I guess I’m a newsaholic. I take too many magazines and newspapers and watch too much television news. Even people without this news addiction know about the sex scandals which are rocking the institutional Roman Catholic Church right now. This is not a sermon on that subject, except to say that what it points to is a fundamentally deeper problem for humanity in the way that we relate to each other . The message of Jesus Christ has everything to do with sex and sexuality, everything to do with politics, everything to do with the choices we make about money. Karl Barth was right decades ago when he said “There is no private religion.”So there is no spirituality which is really separate from global politics or church politics. If any people who ever lived should know it, we live in an interconnected world.
At this point you may be wondering: where will all of this go this morning? I hope you’re wondering that!
I think that Newsweek magazine’s issue dated tomorrow boxes us in too much in dealing with that big subject.. The front cover starkly asks “What would Jesus Do?”—Beyond the priest scandal: Christianity at a Crossroads” The writer of the feature article only hints at how that question can help us deal with all of the complex questions related not just to sexuality and the priesthood but how all loving relationships can be lived and supported.
“What would Jesus Do? Even our political leaders use this question almost as an answer to belief and faith. But unless it is “unpacked” so to speak, good church people can say it is too simplistic. Jesus lived perhaps 33 years in a completely different time and he never ever went very far from home.
However we do know that the life of this man literally has changed the world. Do we have a set of rules that Jesus gave us? What do we have? How recently have you read the Gospel stories of Jesus life? Mark, Matthew, Luke and John give us not one portrait of Jesus but different ones, each approaching Jesus from an individual, personal angle of vision.
Mark, the first Gospel, sketched the portrait of Jesus rapidly, in bold strokes, and caught in an extraordinary way the power of Jesus, the figure that seems like a rushing mighty wind. Matthew, on the other hand, looks at the same Jesus he knew and catches the authority of Jesus. The word of Jesus is law, and it is not for you to choose whether you obey or not: you disobey it and you’re doomed. And if you’re not there when your name is called the door is closed, period. Luke’s portrait catches the compassion of Jesus. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus answers questions about life by telling stories, of a forgiving father with two sons, of a man in a ditch rescued by a foreigner rather than by the priests, of the Jesus who portrayed the love of God as one who came to seek and to save the lost..
What would Jesus do? In Mark, Matthew, and Luke we get three different pictures of the same man and different slants on what Jesus would do. Then we come to the last Gospel written by an essentially unknown John, probably three decades after the other Gospels, and we catch something the others appreciated but not with the same intensity. Here Jesus has all the power and authority and compassion of the others, but his portrait has a depth the others do not have.
This is the portrait of Jesus that is front of us in our Gospel for today, the Gospel according to John. You can tell right away that this is not a photographic image You have to get that by piecing together the images mostly from the other three Gospels. What you do get is a depth, a profundity that the others don’t have, and which just has to be described in symbolic language. And so old St. John, who had lived so close to Jesus and now whose love for him had not died but had deepened over the decades, would try to help his readers then and help us now go deeper into the meaning his life.
John says Jesus is the Bread of Life. His life is to a man’s soul what bread is to a man’s body. He is the Light of the World, like a searchlight into the darkness and confusion of life so that you can find your way. He is the Fountain of Living Water, a source of inexhaustible spiritual energy and sustenance for the people who come to him to drink of the living water of life. He is the Way, the Truth,, and the Life, the Good Shepherd, the love of God which searches for you because he cares for you. And we read today, He is the Vine; we are the branches. He is the life and we as a branch, if we are cut off from him, are finally lifeless.
Do you see how the depth is growing? You may be beyond YOUR depth by this point, but follow me. He reached the climax in the very first chapter of the Gospel, when he said, Jesus, the local carpenter of Nazareth who died on Calvary is the Word of God-the express purpose, intention, and will of God-MADE FLESH. You cannot go much deeper than that. That’s an astounding statement! That’s why Archbishop William Temple in his classic theological work “Nature, Man, and God” would carefully work out the understanding that Christianity is the most materialistic religion in the world! At its very core, at its roots, all life is tied together if it is to have life very long. It is not just the bread and the wine in our Eucharist this morning that is sacramental: ALL life has the potential to express and increase the reality of God in Christ.
Just think about what that means. The way we express our sexuality should be an expression of our connectedness to God the source of all life, if we are living branches connected to the living Vine, Jesus. There can ultimately be no walls between the values we express in the bedroom, in the voting booth, and in the way we express who we are by the way we use our VISA card!
What would Jesus do in a given situation? We are all beginning to accept the reality of an interdependent world where we can connect people with a click of the computer mouse but still those same people can run red lights with deadly frequency. We have plenty of rules, but we have not yet immersed ourselves in an understanding that none of us can live as a lone ranger in life but in fact if we are going to survive we need to live into a spaceship mentality where each person thinks of their actions as affecting the life of everyone else.
That’s very very difficult for all of us, because we are deeply and persistently selfish. We don’t need to call it original sin to accept that. Even though it will always evade our total comprehension I submit that the portrait of Jesus painted by John takes us to a depth which illumines our lives. We live in a world where the walls between Churches, the walls between nations and the walls between men and women are coming down. We can no longer compartmentalize, putting religion in a box and everything and everyone else in their own little boxes.. And in such a world our Christian doctrines if they freeze us in time will be bad hitching posts, but they can be good mileposts, pointers beyond where we are now, pointers to seeing this interconnected world as a whole..
I think that is what John is trying to help us find this morning: a new attitude, a way of facing life, that is both tentative about thinking we know all the answers but hopeful, an attitude critical and yet engaged, an attitude of caring and compassion, but which entails us finally to leave matters in God’s hands. What would Jesus do? He helps us go down deeply into what life means and what love calls for. For Jesus is the Vine to which we must be connected, and if we are to live in this interconnected world I know of no better way than to keep connected to him who is not just the true Vine, but the Way, the Truth, and the Life.