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Take Control of Your Own Destiny!

July 7, 2004

Ian Lawton

Ordinary Sunday 14     Romans 7     Matthew 11:1-19


After a major global event, there are usually jokes doing the rounds of emails within days. The recent corporate scandals in the US are no exception. I came across a joke this week entitled - "Remaining US CEO's make a run for it! A Band of Roving Chief Executives Spotted Just Miles from Mexican Border."


"Unwilling to wait for their eventual indictments, the 10,000 remaining CEOs of public U.S. companies made a break for it yesterday, heading for the Mexican border, plundering towns and villages along the way, and writing the entire rampage off as a marketing expense. Their catch cry along the way- 'You'll never audit us alive!'


Calling themselves the CEOnistas, the outlaws bought the city of Waco, transferred its underperforming areas to a private partnership, and sent a bill to California for $4.5 billion.


Those pursuing have had some success, however, by preying on a common executive weakness. "Last night we caught about 24 of them by disguising one of our female officers as a CNBC anchor," said U.S. Border Patrol spokesperson Janet Lewis. "It was like moths to a flame." 
So far, about 50 chief executives have been captured, including Martha Stewart, who was detained south of El Paso where she had cut through a barbed-wire fence at the Zaragosa border crossing off Highway 375.


"She would have gotten away, but she was stopping motorists to ask for marzipan and food coloring so she could make edible snowman place settings, using the cut pieces of wire for the arms," said Border Patrol officer Jennette Cushing.


While some stragglers are believed to have successfully crossed into Mexico, Cushing said the bulk of the CEOnistas have holed themselves up at the Alamo.


"No, not the fort, the car rental place at the airport," she said. "They're rotating all the tires on the minivans and accounting for each change as a sale."



It's a basic human response to trouble- run for your life and hope no-one comes chasing. This morning I ask the question - When a mistake has been made, whether a corporate billion dollar mistake, or a piece of inappropriate behaviour from an individual, what is the best response? I want to look at our epistle reading, Romans 7, to explore this matter.


It seems to me that Paul gets the first half right, and the second half all wrong. The first step is an acknowledgment of wrongdoing. Honesty! Transparency! A recognition that all is not well! So Paul says- 'What a wretched man I am!' "I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out!' Heartening honesty. We could do with a few press releases along those lines from corporate leaders.


Having seen the root of the problem, if the next step is to point fingers elsewhere, then the road to recovery goes all wrong. So, Paul says- 'It is not I who do it, but it is sin that is living within me that does it.' A slave to sin he says.


There is a dangerous traditional Christian teaching that all of life is a cosmic battle between good and evil, God and Satan and that we are somehow trapped powerless in this battle. In fact there are two dangerous assumptions- 1. That all of life is black and white, that good and evil never overlap and are easily categorised. 2. That people are passive puppets in a heavenly power play. It is captured best in the expression 'The devil made me do it!'


I was recently sent the transcript of a counselling session for comment, as the client had raised some spiritual matters. In it the client, who was struggling with depression, distinguished between his experience of being in the shared lounge room with his room mates who listened to what he saw as 'evil' radio stations. In this he felt the presence of the devil. In his bedroom when he was on his own, he sensed Jesus presence which felt like peace.


In talking about his depression he said this - "I don't know when the devil's gonna strike. Can't really have any plans if I have to deal with it …Oh in some cases I might know that I'm feeling bad and I might say to Mum and Jesus, "I need help quickly" but sometimes I don't have any warning at all.'


The danger it seems to me is that both the depression and the help are taken out of his hands. He is simply a pawn. It seems so powerless. The devil causes it, faith in Jesus fixes it. If the devil causes it, all the social, psychological and medical origins fail to be explored. If faith in Jesus fixes it, all the social, psychological and medical therapies are often bypassed in favour of prayer and warm fuzzies. The potential for destruction with this powerless worldview is enormous, with chronic and untreated depression.


Of course it is no surprise that Paul saw life this way. He was after all a student trained well in a law which categorised all people as either clean or unclean. It was a law of black and white and clear judgement. He was well-trained in Greek ways with the dualism of body and soul, body as impure and soul as immortal. He was truly a man of his time.


Which makes the attitude of Jesus even more remarkable. He was a man way ahead of his time. Into a world of law, and dualism and debilitating cosmic fatalism Jesus offered a message of power. People were affirmed, and given the inspiration to take control of their lives and their destinies.


In the gospel for the day (Matthew 11:1-19) Jesus turns dualism on its head. The basest of human preoccupations, eating, drinking and playing the flute are held up as models of life lived well. The basest of people, tax collectors and sinners, become the friends of Jesus without judgment. Jesus gave every impression of being unclean and impure himself; at least in the eyes of the worldview of his day.


He was offering power to the powerless. He was living a life freed from pre determined categories. He showed the way of repentance, a concept filled with power; repentance as an active step of recognition, heart felt sorrow and change. Which brings us back to the starting point. The gospel is a call to active moving forward. Mistakes honestly addressed and restored. Illnesses honestly treated. Lives of integrity and wholeness.


I finish with a quote from the Tao Te Ching, a text which draws together the corporate and personal….


"A great nation is like a great man

When he makes a mistake, he realises it.

Having realised it, he admits it.

Having admitted it, he corrects it.

He considers those who point out his faults 

As his benevolent teachers.

He thinks of his enemy

As the shadow that he himself casts."


There will be companies to follow Enron and Worldcom with announcements of fraud, malpractice and bankruptcy. There is no doubt about this. The choice will be theirs to choose to function with integrity now and with honesty at the time of crisis. Theirs will be the choice of empowerment, taking control of their own destinies and not looking elsewhere for blame.


Ian Lawton, Vicar, St Matthew-in-the-City


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