The opening of the Fourth Gospel is sometimes called the “Logos Hymn.” It’s widely believed to actually have been a hymn, and it’s beautiful, if not the clearest part of the Bible. No, really; W.R. Inge called these verses “the charter of Christian Mysticism,” but Archbishop William Temple absolutely denied that they had anything whatsoever to do with mysticism. So work that one out.
The Gospel Reading for tonight is the core of that hymn. At my request, we cut out the introduction of John the Baptist, which is thought not to be part of the original hymn. And we stopped a little earlier than is usual.
That’s because the portions I had the privilege of reading just now are, to me, especially rich, especially on a night like tonight, when we commemorate the graduation of the EfM Class of 2015. Because these verses have something to say about why they have spent four years studying The Hebrew Bible, The Christian Scriptures, Church History, and—right, whatever year 4 is. It’s rich, but it’s a little loosely wrapped.
Which is not a bad way to describe the Episcopalian approach to belief. Rich, but not too tightly wrapped.
John’s Gospel opens with this hymn, and its promise: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”
That’s what we’re doing here, right? Taking some steps as pilgrims walking what the original Christians called the Way. Believing in His Name, and, we trust, becoming children of God.
But what does that mean?
In this room—trust me, I know—there’s a wide variety of styles of belief from the sort of traditionalist (that’s me, actually), to those who lovingly embrace the Spirit while holding creeds and belief structure very loosely. We’re kind of like the Chicago 7, the radicals tried for conspiring to disrupt the 1968 Democratic Convention. One of the Seven, Abbie Hoffman, when he heard the indictment read, laughed. “Conspire, hell,” he said, “we couldn’t even agree on lunch.”
But that’s Anglicanism for you. When John A.T. Robinson wrote the once controversial Honest to God in 1963, newspapers hoping for a good God-fight asked that champion of traditionalist orthodoxy, C.S Lewis, what he thought about it. His answer surprised them:
The bishop …will disturb most of us Christian laymen less than he anticipates. We have long ago abandoned belief in a God who sits on a throne in a localized heaven. . . .We have always thought of God as being not only "in" and "above" but also "below" us....His view of Jesus as a window seems wholly orthodox . . . .Thus, though sometimes puzzled, I am not shocked by his article. His heart . . . is in the right place.So, no fight between Lewis and Bishop Robinson. And likewise here in EFM. We’re all pilgrims in this room. We each know that it isn’t important exactly what words we use to interpret our common experience of being drawn to the love of God as expressed in the life and sayings of Jesus of Nazareth. It’s the experience itself that matters. Of course we can’t all frame it the same way. We don’t experience it the same way.
That’s what I think Inge was getting at when he called this passage the “charter of Christian mysticism.” For Inge, mysticism was about direct, personal experience, the “raw material of all religion, . . . that dim consciousness of the beyond, which is part of our nature as human beings.”
That consciousness of the beyond is a consciousness that the beyond is a realm of love.
And that helps us to understand the power to become children of God. It’s a slow, gradual thing, the reforming of ourselves in our common travels, as we each help our companions on the Way, and are helped by them in growing into our truest best selves.
So here’s something I learned from many gathered in this room. That power really is given to us by God, but not in some magic, Hollywood superhero way. It’s manifested slowly, over time, in experience and relationship. The experience of those moments when we feel the presence of that loving Other that we call God. The acceptance that we are called back, time and again, to be in relationship with that Other, and with our sisters and brothers, our fellow wayfarers, as we all grow into our inheritance as children of God.
In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.