There are times I walk a Pentecostal line, or I might say more mystical. I’m not talking about tongues here – although I’ve seen that before. I’m too intellectual personally for that. What I am talking about is the election and will of God. What God wants to have happen will happen. That includes unity with his disciples. The tough thing for us humans and collectively the church to get over is that union is rarely with the power and the glory. That’s what we really want. And we will go to great extremes to “help” God in this. But in this world God’s power is most often seen in weakness. We are most at unity with God when we recognize our weakness, when we embrace the foolish things. And the biggest foolish thing is simply his Word. We baptized a baby this morning. That stood a bit as the example. We are told to bring the little children. And that doesn’t make rational sense. But that is the Word. We find our unity with God in the weak things like water, and Word, and babies.
I used the title remembrance because that is the word John uses twice in the text to help explain it. John has yanked an event out of time, an event from Holy Week, and put it at the start of his gospel. He’s done this because the spiritual importance to him, what he wants to get across to us, he’s only seen in remembrance. And his importance is different than that attached to the event by the other gospels.
The event is the cleansing of the temple. To the other gospel writers this event is the action of the returning king, even if it is drenched in irony as in Mark. To John, in remembrance, this is the start of the sacrifice. This is where Jesus starts to clean the temple. But the temple is not one of stones. It is one of flesh. Jesus chases the animals out, because he becomes the offering.
The two pieces of music I’ve left in here pick up on that theme. The choir sings “What Wondrous Love” which is a gorgeous meditation on that sacrifice. And I’ve left in the hymn we sang after the sermon, LSB 431 Not All the Blood of Beasts which contemplates exactly that exchange. “A sacrifice of nobler name and richer blood than they.”
In our Thursday morning Bible Study for a while at least we are going to be looking at the non-gospel readings for the following Sunday. For the season after Easter that means instead of an old testament lesson we have a reading from Acts, and the epistle lesson comes from Revelation. This week is the introduction to the letters to the church in Revelation 1:4-18. We strayed a little past there is look at the letters themselves. One of the points that gets brought out is that the letters are written to the churches. They are actually written to the angel (messenger) of the church at _____, but what I would assert that means is that they are addressed as a collective. A congregation or a church is a communion. The strengths and problems of an individual are shared by all. The only place in those letters where I see an individual appeal is in Laodicea (Rev 3:14-22). The call to repent for the church that is being spit out is to individuals to hear Christ knocking at the door. Otherwise the call is to the collective.
That is a hard message for American individuals. We are so used to me and my personal Jesus, or me and Jesus in my heart. But as I was walking through this something became clearer to me. What I would call it would be the “guru-ification of Christianity”. Rob Bell is out on the speaking trail with a new book and he now runs small gatherings of people who will pay interact with him and spend some time surfing. He has freed himself of the responsibilities and accountability of a church. Likewise John Spong has another book and is available for speaking. He will come an pitch heresy to whoever pays the bills. Both of their tacts are toward helping you become all you can be. Jesus is important because he is the prop as the ultimate “true man”. If you follow Jesus then you too will emerge into being a truly enlightened human being. And now I get it. In that stuffy church you are forced to deal with left feet and little fingers. In the guru-church it is just you and finding your inner Jesus. And of course that inner Jesus can look like almost anything, but probably not left feet or little fingers.
When I noted yesterday in my not all together coherent thought on what to expect because of the changing picture of marriage, one of the things I mentioned a Hindu thought of Brahman and Atman. When you look at the various Christian-Gurus running around, that is what they are pushing for – a Christianity freed of the church. Free yourself from the tangible and the grubby and head toward enlightenment. Cut yourself free from that body that is holding you back. And the church, poor church, just kinda takes it. You know, like Jesus. The church isn’t hip enough for the emergents. The church isn’t pure enough for the schismatics of various stripes. The church isn’t radical enough for the super-christians. You name it there is some group of guru’s whipping the church. And they think they want the church to change in their direction, but I now wonder. If it did change why would you need their brand of guru anymore? It is easier having the church as whipping boy. All the while, suffering the abuse hurled at it, the church week in and week out calls left feet and little fingers to gather. It calls the glory parts – the right hands, the eyes – to take care and look at the rest. She gathers and instructs and points not to some Jesus inside but to the Jesus outside. The one on a cross. To the gritty reality of sin and blood and crosses. Instead of cutting off parts and freeing yourself, she invites you to join the body, to incarnate, to pick up the cross and join the pilgrim band.
Yes, I know, joining stuff isn’t popular. Bodies are messy. Especially a place full of left feet and little fingers. (And even the occasional middle finger.) But here is the thing. Christ didn’t found a philosophy, he’s building a church or a people. The Kingdom is not a celestial realm of the mind to which we ascend. The new heavens and the new earth come down. We get resurrected bodies. The gurus are leading you away from the gritty reality. The reality that the church resides in. The reality that the church incarnates as the body of Christ in this dark realm.
The first Sunday in Lent. All the texts are about testing or temptation. And If you are listening it is hard to read the testing of Abraham and then read James right after it. There would seem to be a contradiction, and its about something as important as the nature of God. Does God test/tempt? James says don’t say that God does. Abraham is told by God to take Isaac. Jesus is thrown into the desert by the Spirit. Luther, he of calling James an epistle of straw, sides with James in the Catechism. “God tempts no one.”
I think that is something that gets held in tension. Its something we probably don’t see clearly right now. And the overwhelming feeling felt in the texts and often in out lives is of being alone or being abandoned. We might have to live in the tension in the difference between the words testing and temptation, or that awful dodge God allows but doesn’t cause, but the feeling of being alone can be resolved. God has been abundant in his mercy so that you are never alone. The specifics on that are in the sermon…
…The real epiphany is not that God is the creator or that his Word is active and has power, but that He is right here with us. That God comes to be with us. And he says stop being afraid. Even if we didn’t get confused about God having authority or his Word being active – those things could frighten us. They frightened Simon when he realized who was there and active. Ask a muslim – is Allah a nice guy? Doesn’t matter. Allah is Allah, Allah does what he wills. Which could include casting us away. Jesus Christ, comes and preaches, and heals and eats with sinners. Sinners like Simon Peter who recognized God and asked him to leave afraid of what was next. Sinners like us who have trouble counting up all the ways we fall short every day. And God, standing right next to you says stop being afraid, I’ve got a job for you….
Who’s standing next to you? It makes a difference…