Sermon - 17 Pentecost
In the Name...
A priest was the interim at an inner-city church. Some of the stained-glass windows were broken and were covered with pieces of plywood. After several months, he told the congregation that he saw his interim role as like one of those pieces of plywood just covering until proper glass could be obtained. After the service, one lady said to him, “Oh, Father, I don’t think you’re a piece of plywood. I think you’re a real pane.”
We live in what must be the most information-filled age in history. Never before has Mankind had the means to become informed to the point of nausea with printed-out, downloaded, uploaded, digital, televised, taped, recorded - you name it - information on every conceivable topic. And it seems that the more we know, the less we learn. Especially if the information is outside of our personal experience. For example, I was recently shown a form for getting certain medical benefits and I was lost by the middle of page one. Again, I'm clueless staring at a wiring diagram, but, I know people to whom that's as simple as "See Spot run."
It's experiences like these which help me sympathize with how the disciples often reacted to the teaching of Jesus. The Gospels are full of episodes where the inability of the Twelve to grasp plain and simple truths is just staggering. But, then, we have to consider. What you and I may regard as plain and simple was extremely strange and complex to them. For example, Jesus told them he was the Messiah, the One who would free and rule over God's People - and the first thing he was going to do was get himself killed.
Imagine if Bernie Sanders proposed to abolish unions or Mitch McConnell announced he wants to nationalize industries. Doo, dee, doo, dee, doo, dee, doo, dee.
Well, it's no wonder the Twelve had their doubts. That's why last week we read of how Peter took Jesus aside privately and, it says, "began to rebuke him.” Come on, man. Just keep up the feeding miracles, destroy the Romans, and become the king everybody wants you to be.
But, how did Jesus reply? "Get behind me Satan", because Peter was just echoing the temptations in the wilderness when Satan offered Jesus lots of good ideas to make friends and influence people. Not because Peter was malicious, but, because that's all he, and the others, could understand. And, in this morning's Gospel they still don't get it. They're discussing who's going to be Prime Minister when Jesus becomes king.
Well, we have to make allowances. Only after the Resurrection could John begin to think of Jesus as the Incarnate Word of God; only after the Ascension would James find the grace to realize God's People meant more than one Middle-Eastern tribe; only after Pentecost would Peter have the courage to follow to the death of the Cross. Okay. It may have taken them a while, but they eventually got the message.
But, here we are, 2,000 years later and everywhere we find people as clueless about Jesus as back then. So, what's up? We know the story. It's not exactly new. Why are so many so blank? The clue lies in today's Gospel when it said "They didn't understand - and they were afraid to ask.” They were afraid to ask.
One of the side-effects of our info-age is that we're all instant experts on everything - or feel we should be. We're busy. We don't have time for in-depth research. So, we get a hold of something and if it sounds good we'll take it and run, and if not we'll make it fit a shape we want, or can deal with, and still run.
That’s why a preacher once said that the hardest challenge in being a Christian is learning how to say "we", not "me.”
So much of life is dominated by "me.” In one sense that's nothing new. We read in the opening chapters of Genesis that our original relationship with God was damaged by people who put "me" first in their lives. But, never before has so much of society, it seems, been so self-fixated. Even in religion.
We hear all the time about how a personal relationship with God is all-important - and indeed it is important, but, we also need to ask what is the Church's relationship to God and how do I fit into that? I can have a lot of neat ideas about Jesus and what he means to me, which is fine, but, I am not the first Christian who has ever lived. Before I was, God was, and He created the Church, the community of faith, inspired by the Holy Spirit and He wants me to be part of that community.
So, if I have a question about some aspect of Scripture or theology, I need to ask - how has this question been addressed before? The odds are, it has.
There's a lot in the Bible that's outside my experience, but, if I don’t ask, or am too busy to take the time to learn how it can become part of my experience, then I'm just replacing Truth with my opinion.
It’s not a new problem because the Old Testament is full of cases where people choose personal opinion over God's Word. And, in the epistle, St. James said "you do not have because you do not ask.” You do not have the answers because you do not ask the questions. You stop when it's too hard, or strange. Peter, James and John all had their own ideas about what being Messiah meant. Thank God they were wrong and had the grace to learn, as Jesus said, like little children. The question is, how much are people today willing to learn?
The Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that religion was like a garden. It required constant tending or weeds would overtake it. In our info-world there's plenty of opportunity for info-weeds and it can be hard to tell them from the flowers. That’s why we need each other and the help of experienced gardeners.
After all, there's only one vine to be branches of.
In the Name...