I usually provide a link to my sermons, but this week, considering what has been happening, I think I will post the whole thing.
Well, did you feel it? Did you feel the axis of the Earth shift? Events of the past week have caused a rift in the cosmic fabric that may NEVER BE REPAIRED! People are appalled! APPALLED I SAY! And why? Why are the ducks going to be flying north this fall and south next spring? Why? Well, it seems that Michelle Obama emerged from Air Force One wearing… oh, it pains me to say it…wearing SHORTS!
Yes, after listening to the news from the past week, you would think that she did something horrible like show up in public with her dress stuck in her pantyhose or something. But all she did was act like a normal human, on vacation, in Arizona, in the summer. But because she decided to do something a little different, a little change on what was expected, she was plastered all over the TV and internet.
The words flew across the ether, “No other First Lady ever wore shorts as she emerged from Air Force One before.” That is right, no other has. This might be a difficult new teaching for us to learn. Now, I am sure no one is planning on moving to a different country just because of this one event, but there are probably a few who are thinking of changing parties. The SHORTS INCIDENT was the last straw.
Lately, this seems to be the mentality of the world: As long as things are going our way, we will stick around. But when the tide starts to change, we go off looking for a new place. But really, we don’t want a new place; we just want to continue to live in the old place. We don’t want a new place; we want the good old days. Whenever I hear that phrase, “the good old days,” I think of a line in a song by Billy Joel. He says, “The ‘Good Old Days’ weren’t always good and tomorrow’s not as bad as it seems.” But so often, we, as a people want to go back to those “Good Old Days.” But the truth is, for the most part, we really DON’T want to go back. Are we really willing to go back to the days of no cars, phones, central heating, or central air-conditioning? At first glance, it may seem nice, but I don’t think we really want to go back. That is the problem with life. We are caught in this horrible bind: We don’t like change because it is scary, but staying still will become stagnant and eventually kill us. We are caught in this internal tug. We like the thought of what is new, but we are frightened. We like the comfort of what is expected but if we have too much of it we will find it boring.
Really, this is not a new situation to our times; it is similar to the situation the disciples find themselves in in today’s gospel reading. The people are anxious: they are looking for a new teaching. They are following teachers all over the place. They find a teacher they like and they begin to follow. But when that teacher says something that is controversial or goes against their personal belief, they pick up and find a new teacher. That is why the disciples are concerned. They have been getting a big following! But Jesus has been saying things that have been causing discontent among the masses. The disciples probably want Jesus to tone back the rhetoric. They probably were pulling Jesus aside saying, “Hey Jesus, you are doing well with the talking points we agreed upon, why are you going off topic! You are losing the people!”
But Jesus didn’t stick to the talking points just because they were “easier.” He continued to speak the truth, even if it made people uncomfortable, even if it made some people turn away. Jesus would not silence the truth; he spoke the truth even if it meant his own safety would come into jeopardy.
But Jesus leaves us with a bit of a problem and not much of a solution.
The problem is: How do we know what is true teaching and what is false teaching?
This is a really difficult one and a problem that has plagued faith forever. Do we accept the uncircumcised as Jews? Do we accept the Gentiles as Christians? Do we accept women as teachers and leaders in church? Do we accept women in the pulpit? Do we accept people of color? Do we accept those who are divorced? Do we accept those who are gay? Do we accept those who have had abortions? Do we accept those who are different than us?
I truly believe that both sides of these arguments are acting in good faith and are doing what they feel God is calling them to do. I think the Pharisees were not out to dupe the people, but were trying to lead the people appropriately. But there seems to come a time when the will of God seems to run !smack! into the will of God! So at that point, what are we to do?
History seems to point us in the direction of what NOT to do. In the Gospel reading, Jesus asks the disciples if they wished to go away. In so many words, “Do you believe that I can see you through this? Or do you wish to turn your back on me and follow a new teacher?” Jesus does not want us to just pick up and leave. Jesus wants us to stay with the teaching, no matter how difficult it may seem.
But, we are not just to stand in place, the crowds did not stay in the same place, they moved, they followed. We are to remain in contact with Jesus. We are to remain in prayer and community. We are to gather in groups to learn and to grow. When we turn our backs, we become isolated, we remove ourselves from the work of the Spirit within the corporate body. When we remain - when we stay connected - when we keep the lines of communication open, we grow. It is part of the tradition the Anglican Communion: that we can gather at the table, even though we may not be able to agree on theology. That even though we may not be able to know exactly what God wants of us, we can still come together as a family. This is a very good psychological thing. If you can share a meal together, you are more likely to be able to reach a compromise acceptable to both. But when people turn their backs, the work of Christ peoples’ lives become so much more difficult.
Probably the most difficult part of this teaching is how do we discern what is a correct teaching and what it a false teaching. Not all difficult teachings are right nor are all easy teachings false. And using our feelings on the matter is not necessarily accurate, either. Many were feeling like the words that Jesus was speaking were wrong. But these words, as uncomfortable as they were, were the new message that was being sent to the people. The uncomfortable message was the message that Jesus wanted the people to hear and to follow.
We have dealt with difficult teachings in the past. At one point, women were not allowed to preach. At one time, those who were divorced were not allowed into the pulpit. At each of these times, there was much discord and people declaring the demise of the church. But you know what? We are still here!
There will always be changes. Even something we hold as dear as the church will have changes. Even our interpretations of the Bible may change. But we are not to turn our back on the community. We are not to turn our backs on those who disagree with us. Christ calls us to keep our faith in him and to not turn our back. Christ calls us to hold fast to our faith, even though we may not understand what is happening. But as long as we remain faithful, and as long as we keep working to understand, as long as we remain engaged, we can trust that Christ will be there.