Sermon for March 20th, 2022
The Bible has more to say about human nature than it does Divine nature. We learn more about mankind by reading the Bible, than we do about God.
Now I don’t want you to misunderstand me here. I do believe the scriptures to be divinely inspired books, and I do believe that God reveals himself to us in them. They are a record of God many revelations of himself to us, and for us Christians, the supreme revelation of God was in the person of Jesus Christ, who we encounter in scripture. God is revealed to us in the Bible, but there is, as I suppose there should be, always an element of mystery surrounding God’s self-revelation.
When Moses encounters the voice of God in the burning bush, he can’t wrap his head around it or figure it out. It is a mysterious thing to him, and he can only get so close. And when Moses asks God who he is, the response that he gets is “I am who I am.” Moses is told that this “I am” is the God of his ancestors, and Moses is told what this God is going to do for him, and Moses is eventually told what this God expects of him, but there is much about who this “I am” really is that remains shrouded in mystery.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, who reveals so much to us about God’s nature, and who often refers to himself as “I am,” well much of our Lord’s life, particularly his interior life, remains shrouded in mystery as well. This is of course to be expected when encountering a being so much greater than ourselves, God is bound to be mysterious to us. So God is revealed to us in scripture, but it is always in a cloud of mystery.
What the scriptures are far less mysterious about, and what they have even more to say about, is human beings. The Bible has a lot to say about human beings and human nature. I’m sure there are plenty of atheists and unbelievers out there that think they have no use for the Bible because they question God’s existence, but let me tell you, the Bible has even more to say about who we are than it does who God is. And in case you don’t already know, human beings are a mess.
We are a mess and we always have been. Now it would be easy to read the scriptures from a point of extreme condescension, looking at all the characters and going tsk, tsk, tsk, look at all these silly people making the same mistakes over and over again. All these Israelites are petty and argumentative, and God saves them and they forget, and God saves them again and they forget, and God tells them to do things and they don’t do it, and God saves them again and they forget again. It would be easy to sit back and be real self-satisfied and be all proud of ourselves that we are so much superior than them, more enlightened, more educated, more progressive, that is, until the moment comes, and it can come quite suddenly, when our illusions and delusions are shattered and we realize that all this time when we were looking down on our ancestors in the scriptures, we were actually looking in a mirror.
You realize that you are the same mess that they were. You are not better than your ancestors. Please get that. You may think that you are more enlightened or more educated, or less superstitious, but the truth is that you are the same mess that they were, only worse because now you have this layer of arrogance poured on top that makes you think you are superior. I think this has gotten worse in modern times, because we like to think that ancient people were extremely ignorant and primitive and lived in a completely different world than we do, but human beings have always been prone to thinking that we are somehow superior to those that came before us.
In the gospel today, there is this discussion between Jesus and his followers about two terrible tragedies that were fairly recent history: one a brutal massacre of some Galileans by Pilate and the other a building collapse that killed a number of people. And Jesus asks his followers: do you think you are better than these people? Do you think that you have so figured things out that these same things can’t happen to you? And his response is, NO! You are not better than these people.
Paul says something similar in his letter to the Corinthians. Paul talks about the Israelites travelling through the desert and the mistakes that they made. Now here is something that Christians often do when reading the Old Testament, we like to think that we are inherently superior to the ancient Israelites or the Jews, we like to think that we are more faithful and that we have figured life out in a way that they haven’t, and Paul’s advice to some folks that are thinking that way is: watch out! If you think you are standing, mighty and proud, watch out! You might be about to stumble and fall yourself. Don’t put God to the test by thinking that you are superior to your ancestors.
The answer that both Paul and Jesus give, the solution to this dilemma, is that we are to live lives of continual repentance, always remembering that our salvation comes from God, not from ourselves. We may learn from our ancestors mistakes, but we can only truly do that when we remember that we are not superior to them. The Bible becomes so much more meaningful to read when you finally realize that the stories it contains aren’t about some mythical God dealing with a primitive and foreign people, they are about a living mystery that has a long history of saving people just like us.