Well, I've been trying to figure out how to do that thing where I show you a little teaser paragraph of this, and then if you really, really want to see it all, you can click on a link and see the rest. But I can't. Shucks. So here is the whole darn long thing. Anyone who knows how to do that trick, can you let me know?
Listen to the singing
Preached at MUCC
April 24, 2005
I cant think of a scripture passage I feel more ambivalent about than this one.
On the one hand, I lean into the lovely reassurance that “in my Father’s house are many rooms”. On the other hand, I wince at those 8 words that have done so much damage to our brothers and sisters of other faiths and of no faith – “no one comes to the father except through me.”
One thing I DO like about this passage is that it really really gets me talking to God. From the minute I read these words in preparation for today, I was in dialogue – “Really Jesus? NO ONE comes to the father except thru me? really?“
In my first reading of it, I just could not believe it, mostly because I personally know so many Godly people – including some of you here today – who are not all that sure about Jesus, about who and what he was.
When I get stuck on a line of scripture, as I did on this one, it really helps me to hear what other people have to say.
First I remembered my ordination service last fall. I know a few of you were there, who would remember my dad’s charge to the candidate – the part of the service in which an older, wiser pastor passes on some words of advice and encouragement to the ordinand. I cant rmember all of what he said as he held both my hands and looked into my face and spoke with his eyes full of tears, but I do remember this. Christianity, he reminded me, is your mother tongue, and it is mine. But Christianity is not the only language God speaks or the only language God understands. So I carried that with me into my study – the sure knowledge that God speaks in countless faith traditions.
To get the context of the passage, I first did some historical reasearch. These are pastoral words, to a community who is desparately in need of of some comforting. Seated as we are in this lovely building, our involvment in this community causing us no real danger, it might be hard to remember the real fear of the early Christian community, the small secret gatherings at friends’ houses.
These were not mainline Christians - these were not mainline anything. They were desperados - just a few of them, their leader gone, oppressed by the forces of Rome on one side, the temple authorities on the other. They were, in the words of Peter, the stone that the builder had rejected. It was hard to remember the second half of that passage – that they would become the cornerstone.
I kept reading, uncovering what these words might mean to us in the here and now.
Even though we DO call ourselves “mainline christians” these days, I do think this passage – and the one we heard earlier – reminds us that our Christianity has to mean something – has to help us stand apart.
In fact, if I can think of one theme of all of the guest speakers we’ve had the opportunity to hear during the last 3 months of Cathy’s sabbatical, it is this:
A challenge to live a Christian life in a way that makes you stand out. Claim christianity, live it fully and you will be changed and so will the world. Remember?
Sandy Brown – turning faith into action
Bill Bailey – life of service to the church
Philip – reminder of the importance of growing and changing in our worship life
Tanya Macovna Barnett – care for the earth and what each of us could do
Lou Taylor – being fully alive so God’s work could be made manifest in us
Jennifer Russell – taking our message of love and service out to the whole world
Shayne Flowers – living lives based on radically risk-taking faith
Kerri Berlin – reminding us, that given a faithful chance, each person can succeed
All of these were about setting ourselves apart, reminding us that we are a holy priesthood, (as Peter would say). NO so that we are better than other people, not so we are above other people, BUT the other way – so we can with all humility remember what God has called us to do and be in God’s church.
Welll, even after all my reading – my understanding that this scripture was comfort for a small community, and a call to live counter-culutrally STILL “no one comes to the father except through me” kind of stuck in my craw.
When I talked to a friend about this scripture this week she said, gently, “Honey, I think you need to ask what Jesus meant by ME – how big is that me, anyway? Jesus and Christ are not the same thing at all, you know.” She reminded me that Jesus was a guy, a guy who walked around and had a LIFE and Christ is the annointing of that very particular guy. Jesus was full up of Christ, lived Christ every single day. And so by looking at Jesus, we can see what it’s like to be totally full of Christ, and then we can learn how to live from the Christ within each of us, to recognize the Christ in each other a little bettter. And by knowing what Christ is like, we can know a little bit what God is like.
“So what IS God like? God is like Jesus, who will sit down with five thousand strangers -- prostitutes and Pharisees, Greeks and Jews, peasants and priests -- to share a meal handed from hand to hand, with no opportunities to check the purity of the kitchen where the bread was baked or the cleanness of the countless pairs of hands that got the food to you. God is like Jesus, who was reviled, persecuted, tortured, and executed, and yet spoke words of forgivenesss to his tormentors. God is like Jesus, who taught us that the kingdom of God would be ushered in not with the political and military muscle of kings and generals, but quietly raised from mustard seeds of touching the unclean, feeding the hungry, healing those bound by disease, inviting the outcast, reconciling enemies.” (thanks Sarah Dylan)
This week, I had a meeting in Wallingford, and afterward I went for a walk by myself in Gasworks park. I was still chewing over this scripture – puzzled and frustrated – even after all that I read and lots of good conversation. I havent been to gasworks in years, so I took my time, walked around the big old rusty gas works and the grafitti, crunched on rocks and broken glass down the concrete steps toward the water.
The sun was dancing on the water so I got dizzy with looking at it and I was praying hard. After all I had read, and all my conversaion, I still wasn’t sure. If it’s true, I prayed, true that the “me” is so much bigger than we’ve been taught - send me a sign.
Now, I’m not much of a sign-demander in my prayer. Usually, the whole idea that God would send ME a personal message seems to domesticate God, to make God small and understandable in a way that I think it not only wrongheaded, but also dangerous. There seems a fine line between “send me a sign” and “I know just what god was thinking” and then another fine line between “I know God” to “you don’t know God.” (Which is the very thing I was trying to pray my way out of!) So I don’t usually pray for signs, but this scripture weighed heavily on me, and seemed to call for some dramatic action of faith.
Send me a sign, I prayed, that when you say “no one comes through me” – you mean a “me” much bigger, much wilder, much MORE than we can ever imagine. Send me a sign that this passage, words of comfort spoken to a small anxious community can have some meaning for us here and now at Magnolia UCC.
And this is what happened next.
I could see kites dancing at the top of that little hill that has the path winding around and up, so not really thinking, I wound up and around too and there they were, the kite flyers. Not children, as I had supposed, but two older gents, grinning up at the wind and the sun.
“Hey,” said one of them to me, “I bet you could see this kite from a long way away!”
“Well, I don’t know” I answered truthfully, surprised, “I was a little blinded by the sun.”
“Have you ever heard a kite string sing?” I shook my head. He was still grinning and he leaned into the string, so it rested on his shoulder.
I couldn’t hear anything but the wind at first, but then I bent closer, and then I COULD hear it – soft and high and sweet.
Still grinning, “Listen to that, will ya? Just listen to it sing.” And he made a big wide sweep with the arm not holding the kite – a big wide circle that took in everything – the string, the kite, the water, the sleepy college students stretched out in front of their books all over the grass, the boats and and the sun and little dandelions poking up everywhere. Listen to that, will ya? Just listen to it sing! And it wasn’t just the kite string he was talking about it – it was all of it, all of us. Then I knew for sure – knew that little “me” meant something HUGE.
Now, I don’t know much about prayer, about why some prayers are answered and why some float away like a kite freed from its string. But I do know this – that was an angel right there in gasworks park. There was my question and then there he was, grinning like the cheshire cat, holding a kite and asking every stranger who passed “can you hear it? can you hear it singing?
Christ’s “me” is big. Christ’s song is deep and wide. Listen for it - in the bible, yes. And at the park, in the new-born child, in the old old woman’s face, in the sun dancing on the water. Listen. Listen to it singing.