Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Truth is...

John 18:33-17

            I honestly find it a little funny how we always drop the Pilate's questioning retort to what Jesus has just said about the truth that he is bringing into the world.  It's not as if the lectionary is pairing down a longer scene that could be broken in half. Pilate's question, "What is truth?" (John 18:38) is how the author chooses to end that scene! My guess is that we as a society often have trouble with ending a story with questions.  We want resolution.  We want to be able to say, "This is what has happened and all my questions have been answered."  Yet that might be the precise reason that we end with a question rather than an answer.
            So much of life is filled with doubts and unanswerable questions.  Questions like, "Why did my son have to die?" and "How can some people act so cruelly firing guns at children in an elementary school or abducting a school full of girls to be sold as slaves?"  When are encountered with these kinds of situations in our life, we cannot help but to begin to search for some kind of meaning, some kind of truth that will help us to understand.  So, by cutting off Pilate's question from this scene, we, in some way, are cutting off the question that plagues us all throughout the years of our lives.  And in doing so, we just might be diminishing what Jesus is about to accomplish in his death on the cross.  The Gospel of John wants us to see and know the truth which is depth and breadth of his love for us.

            One of the things that gives me life throughout my week is a group of people that I have come to know over the years through my hobby of online gaming every now and then.  This group of people hail from all over.  This group of people come from Toronto, Calgary, Baltimore, Seattle, Houston, Alabama, New Jersey, things seems to be a common characteristic: We always want to know more about the world that surrounds us.  We link articles covering politics and economics.  We'll discuss theoretical physics.  A lot of them are computer programmers and will get into discussions about how to solve what I can only describe as "computer issues." We'll talk about TV shows, movies, and games that are coming out.  And yes, we'll even get into conversations about faith.

            One of the other things you probably should know about this bunch is that they're not all Christian.  Some of them may be out and out atheists.  Others are true agnostics, not want or being able to say one way or another.  I know some have been hurt by the church in the past. Others are hurt by the way that they see some Christians act in hateful ways and by the way that some in the Christian communion willfully throw knowledge and reason to the way side.  But no matter where any of them might fall on the theological continuum, they all value the quest (maybe the QUESTion?) for truth.

            This is a quest that people, especially the younger generations thrive upon in their lives.  People are searching for truth, and they don't necessarily want it handed to them without regard for their own questions. That is probably why I want so desperately to tack on verse 38 to our reading for today.  It leaves in the air this question of truth that dominates our lives.  So what is the truth that dominates our lives?  It is none other than the plain and simple truth that we all can and will experience suffering and death in our lives.  That is a truth that none of us can escape, but that is the truth that Jesus came into the world to do something about.
            We all have doubts and fears, and God knows we all have experienced some amount of suffering in this world that we live in.  Even if we have not a personal experience of suffering, we cannot escape the stories of suffering that is plastered on news on a weekly basis.  In this story, in this life-giving narrative, Jesus see all of this, and he has one reaction: compassion for us and the whole of creation.  So Jesus comes, this man who our faith informs us is "God from God, light from light, true God from true God," to bring a new reality into the reality of our death and suffering.  In his death that he will not stop from happening, he comes to share with us in our suffering and death so that we know, see, and trust that God is not an uncaring all powerful deity who sits above wondering if any of us are ever going to be good enough to make our own way into heaven.

            That's what this day, "Christ the King," is all about.  This is a day where we celebrate not how Jesus is a better king than Pilate and Caesar could ever be, but rather how he comes to bring this new reality where our suffering and death are met love and compassion. I know that's a sweeping claim to truth, but when I reflect on my faith and how I feel something that can only be described as the Holy Spirit inspiring me, I trust that it is true.  And here's the wonderful thing: when I think about my friends who may not agree with me to that claim of truth, I still believe that that word of promise goes forth to embrace them in their lives as well.  The truth that Jesus brings is a truth that is for the whole of creation, even and maybe especially those who might consistently ask, "What is truth?" (John 18:38)  For me, even if it doesn't answer all the questions that I might have, it does give me hope even in that which befalls us all.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

I must decrease so that Christ may increase...

Matthew 5.38-48

            The confirmation class asked me just this past Wednesday "So what are you supposed to do if someone comes up to you in school and punches you in the face?"  I answered,  "Come to church this Sunday.  You just might hear what Jesus has to say about that very question."  At least, that's how I remember it.  I apologize to our students if I misquoted them.  You see, we got into a discussion about the "Golden Rule."  You all have probably heard it before.  It's the "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" rule.  That's a great rule, don't you think?  Those of us who have children have probably taught it to them in one form or another as they grow up.  It makes a lot of sense too.  It helps to teach our children to be nice to other people and respect those who are in authority over them, but it probably does one thing above all else.  It helps develop empathy as they grow and become people in their own rights with their own personalities.  When I say empathy, I mean that they are gaining the ability to consider what it's like to be another person.  This is an essential skill to develop in our children as they grow.

            Now let's face it.  Our children when they are first born are little monsters.  I love kids, but it's true.  Our children, from when they are first born to the time they begin to be able to consider the "other" around him or her, have a worldview so small that in many ways they believe that they are the only thing in the universe that matters, and that if they cry long enough and loud enough, they will get what they want or need.  This really isn't an opinion that I have.  Kids brains truly haven't developed to the point of being able to consider the world beyond themselves.  You can see it in the way that babies even learn to count.  They don't begin life being able to count one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.  They literally begin counting by observing what's around them.  And what do they see?  They see one hand, then another hand, and then everything else.  So they count one, two, everything else.  Again, they see the world as revolving around themselves.  But that's where teaching the Golden Rule to our children helps them to develop an understanding of the world around themselves.

            When you begin to think about the statement, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." not only do you have to consider what you would like to happen to yourself, but also have to take the crucial step of considering how words or an action might be received by another person - a person whose mind you cannot access.  You have to begin to imagine what it's like to be that person, and that right there is where we begin to see what exactly empathy is: considering what it's like to be another person.  And this is where the words that Jesus is speaking to the disciples and to us come into play for us this morning.  He is asking  to not only consider the other person, but he is also asking us to confront the humanity of the person before us AND take action to make them consider our humanity as well.  So, for the confirmation students, this just might be where you might hear an answer to the question you asked on Wednesday.  The only problem is that it might not be the answer that you or any of us would really want to hear come from the one that we call "Lord and Savior."

            "You have heard that it was said. 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth..."  For the past few weeks, Jesus has been confronting the disciples and others gathered around him about their preconceived notions of what it means to live a righteous life by the laws that seem to help make the world make sense and protect what we have and what we have gathered.  In every instance, Jesus took those laws, those sayings and made them cut even deeper into to show us exactly how unrighteous we can be.  This week, is no different.  Jesus brings up a saying that gives people a sense of comfort that justice can be had in their lives.  He brings up the notion of retribution as justice, and Jesus will not let this one be.  He states clearly that retribution like "an eye for an eye" is not and will not be his way in the world. O, how we act as if this would not be true.  We want desperately to be able to hurt the ones that have hurt us.  We don't want Jesus' command here to be true, because that it completely unfair when we hurt and the other doesn't.  We want them to feel what we are feeling.  We want to pervert the Golden Rule to mean that actions that have already happened to us can and should happen to others.  But that is not what that rule states.  Even when we've been hurt, it still calls to treat others as we want to be treated.  But Jesus' reason for subverting "eye for an eye" is for no less reason than to create a new reality within the world where we confront our attacker with our humanity as we confront his or her humanity.

            That's what the whole business of turn the other cheek, give your cloak, and go the extra mile are all about in our reading for today.  Their about taking an action that confronts the person who would subjugate us and removes the power that they would try to wield over us.  We turn the other cheek not as a way to passively accept and not escalate the situation, but instead as a way to make our attacker see that we are human beings with the same rights as anyone else, that if they want to keep on attacking they'll have to confront their actions.  We go the extra mile, not as a weird way to pay attention to every little detail like we so often think it must mean, but instead it's original concept was to embarrass the Roman soldier who could conscript anyone they pass by to carry all his gear by making him confront the humanity of the person he has conscripted.

            Perhaps more than anything, Jesus calls us to love not just those that are easy to love, but also those that we hate and pray for those who persecute us.  We can hold onto hate so intensely in our lives.  We can make it something controls our every actions and dominate how we live our lives.  And how does Jesus end all of this?  By calling us to be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect.  Oh!  Is that all I have to do Jesus?  I guess I'll just pack my bags and go home...

            But I don't think that this is Jesus' only point.  I do think that a part of what Jesus is doing is confronting us with the delusion that we can make it on our own, but I think we would be remiss to not notice how these commands become apart of how Jesus lives his life - a life that ultimately leads to his death.  Jesus confronts evil in the world by exposing it for what it is.  Jesus confronts violence in the world by showing us that it cannot and will not have power over him.  Jesus confronts hate in the world by showing us that his love for us and the whole of creation extends beyond our ability to fathom as he comes bringing a love that seeks to bring and give life even to those who would be called enemies.

            In Jesus' life, teachings, and death, he shows us a way of living where the self decreases and the other increases.  He leads a life where he is deeply concerned for how others want to be treated, and he also shows us a beloved beautiful thing.  Jesus' life becomes the perfection that is finally, ultimately demanded.  Simply put, God will not abandon us to the dump heap of history.  Our part, then, becomes not about how we can live out our life perfectly enough for God, but in finding our own ways that we can decrease our demands for ourselves and increase the life for those all around us.  So what are we to do if someone comes up to us in school and punches us in the face?  Maybe just maybe, we don't give violence for violence, but rather confront the situation that life can not only increase for us who have been hit, but even for the one who has attacked us so that he or she might also live a life free from violence and hatred.  Maybe.  What do you think?