I ended up in one of those uncomfortable conversations recently. The kind where the person I was talking to had decided who my God is. We were having a friendly debate about one of the social issues of our time and if I made a point he didn’t have a quick comeback for he would jab back at me by saying something like, “Well, your God hates Santa Claus.”
Actually, I find myself in those pointless conversations more and more… conversations in which it is clear the person I am talking to doesn’t have any clue who I really am or what I believe. In those conversations people lump me into the category of “Christian” and in their minds all Christians look like the craziest one they ever met. It never works for me to try and explain myself. They have decided who I am based on no information other than the category they created in their minds.
I think the reason Christians are being lumped into one solid form is that the world is shifting in so many ways and most Christians have remained frozen in time. We fear change but change is happening all around us at a high rate of speed. For example, I remember the first cell phone I had. It was the size of a brick. I had to pick it up with two hands to hold it at my ear. It had its own large carrying case and I thought it was the most amazing technology every invented.
When the flip phone came out I was astounded. “There is no way it gets better than this!” I thought. Then the smart phone appeared. I can FaceTime with my children….on my phone from just about anywhere. How could it get any more amazing than that? (I know that there are still some flip phone people in this sanctuary. I admire your faithfulness.) I remember telling Bryan he needed to ditch the flip phone and get a smart phone. “What can a smart phone do that a flip phone can’t?” he retorted like I was so delusional. I think it is important to tell you that I know I’m not technologically superior. I remember when the ATM card was introduced and I said, “Who will ever use an ATM?”
Some of you can remember the mimeograph. You very carefully typed up whatever you needed multiple copies of and then squeezed out the ink onto the roller and for a half hour made this motion. We thought we had died and gone to heaven. When I graduated from high school my parents gave me an electric typewriter and my mother said, “This is the most incredible invention. You are so lucky to be born when you were.” There are so many things in our recent past that we considered the pinnacle of human achievement that now seem so obsolete….the pager, the overhead projector, the floppy disk, the walkman, the VCR, credit card imprinter with carbon paper, fax machine, home copy machine with the dot matrix technology that took time to print out, portable DVD player, Gameboy, Polaroid camera. We could play this game all day.
Things are constantly shifting, moving and transforming around us. Every year we learn new things about the brain. My newsfeed is full of announcements about new technologies created to transmit data or read DNA results or that allow us to understand more fully the expansiveness of space.
And here we sit….people of the Book…people who read an ancient, sacred text written when people thought the world was flat and the sun revolved around the earth. A book written when women were property and homosexuality was not even a word. The world around us is in constant flux and we read our Bible like it is possible for our theology to never change. No wonder we are finding it hard to incorporate all this newness into our theological understandings.
We wonder why the church is becoming irrelevant….why people are peeling off in record numbers…why we are ending up in more and more in discussions in which people laugh at us and tell us who we believe God to be. It is happening because many people in our world don’t even find themselves in the pages of our holy text. Yvette Flunder says, “The biggest mistake the church ever made was to put a back cover on this book.”
You know that I love the Bible. I love to read it. I love to tell the stories I find in it. I love its rich metaphors and its mythologies of profound truth. But I also know it is a book. I know that Jesus didn’t write any of it. Other people wrote it long before he was born and sometime after he was executed on a cross.
But many of us read our Bibles like they are the actual words out of Jesus’ mouth. It helps me to remember that I’m always amazed when I hear people quote me. It often happens at the door right after worship. Someone will say, “I agree with you Pastor that we need to be doing x, y or z.” I know that isn’t what I said because I have a manuscript and I just preached from it. People jump off and take an idea where they take it.
What we have in this amazing book is what people took from what Jesus said and did. It is a sacred text and it evolved…theology evolved and continues to evolve even if we put a back cover on it. I remember when I thought of God as an angry white heterosexual man on a white throne dispensing judgment. That image doesn’t serve me anymore. In fact, it never served me.
In our scripture from Revelation today we hear the Christ in John of Patmos’ vision saying, “See, I am making all things new!” All things…heaven…earth… you… me. None of this…none of us are frozen in time. When I say something to my son Matt about what his father might think or feel if he were still here Matt says, “Don’t freeze my father in amber. He was an evolving person.”
We don’t just freeze each other and our theology; we also do it to ourselves. We fix our own identity so readily. Several years ago, before I knew that my sister actually liked me, she and I were standing next to each other in the receiving line after my grandfather’s funeral. I had spoken at the service on behalf of all the grandchildren. As people came through the line many of them said, “You have the spirit of your grandfather in you. He was such a good storyteller and you are just like him.” After that had been said a dozen times my sister turned to me and said, “I’m leaving. I’m going back to Mom & Dad’s house before I have to hear one more person say that to you.” I was devastated. “Wow, what a jealous sister I have,” I thought. What I wanted was for her to say, “You did a good job. You have Grandpa’s gift of storytelling in you.” When I got back to my parents’ home I told her that she had hurt me to the core. She was genuinely surprised. She said, “What I was trying to tell you is that you are not the vessel that carries Grandpa’s spirit. You are a gifted, beautiful person with your own spirit. Don’t allow anyone to box you in.” I had fixed my sister’s identity as a jealous sister. More astoundingly, I had fixed my own identity…frozen myself in amber. She opened up the box and made me feel alive, new, growing…seen and loved. She breathed newness into the room and we both were made new. Something absolutely divine happened between us in that moment.
I John 4 says that God is alive in us and God is fully seen when we love each other. We have a relational religion…with God and with each other. If we never grow…if we stay the same we stifle the living, loving, breathing God that wants to live in us and through us and between us. We keep at a distance that which we objectify ….God, each other and even ourselves.
So don’t except other people’s boxes….for God, the Bible or yourself. Don’t except your own boxes…for God, the Bible or yourself. Don’t become fossilized in amber. Don’t turn the Gospel into a law…it is meant to be alive. Don’t turn God into an angry alcoholic parent or whatever image you carry with you. Don’t pigeonhole others. Let them grow, live, become. Open up the door. Let the fresh air of the Spirit flow through you and in you and between us. Behold, God is making all things new!
Today we celebrate World Communion Sunday. It is a day when Christians throughout the world will share communion…Eucharist…the bread and the cup. It is a powerful reminder that Christ, who is making all things new, lives in us. We have a relational faith. We become the body of Christ together in our loving, loving, breathing, evolving newness.
And so, I invite you to come to the table…God’s table…this table where we are made new…where we partake of the wine and the bread. It was just a cup until Jesus held it up and made it new. It was just ordinary bread until Jesus filled it with new meaning. It is the very mystery of grace. I will invite you to come forward in just a few minutes, not because we fully understand all that this means or that it is fixed in amber but because we need to reach out and receive the newness, the nourishment, the call that is offered to us…because we want God to live newly in us, through us and between us. Amen.