Sunday, November 1, 2015

Hated by the World?

Hated by the World?
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
November 1, 2015
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
John 15: 18-27

This is a sermon you might want to listen to instead of read. . . I went off script and preached this hard. . . I went back just now and rewrote to capture what I spoke in the moment, but hearing it is much more powerful, listen here:

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.

18 “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. 21 But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin. But now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 It was to fulfill the word that is written in their law, ‘They hated me without a cause.’
26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. [1]

My favorite poet has always been William Butler Yeats. Ever since I was in high school when I was turned on to his poem "No Second Troy" in a roundabout way, but his words just have always caught me deeply.  Any time that I need a to grab something to read when I just have a moment, I typically pick up my copy of his "Complete Poetry" and start thumbing through. . . I'm kinda nerdy like that. . . I did just that early this week. . . I had just read through what was going to be the gospel lesson again. . . I usually do a couple of times each day early in the week to get ideas flowing, so I had already had on my mind, stuff like the world hating disciples of Jesus, the world hating Jesus, and stuff at the end about testifying, which I know from Greek class, that any time you see testify in English in the New Testament, the word is Marturio, which is the same root as Martyr. . . so those words were heavily on my mind, and then I read the poem, "Adam's Curse," which is the poem I gave to yall. It's one I have read many times, but never really had grab me, but this time it did, because it had the phrase "the world" and it mentioned "martyrs" and it mentioned trying to love, which since we are reading John's gospel it is certainly totally relevant, but also I saw it say that they were becoming "heart weary," which thinking about the world, and how it works and hates, and all that had grabbed me new into this poem again. So though I had read it many times before, I was drawn to this poem this time with fresh eyes. . . and I want to share it with you, but I think I'm going to wait until the end, which is going off script, a little bit, but hey that's the way it works.  
You may be thinking to  yourself, if you read through it on your own already, what does this all have to do with the world hating Christians, other than those ideas I already mentioned, it does mention the world, but is it really about the world, it mentions martyrs in passing, but it isn't about martyrs. . . so I'm wasn't really sure how it related today, but I was really sure that it did relate today, and it wasn't until we were talking about it Sunday School this morning that I really came to grips seriously with why, so that is why I want to save it. . . so I want to go off script and save it for later and read it then
"If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you." That is the line that opens up this morning's passage. . . not don't let your heart be troubled. . . although that message does seem to be implied again here. . . don't worry if the world hates you, it's nothing new. . . I've been there. . . have you ever thought that, that may just be the best test of a Christian's authenticity or a church's, whether are not they are at odds with the world? It's a  tough thing in today's world. . . there is great pressure to be popular, to go along to get along, appease the crowd. . . I mean we are out to win hearts, we are fishers of men, does a fish hate its lure? If it does it's not likely to bite. . . it's never going to work, it's impossible anyway. . . that's the world talking again though. . . .
Jesus says otherwise. . . but the world creeps into churches because there is always great risk in faith. . . and great risk does not make practical sense, it doesn't ever seem like the right time to lay it all on the line, and not hedge your bets, especially when your chips are already down, when numbers are stagnant, when the population isn't growing, no one is knocking on the door, and it seems like your lures just ain't shiny enough. . . this has made me think about another thing I remember my dad saying, and it came to mind last Sunday with Pat and Jim's grandsons talking about fishing, showing off all the fish they've caught, and it made me remember my Dad saying, "Do you like to fish? Or do you like to catch fish?" because those two aren't always one in the same. It may not be about the results but the doing. . . that is one of the great truths of Jesus' ministry. . . not the fruits of the labor, but the labor itself, the doing of it, that is what matters. . . but the world doesn't like to work that way either. . . the world likes the big toys, the world likes the big rewards, the world likes quid quo pro, the world likes to judge the results, the win, not the way the game was played, the score, not the character of the players. . . . the image not the reality. . . for image produces results, it sells, whereas the reality takes much more work, time, and who needs it. . .  just sell baby, just sell. . . and then again Jesus says, what is on the inside, what is behind the image, what is in your heart. . . and the world hates him for it, do we do the same, are we on the right side?
The world says there are always sides, two sides to every story, you are either with us or against us, you are either in or out, you need to get with the program, on this side of the aisle everyone is really good, on that side of the aisle everyone is really bad, love us, hate them. . . another trap that is easy to fall into for churches. . . we've got it all right, they've got it all wrong, we are striving for the perfect church, the one that Jesus would like the most, the better one, the best one, we've got to get people in here, we've got to be the best, the most righteous, the most holy, the most without sin, come on people let's get in the game and compete. . . ahh that pesky world again. . .man I hate the way the world keeps doing that to all of our good ideas. . . .but then Jesus is about to say love your enemy. . .  man Jesus gets in the way of so many of our great practical plans. . .
I was out trick or treating behind the church over, last night with the kids, on that street back there last night, and maybe some of you have seen it, but there is a house and they have a sign up, and I was actually hoping it was just up for Halloween as some kind of scary threatening statement, but DeAnna said it is up there all the time, it says in big letters, Romans 6 "The wages of sin is death. . . " and that is all it says. . . and  you have to wonder, I mean that is a powerful statement, and I bet 90% of the world rides by that sign and hates it, and I had thought a minute ago that the world hating a church, hating a Christian is a good test of Authenticity. . . what do you think?  In this case, to have up that sign, I bet they feel like good boat rocking Christians, standing up against the down hill stream of the world, warriors against sin, soldiers for righteousness, despised by the world, witnessing with their sign, like it's an election sign, and Christ has got their vote and everyone should know it, let the world hate them, for they are truly right. . . but. . . and there is a big but. . . that sign does not include all of Romans 6:23, no, there is more to Romans 6. . . "The Wages of Sin is death. . ." but then, "but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord."  Interesting to leave that part off. Yeah, context matters. . . the problem is, one of the main attributes of the world is that it is comfortable with itself. . . whereas Christ seems to afflict the comfortable. . . I remember hearing that challenge made to pastors, that their sermons should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted, all at the same time.
A big question that has been on my mind this week, and that is, how much has the world changed. I think that we would like to believe that after 2000 years of Christianity that the world would have changed, that Christianity would have made strides in changing the world, but a study of that history is difficult, it is always difficult to determine which has had the most effect on which. Has the world shaped Christianity, or has Christianity shaped the world? And that is an important question because it puts into question what Jesus says here, does the world not hate Christians now, because Christianity has been adapted into the world so as to not be so revolutionary any more, or has the revolution already taken place? It is an important question to think about today, on especially on Reformation Sunday, when we celebrate one  of the great changes that has taken place in the world, but have the things that Luther and Calvin and the other  reformers fought so hard for, things like Priesthood of All believers, and intellectual access to scripture, personal autonomy in faith, having a personal relationship directly with Christ, himself, do we in today's world take these things for granted? What does the world want? What does Christ want? Whatever are we to do? I think it was Chesterton who wrote, "it is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, but it is that it has never tried" suggesting that the world versus Christ and Christian dynamic, that Jesus is talking about here, that the world hates him still,  is very much still in tact.
I've gone through alot, bouncing from point to point, I've done that for a reason because I just wanted to plant some seeds, and now I want to go back to the poem that you have in front of you, "Adam's Curse"
We sat together at one summer’s end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,   
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, ‘A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,   
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.   
Better go down upon your marrow-bones   
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones   
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;   
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet   
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen   
The martyrs call the world.’
                                          And thereupon
That beautiful mild woman for whose sake   
There’s many a one shall find out all heartache   
On finding that her voice is sweet and low   
Replied, ‘To be born woman is to know—
Although they do not talk of it at school—
That we must labour to be beautiful.’
I said, ‘It’s certain there is no fine thing   
Since Adam’s fall but needs much labouring.
There have been lovers who thought love should be   
So much compounded of high courtesy   
That they would sigh and quote with learned looks   
Precedents out of beautiful old books;   
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.’

We sat grown quiet at the name of love;   
We saw the last embers of daylight die,   
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky   
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell   
Washed by time’s waters as they rose and fell   
About the stars and broke in days and years.

I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:   
That you were beautiful, and that I strove   
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown   
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.

Now it has taken me all week to get a real grasp of why I thought that this made sense on Monday. And what first grabbed me to it was the idea that the "bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen, that the martyrs call the world." Isn't interesting that the martyrs call the world the bankers, school masters and the clergymen, that the martyrs would be the category that Jesus fits into and that the clergymen would be the church, in the idea that Jesus and the church may not be on the same page. And if you look at what bankers, school masters and clergymen have in common it is that they are all invested in the status quo, the bankers need things to stay the same, and they have the means to keep it that way, the school masters teach the new generation how to function in the world the way it is, and the clergymen represent the institution on which the society is standing, those holy pillars. If it should be rocked, you can't have that. That's what drew men in at first.
But then I started to think about what is the idea that Yeats is really trying to communicate here, he says that writing a line of poetry is very difficult, and that it needs to be worked at. You need to do two really important things: you need to write a line, and that takes alot of time, but then you need to make that line look like it took no time at all, that it simply was a moment's thought. Off the top of your head. And then he compares that to a woman's beauty. A woman's beauty in that same idea is something that you have to labor at, but at the same time make it seem that you just rolled out of bed that way. And that the school masters never teach that secret. Everyone seems to know it. We're born into the world, and we just know it. He's certain "there is no fine thing, but needs much laboring" that is right out of Genesis 3, part of Adam's curse, in the fall, is that we have to toil in the dirt for our sustenance, that toil is what is important.
Now, there is no more powerful line than the one that begins the second to last stanza: "We sat grown quiet at the name of love." You may not have noticed, but this is a love poem, but unlike most love poems there are three characters instead of two. "that beautiful mild woman, your close friend, and you, and I" there are three there, two women and a man. It just so happens if you know anything about life, there is a love triangle there. One is in love with Yeats, Yeats is in love with the other one, and the other one, the beautiful one, is Maud Gonne, and she is just in love with herself. So, in a moment like this everything is high philosophy talk, but then love shows up, and it gets uncomfortable, because in a love triangle that is the unspoken issue behind everything. . . .all of a sudden it gets really real, and so silence invades the room. "and we had grown quiet at the name of love," and it is like you can see his mind drift in the silence to the outside, and he sees the moon and he says it looks like the shell of something that used to be really beautiful. And he says,
I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:  

And it seems like he is talking to the one who loves him, that he was really trying to love her but couldn't, and that he really loved the other one. . .

That you were beautiful, and that I strove   
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown   
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.

He tried, he loved, it was supposed to be easy, but it wasn't, it was a struggle, and they are left with this situation of unrequited love, that they have tried so hard, and then that they had grown weary hearted.
Now put yourself in the mind of this poet, who has loved in the "old high way of love" who believed in love, and had it go for nothing. Put yourself in that moment, and then see Jesus walk into that moment, and starts talking about love, loving your neighbor, loving God, that love is going to save the world, that you should love me as I loved you, and what is your reaction: You hate Jesus. You hate Jesus because he makes you feel, and you don't want to feel. You don't want to feel because feeling gets in the way of the really cool things you had to say, feeling gets in the way of your practical plans, feeling gets in the way of the sustenance of the institution, and Jesus comes in and says, in this world that you think is broken. In this world where all you think you are is the hollow shell of the moon. That you gotta love anyway. And the world doesn't like that, the world never likes it because it doesn't make sense, it goes against what is practical, there is too much risk there, the world can't stand such things. But yet, Jesus says them, and he is the same Jesus who turned water into wine, and fed the 5000, and brought Lazarus back to life, and did everything else in the face of the world, that the world didn't want to see, that is the Jesus we are talking about. He goes beyond church signs, and us vs. them and asks us to live in the mystery of the world, and all the right and wrong that makes us crazy, to still feel, still love, to wake up the next morning to love again, and then he invites us to the table, feel what it is like to be loved in that way, to be invited, and we do it so that we can feel, so that we can bodily remember, that we can feel, beyond intellectual knowledge, so when we come to the table that is what we are doing, we are feeling, we have been invited to join in an internal relationship of memory, of passion, of feeling. . . so let us keep that holy feast. .. amen.

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 15:18-27). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.