Monday, December 19, 2005

12/18/05, Sermon

The part that really gets to me is the part about God playing a trick on God. The story, as you know, goes like this: God has been radically, essentially, offended, and cannot just freely forgive the offending parties. Unlike the father of the Prodigal, God must have restitution. There must be recompense. Someone has to pay. So, God comes up with the Messiah Scheme, whereby God pays God. God comes to earth in the form of Jesus, who is part God and part man—NO!, this part also gets to me, FULLY God and FULLY man. No questions allowed. We have to take all of this on faith. Don’t roll your eyes at me! Just believe what you are told to believe! The unity of the Church, of all of Christendom, is at stake here. It is NOT a house of cards, you have to take that on faith, too, but don’t sneeze, or ask questions.

Where was I. Oh, yes. God comes to earth as God/Man to live a sinless life, which no man could do because of Original Sin. It takes a God/Man to be sinless, but somehow, the way God keeps score, that counts, even though it’s cheating, and God says, “Ho, ho! Now we’ve done it! I’ll take the undeserving death of the sinless God/Man as payment due for the sins of every sinful man and woman ever! Now, we are even! IF they believe.”

This part also gets to me, the believing part. The death of the sinless God/Man counts only for those who believe the whole scenario. Which is a strong case for believing it, or claiming to. It is certainly a strong case for not sneezing. For not asking questions. You have to hand it to the folks who cooked this up. They covered their bases. “This is the way it is and if you don’t believe it, you are going to hell, because the Bible says so, and everybody knows the Bible is the irrefutable, inerrant, infallable Word of God, and if you don’t believe it is, you are really going to hell, and you can’t sneeze, remember, or ask questions, or you’ll go to hell for sure. And, to give you a sense of what that is like, if you sneeze or ask questions, we will burn you at the stake.” You could build quite a Church on that kind of foundation.

Orthodoxy is grounded upon the ashes of heretics who dared to sneeze and ask questions. Who dared to say, “Hey, wait a minute.” Who dared to offer a competing perspective. We ironed out the wrinkles, and solidified the dogma, and ratified the doctrines, and systematized the theology into one holy, catholic, and apostolic Christianity by killing the people who disagreed with us and burning their writings. We made that kind of treatment acceptable by calling them heretics, and explaining that they were enemies of God, blasphemers and sons of Satan, but in a different way from the one who is Lord, who was only called a blasphemer and a son of Satan by those who were the actual blasphemers and sons of Satan. Of course, you will have to take our word for this, or we will burn you at the stake.

The stake doesn’t get enough credit for the church as we have it, but it’s all about the stake. Without the stake, the church would be quite different in practically every way. The stake cut off conversation, dried up imagination, disappeared creativity, and guaranteed that no one would ever say anything they had not already heard about God, Jesus, and things religious. The stake created Orthodoxy, and the rest is, as they say, history.

The entire edifice is a shameful sham. Jesus would have nothing to do with it. Jesus was not about the purification of truth and the unification of the Church. Jesus was about right relationship, compassion and grace. Who would Jesus have burned at the stake?

The essence of Jesus is No Doctrine, No Dogma, just doing right by one another and all others. “I was sick, and you ministered unto me, in prison and you visited me, hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me something to drink.” It is not about believing, it is about expressing compassion, extending mercy, being gracious and kind. And, it is about sneezing, and asking questions.

The problem with this, of course, is that you don’t need much in the way of structure to be gracious and kind. You don’t need paid clergy and a hierarchy of officials to oversee your believing and make sure your doctrine meets the standards for entry into heaven. The way of Jesus has no need of pipe organs and administrative offices. There isn’t much to it. It was formulated by an itinerate, probably illiterate, Jewish peasant. How difficult can it be? Love one another. How hard is that? Love God with all your being and love your neighbor as yourself. How hard is that? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. How hard is that? What is there about that that requires an undergraduate degree and three years of seminary education?

But, organized religion needs more than the way of Jesus to justify its existence and pay its bills. It needs hell and heaven, and all the doctrines and dogmas required to avoid the one and attain the other. It needs legitimacy. It needs exclusivity. It needs monopoly. It needs to create dependency and guarantee unwavering devotion to its policies and procedures. The way of Jesus won’t do it.

You cannot create a tightly organized structure with benefits and a retirement plan based on the way of Jesus. You cannot “do justice” and make a profit. Not consistently. Not reliably. And loving your enemies is no way to run a country, or a business, or a church. We need the doctrines in order to know who our enemies are—in order to know who we are—in order to define ourselves in relation to them, and run them out of town, so that everyone might know that we are right and they are wrong, and they had better side with us or else.

And, not only that, but you also have to understand that you can’t have a church based on the way of Jesus without dissention and schism and chaos and pandemonium, with everybody settling into small camps claiming to be “more Christian” than all the other camps because their way of understanding and practicing The Way is more accurate than everyone else’s, and if you were REALLY initiated into the secrets of divine knowledge, as they are, you would do it like they do it.

You have to have a canon, a plum line, a guide, a standard by which to determine everyone’s degree of faith, else you’ll have a situation in which one person’s opinion, or insight, or understanding, is as good as anyone else’s, or better, depending on their need for domination and dominion. The way of Jesus easily leads to interesting conversation, but it does not lend itself to the kind of structure that will govern the lives of its members from beliefs to birth control.

The way is also in the way of, and thrown away by, those who have no patience with “asking, seeking, and knocking,” but who say, in a manner of speaking, “Just tell us what to believe, Preacher, and let us get on with our lives.” “Just tell us what to believe, and don’t ask us what we think!” Enlightening, expanding, deepening conversation is the last thing on their minds. They have fence posts to set, quotas to meet, appointments to keep. They have no time for wool gathering or walk abouts. They want a sleek, trusted, time honored tradition to buoy them up and help them along. Give them a nice creed to memorize, or a catechism to consult, and step aside. They have things to do.

The way is clearly not for everyone. Which sets us all up for the “superior/inferior” game, the “us/them” dichotomy, the “we have the real truth and they are too stupid to matter” madness. The Way is slippery and it is easy to fall away from The Way. We lose the way when we make too much of The Way. When we make too much of it, we loose the whole point of it.

The trick to master is this: We have to avoid the way that proclaims itself to be The Way. We have to understand that the essence of The Way is not taking itself too seriously. Isaiah (11:6) stoutly proclaims, “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.” And Jesus says, “Unless you turn and become as children, you will never enter the kingdom.” And, we gather at the manger to behold, what? A child! The messiah is the child! We cannot get too far from the child if we hope to walk along The Way.

The Way is so simple a child can walk it. A child knows when something is just and when it is not; when something is fair, and when it is not; when something is right, and compassionate, and kind, and good, and when it is not. A child knows what it means to be well treated, and what it means to be mistreated. You don’t have to have an undergraduate degree and three years of seminary education to know that. And, knowing that doesn’t make you the wizard of the universe, or the holy master of humankind, or the next Great Prophet to come along.

The lesson is plain: We are not to get all blown up about what we think is The Way. We are to just do the good we perceive to be good without thinking that everyone should do it our way. We are to grant them the right to their own good, and do what we can to serve the good together with them and all others, without burning anyone at the stake, consigning anyone to hell, or running anyone out of town because their thoughts are not our thoughts, nor their ways our way. Give it time, give it time. The Way becomes apparent over time. All our ways become more like The Way over time. May it be so!

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