Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Code

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
John 16:12-15

One Sunday morning an old cowboy entered a church just before services were to begin. Although the old man and his clothes were spotlessly clean, his jeans, denim shirt, and boots were very worn and ragged - well used.  In his hand he carried a worn out old hat and a worn out Bible - equally well used. The church was in a very upscale and exclusive part of the city. It was the largest and most beautiful church the old cowboy had ever seen. The people of the congregation were all dressed with expensive clothes and accessories. 

As the cowboy took a seat, the others moved away from him. No one greeted, spoke to, or welcomed him. They were shocked at his appearance and did not try to hide their contempt. As the old cowboy was leaving the church after services, the preacher approached him and asked the cowboy to do him a favor. "Before you come back in here again, have a talk with God and ask him what he thinks would be appropriate attire for worship." The old cowboy assured the preacher he would. 

The next Sunday, the cowboy showed back up for the services wearing the same ragged jeans, shirt, boots, and hat. Once again he was completely shunned.  Before he could even sit, the preacher approached the cowboy and said, "I thought I asked you to speak to God before you came back to our church." "I did," replied the old cowboy. "If you spoke to God, what did he tell you the proper attire should be for worshiping in here?" asked the preacher. 

"Well, sir, God told me that He didn't have a clue what I should wear. He said He'd never been in here before."
(author unknown)

The cowboy (not the drug-store wanna-be) understands and abides by a certain code.  It is not strictly an exterior, tough guy, Marlboro-man "dress" code, but a code established long before he was born; a code that will endure long after he's gone.  It is a code that dictates a manner of living and doing and being.  The code is honest and direct, tried and true.  There is no fluff, no nonsense, and no expectation that many outside his own circle would even understand, let alone appreciate the wisdom of "never drinking from the creek while downstream from the herd". 

Yet this code acknowledges a code-less world, as the cowboy in this story exposes, but the cowboy remains steadfast and true to what he knows is right.  He doesn't judge the code-less world even if he may pity those who are trapped in that world, but he also does not compromise the code to accommodate those who have no code.  Just as the cowboy lives according to this code long established and perfected by those before him, he is also not free to change the terms of the code to suit his own taste or preference - nor does he even want to.  It does not mean he does not have a mind of his own; it means he believes in something enough to live it.

Last week the Church's calendar marked our entry into the season of Pentecost which will extend into autumn.  This season is referred to as "ordinary" time, but I think the Church must never suggest we will stand down to anything "ordinary"; or that in the life of the Body of Christ, anything can ever be "ordinary"!  We are not called or set apart by baptism to be "ordinary" people because we have been redeemed by, and should serve, an extraordinary God by offering extraordinary worship, extraordinary gifts, extend extraordinary hospitality to strangers, and be extraordinary blessing to all of God's people - whether they think they belong to our Holy Father or not - because, in fact, they do; they just don't know it yet.  And they may never come to know it if God's people betray The Code.

The Season of Pentecost calls forth much more from God's people because Pentecost did not only "happen" 2000 years ago.  If it was only a one-time occurrence, a single event never to be repeated, and we truly are in "ordinary" time as "ordinary" people, then the Church called forth on that occasion also died that very day, as soon as the "moment" had passed.  In this spirit of Pentecost, then, we should look more closely at what Jesus is teaching in John's gospel. 

"When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on his own ..."

Jesus is, of course, preparing His disciples for His imminent death and, ultimately, His Ascension; when He will no longer be physically present.  This much is clear to us now, for we know how the story goes.  What does not seem clear to the modern Church is what this should mean to us 2000 years removed from this intimate moment Jesus shares with His disciples.  Though many different minds can - and do - come to many different conclusions, we cannot deny there is an emphasis - AND - a restriction on the role of the Spirit as Jesus reminds His disciples that the Spirit "will not speak on His own, but will speak what He hears".

We must be mindful that Jesus as the "Logos" - that is, the "Word" of God amplified, exemplified, personified, and fulfilled in Jesus - is the same "Word", the same "Logos" that was with God in the beginning long before Jesus of Nazareth was born, this being the One and same God who "does not change" (Malachi 3:6) for anyone or anything.  The Spirit of God - which is often referred to in Scripture as "Wisdom" - is that same "Wisdom" that was in the beginning with the "Word"; "Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth" (Proverb 8). 

We have the assurance, then, that this Eternal Being - not only Messiah Jesus but the whole and Holy Triune God - is the "same yesterday, today, and forever".  The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews expresses this reality in Messiah, but expresses in the Greek that it is the "WORD" of God (personified in Jesus, of course), the "logos" that is "the same yesterday, today, and forever" (13:8).  In this particular context, then, the writer is warning the people of God: "Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines" (13:9).  This would especially include folks who invoke the Holy Spirit "in the name of Jesus" but operate and act independently of the long-established "Logos", the "Word of God" ... that is, "the Code"; the "Code" we are free to accept or reject in its entirety - but can never change.  

This biblical principle and spiritual reality cannot be denied even as we can testify that our Holy Father is doing "new" things, but we must not confuse a "new" context (such as our modern, "enlightened" age) with a whole new "code".  I am not speaking of "the code" strictly as a list of rules such as the "Ten Commandments" nor am I suggesting we can be defined only by a rigid list of "rules" especially when we don't understand these rules ... or even try to. 

There are rules, of course, commandments we are obliged to obey, as Jesus affirms throughout His ministry; but these "rules" express and exemplify much more than a simple check list by which we justify our own selves in our own righteousness.  Rather, we are called to express and personify the "Code" that "was in the beginning", still is, and will be forevermore; not to change it or somehow try to "improve" it but rather to live it - and to remember that it does not belong to us but is rather entrusted to our care.

Just as the Spirit will not speak on His own - as Jesus never claims to speak even on His own - the Spirit surely will not pull us toward "various and strange doctrines" or away from the "Logos"; the very ETERNAL WORD of God - the WORD long established, the WORD perfectly fulfilled in Messiah.  The WORD is the CODE, the Spirit is the WISDOM of the Code, and the CODE is Almighty God.  The Father, His Word, His Wisdom. 

Like the cowboy, we have a Code.  He is the Word of God for the people of God from the One true and living God.  In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

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