Sunday, November 20, 2016

At the Feeding Trough

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Colossians 1:9-18
John 1:1-18

“The Light shines in the darkness, but the darkness did not comprehend it.”  John 1:5

The first chapter of John’s Gospel is always fascinating for me because each time I read it, I get a broader perspective on the Person – and persona - of Jesus.  In John’s words, Jesus is the “Word which became flesh”; “the Word which was with God, and the Word that IS God” (not to be confused with a Man who became the Word).  This is the very Word which spoke and set into motion all of creation.  The natural order – and, subsequently, the Natural Law - was established in The Word spoken by The Eternal One.

Yet more than only the Eternal Word of the Eternal God, Jesus is also offered to John’s readers as “the Light which shines in the darkness”; the Light by which the Word is fully revealed.  As when the sun was set at the center of the universe and gave its warmth and life-giving light which established the First Day; so in Christ Jesus does the Word Made Flesh enlighten the heart and give light and warmth to the soul by the revelation of the Word which then became flesh and walked among us.

And yet … though “He was in the world and the world came into being through Him … [that same world] did not know Him” – not even “His own”.  This is the part which always gets me because although I have reasonable knowledge of The Written Word – that is, the words printed on the pages of the Bible – and reasonable knowledge of general doctrinal concepts, I wonder how familiar the Real and Genuine Word Which Became Flesh is to me; that Word which spoke the world into being at the Creation and then turned that very world upside down in the Incarnation.

As we prepare ourselves for the season of Advent which begins next Sunday (27 November) – and we must prepare - there is one compelling question we must ask ourselves to guard against Advent and Christmas being just another mark on another calendar year: as we quote a favorite verse from the Bible to serve a particular purpose, regardless of that purpose, do we really know and understand The Word as coming from the Mouth of God Himself?  Do we really understand what it means that “the Light shines in the darkness, but the darkness did not comprehend it”?

Jesus as the Word of God in the flesh fulfills many roles and has many names, but I think maybe for the sake of getting the most out of understanding John’s “darkness”, let’s replace “darkness” with “hunger” for the time being, and “Light” with “Bread”.  Now we read, The Word became “Bread”, but the “hunger” did not comprehend it. 

We must learn to think more broadly beyond what is literally written – especially in replacing “darkness” with “hunger” – because of the times in which we live.  Darkness no longer has meaning because Sin is no longer something to be concealed.  With a good “selective reading” spin, a healthy dose of pop-culture, and a deep desire to fit in with the popular crowd, there is no longer any shame associated with sin.  John wrote, “This is the judgment; that the Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.  For all who do evil hate the Light and do not come to the Light, so that their deeds may not be exposed” (John 3:19-20). 

Those days are long gone.  Because sin itself has become culturally relative and politically correct, “darkness” is no longer deemed necessary to conceal what once brought only shame but now seems to come with a lot of pride.  Sin has found legitimacy even within and among the ekklesia, the congregation!  Oh, we will quickly point out the sins of others if they are not part of our “group” or if we do not personally “like” them.  Those among the “in” group not only get a pass but also a pat on the back, sometimes even congratulated!  They are not challenged or held accountable for their destructive acts or their hateful words.  To the contrary, they are agreed with and encouraged!  The “darkness” no longer has meaning, and churches are closing by the dozens every year because of it. 

But they – and we - are still hungry!  And it is the Light of the Word which reveals our profound hunger.  The Lord’s condemnation of the “shepherds” (priests and prophets, Jeremiah 23:1-6, 11) runs very deep because of the false, comforting, and “happy” messages they convey: “They keep saying to those who despise the Word of The Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to all who stubbornly follow their own stubborn hearts, they say, ‘No calamity shall come upon you’ (Jeremiah 23:17)”.

It must be observed, however, that St. James offers a stern warning to those who would propose to be “teachers” and not just prophets and priests; “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). 

How are any of us removed from that challenge?  When Moses commanded everyone to know and be faithful to The Word, he was not speaking only to classroom teachers: “Keep these words I am commanding you today in your heart.  Recite them to your children when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.  Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).  In other words, BE the Word – all of it, and not just the cotton candy portions – because even the cotton candy portions have no spiritually nutritious value apart from the meat and potatoes.

Every baptized member of the Covenant has a teaching role – formal or not, as the “priesthood of believers”.  Parents, neighbors, and friends are commanded not only to know The Word; we are compelled to live The Word.

Baptism, confirmation, being justified or born again comes with a whole lot more than a formal setting or personal privilege – just as Advent and Christmas cannot be mere “days” on a calendar marked off as a check-list of things to be done.  These celebrated days are part of what can “feed” us throughout the calendar year.  These events mark a part of our being which can never be removed from us – but only if they become fully as much a part of our being as flesh and bone.

The world is enveloped in darkness still; but as the theory of evolution keeps trying to convince us, we have evolved to the point that we do not even know it is dark.  Yet even within that darkness, we can still know hunger which can never be satisfied with junk food.   And I must say there is an awful lot of junk food being offered in churches and by ministries all across this land.

What is much worse is the treatment of Jesus as not much more than a “candy bar” rather than the Full Meal He truly is; and we do this by our selective, “happy” quotes rather than by full contextual understanding.  The good stuff can have no meaning apart from the bad stuff.

There is no “buffet” offered in the Scriptures.  The Banquet of The Lord is a full meal, but it is a meal which is set before us.  We can still pick and selectively choose from what is already on the plate; but if we do not trust The Lord to set before us all we truly need, even the brussels sprouts, we will walk away from the Table hungry, less-than-satisfied, and a lot less nourished – and spiritually vulnerable to the “darkness”.

Our God, our Heavenly Father knows what His own children need for sustenance, but we must first be willing to take our seat at the Table and allow ourselves to be fed – because it isn’t your desire or my menu; it is always the Father’s Way – and that Way is Christ Himself in His fullness as The Word, the Light, and the Bread.  All we need … for here, for now, and forever.  Amen.

No comments: