Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sunday's Sermon: My Peace I Leave With You

My Peace I Leave With You
John Shuck
September 23, 2007

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee
John 14:1-30


I am doing a series of sermons on the essence of faith. I have preached already on awe and gratitude. Today, I am going to speak of justice-making as an essence of faith. That phrase “justice-making” comes from Matthew Fox and Creation Spirituality.

Fox, in his work, details four spiritual paths that correspond to the four seasons. Today, the first day of Fall, we celebrate and honor the spiritual path of making justice. It is also known as the spiritual path of transformation. We are in awe of creation and grateful for life. We are also participating in the transformation of creation and of humankind toward more spiritual depth, more equality, more peace, more restorative justice for Creation.

When we speak about justice, we often think of retributive justice. This is punishment for wrongdoing. We think of the justice department or the penal system. Justice is retribution for wrong.

In theological terms, when God is seen as retributive justice, God is the punisher for wrongdoing. God punishes us for our sins. In its most common understanding, we deserve condemnation and punishment and Jesus is substituted for us, taking the penalty we deserve and Divine retributive justice is restored.

Distributive justice or restorative justice is not about punishment, but transformation and reconciliation. Restorative or distributive justice is about making

  • that which is broken, whole,
  • that which is sick, well,
  • that which is blind, sight,
  • that which is estranged, reunited,
  • that which is hungry, fed,
  • that which is sorrowful, filled with laughter,
  • that which is suffering, peace.

In theological terms, when God is seen as restorative justice, God is the healer of our suffering. God heals us from our wounds. Rather than being sinful or bad, we are not well. We are estranged from one another, from Creation, from God. Jesus is seen as the restorer of right-relationship which includes equality, dignity, and a sharing of the bounty of Earth. Jesus, then, is the healer who brings us to wholeness.

As we read in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

Peace is not simply absence of conflict or the absence of violence. Peace is wholeness. We can only be whole when all have their needs met. Those needs include food, shelter, healthcare, safety, education, socialization, value, love. The task of distributive or restorative justice is to work for those needs for all people. There will be no peace until there is justice.

Last night I was watching a CNN special on the case of the tensions in Jena, Louisiana. I am assuming you know the story as it is been all over the news. The question that is presented is this: what is justice in this case? What is the correct punishment for the crimes? The outcry has been that justice has been uneven. Justice in its purest form is blind to our ethnicity, to our background, or whatever our situation in life. Although in practice, not always is justice blind.

The issue in Jena, Louisiana, focuses for the most part on retributive justice. Who should get punished and what to degree? That is the most our court system can usually attempt.

But, what would restorative or distributive justice look like? Restorative or distributive justice is not satisfied with the punishment that fits the crime, although that is part of justice. Restorative and distributive justice would require us to look deeper at the issues that divide this small town and the rest of America for that matter.

Why are we still so segregated along racial lines and afraid of one another? What will it take for generations of bitterness to find forgiveness? What will it take for brokenness to find healing? When will we finally be freed from the sins of our fathers? How can we participate in wholeness? How can we open ourselves to transformation?

There is a truth known to those who have gone through recovery from addiction.

We can only change when the pain of not changing is finally greater than the pain of change.

The little community of Jena is going through a great deal of pain right now. The people are embarrassed to be on the national news everyday. It is shaming for them and it is painful. Yet it might be the pain that leads to transformation. It might not. It isn’t a guarantee. But it might. The pain of remaining the same may be greater than the pain of change.

It will depend a great deal on the wisdom of the leaders of that small town, both in the black and in the white communities. It will require of them to do some soul-searching, to ask questions that they had long buried. It will require of them to move through the pain of injustice and to move toward restorative justice.

I mention this example of Jena, Louisiana as it is in the news. But I am speaking of Jena as illustration. Jena is a microcosm of what happens and is happening all over the world. Justice-making is a spiritual path, because none of us can truly be whole or at peace until all of us are.

I used the text of John 14. I read the entire chapter for a reason. It is likely that most people have heard one of those verses quite often. In fact, if you watch football games, you might see “John 14:6” written on a sign and held up in the end zone.

The text of John 14:6 is this:

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

It is a verse that has been interpreted to foster Christian exclusivism. Unless you are a Christian, down the chute to the fire with you. I suppose if we keep interpreting one verse the same way long enough, folks will believe that is what it is about.

I don’t think that is what this long speech by Jesus is about. It is one verse in a long speech. It has been taken out of its literary context. It has also been taken out of its first century context. There wasn’t any Christianity when this Gospel was written. There were Jews and there were Jews for Jesus, but there was no Christianity as such. At best there a number ways of trying to understand and follow Jesus. These ways were in competition.

Chapter 14 of John is really a beautiful chapter. It is a deeply spiritual chapter. It is a speech in which Jesus comforts his disciples with a powerful message of God’s presence. It is a passage of assurance. The way of Jesus, the way of peace, the way of restoration reflects the way of the Father. Those works of peace, he tells his disciples, are yours to do. And you can do them because the spirit is in you. When this life is over, there is a dwelling place for you.

I think Jesus was telling them, and us: "I have shown you the way of authentic life—the way of the Father—the way of peace. The way of peace is really the only way."

It is the way of love. It is the way of restoring that which is broken. It is the way sharing the bounty of Earth with all. It is the spiritual path of transformation.

2 comments:

  1. "There is no greater quest than exploring for God. There is no more thrilling adventure than achieving brotherhood.... By realizing a Father-God and his will for human brotherhood the Carpenter achieved a new religion. Then he dared to live dangerously in demontrating it. It was revolution in religion. Therefore his blind contemporaries crucified him, and history has worshiped him.

    "It is the irony of the ages that the simple grandeur of the religion Jesus really lived has been obscured by theologians who have tried to illumine the light and clarify the crystal. The result is an intricate faith, a religion about Jesus which has confused the world and rent his church asunder. "One of the greatest hours in Christian history will have struck, when once more the religion of Jesus takes the center of the scene." [Fosdick, Harry Emerson] .... There is still a wide gape between the popular orthodoxy of the day and the religion of Jesus which grew at the Carpenter's bench." (Fiske, George Walter, A Study of Jesus' Own Religion, New York: Macmillan Company. 1932. pp. 3-4.)

    God bless you John for speaking the truth plainly, with love, and revealing once again the religion of Jesus.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "The text of John 14:6 is this: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” It is a verse that has been interpreted to foster Christian exclusivism. Unless you are a Christian, down the chute to the fire with you. I suppose if we keep interpreting one verse the same way long enough, folks will believe that is what it is about."

    I think Darwin would agree with you John. Few people know that Darwin was not a radical selectionist. By this, I mean, he allowed there may well be other mechanism(s) than natural selection that were the cause of evolution. Gould tells this story in the following:

    "Darwin has often been depicted as a radical selectionist at heart who invoked other mechanisms only in retreat, and only as a result of his age's own lamented ignorance about the mechanisms of heredity. This view is false. Although Darwin regarded selection as the most important of evolutionary mechanisms (as do we), no argument from opponents angered him more than the common attempt to caricature and trivialize his theory by stating that it relied exclusively upon natural selection. In the last edition of the Origin, he wrote (1872, p. 395)

    As my conclusions have lately been much misrepresented, and it has been stated that I attribute the modification of species exclusively to natural selection, I may be permitted to remark that in the first edition of this work, and subsequently, I placed in a most conspicuous position-namely at the close of the introduction-the following words "I am convinced that natural selection has been the main, but not the exclusive means of modification." This has been of no avail. Great is the power of steady misinterpretation. (Charles Darwin, Origin of Species, 1872, p. 395.)

    -- Gould, Stephen J., & Lewontin, Richard C. (1979) The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme. PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY OF LONDON, SERIES B, VOL. 205, NO. 1161, PP. 581-598."

    Great is the power of steady misinterpretation. I think John is right; John 14:6 has been steadily misinterpreted through the centuries, and it will take a steady and persistent refrain from those we see the light to counter this misleading exclusivist interpretation of Jesus' words. I think that part of that misinterpretation rests in the early beginnings of the church, when Jesus' gospel of the kingdom, which was the will of God reigning in the hearts of the faith born sons and daughters of God, "God's presence," the truth of the fatherhood of God, coupled with the resultant sonship-daughtership in the family of God, into the message about Jesus as embodied in the early churches understanding of who Jesus was: the fact of God as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, in association with the experience of the believer-fellowship of the risen and glorified Christ.

    Scholars, both Christian and otherwise, know well the difference between these two gospels: the gospel about Jesus as viewed by the early church, and the gospel of Jesus as lived and taught in his parables about the kingdom of God and his life examples. He taught us we are the children of God, and that we are brothers and sisters, and should love each other as he loved and served us. Then he revealed an even greater love than this in that he taught us we should love our enemies, and then lived his teachings as he prayed "Father forgive them for they know not what they do" as they nailed him to the cross. He lived these truths of the two great commandments, thereby giving us a geater revelation of the character and nature of the Father in heaven. He by faith lived a life dedicated to the doing of God's will, thereby showing us the way we too could live in the daily presence of God. He revealed the spirit filled life of living by the power of God's grace by faith in the fullness of one mortal life. And in his life of love and service he truly was the way, the truth, and the life. He told us if we would be born of the spirit, led by the spirit, and taught by the spirit, we would naturally and self-forgetfully yield the fruits of the spirit in our lives of love and service to our fellows, just as he taught us by both parable and deed. And when we follow Jesus' way, which is the Father's way, we are like vines on the branch that bear much fruit, and we indeed will find abundent peace and joy in this life, and eternal life in the Father's mansions on high.

    Great is the power of steady misinterpretation, but greater is the power of Jesus' Spirit of Truth and the persistent preaching of his gospel of the kingdom, which will some day bring to all nations a new and unbelievable liberation, intellectual freedom, and religious liberty in the joys of service in the family of God.

    "It is a speech in which Jesus comforts his disciples with a powerful message of God’s presence. It is a passage of assurance. The way of Jesus, the way of peace, the way of restoration reflects the way of the Father. Those works of peace, he tells his disciples, are yours to do. And you can do them because the spirit is in you. When this life is over, there is a dwelling place for you. I think Jesus was telling them, and us: "I have shown you the way of authentic life—the way of the Father—the way of peace. The way of peace is really the only way." It is the way of love."

    ReplyDelete