A Master was surprised to hear shouting and altercation going on in his courtyard. When he was told that one of his disciples was at the center of it, he had the man sent for and asked what the cause of the din was.
‘There is a delegation of scholars that has come to visit you. I told them you do not waste your time on men whose heads are stuffed with books and thoughts, but devoid of wisdom. These are the people who, in their conceit, create dogmas and divisions among people everywhere.’ The Master smiled. ‘How true, how true,’ he murmured. ‘But tell me, is not your conceit in claiming to be different from these scholars the cause of this present conflict and division?’
Let me be clear, then I don’t really plan to outline here a new theology, as such;; that is, I don’t have the hubris or conceit to think that I have thought up or discovered an actual NEW religion or theolgy , nor have I received a new divine revelation which has directed me to tell you all the new good news that all you have known before is wrong, and I will now tel you what is right!
The Seneca Indian Chief, Red Jacket, replied to a missionary trying to convert the Indians: "You have got our country, but you are not satisfied; you want to force your religion upon us...Brother, you say there is but one way to worship and serve the Great Spirit. If there is but one religion, why do you white people differ so much about it?"
That is the interesting thing about religion, isn’t it? It’s so different. So hard to believe, really. Yet most us do. Most of the world. Most of the United States say they believe in God, whatever that means, because of course, that’s the problem. WE DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS! Yet we kill each other at the drop of a yarmulke, head scarf, or rosary bead over religions that supposedly believe in the same God that teaches love! Ever wonder what a world without religion might be like’ Maybe peaceful and loving’
Isn’t that what we come to church for’ To learn how to be peaceful and loving’ Then why can’t the rest of the world ? Well, of course the answer is because they don’t come to the same church we do! And there’s the rub! There’s all these different churches’ teaching all these different messages. So who’s right? How can you tell? The answer according to some of them, of course, is a trick one, because evidently, you have to die to find out! So my answer is to look for another question.
The question might better be how can THIS church be the beloved community for transforming the world into a better tomorrow? How can we help one another in the many ways we need help even as we reach out to those in need of our help? How can we spread our Gospel of Good News? Do we have a different version of theology of church? I think we do. For one thing, we have a unique history with people that are surely unique and that makes us different, but there's more. There are also a lot more questions, some of which only you and your family, if you have one, can answer. Some of you may have to take this sermon home, unpack it and live with it for a while, but don't worry, you; ll hear more about it during this fall as we talk more about what this church might mean for all of us.
Words are important to me, so I went to look up the word, church. Some people ask how we can be a church if we don’t believe in tradtioanl Chrstiainty? So I thought I’d check in one of those holy books we DO believe n- the dictionary! My old American Heritage Dictionary. 2nd College Edition 1985 defgines church : 1.’The company of all Christians regarded as the mystic spiritual body. 2. A building for public, esp. Christian, worship. 3. A congregation. 4. Public divine worship ina church; a religious service .’ I then thought I’d get the dictionary definition of Christian:’Professing belief in Jesus as Christ or following the religion based on his teachings,’ so even if most of us don’t consider Jesus divine, that is ‘The Christ’ most of us would probably say we believe in his teachings, we might or might not say we were a religion based on his teachings.?
The reason I looked up these words is that I think the theology of church has to do a great deal with definitions and theology. I used the readings from the Letters to the editors, for instance, about the book, The Evolution of God, by Paul Bloom, because I wanted to point out three things about churches that I thought were related as well to what I might call the ‘Evolution of Church.’
The first letter by (The Rev.)John B. Giuliani, Redding. Conn. and we don’t know what kind of Rev- …’Any evolution of God worthy of discussion is one in which we acknowledge the indwelling of divinity inseparable from nature. In discovering the God-within we discover at the same time the depth of our own divinity from which arises a moral order free from despotic imposition while remaining subject to social consensus. For Wright, ‘it is not God who evolves. It is us.? I suggest we do away with this kind of dualism and celebrate the evolution of the sacred union of nature with its inseparable divine source of being.?
So for me the kind of God I am talking about, as I talked about with Chet Raymo’s Scientific Naturalism and Emerson’s Transcendentalism the God within, a mystical humanism, naturalistic theism, a god of metaphor of a sense of the holy is the way I interpret the God of the Bible, but understand that there are other ways of interpreting my metaphor. Perhaps the most important idea here is not that we all believe the same creed about the existence of a supreme being named God the Father, but that we all agree that we may explore what this sacred idea might mean to each one of us and how it might impact our lives as a beloved community. What does the word, God, mean to us? Is it a loaded gun or a comforting hug? That makes a difference to a theology of church. There is ina sense the idea that we ARE God.
The second letter is by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salk, Atlanta and I think it because he is a Rabbi that I included it and he has a sense of what of ‘Church or what I would substitute here ‘beloved community;? I like his tongue in cheek introduction–: ‘As Robert Wright points out (according to Paul Bloom’s review), ‘Love your neighbor,’ probably refers only to relationships with fellow Israelites. Or maybe not, depending on which classical biblical commentator you read. But here’s a curious statistic regarding another commandment in the Bible. The admonition to care for the stranger, I.e. the non-Israelite, appears no less than 36 times- making it the most frequently cited moral injunction of ancient Judaism. Which commandment is truer to the essence of biblical religion’ If I’m going by the numbers (including the book of Numbers), I’d opt for caring for the stranger. It certainly goes a long way toward redeeming God’s reputation- not to mention providing religious people with a much needed perspective on contemporary social issues.’
So if church is going to worship or ‘serve’ God, then serving the stranger is going to be important, and maybe the stranger is somehow related to God as well. Hmmm. It is interesting that in Islam serving the stranger is also strong commandment. perhaps because of the desert culture, but perhaps also more than that. Perhaps more of a humanitarian, more of a universalizing religious element that the early great psycholgizers, prophets wise sages included in the writings of the early religions, but they have come down throughout he ages to us today and their wisdom stands and urges us to still serve the the stranger because we are all strangers sometime. And we know that there are people who are don’t know about Unitarian Universalism who are strangers to UUism who desperately need what we have to offer here, no not because we have the only answer, but because we may have the answer that makes sense to them, just as it makes sense to us!
And the third is by a lay person who sounds like one of the so called ‘New Atheists or even a UU: Clement H. Kreider, Jr. Wall, NJ : ‘…Wright’s insight that God was created in man’s image, and that the perception of the deity thus evolves with the psychology of the worshipers. Bloom himself doesn’t ‘doubt that the explanation for consciousness, will arise from the mercilessly scientific account of psychology and neuroscience.’ This ‘consciousness’ certainly includes the universal innate sense of morality that starts in infancy and is further molded by family, tribe, community.
…The most important consequence and hope for enlightenment is the rise of secular humanism, which with growing acceptance is stepping into the breech.
‘Yes, I, too believe that it is we who evolve and ‘the perception of the deity thus evolves with the psychology of the worshipers’ is hard to dispute if we concentrate on the word perception. Whatever you believe about God, the perception surely has changed over the centuries, and even the Old TEstament God seems different than he New Testament God, just as their seems to be a different God of different religions and even denominations of the supposedly same religion! I don’t agree that secular humanism ‘hope for enlightenment,’ but I think what he’s trying to say is that we need to get beyond traditional religion for any ‘hope for enlightenment,’ that he’s sounding very much like Emerson’s Divinity schooled Address of 1838! I think the ‘consciousness’ might be that sense of the divine, what I call the religious dimension that we encounter, or at least seek here in religious community in church in worship when we somehow are in religious relationship, when we encounter religion in some form or another, sometimes even when we just read about it and are inspired!
What is that power that moves us? That sometimes changes us into better people’ The letter writer says ; ‘This ‘consciousness’ certainly includes the universal innate sense of morality that starts in infancy and is further molded by family, tribe, community.’ I think it is partly because we have lost that sense of family, tribe and community because so many of us are moving around and so many of our families and communities are on different cultural and educational levels that it’s almost impossible to return to those simpler times of consensus if they ever really existed. So often those good old days weren’t;t very good unless you were white, male, and middle class. So the need the beloved community, for church. The need to find what is right has never been simple. and religion has given us guidelines, but times change and situations change quicker than culture can keep up. Witness the perversion of fundamentalism of the Taliban interpretation of Islam and the nightmare of those suffering under its harsh repercussions. What God could write the rules which some interpret there? None that I could understand. Yet,we must remember that there have always been cultures in other times and places which we could not understand and perhaps never will. It is difficult to know what to do, except to offer our own understanding.
So we find what is right through our own heart, not just what is written in ancient texts, because times change, and so religious laws much change as well. Woman’s rights change, for instance, as perhaps the greatest and most obvious of unfair religious laws that probably were not for religious reasons, but cultural. For some, following the religious law is spiritual and I don’t mean to be disrespectful to that; indeed it requires a kind of religious humility and devotion that I sometimes envy, but am just not made for! But when does religious law and/or ritual become cultural oppression? When times change, churches must change, and some do and some don’t. Indeed, it is why the framers of the Declaration of the Independence, most of then Unitarians, by the way, most of them had been turned off by traditional religion, by the way, wanted separation of church and state for this country, because of that reason, perhaps they wanted to avoid the religious fundamentalism of the 21st century!
Perhaps they knew if they based our Constitution and Declaration of Independence on the Bible, we might have the same problem as the Middle East is having today, and we’re already having problems with religious conservatives claiming this country is a Christian Country, and by that they mean, conservative Trinitarian Christian country, when what we need to do is find a beloved community that comes together to decided on what is right by what is based on love and fairness, not on ancient doctrine.
Divorce is good non controversial example of a church problem, and I say church, because it’s not a Jewish problem, theirs managed to figure it out. Now interestingly, as I’ve said before, Jesus is very clear that divorce is bad and condemns it, but since divorce is so common, most mainline churches have literally had to find a way to interpret divorce as being somehow OK, especially since there’s a very high rate of divorce among clergy! Indeed, there are now divorce ceremonies and pastoral counseling training as well as countless programs offered n most churches for people going through the trauma of divorce. Many churches have responded in what I would call a loving Christian manner in dealing with an issue that is difficult to deal with theologically if we take the Bible literally. Obviously conservative churches have more difficulty and the Catholic church, of course has even more difficulty and has that other thing called an annulment which most non Catholics don’t really understand and often make jokes about, but I certainly won’t. Though, yes I am tempted to.
While the Catholic Church has the right to not to change its ancient culture, people are leaving the church when they find divorce is the only option and they want to remarry in a church. for instance. Birth control, Celibacy for the religious professionals and many other religious laws are driving people from the Catholic church because the church, the theology of the church is not serving the needs of those people any more. Sometimes those people find their needs in Protestant churches, but often they are turned off by ALL church, indeed, sometimes by ALL religion, because they have equated the Catholic church with God, Himself.
Now, it should also be said that there are billions of Catholics around the world who still find much comfort and meaning within the church and they are blessed, but for those who find they must leave, there is a vacuum, an emptiness, often.
The other more controversial issue of the church today, of course, is the issue of homosexuality and perhaps the best example of a changing culture and an issue that Jesus never addressed. Oh, we know in his Jewish culture homosexuality was condemned, though it was accepted in many other cultures of the time, so remember that this was not necessarily a religious doctrine as much as cultural, like some dietary laws which historians think may have had more to do with separating Jews from other ethnic groups than any health issues like trichinosis from pork, for instance.
Some of the more liberal churches have begun to accept homosexuality and most of we UUs have. We certainly have as a denomination. We are a welcoming congregation which means we actually went through a learning process a vote as a congregation and a commitment to welcome people of all sexual orientations and races and isms. We still have a way to go of course. The recent controversy over the Racial Profiling issue of The Black Harvard Professor arrest in his Cambridge house And President Obama’s Press Conference has brought that home again, and it reminds us that 11:00 Sunday morning is still probably the most segregated hour in America, and maybe we can do something about that as well as part of anew theology of church.
Here’s an interesting fact about worship I found yesterday on a website about worship-‘Gallup International reports that 57 percent of American citizens regularly attend religious services, while only 15 percent of French citizens, 10 percent of UK citizens, and 25 percent of Israeli citizens do..’ (https://www.wordiq.com/definition/Places_of_worship)
The new theology for the new time is NOT a new religion; it is not even a new approach to religion. I think the new theology is US ina new time and it is the potential that we bring to growth- both our own spiritual growth as well as the growth of the church while reaching out to help the community around the church in social connection nd social justice. What good does this church do? The new theology for a new time is that we must all become a part of the process of growth, change, and transformation if we are to truly live out our idea of religion, but we can choose what part of the process we choose to become.
I have found my religious home here with you, my beloved community here as your minister to explore the religious dimension of life and love with you and to try to become a better person and to try to help one another and to reach out to help work toward social justice in the community. May it be enough. May love find a way.
Amen, Peace, Shalom, (Peace in Hebrew), Assalaamu Alaikum(may Peace be upon you in Arabic), Abrazos a todos (Hugs all around) Namaste, (A Hindu greeting the divinity within you) Blessed Be, and let me add one more blessing that I adapted from the Spanish long before I went in to ministry. ‘Vaya con Dios’ is Spanish for Good-bye, but literally is ‘Go with God,’ SO I adapted it to say ‘Vaya Con Su Dios, ‘Go with your idea or interpretation of God.’
Peace,Love, Shalom,Salaam, Blessed Be,Namaste, Abrazo a Todos,Vaya con su Dios,
3 Letters to the Editor regarding a review by Paul Bloom on June 28 of The Evolution of God, by Robert Wright; from Sunday July 19 NY TIMES Book Review
- ‘How tiring to keep hearing (as in Paul Bloom’s review of ‘The Evolution of God,’ by Robert Wright,) discussions of a God who exists apart from a primal and continuing existence in nature. Sufficient philosophical, psychological and even theological testimony shows the arrogance and infantilism of positioning one’s God against another- my God is bigger than yours! Any evolution of God worthy of discussion is one in which we acknowledge the indwelling of divinity inseparable from nature. In discovering the God-within we discover at the same time the depth of our own divinity from which arises a moral order free from despotic imposition while remaining subject to social consensus. For Wright, ‘it is not God who evolves. It is us.’ I suggest we do away with this kind of dualism and celebrate the evolution of the sacred union of nature with its inseparable divine source of being. (The Rev.)John B. Giuliani, Redding. Conn.
- ‘As Robert Wright points out (according to Paul Bllom’s review), ‘Love your neighbor,’ probably refers only to relationships with fellow Israelites. Or maybe not, depending on which classical biblical commentator you read. But here’s a curious statistic regarding another commandment in the Bible. The admonition to care for the stranger, I.e. the non-Israelite, appears no less than 36 times- making it the most frequently cited moral injunction of ancient Judaism. Which commandment is truer to the essence of biblical religion’ If I’m going by the numbers (including the book of Numbers), I’d opt for caring for the stranger. It certainly goes a long way toward redeeming God’s reputation- not to mention providing religious people with a much needed perspective on contemporary social issues.’ Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salk, Atlanta
3 ‘In his review of ‘The ‘The Evolution of God,’ Paul Bloom notes Robert Wright’s insight that God was created in man’s image, and that the perception of the deity thus evolves with the psychology of the worshipers. The most important such change, Wright says, is that ‘history naturally pushes people toward moral improvement, toward moral truth.’
Bloom himself doesn’t ‘doubt that the explanation for consciousness, will arise from the mercilessly scientific account of psychology and neuroscience.’ This ‘consciousness’ certainly includes the universal innate sense of morality that starts in infancy and is further molded by family, tribe, community.
The yearning to understand moral truth coincides with progressive dissatisfaction with what relevant light emanates from the anthropomorphic God. Witness ‘post-Christina Europe,’ the flight from the mainstream churches, the polls showing declining belief.
The most important consequence and hope for enlightenment is the rise of secular humanism, which with growing acceptance is stepping into the breech. Clement H. Kreider, Jr. Wall, NJ