Posted by: dacalu | 16 October 2017

Joy in Truth

Today, I had the pleasure of worshiping with the people of University Lutheran (UniLu) in Cambridge, MA at the conclusion of a weekend retreat on knowledge and belief.  You can find the text below and an audio version, here.

 

Readings

Isaiah 25:1-9 (“you have been a refuge to the poor”)

Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd”)

Philippians 4:1-9 (“Rejoice in the Lord always”)

Matthew 22:1-14 (The parable of the wedding banquet)

 

Sermon

Each of us carries a little model of the world around with us.
Each of us sees the world through glasses tinted by our own desires and experience.
Each of us, in turn believes we see the world better than anyone else.

And, all too often, we hide behind claims of factuality or revelation or being prophetic.

I am going to speak today about humility in our knowledge, 
	but I want to be very clear.
	I do not do this to deny the importance of truth.
	I do it to defend the truth,
		which is beyond our current understanding,
		and, more importantly, to defend joyfulness in truth.

When is the last time you took joy in the world – just as you found it?
When is the last time you took joy in discovering you were wrong?

One of my favorite poems, L’Envoi by Rudyard Kipling 
speaks of blessedness like this:
“But each for the joy of the working
And each in his separate star
	Shall draw the thing as he sees it
	For the master of things as they are.”

I believe that my picture of the world is partial, 
	but God’s picture is complete.
I believe that Jesus’ reality is infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.
I believe that we see now, as in a mirror darkly,
	but then, in the fullness of time,
	we will see face to face.

And so, I delight in disagreement
	when it is honest,
	because seeing you paint the world
		helps me to see it more clearly.
	Seeing your world, helps me to realize that the real world,
		the deeper, fuller, more glorious reality
		is God’s world, rather than mine or yours.

This weekend, I have been speaking on knowledge and belief.
I have encouraged the group to think about 
	why we think the things we do,
	how the world shapes our thoughts,
	and how our thoughts shape us.


If you are like me,
	the worlds seem broken right now.
It feels impossible to understand the way our neighbors think.
In just the last few days, 
I have had some strong debates
on gun control, free speech, the beginning of human life, 
evolution, and sexuality.
Nice relaxing week, right.
I won’t claim they were easy, 
	but I can give thanks
	that people who disagree with me –
	on some fairly fundamental points –
	were willing to engage.
I give thanks because they remind me that the world,
	the real world,
	is bigger than the world I carry in my head.
Because, honestly, I cannot grasp the resurrection.
	I cannot understand the reconciliation and harmony
		of God’s promised world.
	I cannot wrap my head around the fullness of forgiveness.
But, when my eyes are open,
	the world surprises me
	with gifts that defy words.
The world is more wonderful, and more forgiving,
	and more hopeful, than my petty brain and imagination
	could render.
God’s world filled with things both strange and wonderful.
	And people, both strange and wonderful.
I find joy in that truth.

One line from Isaiah really stood out for me this week.
Isaiah speaks of “A Palace of Aliens.”
	A rather colorful phrase – good for a science fiction novel –
		but I think it also speaks to our current discomfort.
	I feel as though my house has been taken over by aliens,
		by people whose goals and motivations I cannot understand,
		but who seem bent on making me feel unwelcome.
	Worse yet, the house is beginning to feel like it was set up for them and not for me.
		They have become comfortable – at my expense.
	It is a palace of aliens and I am an exile here.
Raise your hand if you’ve had this feeling,
	in your country or university or job or even on this planet Earth.
Raise your hand if you know what it feels like to be in a Palace of Aliens.

I know progressives who feel this way about the US Government.
And, I know conservatives who feel this way about US Culture.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you will jump immediately
	to say something like this.
	“But one of those is injustice and the other just common sense.”
	“One of those is about ideology and the other about compassion.”
	“One of those is good and the other is bad.”

That may be true, but it is not enough.
It is not enough, because it is not my house or their house.
	It is God’s house,
	and all of us are guests.
We need to figure out God’s rules.
And we need to correct one another only as one guest corrects another,
	with sympathy and humility,
	lest our host feel we have disrespected the house.
It’s an awkward place to be.
In our society, as conditioned as we are by law and facts and ownership,
	we want to be the authority.
	We want to be the host or the steward or the enforcer.
	But in this life, we are guests.

God promises that the Palace of Aliens will be destroyed,
	that we will find ourselves at home,
	but we will be neither more at home
		or less at home
		than our companions.
We may even have a part to play in the process.
We may be called to make others feel at home in the world.


The parable of the wedding banquet
	has never rested easily with me.
I am troubled by God seeming to be a tyrant,
	burning down cities and casting out guests – 
	perhaps even guests that found themselves there quite unexpectedly.
This week I’m trying out a new interpretation,
	one based on the Palace of Aliens.
I hope you’ll find it interesting and try it out as well.
I hope you’ll help me figure out if it works,
	because I know I can’t figure it out alone.
Sound good?

I suspect that the wedding banquet is God’s world,
	the deeper, fuller, more glorious reality
	that waits just beyond our feeble sight
	and just beyond our tentative fingers.
I believe God reaches out to us,
	in uncomfortable discussions,
	inconvenient truths,
	and in love for our enemies.
God invites us to leave our palaces and come.
God asks that we question ourselves and our truths,
	so that we might find something better.

And we make light of the invitation, ignoring it and going about our business.
We pass by the beggar on the street instead of starting a conversation.
We avoid our friends and co-workers when they talk about things that trouble us.
We conveniently read the parts of the Bible we like
	and skip over the boring bits, 
or the scandalous bits, 
or the truly weird stuff in the back.
(You know what I’m talking about.)
And so we miss the opportunity to come to the banquet.

Or perhaps we blame the messenger,
	lashing out at those who tell us about things we don’t want to hear.
We even blame ourselves sometimes,
	cursing our bodies or our minds for being other than we want them to be.
That can be the worst kind of violence against truth.	

I think God visits us with our just desserts.
You can only ignore reality so long, before reality comes to find you.
You can only put the truth off for so long before the truth catches up with you.

Those who will not come to the banquet, find themselves left out, in the cold,
	where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
It’s not a punishment, but it is what happens.
We suffer when we hide from reality.

So far, so good.
I think most Christians – even most people – would agree with me.
Philip K. Dick, who dreamed up Blade Runner, put it this way:
“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.”

The next part is harder, because we are not the vicious lords and ladies
	who would not come to the wedding.
We are the clueless beggars, dragged in off the streets.
We have been, and are, much to our surprise, brought face to face with Jesus,
	the way, the truth, and the light.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not here because it is comfortable,
	or easy, or convenient to be a Christian.
I’m here because Jesus showed up and dragged me along.
I have to admit, it was better than what I had planned.

God doesn’t just ask us to be here.
God asks that we be here for one another,
	that we take joy in one another,
	delight in discovery,
	even appreciate the arguments.
God asks us to show up for the banquet
	ready to party
	and ready to help one another take joy in the truth.
Because the truth is amazing.

Reality is wonderful.

Did you know that slime molds can solve math problems?
Or that the planet Uranus spins on its side?

Did you know that there are bacteria that live in boiling water?
	(Don’t worry, they’re not the infectious kind.)
Or that we have already discovered over 3,600 planets orbiting other stars?
And that’s just science!

Sitting around you in the pews there are scads of people,
	each of whom has a world of her own,
	a treasure chest of peculiarities and insights,
	experience and perspective.
Some of them even have a sense of humor.

Did you know laughing with other can make you happier and healthier?

Beyond those doors there are countless more people,
	countless more worlds to explore.
Some of them are strange.
Some are frightening or awesome or alien.
Some – most honestly – are windows into the Divine.

We should be just as excited visiting these worlds
	as we would be to travel to a new planet,
	no matter how dangerous,
	because discovery is a joyful thing.

I don’t underestimate the dangers.
	I know that space is hazardous.
	There are sharp toothed, acid dripping, horrendous aliens out there.
Still, it’s worth it.
There is a banquet of new experiences that will stretch you
	until you are more glorious than you thought you could be.
There is more grace in an alien smile,
	than in a room full of mirrors.
And some of the snarling, menacing, hulking brutes,
	are just waiting for their morning coffee.


People, when you stop believing in them, don’t go away;
	they only become more alien.
That’s why I try so hard to keep believing in people.
That’s why I hope they keep believing in me.

In the past 72 hours, I have found myself quoting
	Philip K. Dick, Jerry Garcia, and Richard Dawkins,
	all undoubtedly geniuses, but not folks I find a lot of common ground with.
	And yet they said interesting things,
		fascinating things,
		useful things that were worth sharing.
	Even Rudyard Kipling, whose work I quite like,
		had some very problematic opinions.
The first step is that readiness to hear truth,
	no matter how unlikely the source.

I won’t tell you it’s easy, showing up in a wedding robe every second of every day.
I won’t say it’s easy to truly listen,
	but it is worthwhile.
Indeed, the older I get the more I think it is the most worthwhile thing in the world,
	to really listen to reality, 
to really listen to one another,

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