around the edges prowl strife and jealousy,
anger and quarrels,
envy and addictions,
and all those destructive, abusive forces
that persistently work to creep inside
and make themselves a home.
On occasion, even the most faithful of us,
gets distracted by the bright colors of temptation,
and we allow these negative forces, these life-stealing ghosts,
to find their way into our circle.
There is enormous strength in the power of good,
but sometimes we willingly unhook the screen door,
and give entrance to the negative and the destructive.
Little by little,
the dark side begins to eat away at the joy
and the light gets dimmer
and the peace begins slipping farther
and farther away from the center.
We are human beings.
We sometimes make bad choices.
But we are also children of God.
There is reconciliation, forgiveness.
There is redemption, starting again.
There is resurrection. Hope.
The light, the good, can overcome any darkness.
We, too, may have to turn our faces toward Jerusalem
and face some very difficult truths and realities. Even suffering.
The first step is to stop making excuses,
to stop blaming others.
Just as Jesus, in Luke’s gospel, tells those who make excuses
about why they can’t follow him,
Jesus says to us, too,
Please. Stop with the excuses.
Just do it.
Choose life or choose death.
But you are going to have to choose.
The most difficult part of the truth, especially the truth about ourselves,
or those we love,
is that we often must face the need to choose differently,
to do differently, and to change.
The good news is,
even though each of us is faced with our own unique choices,
this is not a solitary journey.
The psalmist writes:
“I will cry aloud to God;
I will cry aloud, and God will hear me.”
There is a story of a little child,
who wakes in the middle of the night and calls out,
from her bedroom, where she sleeps alone,
“Daddy, I’m scared!”
The response from across the hall comes almost immediately,
“Honey, don’t be afraid.
Daddy’s right across the hall.”
After a brief pause, the little voice is heard again,
“I’m still scared, Daddy.”
The father calls out,
“You don’t need to be afraid. God is watching over you.”
This time the pause is a little longer…
but finally, the little voice calls out again,
“Daddy! I need someone with skin on their face.”
God often comes to us wearing a “skin face”.
The “big” theological word for that is incarnation.
God came as Jesus.
God shows up repeatedly wearing the skin face of people we know.
And people who know us.
People who are not afraid to speak the truth in love.
People who will insist we end our excuse-making and blaming.
People who will travel the rough parts of the journey WITH us,
but are wise enough to know they cannot travel FOR us.
We choose the path.
The path of power-pellets and fruits of the spirit.
Or the ghostly path which destroys us from the inside out.
The Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu is quoted as saying,
“The journey of 10,000 miles begins with a single step.”
Some scholars say a better translation of that Chinese phrase would be,
“The journey of 10,000 miles begins beneath your feet.”
Paul speaks to his friends in the churches of Galatia.
Jesus speaks to those who say they want to be followers
but always have an excuse about why they have to wait.
God speaks to us.
The journey begins and continues
beneath our feet.
Our journey, our feet,
Our freedom, our choices.