Sunday, December 6, 2015

Good News for Big Brains

What the heck is the matter with people? Every day when I wake up now, I wonder, where will people be senselessly killed today? The really scary thing is that it’s almost becoming normal. And every time it happens we go through this little dance. We find out who caused it, and then we start blaming the ones responsible. If they happen to be Muslim, or a police officer, that’s all we need to know. We’ve already created the narrative in our minds. If they are a 20 year old loner who’s white and never caused any trouble, then we go after the parents, or the teachers who should have seen it coming. Or we start on the National Rifle Association or our lawmakers who many will argue have been bought by the NRA. 

After the San Bernardino shootings last week, the inability of our Senate to budge even so much as an inch in regulating who is allowed to purchase guns boggles the mind. And the fact that you or I could go out and purchase an automatic assault rifle is terrifying. Why would anyone need such a thing? Certainly not to shoot a deer or fend off a home intruder. What the heck is the matter with people?

Now, did you notice what I just did? You may not have seen it because I did what we usually do it. I blamed the problem on them. I’m one of the good guys. I blame this problem on the bad guys. But the problem is not them. There’s a much deeper problem than that. The problem is our need to find someone to blame so that it’s always between us and them, and, according to us, the ones responsible are clearly them. 

I saw Richard Rohr talking about the season of Advent this week and he spoke about the monastic practice of, beginning nine days out for Christmas, saying a novena, which are special prayers, each of those nine days focused on a different theme. The first novena is about wisdom. Father Richard describes what they mean by wisdom. It’s not about smarts or even enlightenment. It’s about seeking what he calls a bigger brain. Opening the mind up so that we can see more than the literal. So we’re open to mystery and paradox. So we can see beyond a dualistic vision of the world where things are either good or they’re evil. Where people are either us or them. Advent is a time for bigger brains. I like that. 

The Bible is a book that can be read to disastrous effects by small brains. It is written for big brains. Now, by that I don’t mean only smart people can understand it. But it takes someone who has a brain that is big enough to receive a variety of viewpoints. The many authors of the writings that have been collected in the scriptures witness to their faith as they have experienced it, so their perspectives vary. 

I find that encouraging because it tells me it’s okay to see things differently in matters of faith and to disagree with one another. And so, when we read the Bible, we may find ourselves resonating with some of the authors more than others. 

Each year in our three year lectionary cycle we spend time with Mark, Matthew or Luke. This new year—which we began last week with the first Sunday in Advent—this new year is the year of Luke. And I admit Luke is my favorite gospel because Luke is the gospel with a heart for justice. 

In the first chapter of Luke, we hear Mary’s Magnificat where she sings, “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the empty with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

And now, in the third chapter, John the Baptist is introduced as one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth…” 

Are you hearing a common theme here? God’s gonna make things right. 

It’s actually a quote from Isaiah. And Matthew and Mark introduce John the Baptist with the same quote. But now, here’s where it gets interesting. Here’s the part that only Luke adds… And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

All flesh shall see the salvation of God. This addition that’s unique to Luke introduces two big themes for his gospel that I want to point out to you because as we spend the year together in Luke, you might want to be listening for these things. 

And all flesh shall see the salvation of God. The word salvation is a biggie for Luke. He understands it in a way that’s different from the other gospel writers, and it’s good to keep that in mind. For Luke, salvation is definitely more than getting to go to heaven someday. Salvation is now. It’s living in the fullness of God’s blessings. And it’s not really individual; it’s communal. Jesus isn’t our personal savior, he’s saves us all…together.

That brings me to the second big Lukan theme that’s introduced in this little verse that he adds to his version of this story… “and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

All flesh. That’s the world Luke wants us to see. As Luther Seminary professor Karoline Lewis writes:  “According to the incarnation, if we take it seriously, there can be no selectivity when it comes to for whom God comes. This is the promise of Advent—that those we might write off on our way to the manger matter to God. In becoming human, God committed God’s self to all of humanity. All flesh, friends. All flesh.” 

So, what does it mean for all flesh to see the salvation of God? In the next chapter of Luke, Jesus himself will turn to the words of the prophet Isaiah in his inaugural address where he clearly states what his mission is: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

Jesus’ words are well-received until he starts to explain exactly who the poor and the oppressed are. And then things go south quickly. His hometown crowd decides they’ve heard enough. They escort him to the edge of town and plan to throw him off a cliff. 

Why is it that the gospel message is so often met with resistance and rejection? Remember when the women who first witnessed the empty tomb returned to tell the other disciples what they’d seen? The disciples think their story is garbage. Mainly because the ones telling it were women. What was Jesus thinking when he sent women to proclaim the good news of the resurrection to his followers?

The gospel is hard to receive. It’s offends us because it’s so unconditionally loving and merciful that we can’t stand it. All people shall see the salvation of God? No way. The radical inclusiveness of God in Luke wasn’t taken very seriously back then, and it doesn’t seem to be taken very seriously now, either. The expansiveness of God’s love may not seem so good to the small minded who will choose instead to distort the truth so it can fit inside the more compact space that they’ve created in their minds. It takes big brains to receive the inclusiveness of Jesus in Luke’s gospel.

On this second Sunday of Advent, I invite us all to expand our minds, take a cleansing breath or a crow bar to the skull or whatever you might need to do to receive the good news. Because it truly is good news. 

All flesh shall see the salvation of God.

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