Monday, December 6, 2010

The Presumption of Religious Belief

Sometimes I wonder about how crazy it must seem to a person who is not religious to listen to someone who is religious make these incredible claims about God and the unseen things of life. And, I am one of those religious people who makes these claims to know things that no one can possible verify that I or anyone else knows.

And, sometimes, I think that God may really like these very irreligious, agnostic people who are saying things like: "well, there may be a God, and all that, but how would I be able to know, and how would all these crazy religious people be able to know what they say they know?"

That's why I have to get back to deeds over words, deeds over creeds. Because, that is what is comes down to in the end for God. And, people that have no religious creed are on equal footing when it comes to what is most important: deeds.

I believe very deeply in the day in which everyone will account for their deeds before God. And, I believe that there will be so many who have never been religious who will hear God's blessing: "Blessed are you because you had mercy on those who were hurt, who were lonely, who were in need." And, there will be so many who were religious who will hear a real disappointment from God saying something like: "I was with those who were outcast, and lonely, and poor and hurt, and you turned away from me for some reason. Why did you do that?" And, there won't be any answer that we can make.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sunday Evening: A Few Thoughts

It's Sunday evening and I'm sitting on the couch listening to music from the 1970's. I remember the music from those years so well, and still listen to it. That's when I first started listening to music, and it has been something I have deeply loved ever since.

And, on Sunday evenings, especially when I have preached, I usually spend some time thinking about God and faith and how we understand each other in this world when we talk about such sacred things. And, I am really thinking about those things this evening.

And, as I think about preaching, I am wanting to preach to a congregation that is from everywhere; religiously, economically, racially, morally. I am fortunate to have a congregation to preach to that reaches across a lot of divides in society, but I would like to stretch it even more.

If the revelation of God in the history of Israel, and in Jesus, the Christ, is really the center of truth in life, why do people need to be so nervous about discussing it, and why do people need to be so pushy and defensive about it?

If I were to preach some Sunday morning, and there were several Muslims and Jews and perhaps Buddhists and an atheist or agnostic or two scattered around in the congregation, what I said should speak at some level to everyone there or else what I said would not be true. Obviously, Christians and Jews have so much in common, that it is easy to celebrate that common heritage if you try a little. And, I guess there are certainly some commonalities with Islam as well, though I don't know enough to say. And, with Buddhists, the ethical common ground is huge and the connection of mystical traditions can form a strong bond.

But, the point I keep coming back to in my thinking these days is this: the greatest uniting force I know of in human life is Jesus,the Christ. To me, the claim of God on all people in Christ is the uniting force and power on earth, whereas for so many who say they are Christians, commmitment to Christ seems to oppose them and separate them from others who are not Christians. I see it and feel it so differently from these "Christians" that I am not sure I share the same faith with them. And, I am bold enough - I hope it is not arrogance - to claim I am right on this and that I am faithful on this point.

I could spend a lot of time discussing this right now, but I will refer to one section in the New Testament of the Christian Bible: Paul's Letter to the Romans, chapters 9-11. Paul addresses the problem of Gentile Christians thinking they are somehow above Jews (and, perhaps above Jewish Christians), and Paul expresses his continuing love for God's people, the Jews, his kinsfolk. And, Paul expresses his belief that eventually Gentiles and Jews will come together and praise God in faith. That is his hope in Christ. Paul's faith in Christ unites him to Gentiles and Jews. That is what I am getting at.

The Church has ignored Romans 9-11 as if it didn't exist. Because, the Church has largely missed the universal reach of the faith of Jesus Christ, a faith that is opened to all the world. Jesus' faith found kinship with Gentiles, outcasts, Samaritans and Jews, because Jesus' faith was grounded in the reconciling Spirit of God. Those who follow Jesus find the same thing. Those who call him Lord but dont' find kinship with people everywhere in him are deceived about their faith. It is not the faith of Jesus Christ, but some projection of human need.