A Letter to my Congregation!
I have pondered this sermon for a while, thinking of how I could incorporate last weekends Synod experience, the discussion we had on Monday over David Galston’s book, Embracing the human Jesus, and even what I have been feeling lately into it. In the end I decided to write you a letter. I am inspired by Nadia Bolz-Weber who did a similar thing for her congregation. Because I want to share some things.
A letter seems more personal, and I want to be personal today.
So, dear members
I want to speak to you about trust, and about belief and about life. Rather than the footy! Which is of course very personal to me.
I have been on the Christian journey for a long time, actually it seems a life time really. For me it’s had its ups and downs and sometimes I have screamed to get off it, to run away and maybe join the circus, not that I can juggle like Matt. The demands are too great, I don’t feel religious or spiritual enough or compassionate or generous enough. Sometimes , I just want to go on holidays, and leave everything behind! Sometimes, I don’t want to worry about whether I am good enough for the ride! Sometimes I just want to enjoy the ride.
Maybe this is some of you.
Yet there has always been something underneath my occasional despair, that lifts me out of it.
Something that draws me back to the path, a still small voice that speaks to my heart, about what it is to really live, with passion and love and forgiveness and hope. When I act more expansively, and am less worried about myself and what I want or need, and more about what is good for other people, this voice becomes real. So real.
Although this is slightly presumptuous, I sense this is a truth found deep within all of us, those that are here, and those who would not be seen within a mile of a church. A truth that says, when we give up things, when we deny things for the sake of others, we somehow become happier, more settled and more content. We seem to find life, a fullness of life. Sometimes, surprisingly, we may even find God, I know I have.
Yet It is almost impossible to convince someone else of the veracity of this great and abiding truth. Why, because we live in such an individual, ego driven world and God is usually dismissed as an ancient, unbelievable idea, which has outlasted its use by date.
Yet I am not talking about a God in the sky or an old man who whimsically acts occasionally for some, while leaving others alone and lost, but something sacred in life that gives life. A presence that cannot be described, only experienced, a presence found in all things at all times in all the universe since the beginning of time. That urges us to be better than we are, more loving, more compassionate, more forgiving. You can call it what you like, but many people seek it and find it, and their lives and the lives of those around them are better for it. This is what keeps me going, in a world that thinks we are slightly crazy.
But what about Jesus. I started my journey looking for God, when dissecting dead people and have ended up here. In a different culture and country I may have ended up a Hindu or a Muslim or even a Jew but instead I am a Jesus follower. I sometimes have thought about my faith with and without Jesus, and realise I can’t quite leave him behind. He seems to be with me wherever I go, not literally but spiritually.
So as each of us seek to find who Jesus is, let me share my vision. I see a man of his time, a courageous, feisty, loving and inclusive man, who more than I realised was way, way ahead of us all. Women, the poor, the outcast, they were his friends, and he spoke to his followers and to us in ways that left indelible marks, that have lasted 2000 years.
But while David Galston, a modern New Testament scholar and part of the Jesus seminar, identifies mostly with his wisdom teachings, or how we are to live together, many others including me want to broaden Jesus, give him a more varied job description. He was more than a teacher, he was a prophet, calling us to change and turn from our destructive ways, he was a healer, bringing people together, breaking down barriers, and he was a mystic, a spirit person, revealing the deep presence of God in all of us.
Dominic Crossan describes him as a non-violent revolutionary who practised non-violent resistance to the powers of in justice until death. And in so doing revealed most fully the creative and life giving presence of God in this world.
What he isn’t, is the singular savour of individuals so that they can escape the world and go somewhere else. A divine rescuer, or as Nadia Bolz-Weber calls him, your magical puppy in a pound. That if you choose him he will be yours. And with your personal magical puppy will come all the warm feelings and love and blessings you can imagine. And you will not be required to do anything in return.
But this is not what we hear today in the reading from Mark, (8:28-37 for those interested), whose community knew so much persecution.
What we have today is not a magical puppy, but a flesh and blood human being, who calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. And if you try to save your life you will lose it and if you lose it for the sake of the gospel you will gain it.
It’s such a powerful reading, lose your life and you will save it. It seems to summarise everything that I have been pondering. Take up the sometimes incredibly difficult task of loving and forgiving and sharing and we will find life. Give up our egos, and our power for the sake of others and we will find life. Give up violence as a way of solving our problems, give up the idea that we are more worthy of God than our enemies, deny the idea that we are individuals that can do it alone, and we will find life in community.
Yet as I said before , it’s almost impossible to convince others of this truth, even as I stand before you, supposedly trying to.
Even Jesus himself had problems convincing those who were closest to him. He asks Peter, who do you say I am, because Peter was so blinded by the culture and religious norms of his day. Peter takes Jesus aside to try to talk sense into him, because he doesn’t really get the message. So if Jesus can’t do it, neither can I.
All I can do is share my own experiences, along this path.
Whenever I feel I want to give up the ride, and go my own individual way, I come back to the beginning. I actually believe very little, but I seem to know a lot. Heart knowing. Because faith is about knowing and trusting.
Trusting that the way of Jesus gives life. Fullness of life. Trusting that the mystery of God gives hope, for all. For we are all God’s children.
Even if it may appear otherwise.
Your pastor Karen