Sunday, May 17, 2015

Are You Led Astray, Also

Are You Led Astray, Also
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
May 17, 2015
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
John 7: 40-52
Isaiah 53: 1-7

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

40 When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This is really the prophet.” 41 Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? 42 Has not the scripture said that the Christ is descended from David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” 43 So there was a division among the people over him. 44 Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.
45 The officers then went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” 46 The officers answered, “No man ever spoke like this man!” 47 The Pharisees answered them, “Are you led astray, you also? 48 Have any of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 But this crowd, who do not know the law, are accursed.” 50 Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, 51 “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” 52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and you will see that no prophet is to rise from Galilee.”[1]

I decided to title this sermon, "Are you led astray, also" after the Pharisee's line in this text. So often we think about someone being led astray, away from Christianity, but here it is the Pharisees that say it to Jesus' followers. . . they believe it is Jesus that is leading the people astray. My how the tables are turned. . .you see there was a time when following Jesus was far from the norm, when it was counter cultural, even an act of  rebellion. We must remember that the followers of Jesus are putting much on the line when they follow. We must remember that Jesus himself put it all on the line with his actions, and that many truly felt he was leading people not to the light, but very much astray. We talked about it last week, and have alluded to it off and on throughout our study of John's gospel, but today I want to really get into it. Why follow Jesus? Why let yourself be led astray?
There must be something, but what is it? We talked a few weeks ago about how Jesus to the Jews of the time would be like Mohammad or Joseph Smith to us. Most Christians have found reasons to reject those two men, who many in the world claim to be prophets, but we have decided, even now to follow Jesus, and by even now I mean, 2000 years after he was hanged on a cross. Why? Because last week we took it a step further and compared what Jesus was doing and representing it directly against a passage from scripture, from Deuteronomy, directly out of the mouth of Moses, where he is warning the people about being taken, and led astray, there is that word again, by a false prophet, practicing things in secret, and doing wonders, and proclaiming to be the powers of other gods, in Jesus' case, namely himself as the Son of God. . . but here we are 2000 years later led astray. Why?
When I think about Led Astray, I think about Denzel Washington in Spike Lee's movie about Malcolm X, standing in front of a group of people saying, "
Oh, I say and I say it again,
ya been had!
Ya been took!
Ya been hoodwinked!
Led astray!
Run amok!
This is what He does....

Now we think that Jesus is by far the  most eloquent, the  most convincing of people, but it's half and half, at best here on who follows and who doesn't - - can you picture someone on the other side saying these words to Jesus' followers: You been had, took, led astray.  . .  ?
What is the opposite of astray? I need a word for it. . .  the thesaurus gave me. . . "on course" or "straight". . . if we think about the root word, "Stray" would be like lost, like a stray dog, or a stray sheep, led away from the shepherd, into the woods. . .  This is what they are claiming Jesus does. . . he leads astray from the teachings they have held so fast to, at least in intention, to something very new. . . but what is Jesus' main crime at this point in John's Gospel?. . . "Healing on the Sabbath" back in chapter 5, remember the man, the paralyzed man who was at the pool, that magical, pagan bath, in Jerusalem, that Pagan, idolatrous ritual healing place, but the powers that be didn't have a problem with all that, they instead only had a problem with the Sabbath breach. . . and then Jesus' claims after that in public about being the Son of God. . . blasphemy. . . other than that he fed 5000 people, certainly harmless, and then he  walked on water, but no one really ever acknowledged him walking on the water. But now here, Jesus is in Jerusalem, and more and more are following him, and his message, his presence, his claims, his miracles, something about him divides the people into opposing camps. . . some think he is great, and others think he is leading people astray. But are we to take it their anger at him literally on face value about his miracles and blasphemous claims? Is it instead another scriptural technicality that keep people away? Is it again the problem of where Jesus is from, remember nothing good can come from Nazareth, and this is so ironic, they ask,
Isn't the Messiah supposed to come from Bethlehem and Not Galilee, not Nazareth, who could ever come from that backwater place. . ." Ironic, since this gospel doesn't include the Christmas narrative like Matthew or Luke. . . so here we are again, what is the problem with Jesus on one side, what is it that he is leading people astray to and from, and on the other side, why follow, what makes people follow? We don't like extremes like this, where we have to pick and choose where to stand. . .
What is this being led astray all about? We could look at the teachings and signs of Jesus here in John, feeding people, walking on water, turning water into wine, claims of being the one true God, the word, with God, and as God since the beginning. . . the very beginning. The only real thing that Jesus has said, and he says it again again, is that all one needs is to believe, receive life, and obey. . .as if it all were hand in hand. Believe, receive life, abundant, beyond the pale, normal, life, into more life you can ever imagine, why because of love, and what is the response of the beloved, according to Jesus, to believe, and do the will of the Father. That doesn't sound so onerous, it doesn't sound bad either, I could use some of that abundant life stuff, andit doesn't sound like it is all that leading astray, at least not all that far astray, where does the astray part come in?
Maybe some of the teachings from the other gospels? Love your neighbor. . . love your enemies? The beatitudes?
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.[2]

It is kind of against everything that seems so apparent to us in our world. It seems upside down, kind of like the tables turned over in the temple. Hey come follow a person that tell you not to worry about your life, not to get revenge against your enemies, but instead to love them, some one who doesn't want to be king, someone who eats and associates with undesirables like tax collectors, cheats, and prostitutes, someone who disregards the traditions that we hold central to our existence, a prince of peace that instead brings division. The reasons for staying in the fold with the Pharisees and not running amok, and astray, on a practical level, are numerous. It would be easier not to care, not to love, not to get up and come to church on Sunday, not to love your neighbor, certainly easier to hate your enemies, to hold grudges and hold onto bitterness and resentment. All of that would be easier. . . so why would you let a teacher like Jesus lead you astray into a much more challenging life of self sacrifice and martyrdom, carrying a the cross of a disciple of Jesus? Why do these people? Why do we? Why did the Christian Martyrs persecuted by the Romans, why did Martin Luther, why did Mother Teresa, why did Dietrich Bonhoeffer, why did Martin Luther King? Why do the Christians being killed in the middle east by ISIS, why do we? I could ask do we, but that doesn't help much today? I could ask us are we really led astray, or we instead safely secured in the fold of the world's tradition?
What makes the difference, though? I think it has to be wrapped  up in one word, "Relationship." Jesus comes seeking relationship. . . and some people are open to it and some aren't, the rest comes later, the following, the journey of trials and opposites. . . it seems if you take things out of balance, out of order,  you'll just fall away eventually. If you want to make Jesus king because your belly is full, you'll miss it, and the moment that your belly isn't full in that way, or full in another way instead, you'll be out, again looking for something to work for you. I was in chapel at school on Tuesday, and the speaker said, you can use Jesus how ever you want, and if it works for you go with it, or whatever you use that works for you it is all the same. . . really? Isn't that just more king making idolatry? Instead Jesus seeks to know us, and for us to know him. . . look at the snapshots we have of the people who decide to follow Jesus. He tells them things about themselves that no one could know, he skips the pretence and small talk and goes right to the heart of real intimacy. That is relationship building, and relationship makes all the difference.
I watched "God is Not Dead" this week. Interesting movie, but not great. . . bad acting, over the top message, apologetics. . .  proving the truth of Jesus, Jesus on trial type stuff. . . when that stuff doesn't really ever work, at least  not in the way Jesus models it here in John. Jesus instead gets inside people by coming himself, bringing himself, and it is personal. Relationship is the reason that obedience is ever possible. Relationship with Jesus is the way that the believing is possible. Relationship is the reason that abundant life is possible. I would say that I believe that the difference between being left secure in the fold of the world and being led astray by Jesus is relationship, and it was true for people then, and because of the resurrection it is still true today. Come to know Jesus that is what we should seek, and show, and strive for.  And it happens differently for all of us, different ways, different times, it looks different, unique to each of us, which is why I had trouble writing this sermon this week. It is different for all of  us, different for each of us, and that is part of what makes it so great. . .  It is about being open, not so sure, searching for the new, the Pharisees weren't looking for something new because they were sure they had it all figured out. Do we think we have it all figured out? Because just at that moment Jesus comes in looks into our hearts, introduces himself to us again, and says follow, come I will lead you astray into new, more abundant life, life that you haven't known yet, even if you thought you did. If you want to try to convert the world to Christianity, converting all, you will always be cynical and anger, wondering why any of it matters. . . even with the best rhetorical, evidence, like you have created the best argument ever, you've got it down cold.  . . you can never reach all, because there is no relationship, and their really needs to be. . . instead focus on each. It is why Jesus said love your neighbor, rather than love the world. . . the world is nameless, faceless and far away, but your neighbor is there in your face, close enough to your heart to reach out, but it is easier often to feel good about  having a heart big enough to encompass the whole world. . . the one, is much more intimate, and includes the real risk of being successful.
I want to close with a poem that I wrote mid week about the difference between all, and each. .  .
Each Life Matters
Peter T. Atkinson

There’s only one difference ‘tween “all” and “each,”
And it’s the only one difference that matters,
For “All” is a number ever out of reach
And therefore all hope it shatters.

Never, no, never could you ever help all
So you might as well now stop your tryin’;
The world around us is just fated to fall,
Why waste your time carin’ for the cryin’?
It don’t matter no how; it never did y’all;
They keep sellin’ but we just ain’ buyin’.
No, life’s just a clock, and all its tick ‘n’ its tockin’
‘s just the music that plays while we’re dyin’.

Do you believe that, really deep and inside?
Have you never touched anyone’s soul?
Can you honestly say that you’ve never felt pride
In making another broken soul whole?
If you’ve ever loved with your arms open wide
Beyond selfish desires of control,
Then you’d too see the shame, of the endless names
Absent when “All” calls the roll.

And so every time that we talk of love
Let's not lose the "each" in the "all"
For silence is broken when only one dove
Forgets that his voice is too small.

[1]The Revised Standard Version. 1971 (Jn 7:40). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
[2]The Revised Standard Version. 1971 (Mt 5:3). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.