Recently I’ve been thinking that in Evangelical culture in the Pacific Northwest there is a strain of a radical gospel that is post-religious, or even a-religious. It doesn’t bind people back to a doctrine, or scripture, or the ecclesia, but frees them into a radical kind of Christ-consciousness that I find myself saying, well, yes to….
Once again, I sat and listened to Richard Dahlstrom’s sermon today at Bethany Community Church. He preached what I thought was a profound sermon. The text, “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.’” (John 14.6). Now, of course, one can get many things from this text, but the truth that Richard pulled from this is that Jesus is the door, he shows the way, the truth and the life, in him, we are set free, we are free to love with abandon, to forgive radically, to practice life-affirming events of ultimate generosity to the world. In Jesus, we have found all that we want, there is nothing else needed. As the Franciscan Richard Rohr says—“Not only does everything belong in Christ but all truth is revealed, all life is given, and the way forward is open and free.” The work is done, there is no more striving, no more need for religion, no more need to conserve, or hustle, or hoard. WE ARE FREE!
Richard Dahlstrom was so passionate that I felt in my body an urge to yell out, Amen! I didn’t. But I heard some murmurs and it seemed that many folks around me were wondering, “Hm, is this right, did I hear that correctly, the worrying is done, there is nothing left for us to do but to love, to forgive and be free—is it really that easy!?”
Well, yes, yes, yes. Let’s face it, for most of us, religion is a drag, something that must be done, something that must be satisfied, and something that must be endured. We pay our debts, feel guilty, and we do our penance.
But not in this telling of the story, not in Richard’s reading of the text. The truth is that all that striving to prove ourselves is gone, all that worry that we aren’t good enough is gone, and all the demand that we need to save ourselves is gone. We are free to breathe easy, to live lives free of worry, of despair, of desperation.
Yes, no more hoarding, no more keeping our neighbors at bay, no more hating our enemies, no more proving we’re right and everyone else is wrong; no more keeping our grudges close to us; no more blaming; no more competing with others to prove ourselves, no more thinking we are better or worse, no more comparing, we are FREE of this kind of small, petty, cowardly, pathetic lives!
But I think I also heard in the congregation another voice, a minor note to be sure, and yet its there (and maybe there is a little of it in me)—“Is it really that easy? Isn’t this too good to be true!! Come on Richard, Jesus can’t love us that much, after all we are stingy folks, and frankly, we like comparing ourselves to others, and sometimes we like holding grudges, and sometimes, we hope that not everybody else is saved, because if they are then we’re not that special! And if everyone is special how can we tell whether we are really that good?”Ah, yeah, that’s right we’re human beings. We like us vs. them; we like comparisons; we like winning; we like our groups; we like our special tribes; we like blaming others; we like enemies; we like knowing who is in and who is out!
I’m reminded of Yuval Noah Harari’s profound new book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. He comes to the end of it, basically arguing that Sapiens have survived in large part because we are the most efficient killers of other species—including other species of hominids, as well as the great majority of all animal species. Harari says at the end, “Evolution has made Homo sapiens, like other social mammals, a xenophobic creature. Sapiens instinctively divides humanity into two parts, ‘we’ and ‘they.’”
Indeed, after all our success as Homo sapiens we are caught in the habit that in order to survive we must come up with more and more efficient ways to kill others, and more elaborate ways to protect our group. Indeed, as Harari argues, despite our success, “Sapiens still don’t know what we want, so we go on by competing with one another and putting ourselves on the trajectory of destroying ourselves.”
So, yes, Richard’s sermon this morning was exactly right. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life….” But some of us are not using this to forgive, to love and to sacrifice for others, but as a way of saying, “Well, look, who do I know isn’t following the way, they are the problem! Let’s convert them or blow them up.”
This is normal religion. A religion that is not all that different than ISIS. On the same Sunday morning that Richard preached a sermon on radical love and forgiveness, ISIS blew us 32 worshippers at a Coptic Christian Church in Egypt. This is the “normal” state of what so many call religion—a disease, in fact, that addicts us to choosing winners and losers.
It really matters where we stand on this count. Are all saved in Christ? Or are we the only ones loved and forgiven? The radical good news is that everyone is forgiven and loved. Anything else leads to death and destruction. It matters what we believe.
As Christians, in Christ, we put forward that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, everyone is saved, and everyone is called to forgive, love and sacrifice for one another. So the real question for us as Homo sapiens is whether we will choose life or death?
We are a strange species, truly. I believe Jesus was right—but instead of killing others who believe otherwise, let us love them, forgive them and give our lives for them. This is the way of Christ—the rest is the way of death. Let us choose life.