“Out of the Darkness, Into the Light”
Desert Palm United Church of Christ
Rev. Tom Martinez
April 2, 2017
“Out of the Darkness, Into the Light”
So I was in my office the other day minding my own business when a parishioner named JD strolled by. He said he was intrigued with the direction my sermons were going and then, with his John Wayne-esque capacity for understatement he added, “Oh and I’m curious to see what you’re gonna do with the resurrection.”
I admitted I was little curious myself, adding that the text for today was the resurrection of Lazarus, so neither of us had too long to wait.
This new theological direction we’ve embarked on is a re-evaluation as to the basic meaning of the cross and, yes, ultimately the resurrection. As we’ve noted the traditional view since the early church first began formulizing its creed has been to view the death of Jesus as an atoning sacrifice. I’ve suggested that it makes more sense to think of it as a revelation of the tendency we humans have to gang up on innocent victims, something that has continued into modern times. Viewed this way the cross isn’t a good thing per se, but a powerful revelation of a very bad thing. Our tendency to kill and torture.
From this perspective the meaning and value of the cross is its capacity to help us see the truth of our world more clearly.
As we approach the subject of the resurrection, it helps to step back and take in the larger picture again. Humanity as a newly evolved, self-conscious species was seeking to make sense of its world. Like Lazarus we had emerged from a dark cave of presumably instinctual living to a place from which we could look back at creation and ponder our place in it.
When viewed against the larger backdrop of humanity’s emergence from its instinctual pre-history, indeed our whole evolutionary past, the emergence of a Lazarus from the darkness of the tomb can be seen in an entirely different light.
It calls to mind a similar story from the writings of Plato, his famous allegory of the cave. If we open to the broadest possible meaning and consider that these stories arose at the dawn of western civilization, it becomes possible to see them both as stories about enlightenment, about coming to see with greater clarity.
In our questing after truth these past few weeks we’ve been reflecting on the ancient view of the world with the Earth and human beings at the center of the universe, then taking note of how our understanding of the world resulted in a profound paradigm shift in our understanding of humanity and our place in the larger expanse of the universe. In this sense we have been reflecting on humanity’s journey out of a purely mythological worldview to a more scientific conception of our place in the universe.
Remember last week’s story of Jesus healing the blind man and recall how I suggested what this might really be about is the quest for ever-deeper modes of seeing. Now we have a story about a dead man coming to life and walking out of a tomb, which bears striking parallels to Plato’s allegory of the cave, which is all about the quest for Truth and deeper ways of knowing. So I’d like to explore Plato’s cave allegory a bit this morning, inviting us all to think about the larger quest for truth and the paradigm shifts associated with the past few centuries.
Plato begins by describing a scene in which a group of prisoners are all chained so that they can only look forward toward a wall in front of them. It’s worth noting as footnote here that within depth psychology that which we’re unconscious of is often said to be on our back side, meaning the side of ourselves we cannot see.
Though they can’t see it, there’s a fire behind them with people playing with puppets in such a way so as to make shadows on the wall — think of the advertising madmen of the 1950’s or the sensationalized stories about Brad Pit or Trump’s latest tweets.
Now listen what happens when one of these prisoners is freed:
“This prisoner would look around and see the fire. The light would hurt his eyes and make it difficult for him to see the objects casting the shadows. If he were told that what he is seeing is real instead of the other version of reality he sees on the wall, he would not believe it. In his pain, Plato continues, the freed prisoner would turn away and run back to what he is accustomed to (that is, the shadows of the carried objects).
In other words, it’s painful to look at our own back-sides, to our personal and collective shadows and the basic cruelty of the world.
Now “Suppose… that someone should drag him… by force, up the rough ascent, the steep way up, and never stop until he could drag him out into the light of the sun.” The prisoner would be angry and in pain, and this would only worsen when the radiant light of the sun overwhelms his eyes and blinds him.
Think of Jesus venturing into the desert for forty days. It is painful work facing up to life’s pain and suffering, to be tempted by our very human desires.
But then something begins to happen, says Plato, returning to our freed prisoner….
“Slowly, his eyes adjust to the light of the sun. First he can only see shadows. Gradually he can see the reflections of people and things in water and then later see the people and things themselves. Eventually, he is able to look at the stars and moon at night …(516a).”
Adding a Psychoanalytic embellishment here we could say that the end result of this metaphysical liberation is to see into the unconscious. From an Ecopsychological perspective we might add that the freed prisoner is likewise connecting with the cosmos, coming to a deeper understanding of humanity’s place within the larger reaches of the universe.
We could leave it all there but in terms of the larger metaphysical and spiritual quest for truth that we’re embarking on, there’s another part to the allegory that’s often overlooked. [Picking up the summary as found in Wikipedia:]
Plato continues, saying that the freed prisoner would think that the world outside the cave was superior to the world he experienced in the cave; “he would bless himself for the change, and pity [the other prisoners]” and would want to bring his fellow cave dwellers out of the cave and into the sunlight (516c).
The returning prisoner, whose eyes have become accustomed to the sunlight, would be blind when he re-enters the cave, just as he was when he was first exposed to the sun (516e). The prisoners, according to Plato, would infer from the returning man’s blindness that the journey out of the cave had harmed him and that they should not undertake a similar journey. Socrates concludes that the prisoners, if they were able, would therefore reach out and kill anyone who attempted to drag them out of the cave (517a).
Suddenly we are plunged back into the forces animating the Gospel, since that’s exactly what happened to Jesus, and MLK, and Gandhi and Romero.
Last week in our exploration of the healing of the blind man, I tried to show that God is calling us to see is the deeper implications of the crucifixion. For two thousand years we’ve been telling ourselves God wanted a sacrifice. But we are now in a position to see deeper into the true meaning of the cross and the forces that nailed Jesus to it.
A few months back I mentioned having met a retired Psychologist by the name of Don Streets. Don grew up outside Chicago and remembers as a boy seeing crowds of people with picnic baskets going to a lynching.
I had read about lynching and heard of such things but here was a dignified elder telling me he saw it with his own eyes. This is the kind of thing we see when we turn from the shadows on the wall to what is going on behind our backs.
Think about the recent textbook scandal in Texas in this light. Recall how an American history textbook to teach our children about our past described slaves caught up in the Middle Passage as “workers.”
To see by the light of the Gospel is to turn around from the shadows to see the people holding the puppets, which are the same people saying, ‘There’s no such thing as global warming. Don’t worry folks, everything’s fine, just go back to mall.’
To see by the light of the cross is to turn and face the reality of human violence and our fear of the other. Whether we’re talking about torture at Guantanamo, the internment of Japanese Americans here in the SW, the genocide of Native Americans all across this country or Hitler’s genocide of the Jews, the painful reality as revealed by the Gospel is that we are all complicit in the crowd’s shouting, “Crucify him.”
Imagine being of a prophetic mindset on the day of the lynching that Don Streets recalled as a boy. Imagine walking up to that huge crowd and shouting out, “Ladies and gentleman the man you are about to kill deserves the same legal protection as you or I. Remember Jesus when the crowd was about the kill that woman? Remember how he said, “Let him who is without sin throw the first stone?”
Imagine how hard that would be.
Well that’s crazy people had no idea what they were doing and anyone who challenged them in that way would have been killed, too.
Exactly. Now we understand why the disciples ran when the authorities came for Jesus.
And let us not forget that scapegoating violence isn’t always extra-judicial; in fact it’s far more common for it to take place under the umbrella of the law. The current debate raging over capital punishment in New Mexico is a case in point.
So what about Lazarus? What are we to make of this person brought back from the dead? Notice that Jesus loved him and called to him.
The way I see it, God is calling to all of us. God is inviting us to heal our blindness, to turn and see the puppet masters who are casting shadows and weaving lies.
And what does this look like, this new life God offers us?
It makes me think of my friend Don Streets, who as a little African American boy watched people streaming by to go to a lynching. I think of his journey out of the cave of his culture, his liberation through education and the work he would go on to do as an advocate for racial equality.
I’m also reminded of a fellow Pacifica student, Lorraine Warren, who recently defended our dissertation about the Rwandan genocide. Lorraine described going to the scene of one of the genocidal massacres, which happened to be a church, and the guide said anyone who wanted to could descend into the basement where there was a vast grouping of bones left as testimony to the slaughter. Lorraine shared how she thought to herself, “No way am I going down there.” Then she heard a voice, which told her to go down, so she did. The experienced conveyed to her that the bones had a story to tell, part of which was voiced by the survivors she went on to interview. So like the Ezekiel passage of the valley of dry bones she put flesh and blood back on the bones through the telling of their stories.
And you know it’s stories like that which suggest to me that perhaps we can venture out of the cave together. The power of the new life available to us in Christ is God’s invitation to awaken to new levels of awareness, to deeper ways of seeing and engaging the world, to an experience of spiritual transformation that refuses to accept the lies projected by the world’s puppet masters.
At times it is the hard way, as it involves seeing the suffering going on in the world. When you go back to the cave you’ll find some folks are still focused on the shadows, afraid to venture into the light. But for those who here God’s voice, there is a beautiful world out there. Yes there’s tremendous suffering and pain. That hasn’t changed since Jesus’ day. But there’s also a growing sense of our place in the larger scheme of things, new and better ways of opening to God that are giving us glimpses of the world we want to see. A world in which there are no prisoners, and everyone is free.
Amen. Let it be.
This is a link to information about Dr. Lorraine Warren’s dissertation defense http://www.pacifica.edu/about-pacifica/pacifica-graduate-institute-student-services/dissertation-oral-defenses/item/173-monday-march-27-2017-pacifica-is-pleased-to-invite-you-to-the-oral-defense-of-lorraine-warren-s-dissertation-in-depth-psychology-entitled-message-in-the-bones-lessons-learned-from-survivor-leaders-of-the-1994-genocide-against-the-tutsi-in-rwa