Sunday, March 17, 2013

Single and Upward

Have you noticed a theme going through all the readings this morning?  Here is a verse from the Old Testament:

Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. (Isaiah 43:18)

And here's a verse from the New Testament:

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

Do you see the theme?  We have a forward motion--a straight path, like that of a racepath, and the goal at the end is of a singular thing.  The goal here is Jesus.  At the same time, I was reading St. Irenaeus of Lyons. He was the student of Polycarp, who was the student of the Apostle John.  Here is what Irenaeus wrote:

For the way of all those who see is single and upward, illumined by the heavenly light, but the ways of those who do not see are many, dark and divergent; the one leads to the kingdom, uniting man to God, while the others lead down to death, separating from God.

Once again we have the singular path, as that of a race, and it now has an upward slope, because it leads to the highest of the high: Jesus Christ.  The other way is a way of darkness.  Of course it is.  Jesus is the light of the world, and any other way than Jesus will be dark, even if it seems to be a well-lit path.  In this country, we like to have our thumbs in many different pies, because we're hedging our bets.  Let's see: I'll follow Jesus on Sunday, and then my palm-reader on Wednesday, and then I'll read Buddha on Friday.  The Learning Channel has some great advice on Saturday.  Remember any way that is not the singular and upward of Jesus is dark and divergent.

I know someone who has left the church and is now focusing on his ministry: teaching children.  This is a noble cause, and it doesn't seem dark, does it?  However, if one is not aiming for the single, upward race toward the goal of Jesus, this person will lose all.  Even Mother Theresa put Jesus first.  She prayed, she communed with the saints, the followed the apostolic teaching, and she had fellowship with other Christians.  These are the fundamental elements of the church, and without them, we are not part of the universal church on earth.  We aren't aiming for Jesus, and all the good works we do mean rubbish, as Paul says in his letter to the Philippians.  If we aim for the schoolchildren, we get neither the Kingdom nor the children.  If we aim for Jesus, we get both the Lord and the children.

Because, without Jesus, we fill the space with dark and divergent ways.  The children aren't enough.  Next there comes the clubbing, and the drinking, and the hanging with people who draw you away from God.  And then we've lost all.  But at least we're helping the children, right?

This leads us to the gospel passage:

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me." (John 12:1-8)

Here we see the two ways in stark contrast.  Mary's is the single, upward way to Jesus.  She can only think of Jesus.  He is her all in all.  There is no splitting of her mind between Jesus and anything else.  This is the thing that none of us can seem to achieve.  Which is the many, dark, and divergent way?  Judas Iscariot's.  He is a thief, he is a politician, he is a socialist.  He has many things going at once.  Over here he's betraying Jesus.  Over here he's robbing the till.  Over here is is pontificating about being compassionate.  Jesus reminds him that his methods will never work.  I saw a stand-up comedian say to his audience that if everyone on earth gave their money to all the poor on the earth there would be peace.  Jesus rebuts this thought with the words, "the poor will always be with you."  As mature adults, we know Socialism is an impossibility.  But here is Judas proposing the same thing.  His way are many, dark, and divergent.  True socialism can only be achieved by NOT following socialism but following Jesus and ONLY Jesus.

Jesus also has this upward call, even though the goal is not for himself.  Why did the incarnation happen?  There was a single, upward goal of Jesus.  What was it?  To save the world from its sin.  To reestablish the Kingdom of God on earth, and to begin the new creation.  This is the goal: salvation.  So, when we get a scene like the garden of Gethsemane, what do we think about it?

As individualistic Americans, here is what we tend to think: Jesus is grieved to the point of death, he tells Peter and James and John.  Why?  We assume it is because he is gearing up for a a very painful rest of his life.  He is going to be crucified.  He's sweating blood for himself.  Please, Daddy, don't let them do this to me!  Do we believe this?  Do we think Jesus would be so self-centered?

Look at the beatitudes in the sermon on the mount.  These are good attributes to have as Christians, yes, but these are also the attributes of Christ: blessed is he who mourns.  Blessed is he who is poor in spirit.  Is Jesus mourning for himself?  Should he be?  No, he is mourning for the world.  Because, here in the garden of Gethsemane, everything has reached critical mass.  The world has hit its corruption acme point.  There is no turning back.  The earth is now in place for another flood.  The earth is like Sodom and Gomorrah now, and should be lit on fire, burned to a cinder.  Everything is lost.  Even Peter and James and John?  They fell asleep, you see, they couldn't even stay awake to pray.  Did you think that they were just being lookouts for the people coming to take Jesus prisoner?

No, this is it, this is the moment, where the world has completely rejected its creator and is going to extinguish his life.  The world at this point is not worth saving, and this is what causes Jesus to be distressed.  He is praying for the world.  He is grieving for the world.  He is sweating blood, not because it is time for him to die, but because the world is lost.  He is completely alone.  I would die for my four daughters, if it meant that they would be saved from everlasting destruction, but I would still mourn first that they were destined for that destruction.  Until the garden, there was a remnant of the faithful.  In the garden the moment comes when no remnant exists.  It's time for Jesus to save the world through his death, but the grieving comes first.  The world was not able to stand.  Like Abraham, he was not able to find one person left worthy of salvation.  And as Paul says in Romans, it's when we are at our most unworthy that Jesus comes in and actually DOES save us.

Single and upward.  Jesus never strays from his goal.  He doesn't have doubt in the garden.  He doesn't plead with the Father to spare his life.  He only wishes that the world wouldn't need his salvation after all.  But the earth is lost.  We, too, should be mourning for the world every waking moment.  It's a beatitude, and it's part of the single, upward motion toward the goal of Christ.  We don't have TIME for the many, dark, and divergent ways of the lost.