Easter 6A, 2011
A Liturgy is also available
GOD LIVES AND COMES TO WONDERFUL EXPRESSION, IN US. SO, LONG LIVE LIVING
I am aware that my sermon last week...
about the words put into the mouth of Jesus by the storyteller John:
‘I am the way and the truth and the life’,
and the interpretation I offered, was challenging to some of you.
Indeed it is often the subject of much debate
in the Letters pages of any/many church magazines.
What I said, was not what some of you had read/heard others say before.
And, it would seem, this either caught some of you unawares, or
stimulated your imaginations.
Thank you for the feedback.
For those of you who didn't catch my comments perhaps I should recap just a little.
How can we make sense of the claim:
‘I am the way and the truth and the life’.
Traditionally, these words have often been used,
and come across, as exceedingly exclusive.
As if Jesus, in the guise of a benevolent but first century ‘Terminator’,
is making an ambit claim against other religions.
Or is some kind of heavenly bouncer, keeping people away from God.
Especially those without faith.
Those with not enough faith.
And those who express their faith differently.
My sermon was about the opposite of this.
Jesus is not the way in the sense of a moral guide or a model of leadership.
He is the path-way into the depths of the
Into the mystery of our common existence.
Jesus is the truth about that common existence.
Uncovering what is hidden, and bringing to light
another dimension of human existence.
Jesus is life because he is the way and truth by which
God, self, and neighbour, break their isolation
and flow into each other.
So the challenge for those of us who live comfortably with the title ‘progressive’,
(and that’s not everyone who visits this website) is not the existence of other faiths claims.
For the most part, most of us happily embrace
religious pluralism and spiritual diversity.
The challenge, it seems to me, is our surrendering of the Christian story
to exclusive cults and preaching gurus,
to fundamentalists and members of the ‘religious right’, and
to the new neo-conservative evangelicals.
Well, that was last week. What about this week?
To be honest, today’s gospel story - John’s prelude to Pentecost -
is a very complicated one about the continuing presentness of God.
And I have really struggled with this story.
Always have. And this week was no different.
Indeed some of the internet ‘advice’ suggested to preachers, was:
this is a good Sunday to invite in a guest preacher!
Advice I didn’t follow because I just happened to overhear some conversations
which seemed to be suggesting another possible way into this story.
To sense the differences between
the religion of Jesus, and
the religion about Jesus.
So let me see if I can explore this just a little, once again
with the imaginative help of some friends.
The religion of Jesus
is found in the echoes of the sayings he spoke and the stories he told,
not as law, but about how to live,
how to treat one another,
how to re-imagine the world.
The religion about Jesus has often been the religion
of literalism and fundamentalism.
And when it has, it is believing a certain story
about an interventionist God,
with the promise that if you do believe,
you’ll be saved some day after you die.
The religion of Jesus is not a ‘supernatural’ story. It is about
how you can be made more whole, here and now, and
how you can help make the world more whole, here and now.
From our very best guesses
(thanks to the work of amateur sleuths and scholarly critics),
we can say the message of the religion of Jesus was one of
liberation and empowerment and compassion.
Of providing new or different pathways
to experiencing and serving God in daily life, this life.
And from all we have puzzled over and learned, we can also say
the message from the religion about Jesus was one too often aimed at
frightening or controlling people,
hating gays or assertive women,
or supporting a war against people in the Middle East or anywhere else.
The religion about Jesus emphasises the ‘noun’.
The religion of Jesus emphasises the ‘verb’.
As a web site colleague said:
The religion about Jesus is ‘Easter’. The religion of Jesus is ‘eastering’.
“It’s about the miracle of new life coming from old, life out of death, right here and now. Nothing supernatural, though it feels so magical when it happens... Life is about hono(u)ring that spirit of life that comes and goes as it likes, but when it comes our way it can make all the difference between feeling dead and feeling alive...” (Davidson Loehr UUAustin Web site, 2008).
The stories we heard this morning from Philip and from John,
I want to suggest, are more about ‘eastering’ than ‘easter’.
They are not about bigger miracles
or stricter commandments
or watertight creeds.
They are about a dynamic, creative, evolving ‘presentness’ in our midst.
True, they are conditioned and shaped by the language of their day:
sin causes sickness,
God as all powerful and distant.
But so are our stories conditioned and shaped by the language and imagination of our day.
So, with the so-called Luke’s version of Paul, we can claim: God is ‘not far from each one of us.’
Present and active everywhere on earth...
- in the slow development of human cultures and societies,
- in the growth of knowledge,
- in the constant search for meaning as women and men
tell stories and sharing their connectedness,
and in the urging of us to love graciously and generously,
to break down barriers between people, and
to put an end to religious elitism and religious wars.
A imagining of a better and more creative and vulnerable humanity.
And a rejoicing in the knowledge that
God lives and comes to wonderful expression - in us.
In us! In us! Missing pieces, and all.
So, long live living. If living can be this!