<To listen to the sermon, click here. Sermons are best listened to, like coffee is best fairly traded>
[Jesus prayed:] 20“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
25“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
On Tongue Twisters and How God Won’t Be Nailed Down
On this last Sunday of Easter,
We are reminded of how unpredictable
You are…so that we don’t get too comfortable
And think we have you nailed down.
Alright, let’s do an experiment, shall we?
I want you to say “toy boat” three times fast. Go.
Not easy, right? It’s a tongue twister.
And how about that old favorite: How much wood would a wood chuck chuck, if a wood chuck would chuck wood?
The new one, of course, a modern twist with Brat Pack actor and heartthrob Rob Lowe: How many Lowes would a Rob Lowe rob if a Rob Lowe would rob Lowes?
“She sells seashells by the sea shore,” and “a tutor who tooted a flute”… back when I was an actor, and by that I mean little community theater, mind you. The only time I was ever on TV was to once give the news forecast in 5th grade and then I had a bit part in a commercial that only aired twice at the 5:30am hour for a product that would help you clap louder at sports games. It was literally two pieces of hand-shaped plastic you’d slip on and it was, unfortunately, called “The Happy Clap.”
But I digress…
Back when I was involved in community theater we’d begin most rehearsals saying tongue twisters. And we did it not to tie up our tongues, but to make them more malleable. Loosen them up. It was an odd paradox: we became more articulate by tackling tough tongue twisters.
And today’s Gospel lesson, Beloved, is a theological tongue twister where Jesus, praying to God, blesses his disciples as a final blessing of sorts. It’s the same sort of blessing that Moses gave before his death. It’s the same sort of blessing that Jacob gave before his death.
And this scene, on the night before the crucifixion, follows in that tradition where Jesus, in a theological tongue twister of a prayer, asks God to bless these disciples who, truly, did not truly understand who he was and what was about to happen.
And I fear, friends, that we, like those disciples, can too easily become too familiar with Jesus, too acquainted with God, and forget the awesome mystery that God is.
We too often default to the vision of an old man sitting on a cloud.
We too often default, when we think of Jesus, to a smiling white guy with children on his lap or sheep around his shoulder.
In parts of the Hebrew scriptures God is described as bronze-skinned and shock-white, wild hair. And while we don’t know what Jesus looked like, you can bet he was not white, friends, no matter what those popular 1950’s paintings want you to believe…
And don’t even get me started on the Holy Spirit. A Wild Goose, as my Irish ancestors called her. Wisdom, as she’s called in the book of Proverbs. God’s breath, or Ruah in Hebrew. And, yes, I say her because in all of those cases the feminine is used in the grammar…
On this last Sunday of Easter we are invited to remember that God is larger than what we’ve traditionally thought, and we’re invited to do this through this lovely little tongue twister Jesus provides us today.
In this Gospel Jesus says that he and God are one. How is that possible?
In this Gospel text Jesus says that we are in him and he is in God and we are all one. How is this possible?
It’s a theological tongue twister, friends, and we’d do well to practice before we enter the doors of any church, before we sit down to pray, before we attempt to talk about God because this theological tongue twister, amongst many others in the scripture, remind us that God is beyond what we’re used to talking about, that Jesus is so much more than our little historical minds want to give him credit for, and that the Holy Spirit, who takes center stage next week, is not just some ghost hopping around, but is a wild force, like a magnetic field, pulling us closer to the Divine, and then to one another.
And as convoluted as that all is, remember why actors say tongue twisters: not to tie our tongues up, but to loosen them.
Please don’t mistake what I’m saying here. I’m not saying that we can’t think of God as familiar. Not by any means. We must say something, after all, and our language is limited, and the scriptures do tell us that God is as close as a heartbeat and a song on our lips.
But we must not make the mistake of thinking that our words, our thoughts, our ways of talking about God are the fence that pens God in. They are, rather, the feedbox from which we gain more and more ideas about God, and insight into God, and for as broad and deep as our knowledge about God becomes, we must never believe we have God figured out.
Because if there’s one thing we know about God, Beloved, it’s that God cannot be pegged down. God cannot be nailed down.
It’s one of the reasons that Jesus left the scene in the first place, what we typically call the Ascension. He wasn’t going to accompany his disciples in his resurrected form forever, or else the quest would always be one to find Jesus. Instead he left, promising that they’d never have to look for him again, that he’d always be with them, and so instead of looking for Jesus, the disciples could do what they’re actually meant to do: look after their neighbor. Love one another. Embody Jesus, as they and Jesus are one…
Jesus left the scene so that, just as the woman touched the hem of his garment to stop her bleeding, there is a possibility that every hem is the hem of God imbued with Divine grace and love. Jesus left the scene so that, just as the mud was spread on Bartimeaus’ eyes to give him sight, we might see all the earth as having the potential to give us insight into the Divine mind.
Jesus left the scene, Beloved, so that we wouldn’t just follow him around anymore, but could actually embody him for a world that is still bleeding, still suffering from lack of sight and insight, still tormented by the demons of racism and sexism and all the isms, still run by the powerful who prey on the weak, and still intent on trying to nail God down so that the can control God.
God is more mysterious than we can ever imagine, which is good news for us, because it means that there is nothing but possibility when it comes to the wild, mysterious, tongue-twisting God we have. Possibility that, even if we can’t figure out how, life can come from death, hope will triumph over cynicism, and love will rule the day. A God who can’t be nailed down is full of surprises, Beloved.
I mean, remember what happened the last time they tried to nail God down?
It didn’t work then, either.