Archive for May, 2014

The Way

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

John 14:1-14
May 18, 2014
Steve Hammond

The other day I was listening to a podcast from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation called The Spirit of Things. The topic for the program was the importance of faith in people’s lives. When the host of the program, Rachael Kohn, asked the Christian on the program what his favorite verse in the Bible was he said, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s John 14:6 where Jesus says “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the father save by me.” When Rachael Kohn asked him why that verse was his favorite of all the verses in the Bible, he said it was because that verse had assured him that he had found the one and only way to get to heaven.

I think that is so interesting. Is that really what this verse means? Is this proof that Christians, or more narrowly those who his man would describe as real Christians, have cornered the market on salvation? Is believing the right things what this whole thing is about, after all. That’s the whole question behind the book we are currently reading in study group. In The Future of Faith Harvey Cox points out that there is a big difference between having beliefs about Jesus and having faith, or what Cox says should be translated trust, in Jesus.

I think that’s what Jesus is getting at in this story from John’s gospel. Though that 6th verse has become the cornerstone for those who say that it’s what we believe about Jesus that matters, I think Jesus is trying to get the disciples and us to realize that it’s what we trust about him that matters.

Lots of us have read the stories about Jesus in the gospels. Or if we haven’t read them as much as we know we probably should, we are familiar with the stories. We know about Jesus. Does this interpretation that what Jesus means here that only a relatively few people are going to get into heaven and the rest are going to burn in hell for eternity sound like the Jesus we know?

It’s like that whole thing people do with their interpretations of Revelations and the end times. All of his life Jesus went about doing good. He taught us to love each other. He said there was nothing more important than forgiveness. He said we need to welcome in the outsider, to lift up the lowly. He said violence never does anything for us but create more violence. But there are a lot of people who say that when Jesus returns it’s no longer Mister Niceguy. He is going to come back and it’s going to be all about violence, death, hate, and retribution. He is going to delight in the death and destruction he brings with him. Does that sound like the Jesus we know?

Maybe that’s all true and all that Jesus wants from us is to believe the right things about him. I could be wrong, but I think this story is telling us that what is more important to Jesus is what we trust about him.

Let’s put this story in context. John doesn’t mention the Last Supper in his gospel, but he spends several chapters of the gospel writing about what happened on the night that Jesus was betrayed. The men and women who were with Jesus hadn’t figured it out yet, but Jesus was saying good-bye to them. Jesus knew that in a few hours the Romans were going to grab him and that he would be, literally, picking up his cross.

He’s the one who was about to be dragged off, tortured, and hung naked on a cross. But he was trying to comfort them. So he said to them don’t be frightened by what’s about to happen. Trust God, trust me. He said stuff to them that should have been said at his funeral. “I go to prepare a place for you, in God’s house.” And then he said something that I think is at the heart of this story, “you know the way.”

Thomas replies to that by saying, “You are out of your mind Jesus. Like just about always, we have no idea what you are talking about. We don’t know the way. We need a roadmap, the directions. You know go right for 4.5 furlongs and turn left on to the road of Jericho. If you reach Bethany you have gone too far. That kind of thing.” The disciples so desperately wanted something they could put their hands on, something that would show them the way so they wouldn’t have to figure it out.

Jesus had to be so frustrated. Here it was at the end and they still didn’t get it. So he just looked at them and said, “You don’t get any things like doctrines, statements of faith, or creeds. You don’t get things to believe about the way. You just get me. Because I am the way. You’ve got to trust that the way I have lived is what will get you to God’s house.”

I don’t think Jesus simply meant heaven when he was talking about the many rooms in God’s house. For Jesus, living in the presence of God was being in God’s house and there was plenty of room for everyone. The road or way to heaven starts on the roads of this world.

So Phillip chimed in, Phillip who was one of the first disciples that Jesus called, one of those who had been with Jesus the whole time. And he said what we need you to do Jesus is show us God and we will be satisfied. So Jesus looks at Phillip and said, “You know Phillip you have been with me this whole time and don’t you get it. Don’t you realize that I’ve been showing you God this whole, crazy time. You’ve seen me. Don’t you trust that what I’ve shown you is who God is? Sure it’s different than anything you have ever been taught about God. Just think about it. Look at what I have done. I have shown you God over and over. And it’s not over yet. One of these days you will see that you do trust me, trust that I have shown you the way to God, the way to be in God’s presence.”

It wasn’t over because Jesus not only had this great trust in God but he also trusted that the disciples would become what he had always imagined they would become. They would, he trusted, do greater works, we would do even greater works than he did. How? By trusting the way Jesus showed us. Trusting that he had shown us God. The greater works are not miracles and great shows of faith and Christian courage. The greater works come because of the faith and trust that following Jesus is all about.

Jesus set us on the way that leads to truth and life, the way that shows the world God. That is all the work we need to do. Just trust that what Jesus did and said and what he showed us about God was right. And amazing things will happen. And if we need help along the way Jesus says just ask, and we will get what we need.

That guy in Australia said John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me,” was his favorite verse. The more I go on, the more my favorite verse is simply the one where Jesus says ‘follow me.’ And I trust him that it is in the following that I will discover that he is the way to truth and life.”

Open Roads and Open Hearts

Sunday, May 4th, 2014

Anita Peebles
Luke 25:13-35, Luke 10:25-37
May 4, 2014

Open Roads and Open Hearts


I like road trips.
Road trips: in the car with dad, singing to Greg Brown, reading Harry Potter, finding ways to pass the time. Look out windows, notice how the land changed as we traveled north to the UP, Land of Superior. But there are always things that we miss, that we are traveling too fast or too far to pick up. Road trips/travels in stores are often about transformation (the Odyssey, Into the Wild, etc.)—there is a lesson to be learned, a prize to be won, and so what do you do? You go on a road trip. You pack your snacks, some sunscreen and your hiking stick, and, if you’re my family, your folding kayak, and you get on the highway.

When I think of roads in the Bible, I think of two stories—the ones we have heard this morning.

Men walking along the road—they totally missed the fact that Jesus was RIGHT NEXT TO THEM. Why didn’t they recognize him? If Jesus was walking right next to me, I hope I’d recognize him…it would be pretty cool! But he had undergone some transformation in the past several days, had died and risen again, had done something and been through something that not many had experienced. This transformation made it hard for the travelers to recognize him.

-learning to see the unseen: why is it unseen? By ignorance? Were they blinded by their grief such that they could not recognize him? This is not hard for many of us to understand, being in places in our lives that make it hard to notice others and give them the respect and care they deserve.
-aspects of hospitality in each story (it was only when Jesus showed the hospitality that the two men on the road that they recognized him; similarly, it is only when the Samaritan shows the Jew in the ditch hospitality that the Jew recognizes him as a fellow child of God; and again, it is only when we extend our hospitality towards the least of these, and even towards the Earth that we recognize the other for a Creation of God)

The point is this: We miss Jesus a lot. We miss him in the way that we don’t see what is around us, the homeless people, the mental health crises, those we love crying out for wholeness and forgiveness and acceptance, LGBTQ children contemplating suicide, the earth crying out for sustenance and renewal. Jesus is always there, always with those that are hurting, with those that are in pain and living in solidarity with those that are silenced and ignored. The question for us is this: how can we learn to see the unseen, learn to open our hearts to those traveling next to us, and how can we bring about a shift in how we treat each other that is understanding of the travels and transformations that surround us everyday?

Many of you know that I have spent much of the last 9 months researching and writing about parables for my religion capstone work. Parables are one way that Jesus sought to teach his followers about the questions I have just posed the question that comes down to “how do we live together?”

Most Christians are familiar with the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son as simple stories that have a moral to discover. Mennonite pastor and theologian Ched Myers refers to the saying that parables are “earthly stories with a heavenly meaning”, modifying it instead to be “earthy stories with a heavy meaning” which I like far more. I think the way we read parables today, and the way many people read the Bible in general, is much too simplistic—the search for easy answers is too tempting and too prevalent. So how can parables help us deepen our relationship with the bible?

How parables function:

Parables are stories are inherently subversive in that they subvert the status quo, sometimes flipping it on its head or even shattering the social norms. Parables take the reader through a process of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation. In the case of the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus’ original audience of Jews would have been oriented to the social norms and values of the sociopolitical context they inhabited. When hearing the story about a person being robbed, beaten and left for dead on the side of the road, they would have recognized a moralizing story.

As the story goes, a priest and a Levite, both members of religious orders, noticed the person lying in the ditch and pass by on the other side of the road. At this point the hearers would have been ready for the third passerby to come along, probably an Israelite layperson to form a counterpoint to the two religious leaders. This person would probably help the person in the ditch.

The disorientation takes place, however, when the next person to happen along the victim is a Samaritan, a member of an out-group that Jews at the time labeled “other.” The hearers are completely surprised when it is the Samaritan who shows compassion and mercy to the person in the ditch, binding their wounds and paying for their stay at an inn.

Jesus questions his audience as to who was the neighbor to the person in the ditch? The answer “the Good Samaritan” is given—there is a mutuality in the term “neighbor” that does not only apply to the object of the help but also to the person doing the helping. Thus, based on the Samaritan showing a radical neighborliness to the Jew in the ditch, the hearers of the parable have to completely reorient themselves to their social values and norms to consider all the meanings of the word “neighbor.”

This aspect of parables is what New Testament scholar and Baptist preacher Clarence Jordan called the “Trojan Horse” quality: the story pretends to be a friendly one, cozies up to you and comes inside your city walls, and then jumps out and changes the way you conceptualize your way of being in the world. In this way, the hearers of Jesus’ parable about the Good Samaritan could no longer live in the way they had been before encountering the parable.

A parable-like time is upon us currently. Based on the current environmental crises, including climate change, as a Western Christian I must reevaluate how I live, how I’m traveling this life-road. Parables are often seen as a way of translating morals across time—we do this by identifying with a certain character or event in the story. In the case of the Good Samaritan, instead of waiting for God to help us, we must question the structures of power that have us at a disadvantage. Instead of seeing ourselves as Samaritans, able to always bless others with the advantage of our privilege, we need to hold the robbers accountable for the actions that force others into places of marginalization. How would we live differently seeing ourselves as the passers-by?

Setup: context of the lawyer’s question—asking about who to bless with the excess of his privilege, WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?
In Jesus’ discussion of the lawyer’s question, the definition of the word “neighbor” shifts from the one who is the recipient of the blessing to the one doing the blessing—there is a mutuality of terms that I find meaningful—much like realizing the fact of the Creation by God (we as well as our environment are part of Creation)

My question is “What if a mountain is your neighbor?”

-we’ve been discussing Community of Creation, so we’re getting used to thinking of all of the different beings that we are traveling alongside. And how do we treat them?
-expanding the definition of neighbor?away from anthropocentrism and towards the whole Creation, just as the disciples had to expand their view of Jesus?away from the human realm…they had to think of him differently having undergone this paradigm shift and transformation from death to life

Therefore “Loving your neighbor as yourself” is far more radical than many treat it today—this ethic includes recognizing responsibility for beings outside oneself and acting in solidarity with them to alleviate their suffering. Just like the disciples walking the Emmaus road, we need the veil lifted from our eyes to end the willful ignorance and see what’s right in front of us with new eyes.

What are we overlooking in our ignorance and willing ourselves not to see?

-extinct and endangered species—lacked someone to recognize them, show them hospitality
-chemical spills affecting many more beings than the ones living in rivers and lakes and oceans
-people living in poverty in areas that will soon be submerged due to sea level rise
-fracking, MTR…in our own backyards

In resisting the temptation to be bystanders, we are affirming the inherent value of Creation. In consciously removing the scales from our eyes, the Creation is transformed right in front of us, traveling the road alongside us. In looking beyond the veil of this time-bound world to the Kingdom of God (or the Beloved Community or the Community of Creation) we are able to see the world transformed, and our place in it, more clearly.

My journey the past few years has been learning to see. Learning to see people when they are sad and sick and lost, learning to see the things that divide us from each other—learning to look through the worry and pain and depression and anxiety to imagine a community and a world where there is enough support to hold all of us in all of our life events.

I am constantly reminded of all that people in Oberlin do to transform our world. People here feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked and visit those who are imprisoned. Many of us here in this church are dedicated to a radical hospitality that seeks to recognize the stranger as a family member and bring them into the Community of Creation. Many of us here in this church lift each other up as children of God and siblings in Christ. Many of us here in this church walk lightly on this sacred Earth so that we can preserve the beauty and bounty for our children and grandchildren, even to the seventh generation.

According to Romans chapter 8, the Creation is “groaning” and “crying out”; I pray that we can all learn to hear these groans and cries and learn to see what many would not see. Only then can we pick up our neighbor when they are down and invite the Lord into our home to break bread with us. Let us go forward now and be witnesses to the hospitality of Creation. Let us “love our neighbor as ourselves” radically, seeing our fellow travelers for who they truly are, and transforming our world.