The Gift of Disillusionment
Delivered By
Rev. Dr. Jerry Hurst
Delivered On
July 19, 2015
Subject
The Gift of Disillusionment
Description

Sermon:     “The Gift of Disillusionment”

Texts:       Exodus 3: 1-15   Matthew 16: 21-26

Date:        July 19, 2015

 

        Hans Christian Andersen wrote a satirical little story for children called “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”  Many of you are familiar with the story of the vain emperor who was taken in by a couple of swindlers posing as tailors.  They convince the emperor that for a large sum of money, they will tailor a wardrobe for him unlike any he has ever seen.  They tell him that the fabric which they use is of the highest quality, but beyond that it can only be seen by the smartest and most able people in his realm.  So the vain emperor pays the men the money they demanded, and they set to work with their invisible needles working the invisible cloth. Occasionally the “tailors” would have him come in for a fitting, and they would mark the hem for the invisible trousers and mark the shape of the invisible lapels.  Finally, everything is finished. The emperor is so proud of himself that he calls for a parade down the high street so everyone can see how elegant and stylish he is.  The “tailors” help him on with his new, quite invisible, shirt; help him put a belt on his invisible trousers, hold open his coat for him slip on.  The with a pat on the back, urging him out the front door to the cheers of his subjects, the two swindlers grab their gold and get out of town.  The emperor is strutting his stuff as the people, not wanting to appear stupid or ill-suited to their positions, keep cheering. Until, along the parade route, a young boy looks at the emperor coming towards him, and shouts, “Look, it is the emperor, and he is not wearing any clothes!”  And then many others join the chorus as the emperor slinks back to his palace.

          Illusions- we all have them.  Illusions reveal what we want to see; they tell us what we want to hear.  Like the magic mirror on the wall in the story of Snow White.  The mirror told the evil queen what she wanted to hear, until Snow White grew up and shattered the illusion of who was the fairest of them all.  In researching material for this sermon, I found this poem by Roberta Robertson.  It is called “Shattered Illusions:

          Before I was blessed with Annie and her brother

          I had lots of illusions about being a mother.

          After all, just how hard could it be,

          Raising my own little family?

          I’d raise them well, I’d raise them right;

          To be obedient, well-behaved and polite;

          I’d correct bad behavior, be loving but firm,

          Not being too lenient, nor overly stern.

          Any unseemly behavior would be quickly abated;

          Defiance or disobedience would not be tolerated!

          In public they would be well-mannered and sweet,

          Kind and helpful, a real pleasure to meet!

          My illusions, however, were soon to be shattered;

          Lying in pieces, all torn up and tattered.

          I am now in the face of stark reality;

          Where my babies rarely listen to me.

          They have tantrums in public; they don’t do as they’re told,

          I’m overwhelmed by a one and a three-year old;

          I’ve read books and magazines on how best to deal,

          With undesirable behavior that does not appeal,

          I’ve tried many techniques and taken some actions

          To put an end to these, all too frequent infractions.

          But unfortunately they are rarely effective,

          (Or maybe my children are somewhat defective?)

          …

          I don’t wish to sound though so utterly distraught;

          I admit having children is not how I thought.

          But also I underestimated the extent of the joy

          I receive from my girl and cute little boy!

          At one time I thought I would just stick with pets,

          But my kids are a gift – I have no regrets!

 

          To be disillusioned is not, in and of itself, a negative word. Often we think of it in that way because to be disillusioned is to experience a degree of pain; being let down, disappointed. Someone or something did not live up to our expectations – a parent, a child, a friend – and because they did not we somehow felt cheated, betrayed. Those people who became our “heroes” in the sports world; entertainment, politics; we never expected them to be saints, but we did expect them to live by the same laws that govern our behavior and ethical standards.

 

          The gift of disillusionment. Sounds a bit strange, doesn’t it? As human beings, we like to hang on to our illusions; they become a buffer for the cruel realities of the world around us. From the standpoint of engaging God into our lives, I believe the loss of illusions is a good, albeit, painful thing. 

 

          For generations, the Hebrew people had lived with the illusion that their God was El-Shaddai, the god of the mountains, distant, far, to be called upon for crisis intervention, and to provide aid in time of war.  He was the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, but always from a distance.  Now, as we see from our text in Exodus, he has a name – sort of:  It is YHWH or “Yahweh” – I am who I am – and an intimacy unlike before. Although this cryptic expression does not reveal the character of God, it does reveal his accessibility, not just to Moses, but to all people.  This burning bush is the vehicle that Yahweh has chosen for divine self-disclosure.  He is the Lord of creation, the Lord of destiny, the Lord who overcomes our illusions.

 

                    On the other hand, our illusions about God tend to be less than the character traits which support that illusion.  So it is up to God to assert himself in a dis-illusioning manner.  Here at that burning bush, Moses debates with God over how the people will perceive what God wants them to know.  The illusion is:  “they won’t believe me! The truth is … they did.  The illusion is: “I am not eloquent; I am slow of speech and of tongue!”  The truth is … Moses became a great communicator.  The illusion is: “I am not the one to send!”  The truth is … he was.  God is greater than all the illusions or excuses we can throw together to limit him or distance ourselves from him. This God of the burning bush gave to Moses the gift of disillusionment by enabling him to overcome his own inadequacies and by sending him back into the problem from which he had been trying to escape, “… go back to Egypt and fulfill your destiny.”

 

          In our Matthew text, we find Peter caught up in his own illusion of what the Messiah is and is not; what he will be or what he won’t be.  And Jesus has to chastise Peter for these illusionary assumptions because Peter has his mind set on the wrong things.

 

          That same God-in-Christ is alive and at work in your lives to dispel the illusion that keeps you focused on yourselves and what you think you can accomplish on your own.  Most of your struggles, your problems, your times of despair, come about because you have painted yourself into a corner of impossible illusions. You cannot imagine that there is any person or power strong enough to change your circumstances. You pray to God in the hopes that you can bend God to your will, and it just does not happen.

 

          The God speaks from some metaphorical “bush” to absolve you of your self-absorbing  illusions:  “Go back into your crisis; go back to where the circumstances became insurmountable; go back to that place where you felt the only option left to you was to run away … and this time know that I am with you to help you stay the course.”  Go back into that marriage which is foundering; go back into the family feud which shows no sign of ending; go back into that conversation you have been putting off because of the illusion that later would be better; be honest with yourself and with the person to whom this conversation is intended; go back into the loneliness created by the death of a spouse who was the whole world to you, and embrace that truth that can set you free from your illusions, and in that truth, know that I will be with you to guide you out of the darkness into the light.

 

          Get rid of the illusions that you can handle the pitfalls and difficulties of this life on your own merit or strength, and accept the divine gift of disillusionment.

 

Let us pray …

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