Sermon; ‘Expectation – Transformation’
September 21, 2014
T. Canby Jones, The Power of the Lord is Over All; Friends United Press, 1989.
Douglas Gwyn, Seekers Found – Atonement in Early Quaker Experience, Pendle Hill Publications, 2000.3
Pastor Ruthie Tippin - Indianapolis First Friends Meeting
Note: The Children's Message today, brought by Jim Kartholl posed the question, "Which vegetable would God most want us to be like... a radish, a cucumber, or a carrot?" After much deliberation and a spirited discussion, the children discovered the carrot had the same color on the inside and outside - that God's love in us shines through us, showing outwardly.
Opening Hymn: Joy to the World
When Morning Gilds the Skies, my heart awaking cries, “May Jesus Christ be praised...”
May Christ be praised! Christ be praised! Which Christ??? Should we praise the Christ of history – the man who was born in Bethlehem, escaped to Egypt, returned to Nazareth, traveled in Galilee and was crucified in Jerusalem? The Good Teacher? The man whose life is recorded in history? Or should we praise the mystical Christ, the Divine, the Eternal, the Son of God? What will it be – History or Mystery?
This is an old, old question, and it was one Jesus knew well. He heard it all the time. His people, the Jews, asked it. Teacher or Prophet? The Roman Occupiers asked it. Teacher or Prophet? And now, Jesus asked it… Who do you say that I am? He probably asked a number of persons this question, but the Gospel writers record him asking his own disciples. They answered just like everyone else… ‘Some say you’re a Teacher, and some say you’re a Prophet.” “Yes,” Jesus said. “But I want to know who you think I am.” And Peter answered him. “You are the Christ.”
‘Christ’ is Greek. ‘Messiah’ is Hebrew. Both words mean the same thing… Anointed One. Chosen One. Peter was telling Jesus that he thought Jesus was the ‘Real Deal’. Jesus was the one the nation of Israel had been waiting for, for centuries. Jesus was the One. Jesus – the guy sitting in front of Peter, was also the guy sitting inside of Peter. Jesus was the carrot, according to Jim Kartholl! (Children's Message) Jesus was history, and Jesus was mystery. Just because Peter said that, didn’t mean that he had Jesus completely figured out… he didn’t. There were still a lot of questions. And there would still be a lot of ups and downs… remember the story about the rooster who crowed three times? But of all the disciples, it was Peter who was able to say that both inwardly and outwardly, humanly and spiritually, Jesus was Christ to him.
There is a lot of discussion today about the Historic Christ and the Mystical Christ… are they one and the same, or are they different? The question of who Christ is was happening at the time of the formation of the Quakers. The early Friends kept the tension of both the inward, mystical Christ and the outward, historic Christ together. Christ’s earthly life taught and spoke, just as Christ’s mystical life continued to speak. To deny one was to deny the other. Doug Gwynn writes in his book, “Seekers Found”:
“The Spiritualism of… the Early Friends derives from existential grounding and moral passion. Their dualism between inward and outward, spiritual and formal, is not based on metaphysics but on an intense aversion to hypocrisy, the contradiction between nominal righteousness and actual sinfulness, alienation, pride…. For these Spiritualist seekers, the only mediation that did not stink of hypocrisy was a morally transformed life, a life raised to the level of sacrament. This was not just a life moral in one’s own eyes, but a life infused with the flesh and blood of Christ, whose sinless life and death fifteen centuries before had mediated between heaven and earth in history…. with the first Friends in the 1650s, the highest sacramental expression of this moral mediation was to follow Christ in self-expenditure, even martyrdom, advancing the mystery of the gospel further into an alienated and violent human society.”
What gave the early Friends the power to overcome imprisonment, death, suffering at the hands of the state? What caused Mary Dyer to return again and again to Boston? What caused John Woolman to insist on treating slaves as kindly as their owners? Was it an old story of a young man who wandered the hillsides of Galilee so long before? No. Was it the promise of a heavenly dwelling yet to be seen, held out by so many preachers to those torn by Civil War in England? No. George Fox said it was the power of God – what he named as the cross.
Fox: “And they that have lost the cross of Christ, which is the power of God [1 Cor 1:18], in which is the true fellowship, they have set up a wooden or a stone cross.” It makes me tremble to say this, Friends. “They that have lost the cross of Christ, which is the power of God, in which is the true fellowship, they have set up a wooden or a stone cross.”
False crosses, images of Christ’s death and resurrection would not give sustaining power for life. The power that would sustain and transform the Society of Friends was the power of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection… the power of the empty cross. The power of a life given over for others. Self-expenditure. And did that not mark the Society of Friends? Does it not mark us today? The historical Jesus who suffered once for all, continued to teach them the lessons of self-expenditure, once risen and living within them.
George Fox, lifting out the first chapter of the Gospel of John said, “John [the Baptist] was a man sent from God, the greatest prophet born of a woman… to bear witness to the true Light, which lights every [one] that comes into the world that all through him might believe.”
Fox said that Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Christians… any number of people could not comprehend the Light of Christ… they would profess it, but they did not possess it. It was an outward gesture, rather than an inward movement of their minds and hearts. “… they question whether Christ, the Light that lights every [one] that comes into the world, be the spiritual, the divine, saving and heavenly Light.” Fox goes on… “Mark Christ’s own words… John 12:46 ‘I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.’ He is the ‘Light of the World’ that teaches you how to believe… and therefore, to believe in the Light is to believe in that which does manifest Christ to be their Way, their Teacher, Priest, Mediator, Interceder, Savior and Redeemer. He that believes in the Light, believes in that which makes manifest false ways, false religions, false worship, false teachers… For they that believe in the Light, it manifests all true ways and true religions…” (1669)
Fox declares that Christ, the light that came into the world is also the divine Light. They are one and the same. And better yet, that same Light of the world would teach us how to believe in that Light.
The world is such a dark place. It is so easy to only see the darkness, and miss the light. Expectations are crushed, dreams are lost, and things never seem to change for the better. What seemed true for the people of England in the mid 1600’s seems true for us today. ISIS, Israel, Hamas, domestic violence in the NFL and in our own bedrooms, shootings in our own neighborhoods, the list goes ever on and on… Hang around with Beth and me in the office. Not just a week, stay with us for just a couple of days and you will hear the darkness. You will feel the darkness, of people within our very own Meeting. I know you know it. We know you know it. The list goes ever on and on and on... and we seem powerless to stop these things.
Isaiah wrote “The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass.” But he doesn’t stop there. Immediately Isaiah says, “The grass withers, the flower fades but the word of our God will stand forever.” [Isaiah 40:8-9]
In the beginning was the word, and the word was God and the word was with God. Christ, the Word.
Doug Gwyn, in a beautiful passage from “Seekers Found” writes this: “The demise of the flower serves the maturing of the seed. Human expectation died, but the deep genetic coding of the biblical promise, God’s reign on earth, abided deep in the hardened earth of the [Early Friends’] hearts. It would live again, but only by breaking open the heart, through a revelation of divine power shaking the earth, and freeing the seed to rise to new life… The recurring theme of Fox’s preaching is power. This was not the power that Parliament or the New Model Army had wielded against the king… Fox repeatedly described it as the power of God revealed through the cross of Christ, received by individuals yielding to its light within.”
If we want to change the world, we have to change our expectations. Instead of seizing power, holding power, or wielding power, we have to seek power by yielding to the Light of Christ within. Yielding to the Light of Christ within. This is why I think so many people have a hard time with the Jesus of history. Jesus yielded his power to suffer… to expend himself for others. How many of us are willing to do that? Especially when it will cost us everything? And so we tell the tale of Jesus the Good Teacher, and Jesus the Light – History and Mystery - but we skip over the part about Jesus the Suffering Servant… that part costs us too much. And when we do this, we destroy the whole message of Jesus’ life…. He didn’t live to be Mr. Nice Guy. He didn’t die to be Mr. Flashlight. His life was lived in power. His death was given in power. His resurrection was made in power. His presence in us is power. God’s life in us is power.
Our lives can speak with power. But only to the extent that we yield ourselves over to the Light within. Only to the extent that we allow the Inward Teacher to break open the hardened earth of our hearts, free the seed Christ to rise to new life within us, and teach us how to believe. The result is a unified life, an orange life, transformed life, an integrated life, where life, light, and power changes us, and changes the world. “Joy to the world, the Lord is come… Let heaven and nature sing!”