Pastors have a frequent question when they begin to discover mimetic theory. “That’s great. But how does it preach?”
Reverend Tom Truby shows that mimetic theory is a powerful tool that enables pastors to preach the Gospel in a way that is meaningful and refreshing to the modern world. Each Wednesday, Teaching Nonviolent Atonement will highlight his sermons as an example of preaching the Gospel through mimetic theory.
In this sermon, Tom asks, “Do we hear Jesus’ voice?” There are many voices within our culture, which voice will we listen to? Tom states, “we hear according to who we are following.” Earth Day is this Friday. For Tom, following Jesus doesn’t mean rescuing people away from this earth. Rather, “God has invaded history and is in the process of redeeming the earth. Not just redeeming us, but the whole human species and creation.”
Earth Day – Do We Hear His Voice?
“How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
His questioners exude impatience and irritation with Jesus for failing to speak in ways they understand. “Come on, come at us straight. Tell us who you think you are. Don’t keep us waiting.”
Jesus responds with a simple answer that does not satisfy their request and probably deepens their irritation. “I have told you (who I am), and you do not believe.” What had he told them already? I will provide three samples, each taken from NT Wright’s new translation of the New Testament from the original Greek found in John, chapters eight and nine.
I am the light of the World. People who follow me won’t go around in the dark; they’ll have the light of life!
“You come from below,” Jesus said to them, “but I come from above. You are from this world; I am not from this world.”
“I never act on my own initiative; I say exactly what the Father taught me. And the one who sent me is with me. He hasn’t left me alone, because I always do what pleases him.”
So Jesus had said all this and more but they don’t like what he has said and have dismissed it. Not only has Jesus said these things but the demonstration of his connection to God shown in sign after sign does not faze them. They will not believe. Why? Jesus offers an explanation. “You do not believe because you do not belong to my sheep.”
Does this mean the world is divided between sheep and goats and we are destined to be one or the other? Maybe John Calvin was right and predestination finds support in this text. Or is Jesus’ comment more subtle than that? Jesus knows that we hear according to who we are following. The direction we are moving in the depths of our hearts plays a huge role in determining who we hear. If we are moving toward Jesus we will hear one thing but if we are moving away from him, we will hear another. Jesus has told them who he is and where he comes from but because they are moving away from him they don’t believe.
Or to put it another way, connection precedes belief. Who we choose to connect too will determine what we believe. I know this sounds counter intuitive but we must choose who we will follow before we can believe anything. We decide who we will allow to form us before we know what values we will embrace. We humans are master imitators and who we imitate will determine how we think. We believe it’s the other way round but that’s because we grant ourselves far more independence than we actually exhibit.
Jesus continues, “My sheep hear my voice.” Sheep orient themselves to sound. A lamb will know the bleat of its own mother, even amidst all the bleating of the other ewes. People that have chosen Jesus hear Jesus’ voice. Last Tuesday, while at coffee with some friends, I recommended another book to them. One of my friends gave me this look of consternation and said that when she got home from work and tried to read, within ten minutes she was asleep. I suppose you could say my heart was moved with compassion and I said “some of us don’t have to read all these books; some of us just know in our hearts who we are following. These people just hear Jesus’ voice and recognize it as Jesus. I am not one of those and so I must read the books.”
“The sheep hear my voice and I know them.” How does Jesus know them? Does he know them because he is Jesus with clairvoyant powers? No, I think it is much simpler. He feels their connection. He can tell when people are tracking with him. He experiences an empathic union with them when they are moving toward him with ears open to his voice.
Jesus goes on, “They follow me. I give them the life of the coming age.” The life of the coming age! What is “The life of the coming age?” For N. T. Wright, it’s the age to come bringing God’s justice, peace, and healing to the world as it groans and toils within the “present age.” This present age is what we feel around us and what disturbs us so. Jesus, in his life, death and resurrection, has inaugurated, ushered in, the “age to come.” Because we have already seen it in Jesus we get to live now in advance of its full coming.
N.T. Wright’s interpretation, based on new research and archeology exploring Jesus’ Jewish world and time, believes Jesus was speaking here to the ancient Jewish hope and belief that God’s great future purpose is not to rescue people out of the world, but to rescue the world itself, people included, from its present state of corruption and decay. We are talking here about the transformation of Creation and not just the sending of justified souls to heaven (to quote Paul Nuechterlein from his Core Convictions 3.4). This changes everything. This is a reading of the New Testament that our ecologically aware and concerned children will find engaging and relevant.
Jesus goes on. “What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.” This is huge! The Father has given the redemption of Creation into Jesus’ hands and we are in this plan and cannot be snatched out of it. We have security in the midst of our insecurity. To confirm that Jesus speaks for God the text concludes with, “The Father and I are one.”
The lectionary places this passage after Easter. They want us to see that we are connected to the resurrected Jesus who already lives the life of the coming age. It is his resurrection that ushers us into this New Age where we understand the hidden meaning behind history. The New Age enters the old and subverts it from within. This age is already here and will ultimately win the day. God has invaded history and is in the process of redeeming the earth. Not just redeeming us but the whole human species and creation.