When I was in seminary at Knox College, I did a history course one time called Modernism and Fundamentalism.
It was about movements in Christianity, in particular in the early part of the twentieth century when there was a big Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy.
My major essay for the course was about Harry Emerson Fosdick a noted Baptist Preacher who preached at a Presbyterian Church and at the height of the controversy preached a sermon: “Shall the Fundamentalists win?”
Of course, I liked Harry Emerson Fosdick, not just because of his great first name, but because of his great preaching and preaching style. His preaching style was to elicit a problem in the world and talk about how the world handled it and then how the gospel applied to it. I also liked him because he didn’t believe that everyone had to be exactly the same. It was not that he didn’t believe any of the so-called fundamentals, but that Christianity was all who believed in Christ, and if you didn’t happen to believe in one of the fundamentals it didn’t make you not a Christian.
Modernism was a movement in late 19th century and early twentieth century that specifically focused on reason and science, and had an optimistic view of human progress. It was a progressive trend that affirmed the power of human beings to create, improve and reshape their environment with the aid of science and technology.
The movement was critical of European culture for being too corrupt and too complacent and so it criticized systems of beliefs and moralities and philosophies. In part, the movement was critical of tradition and authority because everything was changing so fast. Science and technology were exploding, and consequently so were new ideas and theories.
Why be weighed down with tradition and authority.
Modernism had a profound effect upon the church. While Modernism often repudiated the tradition and authority of the church, reason and science became the trends within some of the great biblical scholars, and a ton of work was done on biblical scholarship, understanding the bible in new depths, and how the bible was put together, often from a very scientific and rational perspective.
When I went to Knox College we were instructed in the historical-critical method and learned higher and lower criticism.
We learned things like text criticism, source criticism, form criticism, literary criticism, historical criticism and redaction criticism. We learned of the Graf-Wellhausen theory or the JEDP theory, which postulates that the first 6 books of the bible were written over hundreds, indeed thousands of years, and there four major edits or rewrites of the Hexateuch. We learned of first, second and third Isaiah, of the synoptic problem, of sitz im lebem, and of demythologizing the bible.
Rudolph Bultmann, a legend in biblical criticism, said that the world of the New Testament was alien to modern people. Its understanding of the world was pre-scientific and we have to get rid of the myths of the time, like demons, and angels, and miracles, and the cosmic framework of heaven, earth and hell, which was the standard thinking of people at the time.
You get rid of the myths to get at the essential truth of the gospel to make the truth accessible to modern people.
And while Bultmann was at the far side of the spectrum, on the other side of the spectrum were those who said every literal word in the bible was literally true, and if you didn’t believe that, and other fundamental truths like the Virgin birth, and the physical resurrection and the substitutionary atonement theory, and physical return of Jesus, then you were not a Christian at all. That was Fundamentalism.
Fundamentalism itself, argued that whatever the bible said was truer than any science or any human knowledge.
And by the way the Presbyterian Church in Canada does not hold to a fundamentalist position. It treats the bible as authoritative, but does not hold to the bible as being equal with God, or Christ, or the Holy Spirit.
Much of the biblical scholarship at Knox College that I encountered had its roots in Modernism. And I am not ungrateful for that.
But we have passed through modernism, some philosophers argue, and we are in post-modernism, which is skeptical of the narratives and ideologies of modernism and sees everything in more relativistic terms and questions what is real.
I am not a philosopher, and yet I have grown up in this post-modern age which some say started in the 1960’s. So needless to say, I am pretty sure that Post-Modernity has influenced me and most of you, whether we want it to or not.
But I am not opposed to the idea that philosophies and understandings should change. And I am aware that all of us take parts of our culture and current philosophies whether we mean to or not.
All ministers and biblical scholars to a greater or lesser extent demythologize the bible. They take out the literal parts of the bible that don’t add up to them scientifically, culturally, morally or for other reasons. You have heard me talk lots about metaphorical understandings of scripture instead of literal ones.
For instance, the very few scriptures that put same-sex relationships in a bad light, I kind of demythologize and say that they didn’t have a very good understanding of same-sex relationships thousands of years ago. And then I focus on the love and inclusion of Christ.
But even very conservative ministers or scholars, who feel or think or believe that the bible is against same-sex relationships, demythologize, or take out the part where gays should be stoned.
But today, I want to be a little Postmodern. I don’t want to demythologize the bible, I would like in some ways to remythologize it. I want to put back into the bible the myth, the mystery, the story, the narrative and say it has tons of meaning, and not just one meaning.
I want us to not necessarily to be Post-moderns, but to acknowledge that we cannot boil down the bible to one or two simple self-evident truths, or to a system of doctrines or beliefs.
So, let’s have some Post-Modern fun before we get to our scripture and look at the farewell discourse of Jesus found in chapters 13-17 of John’s gospel, through the lens of a story, a myth… a film released in 1999 called the Matrix.
The hero is a man called Neo, who thinks he is Thomas Anderson, a mediocre employee of a growing technology firm.
In reality, Neo is just one of millions of humans lying in a pods of quasi-uterine liquid, attached to hoses and providing energy to Artificial Intelligence Machines who run the world.
And in order to keep the humans happy and pacified the AI run computer programs in their brains, so that the humans think that they are ordinary people with families and jobs and living ordinary lies.
But it is all just a computer-generated dream: The Matrix.
And there are real humans who live outside the Matrix, but they are able to enter the Matrix and talk to other humans and try to free them from the Matrix.
One such free person is Morpheus. He and his crew are able to talk to Neo in the Matrix and get him to question what is real. When the AI realize that something is wrong with Neo, they try to flush him out of the system; and Morpheus and his crew intercept Neo, as he is being flushed out a pipeline, and they bring Neo out of the water and the goo, and into the real world.
A world not of false dreams of success and happiness but the real world where AI runs the world. Now Neo begins his mission of freeing humans from the Matrix and showing them the truth.
And the first thing that Morpheus says to Neo is this: “Welcome to the real world.”
We are Neo. You and I are Neo and we live in an unreal world. We live in a Matrix. We live in a dream world where Powerful forces, False Gods and Artificial Intelligences run the world.
John the gospel writer calls the Matrix in which we live: The World.
And Jesus meets us in our Matrix, in The World and tells us that it is not the real world, and then when we start to question what is real, we end up being flushed out into the real world through the waters of baptism.
It is like an Ark that comes and saves us from the flood of lies and unreality.
And we open our eyes to Jesus who instead of saying “Welcome to the real world”…
…says to God: Sanctify them in truth.
In other words: Set them apart for truth. Separate them from the false world and bring them into the real world of truth. Cleanse them from the false world, the unreal world, and purify them with the truth.
And what is that truth? It is non other than Jesus.
The truth is not a doctrine, or a belief or a saying. The truth is a person.
And everything that we have been talking about and reading about in the farewell discourse of Jesus found in chapters 13-17 in John’s gospel, is what Jesus is all about; and is the truth that will separate us from the unreal and show us the real.
Welcome to the real world of Jesus who is the truth.
Jesus put a towel around his waist and washed the feet of his disciples as a way to show them that serving others was real life.
Jesus gave the disciples a new commandment, to love one another, as the way to live a real life.
Jesus told them where he was going, that he was going to live in them, and they were going to live in him. They were going to have real life in them and live in real life.
Jesus told him that he was the way to real life, that he was the truth about real life, that he was real life itself.
Jesus told them that that he was going to put the Spirit of real life in them and that Spirit would lead them into the truth of real life.
Jesus said real life is about love and service and treating people like your friends.
Jesus said that real life, abundant life, is also called eternal life. Eternal life is not about how long you live. Jesus said that eternal life is to know God and to know Jesus. Real life is knowing God because God is ultimate reality.
In Jesus, the true, the genuine, the ultimate reality is present. In Jesus, God is present and alive and revealed, and available to you and me.
In Jesus, we see that God is love and mercy and kindness and compassion and forgiveness and mercy and healing and loving energy and God is not withheld from us.
It blows our minds to wake up to the truth.
In contrast, the Matrix, the world controlled by Lies and Artificial Intelligences and False Gods, which John the Gospel Writer calls “The World” is all that hates unconditional love.
That world is the world of prejudice, of hate, of violence, of war, of slavery, of manipulation, of racism, of misogyny, of ethnic cleansing, of inequities and injustice. It is a world where the powerful few dominate and control, and let millions starve, or languish without health care, education, or clean water.
It is a dog-eat-dog world, of competition and winners and losers. To the victors go the spoils. And to the losers: It sucks to be you.
We all know that world. And Jesus, the way, the truth, the life brings us out of that Matrix, and into a world of love and inclusion, where everyone is a brother, or a sister or family, where sharing and cooperation are as natural as breathing in and out.
It is a world of outrageous grace, unconditional love, and radical inclusion. A world not of us and them, but of one human family.
It is what we came from, what we were born for, and our ultimate destination. It is love. It is Jesus. It is God himself.
Listen to some words penned by Marianne Williamson. I have used them before, but I never tire of them.
They begin her book: “A return to love.”
When we were born, we were programmed perfectly. We had a natural tendency to focus on love. Our imaginations were creative and flourishing, and we knew how to use them. We were connected to a world much richer than the one we connect to now, a world full of enchantment and a sense of the miraculous.
So, what happened?
Why is it that we reached a certain age, looked around, and the enchantment was gone?
Because we were taught to focus elsewhere. We were taught to think unnaturally. We were taught a very bad philosophy, a way of looking at the world that contradicts who we are.
We were taught to think thoughts like competition, struggle, sickness, finite resources, limitation, guilt, bad, death, scarcity, and loss. We began to think these things, and so we began to know them. We were taught that things like grades, being good enough, money, and doing things the right way, are more important than love.
We were taught that we're separate from other people, that we have to compete to get ahead, that we're not quite good enough the way we are. We were taught to see the world the way that others had come to see it. It's as though, as soon as we got here, we were given a sleeping pill.
Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here. The spiritual journey is the relinquishment, or unlearning, of fear and the acceptance of love back into our hearts. Love is the essential existential fact. It is our ultimate reality and our purpose on earth. To be consciously aware of it, to experience love in ourselves and others, is the meaning of life. (End quote)
It as if we got here and were given a sleeping pill and put in a Matrix.
Today is Ascension Sunday, the day we celebrate and think about Jesus leaving and going to be with God. Traditionally we have thought that it is about Jesus literally going up into heaven to be with God. Hence the word Ascension.
But we have talked about it before. Where is Jesus going? Yes, Jesus is going to God, but God is in us. Jesus is going to ascend not geographically, but metaphorically into new heights, and that is into us. We are the body of Christ.
So, Ascension Day is not just about Jesus ascending into glory, it is about Jesus making a home in us, and we ourselves, ascending from our false world, to the true world of living in Jesus.
We believe it is Jesus who has the power to resurrect us out of the Matrix, to be born again to real life: A life of love.
Jesus is the way to love, the truth about love, and his life is love.
Jesus is the way to real life, the truth about real life and is himself real life.
And we live a real life, a true life, eternal life, when we live in him and he lives in us.
Welcome to the real world. The world of Jesus. Amen.