Sunday, December 27, 2015

Xmas 1: Power to choose to be children of God

Lectionary: Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147:13-21; Galations 3:23-25, 4:4-7; John 1:1-18

I want to begin, I do this often on this first Sunday after Christmas because I think it's really important, so I want to begin with the Prologue of John, that most beautiful and familiar scripture, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." And I want to read to you a translation that I've done directly from the Greek, taking out some of the cultural influence of what Scripture has given us. It's very true to the word, it's not different from what we read in Scripture. It will sound a little bit different and go a little bit deeper because I will add in (as you know, in Greek there are some layers of meaning) and so where the Scripture chooses a single word, I'll give a couple of words that are implied by the Greek word. So let's begin with that and then we'll talk about what this text is offering us.
1. In the state of beginning, a living voice (a conception/an idea) happens and this living voice (this conception/idea) is God; and the living voice (the conception/idea) exists for the advantage of God.

2. This existence was in the beginning with regard to God.

3. Everyone individually and all things begin to be, to appear in history through him (on account of him) and without him not even one thing begins to be or comes to pass.

4. Every living soul who begins to be and all that comes to pass through him is the absolute fullness of life and apart from him no one comes into being and not one thing comes to pass.

5. Indeed, this truth shed light on the darkness (which was due to an ignorance of divine things) and the darkness (the ignorance) did not take possession of it.

6. A human being came into existence, sent from God, and his name was John.

7. He came to tell people about future events; and he knows these things because he was taught by divine revelation about the true and sincere light in order that those who hear him, each one individually and everyone might be persuaded and have confidence in him.

8. He is not the true and sincere light, but he exists in order to be a witness, to implore people on account of the true and sincere light.

9. The true and sincere light is present among human beings and is the one who makes saving knowledge clear to each one, to everyone, and to all things. This true and sincere one comes into the harmonious order (the world) for human beings.

10. He is present in the harmonious order (the world), and through him the world happens but the world did not learn to know or understand him.

11. He arrives to what belongs to him, and what belongs to him does not accept him (it does not allow him to join them to himself).

12. But as for those who take hold of his hand, who are persuaded about his true name and everything that that means, to them he gives the gift of the power of choice, the freedom to begin being children of God;

13. children who are born of his blood (his seat of life) not from human action; children who are brought over to his way of life by God.

14. And the living voice (conception/idea) began to be flesh and lived for a while among us; and we look upon him with attention, we contemplate and admire him.

15. John affirms what he knows by divine revelation and cries out in a loud voice saying, “This one exists, and his existence affirms what was said: that the one who comes after me is the one who is first in time and place and rank.”

16. Because he himself is the fulfillment, we (each one individually, and everyone as a whole) take a hold of goodwill and carry loving-kindness because of his grace…

We didn't read the part about Moses, so I'll skip that.

Do you hear how deep and beautiful and broad this word is, the word, the Prologue from John? Our tradition gives us the strength to be firmly rooted in the truth this gives us, because when we are firmly rooted in this truth, we can fly with freedom wherever God asks us to go.

But when we don't, when we choose to live in ignorance of divine things, we create for ourselves a prison. We create for God a prison. We build walls. And sometimes we call those walls ‘law’ or ‘custom’ or ‘tradition’… “we've always done it that way," and it becomes a dark prison which shuts out the true light.

But we have been given, according to this Word, we have been given power, and the power that we have is to choose to begin being children of God, not people who earn our goodness by our actions, but who are by our very being, good children of God. The movement from slave, someone who does something out of fear, or because you have to in order to eat or to survive, into being people who do it because that's who we are, children of the loving God.

As most of you know, I grew up Roman Catholic, and in most Roman Catholic churches, and even some Anglican churches, though not this one, there's something called a "tabernacle." Have you ever seen one? They're usually very ornate, big boxes, gold or brass or carved wood, beautiful boxes, and it's where the reserved sacrament is stored in a church. The consecrated bread and wine are put into a tabernacle. And there's a reason that we have those in some of our churches, because this very Gospel tells us that the Word of God, the true light, ‘tabernacled’ among us. In the ancient Hebrew, it meant "he pitched his tent." He lived among us. The tabernacle in the church is the manifest form of that theological concept. There is a place where Jesus lived, the consecrated body and blood of Christ is kept in this tabernacle. That's step one. I think the problem is the Church forgot to take step two.

The tabernacle doesn't live in the church anymore than God lived in the ark of the covenant in ancient times. God chose to dwell among us, to tabernacle among us. We, in our very embodied, human, imperfect state, we are the tabernacle of Christ. Isaiah talks about this in his reading saying we are clothed in the garments of salvation, and then describes something very beautiful and jeweled, which is where the idea for making a box for the consecrated elements came from in the Church. It's beautiful. It's decked with garlands and jewels. We are the crown of beauty in the hand of God (the hand in Biblical terms means "the action.") We are the crowned beauty of the action of God, and the Christ, God himself, chose to live, to tabernacle in us. We have become the beautiful garland, bejeweled tabernacle of God here on the earth.

And there's a reason that we have done that. The light of Christ, which was brought to us by Christ himself when he came and lived for a while among us, brought us, God gave us that spirit and brought us the very thing Christ came to bring: life. The light was the life of all people. The blood of Christ is the life that fills us, life given to us from God.

My stomach is still in knots over a conversation I had with Deacon Pam right before we came out. Deacon Pam is my interpreter of all things Baptist and Protestant. And I had never heard of the concept of the blood, washed in the Blood of the Lamb, the way Pam presented it to me today. And it hurts my stomach to think about that. So let me tell you she said, see how many of you have heard this: you're washed in the Blood of the Lamb, the Christ is crucified, and his blood as his body dies drips out from him and covers you, and then God can't see anything but the blood of Christ because you are so bad that you can't be seen, but the blood of Christ will cover you and therefore you're going to be okay, isn't that right? Oh my God!

Because the truth is the light came into the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it! And the light was the life of all people! We're not bad. We don't need to be ashamed. We need to be who God made us to be, and that includes making mistakes, having sins, things that separate us from God and each other, because in every single one of those circumstances, redemption can happen. And redemption is what Christ came to bring, isn't it?

So, when we come into conflict with someone, or when we screw something up royally ourselves, we're being given the opportunity to be the tabernacle of Christ, the place where the life blood of all people exists and redeems the moment, redeems the event. We don't do it; we carry that in us and God does it through us. We don't need to be washed in anything but the waters of baptism. See, as a Catholic that's how I heard that. We were washed in the blood of Christ meant we were washed in the waters of baptism. Christ's blood is the life of the world. So, I don't know, maybe my stomach will stop hurting later. But here's the reason. Who tells people "you're horrible" when God said in Genesis, "everything is good, no indeed, it is very good."

So the Church made those beautiful boxes, took the first step of showing in a real way how Christ dwells among us, but forgot to take the second step: there's no church that exists outside of us, we are the church. There's no box to go to get God. We carry that in us. And if we are willing to use the power we've been given to choose to be children of God and stop thinking of ourselves as slaves, to choose to stop being ignorant of divine things, then what can stop the transformation of the world through us?

The Light of Christ, the life that is the light of the world is in us. We have no darkness to fear because the light was not overcome by the darkness. Nothing can go wrong. "It's all good" as they say.

It is a great power we have - to choose. We can choose to be slaves, or we can choose to be children. And I know that not all earthly parents are perfect, in fact no earthly parents are perfect, but I know I have witnessed, I have experienced, and some of us, even if we didn't see it ourselves, have seen it in others, how powerful the love of a parent for their child is. Most non-messed up parents would lay down their lives for their child, no matter what that child has done. We would give up everything, including our very breath, to see our child live and thrive. And if we can do that as imperfectly as we can do that, imagine what it means to say "I am a child of God."

Then there's that last step we have to take, that third step. If I am a child of God, so are you. So is everyone else out there, no matter what they've done. Christ laid down his life for us and calls us to do the same for one another. And we have nothing to fear, because the Light of Christ, the light that is the life of all people, is in us.

We are the tabernacles of Christ in the world today, and God has plans for us. And that plan is to participate in the redemption of the whole world to God in Christ. How amazing is that! So, I pray we choose not ignorance of divine things anymore, not fear, but life, the life of Christ. Amen.

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