Pentecost 5 2019 07 14 Rev David Howells Sermon Notes It’s Hard Being a Christian!!
I’m half way through Karen Armstrong’s “The Spiral Staircase”. It’s the biography of a very bright young woman who, in the midst of the Flower Power era, at 17 years of age, joined a very rigid Catholic Convent in England. 6 years later she stumbled out. Her faith has fallen away. Or has she died to faith? And what is faith? Faith that...? Faith in....?
The old-school formation of a nun was to erase all individuality and rebuild a person as an empty vessel for God. We would call it cult brain washing or mind control, but at that time it was normal and seen as conforming the soul for God’s Spirit.
In North America the Evangelical Churches are often accused of requiring people to daily increase the number of unbelievable things they have to believe before breakfast.
In Canada I find quite reasonable people swerve away from religion because it seems to involve embracing unbelievable, archaic, pre-scientific, and just plain crazy ideas. For some, an adult talking to God is like a child talking to a Teddy. It needs to be let go of!
I’m not at the end of Karen Armstrong’s book and I don’t know where she lands. I know roughly where I land, though. And today’s readings are pretty good ones for me to speak from.
Today’s prayers, readings and psalm (the “Propers of Pentecost 5” as they are known) tell a very different story of faith. There is no hint of “unbelievable things” or mind control. No suggestion of self-erasing or rule keeping. How odd!
The opening prayer, the “collect”, speaks of God’s word being....what? Oh! “light and truth”. This turns into a commitment to....what? Not habitual attendance or self-denial, but seeking justice and doing good.
My quick summary of the Deuteronomy reading is that the commandments, rather than texts to memorise, are already in you, “in your mouth and in your heart to observe...”
The psalm refrain we all said was “O Lord, to you I lift up my soul”.
Colossians speaks of being filled with the knowing of God’s will; spiritual understanding, strong, enduring, patient, joyful, thankful.
In the Gospel Jesus sums up all the law as “What would you do if you saw someone beaten and robbed and lying on the roadside?”
I know that my children’s generation have turned away from Church because it seems to be a big, clunky system, with too many words, too many buildings and too many rules. And not much to show for it. And I think we have spent too much time on the container, and not enough on what is inside. In communion most churches have such lovely chalices, and we can be misdirected and forget that it is the wine that matters. It is what goes in, touches, changes, nourishes and gives life, these things are what matter. Perhaps you are a robust congregation because, lovely as the church is, you know that worship is about gathering to be in God’s presence and with one another. And that can happen wherever there is enough space! (And not too much water.)
Summer is a time for pondering. That’s a good thing. Ponder these this week, as echoes of the readings we have called “the word of the Lord”.
1. What, in my heart, do I think God asks me to do, to be? Not all the asks, but the one that seems to settle in my heart. The one that calls to me. 2. When I feel strong, or patient, or enduring, or joyful, or thankful, is God somewhere in this? Can I look and see? 3. If I am made in the image of God, it’s probably not just about my good looks! It’s about my heart, where my feelings, longings, fears and hopes live. And sometimes my heart is pulled. Could I, should I follow that a little? Can I, maybe, act on it? 4. What might it be like if I decided to take 5 minutes or so, each day, maybe with midmorning coffee, and thought about what it means, right now, “to lift up my soul to God”? Just 5 minutes...set a timer. The hardness of being a Christian is not in believing unbelievable nonsense. It is in taking just a few of the things you see and hear in Jesus’s teaching and way of being, and then, ever so gently, trying to weave them into the fabric of who you are.