Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The "Chicken Little Method" of reading the Bible

My sermon for today was based on John 6:51-58.

To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

Like most of us, I went through a period of adolescent rebellion.  I didn't really have a clear focus for my rebellion, I just resented pretty much everything and everyone who wasn't me, and if I recall correctly, I think I hated myself most of all during this period in my life.

One thing I did rebel against was authority: ANY authority or perceived authority would do.  Anyone or anything who told me what to do or what to think, or anyone who allowed someone else to tell them what to do or what to think became targets for my petulant contempt.

So of course, I rebelled against the church, and I was fond particularly of eroding people's confidence in Scripture.  Basically, I would tell any of my religious friends how silly the Bible was.

The irony was that I had never actually read it from cover to cover.  Not even close.  So at some point in my mid-20's, I decided to sit down and read it through.  I must confess, my motivation was not personal enlightenment, but to marshal better arguments against religious folk.

I won't say it was immediately a life-changing experience.  There was still a lot in there I considered silly, ill-advised and unbelievable, and yet I could not deny that life leaped off of just about  every page.  That book had something.

One thing I came to realize is that every story, even the unbelievable ones, had something for me: some lesson, some moral, some warning.  And I came to realize that the people who insist on taking the Bible literally (and many atheists are guiltier of this than religious people) rob themselves and others of rich stories that could otherwise inform and enhance their lives.  Instead, they get hooked up on the physical impossibility of Noah's Ark or the parting of the Red Sea.

So I developed what I call my Chicken Little Method of reading the Bible.  We all know the story: Chicken Little gets hit on the head, insists the sky is falling, runs around the barnyard whipping everyone into a panic.  Finally, a cooler head prevails and leads the mob back to the scene of the crime, and they notice that the piece of "sky" was just an acorn.

The moral of the story is that we should get our facts straight before we run around spreading information.  But if we get to the end of the story and say, "Wait a minute, that story is total bullshit: chickens don't talk!", and we discard the whole thing, we miss out on the moral, which was, after all, the whole point of telling the story in the first place.

The point of the passage for today is to demonstrate that God (however you conceive of God) is about life.  Not about death, not about fear, vengeance or judgement, but about life.  I'll prove it.  Click on the link to the passage above and count how many times the word "life" or something similar appears.  I'll wait for you.

I counted 12 (although I counted "abide in me" and "you have no life in you", which you might argue...either way, somewhere between 10 and 12).  Whatever else Christ is inviting us and his listeners to, it is life.  Not a life of guilt or fear or shame (which used to be the stock-in-trade of the church, to be sure) but a life of freedom, justice, self-actualization and self-realization.

In reality, I don't think God wants anything from us.  I don't think God needs or wants our guilt, fear or shame, I don't think God wants our service, our worship or our sacrifices.  I don't even think that God wants or needs our love.

But I do think God wants something for us.  I think God wants us love happy, joyous and free, and many people religious or otherwise have discovered that striving for justice, peace and equality (all things that Jesus Christ demonstrated) is what makes us happy, joyous and free.  Our love of God, our service and our worship are merely natural by-products: they are our response and reaction to our happiness, joy and freedom.

I had a friend who said that he had a God-shaped hole in him.  It was that void that only God could fill.  No amount of money, sex, drugs or rock n' roll could fill it.  I think we all have these voids, and only the right-shaped thing will fill those voids.

We all know how to eat, so feeding our bodies is pretty simple.  Fewer of us know how to feed our souls, so I want you to look for your God-shaped hole, I want you to find your spiritual mouth, and I want you to try to put the right thing in the right place (as weird as that all sounds).

In the end, what Jesus had to offer was the bread of life, the bread that would fill our spiritual void, the bread that would feed our souls.  That bread is nourishment indeed, and I hope that today you have your daily bread.

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