Sunday, January 21, 2018

Sermon: The Kingdom cuts slantwise

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
“Tell all the truth but tell it slant
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind
—Emily Dickenson

         One of the shibboleths of poets—one of those phrases repeated mainly to make other people feel like they don’t belong, is the phrase, “Poetry is truth told” …sideways or slantwise, italicized or Dickenson’s own abrupt “slant.”—Poetry is truth told slant…
         Its about looking at things differently—speaking or writing in such a way that a truth, often common, is re-captured, is heard again, is allowed to be discovered for the first time, even though it was discovered long ago.

         And Paul too is some kind of poet—a poet of the Kingdom of God—reminding us that the Kingdom cuts slantwise. The Kingdom cuts slantwise.

The Kingdom cuts slantwise.
         Paul’s advice to the Corinthians sounds strange:
Married folk, be like you are single.
Joyful people & mourning people—quit that!
Rich people, be poor.
Worldly folk—find a new naiveté.

         What is Paul on about?
         Paul’s experience of the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus changed everything for him…
His world was blown apart.
Every category he’d held dear was cracked open in new ways.
         You see Paul’s world was one filled with Antimonies—this is a word almost exclusively used by people talking about Paul—so don’t worry if you’ve never heard it before.
         Antimonies are sets of opposites that make up our world.
         For example, in Paul’s time the big ones were—Jew/Non-Jew, Law Following/Law Breaking, Male/Female, Free/Slave, Flesh/Spirit.
         Maybe to make sense of this idea we could try some other Antimonies: Night/Day, Sacred/Secular, Local/Global, Urban/Rural, Online/Offline…
         In other words, categories that we tend to believe can either be A or B, and there is nothing in between…
all these things construct our known world,
Realities that ground us in the world,
that allow us to make sense of our lives,
that give us boundaries and borders.

And Christ crashed into all these categories of Paul—the Kingdom of God that Christ is bringing about—the New World, the New Age of Christ—split his world in a new way.
The only dividing line that remains is Spirit of Christ/Spirit of the Old Age….
It is like fire—it melts all these Antimonies down and then cuts them a new way—The Kingdom cuts slantwise.
There is a kind of poetry to it—trying to discern what fits into the Old World and what fits into the New World of Christ. Kingdom of Heaven / Kingdom of the Old Age.
Paul assumes the Kingdom is in the process of breaking in, and everyone will be able to see these changes clearly, really soon!
And so, he looked to the antimonies Married/Single, Joyful/Mournful,
—and, like an expert butcher, he glides his blade along the bone… and then he cuts to the quick
—all these categories are dissolving, hold to those things which will not pass away.
When it comes to relationship status—where is Spirit?
When it comes to Emotional outlook—where is Spirit?
When it comes to matters of wealth—where is Spirit?
When it comes to engaging the powers of this world—where is Spirit?
The Kingdom cuts slantwise.

So too Jonah, he has judged that there is an unchangeable distinction—an Antimony—between Jerusalem and Nineveh
—but God throws him into the center of Nineveh and provokes him to poetry
…5 words in the Hebrew
—and everything changes
—the Ninevehites as loved as Jerusalemites
—the distinction is not Jerusalem/Nineveh, but Those-who-repent/Those-who-do-not. The Kingdom cuts slantwise.

As for those fishermen, they assume you can be a disciple of a famous rabbi or a fishermen—Disciple/Fisherman are the categories—the Antimonies, unbeknownst to themselves, that they secretly hold
—but God’s Kingdom comes near in Jesus Christ
the Kingdom cuts Slantwise
and they find themselves refashioned into Fishers-of-Men, of people.

         The Kingdom cuts Slantwise—but it is a long cut—a continuous one…
I think the Apostle Paul, 1,960 years ago—assumed the Kingdom would be revealed soon
         In fact, that urgency we find in his poetry—the urgent idea that the Christian communities he started were the early adaptors—they were living together Spirit-wise and soon enough all those divisions they were reforming,
all those categories they were looking at anew
—would themselves transform
—that the Old Age would pass away and the New Age would be here

… Perhaps Paul didn’t account for the fact that Old Age / New Age itself is an Antimony
… Suppose Christ is tricky like that!

         At any rate—I’d Imagine he wouldn’t have dreamed we’d still be struggling to discern how the Kingdom cuts, nearly 2000 years later.
         For that matter, I’d imagine he’d never have dreamed of the antimonies running around in our culture and worldview,
colonizing our hearts and souls.
         But here we are, wetting our fingers with baptismal water and the word—community and communion,
that we might lift it up and discern the Spirit, take the rough categories we have constructed ourselves or had bequeathed to us, and cut them slantwise.

         Like the Disciples—those Fishermen come, Fishers of Men, we too can question assumptions about our own limitations
—maybe the categories new mother and menopause can melt, and be transformed into foster-parent.
Maybe we’ve created the antimonies Out of Work / Useful never the two may meet
—and the Spirit springs forth something new and life giving—volunteer, veterans advocate, and voter registration captain. The Kingdom cuts Slantwise

         Or like Jonah, there are barriers between people, Jerusalem / Nineveh—and we’re called, as repairers of the breach, to discern differently!
The Apostle Paul would never have imagined, for example, the color of a person’s skin would directly correlates to life expectancy like it does today in our country—here in the US there is a 4 year gap between black and white Americans—14 years if the antimony College Graduate / Not College Graduate is added into the mix—
These are Antimonies so disturbing the ancient world, with all its horrors, would have been bowled over by.
That’s just an example of an antimony in our world—I’m sure each of you can think of a few more—just open a newspaper or go on google
—how can we as followers of Jesus—fishers of people
—interpret division differently?
         For Jonah it wasn’t about city, but repentance
—how might we re-imagine our divisions,
cut through our culture’s assumptions?
Tell a better story,
write a better poem,
and live life like its true,
so that it might be!
The Kingdom cuts Slantwise

          With all appropriate apologies to Emily Dickenson…
The Kingdom cuts Slantwise
The Kingdom cuts Slantwise
So stay awake, keep your candles alight.
Divisions are serious, who lives / who dies!
Gotta ask where would the Spirit spilt it?
Ask are A’s actually different than B’s,
Face that head on! You won’t faint.
Look again, at this world’s Antimonies,

And tell all the truth but tell it slant.