Are We There–Yet?
Sometimes it seems—at this point in the Lenten Season—that our journey has gone on forever. Not unlike that skit from the TV cartoon–The Simpsons. Lisa and Bart from the backseat of the family car, take turns pestering their parents: “Are we there yet?” And Homer or Marge answering, “Just a little bit farther.”
And in this mood of heightened, perhaps even wearying– expectation—we are given today’s Gospel reading from the book of John.
I do not know much, but one thing I have learned over time is this: It is really important for me to focus on those passages—or those parts of biblical passages that make me uncomfortable.
I need to pay special attention to those passages that make me tilt my head and go “What?!?!?” because I find that often those passages that perplex me or bother me are exactly the ones I need to spend the most time with.
So in today’s reading—I could not help but focus on the end of the reading—where Jesus gives his followers specific instructions about following the “LIGHT” (clearly a metaphor for Jesus):
“The light is with you for a little longer. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of the light.” Then, after instructing his followers to walk in the light while they can—Jesus goes and hides himself from them. What?!?!?
This is the kind of passage that can drive me crazy—or keep me curious. Walk in the light, he says. Then the light goes and hides from everyone.
This, clearly, is a paradox: a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory (how do you expect people to discover who you are if you hide from them) but in reality expresses a possible truth.
So the challenge I am bringing before us today is to question how can this seemingly contradictory instruction—to walk in the light of Jesus, while Jesus hides himself—reveal a possible truth?
In part, paradox is part and parcel of being Christian: You must die to live. Or as we heard earlier in today’s Gospel reading: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
This sort of apparent contradiction appears over and over again in our Gospel to the point that we begin to wonder if the Chi of Christ, the center of the cross of Christ is in the very fact of paradox— Hm! Okay, what do I mean by that?
The French Romanian playwright, Ionesco once wrote: “It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.” Try to wrap your mind around that paradox: “It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.”
Consider this: there are few easy answers in the scriptures. The Bible is full of paradox, apparent contradiction. And yet, we keep going back to it, over and over. Maybe the fact is that one reason we love it is because of the questions it invites—Maybe we love the questions or the act of questioning almost as much as—the answers.
And maybe we cherish a faith tradition that does not merely tolerate questions, but actively nurtures this questioning nature of ours.
So this metaphor—of Jesus—of the ultimate answer of God for God’s people—a light that deliberately hides itself from us—a light that is difficult for us to see—is exactly the point—
that we are not there yet. We have not yet arrived. That in an entire lifetime we may not arrive at our final destination. That as long as we are truly alive, the questions/the questioning will continue.
Remember, in I Corinthians, God says, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; And the discernment of the discerning, I will thwart.” Thanks be to God! Ho Boy!
But God is always offering something when we open ourselves to God—And recently I had an experience which I call the Story of Seminarian and the Blind Man.
Tim and I had a chance to visit Christ Church in Savannah, Georgia—a most special church—that George Washington visited in 1791 on his southern tour of our country. While there, we heard a sermon delivered by a most engaging and promising Seminarian.
She was earnest and eager
Calm and kind, well-schooled and scholarly and
Looked up often to smile at us.
Two round white earrings
Served as prominent periods to every
Statement she gave us.
And yet, after the service, I stood up, somehow still empty and rushed outside to Washington Square in front of the church, where I found again the
Panhandler selling sticky palm leaves he crafted into roses:
Green variegations edging the yellow stalks that he whirled into smaller and smaller ortices.
Cataracts were taking over the man’s eyes, Van Gogh water-color irises
blinding those eyes – and yet in another miracle those eyes
Recited biblical passages about blindness
I had never seen before
His—the blind man’s– exegetical presence lay their flower open before me
Question at a time.
I do not understand all that this means—except that the place/the church that I went to that day expecting answers—did not satisfy me—as much as my encounter with the blind man did. That encounter seemed to reassure me that it is okay for me to bear my questions, that the questions might in fact mean that I am more alive and open to God than when I think I have all the answers.
AND just imagine for a moment—what things must have seemed like to Jesus’ disciples at that point where today’s reading occurs. The very moment when he tells them to mind the light, the light hides from them. The person they were looking to for all their answers–the person they believed WAS the answer— kept wandering off—leaving them with more questions than they could almost stand.
ARE WE THERE YET?
In the time remaining in this period of Lent, as we contemplate the passion of our Lord and HIS most perfect/broken question: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—perhaps we need to spend time embracing our own questions: What questions do we need to open up ourselves to? What perfect/broken questions has God given each one of us to bear?
Are we there Yet?
Questions like: “Why is EVIL still so powerful in our world?” “How can someone hate others so much that he would kill random innocents at that Jewish Center in Overland Park?”
Are we There yet?
And perhaps the most important questions of all: What will we do with these questions? What will they rally us to do or to become?
Are We there yet?