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    Oct 03, 2021



    Speaker: Rob McClellan

    Series: October 2021

    Category: So-called Christian Values

    Today's Scripture: John 8:39-47

    Today's Sermon




              This year, our Scripture passages are largely coming from an alternative lectionary of readings[1].  The purpose is to give you some readings you wouldn’t ordinarily get in worship.  I’ve found that sometimes the passages need a little context.  Today’s reading picks up mid-encounter between Jesus in some followers who had believed in him.  Like Jesus, they are Jews, and so the argument is playing out in an escalating fashion over who their true father is.  They say, Abraham, the patriarch of the faith, is our father, and later God God’s self.  Jesus says, in effect, they are certainly not acting like it, and has choice words about who their father seems to be. 

    John 8:39-47

              39 They answered him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did, 40but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41You are indeed doing what your father does.’ They said to him, ‘We are not illegitimate children; we have one father, God himself.’ 42Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me. 43Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word. 44You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God.’  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD. 


                One further point about this debate over faithfulness playing out as a paternity argument.  New Testament scholar Francis J. Moloney puts it, true lineage to Abraham is not about one’s ethnicity, but one’s openness to God.[2] If you are open and receptive to God, then you can claim status as a descendant of Abraham, and indeed God.  It begs the question of why wouldn’t one be open to God?  Because you fail to recognize God, or, better put, recognize God at work in the world, in the other, and in the deepest self.

                It is all about learning to recognize God.  You could say the entire Gospel of John is a journey of recognizing or failing to recognize God at work in Jesus.  Richard Rohr, about whom we have spoken many a time, including last week, says that all spiritual knowing is recognition not cognition.[3]He says, “It’s knowing on a more conscious level what appears to have been known in the unconscious.”[4]Do you remember a few weeks ago, when we spoke about Philip Newell’s new book, Earth and Soul, in which he described the Celtic way and how while born good we sometimes suffer from soul-forgetfulness? This is what Rohr is saying; it’s an endeavor of recovering, or uncovering, what is buried deep in the psyche, both collective and personal, and trusting it.  That’s an extraordinary claim, and a dramatic redirection to a culture and religion that are always externalizing the search for the answers, doom-scrolling on devices in search of something that will make us happy or fulfilled, or asking for something from a favor-giving God.  The answer, the way, is already here, within, within and among. It’s right here.  It sounds, well, downright Christlike.

                Rohr does recognize the potential danger in this, “If you put such power in the hands of egocentric people, they’ll mangle and misuse God-told-me kind of talk.”  There are two ways to protect ourselves.  First, we remember the Celtic admonition to cultivate soul friends to keep us in check, a community to reign in someone who has gone rogue.  Second, to ensure that we’re truly going deep to that reservoir in the human and communal soul or consciousness, and not just riffing off shallow or ego-driven desires, we turn to contemplative practices, that inner work.  Each of these decenters the individual ego and helps quiet the noise so we can hear the true voice of God, Spirit, more clearly.  This is why your own participation and prayer life, one grounded in listening is so important.  That’s how we’re open to God, making room so that a greater voice can enter in, to paraphrase Mary Oliver.[5]You won’t find egomaniacs or megalomaniacs running around abusing power, who are steeped in true contemplative practices and spiritual community, because each, practiced earnestly, would disavow them of their illusions. 

                We can be hard on those who fail to recognize God at work, in our story the ones who hadbelieved in God was in Christ. Yet, how many of us find ample time for the contemplative practices Rohr commends or participate actively in spiritual community and have soul friends?  Maybe we clear the hurdle of making the time, but then stumble by checking our phone every 90 seconds from the prayer cushion.  When we do that, what we’re doing, consciously or not, is pressing down those deeper voices of the soul with so much weight that they don’t get a chance to emerge until we collapse from the burden of what we carry.  Perhaps we do this because on some level we don’t want to hear that voice, for it might reveal some things about us that need attention and recalibration.  Until we start making room, we should not expect someone to enter in.  We might be surprised by God uninvited, but that’s not a strategy.

                Just as we struggle to make room in ourselves, don’t we struggle to recognize that God in the other?  It is a fundamental claim of Christianity (and Judaism) that all are made in the image of God.  Have we recognized it?  I don’t mean in every ideology.  That’s an important distinction.  Ideologies are created by humans and most certainly not all are fashioned in the image of the God we know in Christ.  Are there not peoples who are treated as if they are less worthy than others of the fruits of being the children of God?  Maybe you’ve had the experience of it not being recognized in you?  Who would we name as unrecognized or unequally recognized in our culture?  (Allow some discussion).

                One that has been weighing on me as of late are folks gathered along the border, particularly as of late the plight of the Haitians who have born so much imposed devastation, though I am wary of the business of ranking suffering.  I am not smart enough to be able to lay out the perfect border policy for you, but it seems to me we do not by our actions, expressed in policies enacted in our name, fully appreciate the image of God on those who are seeking safety, sometimes fleeing situations we have helped create.  No matter your party affiliation, Christians can and should be calling for policies that recognize the sanctity in all lives, else we fall into the heresy of “not my people not my problem.”  If some of us were willing to make noise about this in one administration, we should do the same during another.

                The irony is when we fail to recognize God’s image in the other, it’s our own inheritance that we call into question because it is we who have closed ourselves to God.  Are we children of Abraham, children of God, or children of that other parent?



    [1]David Ackerman, Beyond the Lectionary: A Year of Alternatives to the Revised Common Lectionary (Circle Books:  Washington, 2013).

    [2]Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John: Sacra Pagina Series 4Daniel J. Harrington Ed. (Collegeville:  The Liturgical Press, 1998), 279.