19 Jan 2014
“The next day [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’” (John 1:29) In the name …
So I’m talking on the phone with a friend. While we’re having our conversation, her granddaughter, and yes I’m at the age where some of my friends are grandparents, starts talking to her about dinner. Our conversation is politely put on hold while she tells her young granddaughter that the angel hair pasta isn’t done yet. I’m on the other end of the phone hearing all of this when the granddaughter then says, “Yuck!” My friend tells the little one, “But you like pasta,” to which the child responds, “But there’s angel hair in it!”
Last Sunday I spoke about an article in Sojourners Magazine called “14 Things the Church Needs to Do in 2014.” The first bulleted item was to review what worked in 2013 and what didn’t work. The second bulleted item was to honestly answer the scary question, “Why in the world would anyone want to come to this church?” Today I would like to move on to bullet item number three: “Try something new.” That advice right there can elicit the same kind of spontaneous response from church people as the little girl reacted to the thought of pasta filled with angel hairs. Without even knowing what “new” may imply, a lot of church people automatically, reflexively, say “Yuck.” But trying something new is probably one of the most traditional tenets of the Christian faith. So if you feel that your faith is bound to tradition and is conservative and you like things the way they have always been, then you should be embracing the idea of “Try something new” because that is as tradition-bound as any teaching in Christianity.
I don’t have a lot of time in a Mass sermon to go into detail so let me concentrate on just today’s two readings. The first one was taken from the introduction of Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. I bet it didn’t raise any eyebrows when it was read, but it once did. The earliest church started in Jerusalem and was very Jewish and counted as her leaders the ones who actually saw and heard Jesus of Nazareth, and as a matter of fact the head guy of the Jerusalem church was physically related to Jesus of Nazareth. Then, way over in Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, this upstart named Paul, is writing to the church he organized in Italy, and he says, “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.” “Says who?” say a bunch of the church people in Jerusalem. “Paul wasn’t chosen by Jesus like the other apostles and he’s not acting like or talking like the other apostles. Who does he think he is?” But Paul insisted that he was called by Christ to be an apostle, and how new that was never went too far away from Paul’s thoughts. To this same church he writes: “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away. See, everything has become new!” (2 Cor. 5:17)
And how about John’s Gospel? In the three older Gospels that came before John, the same thing was said three times: John the Baptist was out in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and lo and behold Jesus was baptized by him. As the church began to reverence Jesus more and more she had problems with this message. First, who was John that he could forgive sins and why in the world would Jesus need such a baptism of repentance. So when this last Gospel is written toward the end of the first century … the problems disappear. Now John’s only purpose is to prepare the world for Jesus. There’s no baptism of repentance. And I don’t know if you caught it or not, but Jesus is never baptized by John in this Gospel. Jesus simply walks by and John yells out, “‘Behold the Lamb of God.’” And what does the Lamb of God do, well, He’s the one “who takes away the sin of the world” – not John. Trapped for evermore right in the pages of Holy Scripture is evidence that the faith changes. The main point isn’t who got it right or wrong because that’s too simple. The main point is that even before the Bible was finished, people were thinking new thoughts about their faith.
Try something new shouldn’t make us automatically go “Yuck.” Try something new is absolutely essential to the faith. In last Sunday’s Boston Globe, there were two articles in the “Ideas Section” that were directly related to Christianity and this topic. One was about a recently released book called Maps of Paradise. [http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2014/01/12/when-paradise-was-map/B9vnu5ASb1CyFS16AoN1zO/story.html] Beginning in the 5th century, Christian map makers actually found a place to locate the Garden of Eden. They had to because the Bible said it was an actual garden “in the east.” If the Bible is word for word true, then only a heretic would dare not find somewhere in the east to locate Eden. If the faith wasn’t bound to change, we’d still have to be looking for that earthly paradise because the words of the Bible are still there. They haven’t changed. We have.
This Eden-in-the-east we can easily recognize as foolish because the issue is an outdated one. It belongs to another age, not ours, and 20/20 hindsight is unfailingly amazing.
But the second article deals with a current topic, and is therefore more controversial. Here’s the front page of the Ideas Section. [Holy Bible. Gay Couples Welcome] [http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2014/01/12/can-evangelical-church-embrace-gay-couples/5Tqq4n7xNZcsBtrAeszJBM/story.html?event=event12 , www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2014/01/10/sexuality-sidebar/pfkWk8JjFL7dIYNtga2aJP/story.html?s_campaign=8315 ] The article is about how some evangelical churches are making way for openly gay couples to become active church members by focusing on the Bible’s repeated message of love, fidelity and family as opposed to the occasional and nuanced message against homosexuality. We don’t listen to the Bible literally when it says Eden is in the east and put it on our maps any longer like we once did, and we should keep this in mind when dealing with current moral controversies.
Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Day. In his day, churches were at the forefront of standing up for what is right. Let’s pray that churches become leaders again rather than followers after everyone else in society has already made up their minds. Try something new can be the rallying cry for the church to get her voice back again, to discuss difficult topics, and to hopefully give some guidance and leadership to the world that needs them. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo