Resist the Siren Call to a Passive Faith
Psalm 34:1-8; John 6:35, 41-51
In a self-centered kind of faith, we celebrate the God who has selected us from out of all of the people of the world to be the “Chosen People.” This sense of being selected for particular honor, runs deep in the sense of identity in many of the established religions. It is the easiest target of those who claim to be “spiritual but not religious.”
In this kind of faith, the emphasis is on right belief. Believe the right thing in the right way, and you are all good. You might then be well served to sit quietly with your books, and read and pray your “chosen” self into the heavenly kingdom. This would keep us from the messiness of dealing with those in the messy world who are not ‘saved.’
This is a powerful temptation. When the Tuesday morning Bible Study group considered the epistles of First, Second and Third John, we recognized several opportunities for folks to latch on to key phrases, and fashion a kind of faith that defines the world of those loved by God to exclude any who do not meet a narrow definition of worthiness or orthodox belief. Those same hooks are visible in the gospel of John.
With these core definitions, it becomes so much easier to ‘love your neighbor’ because you get to decide who is your neighbor. And quite literally, they figure, the hell with everybody else. This exclusive sense of entitlement is what parades around as Christianity in the US and much of Western Europe, and is at the core of why mature and thinking people are walking away from the church.
In the gospel passage, those who are resisting Jesus try to avoid all of the teachings of Jesus that make them uncomfortable. Rather than deal wth the message, they attack the integrity of the messenger.
This is a common defense humans use to resist what is new, attempt to discredit the one who is bringing the news. “Isn’t this the son of the carpenter? Who does he think he is?” “That person has been accused of being inaccurate before, don’t trust anything he says.” And all the way from Greek mythology to today there is the story of the messenger literally being killed for bringing an uncomfortable truth.
So here is an Uncomfortable Truth for you. If we would truly follow Jesus the Christ, our willingness to accept people the way they are, will anger more than a few people. Our willingness to treat the gospel as an invitation for all to trust that God loves them, and wants them to trust in God’s love and forgiveness, will mark us as sinners. I had a Morton pastor accuse me of preaching false doctrines in our common prayer time at the Ministerial Association lunch in the Spring, I presume over the LGBTQI issues. I had to smile. I was hoping that his congregation and ours might find some mission projects to share.
Instead I returned to this sanctuary on the next Sunday, to reaffirm the critically important role you have in this community. Your clear voice of “Welcome” is much more important than you could possibly know. When you and I are willing to smile in the face of charges of being “too welcoming” we help every person who feels ostracized at least hold out hope, “that God gives a damn about injustice.”
Last week I read to you from correspondence I received from a recent visitor. As I survey the level of hostility being openly expressed in public these days; hateful rhetoric, insulting to God’s children, I am more persuaded than ever just how urgently our voice of welcome needs to be broadcast. When violent words parade around under the label of Christianity and patriotism, I shudder. “God and country,” were never intended to be so abused.
What was making people so uncomfortable in today’s gospel? Jesus dared to say, “I am - the bread of life.” The “I Am” statements in the gospel of John, are structured to recall the confrontation of Moses by God at the burning bush. Jesus uses words that recall what is recorded in the Exodus text, in order to make a point. The similarity in structure would not be lost on the Temple Jews of Jesus day. No doubt these words made some believe that this Jesus of Nazareth was equating himself to God.
It was hundreds of years after the gospels were written that the church decided that the Trinity; Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier - aka the Father, Son and Holy Ghost; is a convenient way to conceptualize the personhood of God. The actual mystery that is God - is too much for the human mind, but we put a convenient handle on the complex, and call the divine reality, The Trinity.
So let us pause and consider the bread of life. When we take communion, we bring an awareness of the presence of God into our very being. You and I not only accept that presence for ourselves, but in fact, we become the body of Christ - in the community - and for the community. We are then called to express God’s love through the use of every gift that God has given us.
The community around us will push back, just as they pushed back on Jesus. There will be no small sense of folks wanting to “kill the messenger” before they would be able to hear a message of welcome and forgiveness. They would rather reject blessings for themselves, than share with those who fail to meet their criteria.
The culture is so devoted to this sense of entitlement and exceptionalism, that we need to increase our own sensitivity and wariness. We need to look at ourselves in the mirror of truth, and listen for the voice of the prophet Nathan, exposing our own hidden sins of judgement. We might be labelled by shallow and thoughtless people, calling us “The Gay Church” in an attempt to do us harm. Frankly, that might actually be the best advertisement we can get for free. The best response might be, to smile and say, “Well that may be true, but we are far more committed to justice than only to welcoming the gays.”
If the community loves to deride the gays, then let my face and name be used to declare a sense of welcome. If the general public want to demonize the poor and the immigrants, then let me be the one who says, “I am the bread of life,” because the love of God is within me.
Jesus realized that this “I Am” statement was making his opponents crazy. How did he respond? He used this same structure 6 more times in the gospel of John. It was most critical to Jesus for them to know just where he stood. In this gospel, Jesus makes it plain that what was comfortable and traditional, was not the best way to represent God’s love.
So I have great news for you. Your salvation is already worked out. You do not need to sit and study and think all of the right thoughts. All that is needed for your salvation is complete. While we are vulnerable to temptation, we are also in touch with salvation. While knowing that we are sinners, our humility before God brings out the maturity of our faith, and the confidence that good works and kind words, build the kingdom of God in the here and now.
Now, it is time for you to go out and live distributing the good news of your salvation, and extend that invitation to others. Like Jesus, pay no heed to those who want to kill the messenger. Do not be distracted by those who question your qualifications. Show God’s love and welcome to those at the margins. Speak directly to those in pain. Offer comfort to those who are in severe distress. And of course, take seriously your responsibility as a citizen, to participate in public life.
We are in an age that is amplifying the voices of the cruel. We are in a time, where money buys influence in our own government, in ways that we used to criticize as ‘corruption’ in “Third World” countries. It is tempting to withdraw from the fray. It is tempting to consider ‘all politicians’ as crooks. It is tempting to believe the end of the world is coming so you are permitted to withdraw from the ruckus, and pray your way into heaven.
Face temptation for what it is, a distraction. The body of Christ is full of compassion. The body of Christ is called to represent justice and mercy. The body of Christ, lives on the Bread of Life, and smiles in the face of those who would try to avoid an uncomfortable truth by discrediting the messenger. As you walk through the world this week, you are the body of Christ delivering the uncomfortable truth that the culture is straining to discredit.
“We’re the proof of God’s good humor, we’re the twinkle in God’s eye. Made to shine, reflect the glory, given light and space to fly. Alleluia, all creation. Alleluia, everyone. Alleluia, all creation. Alleluia everyone.