Sermon preached February 19, 2012
Texts: Colossians 2:6-7, 3:12-17; Luke 24:13-35
This morning I begin with two stories. Once upon a time there was an idyllic garden where human beings had all they would need for a wonderful life. The humans were good. The garden was good. The God who created it all was good. But the humans blew it. They messed up badly. In disobedience to God they warped themselves, they warped creation. They twisted their own natures almost beyond recognition. John Calvin: “thus being perverted and corrupted in all parts of our nature, we are, merely on account of such corruption, deservedly condemned by God” (Institutes, II.1.8, - p. I.217). So God is not pleased. God loves, but it is often an angry love. While God loves, God is also ready to condemn. A last chance is offered to all in Jesus. Believe or else. Rob Bell, Love Wins: God loves us. God offers us everlasting life by grace, freely, through no merit on our part. Unless you do not respond the right way. Then God will torture you forever in hell. Those who are convinced by the first parts of this story and say they have faith in Jesus become a community – the church – the community of the convinced. Faith is answers. God loves but is pretty peeved. Jesus died for you, believe it or else – turn or burn. The life of faith is learning the story better and telling others about it so they can turn, or else.
This story line is a bit of a caricature, though maybe not much of one. And it needs to be said, and said again and again, many for whom this story is the Christian story also believe that God has told them to love others while here on earth. A lot of good is done by folks who may believe that in the end some of those they help may also end up in hell.
Here’s another story. We are beautiful people, created in the image of God and nothing that happens fully erases that image in us, in any of us. Yet things do go worng and have gone wrong. We are beautiful people in a pickle: who do wrong and need meaningful forgiveness, who get trapped and need a power that can frees us from that which traps us, who are short sighted and need a patient presence that can open our eyes and the eyes of our hearts, who hurt others and need a love that reconciles, who are wounded and need a touch that heals, who are baffled and need perspective for our perplexity, who are lost and need the warmth of a home. We need someone who sees our genuine beauty and helps us see the beauty in ourselves and in the world.
God as love offers meaningful forgiveness, a freeing power, a healing touch, a light that shines, a centering perspective, the warmth of home. God as love sees our beauty and desires that we see it too. God as love wants to work with us to make the world more beautiful. And God as love invites us to love God back. We love God by intentionally making space for God in our lives. We love God through loving the world as God loves the world.
We get our cue about God and about what it means to love as God loves through Jesus. We proclaim that Jesus is Lord. Yet Jesus is lord in a unique way – he feeds, heals, includes, grows. We trust that Jesus is a living lord. He is the face of God for us, a close, living presence. In Jesus as lord we know a God who does not avoid beautiful people in a pickle, human beings who have the capacity to mess up their lives and the world. In Jesus, God is always drawing near to feed and heal and welcome and invite growth.
And Jesus gathers people together into community. We call this Jesus community the church. The church is less a community of the convinced than a community on a mission. We are keepers of the story of Jesus. We tell the stories again and again. We add chapters to the story of Jesus. We continue his work of healing, feeding, welcoming, inviting to grow. The Church is about transformation in our lives and in our world. There is inner and outer work here. Not all the pain and brokenness and lostness in the world is out there somewhere. We have some in here, in our own hearts and souls and lives. We, too, are beautiful people in a pickle who need the God of love who heals, feeds, frees, welcomes and invites to growth in Jesus. As disciples of Jesus Christ, gathered into the body of Christ we are being healed and offering healing. We are fed, body and soul, and offer to feed. We are welcomed by God and into the family of God, and we welcome others. We continue to grow, and invite others to grow in grace, in faith, hope and love. We seek to grow and invite others to grow into the fully alive human beings who are the glory of God (Irenaeus).
This second story is the story I have been telling over the past month. I think it is a better story. I think it is a truer story. I think it is a story truer to a God who really is love – a profuse and profound love. I think it is truer to a Jesus who really is good news. I think it is truer to the Bible, that multi-vocal witness to God as love and Jesus as lord.
And if this is a better Christian story, one that seems to offer genuine good news, what does faith look like here? If from the first story faith is answers and the life of faith is learning the story better and telling others about it so they can turn, or else, what is faith and the life of faith in this second story? Faith is a way.
Discipleship in the New Testament is… a following after Jesus, a journeying with Jesus…. Discipleship means being on the road with him…. Believing in Jesus does not mean believing doctrines about him. Rather it means to give one’s heart, one’s self at its deepest level, to the post-Easter Jesus who is the living Lord, the side of God turned toward us, the face of God, the Lord who is also the Spirit. (Marcus Borg, Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time, 135, 137)
Faith is a way. Just as the first disciples walked with Jesus, just as those disciples walked with the Risen Christ on the road to Emmaus, faith is a journey. I appreciate how Michael Eigen describes faith. “Faith supports experimental exploration, imaginative conjecture, experiential probes” (Faith and Transformation, vii). He is talking about psychotherapy, but it is as true for faith as way – it involves exploration and imagination.
I also deeply appreciate Paul’s description of faith as a journey in Colssians. As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him…. Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another…. Forgive each other…. Above all, clothe yourselves with love…. Whatever you do… do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God.
Faith is a way. It is a journey with Jesus. It is a growing into Jesus – in our lives and in our life together as the church.
Once upon a time the term “Christian” meant wider horizons, a larger heart, minds set free, room to move around…. What was true once upon a time can be true again and should be true always: curiosity, imagination, exploration, adventure are not just preliminary to Christian identity, a kind of booster rocket to be jettisoned when spiritual orbit is achieved. They are part of the payload. (Patrick Henry, The Ironic Christian’s Companion, 8-9)
Faith is a way. It is being embraced by the God who is love and moving with the winds of God’s Spirit. It is a journey with Jesus. It is a growing into Jesus. It is a growing into Jesus in our lives – the journey to becoming the fully alive human being who is the glory of God. It is a journey into Jesus in our life together as the church - continuing the work of God in the work of Jesus – feeding, healing, welcoming, inviting growth. This journey is marked by imagination, by adventure, by thinking with the mind, by engaging passionately with the soul, by loving deeply with the heart.
In faith as a way, there are some answers. God is love. Jesus is lord. Church is mission. There are some answers, but many more questions. Questions are welcomed, even encouraged. With Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, we affirm “the act of questioning is the act in which the self is itself” (Lost Icons, 146).
In faith as a way, it is o.k, when you stumble. We want to stumble less, and do less damage when we stumble, but in the risk-taking adventure that is the journey of faith, we will not always get it right. And God as love is not interested in pouncing on our mistakes, but rather in forgiving and offering a new beginning.
In faith as a way, it is o.k when you get a little lost. We want to stay on the journey more consistently, and we want our detours to be less painful, but in the risk-taking journey of faith, we will not always get it right. And God as love is not interested in shaking an angry fist at us and condemning us, but rather in calling us home and welcoming us as father welcomes a long-lost son.
In faith as a way it is o.k. to ask questions. It is o.k when you stumble. It is o.k. when you lose your way a bit. It is not o.k., however, to sit still. The sitting still that is prayer is really a moving forward on the journey.
This is the Christian story, the good news of the gospel. This is faith. The invitation to be saved here is an invitation to the journey, to the adventure. Stepping out with Jesus we find that we are healed, freed, fed, embraced, forgiven, centered, welcomed, called beautiful, called to share. That’s what it means to be saved, and then we trust the end of our journey to the Jesus with whom we have been walking. The invitation to be born again here is an invitation to the journey, to the adventure. Stepping out with Jesus we find that we are healed, freed, fed, embraced, forgiven, centered, welcomed, called beautiful, called to share. It is a new birth and it happens again and again. The invitation to have faith in Jesus here is the invitation to the journey, to the adventure. Stepping out with Jesus we find that we are healed, freed, fed, embraced, forgiven, centered, welcomed, called beautiful, called to share.
That we are invited again and again to this adventure is grace. That we find life stepping out with Jesus is grace. That we can say “yes” is grace. Say yes! Amen.