Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Discovering Spiritual Awareness, pt 2, "Wonder and Mystery", by Rev Steven R Mitchell, based on John 1:1,4-5 and 1John 1:5-7

Discovering Spiritual Awareness (series, pt 2)

“Wonder and Mystery”

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 7/5/2015
Based on John1:1,4-5 & 1John 1:5-7


        The beginning of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence states: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--  For two hundred and thirty-nine years, we as a people of these United States of America have been in constant struggle to live up to these ideas.  Sometimes we don’t do a very good job of living those words and at other times we seem to find our way into living that belief.  Since the Supreme Court rulings on the Affordable Health Care Act and the Right to Marry two weeks ago, this 4th of July holds significant meaning to a good many American’s.  For some, it is a time of rejoicing with the affirmation of being able to pursue happiness.  For others it is a time of concern that their liberty is being overshadowed by the courts and legislators. 

In the past two weeks, we have seen Christians murdered while praying in their own church, the renewed discussions as to the appropriateness of displaying a flag that represented in its origins, a battle over liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and terrorist acts toward our black brothers and sisters with the arson of five black churches.  As a nation that calls itself a Christian Nation, it is evident that we do not have a common understanding of what it means to be created equal.

Last week we started a seven week series titled “Discovering Spiritual Awareness.”  We explored the question about being made in the image of God.  This week I would like to explore a bit more about the image of God, by thinking about what the gospel writer of the book of John might be saying when he opens this story about Jesus with the words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…In the Word was life; and the life was the light of humanity.  And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

What does he mean when he says, “life was the Light?”  What does he mean when he says, “in Darkness?”  Is there any connection between these and our unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?  The writer of John in the very first lines of his story about Jesus declares his understanding, his experience that Jesus was with God and was God from the beginning.  He does this by summing up God and Jesus as being the “Word.”  Now “word” has several levels of meaning.  It means on the one hand: mind or rationality, and on the other, it means: speech or communication.  The reader’s digest version is this:  Mind conveys understanding or thoughts; Speech conveys action or realization.  Jesus as the incarnation of God is able to present to humanity the thoughts of God, through the actions of Jesus.  So when Jesus heals someone, he is showing us the compassion of God; when Jesus forgives someone of their sins, he is showing us the mercy of God; when Jesus went to the cross, he was showing us the love of God. 

In 1 John we learn more about what Light and Darkness mean.  This is the message we have heard from him (Jesus) and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.  Throughout the book of 1 John, we learn that darkness consists of these actions: Hating our brothers and sisters; of loving the world (which means valuing possessions over people); the denial of Jesus’ values as representing the mind of God; and of not loving one another.  George W Stroup, professor of Theology at Columbia Theological Seminary states it this way: Truth, is not so much a doctrine as it is fellowship with the Father and his Son by the power of the Holy Spirit.  That fellowship is not based primarily on idea’s or philosophical principles but on a person who could be seen, and heard, and touched (meaning Jesus).  Pg 396, Feasting on the Word Vol. 2, Yr B   We understand Jesus as the incarnation of God, because those early followers, could see his works, hear his words, and physically touch Jesus.

One of the joyful events for me this past week was the opportunity to have lunch with a family from Rock Springs, Wyoming.  They were in town to pick up their daughter at the airport, who was returning from a high school music trip in parts of Europe.  Over lunch we discussed a little bit about the decision by the Supreme Court on marriage, a decision that upholds the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness principle as presented in the Declaration of Independence.  Yet there was sadness for a gay friend who is a teacher in the Rock Springs School District.  Even though this person now has protection to marry under the law, the prejudices against homosexuality within the school administration are so strong that this person, if they came out would become a target for hate and injustice.  Even if this person were to go to the Congregational church in Rock Springs, an ONA congregation and find support and affirmation, he still couldn’t come out because of its ties throughout the community and again this teacher would be putting himself in arms way.  The sad reality is, that much of this hatred is perpetuated by a number of churches in Rock Springs.

This teachers story touches on many levels what I believe the author of 1 John speaks about as living in darkness.  As I struggled with what to bring to you as an example of what the author means by “living in light”, I came across a podcast made about a year ago by a Southern Baptist Minister, speaking to his church in an after worship meeting as to why he had changed his mind on homosexuality.  I want to play you just about 4 minutes of this podcast, because I think this minister has summed up so eloquently the idea about what it means to be living in the light, of what it means when John says, “In the Word was life; and the life was the light of humanity.  (pod cast is on You tube titled, “Why I Changed My Mind on Homosexuality”, 50:28 – 54:08 min)

I believe, when we think about what it means to live in the light, we need to realize that it isn’t found in reading books, it isn’t found in memorizing scripture and learning what we call doctrinal truths, it isn’t even found in coming to church on Sunday’s and worshiping, but as Rev Danny Cortez discovered, living in the light is “finding the Kingdom of God in the things that people deem worthless; and in the people that are the most broken.”

The fruit of the spirit is in mercy and love and in peace.  As we rejoice in living in a country where we can openly struggle with these values, let us remember that these values were based on the recognition that God as creator gives us the opportunity to practice both in word and action what gives life to humanity.  Amen