John 1:29-42 and Excerpts from Grounded: Finding God in the World A Spiritual Revolution by Diana Butler Bass
Sunday January 15th, 2023
By: Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche
Welcome again everyone, new faces and familiar ones! I invite you now to take some deeper breaths, as you are moved, help ourselves arrive a bit more fully, if you haven’t already given thanks for this day, you can do that. And I offer this prayer from Psalm 19.
Gracious God, speak to each of us in ways that we can hear, and may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our Rock, and our Redeemer Amen.
As a kid, our family’s form of Christianity wasn’t seen as real, as true, as adequate by some in our neighborhood. From one direction were the Catholics and the aunt of my childhood best friend, who was fond of telling me that she was part of the ONLY ONE TRUE faith. Basically she told me that my expression of Christianity was invalid. And there really wasn’t much I could say to that. And from the other direction was the myriad flavors of evangelical, and Pentecostals, each with its own culture of conviction about its righteousness and rightness, so each time I attended a worship service with a friend or a session of Vacation Bible School with the girl down the street, the people of the local community church, a congregation run entirely by male elders, convinced me, or perhaps more succinctly, bullied me, into “taking Jesus into my heart” on more than one occasion. They told me it was for my own good and that if I didn’t, there would be eternal consequences. And it had to be done just the right way in what they deemed was an “authentic place,” or it didn’t count. Which is probably why I remember being asked to do it more than once? Depending on who was leading, sometimes a person had to go before the whole group by standing in front. A true nightmare for introverts or those new to the whole experience and maybe there were lots of us who just gave in.
Usually it was a short prayer, but it always highlighted our sinfulness and our need to believe that the main point of Jesus’ life wasn’t really his life at all but actually his death. And the prayer suggested for those ready to make the declaration, it went something like this: “Lord Jesus, I am a sinner. I believe that You died for my sins. Forgive me. Now, I turn from my sins and open the door of my heart and my life to you. I confess You as my personal Lord and Savior…” These experiences made such an impression on me, in part because they felt a little like being told to join a club with a magical spell or else. With those words and that expression of belief, and of course following all of the rules and the “right” way of thinking, I would be granted a place on the other side, a ticket, a place assured to be somewhere good and golden, instead of where I would have been without them (thanks goodness they came into my life!) somewhere fiery and hot. I was supposed to sleep better at night and feel all set about my life because: I am a sinner. And Jesus died for my sins. That didn’t make any sense to me.
I have been thinking about this because this is the second week in our series A New Dream for An Old Faith and today we are talking about how much of Christianity has been reduced to just belief, reduced to primarily a philosophy, whose central points were put into creeds.
But what if that really isn’t what Jesus intended?
It’s one of the privileges of my life to try and undo some of the many threads of toxic theology and harmful religion. And what a gift to be in a community like this, where we can come here and challenge together some of these old constructs, written hundreds of years after Jesus died.
I suppose it’s understandable how much of Christianity arrived to the idea that this whole thing is about sin- about our sinfulness and our need for someone to fix that.
And I can try and empathize with a First Century mind who would have been accustomed to things like religious sacrifice, lambs and exchanges that were religious and material. Because as we heard, according to the Gospel of John, part of how Jesus’ ministry among them begins is when the people see him coming and declare, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
So in their religious and cultural context, this sort of makes sense. It’s not surprising that they would need a sacrificial lamb and also there are some aspects of it that are interesting, but maybe in the First Century?
But the way much of Christendom has interpreted this idea requires God to be in the position of a murderer, the pillars of the whole enterprise, at least for me, start to fall away with that way of thinking. The idea is that God kills his son to make a point, it just doesn’t work for me. If God sends a messenger to tell us how to love and then kills the messenger because we failed to love… It seems transactional.
How could a God of love be a part of killing anything, let alone a person, let alone one’s only child? And how can it be that the Creator of the Universe, the Divine One, would send us a messenger that the most important thing is to love and then to end it all like that?
So I wonder? Could it be that this whole concept emerges from a pre-science, first century, sacrificial idea of spirituality that was then later used as a mechanism of control? And could it be that perhaps that this way of thinking again is not what Jesus himself intended?
I don’t remember him saying that the most important teaching is this: remember that you are a sinner. And that I died for your sins. No.
What we hear more often from Jesus is questions and instead of gathering people to convince them, he says come, come follow me, come do what do, live how I live, love who I love, come and see.
He did this in part because it is effective pedagogy, but also because as Richard Rohr wrote, “We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.”
A belief can drive our action, but our thinking on its own isn’t what ultimately gets us to where we need to go. It’s an experience, an encounter, alone and together… Come and see!
As challenging as this moment is in many ways, I am excited to be alive for what some are calling this spiritual revolution. And I think part of what Diana Butler Bass and others are naming is a shift from communities of faith from being about belief, to being about belonging. We choose to belong here for a set of bold and shared purposes, knowing that we definitely don’t all believe the same things.
As you heard from Diana Butler Bass, God is with us in a great web of belonging and that’s the heart of today’s spiritual revolution. Not our sinfulness or our need for a God who finds a scapegoat on our behalf. She went on, “God is not a far-off Weaver of the web, like the earlier Watch-maker God, who assembled creation and left it to run on its own. No, God is part of the web, entangled right here with us.”
God is love. Go and do. Come and see!
This actually feels much harder to me than just accepting beliefs. I think that what many of us need in our lives and part of what Jesus offers us and part of what we receive when we gather together in his name, is the invitation to experience God, to dive in for ourselves, to know, to see, to come, to tap into the Universe and the incredible field of possibilities, to be in this moment that is a gift. God is love. Go and do. Come and see!
It’s a movement.
On this weekend where we celebrate, remember, and continue to live into the call of the prophet and preacher, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we lift up again how much he still has to offer us and he spoke often of faith as action. In his speech Where Do We Go From Here, he said, “Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds.”
Beloved of God, what if God didn’t send Jesus to remind us that we are sinners and that he died for our sins? But rather to remind us to love? Because God is with us in a great web of belonging. And so what if it isn’t about just belief, but about committing to belong, committing to God and to one another and to deeds of kindness and justice through whatever comes? God is love. Go and do. Come and see! May it be so. Amen.