Posted November 2, 2021
Jesus teaches us, “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:46) At Morning Prayer on All Souls Day, Scott Robinson reminded the gathering that “you are the pearl.” The implication is that the merchant is God and “the selling of all he had” is the self-offering of God in the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus his Son. God is the seeker and we are the sought after.
Scott provides a gentle correction to our well-worn tendency to claim the active role in the parables and the responsible role in our spiritual lives. Ten years ago the Rev. Dr. Sam Wells gave a sermon and lecture at St. Martins where he did much the same move with the story of the Good Samaritan. The Vicar of our namesake church in London taught us to see that the Good Samaritan is a figure of Jesus and that we are the robbed and bleeding traveler in the ditch. Wells challenged our moralistic reading of the parable that puts us in the position of the Good Samaritan and revealed how the story is really about God’s generous attention to all of our broken souls. God is the seeker, the healer and we are the hurting souls who are sought.
Whenever we put the emphasis on our seeking after God, or our activity as a way to earn God’s approval we need to stop and recall that the active party is God who values our souls as “pearls of great price” and is willing to give up everything for us.
American culture has reduced Christianity to what scholars call “Moralistic, Therapeutic, Deism.” Deism is the belief that God is abstract, unavailable and inactive, more a principle than a personal being with loves, passions and projects to accomplish in us and in the cosmos. “Therapeutic” describes our desire to center everything we do on our own personal healing and happiness as is well attested by the massive self-help industry. Finally, “moralistic” describes our reduction of religion to a quest to be “good,” usually in a conventional sense of passing muster in the basics.
Jesus rubs against all of our attempts to reduce the movement that bears his name to “Moralistic, Therapeutic, Deism.” Our God actively and sacrificially seeks us out and ministers to us in our most broken places, lifting us up into new life. We owe everything to God’s grace; a word that describes God’s self-offering, holding-nothing-back, pursuit of our precious souls. Next time we are tempted to “do good” to “feel good about ourselves” we need to remember that our goodness is restored to us in God’s love for us and work from there.
The Rev. Jarrett Kerbel
The Rev. Jarrett Kerbel
(215) 247-7466 ext. 101
The Rev. Jarrett Kerbel (he/him) was educated at Northwestern University, the University of Chicago and Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He was ordained Priest in 1995 in Danville, Pennsylvania where he worked as a Hospital Chaplain and a Head Start teacher. Pastoral positions followed at the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Flossmoor, Illinois, St. Paul and the Redeemer in Chicago, and then Rector at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Park Ridge, Illinois. After following his wife, the Rev. Dr. Alison Boden, to her new position in Princeton, New Jersey, he was called to be the Executive Director of the Crisis Ministry of Mercer County. The largest food pantry and the gateway agency for Homelessness Prevention services in Mercer County, the Crisis Ministry also runs a Welfare to Work program and an innovative free farmers market. Jarrett became Rector of St. Martin’s in February 2011. He formerly served as the co-chair of Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild (POWER). Jarrett serves as Dean of the Wissahickon Deanery and is an Associate of the Order of the Holy Cross. He is an Adjunct Professor at Princeton Theological Seminary where he co-teaches a regular class on Faith Based Community Organizing, Theology and Practice. Jarrett has been published in Sojourners, the Huffington Post, Yours the Power, and the Journal of Public Theology. He is the father of two children, Timothy and Martha.
The Rector's Note is a blog of weekly reflections by the Rev. Jarrett Kerbel.
Read and reflect each week with Jarrett. On occasion, we have a second post or a guest post that runs in the Recto…