Saturday, May 21, 2011

I am the Way

Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  This is a powerful claim.  He is the path to knowledge of God… he is the revelation of both our physical and spiritual realities.  Through Christ everything get’s laid out before us and we come to know God.

Unfortunately, these words have been turned upside-down by people who want to instead say that their church is the only way to God.  But Jesus is not making a claim that physical institutions the only true path.  Such a statement is contrary to the Biblical message.  Such a statement is used to divide and not to reveal hope.   Christ is the way.  Christ is the truth.  Christ is the life.    

This past week I was blessed to be able to attend a reception at Zion Lutheran in Tinley Park for the President of the Lutheran World Federation, Bishop Munib Younan of the Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.  The Lutheran World Federation is a collection of 140 Lutheran Church bodies from 78 different countries.  66.7 million of the 70 million Lutherans all around the world belong to churches that are connected with the Lutheran World Federation.  That’s 95% of Lutherans.

I was touched by Bishop Younan’s message which emphasized the current situation of both the peace process in the Middle East and the state of Christianity around the world.  Wonderfully, he sees both as being tied together because he sees that in both cases dialog and working together is the key.  He said he will never be concerned for a Christian Church that is witnessing.  And that witnessing needs to always be focused on two things: love of God and love of neighbor. 

He is optimistic for the prospects of peace in the Middle East because he sees, and is active, in projects where Christian leaders, Muslim leaders, and Jewish leaders are coming together and with one voice are saying that the love of God and the love neighbor is at the core of the way any of these religions live out their faith. 

I found it interesting, however, that what disappoints this gracious man and optimistic spiritual leader is that Bishop Younan see over and over again that the sincere efforts of the many are being overshadowed by fanaticism of the tiny few. 

Why is it that you hear nothing about Christians, Muslims, and Jews working together, but just about all of you have heard about a solitary “pastor” and a couple dozen of his followers choosing to burn Korans in Georgia in the name of our Lord, Jesus?  Not only have you heard of him, but they have heard of him, but millions of Muslims in the Middle East of heard of him as well. 

Why is it that you do not hear about the world changing activities of the 66 million members of the Lutheran World Federation, but you are very much aware that there is a place called Westburo Baptist Church in Kansas protesting military funerals while holding up signs that say God hates?

Why is it that you do not know that Bishop Younan has spent the week here in the Chicago area and is preaching this morning at Grace Lutheran Church in LaGrange with a message of hope and peace… But you know full well that there were a handful of “Christians” with a billboard telling us all that yesterday was going to be the end of the world?

My friends the answers to those questions are the same answers as to why today’s Gospel reading of great joy is turned around and made into an instrument of hate and division far too many times.  Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  And the heretical message of those who would divide is that they are the way, and not Christ.  

And yet this really should be expected in a physical world that continues to feed us the lies that there is no hope and that what you see is what you get.  Wickedness will always use fear to obscure that Christ has revealed.  Wickedness will use hate to shield the truth from the children of God who hunger for it. 

What is truth?  One man burning a Koran or a million men of many faiths praying for peace? 

What is truth?  Ten people selling you the lie that God hates and the world ended yesterday, or 66 million Lutherans untied in an institution yes, but more importantly united with the billions who have be baptized in Christ throughout the history of the world?

Let not your hearts be troubled, brothers and sisters.  While the lies get all the attention, the truth is being made known through Christ.  Let not your hearts be troubled… because the lies fade away and are forgotten.  Apparently the guy who told us the world ended yesterday said it before in 1994.  Lies fade away and are forgotten, aren’t they.  But the truth, Christ, remains forever. 

The seeds of peace have been planted.  God is on the loose and the Holy Spirit is revealing his truth continually. 

In today’s lesson both Thomas and Philip are important.  We are just like them in so many ways because it’s hard to separate spiritual truth with the physical. We want the tangible.  We want to be able to see.    But spiritual is nothing like that.

When Jesus says that he is the way, Thomas’s question is your question.  Can you give me a map?  Can you plug it into my GPS?  And Jesus just has to shake his head.  Quit thinking only about what you can see. 

Philip is even better.  “You know I believe in you Jesus, but can you give us a little more… something tangible.  Then I’ll be satisfied.” 

The spiritual and the physical are not the same.  And the spiritual reality around us is so mysterious that the only way can even begin to talk about it or ponder it is by using physical images and analogies.  One of the best examples of that is right here in this lesson.  Jesus says that in my Father’s house there are many rooms.  I will go and prepare a place for you. 

Well you know what image pops into people’s minds when they hear this:  This is heaven Jesus is talking about.  The great big Motel 6 in the sky.  But therein lies the confusion and the reason for Thomas’ and Philip’s confusion.  Show me where this Heavenly Motel 6 is, Lord!  Show me and I’ll be satisfied. 

The way, the truth and the life is so much more than that.  It’s time to move beyond the physical and allow the spiritual truth to become the source of your faith.  The global religious leaders who in one voice say that faith is lived out through love understand that.  There are many rooms and they are all filled with love. 

-         When people claim to have that map that Thomas was seeking, that is a sign they do not reveal the truth. 

-         When people announce the day the world will end, that is a sign that they are not the truth. 

-         When people preach a message of hate in God’s name, that is a sign that they are not the truth. 

-         When people kill in the name of God, that is a sign that they are not the truth.  They speak for evil: and the fact they get news coverage and attention does not give them validity.

So instead, even though we do not get the same attention as they, we press on both believing in him and doing the works that Christ does: which is spreading a message of hope and peace for the world. 

Bishop Younan will persevere.  He will continue to share the gospel message, to witness, and do the works of Christ.  The Lutheran World Federation will continue to be a church that is witnessing.  Millions of Jews and Christians and Muslims will continue to stand for peace in the face of the dozens who want to blow the whole thing up.  After all… Jesus says, in His Father’s house there are many rooms. 

Don be fooled by the lies of hate and fear any more.  Let not your hearts be troubled.  Live your spiritual now… and be an instrument for the way, the truth, and the life.  It will not get the attention that hate gets in the media, but the Father will be glorified through it.  And step by step the world being won for Christ.  The Kingdom of Heaven… the Kingdom of peace is at hand. 

Saturday, May 07, 2011

In the Zone with Burning Hearts

Moments after President Obama announced that Navy SEALs had killed Osama bin Laden, conspiracy theorists were already questioning whether it was true.  Now a week later, many people have picked up on their mantra: I'll believe it when they release the photograph of his dead body.  This is where my skepticism reveals itself.  A photograph will not satisfy the doubters.  Seeing is not believing. 

We witnessed that only a few weeks ago.  From the point Mr. Obama became a serious candidate for president there have been doubters, now called "birthers," who claim the President was born outside of the United States and therefore ineligible to become president.  When President Obama released a full copy of the original birth certificate they were not satisfied.  Seeing is not believing.  Faith is believing.  I guess birthers put their faith in the fact at fact that the President was born outside of the country. 

Faith should be reserved to matters of the divine.  Christians put their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.  They believe that Christ died for their sins and was raised to eternal life.  They live their lives as a response to this truth they have faith in.  There is no "seeing is believing" proof out there, even though here are many physical signs and the witness of millions that do factor in this process of believing.  Ultimately, however, a Christian lives by faith.  There are moments of "seeing is believing" for those who live by faith, but they are temporary. 

We know that our eyes can be fooled.  It's that way will all the senses.  During the Civil War people standing just a mile's distance from the Battle of Fredericksburg could see the battle raging but only heared silence.  At the same exact time, five miles away, people could hear the battle clearly.  What is going on?  What they witnessed that day was a phenomenon that scientists later would call an acoustic shadow.   Hearing, or not hearing, is NOT always believing.  We know that now. 

It's that way with touch as well.  How many children walking through a neighborhood haunted house in someone's garage have been fooled into believing a bowl of cooked spaghetti was actually... EEK... brains?  I know I was. 

How about taste?  The most popular flavor of jelly bellies is not lemon or grape or cherry, but buttered popcorn.  I know its always been mine.  I still am amazed a jelly bean can taste like popcorn.  A scratch-n-sniff sticker of pizza does that same thing with our sense of smell.  We are fooled into thinking we are smelling a delicious pizza. 

Ultimately everyone one of our senses can be fooled.  Seeing is not believing.  Nor is hearing, tasting, smelling, or touching.  People understand this because our memories banks are filled with experiences of playing the fool.  We've been down this road before.  Not only have we been fooled into believing in something that's not there... we've also been let down by our senses as well.  These are the times we've missed what was right in front of us. 

That's the point of the lesson from Luke 24.  The risen Lord appears to two of his disciples as they are making the long walk home to Emmaus.  Instead of being fooled by their senses to perceive something that isn't there, their senses prevent them from perceiving. 

They see the risen Jesus, but they don't know it is him.  And this isn't because their minds are somewhere else, thinking about baseball or women, they actually are discussing the events of the past few days.  Isn't that amazing?  They are talking about Jesus and yet they cannot understand that he is right there.  They hear Jesus speak to them about himself in the Scriptures, but still they cannot understand. 

Ultimately it is the actions of Jesus at a meal that reveals his presence to them.  Was it the smell of the food and the taste at the tip of their tongues?  Was it because in Jesus' words and motions at the table memories were tiggered of from when Jesus did the same thing at the feeding of 5,000?  Maybe it was a combination of them all.  It could be that having those seeds planted through Jesus' teaching along the long road to Emmaus they were set up to finally perceive it all at that moment.  What ever it was, suddenly they do believe and their hearts burn with truth.  This is a God moment.  This is Holy Spirit.

God will use our senses to reveal many things to us.  You never know when your going to have a God moment of total recall: when suddenly it all comes together.  These are the sudden moments when you instantly understand your place in this world and understand your relationship with God, Christ, and everyone else.  Sports players call it being in the zone.  Maybe for us its being in the spiritual zone.  In the Jesus Zone. 

At that moment it all comes together.  Your whole self will be touched: spiritually and physically, heart and soul.  When we gather for worship we open ourselves up to be moved into that zone by God.  You can see the worship space and symbolism.  You can hear the gospel.  You can smell the flowers and candles.  You can feel the hand of your Christian brothers and sisters in the passing of the peace and you can taste the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament. 

In worship it comes together.  No single sense becoming more important than the other.  For the disciples in Emmaus the meal was key... It revealed truth to them.  You never know when your heart will suddenly burn with divine truth in faith.  A hymn often triggers it: memories of something long forgotten.  A smell or a touch and open your mind in amazing ways.  It can come from anywhere. 

When it does happen get ready for the amazing.  You won't be able to sit still.  Your heart will burn and you'll get all excited.  Your heart pounds faster.  Tears will roll down your cheek... both of sadness and of joy.  And in the midst of the Spirit you will know what you have always believed: Jesus is Lord and God is good!  You believe.  You have faith.  You will share it.