Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Stranger in our midst

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
Psalm 14:1-7
John 1:1-18
Luke 15:1-10

"I say there is no darkness but ignorance."  William Shakespeare

"Two-thirds of Americans cannot name a single Supreme Court justice.  Only about one-third can name the three branches of government. Less than one-fifth of high school seniors can explain how citizen participation benefits democracy.  Less than one-third of eighth-graders can identify the historical purpose of the Declaration of Independence, and it's right there in the name."
"The more I read and the more I listen, the more apparent it is that our society suffers from an alarming degree of public ignorance.  That ignorance starts in the earliest years of a child's schooling, but often continues all the way through college and graduate school."  Former US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor,, 9/6/13

Though often misunderstood, "ignorance" is not strictly an insult to one's intelligence.  Rather the term speaks to what is undeniably true: knowledge is lacking.  One can be completely ignorant of certain information without being "stupid".  I am ignorant about just about all things mechanical, but I am relatively well-versed in how our government works. 
Yet at the time of this writing, I could tick off only four of the nine Supreme Court justices right off the top of my head (five if you count the one I tried to name who died several years ago!).  Who they are, however, is not as great a concern to me as the decisions they hand down; so I don't make it my business to memorize each individual member of the Court.  Yet some decisions which have come from that Court are my business, especially those rulings having to do with religion in society.
The knowledge we pursue speaks directly to what we consider to be important to know.  The knowledge we expose our children to speaks directly to what we believe to be important to their well-being and their education.  Yet when it comes to religious studies, there is a huge gap we seem largely unconcerned about.  I suppose there can be many reasons for this deficit and why we don't seem so concerned about being or becoming more biblically literate, but the compelling factor cannot be denied that ultimately the Bible is just not that important to us - and if it is not important to us, it will likely never be important to our children. 
This is not a condemnation; it is an observation with merit that our children pay attention to what we pay attention to.  Oh, we complain that prayer is not allowed in public schools and we decry the absence of the Ten Commandments in the hallways of those same schools, but we fail to take full advantage of the religious opportunities there are outside of the public school systems.  It seems much easier to blame others for failing to do what WE should already be doing, what we've had opportunity to do since the advent of the printing press.
What is especially appalling about this reality is expressed in Jeremiah, in the Psalms, and in John.  In Jeremiah it is written about the impending judgment against Judah: "My people are foolish; they do not know Me."  In Psalm 14 it is written, "Have they no knowledge [who] do not call upon the Lord" (vs 4).  In John's gospel it appears things had not gotten much better between the advent of the Exile and the advent of Messiah: "He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him." 
Jesus was born, was brought into the Covenant community, and was raised pretty much like all other children.  Of course the Bible gives us only a glimpse of Jesus' childhood, but we can see even by that short piece of chapter two in Luke's gospel that Jesus was "known".
So when John proclaims that "world did not know Him" and that "His own did not receive Him", we are compelled to ask ourselves how this could be since Luke's gospel seems to go in another direction in terms of familiarity and acceptance.  It has been suggested by some that portions of the first chapter of John can be more accurately described as "post script"; that is, speaking of Jesus' crucifixion as the ultimate rejection.  Perhaps.  I think, however, there is much more we need to know especially in light of the often-quoted but rarely understood passage, "No one comes to the Father but by Me". 
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews speaks well of the priesthood of Messiah as "mediator", as a "priest in the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 5:6), and indeed He is.  No one would deny this component of Messiah as the "anointed one", yet this component of Messiah is relatively small in comparison to what we need to know about "logos", the Greek term in John's first chapter translated to our English "word".  The "logos" is the "Word of God - and more than this, the "Word made flesh".
So we can pretty easily say we know Jesus as priest and Jesus as Savior (that's the easy one!), but what can we say we know about Jesus as "The Word" which is necessarily the primary configuration as His place in the Holy Trinity?  Some may suggest it means different things to different people and to a degree this is a reasonable supposition, but it can only be a supposition.  It says nothing of what we know about "The Word", the "logos" because there is only ONE "Word", and it is the "Word of the Lord" - that which comes from the blessed Mouth of the Most High and Eternal God; the God who "does not change"; reasonably, "The Word" which does not change.  What we conceive of and understand, however, can change everything according to our opinions - what we think rather than what we know.
Consider a book by James Michener called The Source.  It is a fictional story of archeologists on a dig in Israel.  Cities in the ancient world were built on top of one another rather than moving down the road after destruction, so archeologists dig "layers"; and each "layer" tells a different story from a completely different time.  In the story, one layer which revealed a culture before the rise of the Hebrew faith revealed the story of a woman standing in her doorway with tears streaming down her face as her husband took their first-born son to the temple to be sacrificed as an act of worship to an ancient "god".  Though this is a fictional book, that practice actually happened.  Our Scriptures attest to this reality.  In fact it still happens today.
Later there is this same woman revealed in yet another "layer" this time watching as her husband goes off to the temple to "worship" with temple prostitutes, an accepted act of worship of this ancient religion (also revealed in our Scriptures, practices which our Holy Father firmly HATES!), a mode of worship believed to ensure fertility in the family and on the farm.  As the woman stands in the doorway with tears streaming down her face she says, "If my husband had a different god, he would be a different man" (Faith Sharing, Fox/Morris, pg 18).
For those families then and for our families now, the theological issue is not whether or not the family is engaged in faith formation.  The question is: what kind of formation is taking place ("Faith Sharing Congregation", Swanson/Clement, pg 68) especially in light of a colossal failure to give religious education its due?  That we call Jesus our "Savior" is central to our understanding of the Christian faith, but can we honestly say we know Jesus if we are ignorant of "The Word"?   Because it cannot be denied that what we think we know about Jesus has everything to do with what we think we know about the Holy Father.  Our behavior is conditioned by our understanding of the very nature of the Holy God revealed in Messiah.       
To believe Jesus of Nazareth existed does not require a lot of faith.  He was, after all, as much a rabbi and a prophet of the Most High God as He was fully Man.  To believe He was executed because He went against the religious establishment is also not much of a stretch of faith because we can easily see in our own culture, indeed in our own towns, that people (clergy and laity alike) who do not "go along" with pop culture are subject to social crucifixion - often by very cruel, unfeeling, and uncaring Christians who think they "know" Jesus.  It all has everything to do with what we know about our Holy Father because, you see, we "see" the Father when we "see" Jesus; and we "hear" the Father when we "hear" Jesus.  When we are in "darkness", however - that is, in ignorance of "The Word", "the Word which was in the beginning" - we "see" nothing and we "hear" little beyond our own thoughts and opinions.
The primary nature of our Holy Father, that divine nature revealed in Messiah, is one of Shepherd who leads the willing flock.  And when even one of the flock goes missing, the Shepherd drops everything to find that missing lamb and return that lamb to the fold, worrying more about the one who "needs repentance" than those who do not.  And we might think one dollar missing out of ten is not so bad, yet our Lord states very clearly that it is a very big deal to Him and He will stop at nothing until that "missing" one is found!  All for that one tiny, socially insignificant coin which is finally found, there is "joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
This is a God worth knowing.  It is not enough to "suspect" there may be a higher power.  It is not enough to believe a Man named Jesus existed.  It is not enough to form opinions in "darkness" (that is, in ignorance of what is actually written in the Scriptures), opinions borne in darkness and which remain in darkness that do not shed Light; for "the Light shines in darkness, and the darkness [still] did not comprehend it" because He came - but we could not "see".
It is not enough to know He came; it is a matter of Life and Death to know what He says as "The Eternal Word".  What He said in the beginning, what He says to the Church today, and what He will say when He returns.  "The Word" is that which speaks to us even in our moments of doubt, and it is "The Word" which speaks to us in our moments of glory.  It is "The Word" which not only seeks us out when we have gone astray; it is "The Word" which restores and transforms the Willing Soul.  There is no "magic trick" - there is only Love; the Love of the Holy Father in His Word made flesh.

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