You’re here once again reading one of these little gems about God and religion. Perhaps you’re interested to see if I’m going to say anything interesting or funny. Perhaps you want to know a little more about that ancient history, or about that Greek language, or about the beginnings of Christian traditions, or about what Jesus really had to say about things. Or perhaps there is something that just compels you to read them.
Something has caused you to want to voyage on these seas, as it were. Who knows why we make the choices we do. But you have chosen to read this far, at least.
You are reading because there is something you are looking for. You’re not exactly sure what it is, but you’ll know it when you find it. Deep down in the center of your chest, you know that you are not complete somehow. Something is missing. You’ve thought you’ve found it before a few times. But you were wrong. None of the things you found ever filled in that gap exactly, completely. Nothing was a perfect fit. So you’re still looking. Not everybody is.
There are plenty of people who seem to go about their daily lives getting up, going to work, paying their bills, out at the movies, shopping in malls, driving the freeways, who are perfectly content with their lives just the way they are. They give not one thought to anything lacking in their lives. Perhaps they, too, have that nagging feeling, but they have learned not to listen to it. They have buried it beneath the constant flow of entertainment and information. Many of them are religious people, too.
The word used by Jesus for “the church” is the Greek word “ekklesia”. It refers to a general assembly of people, usually for political purposes, and means literally, “called out ones”. The Church, not any specific church, but church in the generic sense of loose collection of believers, is a group of people called out. They are people who are called out from the crowd. You…I want you. Yes, you, the one there in the old sweat pants and the scarf. You. That’s right. The Church (with a capital C) is the people called by…something, whatever you want to call that something.
The bible is full of stories of people called out. There is the story of Moses, the story of Gideon, the story of Jesus, and the Disciples. There is the story of Abraham, the father of three or the world’s great (or not so great, depending on your opinion) religions. And there is the story of Mary. I give it here from Luke:
The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.
Much of this story may well be fiction. The earliest gospel, Mark, doesn’t mention it at all, nor does John. Only Matthew and Luke have any accounts of “The Christmas Story” (and not the one with the leg shaped lamp). It doesn’t really matter whether it happened like this or not. As I always say, the bible is a book of truth, not of facts. What this story contains is the element of every story of someone chosen by God for some task.
In every case, God, or some agent of God, comes to someone, someone highly unlikely, and tells that person that he or she has been chosen for a particular task. And in every case, these people try to tell God that there must be some mistake. They try to tell God that they are not equal to the task. Moses said he was slow of speech, meaning he had a speech impediment.
Gideon pointed out to God how poor he was. I mean, for cryin’ out loud, when God came to Gideon, he was hiding out from the Midianites stealing leftovers from the winepress! In just about every case, these people told God that S/He must be crazy, that S/He had the wrong person.
Jonah (you know from the story of Jonah and the whale Jonah—except it doesn’t say it was a whale. It says it was a great fish) went so far as to try and run away, believing as most people did at the time that God was only God of a particular geographical area and that you could escape His jurisdiction. But it didn’t matter. God found him. There’s no getting away from God. And Jesus tells why. Jesus taught that God is in us. There is no running away from yourself.
And so, in each person’s case in all the bible stories, they surrender. Moses goes to free his people. Gideon kicks Midianite ass. A lowly shepherd boy, David, becomes a great king. Noah builds an ark. Jonah goes, kicking and screaming, but he goes, to Nineveh. Jeremiah takes up the prophet’s mantle. And Mary becomes the mother of God. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Mary said “yes” to God.
If there is one common thread (and believe me, there is more than one) that runs through all the world’s religions, it is the need for us, humankind, to surrender to the will of the divine spirit, whatever you want to call that spirit. We are a willful people. We are stubborn. We want to do things ourselves. That is the underlying message of the Garden of Eden Myth. We wanted to be like God. That’s why we ate the fruit. But we can’t be like God, not here anyway. We want to be in control. And to think that we are in control in any measure is a pure delusion. One look at the storm that was Katrina should seem to prove that little nugget of truth. We don’t control shit.
Every person who ever found true peace and happiness only did so after surrendering to that divine truth. It is the Zen. It is the Tao. There is nothing you can do. Reality is what it is. You cannot control the world around you; you can only control your own reactions to it. That is the key to happiness.
Clinical studies have shown that the area of the brain most linked with feelings of happiness is that area which governs loving kindness. In other words, science has proven that being kind and loving is what ultimately makes you happy. This comes from a study on happiness and people who meditate. And this is precisely what Jesus taught two thousand years ago.
Jesus taught that each one of us is called. We are called to love one another. Through our love, we are saved from fear, anxiety, and death. Jesus was called out at his baptism. The gospel of Mark indicates that when Jesus was baptized, he had a vision.
“And right after coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit, like a dove descended upon him: And there came a voice from heaven, saying, You art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And immediately the Spirit drove him into the wilderness.”
According to Mark, nobody saw this or heard this but Jesus. And this spirit didn’t abide with him and make him feel all warm and cozy either. It drove him out into the wilderness. And while most scholars would argue this point, I should mention that God here says that Jesus is His beloved son, not his ONLY son. I don’t begin to understand the nature of the godhead, nor do I think that I am able to understand it. I accept Jesus as the Son of God. But I also know that we are all children of God.
To me, the bible seems to indicate that there is no way to run away from the call of God. But what do I know? God doesn’t say to Moses, “You know, you’re the tenth guy I’ve talked to today.” For all we know, Moses was just the guy who said “yes”. Perhaps there were nine other guys who heard about that whole parting of the Red Sea thing and then kicked themselves for passing up the gig. I don’t know. I do know that Psalm 95 says, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
Certainly being called out doesn’t mean an easy life or anything. In fact, most people called out have a pretty miserable time of it. But what are you going to do? Being a savior isn’t an easy job. And the mission of Jesus was to call all of us out, to make each one of us the arms of God on earth. Some people, as Saint Paul points out, were called to teach, others to heal. All of us were called to love. If you are still reading this, then you are called out. You are looking for something. You are looking for something because something is calling to you. You just haven’t found it yet. Keep on looking. You’ll find it.