Monday, January 16, 2017

Fumbling In the Dark

Brad Sullivan
2 Epiphany, Year A
January 14, 2017
Emmanuel, Houston
John 1:29-42

Fumbling In the Dark

Repentance leads to seeing Jesus.  That is what I heard in our Gospel story this morning, as John was declaring Jesus to be the Lamb of God, the one who would take away the sins of the world.  John said that he came baptizing so that Jesus would be revealed to Israel.  Now John came with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and his doing so led to Jesus being revealed as God’s son after he was baptized by John.  This baptism of repentance led to a revelation of Jesus, seeing him as more than a carpenter’s son, but as the Son of God who has saved the world from their sins.  For us, repentance leads to seeing Jesus as well and being guided by the light of Jesus, without which, without Jesus, we’re fumbling in the dark.

We may not feel like we’re fumbling in the dark.  We’re so often guided, after all, our own lights, one of which being the light of some truth that we hold.  Guided by our own lamps of truth, it’s little wonder we end up fumbling in the dark, especially considering how vitriolic our lamps of truth have become as of late.  We know that we are right, or even if not completely sure of our own correctness, we know with absolute certainty that the other side is wrong.  That vitriol, that certainty in our own truth leaves us fumbling in the dark..

Jesus is the light of the world, the light of God, we’re told in the first chapter of John, and we’re told that Jesus came with grace and truth.  Jesus came with truth, and we tend to hold onto that truth as best we understand it, especially when we’re fumbling in the dark.  Even more than the light of Jesus’ truth, however, we need the  light of Jesus’ grace. 

Jesus’ grace didn’t demand total understanding of truth from people.  Jesus spent time with a lot of people who certainly didn’t seem to have truth wrapped up particularly well.  Jesus was called a friend of sinners, and as such he didn’t lambast or lecture them.  He had dinner with them.  When he saw people fumbling in the dark, he gave them grace and love to be their light along with his truth.

Jesus came with grace to see us as fumbling in the dark as well, doing our best as we walk along the well worn paths of our lives, when we’re often not even guided by light anymore, but simply by repetition, following in the same old paths, the same old ways that we can follow with our eyes closed, ways that don’t lead anywhere good, but ways which we know so well that they just feel right.  Jesus came with grace enough to give us light so that when we repent, when we turn from those well worn paths toward a new path, we have light to follow in the way of Jesus.  

Back in high school, I believed I was following in the way of Jesus.  I’d grown up a Christian my whole life, and I knew nothing but the truth.  I knew about the Gospel and about Jesus.  He was the truth, and that was that.  So, at times back in high school, I ended up following a particular path, a path called:  moral superiority and mocking of liberals and various morally unacceptable people in the guise of righteously upholding Jesus and Christian values.  It felt like truth.  It was really just bullying.

My views on various things changed over the years.  Various truths changed, but I still believed in Jesus.  In my late teens and early twenties, I began to repent of the ways I had been walking, so certain of my truth that I could denigrate others for not holding the same truth. 

Then, in seminary, I found myself agreeing with some of the more liberal views on several issues, especially the hot button issues of the time.  I was sickened, however, at how the opposing views, views which I had previously held, were not really welcome on campus.  The goal of Virginia Theological Seminary was for all views to be welcome, but in practice, VTS was following the same path I had followed back in high school, though at VTS it was called:  intellectual superiority and mocking of conservatives and various morally unacceptable beliefs in the guise of love and respect for all people.  It felt like truth to those on that path.  It was really just bullying.

Those of us who have been on that path, the path of (assumed) truth without grace, believe our own beliefs to be right and afford little or no grace to those with opposing views. When I have been on that path, I was blinded.  I knew where I wanted to go.  I knew the end, what was right, where we should all (I assumed) go as a society, but getting there, I was fumbling in the dark. 

Repenting of that certainty, that truth without grace, I found myself less certain about where I was going, but more confident in how I was getting there, guided by the light of Jesus. 

Over the last week, I realized that I again needed to repent from walking that same, well worn path of self-righteous, supposed truth.  My supposed truth without grace was in the belief that the wrong candidate had won the presidential election.  I wasn’t really excited about Hilary, but I was so turned off by Trump’s rhetoric and seeming character flaws.  I knew I was right and the other side was wrong, until I finally really listened to my cousin, a Trump supporter, and I realized how self-righteous I had been in my belief.  Supposed truth without grace and bullying had become my path again, and I was wrong. I needed to repent of that path and let the light of Jesus be revealed to me once again. 

My less than stellar views of our president elect didn’t change, but I can hold those views more lightly now.  I may very well be wrong.  He may be exactly what this country needs.  More importantly, having repented of the path of supposed truth without grace, I can follow Jesus again when he says to his disciples, “come and see”, rather than be deaf to his invitation or too caught up in thinking myself right even to care.  In my supposed truth without grace, I was blind to Jesus all around me.  I was blind to Jesus in people all around me.  I was wrong.  I needed to repent of that path.  I’m guessing I’m the only one.

Here’s what I think now regarding the election, and I offer these thoughts for all of those still struggling with the decisions or the reactions of those on the other side.  People made the best choices they could with the information they had and the information which they were able to believe.  Folks on both sides of this thing have asked, “how could you possibly have voted for [this candidate], knowing [this terrible thing] about them.”  How could you be so stupid or immoral as to vote for whichever candidate?  That’s about the sentiment I’ve heard quite often.  Now, not wanting the other candidate to win is pretty normal, but good gracious, it seems that an awful lot of people on both sides viewed the other candidate as the latest incarnation of Satan. Some even thought the comparison gave Satan a bad name.

How could either side vote for a candidate who seemed so horribly flawed to the other side?  Well, it’s really kind of simple.  Our brains will only allow us so much cognitive dissonance before they begin jettisoning some bad information (or assuming it to be false) so that they can handle and align what we do with what we believe.

Adding to differences of policy off, folks were fearfully and (strongly) against Trump because of what he’d said and done/reportedly done.  They saw a particular character emerge from the information given, a character which could not be supported.  Folks who were against Hillary, saw a similarly deficient character emerge based on what Hillary had said and done/reportedly done, a character which could not be supported. 

Both groups did the best they could with the information they had, and many within both groups had to ignore/gloss over, or explain away some of the more troubling aspects of each candidates’ character.  Regarding the truth of either candidate and the soundness of a vote for either, we’re all fumbling in the darkness, doing our best with very limited knowledge of truth.  We have incomplete truth.  We can’t have anything but incomplete truth. 

Grace, on the other hand, well that we have in abundance, and grace is something we can give in abundance.  Many want us to come together as people, as the body of Christ, and we need to.  We need to give each other grace with our competing, incomplete truths, grace enough to say, “I truly believe you were doing the best you could.” 

Otherwise both sides of any issue continue to walk on well worn paths that feel like truth, but which are really just bullying.  When we’re on those paths, no matter how certain we are, we’re blind, our paths lighted only by the darkness of certainty and truth without grace which end up leaving us fumbling in the darkness of bullying. 

Repenting of that path, we can see Jesus again.  Turning toward Jesus, with his light to guide us, we don’t always know exactly where we are going, or where we’ll end up, but we do know the way.  Jesus is the way.   With the grace of Jesus and restored relationships to guide us, we travel together toward an uncertain future, secure not in the destination, secure not in the end, but secure in each other, and secure in the grace of Jesus to guide us.

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