Based on 1John 1:1-2:2, John 20:19-31, Psalm 133
The 100 years that encompassed 1680 to 1780 – or so, was quite probably one of the most fertile centuries on record for human kind’s development. It saw all sorts of tremendous minds (Jefferson, Franklin, Voltaire, Hume, Paine, etc) born into an environment that included the “Age of Reason” or “Age of Enlightenment” and the Industrial Revolution. From the earliest moment, 1701 to be exact, when Jethro Tull (not just a 1970’s rock band) invented the seed drill, through the end of that century when the first smallpox vaccine was invented – the Earth was practically seething with the energy of discovery and new found opportunity. Wars for independence and equity abounded, however, those not at war use money and human capital to fund the burgeoning fields of industrialization and exploration. The century would see two major revolutions, one in the birthing of the United States of America and the other in France. Education became easier to obtain and more people became literate. Britain passed laws to protect the poor and to give them a hand up to find jobs in this new economy.
The intelligentsia accomplish the founding of science academies in Europe and Britain. The rapid developments in science and philosophy drive the thoughts and aspirations of leaders across the world. The pursuit of happiness or satisfaction became the result of the focus on reason and intellect (not surprising that this ended up as one of the three “unalienable rights” of the Declaration of Independence along with Life and Liberty). The Earth and other celestial bodies rotated around the Sun, and humans became the center of things. Mind and body were separated and God was relegated to a realm where God couldn’t be scientifically proven, but was of use to make sure that humans acted reasonably and morally. The scientific method, reason and the rise of the individual all made this modern world a difficult place to conduct religion. Yet, somehow, God held on and the majority of people continued to attend church – as it continued to differentiate into new Protestant doctrines. Pandora’s box had indeed been opened, and the developments just kept coming on all fronts.
From Enlightenment to modernity to the “post-modern” world after World War II we grew. The “Baby Boom” and space exploration, feminism and a more tolerant and open view of relationships led inexorably to the further dualism of mind and body and the growth of individualism. One of the fatalities in this development in the post-modern world and concordant attitudes we find ourselves in, truth became relative – there are no absolute tuths. My truth may not be your truth, and nothing can be proven by any scientific discipline – further there are no unifying narratives at all. God is dead goes the cry – but what is to replace God…humans?! There’s even a book I’m getting back into now that Lent is over entitled, “Homo Deus” (Man god). Seems we’ve been here before in human history and it didn’t work out well. Enlightenment, the rise of reason and rationality, the human as god hell-bent on destroying the only world that we know we can live on…are we walking in light or in darkness?
Into this mix comes our scriptures for today – the first Sunday in Eastertide. We still have the perfume of the lilies in our midst and I can still feel the bustle of the crowd that comes out for the high holy days. Last week families and close friends got together and shared time and love – deepened bonds, made memories. We responded like the writer of Psalm 133, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!…For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore….” We do not sit at home as individuals on such days as Easter and Christmas – NO, we come together as much as we can as kindred. Who knows more about gathering with kindred than you all here in Madison County, Virginia; a place founded and sustained by generations of your people in unity.
A direct confrontation to post-modernity’s issue of relative truth comes from the letter entitled “1 John”. It goes farther to tell the early members of “the Way” that there is truth – real and honest and verifiable truth to the resurrection; to the eternal life that was revealed to them. The death of Jesus made us kindred with Him and with His life eternal. The writer of 1 John goes on to speak directly to the post-modern worldview that surrounds us today in verse 8 when confronting the human reality of sin. Read with me from 1:8 through 2:2… It is interesting, this bit of a letter written some 2000 years ago, isn’t it?! It makes mention of the fact that if we deceive ourselves about our sin and our lack of need for a Savior, then the “truth is not in us”. However, in verse 7 it tells us, “…but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin….”
The culmination of our scriptural refute of the Enlightenment and of post-modern attitudes comes from our dear friend the Apostle Thomas. Easter evening, the resurrected Jesus comes calling without an invitation according to the Gospel of John in the 20th Chapter. Jesus gives them His peace and then breathes the Holy Spirit onto them giving them the power to retain or renounce sins. Thomas was elsewhere that evening and skeptically refused to believe what the others told him was true. I have often wondered if me in my scientific and health professional mind would not have wanted the same kind of verification. Was this some clever trick or had my Lord and Savior, teacher and friend, really come back from the land of the dead?
We read that it took seven days for Jesus to pop back in on the Disciples. Thomas was among them then and did as he was invited to do by Jesus. Jesus speaks to all those generations who would follow these first believers when He says, “…Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe….” Blessed are those who convince themselves that the elevation to god-like status of rationality, reason and post-modern thought is sinful and divisive, and who see through it to the timeless truth of Jesus – those are the ones who will be truly blessed.
Chaos and the elevation of human kind to god-like status are old tricks played by the Master trickster. He lost last week when Jesus was resurrected and death and sin were defeated. He loses in all times when people of faith rouse themselves from their lethargy and laziness and come back to unity in Jesus with their fellow kindred souls. When humans lose their humility, bad things happen. When we lose the light of Christ in our lives and in our world, then all becomes dark. The light has never gone out, however. If it didn’t go out on Golgotha then it will never go out. There is no darkness of thought or practice that can overcome the very light of God. When we live in and into that light then we find forgiveness and unity and everlasting life.
True enlightenment then has nothing to do with our forebears from the 17th and 18th centuries. True enlightenment comes from where it has always resided – from God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. It is time to live as those lit up by the light of Christ, walking with Him as kindred souls into the resurrection. Everything else, no matter how enticing is a lie. Come and follow his commandments to love God with all that you have and all that you are – and live in unity with neighbors as kin. This is what it means to have Christ light your way. This is the continuing message of Easter. Amen and amen!