Sermon on God and Tolkien in Victoria, BC

Sermon at St. John the Divine (Anglican Church) in Victoria, British Columbia on July 25th '10
Father. That is what God is called. Everybody seems to know this. But what does it mean? Many people consider God’s fatherhood to mean that He loves and accepts us just the way we are. That’s of course a very general message. It does not seem to carry any particular meaning. If we consider ourselves good people, it is not very surprising that a good, loving God would accept us. But if we consider ourselves bad people, failed in one way or the other, we would not like our sinfulness to be accepted. Thus the whole notion of God as a loving Father falls rather flat. But could there be something else to God’s fatherhood than a supposed accepting nature?

For sure, it is evident that the notion of God being a Father includes a sense of a loving God. But the specific meaning of love depends on the way it actually occurs. Love is not a general notion. It is something that happens in a specific context, to specific people. This also applies to fatherhood. Nobody of us has a father in general. Usually, one knows one’s father’s name and how he has taken care of you. The same should apply to God as a Father.

Sometimes, however, we do not either see how we have been cared for or do not understand what love really means. This might be due to the fact that we have not actually been loved in our lives, by our parents or by anyone. Or this can also occur because we have forgotten or started to forget what love means. In this sort of a situation, we need a new context, a fresh point of view wherein to understand what it means to be loved. When we see what it means to be loved, we may perhaps also see what God’s fatherhood really means.

People often seek novel perspectives for their lives in literature. Stories facilitate this, because we can relate to situations we might not have thought of or that we could never ourselves live. However, the messages that different books carry can be widely divergent. In the previous century, the 20th, the prevalent literary style was modernism, at least until the rise of post-modernism. The deconstruction of previous notions of morality, sentiment and even meaning itself were rampant. In the middle of the century of disillusion, there came an anomaly called J.R.R. Tolkien and a fantasy book called the Lord of the Rings. Tolkien was proclaimed an author of the century by many, but despised by the intelligentsia.

Truth, courage and hope are the backbone of Tolkien’s fictional work, naive and outdated notions according to some. But what were not noticed by the many critics of Tolkien were the profound realism and a sense of loss in his works. Realism does not mean avoiding everything magical and supernatural, ultimately even dismissing the soul and meaning itself, not to talk about God. Realism means seeing the power of evil both inside each individual human being and outside as forces that cannot be controlled. That was a lesson that Tolkien himself learned as an officer in the First World War, where he lost all but one of his best friends.

Tolkien was a scholar, a linguist, a professor, a scientist according to the old standard of science not including just the natural sciences. But he was not only a man of science; he was also a man of faith. Born in 1892, he was baptized in the Anglican Church. His father Arthur died when he was a small child, and his mother Mable turned to the Roman Catholic Church for help as a widow. She and her two sons became Catholic. When Ronald, as J.R.R. Tolkien was called by friends and family, was only twelve, his mother died of tuberculosis. Orphaned twice, he remained a devout Catholic through his life. He studied the English epic Beowulf, and ancient and modern languages from Gothic to Finnish. Inspired by his love for the Finnish language, he invented an Elvish language called Quenya. Because every language needs a culture and a story, he began writing his legendarium, his fictional stories set in Middle-earth, our world long ago.

While mentioned explicitly only once in the Lord of the Rings, there is a God in Tolkien’s legendarium. In the Silmarillion, the prehistory of Tolkien’s world, He is called The One, or Eru in the Elvish language. That is His holy name, His personal name, used only in solemn occasions. The name by which God is usually called is Ilúvatar, The Father of All. The reason why He is called the Father of All is that He has two races of Children in the world: the Elder Born Children, Elves, and the Second Children, Men. Elves and Men are so similar that they can be counted as the same species, but Elves are immortal and Men are mortal. The history of Elves and Men and their fight against evil are the core of the story of Tolkien’s legendarium.

Not many people know about the strong religious undercurrent of Tolkien’s works. This is partially understandable, since Tolkien did not want to preach with his books, but to entertain and move. Nevertheless, the strong sense of morality and truth in the books is very different from the relativism that became prevalent in the last century. The Lord of the Rings became popular in the 1960’s, among hippies, college students and all sorts of people who would not very easily go to any church at all. Indeed, the 60’s either proclaimed that God is dead or that it is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. One could say that God as Father, as authority had been abandoned, and Mother Earth or Mother Goddess accepted instead.

The search for meaning that led a generation to abandon traditional Christian values and beliefs, also led it to a book that contained these very same values and beliefs in an implicit form. The Fatherhood of God had been left behind, probably due to the distance that the generation felt to their parents. Understandably, authority that does not rise out of forgiveness and love cannot be embraced. Yet love without authority will gradually dissolve into meaningless sentiment, how God being an accepting Father is often understood.

In the stories of J.R.R. Tolkien, there is a sense of meaning and truth without explicit moralization. Authority has no inherent value itself. Indeed, absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Ring of Power in The Lord of the Rings is a symbol of absolute power, and it can only corrupt those who desire it. Therefore, it must be destroyed. Destroying pure authority is the very story of The Lord of the Rings. Perhaps that is why it appealed to the radical 60’s. But the book is by no means anti-authoritarian. Indeed, the third volume of The Lord of the Rings is called The Return of the King. The authority of a righteous king, a father figure par excellence, is established in conjunction with the destruction of the ring. How can this be?

The main character in The Lord of the Rings is Frodo, the small and humble Hobbit who is granted the task to destroy the Ring. Frodo is by no means a perfect human being. He is very righteous in his judgement, and does not understand Gollum, a person completely corrupted by his lust for the Ring. However, along the way, Frodo starts to see his own failings and weakness, and has mercy on Gollum. When Frodo should destroy the Ring by casting it into the fires where it was formed, he can no longer resist the temptation. He claims the Ring as his own. At this moment, Gollum whom Frodo had spared, comes and takes the Ring from Frodo in his own lust. Gollum dances into the fires, obliviously and seemingly by chance, and the Ring is destroyed. The power of Sauron, the Lord of the Rings himself, is destroyed, and truth and justice return to Middle-earth through the wise and healing rule of king Aragorn.

Victory over evil is accomplished through two things. First, through the mercy that Frodo showed to Gollum. Second, through the forgiveness that God showed to Frodo in letting the Ring be destroyed despite of Frodo’s failure. The proper source of authority is thus shown to be forgiveness and mercy. Authority is not established by power, but by fighting hope in the face of destruction, by faith in the goodness of God and by love that works when we least expect it. This message of faith, hope and love is in the very heart of The Lord of the Rings and all of Tolkien’s works.

The reason why The Lord of the Rings has been accepted by those disillusioned by authority is that they found a sense of what authority might mean when it is based on forgiveness and truth. A new sense of fatherhood, based on authority as it is, can be found simultaneously. God does not merely accept people as they are, but lets us go through our lives and find our failures themselves. He does this without judgement, merely revealing us the truth about ourselves, and at the same time forgiving us.

After Frodo had done his task, for indeed he did it as well as anyone can, he had found out the truth about himself and also realized the mercy that he had gained. Nevertheless, he was a broken man. His pains and tragedies remained within him. He knew that he could not be healed in this life. Evil could be defeated through mercy and God’s intervention, but not only by human means. This was Frodo’s hope: that God would Himself come to defeat evil.

To wit, God’s Fatherhood, directing from afar, is not enough by itself. We also need a Son of God, who bears the sin of the world as a man in our stead. And indeed, how could God be an eternal Father if He had not an eternal Son? God’s love for us is shown by the fact that He gave His Son to die in our stead. We will not be lost in our sins, in our self-centeredness. God’s Son, Jesus, willingly took our guilt upon Himself and died with it. God was dead. But He rose again. This is the true story, the true myth towards which Tolkien’s stories point. It is the new context of love which every one of us needs. Because of God’s work in history, because of His salvific works, you are truly justified. You have been made free, not in or through yourself, but by grace alone. You have been saved by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.


Sermon on the Good Samaritan / Saarna laupiaasta samarialaisesta

Sermon in the Finnish Lutheran Church Seattle, Sunday July the 11th
Saarna Seattlen suomalaisessa luterilaisessa seurakunnassa sunnuntaina 11.7.
Translation by Heikki & Eva Männistö

Luke 10:25-37

25On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 26"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"
 27He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
 28"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."
 29But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
 30In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'
 36"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"
 37The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."
      Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

Today's Gospel is quite familiar to us all. "Laupias samarialainen" is a saying in Finnish and in English that means "Good Samaritan". It refers to people who help others unselfishly. The fact that someone is called a "Good Samaritan", does not usually tell us anything other than that the person is a very good human being. Unselfish assistance is an obvious virtue. Everyone knows that, independent on ones beliefs. After all, "love God above all things" and "love your neighbor as yourself" are universally known commandments, which many holy books refer to. For example, in Islam, giving alms to the poor is one of the five pillars of the religion. There are plenty of good Samaritans, both in Finland and in America. Charitable organizations often refer to this term, so much that the concept of "Good Samaritan" sometimes becomes worn out. Could the return to the original text bring a new perspective on the matter?

According to the present interpretation even the lawyer that tested Jesus would actually be a 'Good Samaritan'. He knew that, according to the law, one should love her or his neighbor unselfishly. According to the text, 'Good Samaritan' is not just another helpful person. Samaritans and Jews were once feudal enemies. Both believed in the law of Moses, but saw each others as lawbreakers, because the Samaritans had their own interpretation of the law and the Jews had their own based on the prophets. The Good Samaritan in the gospel helps a Jew, although Samaritans consider all Jews as sinners. "The Good Samaritan" therefore means helping the bad person, not just the innocent orphans and widows.
The lawyer considers the neighbors as good people. If Jesus would have answered the question directly, saying that the Samaritans are the neighbors, he would have been stoned as a sinners’ helper. Simply helping good neighbors may be unselfish, of course, if there is no benefit for one self, but it can not be compassionate. Compassion means that one helps another regardless of the beneficiary’s characteristics. It is the merciful love. The Samaritan should have left the Jewish pilgrim returning from Jerusalem to the roadside, as did the priests and Levites in fear of contamination. After all, there were certainly other wanderers on the road in addition to the priests and the Samaritans, for example Jews, who would have been obliged to assist their fellow based on the law. The Samaritan helped the Jew, independent on the law, even against the law.

Even though the law teaches us to love and calls us to have mercy, it can not get us to do neither. The law is based on the fact that good people will receive a prize and evil deeds be punished accordingly. This is a case both with a secular law and with the law of God. Without the law of crime and punishment the order could not be sustained. However, it is clear that nobody is innocent. Nobody can get a full pardon based on the law. None of us can earn eternal life. Jesus teaches this to the lawyer who thinks he is good enough for God through his good deeds. None of us can find the meaning of life by him- or herself. No man is an island.

We all need the Good Samaritan, who even can break the law and have mercy, so that we do not live on our own lonely selves, but out of God who loves us unconditionally. Jesus is our Merciful Samaritan, who was nailed as a sinner of for the sake of sinners. Jesus of course, was not a sinner in reality, but by the law he did wrong by loving sinners. True righteousness or justice is found in grace - which is the deepest power of the universe. Love is more than the law, and love, independent of the law is grace. It is the privilege over all rights, it is the righteousness of God. God heels our wounds. He is our neighbor. He takes care of us and is with us always. He is the one who shows us mercy, because he himself is mercy. 
Luuk. 10:25-37
25 Muuan lainopettaja halusi panna Jeesuksen koetukselle. Hän kysyi: "Opettaja, mitä minun pitää tehdä, jotta saisin omakseni iankaikkisen elämän?" 26 Jeesus sanoi hänelle: "Mitä laissa sanotaan? Mitä sinä itse sieltä luet?" 27 Mies vastasi: "Rakasta Herraa, Jumalaasi, koko sydämestäsi ja koko sielustasi, koko voimallasi ja koko ymmärrykselläsi, ja lähimmäistäsi niin kuin itseäsi." 28 Jeesus sanoi: "Oikein vastasit. Tee näin, niin saat elää."
29 Mies tahtoi osoittaa, että hän noudatti lakia, ja jatkoi: "Kuka sitten on minun lähimmäiseni?"
30 Jeesus vastasi hänelle näin:
"Eräs mies oli matkalla Jerusalemista Jerikoon, kun rosvojoukko yllätti hänet. Rosvot veivät häneltä vaatteetkin päältä ja pieksivät hänet verille. Sitten he lähtivät tiehensä ja jättivät hänet henkihieveriin. 31 Samaa tietä sattui tulemaan pappi, mutta miehen nähdessään hän väisti ja meni ohi. 32 Samoin teki paikalle osunut leeviläinen: kun hän näki miehen, hänkin väisti ja meni ohi.
33 "Mutta sitten tuli samaa tietä muuan samarialainen. Kun hän saapui paikalle ja näki miehen, hänen tuli tätä sääli. 34 Hän meni miehen luo, valeli tämän haavoihin öljyä ja viiniä ja sitoi ne. Sitten hän nosti miehen juhtansa selkään, vei hänet majataloon ja piti hänestä huolta. 35 Seuraavana aamuna hän otti kukkarostaan kaksi denaaria, antoi ne majatalon isännälle ja sanoi: 'Hoida häntä. Jos sinulle koituu enemmän kuluja, minä korvaan ne, kun tulen takaisin.' 36 Kuka näistä kolmesta sinun mielestäsi oli ryöstetyn miehen lähimmäinen?"
37 Lainopettaja vastasi: "Se, joka osoitti hänelle laupeutta." Jeesus sanoi: "Mene ja tee sinä samoin."

Päivän evankeliumi on meille kaikille varsin tuttu. ‘Laupias samarialainen’ on sanonta sekä suomen kielellä että englanniksi muodossa ‘good Samaritan’. Se tarkoittaa ihmistä, joka auttaa toista pyyteettömästi. Se, että jotakuta kutsutaan ‘laupiaaksi samarialaiseksi’, ei kuitenkaan yleensä kerro mitään muuta kuin että kyseinen henkilö on oikein hyvä ihminen. Pyyteetön auttaminen on itsestään selvä hyve. Sen tietävät kaikki uskonnosta riippumatta. Ovathan “rakasta Jumalaa yli kaiken” ja “rakasta lähimmäistä niin kuin itseäsi” yleismaailmallisesti tunnettuja käskyjä, johon monet pyhät kirjat viittaavat. Esimerkiksi islamissa almujen antaminen köyhille on yksi uskonnon viidestä pilarista. Laupiaita samarialaisia riittää sekä Suomessa että Amerikassa. Hyväntekeväisyysjärjestöihin viitataan usein tällä termillä, jopa niin paljon, että käsite “laupias samarialainen” on aika ajoin kulunut loppuun. Voisiko alkuperäiseen kertomukseen palaaminen tuoda uuden näkökulman asiaan?

Käsitteen nykymerkityksen mukaan Jeesuksen koetteelle pannut lainopettaja olisi itse asiassa ‘laupias samarialainen’. Hänhän tiesi, että lain mukaan lähimmäistä tulee rakastaa pyyttettömästi. ‘Laupias samarialainen’ ei kuitenkaan tekstin mukaan ole vain toista auttava ihminen. Samarialaiset ja juutalaiset olivat aikoinaan perivihollisia. Kummatkin uskoivat Mooseksen lakiin, mutta pitivät toisiaan lainrikkojina, koska samarialaisilla oli oma tulkintansa laista ja juutalaisilla profeettoihin perustuva tulkinta. Evankeliumin laupias samarialainen auttaa juutalaista, vaikka samarialaiset pitävät kaikkia juutalaisia syntisinä. “Laupias samarialaisuus” tarkoittaa siis pahan ihmisen auttamista, ei vain viattomien orpojen ja leskien auttamista.

Lainopettajalle lähimmäiset olivat kunnon ihmisiä. Jos Jeesus olisi vastannut kysymykseen suoraan sanomalla, että samarialaiset ovat lähimmäisiä, hänet olisi kivitetty syntisten auttajana. Pelkästään hyvien naapureiden auttaminen voi toki olla pyyteetöntä, jos siitä ei ole itselle mitään hyötyä, mutta se ei voi olla laupiasta. Laupeus tarkoittaa sitä, että auttaa toista riippumatta avun saajan ominaisuuksista. Se on armahtavaa rakkautta. Samarialaisen olisi pitänyt jättää Jerusalemista, pyhiinvaellusmatkalta palaava juutalainen tien varteen, samoin kuin rituaalista saastumista pelkäävät papit ja leeviläiset tekivät. Olihan tiellä varmasti muitakin kulkijoita kuin pappeja ja samarialaisia, esimerkiksi maallikkojuutalaisia, jotka olisivat olleet velvoitettuja auttamaan lähimmäistään lain mukaan. Samarialainen auttoi juutalaista laista riippumatta, jopa vastoin lakia.

Vaikka laki opettaa meitä rakastamaan ja kehottaa meitä armahtamaan, se ei voi saada meitä tekemään kumpaakaan. Laki perustuu siihen, että hyvät ihmiset saavat palkinnon ja pahat rangaistaan tekojensa mukaan. Näin on sekä maallisen lain että Jumalan lain laita. Ilman rikoksen ja rangaistuksen lakia ei järjestys pysyisi yllä. On kuitenkin selvää, ettei yksikään ihminen ole viaton. Kukaan ei voi saada täydellistä armahdusta, jos lain mukaan katsotaan. Kukaan meistä ei voi ansaita iankaikkista elämää. Tämän Jeesus opettaa lainopettajalle, joka kuvittelee kelpaavansa Jumalalle hyvien tekojensa kautta. Kukaan meistä ei löydä elämäänsä merkitystä omasta itsestään. Yksikään ihminen ei ole saari.

Me kaikki tarvitsemme laupiasta samarialaista, joka suostuu tekemään lain mukaan väärin, armahtamaan, jotta me emme eläisi omasta yksinäisestä itsestämme, vaan Jumalasta, joka rakastaa ehdoitta. Jeesus on meidän laupias samarialaisemme, joka naulittiin syntisenä syntisten tähden. Jeesus ei tietenkään ollut syntinen todellisuudessa, mutta lain mukaan hän oli väärintekijä rakastaessaan syntisiä. Todellinen vanhurskaus, eli oikeus, löytyy kuitenkin armosta, joka on maailmankaikkeuden syvin voima. Rakkaus on enemmän kuin laki, ja rakkaus laista riippumatta on armoa. Se on oikeutta oikeuden yli, Jumalan oikeutta. Meidän haavamme parannetaan. Jumala on meidän lähimmäisemme. Hän huolehtii meistä ja on kanssamme aina. Hän on se, joka osoittaa meille laupeutta, sillä hän on itse armo.

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