Sunday, April 29, 2007

God Must Be Crazy

The following text is the skeleton of the sermon I preached this morning. It is not all of it, but captures the shape of it. You can listen to the sermon in full at Many thanks to my friend Father Jones, who is always a helpful conversation partner.

Easter 4C

There is often more going on, in a particular text, than we fully realize. Sometimes the simplest little vignette is far more profound than it appears. This short text, from the Gospel of John, is a prime example.

On the surface, Jesus is walking through the Temple. He is approached by groups asking him if he is the Messiah, and he says yes, but you won’t listen. My own know me, and I will care for them.

There is certainly nothing wrong with that reading. There is hope and comfort, for us, in knowing that we are part of the flock, and that we will not perish. I like hope and comfort, but there is much more here than a promise of care, for those that belong to the flock that Jesus shepherds.

There are many layers in operation.

First of all, Jesus is in the Temple on the feast of the dedication. It is Chanukah and the crowds are remembering historical events. About 165 BCE, Israel was conquered and ruled by a fellow named Antiochus Epiphanes 4th. Antiochus was no barrel of laughs. He erects a statue of Zeus, bearing his own face, in the Temple. Antiochus also commands a pig to be brought to the altar and sacrificed. So, we are talking about idolatry, and the desecration of the holy symbol of God’s presence.

A family, named the Maccabees, slay the man that is preparing to kill the pig. The Maccabees start a revolt, and eventually retake the Temple and purify it. The feast of the Dedication is the celebration of all of that.

As Jesus perambulates around the Temple, as a Messianic contender, the fact that it is on this feast commemorating the Temple being restored and purified, means everything. His presence, on that day, connects him with God’s authentic presence, and echoes restoration.

Of course, Israel was conquered and occupied again. One of the main hopes for the Messiah was the reversal of Israel’s fortune. But, it wasn’t long until this Messiah came and went, and Israel was still occupied.

Even worse, by the time the Gospel of John was written, the very Temple itself was destroyed for some thirty years.

The Dedication does not last; Israel is still occupied and treated as a minor vassal; Jesus is no longer physically present, and the Temple is gone. Why, on earth, does the Gospel bother to highlight this story?

It must be what Jesus says about the nature of the community, He has created. It is as if, he warns that community about the places they will seek redemption and fulfillment, and will not find it. Autonomy and political authority will not endure. Even Jesus’ literal presence, in body, will not continue. The massive and strong stone of the Temple will not stand as the presence of God.

Jesus does what he almost always does. Jesus points to the community, or the flock as He calls it. He teaches that we are one in him, and in some mysterious way, we become the presence of God, and we will not perish.

So, it’s not about politics. It is not about place. It is about people. God must be crazy, depending on us to be the Divine presence.

As individuals, we are God's people. As a community, we are God’s presence.

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