The Sunday Sermon: Third Sunday of Lent, March 19, 2017
Scripture: Genesis 1:27-31a
Lent Three: Anthropology
Eighteen days of Lent left, not counting today or the next two Sundays. Why aren’t we counting today or the next two Sundays? Correct! Because our Sundays this year, like the Sundays of centuries past, are “Feast Days.” On Sundays this year we may, but are not required to, fast. (Read or hear more about this year’s Lenten practice in the “Feasts” of weeks past on our website, if desired.) Suffice it to say this morning that , we are choosing to “feast” on our Sundays in Lent, to set the table full with two millennia of thoughts, imaginings, revelations, and conversations about what is important to us as concerns “God,” Christ, humanity, the church, our culture, and the Kingdom of God. Wherever else truth is found, it is found in the eternal conversation. This is the third Sunday of Lent. Feast number three.
We have spread the “Theological” and “Christological” tables full and today we will table an anthropological feast – an abundant celebration of our humanity. But, before we begin this morning, it’s worth remembering something very important. Our tables, full thus far of “God” and “Christ” and, today, of “Humanity,” are not the tables of our childhoods. The more extravagant expressions and expansive language that we are offered for all of these feasts on all these Sunday this year is far beyond the fare we consumed as kids. That’s a beautiful thing. A difficult and complicated thing, as well, for many of us, spoon-fed certainty can be comforting. But the tables spread full of the extravagance of God are, finally, a beautiful thing.
However, the feasts that are offered to us, that we share, must not to be force fed to anyone. And that is not my, our, intention in this exploration. There are many experiences of the Holy. There are multiple expressions of the Christ. There are different understandings of what it means to be human. And it’s just not a matter of “right or wrong” as we experience and explore all of these realities, and more, in our religious lives. It is, as Marcus Borg puts it, rather a matter of “functionality.”
As we experience and then speak about God, if the traditional, theistic and transcendant expressions of God – heard most often with language that places God “out there” providing divine intervention, or not, as needed for all of creation – “functions” for you – if this understanding leads you into deeper relationship with the Sacred and Divine, and if it creates within you a greater compassion for all of creation – then it’s not wrong. It’s “right” for you. It’s just that for many Christians, and more all the time, that language doesn’t … function. It doesn’t “lead them into a deeper relationship” with “God,” in fact, in creates more distance, traditional understandings and expressions are a stumbling block.. And as such, they don’t create in them a deeper capacity for compassion and concern for others because there is no deeper connection to the. The point of our explorations during this season of Lent is to provide other language, other imagery, other expressions for the same experience that are still faithful to our belief n God, and all else, but that just may function for those who have lost their religion, but still cling to their faith. Many of us right here.
These things we are certain of: The reality of God. The centrality of Jesus as Christ. And our humanity. God is. Whoever and however God “is,” Jesus reveals it most completely. And we are Christians, little Christs, called to reveal the Divine, as well. Mysterious as all these doctrines, these teachings, these “realities” are, they are always bigger than we think. They are always more inclusive than we are comfortable with. And they are always calling us to worlds larger than our own. So, let us not be afraid.
Pray with me …
So … to our third Sunday – Today. Spreading the table full of our own humanity. Who are we? Why are we? Who were we created to be and why aren’t we that?!
Let me begin this week by describing the table of our humanity that was set for us some time after the Protestant Reformation and has not, for the most part, changed much. The table was set with a main course of depravity and sin, with some sides of guilt and shame, washed down with misplaced pride and disobedience. Now that’s a pretty simplified description, I know, but this meal has been offered to us for so long, and we have consumed it so completely, that the “worm anthropology” it nourishes us with has made us assume the worst not only about ourselves, but about everyone else. And the less we know ourselves and others, the more suspicious we are of all, until it’s all but inevitable that we loathe ourselves and demonize those who are different from us, justifying our actions that include hateful language, harmful actions, destructive stereotypes, and deadly deeds – to self and others.
But before this meal was set before us, before the Fall narrative and Original Sin that so fills our human imaginations, there was another table, another narrative. It went like this … Read Genesis 1:27-31a … The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
A long while back (not as long ago as that last story, but …!) my wife Katie gave me a thin book entitled, A Little Compendium on That Which Matters. In what I recall was the very first little entry, after an observation that there is a reason, a “Meaning,” for our journeys on this earth, the author posed a question. This question opens up the anthropological table for me, for us, and invites us to bring in more food, deeper understandings, and broader perceptions of ourselves: Could the reason for being born human be … to become Human?
Now “theologically speaking” that question contains a very “high anthropology.” That is, a pretty lofty view of humanity. I embrace it, keeping all that “worm theology” on the table, lest I, lest we, forget that pride and arrogance come before that Fall, every fall, we so identify with. Because we do fall … continuously. But as we ask and consider the question of our humanity, we just may understand that “falling” is not what we were created to do so. We, you and I, are called by God in Christ to be “fully human.” Our problem is not our humanity, it is our inhumanity. Our first teaching about ourselves ought not be our “original sin,” but our “original blessing.”
I’m not naïve enough, or arrogant enough, to suggest that any of us are “without sin,” without separation, without diminishment and division to the divine. (That’s partially why we need our Lenten journey’s.) But I suggest to you that “without division” is who we were created to be, creatures in perfect harmony with the one we call “God.” If we’re not, when we’re not, it’s not because we can’t help it. It’s because we can help it, but we choose not to. Over and over again the very first narratives of our biblical story emphasize our own role in our God-given lives. We do have a choice. We can do well. We are not “fallen” by nature. We are not victims of any “original sin.” We can choose to act for good, for “God.” The sin “lurking at our door” need not control us. But it does. We do fall short.
Acknowledging and embracing our “original blessing” from God, or at least placing it on our feast table, instead of feeding only on the idea of our depravity, reminds us that we are not doing this human thing quite right. We add this self-understanding to our feast and embrace our goodness so that we can know we are not the ones we were created to be. So that we can know without question that we can be better.
We live disconnected, separated from one another and from God. Our “sin,” our separation, is structural – it is in our powers and principalities. It surrounds us. It is part of us. We humans are a broken race, not because of some anthropological explanation of fallenness, but more simply from our evolutionary past. We are bearers of what biologists call “the selfish gene,” you and I. When any of us feel threatened our nobler instincts to feed, clothe, free and proclaim release collapse and our self-centeredness engages us in a struggle for survival, self-survival. We forget, or ignore, our community and the sacrificial love that God calls us to and we act for ourselves and for “ours.” But that is who we’ve become. Not who we were created to be. We live with our brokenness, seeking forgiveness and grace, so that we may be different people, the people we were created to be, when we walk out those doors only moments from now.
Our human problem, the problem of our inhumanity, is not transmitted biologically and fatalistically. It is passed down generationally and all too often intentionally. We are not born with it, but we are born into it. We cannot escape it. So, we must “master it”
Could the reason for being born human be, to become human?
To hear ourselves ask a question like that “is to begin to hear something not only of who we are but of both who we were created to be and what we are failing to become.” (Buechner)
Now you will have to make sense out of this in your own lives … me too, our true humanity. Where do you seek immediate gratification and personal gain at the expense of others in your life, at work, in the world? Where are your delusions of grandeur? How does your evolutionary selfishness cause you to treat others as less than you?
Our Christological and Anthropological feast ought really to be one big feast. Or maybe the main course and the dessert of a common meal. You remember last week?
Jesus was someone like you and me. Tempted in every way as we are. But, unlike us, Jesus is one in whom God’s call, God’s aims or directives, God’s purpose, was received and experienced in every moment of his life. Jesus embraced his true humanity. Despite the temptations, Jesus continued to trust in God’s ability to fulfill his needs, to not question and “test” God, and to worship God alone. That is who human beings, you and I, were created to do, were created to be.
The way in which God is God is Love. The way in which Jesus is Christ is Love. The way in which we are Human must be Love (with a capital “L”). Humans being all we were created to be. May it be so, so we may feast on that.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / March 19, 2017