The Blue Screen of Death
I remember the first time I put on sunglasses with polarized lens. The sky changed from a diffuse featureless plane of light to piles of shapely clouds and a vast volume of light and shadow, full of previously unseen colors. Similarly when I went fishing the water was opaque shimmering silver out to the horizon until I put on my polarized sunglasses. Suddenly I could see beneath the surface. Previously invisible fish, rocks on the bottom and water plants waving in the currents came into view.
We are always looking at the world through lens that condition what we see whether we have glasses of any kind on our heads or not. We look through the lens of our beliefs. I share this story as preamble because the stories we hear in Scripture remain remote unless we can connect them with our lived experience. If we seek to discover these connections as a part of our daily spiritual life, we’ll not only become more adept at doing theological reflection but we’ll find that our view of the world, our self and our neighbors will change. If our worldview changes our behavior toward one another will also change. Jesus knows that.
In the three years of his active earthly ministry Jesus gathered disciples and taught them a different way of looking at and being in the world – a way not based on violence and power but on love. Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of heaven being very near, indeed within us. All that he said and all that he did was intended to make this real in the minds and hearts of his followers.
But to see it more clearly one has to believe it. To fully enter a new way of being, the old one needs to fall away. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Many years ago I was in seminary at Sewanee, Tennessee. In my second year of seminary I started a project management business, hired many fellow students, and took on a wide variety of University projects.
One of those projects was helping the library make the transition from paper card catalogs to an online database. I designed the online tutorial that would help library users learn the new system. I needed to use both Macs and PCs so I became more deeply familiar with both operating systems at the same time I was studying philosophy and theology.
I saw some parallels. Just as there are many different kinds of computer operating systems – Microsoft, Apple, Linux, etc.- so too people have a variety of worldviews out of which they operate.
You can learn more about the Episcopal operating system by reading the “Outline of the Faith” in the back of the prayer book or by doing some deeper study of the Creed that we recite each Sunday. That word, Creed, comes from the Latin word, Credo, which means, “I believe.”
But not everything we might believe leads to a life worth living. Many approaches promise value but fall short and they cannot offer eternal life. Our culture is full of philosophical operating systems that will ultimately crash and yield what Microsoft likes to call a “fatal error.” Computer geeks refer to the results of such PC crashes as “the blue screen of death.”
We can watch Peter’s face illuminated by such blue light in the Gospel reading this morning as Peter experiences cognitive dissonance. But Jesus is working through the program he came to implement. He is leading the life that proclaims the victory of God’s vision over the illusions of the world. A necessary part of this is to be true to the vision no matter the cost. And it will cost everything, including Jesus’ life.
Peter stands in the garden of Gethsemane which is soon to be lit up with the light of approaching torches, and a betrayer in their midst who will come with the temple police. Peter just can’t wrap his mind around it all. The resurrection is a completely unimaginable idea, death looms large and Peter who can’t imagine how dying can possibly lead to victory, objects strongly to Jesus’ plan.
Peter would seem to have a point. What could be more final than death? What could be a stronger indicator of a movement’s failure than it’s leader’s death as a common criminal? But in a moment of fear Peter has let go of the teaching he has received from Jesus and even of the direct experience Peter had of the presence of the Divine in a cloud on the mount of Transfiguration.
Peter has reverted to a worldview that does not give life, the very one that Jesus came to save us from. By so doing Peter has moved from being the central rock on which the church could be built to being the chief stumbling block on the journey to that vision. This is why Jesus calls him Satan, or deceiver, and says, essentially, “get out of my way.” How difficult that must have been…certainly for Peter, but also for Jesus…strong currents in a dark river.
Even though I know how the story ends I remember many times when I have been like Peter; times when I have found myself in a dark river of fear and short on knowledge. Like Peter I have clutched at my own clearly insufficient understanding rather than trusting in the power of God. But there is another more excellent way.
A loving God does not move us around like puppets but invites us, with ongoing compassion and hospitality to be active participants in our own awaking. God wants us to grow in spiritual maturity. The Kingdom of heaven is very near us and we can sharpen our vision of it by opening our hearts and our minds and leaning into the light and wisdom Jesus brings.
At least four time a year we say we believe that through our baptism we have been grafted into the life, death and resurrection of the risen Christ. But we need practical ways to remind and reinforce this vision so that when the flickering light of the television serves up a hundred fears a day and our imaginations run riot we have a way to turn and get back on the right road.
You can find a good list in the promises that are made on pages 304 and 305 in the Baptismal service. But St. Paul’s letter this morning is more immediately available. It is full of advice worth printing out and pasting to our bathroom mirrors. Listen, again, to the first part:
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
This fits rather well with the Bishop’s appeal to respond to the needs of those impacted by Hurricane Harvey, doesn’t it?
And the second part of Paul’s counsel gives us good overall counsel about how to live in this fractious time of global instability and homegrown polarization:
…Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
In the light of the resurrection the truth of all that Jesus said becomes brilliantly obvious. We can see the dots connected. Clearly death does not have the last word, nor does the power of the world ultimately triumph over the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus rose and so shall we. We are in an ongoing story that may include dark rivers, strong storms and all manner of threats, but a good end has already been resolved.
So have hope. Stay strong in your faith. All shall be well.