These originally appeared as four messages for Tenth and Locust in 2000.
This story depends on finding someone who would actually want to cook a live frog. The old story goes that you wouldn’t want to try to cook a frog by throwing the poor thing into a pot of boiling water. It would jump right out — as would you, if someone threw you naked into a pot and tried to boil you. You cook a frog by letting it enjoy itself in a pan of warm frog-seducing water and then you turn the flame on simmer. Slowly the water gets hotter, and hotter, but the change is so gradual that the poor cold-blooded frog doesn’t know that he’s about cooked until he is too rubber-legged to jump.
Some people say that Americans are about cooked and they hardly know what happened to them. When the country got started there was sort of a social contract between the irreligious people who wrote the bulk of the constitution and the religious people who also had a stake in founding the country. They had sort of a common understanding that the US was going to be a showplace that had the bright future of the world in mind. The politicians were bent on having a government based on reason. The religious people were bent on having a country based on righteousness. Reason and righteousness made up our social contract, and both were supposed to lead to something great.
Perhaps you have been in the pot so long, you haven’t noticed this, but the founding social contract of our country is feeling rather old school to many people. Both reason and righteousness just don’t get people going like they used to. For instance, when it comes to reason, I hear that math just isn’t what it used to be. Instead of being rock-solid reasonable and sure, math feels spongy. Einstein took mathematical formulas and showed how things we thought were solid were really sort of bent and fluid. Math has gone beyond the limits of formula and proof. People aren’t so sure that reason results in secure conclusions like they used to be.
And like we often say around here, righteousness is in the same boat. It just doesn’t get people going like it got Cotton Mather and the Puritans going. The only thing people think is righteous today is to say that no one has the corner on righteousness. Everyone has their own righteousness; it has to be right for me. People seem to feel that they have outgrown the ways that most people used to agree were right.
The biotic math of Jesus
Personally, I never thought math had that much going for it. And once I got old enough to wonder why people would feel nothing about blowing up thousands of people but would have a conniption over someone taking a drink of beer, I had some problems with conventional righteousness. That is not to encourage everyone who gets drunk around here — it is just to say that reason and righteousness, as relied upon in our country, always seemed a little suspect. I’m talking about reason that thinks it can know everything if it just thinks long enough. And I’m talking about righteousness that thinks it can be perfect if it just tries hard enough. I can do without the excesses, to which Americans took these things. Now that everyone else seems to be going away from them, I’m relatively happy. It is a good time to return to biotic thinking.
People are legitimately skeptical that the man-made reasons and the man-dominated righteousness of the past can cut it. Biotic thinking is a return to realizing that there is power in the universe that creates life. Real life happens all by itself, it is not the result of our reasons and rules. And they want to get in touch with it.
The four entries on this page are about that new kind of math. I aim to convince you that we are rediscovering the oldest reason and righteousness of all, the same revelation that came with Jesus. The math of Jesus has always been biotic: like biology, not mere technology, like people, not robots, like a baby breathing air, not like a car getting a spark that turns over an engine.
One transformation formula from the math book of Jesus: Addition
Let’s talk about addition first. The math of Jesus does addition in people terms not in thing terms. We object to being numbers for good reason; we feel bad for every prisoner who becomes a number rather than a person; we especially object when we see numbers tattooed on a holocaust survivor’s skin. People know that is not natural, it is not biotic.
Jesus brings transformative math from beyond the boundaries of what was previously thought of as reasonable and righteous. He knows farther than Einstein, Hawking or Jonathan Edwards. Rather than 1+1=2, and that’s all that matters/that’s all that works/that’s the bottom line, 1 + Jesus equals wholeness. 2 or 3 gathered in his name equals a locus of spiritual reality. 2+time=eternity.
These transformation formulas from the math book of Jesus are all in the Bible. For instance, the addition one can be found in Acts 2 — Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Briefly look at how this works and maybe some of you will tell us how the formula happened in your own experience. These lines are about early Christians, about whom the book called The Acts of the Apostles is written. They didn’t know anything about church institutions, or systems of theology, or movie images of Christians, or anything else that fills our brain and fences us in. All they had to rebel against was the religions they grew up with that didn’t have Jesus, incarnate, speaking the truth, dying for sins and rising from the dead.
These lines say they met together in homes and in a public place. They shared their food and their hearts. They worshiped God and related to their neighbors. And as a result the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
That is a few lines from the biotic math book. You can see that a transformation formula is being exercised. To put it simply, here it is: Be together in love, in places, in worship, in sharing and your number will grow. The creator will add to you. This is the math of sex. One plus one in love and commitment could equal 20. This is the math of farming. One corn seed could equal five ears with hundreds of seeds.
Is anyone willing to go with this and tell us how the formula produced you as a follower of Jesus? How did you get added? A few of you could tell us a brief story in the comments.
How to be a good adder
People these days are a little worn out with Christians who are not biotic in their math. There has been an awful lot of worry about how bigchurches are, if they are getting enough people to come to the meetings. For a lot of people in church, size matters, and a lot of pastors have been very concerned about how big their church is. A big church means Jesus must be better than what you’ve got, right? The methods to get bigger have been the best that technocratic thinking has to offer — full of badgering people with reason and guilting them with righteousness with every technology known to humans. All these facts get lined up and you are supposed to bow the knee to them. For a while that worked well, and in a lot of places it still does. Among most of our friends, it is painfully unworkable and few of us don’t even want to think about going there.
I would rather be biotic. I would rather go with Jesus’ transformation formulas. I still think any healthy organism, like our church, is going to grow, unless it is ready to die. I don’t think the early Christians are old-fashioned; I think they were very fresh and basic. I want to go with them: Be together in love, in places, in worship, in sharing and your number will grow. The creator will add to you. I believe Jesus intends for everyone to have the opportunity to get into relationship with God again. So of course I want our church to grow with people who are doing that. But I hope we can keep figuring out how to be biotic about it.
Here are a few examples of how we are trying to be biotic:
- Tomorrow night we are getting together some people who feel they are gifted, or who are at least interested in talking about how we can open ourselves to who God wants to add these days. I’ve been calling it a meeting for missionaries. We aren’t going to consult a lot of experts on evangelism, we are going to listen to people who are gifted and see what the Holy Spirit might tell us to do.
- I suppose you notice that, like in the Bible, we meet in homes and publicly, too. Simple. We are building on love. I believe that when we focus ourselves on having healthy relationships in Jesus, when we are a healthy body, we grow. There is no authentic alternative. We either love people, have integrity, know God, or we don’t. If our cells are really the body in microcosm, we keep growing, as we have, because God will cause the growth.
- We try not to define Circle of Hope according to how many people follow the ways of our church and how many follow the schedules of our meetings and how many don’t. We are a people, not a meeting. We are more concerned with who is connected to Jesus and us and who is yet to be. In my cell and in this meeting, we pay attention to who shows up and who doesn’t because we care, and we know it is hard to have a relationship if you never are together, and you can’t cross boundaries and love people who aren’t like you if you never get together. But people who have never been to a meeting are still connected to this body. People who can never make it to one of my cell’s meetings are still part of us. It is person to person and heart to heart, not meeting to person, that matters. We are a love network, or we are nothing. The meeting is an expression of our love, not where we manufacture it.
Can you add like Jesus? In a way, yes, but in a way no. Rather than doing it right, I think it is more just going with what God does. People are added to the body by Jesus in all the varied and mysterious ways he gets his work done, mainly using the members of his body. Being real, seeing your life as growing from the Spirit of God, giving yourself to the love that runs the universe, that kind of life of faith will make you an adder like Jesus. I hope you consider how you can go with that.
For a lot of people, Jesus isn’t a person you just take to instantly. For some people he is. But for a lot of people, they wouldn’t feel comfortable hanging out with him at the bar. He’s got a big personality, you might say — comes on pretty strong, sort of invades your space, aggressive, wears his feelings on his sleeve, says whatever he thinks. He’s sort of one of those people you either love or you hate, like Richard Pryor or Franklin Roosevelt. I’m sure before I’m done talking about him you’ll be deciding where you line up.
This situation in Luke 11 we are exploring is a good example of how people who don’t love Jesus right off relate to him. And the whole scene leads to a valuable math lesson. I’m still talking about biotic math. As far as Jesus is concerned, the math of numbers and things and rational control over one’s world is passe. He’s re-introducing deeper formulas for how life works.
Let me read a few verses sort of slow right now and see if you can get a feel for what the people in the account must be experiencing and feeling. (Read Luke 11:14-23)
Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. But some of them said, “By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.
I asked my cell the other night whether they had ever experienced a demon being driven out. None of them said they had personally. But several of us had some amazing stories about how it happened in others. You wouldn’t think it to look at us, but we knew all about demons. It is sort of a secret. Eric made a good point that the devil may prefer that he is a secret. He would like it if no one believed in spirits. Then all his work would go undetected, or at least he wouldn’t get the blame. Farrell often reminds us that there are many places, like his home country, where people are quite aware of the spiritual battles that are always going on. In those places an open show of force is often a better strategy for domination.
So trapped inside their closed minds they can’t get out.
In Luke 11, we see that Jesus is operating in a place where people are spiritually aware. The demons make a show of force to frighten and confuse people into submission and into preoccupation with them. In that context Jesus reveals himself to be more powerful than the forces of evil. An evil spirit had kept a man in silence and Jesus threw out the dominating force and the man amazed the crowd by speaking out loud again.
Most of the crowd was in awe. The man who had been without speech spoke and then they were speechless with amazement. I think I would have been, too.
But does it surprise you that some people had a completely different reaction? A couple of people got all defensive, for some reason. It is like they were the Batmobile being tampered with and their automatic armor was activated. They got all armored up against this revelation of God that was being presented right before their eyes. I think their rational minds were offended by this spiritual event. They were so rational they thought what was happening was unnatural. They were so trapped inside their righteously closed minds that they couldn’t get out.
I think the arguments are sort of funny in an appalling sort of way. But some of them said, “By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” — “I don’t believe Jesus is the Son of God, so therefore what he is doing must be from the devil.”
Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven. – “That could have been a magic trick, show me something I can really believe in.” Or, being scientific – “You’ve only passed one test, let’s have another miracle, just to make sure.”
We got a religious person, a skeptical person struggling to get next to Jesus and finding it rather hard. Sound familiar?
So Jesus starts the math lesson. First a very simple subtraction lesson.
“Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebub.”
Jesus is saying: Satan minus Satan would equal no Satan. And Satan can’t stand to think of himself as a zero. So I must not be Satan, because I’m driving Satan out. He’s stupid, but he is not that stupid. He goes on.
“Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.”
If my finger is the finger of God. Then the kingdom of God is coming upon you. Armor up all you want, it is inevitable. It is so real it can’t be stopped.
This is biotic math. It is amoeba addition. It comes upon you and engulfs you. If you were a little paramecium and the amoeba of God came upon you, it would begin to send out a part of itself to surround you. Amoebas actually develop temporary feet that pad around their lunches, and soon one finds oneself engulfed. That’s the way an amoeba adds. And I think that is how the kingdom of God, grows, too, quite naturally. The only way to stay subtracted from the kingdom of God is to have a thick enough armor so the amoeba passes right by, or to develop a quick enough set of fins so you can swim away. Blasphemy is thick armor. Skepticism is a quick set of fins.
Jesus goes on with an illustration. “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils.
In the case at hand, this demon, this Satan ally, was armed against God. He was squatting in a temple (a beloved human) designed for God’s Spirit. Jesus reached in with the same creative force that made the world and freed the man to the amazement of almost everyone.
But some people said that what came from God didn’t, and some asked for more evidence before they would give their OK for Jesus to act as God. With this illustration, Jesus was saying, “You are as armored against God as this demon. Open your eyes. Look at the man. If that is not enough for you, watch me go down into sin and death and defeat them when I rise in victory, and then flood the world with the freedom and power to overcome what dominates you.”
With demons, Jesus is happy to overpower them and take away their armor. But with people there is a deeper subtraction to engage in. Because we are created to relate to God, and he lets us do it. He hasn’t changed his mind about creating us to love. And you just can’t make someone love you. In the kingdom of God, as far as humans are concerned, addition and subtraction are purely voluntary.
As the account ends, the main transformation formula becomes clear. This is Jesus teaching subtraction. “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.
- You’re either adding yourself or subtracting yourself.
There is no zero, here. No neutrality. You are either with him or against him.
We love ambivalence. We are armored with it. But Jesus is surrounding us. Something has got to give. So many people I talk to simply will not put up with Jesus speaking to them so directly, so either/or, in or out. They are so possessed by thinking that says “all roads lead to God,” that they think Jesus might be from the devil if he says, “In me the kingdom of God has come upon you.”
- What’s more, you are either adding or subtracting others. No neutral lives. You are either gathering as part of the amoeba kingdom, or you are subtracting.
No one is a zero, here. Everyone has a role to play in the growth of God’s kingdom, and we aren’t talking numbers, here, we are talking lives — people who are like that poor mute man, who can’t even open up their mouths and pray or sing praise to God, stuck in silence. Unfortunately, it is a war for those people, and for each other. We are surrounded.
We love independence, here. We love it so much we protect it in others. We protect it so much that we don’t even talk about believing with each other. I walked into the notary down the street and before I left she said, “I hope you are voting for Gore!” I was dumbfounded. Someone actually came right out and tried to influence me! I thought, “Don’t you know that is illegal? Aren’t you afraid you will invade my privacy?” When we don’t even tell people what we know about Jesus, we are subtracting them. I don’t really know how Jesus became so scary, I suppose it is because he wants to be king of the world. But I don’t think we need to be afraid because someone might be scared of our lover. Jesus is as natural, and as inevitable as the sun coming up.
Here’s the transformation formula: If you aren’t adding, you’re subtracting. The kingdom of God is growing inevitably toward eternity, you’re either living with it or you are dying.
Among the many things this amazing election should bring home to us is that our technocratic society doesn’t work very well for real people. Periodically people make a difference, like when the vote spread gets down to just a few thousand. Then it matters that 20,000 people, many of whom are old, could not figure out how to use their voting machine. I don’t know if there is any great solution for how to fix a technocratic society that submits its weak to relating to a machine. We know how dehumanizing and spiritless technocracy is, but we continue to place ourselves under the thumb of machines and even begin to think and act like them.
For instance, I recently heard someone speaking about euthanasia in the Netherlands, where it is legal and relatively common. People who promote the practice of what some would call mercy killing are wondering about what legal euthanasia is doing to people. One thing they wonder is if it is damaging to give the illusion that there is a technological solution to all suffering — take a pill, get a shot and all will be better. And if you don’t get better, it is your obligation to take a pill, get a shot or hook yourself to a machine and take care of the problem. They wonder whether young people, who have grown up with this mentality, are losing the ability to just live a natural life. They certainly seem to be losing the ability to put up with any suffering at all.
Machines are useful, but they aren’t real. Machines are tools that do a lot of good, but they can’t live. Technological thinking can get a lot of work done, but it can’t give life. Sounds obvious, but it isn’t.
Perhaps even Circle of Hope is treading on thin ice when we teach computer illiterate people the computer. Because isn’t it true that you can’t sow a computer and expect it to give birth to more computers? You can’t water a computer, feed it and expect it to grow. It has no power in it that causes life to happen all by itself. Sometimes you have to wonder if we really want to teach people how to adapt themselves to a computer. They might soon be wearing one and responding to its every beep or vibration, enslaved to technology like the rest of us.
I say that so much of what Jesus demonstrates with his life and teaches with his words is all about keeping us safe from being subject to anything that purports to be life, but isn’t. A robot can pretend to be life but isn’t alive. A wax museum looks like life but isn’t. A plastic flower resembles a fragrant rose but can’t grow.
The wrong math book
Jesus keeps calling us to real life, even though we are repeatedly duped into fake. In the scripture for tonight, he does that by demonstrating the most basic biotic formula there is – multiplication. Something alive can multiply. It reproduces itself.
I want to approach the subject as naturally as possible. I think the story of what happened in the life of Jesus on two particular days, sort of says it all. The story has life in itself. If you listen to it, I think you’ll understand how multiplication works. So listen to this famous portion of scripture about the time Jesus fed 5000 men and their families with just a few loaves and fishes. It shows you how life happens and multiplies.
Watch Jesus carefully as I take us through this account. His miracles have attracted a crowd to a hillside outside of town. It is a golden opportunity to show a lot of people the life of God. He has an idea about how he can do that. But before he begins, look at how he draws Philip into the process.
When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat? …Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”
Isn’t Philip’s reply typical of people and sort of typical of most of us? Philip just might have been a good math guy. He actually has an estimate that it would take eight months of typical wages for everyone just to get a bite to eat, if they went out to buy something — a lot of money! “Can’t buy them lunch, Jesus. We don’t have enough stuff.” That is sort of like our technocratic thinking. We look at ourselves, look at our circumstances and estimate the same thing. Can’t do it, my resources are too limited. We call that pragmatic, realistic. Jesus draws Philip into a new way to see how life works.
It says, “Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, ‘Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’”
I think Andrew’s reaction is typical of people and typical of us, too. Here is the evidence, Jesus. This proves we have too limited of resources. That’s like our technocratic thinking. We need evidence. Even if our spirits and feelings tell us differently, we are trained to go with what we see, to go with what can be proven in the court of science.
Philip says, “Theoretically, Jesus, we don’t have the ability to do this.” Andrew says, “Evidently, Jesus, here is the proof we don’t have the resources.” On this day, followers of Jesus couldn’t multiply because they weren’t in the right math book. They were stuck thinking about themselves as the source of life and thinking that what they could see is the only thing there is. So Jesus shows them how life really works.
Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.”… Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.
This is the process of transformation at its finest. Jesus multiplies the bread and fish. Jesus demonstrates the biotic formula for multiplication. Here it is: regular, everyday things, and everyday people, placed in the hands of Jesus, are given a new life and begin to reproduce. Isn’t that true about us? We are like bread: made of something that was growing, that got the life processed out of it. Some of us have gone clear to white bread, mostly air. In the hands of Jesus, something animates us, life is at work in us, and God brings us to reproduce.
When they all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
The life overflowed the limitations. This overflowing of what multiplies in the life-giving hand of God is how we see ourselves growing, and it is how we see our church naturally growing. This is our sense of how we extend the kingdom of God – through multiplication, like a living organism reproduces itself. Life grows in us, it overflows to others, it generates in cells, the cells overflow. The cells form congregations, the congregations overflow and make more, and on it goes. That’s biotic math in action.
I could see that life all over the believers at the wedding yesterday. This person had touched that one, they had formed groups and teams, they were at the heart of churches, and the life Jesus brings was extending itself, naturally. It was great to see how the life of Jesus united all these diverse pieces and did stuff through them.
We are not wasted
In the course of seeing that multiplication here in this story about Jesus, I make much of one line: Jesus says, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” I think the biotic math formula Jesus is practicing, here is: regular, everyday things, and everyday people, placed in the hands of Jesus, are given a new life and begin to reproduce. That’s multiplication. And I think it is significant that he demonstrates it with bread and fish, everyday things. His church is filled with everyday people. Many of us are the pieces that were gathered up to make up a new church. We were not wasted. We were touched and made alive again.
One of the things that pleases me greatly is that addicts, mentally ill people, hurt people, unbelieving people often find a safe place among us. Not everyone does, of course, and there are plenty of terrible things that happen to people among us, too. But just this week a person told me that someone had met him on the street one time when he was strung out and told him he would find God among us. He was skeptical. He thought he would never be a person who could fit into church, because you had to be good to be in church, and he was not good. But he came among you people and found the safe place, found some life, had the sharp edges of his skepticism and pain blunted. No one is wasted. Even the moldiest piece of bread gets a new life, gets whole, gets distributed to fill someone else with life, is used to multiply the life of Jesus in the world.
How does transformation work?
The account goes on, but I think you should ponder all it means that Jesus escaped the people because they wanted to drag him into what they thought was normal and make him a king. He goes off to be alone. And he is so filled up with the Spirit that he ends up walking on the sea of Galilee to catch up with his followers were are rowing against a storm. Profound meaning there. I just want to end up with looking at how these poor people are trying to figure out multiplication with Jesus.
Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him,
“Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
Even after people have had a chance to sleep on what happened the day before, it is back to the same old thing. They just don’t get that the life is in Jesus and they can have it themselves. They are so stuck on the idea of their limited resources that the best they seem to be able to do is go for the resources. Get more loaves. Get full. Then get more. Isn’t that the whole American dream? I was watching a little tour of Tommy Lee’s house (he’s the Rock Star with Motley Crue). He really loves his house. He said at one point, “If you don’t like my house, I don’t really care, because I’m stinking rich.” These people following Jesus around couldn’t get it out of their head that Jesus was stinking rich enough to give food to thousands of people. They had trouble seeing beyond themselves.
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
Same old thing. Show me the facts. Give me the evidence. Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it. Maybe, “I don’t want to have to live, I just want to perform the rules right so I can get this right.”
Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”… “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.
How does transformation really take place? Believing is not an act of our will alone, it is not something done out of our own resources only, assessing the evidence wisely, like we are the center of the universe. Believing is mostly being ourselves before God who presents himself to us in Jesus.
Jesus, who multiplies the bread, works in us and we come to life and live. We have to show up for this, of course. There is something of a choice. Conform to the formulas of logic and supposedly scientific law, the rules of technology, or live according to the touch of Jesus, put yourselves in Jesus hands.
What Jesus calls us to do is align with him. He’s saying, “Throw your lot in with me.” Like in the wedding yesterday: “Voice your intent to have a committed relationship with me.” Believing is not essentially about acquiring something we don’t have, or accepting a concept we just learned, or agreeing with evidence we just saw. He says, “If you want new life, transformation begins with me. Watch what I do to bread and fish. See if you get the idea.”
I wonder where Philip and Andrew were at after these days with Jesus. Were they wooed away from their sense that they are at the center of things, that they needed more evidence to see it the way Jesus does? Or did they open up to their longing for the bread of life? — Life that doesn’t come from us that isn’t justified by us, but just is. Life in which we live and move and have our being.
I leave you with the story, go read it again, be in it. I call you to eat the bread and fish, be it, retreat with Jesus to the mountain and walk with him on water. Be the everyday people who are the church where the life happens and extends to new hearts and places as it grows and reproduces. That’s life.
Here is a scene from America about Judgement Day.
Here is a scene from the Bible about judgement day: Matthew 25:31-46
Some things in the Bible are meant to be taken literally. Some things are metaphors. Obviously, we do not turn into sheep and goats on the last day. And we will have to see just what a throne for Jesus is all about. But we do know that people will be divided up on that day when Jesus returns to end time as we know it.
It is going to happen. It is going to be the most totally unique time we ever experience, the LAST time we experience. People who have been sleeping in death will be there; people who are alive will suddenly be transported there. A lot will be going on that last day. It is a typical illusion we humans tend to share that one day is going to go on just like the last one, according to our experience. But not only is every day different, and progressing towards the end, one day there will not be another day. This section of Matthew 25 paints a picture of that. It has to paint, because only art could get at the meaning, it is so different.
Imagine if all the nations of the world were gathered before you. I can’t imagine something so huge – I was once in a crowd of one million people and it totally overwhelmed me. So imagine it in theory. Say all the nations are gathered before the rulers of the United States. How would they be divided? If you took the Census, you know how we get divided. Race, income, gender, age, language, marital status, job status. And if you look at normality, the rich are on the right and the left has a ton of people.
But in this Bible picture, something much more biotic is being pictured. There are goats on the left and sheep on the right. They are different species. There is something on the inside that has caused them to be a goat or a sheep, and Jesus is recognizing that. He is seeing who they are. He is recognizing what it is they act out of. And he is seeing who belongs, by nature, in his Father’s house. That is what divides us at the last day, it is what kind of beings we are and to whom we are related.
It says: Then the King will say to those on his right, `Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.’
“You are a child of mine, I recognize you. I know you. I know you know me. We share a common father and have a common inheritance.” This is pretty mysterious. If the government were dividing people up, they’d have criteria, like the Nazis measuring people’s noses to prove they were Jews. The apartheid government in South Africa had color charts to prove you were black or colored. Philly’s social services have charts to prove you are needy or not. But Jesus just knows his own. There is something in them he recognizes. There is a way they act and live that makes them distinctive.
It’s relationship. It’s like you can tell if someone loves you. I heard a DH Lawrence short story that began describing a mother who couldn’t love her children. She did all the right things and worked hard to overcome her lack of love. But the children could see it in her eyes. They pretended that she was a good mother, too, but everyone knew the truth. Perhaps Jesus looks in the eyes, the windows of the soul, and knows who belongs to him on that day. Thank God it is Jesus who is looking and we’re not judging one another – we are a lot more ruthless and see very poorly. But he knows.
How does division work?
In this picture, when the sheep are placed on the Lord’s right, it is a surprise to them.
Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?
How did this all happen to us? Apparently these sheep were not following a particular procedure which would gain entrance to the sheep pen. They ended up there and were surprised by the blessing. This is very important, I think. It wasn’t a matter of getting it all right, it was a matter of having a transformed nature, a heart that belonged to God, a life that resonated with his, that came from him and returned.
In the Lord’s biotic math book, the formula for division is not like the world’s. In the kingdom of God, division is not a reduction to smaller parts, like a pair of scissors cutting squares, or this one here and that one there sent by some arbitrary standard. Division in the kingdom of God is the natural result of two things of different character separating. It is not so much staying apart or working hard to differentiate. It is being all mixed and rising apart like oil in water. Perhaps this time is seasoned with oil and vinegar. We are shaken up and poured out, but on the last day, when everyone is gathered together, we rise to the top. The vinegar times meet the oil of the Holy Spirit times.
To get a feel for how division, Jesus style, works, I think we have to live into the answer to the question the inheritors ask him.
“When did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? etc… Jesus answered, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
I think it is good to take this quite literally and go feed and clothe and care for the poor just like they are Jesus in a very distressing disguise. But obviously you couldn’t do it enough to justify your ticket into heaven. Jesus does the choosing and he does the losing.
Two ways to go with the Lord’s biotic math
But I do think you can choose to go with his choosing you and you can lose your old life to accept his loss of life for you. And it basically comes down to two things:
- This biotic division is about seeing. “When did we SEE you?” Being able to see Jesus in the everyday, to see beyond the outside to the inside, to see beyond the circumstances to hope is the heart of our heart. And when Jesus looks you in the eye on the last day, that may be how he sees whether you are his or not. Can this person see with her spirit?
It is worth a LOT of effort to learn how to see, spiritually. Put “Give me discernment” on your prayer list. So many of us are wandering around in ourselves. Lately I’ve run into people who are tired of trying. They went up to the edge of relating to God and didn’t get where they thought they should go. So they retreated back into being a goat. All of you who are locked into your sexual sin, I challenge you to have some discernment. Are you achieving the intimacy you long for? Are you trading God for yourself or, even less, for an orgasm? Others of us are still stuck in really terrible teaching about God and we can’t get out. We come up to the edge of getting out and fall back into patterns that keep us divided and make us divisive. If you who find out your religion by what you don’t like, how can you help but criticize everyone you can’t stand? Are you able to see God in others, or just the lack of him? Is that how you condemn yourself, too?
Do you see how deep and complex seeing can be? It takes time and practice and devotion to the process. Helen Keller couldn’t see and hear, but so many of her writings speak of how she learned to see better than many of us. All next week we will be trying to see something to be thankful for. Do you think if you can’t do that, it makes you a goat? The season of Advent and the Advent retreat is all about learning to see. Can we see God in human form – that is the essence of knowing Jesus. Can we receive the Spirit of Jesus and see as he does? It takes an open heart and a heart rendering time.
I think we can choose to go with his choosing us and we need to lose our old, vinegar life to accept his loss of life for us. And it basically comes down to two things. The other thing is:
- Doing it. Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. Being able to work out your heart, to live out of your heart of faith, hope and love, makes you ripe for the age to come. When Jesus looks over the world to see who are his, it will be easy to spot the ones who know what life is all about, because they are living it. They aren’t trying to get it; they’ve got it. They aren’t trying to do it right so they’ll pass the test, they wouldn’t know what else to do if they didn’t care.
When you are making that list to pray, put “Give me discipline” near the top. Discernment and discipline are characteristic of the oil that rises to the top, their depth is the viscosity of the spiritual life.
The good news is: life happens. God contributes it to our cause. We receive it. Thank him for that on Thanksgiving, no matter what table you are at: “Thank you that in Jesus, you give me an inheritance that lasts forever, that I am forever your child, forgiven, welcomed, lavished with love.” This does not mean that we are voltaic cells soaking up rays of life and generating energy. We are living beings with choices, with dignity, with the ability to love. We will have to be in a relationship to have a life. And relationships take attention, regularity, in short, discipline. Life calls us to life, deep calls to deep, but we have to show up, we have to respond. WE HAVE TO – that is discipline.
Hating discipline is goatish. When a person you trust confronts you about death at work in you, what do you do? If you are like me, at times you have a defensive wave come over your emotions and then you have to make a choice. Shut my ears, shut my heart, defend myself or get into the relationship. You are blessed if you get someone in your life who has the care and courage to confront you in love. It is rare. Prize it. Soak up every morsel of that discipline coming at you. Most of the time it is up to you to discipline yourself to stay in places and processes that keep you alive. If you aren’t in a cell, you are asking for it. Some of you know that, because as soon as you got out of the one you were in, you went right back to how you used to be and the temptations that drive you nuts took over. Some of you know what I mean, as soon as the old ways took you over you had to hide from your spiritual friends because you were ashamed they would know what you were doing or not doing.
In this scripture, the main discipline is love. Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. You did it out of that family love, that connection, that compelling Spirit of grace in us. Spiritual discipline is finding that life-transformed heart in you and exercising it until it seems right again. Doing it for Jesus, to please him, to praise him, to emulate him, to advance his cause, that’s having a new life. It can seem very hard, but in the end, it pays off. At a couple of moments this week I had to not do something or do something. I felt like I was way over my head. I didn’t know how I could do what I needed to do. But after years of discipline, I could say, “I can do it for Jesus.” That seems right to me, natural. Maybe not for me, or for them, or for principle, or because I’m good or scared, but for Jesus.
In the seeing and the doing, the dividing happens naturally until we rise to the top on that last day, rise up from death into eternal life. Pray for spiritual discernment and spiritual discipline so you have the fullness of that life and so you aren’t subject to blindness and apathy.
In these in-between times, just living with Jesus, not assuming you need to be a hero, just living and loving and doing the best you can, looking for how the Spirit of God wants to come to life, acting accordingly according to the ability you’ve received – that all makes a huge difference. Right now, the encouragement is SEE it and DO it. It’s the biotic math of Jesus.