Judas, Jesus, Dan Brown, and Friday’s Sermon

I don’t have very much to say about the Gospel of Judas that isn’t summed up in Stephen Carlson’s posts and comments; at a cursory reading, it looks to me like a predictable Gnostic gospel, with nothing especially sensational nor anything likely to change scholarly opinion on any major issue.

The Holy Blood, Holy Grail sensation-mongers have lost their court case that the da Vinci sensation-monger plagiarized their bogus sensational ideas. I suppose that the whole story could develop more recursively bizarre developments, but my imagination doesn’t work that way.

And in the more humdrum world of daily life in the church, I preached this morning on John 10, the scene where Jesus’ interlocutors threaten to stone him. The effort it took to eke this sermon out inhibited both tax preparation and course prep for this morning, but the sermon came together at long last (it’s in the “extended” portion of the post). I’ll tackle the taxes tonight or tomorrow.

Anderson Chapel of St. John the Divine, Seabury-Western
Jer 20:7-13/Ps 18:1-7/John 10:31-42
Friday of Lent 6, April 6, 2006

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“I have shown you many good works from the Father.
For which of these are you going to stone me?”

In the name of God Almighty, the Holy Trinity on high — Amen.

So evidently, you are not the first ones who have had trouble with your Commissions on Ministry. Jesus has turned water into wine, multiplied loaves and fishes, healed, exorcised, and preached life-changing sermons — but his examiners found a deficiency in the area of systematic theology. They accused him of blasphemy, and they set out to stone him to death.

The comparison doesn’t work perfectly. Relatively few of us have had that bad an encounter with their commissions. Relatively few of us can claim the legitimation of having been with God in the beginning, and having all things come into being through our participation. If we compared even our own worst experiences of examination and discernment with the threat that Jesus, co-creator of all worlds, might be executed for his dissident theology, we have to admit that our insults and frustrations come in a few notches to the safer, more comfortable side of Jesus’.

Jesus gave offense to many in his generation. He bothered people, at least in part because the gospel he proclaimed drew richly on the traditions that had formed his people and yet reached conclusions that weren’t already on the index of licit theological claims. The would-be stoners included brothers and sisters who love God, some who prize Scripture and know that you can’t just set it aside, some who had been cleansed from sin by John the Baptist, some who had eaten the bread that Jesus provided. They cared about theology and Scripture, and would not casually set aside their inheritance from their fathers. Nonetheless, we believe that they had not recognized the truth of what was happening in their midst.

“Midsts” are confusing places, and when we’re in the midst — as, for example, in the midst of an ordination process or in the midst of a seminary education or in the midst of a General Convention — we face the temptation to hunker down, to tune out any information that might aggravate the tumult. It’s simpler just to insist that we know in our hearts that we’re right, that we don’t need the commissions or professors or delegates or world-wide Communion that disagrees with us. That impulse coheres with the prevailing culture’s notion that religion should be a private matter, an incorrigible choice of each individual in her or his solitude. That impulse echoes in the Gospel of Judas — “I know the secret, it’s just you and me, Jesus” — and it helps account for the enduring popular fascination with Gnostic teachings. Our weary, frail selves shore up their certainty by sealing out the possibility that we may be mistaken.

In the midst of the discernment process between Jesus and his Judean neighbors, Jesus answers the accusation that his good news amounted to blasphemy by arguing on the basis of Scripture. He points to God’s power at work in his ministry: healing, transforming, fulfilling, proclaiming the truth. Those of us who do not share Jesus’ ontological unity with God can best address the truth we discern by binding our hearts and ministries ever more carefully to the Scripture that cannot be broken. We can share in pursuing the works of the Father. We can remember to persist in the mutual discernment of the truth with those who think we’re blaspheming. And if we stick strong to the Word, to the work, to the Spirit of discernment, and if they still want to stone us, well, I would not feel so all alone.

Amen

3 comments / Add your comment below

  1. “Midsts” are confusing places, and when we’re in the midst — as, for example, in the midst of an ordination process or in the midst of a seminary education or in the midst of a General Convention — we face the temptation to hunker down, to tune out any information that might aggravate the tumult.

    Indeed. Well-said. I know that feeling well.

    Of course, I suspect we are always in the midst of one thing or another. If it’s not seminary, it’s marriage, or parenthood, or the complicated business of living. How, then, can we learn to tune out the temptation you cite, so that despite our status as perennially in media res we can see and hear things clearly even when they challenge our status quo?

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