Thank you to everyone who made it out tonight 😀 I had a lot of fun and I really appreciate all of the support. Here is the text from tonight’s spiritual reflection. I hope to have the audio up by the end of the week.
CQC 02 April 2017
I love worship, I love the music, and all the people, the warmth of community. But it’s also gotten complicated over the years. There’s a lot of nonsense that’s gotten tacked on, and a lot of important elements that have been stripped away. There’s a lot of expectations, a lot of things that we apparently have to do, and a lot of things that we absolutely must not do. The result is that at times the whole endeavor can seem quite rote, as if we’re doing the same thing over and over again solely for the sake of following some divine choreography.
You go to church, shake hands with everyone, sing songs, say your prayers, thank you God, forgive my sins, praise Jesus Amen. It can be easy to loose sight of why we’re here in the first place. So that’s what I wanted to talk about today. We gather in worship of this man named Jesus of Nazareth. Christ, Emmanuel, the Word of God Made Flesh.
The word of God made flesh.
So what does that mean. If you ask the experts, you’ll get a lot of different opinions. Some will say that every word is the absolute literal truth, while others will tell you it was all made up for political reasons. However you look at it his words changed the world. If you believe the stories, he commanded the storms and they obeyed, he told the sick to be well and they were healed, he spoke truth to power and changed the shape of authority forever.
And yet for some strange reason he never actually wrote anything down. There are four versions of the Gospel and they all contradict one another. I believe this was by design. Jesus wants us to ask questions, to dig deeper and actively seek truth. Some people have a bad habit of assuming they are always correct, so they never bother to look inward. But the word of God is not found in the literal details.
What we know is that something happened two thousand years ago, something that left an impression on people. Something so incredible, so life changing, that those who experienced it felt compelled to tell everyone they met. They gave up their worldly possessions and traveled far from their homes, they suffered persecution and even death, all to deliver the word. And the story they told was too weird to make up.
Take for example Jesus’s arch nemesis, the Devil. In a typical narrative, the protagonist overcomes a series of escalating challenges, before at last confronting their greatest opponent. Jesus on the other hand confronts the Devil right at the beginning of his journey, and doesn’t so much fight him as simply ignore him.
Because the point of the story isn’t some epic showdown between good and evil, but rather to highlight the nature of temptation. Having been in the wilderness for some time Jesus was naturally quite hungry, and the Devil says “if you’re really the son of God, why not turn these rocks into bread?” Why go hungry, why suffer needlessly?
And Jesus responds that we do not live by bread alone, but by every word. We cannot live by bread alone, but by every word. There are lessons to be learned from being hungry. Lesson’s that are as relevant today as they ever were, possibly more so. Consider social media. Consider how something you read online can change your whole day, for better or for worse.
Like probably many of you, I spend too much time reading the internet. And every day I read about people trying to help others, trying to make the world a better place. And every day I read about people trying to destroy each other, sometimes out of hate, sometimes out of boredom, sometimes it’s simply because they don’t understand. They do all these wonderful and terrible things using nothing but the power of words. Words matter. Words mean things. And people who have suffered understand this better than anyone.
The devil goes on to tempt Jesus with displays of invincibility, promises of wealth and authority and Jesus rejects each of these things in turn. Jesus was a man of words, they were his greatest gift, his other powers were beside the point.
The things Jesus said were pretty unusual. His messaging went against a lot of mainstream ideals. Blessed are the meek, and the poor, and the persecuted. Think about that, you come home, someone asks “how was your day?”
“People were bullying me, making fun of me online.”
“Great! That’s awesome that you’re being persecuted.” Says the other person
Really? And here he was saying that we should be glad when miserable things happen to us, we should be happy if we are mistreated.
At times it can seem like our world only values strength and power. We hear constantly that our suffering is our own fault, the result of our own shortcomings. And Jesus says otherwise. He empathizes with those that are marginalized, he tells us that being persecuted doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve done anything wrong, and he understands that our struggles ultimately make us better people.
One of my favorite parts is where he talks about the salt and the light. He says “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt looses it’s saltiness how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
First it’s important to understand that the salt back then wasn’t like table salt that you and I are used to, so the idea of using it up and trampling it underfoot would have made sense at the time. But much like today it was used to bring out the flavor in food. He was saying that each one of us ha something that brings out the richness of life.
He says “You are the light of the world, a town built on a hilltop cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others.”
In talking about salt and light he is telling us that we are each important, and he was speaking as much to the people gathered around him at the time as he is speaking to you and I right now. Every one of us feels awkward at times. We each have things we don’t like about ourselves, things that make us different, things that make us feel ashamed. And Jesus is telling us that our flaws and our quirks are precisely what the world needs from us.
Jesus definitely preferred the company of those who were different. He hung out with people that the upper crust of society looked down on. Those who were poor, sick and disabled, people who had been outcast for whatever reason. He knew that people who had experienced exclusion were among the most likely to be receptive to his message, and that they would be more likely to show compassion towards one another.
His disciples were just about the last kind of people one might have expected. Typically the way it worked is that disciples to a Rabbi were groomed from a very young age. They began teaching children around 4 or 5 years old. And by the time they were twelve many of them would have memorized the Torah, the Hebrew bible. I don’t know if you’ve ever sat down and tried to read the Hebrew bible, but trust me that’s not an easy thing to do. They would continue reading and learning. The best and brightest students would then have to plead with a Rabbi to be taken on as a disciple.
Someone really quickly tell me your favorite celebrity. Imagine they approach you one day while you’re at your job, and tell you they want to work with you. It was a bit like that, to be called as a disciple, with absolutely no formal training, or family background was unheard of.
But Jesus knew that these people had qualities that made them ideal for spreading God’s message. Contrast that with the Pharisees, who were the religious authorities of the time. They really didn’t like Jesus. They followed him around and constantly worked to undermine him.
At one point the Pharisees asked him for a sign, proof that he was he said he was. And Jesus replied that the people who demand proof are, as he put it “sinful and evil.” The Pharisees weren’t looking for proof of anything, they just wanted an excuse to put Jesus in his place. Nothing he could have done would have convinced them.
So instead Jesus told them about people who had to work and suffer before finding wisdom. Jonah who spent three days in the belly of a whale before he was ready to preach, or the Queen of the south who travelled a long way to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Jesus even makes reference to his own upcoming death, and the three days he would soon spend deep in the earth.
His point was that people who refuse to listen to good advice won’t be convinced by flashy shows of power. There are some things we can only learn by experience, things that can only be understood after the fact.
The Pharisees were of course undeterred. They kept trying to prove that the words of God were somehow justification for mistreating people, and Jesus was never once impressed by their nonsense. Even today we see people trying to use the words of God as an excuse to discriminate. But that’s not what God wants, and Jesus made that very clear.
For example they gave him grief for healing people on the Sabbath, because working on the Sabbath was against scripture. Jesus responded that it was important to follow the spirit of the law instead of the letter. He told them to consider the harm in their decisions. If for example one of their livestock was to fall into a well on the Sabbath, they would still rescue it, because it was suffering.
They criticized his followers for not washing their hands before eating. They are unclean, the Pharisees said. And Jesus responded that it is not what goes into our mouth that makes us unclean, but what comes out of it. Our words, the way we speak to people, the way we treat one another is far more important than anything else. It’s like he said in the desert, we do not live by bread alone, but by every word.
Now I have to give a bit of a trigger warning here, I’m sure many of you are familiar with the story of the time they brought a young woman to a city square where he was preaching. They said she was an adulteress, which could have meant she was a prostitute, or it could have simply meant that she did something to tick off her husband. Either way the rules were clear, she had to be killed by stoning. A means of execution whereby everyone around would throw rocks at her until she was dead. Pretty nasty stuff. Jesus said let they that are without sin cast the first stone.
Mere words, but they saved that woman’s life. The right words at the right time, words that caused everyone to take a step back and consider what they were really doing. To reflect on their own flaws, and empathize with the position this woman was in. There are words that can destroy, and words that can bring us together.
We live in a time where anyone can say anything to anyone else. As a naive young person at the dawn of the internet I thought this new ability to communicate could only lead to good things. Turns out I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Oxford’s word of the year in 2016 was “post truth.” The idea is that no matter what stupid thing a person believes, they can find people somewhere on the internet willing to back it up.
To many people the concept of truth has become devoid of meaning, there are no facts anymore, only opinions. And a lot of people think that this is a new development. But it’s something that Jesus understood two thousand years ago. Four versions of the gospel, each of them contradict one another. And yet each of them contain words of truth. Because truth isn’t in the details, it’s in understanding. What you believe isn’t nearly as important as why you believe it. Jesus teaches us to ask why, and to live our lives by every word