On False Dichotomies and the Good News

Sermon Preached at Church of the Transfiguration - Palos Park, Illinois
Proper 14 - Year B
Texts can be found here.

Are you pro-choice or pro-life? Do you think we should teach our children abstinence or should condoms be available at high schools? Do you support the military or are you against the war in Iraq? Do you support the war in Iraq or are you anti-American? If you are like me, then, at least some of the time, your answer to these questions and others like them is “could I have another option please?” False dichotomies, such as these, offer two alternative points of view which are held to be the only choices available, when in reality the options presented are only expressions of extremes without acknowledging the many positions that exist between the two extremes. Or, they offer two views that are not even mutually exclusive. And this is why, for example, the question, “Do you support the military or are you against the war in Iraq?” leaves me in a quandary. Because I do support the military, one might assume then that I also support the U.S. involvement in Iraq. But here’s the dilemma. While I think that the young men and women who enlist in the armed services are admirable for their courage and should be well-compensated, should receive health benefits for themselves and their families, and so on; I also think that our government made a mistake entering Iraq. Now that we are there, I think it is more complicated than just saying we should pack our bags and go home, but I am clear that I am against the war in Iraq. The false dichotomy inherent in the question – do you support the military or are you against the war in Iraq - does not permit my answer – instead, it paints me into a corner with little way out.

In today’s gospel the people began questioning Jesus because he claimed to be “the bread that came down from heaven.” These people knew Jesus as the son of Joseph - you know the guy down the street with the carpenter shop on the corner. So they ask one another is this man the son of Joseph and Mary or did he come down from heaven? Because they knew him and knew his earthly parents, they rejected the possibility that Jesus came down from heaven. What they did not recognize was the false dichotomy they had created. We understand that the answer to their question is yes, Jesus is fully human – the son of Mary - and yes, Jesus is fully divine – the bread that came down from heaven. We confess this each time we say The Nicene Creed - “he came down from heaven: was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human.”

Jesus’ response to the question was to say to them “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me.” Don’t worry about where I’ve come from, don’t create more confusion for yourselves which overshadows the message that matters most. Instead, pay attention to the will of the one who sent me. Pay attention to the will of God. Because “whoever believes has eternal life.” That is the message that ultimately matters.

Before we become smug about our own wisdom, clearly superior to those people in John’s gospel who were questioning Jesus, we would be wise to hold back just a bit longer as we consider some of the issues confronting us today in our churches.

Just last week the Chicago Tribune ran an article stating that, “The leader of a network of conservative Episcopal dioceses says the global Anglican Communion will unravel unless the archbishop of Canterbury helps U.S. conservatives distance themselves from the Episcopal Church.”[i]
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
The New York Times reported last week on the upcoming election of a new bishop for the Diocese of Newark with this headline, “Picking Bishop Means Facing Diocesan Rift.”[ii]

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father. Through him all things were made.
While what is reported by the media is far from representative of all that goes on in our churches, it is nonetheless disturbing to see the headlines’ converging lens focused on our debates over such issues as the gender of our clergy, the sexuality of our clergy, and the number of times our clergy have been married and divorced. Yes, this is indeed disturbing; but, my friends, it is not surprising.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.
And while there are many points on which we agree – many things we believe in common - our own focus has been on those points on which we disagree – points which we hold-up as though they were theological truths. So instead of authentic dialogue, instead of being a Church centered on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have become a people who lob distorted sound-bytes at one another leaving precious little space or time for discerning God’s will for the future of the Church – for our future.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
What might you and I need to let go of in order to make room for the beauty of creation to be revealed in our lives, and the lives of those we touch, each day? What opinions ought we to hold lightly so that the bread that came down from heaven can be witnessed in our ministries? What ministries are we called to enter into so that the Holy Spirit working through us is more worthy of the media’s attention than our in-fighting? What ideas about how we “do church” might we be willing to let go of in order that the one holy catholic and apostolic Church may become visible in our world – may grab the headlines?

“Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me.” Let us be a people who “find more grace in the search for meaning than in absolute certainty, [more grace] in the questions than in the answers.”[iii] And let us focus, not on arguments shaped by false dichotomies, but on Jesus Christ who is “the living bread that came down from heaven.” For we have been promised that “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”

[i] Tribune News Service, “Anglican Leader Asked to Intervene,” Chicago Tribune, August 4, 2006 accessed [ii] Tina Kelley, “Picking Bishop Means Facing Diocesan Rift,” The New York Times, August 5, 2006 accessed [iii] The Center for Progressive Christianity, “The 8 Points: Point 6 – Study Guide,” accessed online on August 10, 2006.


Raisin said…
Not only is this an awe-inspiring sermon, but so it the new look of your blog! Visually, it draws us in...perhaps a bit like that "draw" word that's so compelling in yesterday's gospel reading.