Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 10, 2020
This time of isolation and social distance has brought with it many surprises. One of those surprises has been that the Abbott family is now hooked on watching “The Great British Bake Off.” The title describes it well enough. Granted, we do have to watch with the subtitles because, seriously, I can’t understand half of what they are saying. And I’m still not sure what they mean by pie, pudding, and cake. Because, those aren’t pies, puddings, or cakes.
But truly, it’s amazing to see the creations that some of these bakers can make. These cakes with layers upon layers, with intricate designs and decorations. I would almost feel bad eating those things because they are works of art.
But it’s not just about presentation. For, as they say, the proof is in the pudding. If the pie is burnt, if the sponge is too dry, if the meringue doesn’t have just the right texture – then they are kicked off the show. The proof is in the pudding.
Our lives, our Christian lives, might have all the external trappings. We might know all the words to the Prayer Book, we might come to church at all the right times. But if our hearts are cold, if we live measly, ungracious lives – well, then the proof is in the pudding.
This, I think, is what the world has noticed about us. About the Church. When it comes down to it, when the judgement comes, we have been found to be no better than, no different from, the rest of the world. And in fact, we have probably gone along with the world because it has offered protection and power. We have been just as callous as the rest of the world that claims no god for itself.
And so when we come to these words of Jesus, and our modern world takes exception, they note our hypocrisy. Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Because though we might have all the trappings of the Christian life, when tasted and examined, it is obvious that we are most often following in our own ways, in our own truth, and caring only for our own lives.
Now, this is not a new problem. The world has always been asking questions of our hypocrisy. One of my spiritual heroes, Phillips Brooks, preached about this in the 1860s. In one sermon he put it this way: “Men are questioning now as they never have questioned before whether Christianity is indeed the true religion which is to be the salvation of the world.”*
Of course, Christianity is indeed the true religion which is to be the salvation of the world. But for the world to see that, for the world to know that, for the world to receive that healing and salvation, we must do something about it. We must live in the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus.
And how did Jesus live? In perfect service to his neighbors. In perfect love. In grace, in humility, in service, in compassion. He opened wide his arms upon the cross. He broke bread with sinners and outcasts. He did not demand that everybody become crushed into conformity, he offered a vision of a Kingdom in which differences are signs of God’s glorious creation. In that pinnacle scene in “A Wrinkle in Time,” when the evil power of IT is crushing the heroine Meg to be just like everyone else, she shouts back in faithful defiance, “like and equal are not the same thing at all!” That’s what makes the Church different, that’s what make a life with Jesus, a life of service, different.
Jesus never tried to make a buck off a crisis, Jesus did not live in fear of his neighbors; whether those neighbors looked like him or not. If the Church behaves no differently, if we are just like the rest of the pagan world, then clearly, we have yet to follow the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus.
The very fact that people do question our pretensions means that we have not fully embraced the way of love. Still, this hurting and lonely world so often looks at the Church and they don’t see love, they see condemnation. They don’t see grace, they see coercion. They don’t see us clinging to the cross of self-sacrifice, they see us clinging to worldly power, where everybody is supposed to be alike and where some are more equal than others. The more the world questions if Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, the more it reveals that we have not offered the religion of salvation, we have played it safe and been content to sell but a shadow of the gospel. That is not the world’s fault – it is our fault. The proof is in the pudding.
So where do we go from here? Well, the recipe is quite simple. You do not need any fancy kitchen implements. You don’t need to know the difference between the custard and a pudding. You don’t need to know the intricacies of every theological doctrine people like me have ever come up with. We only need to follow in the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus. The recipe is simple, but it’s not easy.
It is not easy to rid ourselves of pretension, to cast out our own hate after so many of practice. It is not easy to reorient our lives so that our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls are dedicated to the way of love. It is not easy to pour out everything we have for others after so many years of taking in more for ourselves. But by pouring ourselves out in perfect service to the world, the world will taste the goodness of grace. And they will come back for more.
Let me put it this way – if you are worried about where the world is headed, if you think some things need some changing – start with yourself. Start with your own heart. Start by getting your heart set on Jesus.
And then, when the world is hungry, when the world is hungry for love and community and meaning and purpose – they will come to us and taste us. And I pray that we taste even better than we look. I pray that the world looks at us to see a community that is bound by our equality in the eyes of a loving God, not by whether we think alike, look alike, talk alike. I hope the world looks at us and sees a people who sacrifices themselves, as Jesus did, so that others can live. I pray, I hope the world sees that following in the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus has no pretension, but only perfect service and perfect love. Do not fret about all the appearances of Christianity; do not worry yourselves about all the external trappings of Church; for the world will see all that for what it is. A fancy cake that tastes terrible. Give yourself to the way of Jesus, and you will know the Father. And the world will know the Father through you.
* Phillips Brooks, “The Beauty of a Life of Service”
* Madeleine L’Engle, “A Wrinkle in Time,” 177