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August/September 2017

The Awkwardness of Truth – The Platypus

No doubt about it, a platypus is an awkward animal at best, but yet it’s still a real animal. Like a platypus, the truth is often awkward; as is often the case of Holy Writ, and the not-so-holy adherents of it.

Because oftentimes the truth is not in accord with what we say we believe, we appear awkward. Our words don’t match what we have said we believe. So I say I believe that I should love my neighbor, but I don’t always love my neighbor, so what do I really believe? The reformer Martin Luther said, “I believe that there is on earth through the whole wide world no more than one holy common Christian church…” And yet we see in the Reformation a division in the visible church which has not been repaired.

A Christian festival not often widely or prominently acknowledged in the Lutheran Church comes up August 15 – the day set aside for “St. Mary mother of our Lord.” Yes, it makes it into our feast calendar (LSB xi), but I cannot remember the last time I actually set aside time to focus upon St. Mary the mother of our Lord.

I take this moment to remind everyone that the title “saint” is used in at least two ways in the Lutheran Church: to describe all those people God made holy/saints - who believe in Jesus as Savior, therefore they are “saints.” And the term also is used to describe those who have died in the faith. You may recall that almost all of St. Paul’s epistles begin by describing the recipients as “saints.”

The accounts of St. Mary in the Gospels are not always neat and tidy, and what we would expect they might be. Yet we hold them to be true.

Both Mary herself and her cousin Elizabeth called Jesus’ mother “Blessed,” (Luke 1:42, 48). And yet at the presentation of the baby Jesus when he was about a month old Simeon an old man announced to Mary that a “sword would pierce your soul,” (Luke 2:35). So is she blessed or pierced?

The first miracle recorded in the Gospel of John is Jesus turning water into wine. At the wedding in Cana where this miracle occurred, we find that bothMary along with Jesus and his disciples were present (John 2:1, 2). Cana was not very far away from Nazareth where Jesus grew up as a child. Either because of a friendship through the proximity of Cana to Nazareth, or because there was a familial relationship with the bride and/or groom, both Mary and Jesus were present. A very embarrassing episode occurred when the wine had run out at the wedding celebration. Mary turned to Jesus and said, “They have no wine.” Jesus responded with what appears as a rather curt comment, “Woman, what do I have to do with you? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4)

So is Jesus “honoring his father and mother?” (Commandment 4 in the Lutheran system of ordering the commandments) To me all of these accounts seem awkward. If there is a single truth, it appears as an awkward truth, like a platypus.

It is true that I am called to love my neighbor, and I believe that is true. But it is also true that I am selfish and sinful, and in the discord between my spirit and flesh I sometimes respond more as a saint than a sinner, and at other times just the opposite. The harmonizing truth is in the unseen spiritual condition of my soul.

It is true that Luther believed in a single church, yet the Reformation created the “church” – plural. But Jesus confirms the single invisible church of the truly faithful in the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13).

Mary was the mother of Jesus through the miracle of the incarnation. For that reason Mary looked to Jesus to help with the wine crisis because he was a man of compassion, and she knew and believed what the angel Gabriel told her, “The holy offspring shall be called the Son of God… For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:35b, & 1:37).

It is true that Jesus was Mary’s Lord, as well as her son. To help Mary distinguish that new relationship as He entered His ministry publicly, He used a much colder term than “mother,” when he called Mary “woman.” Yet we know that Mary was indeed a “woman.” It’s an awkwardly true statement about his mom. The unseen truth is that Jesus was both her Creator, and her Redeemer… And also her son.

Mary’s faithful response to Jesus’ cold words at the wine-less wedding, gives us an insight as we live with these awkward truths. “Whatever he says to you, do it.” (John 2:5) She knew who Jesus was, after all she conceived Him – miraculously! So she trusted that whatever He would do or say, His words should be heeded. That’s the first and most important conclusion to those truths that seem to be awkward or even conundrums. Although Scripture is founded upon history, and witness, and powerfully shored up by prophecy (which is unique among all faiths), it also calls us to trust the often unseen God. We are reminded by the letter of Hebrews “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) So because of the unique and often awkward message of Scripture (especially the Gospel), as well as the history, the prophecy, and the witness of the early church, we believe the words of Christ and Scripture. But it is also important to point out that it is the awkwardness of Scripture that actually makes it more believable!

The fact that Jesus is giving us a “distancing description” of his mother is indicating that something more profound is afoot here. The fact that Mary hangs in there, (yes even up to the cross, and the resurrection) is an “assurance” that she believed He was the Messiah. Although His words and actions sometimes seem like a description of a platypus, they were truth; yet quite an awkward truth.

We believe God’s word not because it is sanitized and tidy, and lovey-dovey. It is the awkwardness that points to the truth. No one edited it to make it read smoothly or easy.

The same is true of our life and faith. If you read the book of Acts, (a history of the days, weeks, months and years after Jesus resurrection), it does start out smoothly, but as it progresses, there are awkward conflicts: the Council at Jerusalem, and Paul, Barnabas, and Mark, Acts 15; imprisonments (Acts 16), and beatings (Acts 19). Saints get cancer, depressed, dementia… saints die. To be a saint, means to believe in the awkward truth that God loves us when “bad” things happen to us. The unseen truth is the “bad” of life, but will be made right and good.

If you believe that, your trust in God also makes life now “right and good.” I always thought the platypus was right and good, just as it was… awkwardly beautiful.

In Christ's Love,