Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Button, Button, Who's Got the Truth?

The truth is so subtle that it goes unnoticed. If it is stated bluntly, it is misunderstood. If it is stated subtly, it is ignored. That is why Jesus warned his disciples not to tell people that he was the Christ. People would not understand. When Jesus healed people, he instructed them not to talk about it. People would only see the healing.

That is why gospel preaching is so difficult. If you tell people about Jesus, they immediately think you are talking about religion. The message is scorned and ridiculed. They only hear a religious sales pitch.

The Jesus I know cannot be sold. He is freely present. In fact, he is so obviously present that one has to be deaf and blind not to notice him. Sometimes I feel like the boy in the film "The Sixth Sense" who sees ghosts all around where others see nothing. Except I don't see spirits, I see Spirit. God is all around, but people do not seem to be aware of his presence.

How does one describe the invisible? How does one communicate that which cannot be put into words? Jesus tried to communicate truth by saying, "The kingdom of God is at hand!" John the Baptist said the same thing. If I preached as they did, I would be written off as a religious kook. So I am reduced to pointing obliquely, and prodding people when they come near to the kingdom. "You're hot ... hotter."

As a child my family played the rainy day game "Button, Button, Who's got the Button?" (It is from a simpler time when kids interacted directly with each other without electronic mediators.) A person tries to find an object (a button or coin) hidden in the room. When he is getting close, you say, "warm," or "hot," or "hotter." When she is moving away, you say, "cool," "cold," "colder," etc. The spiritual search is the same game. The best one can do is nudge people toward truth.

Truth is one and imageless. How can words contain it? Can a word contain God? The word "God" immediately conjures up images, pictures and ideas in people's minds; God is not these. Jesus is truth, but the name "Jesus" elicits memories of tacky paintings of a haloed saint. Jesus is not that. Even the word "Spirit" has been hijacked to refer to New Age energy fields and fuzzy feelings. God is not this.

So I have a message that cannot be preached, a God who cannot be understood, and a Lord who is rejected as soon as his name is mentioned! What is a preacher to do? There is nothing I can do. God does it all. I simply move with his nudging. The Spirit says "hot" and I move a little more in that direction. He says, "cold" and I back off.

All a preacher can do is play the game, and refrain from shouting, "It is not a game! It is the most serious, important matter in the world!" But then people would only chuckle and wag their heads at the crazy man who thinks he sees things that aren't really there.
Image is a 10th century Byzantine gold coin depicting Christ.

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