“Where we stumble there is where our treasure is.”
“Where we stumble there is where our treasure is.”
5 February 2017
John W Sewell
On this Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany we continue the theme of the light of Christ going into the world. We who are in Christ are called to be salt/light.
Salt/Light are valued for their effects: by what they do.
Salt: preserves, stimulates, smarts if it touches a wound, and heals.
Light: illuminates, enables sight, stimulates, and heals.
Jesus says that those who follow him are to be like salt and light. But if Christians have lost their saltiness they are of no use. It is like lighting a lamp and putting it under a basket. It is of no use.
Our Christianity is authenticated by our functioning, by what our lives reveal us doing. How salty we are or how brightly our light shines indicates where we are in our CONVERSION. he word “conversion” means “to turn toward”. This is the opposite of aversion: “to turn away from.” Conversion is the movement toward God, the overcoming of our separateness from Him. Our movement toward God is our response to His movement toward us in His son: Jesus the Christ. Conversion may be an event from time to time, but each event is part of a process. Conversion is a journey. Every day we are in a posture of conversion or aversion toward God.
Where does conversion take place? Cultural anthropologists talk about the place deep within each of us where the essence of “US” lives. It is that part we have been aware of all our lives as “US”. It is that part of us that does not age and is surprised to look in the mirror and realize that we are aging.
The late Joseph Campbell once said, “I don’t feel like an old man. I feel like a young man with something terribly wrong with him.”
There are Four Layers of “meaning” that make up a human being: Layer I being closest to the “US” of our essence.
Layer I: Symbols: the cross, the cup, water, bread. [This past week a group of girls from Independent Presbyterian church, one of our sister denominations, visited Saint John’s to see the murals and to talk about symbols, why? Because we live surrounded the symbols, myths and stories of our faith: these are images and stories that tell us who we are, speaking to the deep ideas, mother, father, hero, lover.] We forget just how blessed we are to have these displayed for us to live with and our unconscious to draw on.
Layer II: Customs, values: Christmas, Easter. Family Values: Right and wrong, being kind to people and animals. Jesus is a wonderful fellow and teacher. It’s a good thing for children to be in Church so they will learn values. Recently I had what my friend Walton Griffin calls a dinosaur moment when at young adult bible study – I quoted Archie Bunker and nobody in the room knew who he was… going back even further I quote Little Abner who said, “goodness is better than badness because it’s nicer.” That’s Layer II.
Layer III: Moveable features: That western people wear pants (first men, now women) That might change if we lived somewhere else; particularly if winters were all like the one we are living through.
Layer IV: Outer, superficial elements, fads, styles, bell-bottoms, Hula hoops, skinny jeans, mood rings, pet rocks, rubrics’ cube, poodle skirts, fiddleback chasubles, low hems, high hems and hardly any hem at all . The color of one’s wall, the kind of car one drives, keia pets the next great thing that will make you thin, rich and safe. The sort of “stuff” that fills our attics.
If we are not careful, we will mistake superficial change for conversion. Example: Fran Alexander watching the neighborhood boys signing the cross before taking free throws in the backyard, because one of the stars at North Carolina was Roman Catholic and signed the cross before he took a free throw.
Turning toward God must happen to the essence of our being in the depths of our souls.Jesus said, “Your righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees.” It is easier to be transformed at the outer layers.
Often well intention Western missionaries tried to make Westerners out of other nations, as if you could only be Christian if you were like us. The spread of that sort of cultural Christianity may in fact prevent the Gospel from touching people in deeper places. When Christianity is the dominant religion in the culture it is easy to lose our saltiness. Too much is taken for granted. Basic faith decisions about Jesus the Christ being Lord and Savior often do not get made or are simply made in a shallow way.
When the Gospel is proclaimed in a place for the first time a four Generation process is observed:
1. First generation of Christians: Being Christian is a choice. Christ is at the center of their lives and being. Light is bright – Salt is very salty.
2. Second generation: born into the Church. They make no particular decision about this themselves. The center of Christianity for this generation is jobs or tasks in the Church: working in the Church. The jobs become the center of faith and believing. Light continues to shine – Salt is still salty
3. Third generation: Occasional worship. The Christmas and Easter cycle becomes the center of their faith. They also appear for the birth, marriage, death cycle – the “Hatching, matching, dispatching” function of the Church. The light is dim and there is a low sodium diet.
4. Fourth generation: simply follow the crowd out of the Church and the faith altogether into the dark and is no longer salt at all.
What must happen for each of us is to meet God directly. God does not have grand-children. Why do we depend on hearing a story from another person about their religious experience. If you and I are inclined to meet God, let’s go and look him up and when we look God up we will learn that God has been looking for people since the Garden of Eden = and each of us since the day of our birth! That is what I want to be about and I suspect that you do too!!!
Virginia Owens – “The Total Image or Selling Jesus in the Modern Age” “A person, whether human or divine, cannot be known — as a person rather than an image except by immediate presence. If we want to project an image, either of Christians or the Church, we can do that by means of television, magazines, books, billboards, movies, bumper stickers, buttons, records, and posters. If we want people to know Christ, we must be there face-to-face, bearing Christ within us.”
There is a story about a man looking for God was dunked under the water in a pool by the old monk. As he was gasping for air, the monk asked him, “What were you thinking about when you were under the water?” “Air”, gasped the man. Then the monk said, “If you wanted to know God as much as you wanted air, you would know him.”
What generation are we? We are called to be transformed in the deep places of our beings: in the essence of the “US”. Nothing else will do, Nothing else will satisfy. Nothing else is light and salt. Let’s not settle for less. Amen.
‘He spake the word, and they were made’ (Ps. 148.5). But to redeem that creation which sprang into being at His word, how much He spake, what wonders He wrought, what hardships He endured, what shames He suffered! Therefore what reward shall I give unto the Lord for all the benefits which He hath done unto me? In the first creation He gave me myself; but in His new creation He gave me Himself, and by that gift restored to me the self that I had lost. Created first and then restored, I owe Him myself twice over in return for myself. But what have I to offer Him for the gift of Himself? Could I multiply myself a thousand-fold and then give Him all, what would that be in comparison with God?
St. Bernard of Clairvaux (2009-06-11). On Loving God – Enhanced Version (Kindle Locations 287-292). Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Kindle Edition.
Why do we come here today? What is there to say after such a powerful reading? Do we come to do a memorial service for Jesus as we can do for any number of long dead heroes? No. Nor do we come to feel sorry for poor Jesus, who suffered and died. Christians do not gather year after year on this day pretending that they do not know how the story turns out. What we come to do is to remember — remember with power — the sort of remembering that transforms.
We are like a person who suddenly remembers that they put a hundred-dollar bill in a secret place in their wallet. Suddenly his circumstance has changed. The memory opens the way to a way of being, impossible only moments earlier. The memory is a memory of power because putting the hundred-dollar bill in the wallet is an event in the past the effect of which is going in the present.
We come to remember in this way the saving acts of God in history. The acts we celebrate this day are rooted in history: Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem on a donkey, a real, razor backed, little, donkey. He is acclaimed King. He is arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to die on a cross. For Christians this is the event which changes everything: The Son of God came in the flesh and was willing to suffer and die in order that all people for all time could be restored to authentic humanity. His coming among us in the flesh has made the difference. Why did He do this?
Paul writes to the Christians in Philippi: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross….”
Here Paul quotes what may be the oldest known Christian hymn. God was and is continually self-giving. That is the whole meaning of creation. Creation is only possible because God decided to no longer be all that there is. The Jews call this Zim Zum: or the contraction. God limited Himself in order for creation to freely exist.
It is this equality with God that Jesus displayed on the Cross. It is this equality with God that marks authentic humanity. This equality with God, He shares with those who believe in him.
Gregory of Nyssa, The Great Catechism, p. 500, v.5, Post Nicene Fathers. “…This is the very thing we learn from the figure of the Cross; it is divided into four parts, so that there are the projections, four in number, from the central point where the whole converges upon itself; because He Who at the hour of his pre-arranged death was stretched upon it is He Who binds together all things into Himself, and by Himself brings to one harmonious agreement the diverse natures of actual existences.
This Cross brings all things into the order and balance that God intended in creation. As Joseph Campbell says in THE POWER OF MYTH, (p. 116) “The sign of the cross has to be looked upon as a sign of an eternal affirmation of all that ever was or shall ever be. It symbolizes not only the one historic moment on Calvary but the mystery through all time and space of God’s presence and participation in the agony of all living things.”
Today we come to remember, remember with power that life comes through death. Today we come to remember that regardless of what is wrong in us, between us, around us, that the Cross reconciles all of it. We may not see the evidence of that in the way that we want. But we believe that such wholeness is ultimately the end of all things.
Therefore if we believe this then let us live like it. Today and everyday let us live as if all will be well. The past year I have been slowly reading the prayers and poems of a woman named Julia Esquivel. She is an exile from her native Guatemala, where she is a target of the death squads. Her book is entitled, THREATENED WITH RESURRECTION.
I AM NOT AFRAID OF DEATH
– Julia Esquivel, desde el exilio