Sermon, January 2, 2022: “Changing Perspectives”
Rev. Jessica Palys - KCUCC
Do y’all remember those ‘Magic Eye’ posters that came out about 20 years ago, where it looks like a pattern of vivid color but if you are lucky and can relax your vision, you are able to see a picture within a picture? And that picture within is 3-D and kind of moves as you change your perspective?
I ask because I have a confession to make. This scripture passage has been my nemesis. When I got into ministry, this passage was worn out for me - worn out from all the time I had spent coerced into bible study with representatives of the youth group of *two different* college campuses. I made the mistake, at my first college, of asking my crush about the youth group emblazoned on his shirt. I told him how much my high school youth group had mattered to me, and that I missed it. Little did I know that the only active youth group on most college campuses these days are fundamentalist-founded and funded youth groups, recruiting idealistic and unchurched young people with gusto. Although I was hoping to spend more time with my crush, I was assigned a bible study with a female upperclassman where she tried to paint the glory of this passage and accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I erred on the side of politeness, struggling internally to reconcile her rhetoric with the Congregationalist messages I had received as a youth - and they weren’t really meshing. When it came time to transfer, I was grateful to say goodbye to this bible study.
Later, at my second college, I was connected to a friend from home, actually someone I knew through that treasured youth group, who had accepted the challenge to establish an InterVarsity chapter within the Sororities and Fraternities on Indiana’s campus. I was surprised to learn that my friend (another crush of mine in high school) actually had dual membership. He attended my congregationalist church for the choir and local social circle, but spent a lot of time at Willow Creek, the fundamentalist MegaChurch based in Barrington, IL. And much to my chagrin, I got stuck doing a bible study with him, as well. And of course, he wanted to start with John.
With him, however, I had less need to be polite, and our conversations got a bit tense as I found his very narrow way of interpreting this passage, and Christianity, to be incongruent with my faith journey in church. I remember he said, ‘this is the way to be Christian - this is what it means. This is the only way - Jesus says he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life’ - and my heated retort was, well then I guess I’m not a Christian. I just think this Jesus guy is cool and I wanna live like him.
Thus began my jettison from organized religion - and it took me about 10 years to make my way back and, even better, to have the opportunity through schooling to understand what that guy was getting at, and why, and why it did *not* define 2000 years of Christianity as he claimed it did. I know many of you have stories that resemble this, and stories a lot more traumatizing than this, in your faith journeys.
As I started researching and studying scripture in the ministry I began to grow in appreciation for the beauty of the poetry and the metaphor in John's writing. But still I found it a challenge to embrace it as fully as the other three gospels which are so much more straightforward. and many parts of the because it's so abstract and yet so certain.
And then I had a change in perspective.
What really helped redeem the scripture for me was a few years ago I heard another pastor preach on this passage. He changed a word in the scripture and that helped me think about it completely differently. His name is Rob Routzahn, and was actually a student at my seminary and member of my parents church so I was able to ask him for permission to use his idea. He swapped out a word in the passage;
In the beginning was the Blueprint, and the Blueprint was with God, and the Blueprint was God. 2 The Blueprint was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through the blueprint, and without it not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in the blueprint was life, and the life was the light of all people.
A blueprint. Jesus was the blueprint - the plans for something possible but not yet - a set of instructions for building. God designed a blueprint, a plan for us to follow, and then made it into flesh - made it incarnate. God built the dream house and let us see it and live with it and become familiar with the layout, the parameters and outline, the passageways and the feel of it. Jesus came to show us the way and the truth and the life; to show us the blueprint.
That helped me. Does that change the reading for you?
What about this;
In the beginning was the Promise, and the Promise was with God, and the Promise was God. 3 All things came into being through God’s Promise, and without it not one thing came into being. What has come into being in the Promise was life, and the life was the light of all people. And the Promise became flesh and moved into the neighborhood so that we would know him, and know the Promise of God, full of grace and truth.
God does make a promise, a covenant, with God’s people over and over again in the bible. Jesus is said to represent the last covenant, which is why some communion liturgies say ‘this is the cup of the *new* covenant, made in my blood.’ God’s promise to heal the people - to help the lame walk and give sight to the blind - and to liberate us all, not only from the oppression of our diseases but from the bondage of chaining ourselves to earthly values rather than generosity, grace and love - all of those promises came true in Jesus’ life. The Promise of God became flesh and moved into the neighborhood, so that we would know him.
(That last part about the neighborhood is actually pulled from Eugene Robinson’s bible translation called ‘the Message’, because I love how it pulls the passage from the lofty abstract to the tangible here and now.) What if God’s promise in the flesh moved in next door - would any of us recognize it? How many of you have neighbors that seem God sent - especially on snowy mornings like today?
Or what about Wisdom?
In our first reading, we hear tell about Wisdom from the book of Sirach, otherwise known as Ecclesiastes. Wisdom tells us her own birth story: When the mouth of the most high opened in the act of creation, she came out like a mist that covered the earth. Like a mist that you can feel on your face, and smell in the air. She seems to be telling us that this is how close God is. And though she was of God and crossed the entire earth, she longed for a resting place. As nice as it was to cover the earth like a mist, what Wisdom really wanted was a physical address. The mist envied the mud created in Adam and Eve. She logged all those miles crossing the earth because she was looking for something, she says. She was seeking a place to pitch her tent. So her Creator commanded that she make her dwelling in Jacob and receive her inheritance in Israel. Wisdom then gives up the sky for the earth, accepting her God-given resting place in the beloved city of Jerusalem. She took root in a particular people. She became flesh. With the whole world at her disposal, this aspect of God’s essence longed for incarnation. The universal longed for the particular.
The Greek word for Wisdom is Sofia, and so this story is sometimes given a feminine name.
With Sofia’s beautiful origin story, some say this is the genesis of the holy spirit. Others say it is a beautiful echo of Jesus’ origin story, where both Gods Wisdom and God’s Christ take root in the same person. Still, some theologians claim that Wisdom, with the name of Sophia, is the feminine side of Jesus, and Johns’ great claim that he Word was present at God’s creation of the world is found in the Wisdom literature of the Jewish faith – this passage from Sirach. Like Sophia, Jesus was with God from the very beginning. And like Jesus, Sofia was sent to the earth longing to be incarnate among the people, even ‘tented’ among the people. In the beginning was Sophia, and Sophia was with God, and Sophia was God. Wisdom, or Sofia, is also God’s instrument of both creation and of redemption.
Does it change your perspective to think of Jesus as female? What does ‘the Word’ mean to you?
Because the thing is, if the author of this gospel really only wanted to use ‘the word’ for language, the word would be lexicon. But instead, in the original Greek this passage was written as a logos. Logos is a much deeper meaning than word, lexicon or language. It represents God’s desire to speak to humanity. It translates as reason, and wisdom, and an appeal to logic.... it means critical thinking.
In the beginning was the logic of God. The logic was with God, and the logic was God. 3 Through God’s logic, all things came into being, and without it not one thing came into being. What has come into being through logic was life, and the life was the light of all people. And God’s logic became flesh and so that we would know it and understand it, full of grace and truth.
God’s logic was that we would have life and have it abundantly. God’s logic made flesh came to us so that we would understand the blueprint of how to have life, and have it abundantly. It was God’s wisdom that we needed to see and understand God’s promise, in the flesh, living amongst us.
Some of you have heard me wax on about my favorite theologian, Catherine Keller, a Process Theologian. In her book, “On the Mystery”, she comments on what Logos can mean.
“The Logos of Johns’ prologue … is a complex Greek term meaning wisdom, concept, pattern, reason, speech, and revelation.As incarnate in Jesus, Christians call it Christ. But it seeks incarnation - materialization - not just in Jesus but always and everywhere. ”
Therefore Logos lures us - “as the possibility for our becoming, here and now.”
In all this, we can see that Jesus is another metaphor - himself, a parable.
Keller writes that parables ’deliberately and simultaneously conceal what is revealed and reveal what is concealed.’
“The parable invites. It does not compel. It calls and does not coerce.”
Jesus, as parable, is the blueprint, the concept, the pattern, the promise, the reason, the wisdom, the speech, the logic of God. Jesus is the revelation that both reveals and conceals, and lures us in. Jesus is the parable, the invitation of God.
And as such, Jesus becomes something that we can kind of see, if we back up, take the time, relax our vision, and look for what is hidden. Really look for it. And then, once we see it, it becomes 3-D, it moves with us, it moves within us, and it can’t be unseen.
In Keller’s words, “The master teller of parables has become, for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, the parable of God. That in that space - between us, within us, beyond us - we may also become parables of an infinite becoming. In the becoming-flesh of our possibilities and the breaking room of the spirit, we might also give God some space” (in us).
Perhaps by seeking, with eyes to see and ears to hear, we may give God some space in us to dwell. In this New Year, 2022, may it be so - may we all find a little more space in our being to let God become 3-D, and may we look vigilantly for the in-dwelling of God in others in hopes that there will be more Sophia in the world. And then, once we finally see it, and see it move amongst those around us, it will be impossible to unsee the image of God in each of us. May it be so. Amen.