Today we have Jesus
making a whip to foment a riot at the Vatican,
or National Cathedral,
or Rotunda of the Capital building,
or Geneva Rotary.
Today we have many more sacred places
and commercial networks
than they did in his day.
I wish I could have been a fly on the wall
when such stories were read
in the company of Queen Victoria
and the gathered House of Lords
and other British upper class society.
What in the world,
must they have thought about this Jesus?
Or any place and among any gathering
of people who value, above most things,
control, order, and rules?
And I wonder how this story
is being read and preached today
at the National Cathedral
or St. Patrick’s
or St. Peter’s Basilica
or Christ Cathedral, Lagos Nigeria –
or in the chapel at Langley (if the CIA has a chapel).
How in the world
do those in power and authority
hear this story
of Jesus-the-whipster and riotous agitator?
One of my takeaways is to confirm
there is a place for militancy,
every bit as much as
there is a place for
Spiritual maturity – which I guess
this sermon is really about – is capable
of holding more than one element
at one and the same time.
Young children do not
simultaneously hold multiple emotions –
one emotion inflates and obliterates the others.
Happy or sad,
excited or bored,
angry or hurt – it is either/or.
Slowly, though, hopefully,
children mature and gain the ability
to feel more than one thing,
at one and the same time.
greases the skids of intellectual maturity –
or the other way around,
We learn to recognize that truth is not categorical
but rather, a gradation –
a continuum of possibilities.
Eventually, we learn to hold opposites:
keeping several contrasting ideas
all at the same time;
puzzling and appreciating the actual complexity
of many competing truths.
As we grow in wisdom and understanding,
right and wrong,
moral and immoral,
good and bad
become cloudier, grayer, fuzzier;
and softer around
the edges –
and they seem less and less
like hardened silos.
To be the presence of God in the world,
among those with whom we live and work and play,
as well as with total strangers,
we must activate both salt and sugar within us;
we must blend the butter with the flour inside.
We must be able to speak softly,
and, when called upon, we must be able to rant.
We must be able to act with compassion,
and still be fierce when necessary.
We must be able to nurture and strengthen,
just as we must be able to agitate and challenge.
At some point we learn it is rarely only
one way or the other, and more often, both/and – some of this and some of that;
comforting the afflicted
and afflicting the comfortable;
but also challenging the afflicted
and encouraging the comfortable.
It really is time that we cease drawing lines
as if we are one or the other.
It is not difficult to see where our political
and theological rhetoric has gotten us:
the balkanizing of States,
the grim alienation of cultures,
animosity among classes;
and hostility among races and ethnicities.
Think about all this dysfunction of alienation
as we would when trying to heal a family system.
When there is a child or adult acting out in a family, he or she is probably acting out a problem
the entire family-system shares.
In a family, the one doing the acting out
is the incarnation of a bigger problem,
some wound or difficulty in the family itself.
What we have learned over time,
is that treating only the individual child –
the problem child, so to speak –
while not addressing the larger family issues,
probably won’t make much progress.
Edwin Friedman, one of the first people to articulate Family Systems Theory, applied his understanding
to institutions beyond the family – like churches.
I once heard him say that anxiety is usually located
in a particular part of a system,
whether a family or institution or government.
The anxiety of the whole system
gets acted out in especially vigorous ways
among the people or groups holding it.
In other words, the anxiety of the entire system
gets associated with whichever particular part
is holding onto it or exhibiting it,
but any individual or group
is only holding the anxiety for the whole system.
The example I heard him give,
is that in a synagogue, often it is the Hebrew School
where the anxiety of the whole system resides.
In a law firm, he said, the system’s anxiety frequently is held in the litigation department.
In churches? The choir. (He said it, not me).
His point is something we probably recognize
from within our own experience.
While the acting out is done by one child,
or one part of the system,
the acting out is symptomatic of an anxiety
running through the entire system.
We cannot resolve the issues
by treating one person
or one part of the system.
A global example is helpful here.
We cannot treat climate change
as if it is only an issue of oil and coal.
Instead, it has to do with the entire economic system
from top to bottom.
Climate change involves every political
and business institution in the world;
not to mention, nearly every element of culture
that we cherish.
To address climate change,
we will have to engage all of them
and not treat one as the enemy
and one as the hero.
So let’s think systematically about spiritually,
even our own personal, spirituality.
If we are only comfortable ranting
about God’s justice
then what tender, little voice
are we neglecting
that is left to fester within us?
Even tender voices can create chaos
On the other hand, if we are only capable
of pretending uniform niceness,
our anger will become a hardened cist within us.
Hidden, it will grow and gnaw
until it damages our other capacities.
If we only hold one element of God’s presence
and deny or neglect the rest,
then a dysfunction will be created within us.
and the agitator;
and the pacifist;
and the innocent –
they must all be in conversation within us
and among us,
or the whole loaf will crumble.
This is as true for us as individuals
as it is for us as a society,
or a city,
or a congregation.
We need to think of ourselves,
and those with whom we share the world,
as a whole loaf with many ingredients;
and each ingredient is incomplete,
and perhaps even undesirable,
when out of relationship to the whole.
I would make the same observation about Jesus.
What we have in the gospels is a prism,
the many parts of Jesus casting light
in all directions.
If or when we try to homogenize
all those many parts of Jesus,
making them fit together smoothly
and without agitation, we lose the light.
We cannot force Jesus into a uniform theology.
We cannot turn Jesus into a doctrine.
We try, but whenever it is done,
it ends up doing violence to Jesus,
or to those who do not fit with the doctrine.
In our rational, age of reason little brains,
we keep trying to make everything fit into a science
or a theory
or a description of reality
with which we can feel comfortable.
Jesus will not fit,
any more than you or I will fit.
When we try to reconcile Jesus with a whip
causing a riot in the temple,
with Jesus encouraging victims
to turn the other cheek,
they are pieces of a puzzle that do not fit together.
We cannot force them,
because they do not really fit together –
they are ingredients
that act and react to one another
to create a whole.
Jesus the lover,
and the agitator;
Jesus the healer,
and Jesus the harbinger of catastrophic change,
do not all fit together to create a smoothie
that goes down easily.
Instead, like you and me,
he is many ingredients
and react to one another.
Together, it all makes up
an edible and nutritious whole.
So, we need to stop trying to round off
the sharp edges and instead,
feel the sting.
We need to stop trying to sharpen the softness
and instead, feel the love.
We need to let be what is truly present:
learn from it,
and hear its unique voice.
We need to stop trying to get rid
of the parts of Jesus we do not like,
just like we need to stop trying to get rid
of the indigenous and inevitable parts of ourselves
we do not like.
We need to embrace them all
that somehow will become whole
if we allow the presence of God to be our yeast.
It is not about exorcising sin, evil,
and darkness from within ourselves,
it is about embracing them
and understanding that those are parts of us –
ingredients, that with God as yeast,
actually make us whole.
If we think of the things we
do not like about Jesus,
or the things we do not like about ourselves,
as parts that need to be removed or eliminated,
it will cause us severe damage.
We will be doing violence to Jesus,
and violence to ourselves.
We cannot remove the elements we do not like
without doing violence to the whole.
But with God as yeast, all those ingredients –
the good and bad and the ugly,
the ones we like and do not like –
work together, to create wholeness.
Holding it all,
all the ingredients,
and allowing the presence of God
to act upon us
and within us
and among us
is the fruit of spiritual maturity.