Sermon Text: John 10:1-10 and Psalm 23
If any of us were to die at our Mother?s Day lunch, choking on a particularly dry chicken breast, would we feel that we are ready to meet God?? It is the primary fundamentalist question that lies at the heart of nearly every traditional evangelical sermon and conversation.? The premise is that every person in the world has a broken relationship with God that can only be made right by accepting Jesus into our hearts.
A little deeper down into this basic religious equation is that our brokenness is somehow genetic, almost.? We are born into our broken state and it is only made worse by our oftentimes contemptible behaviors, which serve to demonstrate how broken we are at a soul deep level.
I was raised to believe that I was rotten to the core and that only the saving grace of Jesus dying for my sins could set my path toward acceptance at the pearly gates at the moment of my death.? Infant baptism as traditionally practiced as a method, during times of human history when infant mortality was so very high, of insuring that those babies conceived in wickedness and born into brokenness could be made safe from God?s all-consuming wrath toward all basic human badness.
And, it automatically made those babies members of the church if they lived.? It was an easy recruitment tool!? What loving parent does not want to insure our child?s soul with eternal salvation?
This theological belief system was not always the way people thought about babies and most probably was not the way Jesus envisioned our souls either.? Jesus was rather simple on this issue.? God simply loves everything and everyone, fully and completely.
You know the basic stories.? Jesus is teaching and there are parents there, whose noisy children are interfering with what Jesus? disciples think is most important to Jesus?teaching the adults.? They have mothers wanting to have their children blessed by Jesus and, if you will, by God.? The disciples are saying, ?Can?t you keep your children quiet while the master is teaching??
In Jesus? day children were not considered really important, religiously speaking, until they had reached the age of accountability at age twelve.? Again, infant mortality probably was a significant factor at play and you didn?t count until you lived to be 12. ?At age 12 a now-adult male could inherit property and women.?? At age twelve a now adult woman could be married and made useful as a child bearer and house cleaner and cook.
Try to tell a mother or father today that our child is not special and loved by God until age twelve.? It didn?t work in Jesus? day either.? Jesus didn?t say, ?We have to change the law about this!?? He simply corrected his disciples and said, ?What is important to me, even more important than quiet in church, is that these children know that they are eternally loved and valued now.?? Jesus instructed his embarrassed disciples, who were being publicly reprimanded to bring the children to him.? And then he blessed the children and affirmed their eternal value.
Jesus never said that our souls are stained by our mere existence.? Parts of the developing church, for centuries after Jesus? death, did say that and they also argued that they, the men, were the apostolic, ordained representatives of Jesus and that they were right and empowered to make the decisions and that everyone who disagreed with them were wrong.
And, of course there are so many things that the powerful early developing church made up that have caused problems ever since.? They created or furthered a basic duality that the earth and everything in it is bad, and like our unblessed and lost souls will be destroyed by God, who hates anything that is not of God.? And yet, didn?t Jesus say that God fully loves the birds in the air, the trees and the plants?? Jesus and his Jewish context believed that the earth was God?s and that God loves the earth and everything therein and so should we.
This is a theological dilemma that lies at the heart of our spiritual and practical malaise about global warming and ecological destruction.? We all have pet peeves, things that, when said or when we recognize them in common dialogue, just set us off.? One of mine (and I have many) is when someone in a religious context suggests, ?Oh don?t worry, because the earth is not our home anyway.?
Well, yes it is.? This is our home and it will become home to our children?s children and on and on.? In addition, saying, ?Well this is not our home? also implies that this earth is of secondary or no importance to God other than as a stage setting for us zooming up into heaven at some apocalyptic time or at our deaths.? Christianity that professes such beliefs, that allows us to disconnect from our existence as part of the earth, is an evil that perverts not only God?s love for our existence but that also serves to prevent religious dedication to caring for our planet and continued thriving life with it and within it.? God values the planet with as much passion as God values our human existence.? It is not one or the other, it is most probably all one love that is indistinguable in God?s eyes.
I know that I stand before a very ecologically grounded group of people.? Many of us privately and even publicly are greatly concerned.? But I wonder how many of you in your conversations challenge many of the core assumptions our dearest friends and relatives and work partners have regarding the value of the planet in the eyes of God, and assist those you know to discern how some basic religious beliefs prevent many from taking climate change seriously, deadly seriously?
Lynn and I have been in the process, the last four years, of building and remodeling our house out in Brown County.? We have bought locally, if you will.? We have many skilled laborers in Brown County and we believe deeply that we ought to be using them.? But, oh my God what a challenge it is to talk seriously with many of our guys that we hire.? They bring to our house and home some of the worse racism, sexism, homophobia, and Jesus-died-for-my-sins that I ever hear anywhere. ??I understand that we make a statement by how we purchase?but I also suffer that these are the primary folks I want to be educating to discover that they have choices and have been heavily ?influenced by not being exposed ?to the reality that there are indeed a plethora of ways to think and react to a world of grand diversity of ideas and people.
One of the most powerful realities that I run into with regularity, and which is so appropriate to focus on during the liturgical season of Lent, is this thing called the myth of redemptive violence?that violence can be redemptive, that we can kill our way to peace in the world.? While I would like to just point fingers at some of the backwoods guys that we work with out in Brown County, this myth is healthy, alive and still prevelant even here in our liberal town of Bloomington and especially alive in most churches.
It was just a couple of weeks ago that Sarah Palin, a conservative Christian, found her way to our capital city, Indianapolis and spoke to a raucous crowd at the National Rifle Association annual meeting where she said, ?true leaders put the fear of God in our enemies,? and if she were in charge of the world or just our country, those enemies would know ?that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.?
Our religious cousins, the Southern Baptists, were speaking to redemptive violence this last week when the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, just 2 hours down I-65 in Louisville, Kentucky was speaking regarding the botched execution in Oklahoma; he posted to CNN an article entitled, ?Why Christians should support the death penalty.?? ?In a world of violence,? he argues, ?the death penalty is understood as a necessary firewall against the spread of further deadly violence.?? So, violence to stop violence, to stop violence to stop violence?and it goes on and on, doesn?t it.
It was so interesting to note that Dr. Mohler did not once consider the teachings of Jesus when talking about the case for capital punishment.? He supported his position straight from passages from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, but he failed to note that the same scriptures that support the death penalty for murderers also calls for the same punishment for adulterers and disobedient children.
He argued further that we should all consider the Creation accounts in Genesis as direct and straight forward accounts of a creation of the universe in seven 24-hour days.? Okay, but should he also, don?t you think, use a straightforward and direct reading of Jesus? teachings on violence?
From the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, ?You have heard it said, ?An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.? But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.? If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek as well?; you have heard it said, ?Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.? But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?.??
Do you remember that story in John?s Gospel?? When Jesus was given the opportunity to participate in the execution of an adulterer, he refused, challenging those who had gathered around the woman to drop their stones and walk away.? Funny, isn?t it, how it?s easy to favor a straightforward reading of the text until the text says to love your enemies.
Friends, we are a progressively liberal faith community that needs to be talking about our faith and living our faith.? I?m going to guess that most of us are extremely good at doing the right thing, sacrificing for the least of these?, but we also need to be sane and secure in knowing that our faith positions are valid and not even rare.? We just happen to not force our way onto others, but, we must be willing and able to teach and give voice because others are so hungry to know another way?they really are.
Incidentally, it is easy, just downright fun almost, for me to pick on people like Dr. Mohler and Sarah Palin.? It is almost not even fair.? But, when I go to the Sermon on the Mount and read the whole thing, it puts me in my place.? Because Jesus also said, ?I tell you a murderer is liable to judgment.? But I tell also that anyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be subject to judgment.? Again, anyone who says? Raca is answerable to the court and anyone who says, ?You fool!? will be in danger of the fire of hell.?? Raca, basically means idiot.? It is hard for me to consider Sarah Palin and not just send myself straight to hell.? But, Jesus calls me to higher ground?which I don?t always achieve.
The ways of Jesus of Nazareth are not easy and I dare say that it was his life that he lived, emulating it, that our faith is to be most about, not his death.? Jesus did not die for our sins; he died living a way that enables those who have eyes that can see how to be saved from our sins.? It is a challenging way?one that many of our mothers have powerfully lived and died doing. ??Don?t choke with a dry piece of meat over lunch today.? But, be strong.? Talk and teach and listen well.? It is the way of Jesus that saves us from our sins. Might we so live.? Amen.