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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Put your life where your mouth is

To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

We have all heard the sayings, "Put your money where your mouth is" and "Talk the talk, walk the walk".  They both (and other sayings like it) boil down to one thing: live your life with integrity.  Say what you mean, do what you say.

Is that what we are doing?

My sermon for today was based on John 14: 1-14.  This narrative forms part of Jesus' discourse following the Last Supper.  In this passage, he informs for disciples that he will soon be parted from them.

Typical Jesus, he states prosaically that he will be going away somewhere and the disciples are to follow him.

Typical disciples, they don't get it.

They can hardly be to blame, most of us still don't get it to this day, as evinced by this reading being a popular choice for a funeral reading.  Jesus says "In my father's house there are many dwelling places...I go to prepare a place for you", which most of us (erroneously, I think) assume to mean "There is lots of room in heaven, I am going ahead to get your room ready".

Sounds like a lovely idea, but I maintain that Jesus really had little concern for the afterlife, and was far more concerned with how we live this life than anything else.

Put the "Father's house" statement in context: the rest of the passage has nothing to do with Heaven, which we as humans bound by our 5 sense always need to conceive of as a "place".

When Jesus says that he is going to a "place" and the disciples are to follow him, I don't think he is actually talking about an actual location in time and space.  Rather, he is talking about a way of being, admonishing the disciples to follow his example.

I think this is made clear when Thomas says, "Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?" to which Jesus responds "I am the way, the truth and the life".

It goes without saying that many Christians have cherry-picked this little nugget of scripture to justify all sorts of religious elitism and bigotry.  They interpret this as Jesus saying "I am the only way, the only truth and the only life".

Look, I don't want to debate the issues around coexistence and religious pluralism.  I for one think that there is great wisdom to be found in other faiths and cultures, but I really don't think Jesus is making any claim to a spiritual or religious monopoly based on his person.

But in life, Jesus was a paragon of love, mercy, compassion, justice, forgiveness, patience and understanding.  He is saying is that the way he lives is the way we should live, showing forth all of those virtues in our own lives.

This is all summed up in one sentence: "Very truly, I tell you, one who believes in me will also do the works that I do".

Claiming to be a Christian means you have a responsibility to live like Christ did, demonstrating the values and the morality that he stood for in life.  It means caring for other and for all creation.

Don't get me wrong, being moral and value-centered is not exclusively Christian.  Every religion I can think of espouses values and morality, at least on paper.  But to claim that one is Christian means that we have a real-world example of someone we can aspire to, an example that we follow.

Now go do that!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Whose voice to follow when you are at a cocktail party

To download a podcast of my sermon for this week, click here.

Have you ever heard of Cocktail Party Syndrome?  It seems wrong to me to call it a syndrome, but that is the name psychologists give to the human ability (and perhaps other animals, as far as I know) to filter out and follow one conversation or pattern of sound from a surrounding cacophony.  Like the ability to pay attention to one conversation at a cocktail party rather than follow all the surrounding conversations.

Whose voice are you following?

It occurs to me that you and I constantly have to have similar filters in place, at just about every minute of every day.  We are asked to follow a number of voices, voices that tell us we need to have that car, that TV, we need to live only for ourselves.

We are asked to follow voices that tell us we need to be right, we need to be angry at people, we need to feel sorry for our pasts.

Usually more quietly, there are voices that tell us we need to help other people, we need to feed the hungry, clothe the naked.

There are voices that tell us we need to have hope, we need to give up anger and grudges.

The options are staggering.

Enter Jesus and his sheep (John 10:1-10).

You and I may resent the comparison to sheep, as sheep are equated with mindless following, but when Jesus speaks of sheep and shepherding, he is really talking about the role of shepherd.  It's not meant to be a shot at us.  Sheep are friendly and peaceful animals, and the comparison of people to sheep was actually meant to be complimentary.

But shepherding was a much different game is Jesus' time.  Unlike the industrial farms of today where food and water are trucked and piped to where the livestock are, a shepherd had to lead his sheep throughout the countryside to find forage for them.

A shepherd used to lead his sheep by voice.  Shepherds would sing, call out, recite scripture or speak gibberish, and as long as the sheep could hear his voice, they would follow.

The shepherd was the person who brought the sheep to food and water.  The shepherd protected the sheep.  If the sheep followed any other voice, they would be rustled, and this was obviously not good for the sheep or the shepherd.

The lesson is pretty simple: follow the good voices, steer away from the bad.

Follow the voices that end up helping the world, steer away from the voices that serve you alone.  Follow the voices that say you can make a difference, steer away from the voices that say you are not good enough.  Follow the voices that keep you on the path of goodness, steer away from the voices that lead you down the paths of evil.

Whose voice will you follow today?