I have a really good friend who has said, more than once, that she hesitates to talk about her faith or God with other folks because she often feels like she doesn’t know enough—that she might mess up the theology or not get it just right. That, somehow, when it comes to God, she isn’t smart enough. Even though she is one of the most love-filled, faithful folks I know.
Maybe you feel that way too. Like you’re not “God-smart” enough to really get it right when talking with others. But did you hear Jesus’ answer today when John the Baptist asks Jesus: “Are you the One who is to come or are we to wait for another?” Jesus doesn’t give a creedal answer. Jesus doesn’t use doctrine or dogma. Jesus says: What do you see happening? “.... the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have good news brought to them.”
It isn’t doctrine or dogma—saying the right things and having the right head knowledge that Jesus points to in order to know who God is and what God is all about—-it is participating and witnessing the signs of the kingdom. It’s all about the signs–God’s love breaking into the world. Now, don’t get me wrong—there is plenty of head knowledge about God. After all, I went to seminary for three years, I sure hope it wasn’t a waste of time. But Advent is about that head knowledge moving down into our heart and then breaking out as action—loving, life-giving, liberating action–out into the world. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
There’s just so much Good news today, Beloved. Isaiah tells us of a highway. Now, in Hebrew scripture and storytelling, this highway is the one created and walked smoothed by thousands of people on their way back home after exile. Isaiah tells us: “A highway will be there. It will be called the Holy Way. The unclean won’t travel on it, but it will be for those walking on the way. Even fools won’t get lost on it. No lion will be there and no predator will go up on it. None of these will be there; only the redeemed will walk on it.”
This highway is for us. After all, we are the ones who so often exile ourselves from God who is love; God who is our only home. We lead ourselves astray. I mean that’s the story since Adam and Eve—we choose to live in a way that exiles us from Eden. We choose self-centered ways instead of the other-centered ways that keep us in right relationship with others, which then keeps us in right relationship with God. After all, that’s home: when we live in right relationship with God and all others. A bible word for this is righteousness. And Justice. And Salvation. We complicate it with catechism and doctrine and dogma—using words that seem too high, too lofty, too out of reach. But it is simply put (although still very challenging): Love God; Love neighbor.
And the Way is this highway; this highway Isaiah tells us is holy. The word “holy” in Hebrew means “set apart”. Not in an exclusive way. Not in a perfect way. But set apart as in: “not like the everyday society and culture around us” kind of way. Because this Way of Love is all too often not the way this capitalistic, every person for themself, dog-eat-dog world chooses. The highway home to Love, Sacrificial Love, is holy—set apart. A new way to walk in the world.
And this highway is for everyone. Oh, I know what you’re thinking: Ha, Jane! You weren’t listening….Isaiah says the unclean will not walk on it and it is for the redeemed. Beloved, do you remember that story in the 10th chapter of the book of Acts—when Peter is told to eat the food that has appeared in his vision, food that religious law had told him is unclean—the Spirit makes certain Peter comes to understand that anything God has made is clean, not unclean. This later leads Peter to accept the Gentiles as God’s people. No unclean walk on this Holy Way because there are no unclean. Whatever God has made is clean. And yes, this holy way is for the redeemed, but as Jesus makes clear on the cross—redemption is for all people. There are no unredeemed. Because, according to the Word, Salvation is for all people. A gift for all. But like any gift—it must be accepted. It must be taken. It must be owned—for that gift to become mine. For that gift to become yours.
And not only is this Way for everyone; there is no “trap” set for you there—no lions and predators to eat you up if you get it wrong. And, in fact, if you keep walking the way: you can’t get it wrong. It is “fool-proof” for no fools walk there. All the anxiety, fear, and doubt in ourselves that we tie up into getting this right is our own doing. Man’s own creation. God makes it foolproof and all-inclusive. And asks us to begin by trusting our hearts to the One who set the stars in the sky. Giving sacrificial Love permission to unpack its suitcase and get comfy in our hearts, minds, spirits and bodies—as we become our truest identity. And Beloved, we are always becoming.
Theologian and scholar Marcus Borg wrote: “The Christian life is not about pleasing God, the finger-shaker and judge. It is not about believing now or being good for the sake of heaven later. It is about entering a relationship in the present that begins to change everything now. Spirituality is about this process: the opening of the heart to the God who is already here.”
This relationship with the Holy, when Love takes up residence within us and becomes our Why, it is an awakening, an epiphany, and it causes us to see our neighbor differently, this world differently, ourselves differently. As David Suzuki puts it: “The way we see the world shapes the way we treat it. If a mountain is a deity, not a pile of ore….if a forest is a sacred grove, not timber….if other species are biological kin, not resources; or if the planet is our mother, not an opportunity….then we will treat each other with greater respect. Thus is the challenge to look at the world from a different perspective.” Or as Isaiah says:...."Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be cleared."
Beloved: in Scripture, the signs of God’s reign are never the rich getting richer or the powerful maintaining their power and authority and status. When love breaks in, it is always, ALWAYS when the poorest, the weakest, the marginalized and the outcast among us are lifted up, healed, cared for, included and restored to community—a homecoming. Shalom. That’s the Kingdom come. And it isn’t some ethereal, distant, disconnected God out there who causes it to happen. It is the God that lives within us—within humanity—the Living Body of Christ who is made up of both flesh and Spirit and who is always becoming and always raising the dead from life. Steven Charleston writes: I am willing to take the risk of love because I know the source of love.
When we are willing to take the risk of love, the sacrificial love we know in Jesus, when we can love others and all of Creation before profit, before convenience, before our comfort, our preferences, when we wake up to the truth that this Love lived out is the highway to our own wellness and wholeness, when we take the risk of this love—knowing many will call us nonconformists, foolish and rebels—then, Beloved: Peace on earth and goodwill for all peoples. Beloved, we know the source of love; let’s take the risk.
Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.