May 14, 2017
I Peter 2:2-10 and John 14:1-14
“Who are You?”
In the 1970’s, a group called The Who recorded a song that asked, “Who are you?” Just last week, I attended an anti-racism training and they asked us to introduce ourselves by answering the question “who are you?” Most of us did that by naming our roles – wife, mother, minister. But it made me wonder who am I? How would I answer that question without the roles that I use to define myself? Our scriptures invite us to dig deeper into our identity. Who are we?
There are many ways to identify – we might be extraverted or introverted. We could be organized or unorganized. We may be morning people or late night people. We may be vegetarian or carnivore. We may be a spender or a saver. We may be a do it yourselfer or someone who depends on others to take care of projects.
I stopped to take an online quiz that was supposed to tell me who I am. It asked if I used nail polish, if I like to tan, if I like to eat corn on the cob, and it had me choose a Pixar character. The results came back that I am a balding man in my mid-fifties. If you are on Facebook, you know that these silly quizzes are on there all the time and using a strange assortment of questions and pictures they tell us something about who we are…supposedly.
Both of our texts today have been used to push an exclusive Christian agenda, but neither are intended for that. I am grateful for our text study group that helped me dig deeper with these scriptures this week. We read I Peter and someone compared the people who had been rejected but are called chosen, to the people who fill our pews who have been rejected or told they cannot be a Christian because they identify as lgbt. I loved that! I hope each person sitting here today hears that you are chosen by God. Peter is calling us to allow ourselves to be made into a spiritual dwelling place by feasting on God’s goodness. Jesus will be the cornerstone. We have an important role to play in God’s world. There is a beautiful reminder that we are holy and that being holy comes with a call to live that holiness in the world. We are blessed to be God’s beloved people and we are called to share God’s goodness.
Then we dug into John. Again, I thank the folks in the text study group who wrestle with the scriptures every week. The text from John is often heard at memorial services. It is comforting. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” “I will come and take you to myself.” It’s quite lovely until we hit the heart of this text. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to God except through me.” We have heard those words used to say that Christianity is the ONLY way. It is proof that we are God’s favorite. If that makes you uncomfortable, good. That is NOT what John is saying. This text is a kind of confession of faith. John wanted people to understand what it means to follow Jesus. He was not criticizing other religions. How many times have we heard people quote this text as a way of saying God loves Christians and no one else? John wanted to explain what the incarnation means to those now call themselves Christian.
This is where things got interesting in text study this week. Someone asked about the use of articles in the Greek. In other words, could it be that Jesus said, “I am A way, A truth, A life?” That changes the meaning quite a bit. It led a few of our members to do some research and one discovered that In New Testament Greek, there is only one type of article. Therefore, it is up to the translator whether to use "the" or "a" in the translation. Wow! After all these years of being told this meant Jesus is the ONLY way to God, we learn that isn’t the meaning here at all.
In fact, it is a call for us who follow Jesus to deepen our understanding of who he is. This is about us digging deeper to know who we are as followers of Christ. That is important work for us to do. Who are you? We are part of a larger world. It is rich and varied and beautiful. Seekers take the form of many religions and many paths. Those of us who have called ourselves Christian have chosen a particular path. It is a beautiful and terribly difficult path.
I moved to Albuquerque from Corvallis, Oregon home of Oregon State University where Marcus Borg taught for many years. Marcus Borg was a man of deep faith who wasn’t afraid to ask big hard questions about Jesus and God. Marcus found a way to engage scripture and theology and then wrote about it in a way that opened the door for many to rediscover their faith. One book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, had people realizing that there was more to following Jesus than the simple platitudes they had been given. Marcus hosted two conferences as the year 2,000 approached. They were called “Jesus at 2,000” and “God at 2,000.” He invited amazing theologians who represented a wide variety of faith perspectives to speak at these events.
One of those was a Jewish Rabbi called Lawrence Kushner. Lawrence captivated me with his stories. He told a story that I carry with me everywhere I go. I won’t get the details right, but I will give you the gist of the story.
Imagine that God is at the top of a mountain. All the religions of the world want to get to God. Followers of each religion begin to climb the mountain to God from where they are. The mountain is so big that it spans many continents. Imagine that the Christians are in a tropical region. They get ready to climb the mountain and they dress for the climb. Because they are in the tropics, they put on their sandals and shorts and maybe a hat to keep the sun out of their eyes. They start climbing. Imagine that the Hindus are in an artic region. They dress for their climb by putting on long underwear, heavy boots, a parka, and thick gloves. As they climb, they begin to get warm. Eventually, they shed their heavy winter gear and continue the climb. But the Christians are discovering that the air is thinner as they climb so they must add some layers because they are getting chilly. Eventually everyone gets to the top of the massive mountain where they will find God. They look around and discover they are dressed alike.
But what if they began the climb on the ground by arguing what to wear – the Christians trying to convince the Hindus not to wear the winter gear and the Hindu’s telling the Christians that they were going to freeze in their summer clothing. If they started by focusing on what the other religions were wearing, they would never have started the climb up the mountain.
God is available to all of us and is way too big to be limited by our own understanding and experience. Being people of faith is not about having all the answers, but it is about growing in our relationship with the one we follow. It is good for us to consider who we are and where we are on this path. It helps us to continue to seek what we need to grow. One of the great heroes in this congregation reads more theology books than I ever will. Health limitations do not keep her from growing. She continues to ask hard questions and inspires me to do the same.
Let’s try the question again. “Who are you?” I am a child of God. I am on a path toward God and I follow Jesus on that path. Jesus calls me to have compassion, to practice justice, and to show love to each person I meet. I have to confess that I mess up frequently. Too often, I focus on myself and ask if I have energy to respond to the need in front of me. But Jesus continues to walk with me and show me opportunities to be merciful. He reminds me of the mercy God shows to me and he calls me to show mercy to others. You see, Jesus is using each of us as living stones to build a beautiful temple that will reflect God’s love and light to the world.
Now it’s your turn. Who are you?