Even in the vast spaces of the American West, driving 1300 miles can seem like forever! So on my journey through Idaho and Eastern Washington a couple of weeks ago I brought along books on disk to listen to. It was a good move—I was able to finish two and a half books while driving!
One of the books was The Year of Living Biblically; it made the best- seller list a few years back. The author, A.J. Jacobs, is a man who decided to live for an entire year as closely and as literally as possible to the rules of the Bible. He combed through both the Old Testament and the New Testament to find laws and rules and teachings to follow. This meant everything from the way he wore his hair, to the kinds of fabric he wore, to the foods he ate.
It also meant visiting different religious communities that also try to follow closely the rules of the Bible. This helped the author learn how they interpret rules of the Bible.
One day he visited a community of conservative Jews who were in the midst of observing a religious festival. Now, I don’t know about you but when I think of conservative Jews I don’t think of wild parties. Well, at this festival the women were quiet; they were sitting in a balcony, separated from the men. But on the floor below, hundreds of drunken men in black hats and beards danced and shouted and sang. The book’s author joined in.
After three hours of dancing I tell [my friend] Gershon that I’m going to [leave the festival]. He walks me out. “Remember,” he says to me as we shake hands good-bye on the street corner, “sometimes you have to look beyond the weirdness. It’s like the temple in ancient Jerusalem. If you went there, you’d see oxen being slaughtered and all sorts of things. But look beyond the weirdness, to what it means.”
In today’s gospel reading Jesus says to his followers, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” It’s a whole lot of weirdness, and John tells us that “when many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’” They complained. They were offended. In fact, John reports, “…many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” It was all just too weird!
As I read this account I can’t say as though I blame those who turned away from Jesus. What would you have done in that situation? Life-long, church-going people are at a disadvantage in reading the Bible. We forget just how weird it is! As a matter of fact, there’s a whole lot of weirdness in all of today’s readings! In the reading from Joshua God’s people pledge to serve God alone. But this is the same group that complained in the desert and threatened to mutiny against Moses!
But if that seems weird, check out today’s psalm:
The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to erase the remembrance of them from the earth. Really? A God of love is out to “erase the remembrance” of those who do evil from the earth? Is this what love looks like? Sounds like there’s no hope for any of us!
And today’s second reading from Ephesians describes spiritual warfare, comparing the resources of faith to military armor.
But this barely scratches the surface. The Bible is loaded with weirdness! In response, we may find ourselves inclined—like Jesus’ disciples in today’s gospel reading—perplexed, uncomfortable, maybe ready to ignore the weirdness or—except for a few minutes on Sunday morning–to give up on God’s Word, except when it fits whatever we already believe.
But what if we were to stay with it? What if we were to stay with the Scriptures, to hear the weirdness, and then look beyond the weirdness to what it means?
Last week during Sunday morning class we were looking at today’s reading from Ephesians, and one participant picked up on the phrase, “the wiles of the devil.” I don’t believe in a devil,” she said. “I believe there’s evil in the world, but not a devil.” And I said, “Well, some people believe in a devil and some don’t. I’m not too worried about whether you do or don’t. The more important question is, What does the devil represent? What does it mean? How do we live in response?”
The idea of a devil for her is weird. And from a 21st –century point of view many of us might say the same. Does this mean it’s not important? No! We ask, “How can I look beyond the weirdness to see what it means?”
In response to the weirdness of God’s Word we as Jesus’ disciples may be tempted, as in today’s gospel reading, to focus on ourselves: to pretend that the weirdness isn’t there (which is what many Christians do), or to be offended: This stuff doesn’t seem to fit with our modern world so who needs it? (which is what many non-churchgoers conclude).
But what if all of us, whether believers or skeptics, chose to look beyond the weirdness to what it means?
I’m hoping that those who are here and those who aren’t will start taking seriously the weirdness of the Bible and bring their questions to the table. Why do we do what we do during worship? What do we believe? What does it mean?
Can we do that much? Can we bring our questions before God and one another, and together look beyond the weirdness to see what it all means for our lives?
Seems like we could do at least that much—to look beyond the weirdness of God, and God’s Word. Because…God has already looked beyond our weirdness! After all, what can be said about creatures who, in response to God’s unconditional love for us, worry, complain and take for granted the incredible gift of life and opportunities for new life we have each day?
From God’s perspective, our response—or lack of response–to God’s love might seem pretty weird. But God chooses to look beyond our weirdness, to what it means. In response to human fear, greed, and ingratitude, God chooses compassion, patience and, above all, forgiveness without end. That’s the real weirdness of God, weirder than anything human beings could dream up! And yet, is it just possible that we could follow—and even attempt to imitate—such weirdness? As we find in today’s gospel, Jesus’ disciples thought he was pretty weird. Even so, we pray that we can join Peter in asking, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!”