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You Need to Dance


4C Easter

8 May 2022


Today is Mother’s Day. In the home in which I was raised, this was a holiday to be celebrated. If parenting means loving, nurturing, protecting, and often sacrificing, I was blessed with two parents who did both, for me and for each other. For some, there has never been a nurturing presence in their lives. The very word “mother” may have nothing but connotations of neglect and a complete lack of love and nurturing. We all need a mother to help us grow into healthy adults. So for all of you who have filled the role of motherhood, blessings to all of you. It is the hardest and yet the most rewarding thing you will ever do.

Jesus is our mother!! In medieval times there was a woman known only as Julian of Norwich, after the church where she lived, who described God as mother of us all. I love that image. And if God is our mother, so is Jesus. Jesus enfolds us like a mother enfolds her infant.

Yet Jesus goes beyond the role of father or mother; Jesus is both and neither of these. He is the one who can save us, but how?

There is a term used in Christianity which says “lex orandi, lex credendi”. The fancy Latin translates basically as praying, or worship, shapes belief. It is easy to think that we form beliefs and then act upon them, but in reality we act and then form our beliefs. What we do becomes what we believe. At least that is what psychology teaches us. When people first attend a house of worship, it is more likely related to the people or the worship style and far less about the beliefs of that group. If the experience remains positive, over time the person is likely to acquire the beliefs of the group. Cults are an example of what becomes a very negative outcome that may initially come from making someone feel welcomed and “one of the group.”

So what does this have to do with the Gospel reading? Well, let me tell you. Jesus has been busy doing things. He turns water into wine, and not just any wine but the very best. He heals those who are ill. Blind people see, the lame can walk, illness, both physical and emotional, is banished. People are fed. A picture is worth a thousand words; deeds speak louder than action. Remember how he says to John’s disciples to go back and tell him what you see and hear?

Jesus is not interested in being a member of the right political party, or of holding on to correct doctrine. He is the God of action, not the Marvel comics type of violent superhero action, but the action that comes through true love, agape. He tells those listening at the portico of Solomon (a very important place in the temple) that those who follow him, those who are his sheep, follow him because of love and care, not because of a series of right words. A Jewish theologian called this “I and Thou”. Thou, in English, is the second person familiar of you. Thou is, in other words, the way you would address someone who is close to you. In Spanish it is using “tu” rather than “usted”. For Buber, as for Jesus, it meant recognizing the individual human being. It becomes much harder to hate or vilify someone whom you know personally. Jesus understood that when he connected with someone as in individual, as a child of God, they would respond the same way. The sheep knew Jesus not by his foreign policy statement, but by his love and because he saw each one of them as a beloved child of God.

Those who do not recognize me as the Messiah, Jesus says, do not see my love and care. They are not capable of seeing it, or rather they cannot hear my voice. Nothing can separate us!!

You critiques look at the rules; you look for signs and wonders. What you really need to do is dance. Unless you dance, you will never understand dance and be able to join in the circle.

Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara said we fall into a spiral of violence when we respond to violence with violence. It starts with our institutions, formal and informal, including groups to which we belong and, at the highest level, nations. We organize to protect and maintain power. You and I are so used to it we may not even see it; we are all a part of it and we seek to protect it because we are convinced that otherwise the “bad guys” will get us.

In the middle is what Biblically is often called “the flesh” but what is really means is our individual wrongdoings. The problem is historically it has often meant some sort of bodily evil, often related to sex. What is really wrong is that we have become, as individuals, separated from God.

At the top is “the devil”, which is violence that is culturally acceptable. Violence is thought to be necessary to control “the world” and “the flesh” but can so easily be misused. The cozy relationship between industry and the military, our penal system (the United States incarcerates more people than any other nation with over 2 million people in prisons; it also has the highest rate of incarceration, with Rwanda being a not too close second. China and Russia don’t make the top 10), banking and financing, health care, and even organized religion.

So to say we listen to Jesus, we must experience Jesus. We don’t follow him because our intellect tells us to, we follow because we feel it, we experience it. I knew my parents loved me not by their words (I am not sure I ever heard my father say, “I love you”) but by their actions. I experienced their love and that is how I have come to a relationship with Jesus. It is not a matter of belief leading to salvation, but love leading to radical transformation.

A little while ago I was attending an event which included seeing goats that were being used to control invasive vegetation. The goats needed protection from predators and so an alpaca was kept with the herd. She took her job very seriously and when we approached the fence, she came over with a rather menacing look. We were told to back off or she would spit on us. Meanwhile the goats were clearly quite content; they knew they were safe.

No, my relation to Jesus is not like a goat to an alpaca, and yet on some level it is. I trust Jesus. I hope that as my faith matures, I become more like him and, like a good flock of goats or sheep and the herder, we act more like a single entity. This is how we have life!!

It means that we must start to re-think how we are bound to the world, the flesh, and the devil. Step inside the church, step into a relationship with the one who can give you abundant life. For praying shapes believing. Then go into the world and live a life where you see everyone as I and Thou.


Amen


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