We’ve got a couple of whopper topics from today’s lectionary. The biggie from John’s gospel (10:22-30) illustrates how Jesus ignited ongoing controversy. Then there is a provocative story in Acts (9:36-43) about Peter resurrecting Dorcas, a female tailor.
We’ll jump first into John’s narrative, where Jesus was walking in the Jerusalem Temple amid critics who wanted him to plainly state his credentials. Then as now, there’s unceasing debate about Jesus. Jesus affirmed that he was the messiah and that his miracles supported his claim. But Jesus went much further. “I am God!” is what Jesus’ critics heard him declare. We can hedge things a bit because Jesus actually said “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30). That’s the trouble! Jesus enraged the listeners by claiming oneness with God the Father. The scholars, aristocrats, scribes, and other Jews thought Jesus guilty of blasphemy, the worst imaginable sin, worthy of death. The problem about the nature of Jesus persists to the present, with toxic debate between what people say about the human Jesus of history versus the divine Jesus Christ of faith.
A horrendous legacy of our religion is how Christians condemn fellow believers. One issue involves trying to precisely define who Jesus was, who he is, and more specifically the problem with the Trinity (i.e., God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit). One aspect missed in the crossfire is that God’s desire is for us to demonstrate compassion and redemption. Instead, many take a darker path by choosing roles as theological mercenaries. This dirty work is commissioned by the goblins of control, institutional hired-guns who claim that they have a mandate from God to police peoples’ thoughts and actions, to enforce a rigid, unwavering ideology that coerces order.
Outraged? You should be. Atrocities continue to be committed by all sorts of religious zealots intent on forcing humanity to conform (consider Islamist ISIS terrorists committing genocide in Allah’s name). Evil notwithstanding, people have a right and a responsibility to follow God’s light that illuminates from within. God infuses us with the love that connects us with the Almighty and with one another. Our ancestors died for religious liberty and yet some want to take that away. As God’s representatives, we have much work to get our spiritual house in order. Destroying our Christian witness with infighting, by pointless arguments and distractions—this causes a cancer weakening the body of the church and undermining our cause.
Let’s return to the way in which the Trinity is described. Whatever you believe, it never hurts to appreciate a suggestive illustration. One of the more clever ways to understand the Trinity involves comparing God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit to water, such that there is one substance (H2O) that takes three different forms (i.e., liquid, ice, and steam). By applying this metaphor, tradition claims that Jesus is one with the Father in the same way that liquid water is one with ice and steam (hence “oneness” in substance if not in form). Trinity opponents cite the same Bible for their counter-arguments, suggesting that true, legitimate monotheism must categorically reject the three-in-one construct. They argue that Jesus couldn’t be God because God is not divided and, in any case, God is One and there can’t be a compromised version.
We face choices. We can either declare war against theological opponents or we can channel our energies more constructively, such as managing our day-to-day lives (which is our primary, all-consuming task). It’s as if people don’t want to focus on their personal issues and instead lust for control. It is tempting to point to the supposed sins of others, so much so that we may overlook our own wrongs. Distractions take many forms and the Evil One will use our views of Jesus to separate one Christian from another. If we’re all doing our part to live the love Jesus proclaimed then we won’t have as much idle time to create mischief.
Now consider Peter’s miracle in Acts because there are disturbing implications. Why did Peter resurrect Dorcas? Could it be that she was that great a seamstress? Many ask how such an obscure woman could be privileged to be among the few humans resurrected. The rationale for raising Dorcas involves testimony from her supporters, who showed Peter all the fine clothing she had made. Imagine a similar situation today, where we nominate the best among us and find a prophet to raise them after death. After all, it’s tough to lose the talented tailors (a bit of humor is permitted). What else is going on? In Peter’s era, Jesus’ movement was new and vulnerable. Every disciple’s contribution was critical to Christianity’s survival and perhaps Dorcas played a pivotal role which is not now understood.
The question remains if miracles such as Dorcas’ raising can still occur. Critics argue that transplanting the Dorcas story into modernity ignores the original context, the structure of time and space, the purpose of Bible stories, and even the role of divine intervention. On the other hand, It isn’t helpful to mock miracle stories by shouting “Idiot!” or “That’s stupid!” How does condemnation advance Jesus’ Gospel? Yet we must use our sanctified minds to sort out what is helpful from what is not. We don’t want to deny miracles if it saps our faith and slaps our God. Too much skepticism or even commonplace stodginess is a recipe for destruction (examine what versions of Christianity are thriving and which are not). Sure, claiming that God still raises people from the dead can impede or distract potential new believers as much as it can attract others. Regardless, spiritual empowerment is necessary for a healthy faith. We must cultivate a thirst for God lest we settle for a zombie religion, one drained of life and wandering aimlessly.
The crucial thing in all debates is to keep on searching and thinking about God’s role in your life, considering how God can shine through you. Perhaps that, and not any of the controversy, is the chief miracle demanding our attention.
–Reverend Larry Hoxey