First News of Dickinson and Belfield - March 2009
"Something is REALLY Changing"
The Christian Church faces one of the biggest challenges of its 2,000 year history. We find ourselves in a time and place in which our children think far differently than we do, in which their children will think even more differently. Our fascination with the TV has become a fascination with the computer screen in the generations that follow us. Our awe that we could speak to someone on the other coast has turned into commonplace “chatting” with those on the other side of the earth. Members of the younger generations spend more time on the internet than they do in church.
Our cherished signs and symbols, our traditions and ceremonies do not hold the same meaning for many of these people as they do for us. They stick their heads into our churches, see nothing that makes sense to them. How do we share the Good News of God’s love with those who do not understand what we say? How are we called to do and be church in this time and place?
Understanding some of the previous challenges helps us to understand that of the present day. The printing press, invented in 1452, changed the world forever. Prior to this, knowledge was passed on from scribe to scribe through labor intensive copying of the text. Few could afford books, even a copy of the Bible. Even many priests were illiterate. For knowledge of God’s Word, the faithful needed to depend upon someone else who could read and interpret it for them. It is hard for us to understand the technological breakthrough that the King James Version of the Bible was to those who first read it.
But for the people of the time to actually be able to hold a printed copy of the Bible in their hands and read it in their own language, rather a laboriously copied Latin version that few who could read understood, was an even greater miracle than that which we have today with our almost instantaneous worldwide communication. A new world was opened to them, one that they could hold and grasp and make their own.
Once it was possible to own a printed copy of the Bible and read it, dependence upon others’ interpretation was no longer necessary. Interpretations began to vary as more people read the Bible. Lay people were able to read and interpret the Bible on their own. Authority was no longer vested solely in the interpretation of the Roman Catholic hierarchy once Martin Luther posted his thesis on the church door in 1517, 65 years after the printing press was invented. The civil authority of his prince protected Martin Luther and the first Protestant Reformation was born.
A technology changed the Christian tradition. The faith, that deep understanding of God’s love for each and every human being, remained the same, but that generation, as did subsequent generations, “made the faith their own.” <as stated in the Constitution if the United Church of Christ> This happened slowly and subtlety, almost unnoticeably, as it passed from generation to generation until we reached the computer age, and the pace of change speeded up with the challenge of another new technology.
The age of the computer has burst upon us with another change in the way that people think and view reality. We have moved into what is called the Postmodern age. Many books have been written about how the computer and all that has come with it has changed us as a people.
This challenge has been augmented by a challenge from the world of ideas. In 1781, Emmanuel Kant published a book called Critique of Pure Reason. In this, Kant demonstrated that we impose reason upon what our senses tell us, that, in fact, our understanding of reality is subjective. What we perceive as “truth” is our own interpretation of truth, based upon what we pay attention to as well as what we ignore.
Those of us who grew up before the 60s have an understanding that truth is something objective that we can find, that we can reach out and touch. In our formative years, there was an “establishment”, an understanding of the way that things are and should be that many of us questioned. But we didn’t question that there WAS a truth that we could go out and find as we “searched for ourselves.”
Those who grew up after the 60’s and this questioning of the establishment, tend to see truth as something that can’t quite be captured with certainty. Our culture has lost the concept of an absolute truth, and we hear people talking about “my truth” and your “truth.” Lying has become a way of life for some, as truth is seen as relative and can’t be pinned down. What has been forgotten is that what is perceived is an interpretation of truth, rather than truth itself.
Our youth ask us many questions we have trouble answering with words that they can understand. How do we know that the interpretations of God’s Word from the past have any validity? Where do we anchor our faith, if God’s love cannot be proven?
At this point in time, we need to embrace that subjectivity, for it is there that we experience God’s love for us, it is there that we share God’s love with other .It is in being the Body of Christ that the church will share the faith of the ages with the children of the future – and many of the people of the present day who have yet to experience the miracle of that love.
How do we help the coming generations find the comfort in the faith that has been passed down to us if we cannot speak the same language? By simply loving them, and by translating the wisdom that was given to us into words and symbols that they can understand. God will help us with this challenge. Paul stated that he became all things to all people so that they might be won to Christ. Can we refuse this challenge and say we follow the faith that he shared with us?
One voice from past ages speaks of that still small voice within us. That voice that speaks of God’s love and faithfulness. God’s spirit exists within each of us, as well as outside of us. And it is to that spirit that we point when someone asks where our authority to speak come from. We may not be able to “prove” God’s love, but we can share it. We may not be able to “prove” God’s faithfulness, but we can be faithful.
We have become comfortable with our traditions; they fit us like a good, comfortable shoe. Paul challenges us to be uncomfortable so as to share the good news with those for who our comfortable shoe cannot fit. We need to remember that it is sharing God’s love that is important, not saving it for ourselves. It is the same challenge that the early church faced when deciding if the Gentiles were welcome, if those who thought so differently were to be invited to the table.
We are in the midst of another Protestant Reformation; new ways of thinking challenge us as the keepers of the faith. We are faced with giving birth to a new and vibrant expression of the faith of the ages. The UCC Constitution states that it is the responsibility of each generation to make the faith their own. We may not quite recognize the faith as expressed by the coming generations, but it will hold within it the same understanding of the awesome nature of God’s love, the same steadfastness of God’s truth.
We need to help the coming generations find God’s love and truth deep within themselves. It is our calling and our challenge.
First News of Dickinson and Belfield - February 2009
"Comfort and Challenge"
I’ve been learning a lot working on the current sermon series on the foundational texts of the congregations. Putting together one comforting text with one challenging text at first seemed only a technique that allowed me to use more of your texts. Then I realized that I did it through the promptings of the spirit. Without first the comfort, we cannot hear the challenge. The fact that comfort texts worked well with those of challenge is NOT a coincidence.
Sermon one asked: “Can we hear the challenge of the Bible without first hearing the comfort?”. It used Psalm 23 as the foundation for hearing Matthew 25:40: it spoke of that sense of the safety that comes from knowing that whatever valley we travel, God is present with us. The knowledge of God’s presence with us prepares us for the challenge of seeing that presence in another person. We experience the comfort as a foundation for our faith, and we respond with the act of loving those whom our God loves. We do this, and we arrive at that scene of judgment at which the king tells us, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
The second sermon asked, “Can we sing Psalm 52 without first singing Psalm 100?” The song of praise that is Psalm 100 reminds us of the wonder and power of the One who created us, and the One to whom we belong. Verse three makes that clear: “Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his, we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” After we sing the Lord’s praise, then we are able to ask for and expect God’s mercy. We ask our God to “wash away all <our> iniquity, and cleanse <us> from our sin.” The major challenge of repentance is acknowledging our imperfection. We only do this with those we trust. Our words of comfort build that trust.
The third in the series spoke of the biggest challenge, that of loving our enemy. Its question was: "If you do not feel a sense of God's protecting love, can you take the risk of loving your enemy?" Psalm 121 again speaks of God’s presence with us, that presence that steadies us when faced with both challenges and crisis. The words of Matthew
The question for the fourth sermon has yet to reveal itself, but sermon five will ask; “If we did not know God’s love as patient, kind, always trusting and never ending, would we ever learn to love ourselves or our neighbor?” (1 Corinthians 12;12-20, 27; 13:4-8a, 13 and Matthew 22:38-40, along with Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). It is God’s love that we model when we love our neighbor, when we love our enemy – and when we learn how to put up with ourselves.
The life of faith is a process through which we grow. I get Yoga Journal, and it shows how to do some of those fantastic poses that some people (usually not me) can do. After the pose, there comes 3-4 pages of preliminary poses you need to be able to do before you are ready for the final one. It also has warm-up exercises for that particular pose. Our text of comfort act as the preliminary poses. We experience God’s love; we learn to trust that love; at some point, we feel secure and want to love those whom God loves. Each time we get here, we widen the circle of those whom we are willing to love. At some point our neighbor makes it in; at another, ourselves; eventually, our enemies. It is always a challenge; there are always more people to include. Each time we widen the circle, the world changes for the better.
Some of us make it to the point at which we can love our enemies, others find it challenging to love their neighbor. But it is the foundation of faith that is most important, for without a solid foundation built upon the rock of faith, we are but a house built upon sand. We need to get our foundation set up on the solid rock of our own experience of God’s love, our own experience of these inspiring, comforting texts. The more solidly we build our foundation, the higher we can build our life of ministry and Christian service.
The higher we can build, the wider our circle becomes, the more our world changes.
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