April 27, 2008
Edwards (Knox) United Church
Sixth Sunday of Easter
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The Rev. Dr. George Hermanson
Paul’s encounter before the Areopagus is a very current issue. Bob Dylan rephrased it in his song “you're gonna have to serve somebody.” They are suggesting we all are going to serve someone or something or some idea. Paul Tillich suggested that everyone has an Ultimate Concern. Whether it is stated or not, we all work out of some meaning system which tells us what is worthy of our loyalty. Sometimes, what we say with words is not what really motivates us or what is most important to us. In fact, actions can tell us what is of ultimate concern for us; what we do shows what we really serve.
Yet there is a strong connection between what we believe and what we do. Ideas, or world views, are embedded in our actions. It is when we examine our actual living that we can discover what it is we actually believe about life and reality. When we ask hard questions about our actions, we discover a disconnect between what we say we believe and what we actually serve.
This Easter there were several articles about Jesus, and the questions our modern world asks. One of those quoted was Gretta Vosper. Her book has become an issue within church circles, with her defenders lining up against her critics. She has also touched a deep response with those who have a love / hate relationship with the church.
The response illustrates a deep issue in our culture about who are we going to serve? What is the image of God that you feel deep in your soul? And how does that image, that feeling, motivate one in their living? Some of the responses have exposed how many of those who claim to be Christian are really functional atheists. I mean the act of worship is secondary and the rituals of the church are cultural artifacts. Worship has become optional. Study has become optional. Revising one’s theology has become optional. We do not ask hard questions of our tradition and religious language.
In the response to "With or Without God" we see a great disconnect in who are we going to serve? There is a lively discussion on what it means to be a religious in our time. There is a seeking among some who have been touched by the church, but are disconnected and feel at its edge. There are many who have decided that religion is not worth any energy, and we see the response in the so called new atheists like Richard Dawkins. Then there are those for whom there is some nostalgic feeling for faith and turn up now and again. And then there are those who are spiritual but not religious. And finally a fundamentalist reaction.
We live in a secular age - as Charles Taylor puts it - where, like Paul’s time, there are many unknown gods. The difference, though, then there was an active belief in some transcendent reality, there was some sense of God. However, today, for most people, the idea of some transcendent reality, which we have called God, is not the default position. We have reduced God to being good. In place of God many other activities and ideas claim our ultimate loyalty. For many, like Vosper, God is our creation, our projection that creates social identity that issues in doing good. In this view the sense of God is an optional belief and does not refer to any reality. This is a logical extension of reducing faith to action and being a good citizen. This view has dominate our actions, and our thinking about the nature of the church. It is to form good citizens. It is civic religion, where we worry about forms but not the content.
Some decry this but like Paul we should see this situation as an opportunity to rethink our faith, to examine what we have committed ourselves to, to ask who are we going to serve? This question is crucial because as Dylan put it:
Click on control to play Bob Dylan's You Gotta Serve Somebody
You may be a construction worker working on a home,
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome,
You might own guns and you might even own tanks,
You might be somebody's landlord, you might even own banks
But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.
Copyright © 1979 Special Rider Music
All of this suggests there is a deep yearning for a sense of God. We do want our lives to make sense. We do seek a wider understanding of ourselves than surface behavior. We have been touched by a sense of wonder and we often do not have the language to express that wonder, that sense of wideness of experience.
It is said we all have music in our souls. There is melody and beat to our existence. There is a basic of music, and it takes someone creating notes and writing music to make it live. It can be country, it can be classical, it can be rock and roll, it can be folk and it can be jazz. Each form will expose and make clearer that intimation of music in our soul.
Paul is suggesting the sense of God is universal. The problem is many do not have large enough containers to give us a sense of God who is worthy of our worship. In a time of small images it is easier to have no image.
Within our tradition is a sense of God who actively cares for our world. In the image of paradise we have an image of God active here and now. Paradise is this world not some future world. In the affirmation of God in Jesus we are affirm God in all of us, as close as our breath, as depth in our soul. God is not far from us and we feel God in our living, our being.
This image is God who is not separate from us and things, is the one who exhibits best the relational experiences we have. We know we are tied together, influencing one another by being present to the other. We know belief influences how we are present one to the other. We know that what is persuasively present to us is real transformational power. Think, then, of God as the one who is the power of relational presence, who works with persuasion through all experience, in every nanosecond, filling every open space with paradise, harmony, intensity, and novelty. There is no one center to the universe - everywhere is here, all is a center to all that is. God is in every center fill all open space with beauty. God’s aim is always present. And that divine aim is directed to each of us, through our relationships, through our communal worship, with the community, inviting us to communion - the sharing of the beauty of paradise.
God works with the world as it is in order to bring it to where it can be. (Marjorie Suchocki) This means God is interdependent with the world, is in relationship with each of us and all of reality. God in this sense needs us and the world to live out the divine aim which is directed to love of all.
This is the affirmation of John - the sense of God is present, the divine spirit is here in us, in our worship and in the sharing of bread and wine. It is a radical knowing of the truth about reality - the universe is infused with divine love. What it takes to see this is the job of the church. When we are indiscriminate in who we serve this divine aim is made diffused and confused. When love is not focused it spins away into meaningless chatter and noise.
The radical affirmation of the hospitality is the meaning of communion. Love is incarnate in this world as we share love, bread is passed, wine is tasted and when we know that there is more - a surplus of beauty which calls out of us a way of living which hosts the world. In each moment of worship we school ourselves to move from indiscriminate serving our projections to the project of serving God, through care of this world. Each time we nurture life into transformation, care for the world and its reality, work so more people participate in fullness, then we show God at work in us. It begins in letting the aim of God be our identity, it begins in worship that opens us to God and it leads us to the care of all.