4 Lent: Fluid, not binary

Just imagine how things

might be different

if the author of the Gospel of John

had put these words

on the lips of Jesus, instead of

what he wrote:

“God did not send the Son into the world
to condemn the world, but in order
that the world might thrive.
Those who recognize him
will help the world to thrive; but those
who do not recognize him
are in danger of preventing themselves
and those they share the world with,
from thriving together.

The light has come into the world
to help all with vision to see and know
the ways of God’s love, but
even so, many still love
the darkness instead of the light.
That is because the light
exposes what people do
or neglect. And so,
the question is whether we love
the light, or
hate the exposure
the light brings to our actions.

Please, love the light
and recognize the wisdom
the Son has brought to us
so that all may thrive together.”

Oh, how I wish John

could have been more of a lover

instead of a hater.

I’m sure the man, John, whoever he was

and wherever he was from,

had love for those he knew

and love for those he shared

community with — it is all the others

who he seems to have hated

that raises credibility issues

as far as I am concerned.

He hated Jews for one thing,

or at least the Jews who did not

embrace Jesus as the Messiah and

Son of God. He, John,

may well have been Jewish himself

but once the final abrasive split happened,

between the synagogue

and the Jesus followers, John went ballistic.

But that is all water under the bridge

and we are left with a binary Gospel

that divides the world

between those who see and embrace the light,

as John refers to the Christ,

and those who hate the light

and reject Jesus as the Christ.

 

It is an either/or world,

an either/or proposition,

an either/or future of salvation or condemnation,

an either/or destination to live

in the love of God or

be rejected by God who — as it turns out —

is also binary.

 

May the church-masters

and orthodox-keepers

forgive me if I do not preach that gospel.

 

It is not, by the way,

the only gospel in town.

We will finish Lent and Easter seasons

in which we have to endure

the binary gospel of John,

and then get back to Mark.

 

While I am up here on my soapbox

I might as well go all the way,

because it is a huge issue for us

in the world today.

By us, I mean Christians, and any

people of the Book.

Almost any book

that is ancient.

But of course, I mean the Bible.

 

As I said a couple of weeks ago,

The Book is the vessel

that preserved the wisdom

but The Book itself is not the wisdom.

 

The stories

and the parables

and the sayings

are not the wisdom

but preserved the wisdom.

They carried the wisdom

across time

and miles

and language

and culture.

We have to dig for it,

it isn’t just served up on a plate

like breakfast from Waffle House.

 

But we have been lazy.

The Church has been negligent

and lazy

and binary itself.

Either you are one of us

or you are out.

Either you believe what we tell you

or you are not loved by God.

Instead of giving us all tools

to dig for the wisdom,

and adapt that wisdom for each

new generation

and moment in history,

we preserved The Book

and its words

in a literal fashion

and insisted they never change.

 

We took what John wrote

and literalized it

as if it were a verbatim court reporting

of Jesus’ actual words.

 

We took what Matthew wrote

that Jesus did

and ritualized it

as if it opened a tap

on the keg of God’s love.

 

The Church dressed Jesus in its own image,

putting a priestly chasuble on him

while he hung on the cross.

Associating Jesus with the Church

and all else as the darkness

made certain that Christianity

was a binary choice forever:

Be baptized and loved by God

or be cast into the outer darkness.

 

Now, what we have not done

on a regular basis, is taken the wisdom

and plugged it into the current

language and culture and moment in history,

and shared it freely

as if everyone was loved by God

whether or not they recognized the wisdom.

 

To put it into today’s gender terms,

our spiritual wisdom

and the love of God

are fluid not binary.

God so loved the world that,

God loved the world.

Whether or not

we recognize Jesus as the only son of God

or we embrace Jesus as a wisdom teacher

or we think Jesus is a figment of historic imagination,

God still loves the world

and those of us in it.

God, the creator of all that is,

demonstrates the principle of abundance

with a creation full of energy

that cannot be destroyed, but only transformed.

(That is science as well as theology).

 

We want scarcity because it is binary:

either we have or we don’t,

either we are rich or we are poor,

either we are powerful or we are vulnerable,

either we are accepted or we are rejected.

 

We like our world that way

because it is simple and clear

and we know who is good and who is bad

and what is right and what is wrong.

Yay scarcity!

 

But God created the cosmos

and all that it is in it

on a different principle — one that is,

well, more fluid.

You see, abundance shows itself

in different forms

in different situations

and is really hard to define

in static terms.

 

I have been blessed in my life

with the privilege of having shared community

with people who were poor by our standards

of excessive commodities and creature comforts.

 

And yet, they were incredibly wealthy

in the richness

of sharing resources

and interdependence

and participation in common commitment.

We would look at them from the outside

and call them third world,

lacking in consumer goods,

and living on the edge — just poor.

 

But in our culture there is a lack of abundance

when it comes to true community

and the nurture of relationships across

property lines and economic class.

We have lots of stuff

but lack cohesion, graciousness, kindness, and

therefore, hope.

The folks I got to know, lacked

appliances and digital technology

but they exuded a sense of community,

joy, reciprocity,

and hopefulness.

Like I said, abundance

is fluid

while scarcity

is binary.

 

I believe, I know,

that Biblical wisdom

is fluid

and it carries with it

the love of God

that is fluid.

If we dig for that wisdom

and we pull it up

and place it in our context

and appropriate it

with our situation in life,

we will see the abundance of

the love of God

in all of its fluidity.

 

Now take that liturgical reading we had,

Mary Oliver’s “Sleeping in the Forest.”

It is the very picture of abundance,

the abundance of the creation:

“I thought the earth remembered me, she
took me back so tenderly, arranging
her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds. I slept
as never before, a stone
on the riverbed, nothing
between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated
light as moths among the branches
of the perfect trees. All night
I heard the small kingdoms breathing
around me, the insects, and the birds
who do their work in the darkness…”

You see, we may look at the forest at night

and see darkness — a large screen of lightlessness.

But there in the dark

are the minions of abundance.

The lichens and seeds,

the moths and birds,

the trees and stars

the stones and branches.

John wants only light and dark,

not all the life that is in the darkness

that will grow into the light —

that are in fact citizens of the light

even when the light is not present.

 

Mary Oliver, I think,

paints a better picture of light within the darkness

than does John who wants to exclude

anything that is not what he calls the light.

And by saying that, I do not mean to imply

that the Gospel of John is all wrong.

There is wisdom aplenty

to be mined from within that gospel,

so long as we go digging

with the understanding

that the love of God is fluid not fixed.

 

In fact, we can say the same about the gospels.

 

We are used to thinking

that there are four gospels

divided by the names

that appear on the cover.

That is it.

They are fixed.

They have a beginning and an end.

There is limited space within them

to hold wisdom,

and limited wisdom

fixed by prescription.

 

But what if we were to think of one gospel

holding an endless stream of wisdom

found in an abundance of ancient texts

with a multitude of names

and some with no names.

In fact, one gospel

beginning with the Book of Genesis

and unending because

some of the texts

are actually being written even now.

Talk about fluidity!

 

The love of God

and the wisdom that evokes

that love is not fixed. It is fluid.

It moves like the river it is

overflowing the levies and dams

and all of our efforts

to shape or limit it’s flow.

 

When our love is fluid

it flows through us,

and when our love is fixed by scarcity

it flows over us.

 

It is way past time

for us to change how we talk

about being Christian

in a world that is so over it —

so post-Christian.

 

We have so much wisdom to share

because we have so much

of the love of God to share.

 

But we need to do it

in language

and metaphor

and ritual

and music

and spiritual practice

that speaks with to our moment in time.

 

So forget that binary talk

and lets get fluid.