9/17/17 Sermon Our Fourth of faith
Jewish and Christian teachings
Paul D. Daniel, Minister
The fourth source of our faith derives from Jewish and Christian teachings that call us to
respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves. Sadly, these Holy Scriptures are sometimes “texts of terror”, for women and minority groups who have been marginalize and oppressed for eons by biblical literalists. Woman, immigrants and strangers of every stripe have been treated as either property or enemies of the dominant culture. Today, a white patriarchal system dating back to biblical times still effects the body politic, denying whole segments of our population basic human rights. Even some in our government support white supremacy to exclude all people of color.
As a result, many Unitarian Universalist have trouble reading scriptures, even when heeding the admonitions by feminist scholars and theologians to view these books with a critical eye, a “hermeneutics of suspicion.” If we read scriptures with a healthy skepticism we are better able to find the kernels of inspiration and wisdom embedded in these sacred texts, while rejecting that which wounds and oppresses.
Rev. Phillip Hewett writes “the bonds of unity in a church are not a shared belief but a shared worship. This idea opens the door for us to accept or rejects these texts based on our personal experience and scholarship. Worship (worth-ship) it is an act of reverence for what is regarded as of great, or supreme worth. In the ultimate analysis, this is but another way of capturing the real meaning of love central to scriptures and the fourth source of our faith. What is of real worth to us, in the fullest sense, is that love is central to our being. Love is reverence for life, to use Albert Schweitzer’s phrase, and reverence is a mode of worship.
Worship in a Unitarian Universalist setting becomes a shared act of celebration expressing our love in varying degrees for those values by which and for which we live. As UUs we sometimes confuse our human love with God’s love. God offer unconditional love but most of us can only approximate that ideal and often with strings and conditions attached. As former Unitarian Universalist president John Buehren writes, “we expect from finite, conditional human beings unconditional love” on a level with the divine. Surely at the core of our being we know that is unrealistic, no matter how much we crave giving and receiving it. When we expect the near impossible we are setting ourselves up for to be disappointed in ourselves and Holy Scriptures. Simply put, our pre-conceived image of God as our personal protector for ourselves and the rest of humanity is folly.
The God I imagine the real God as Buehrens writes “is unconditional and indiscriminate in overturning our more personal, temporary and narrow expectations. Our Judeo-Christian heritage is derivative. Our expectations and understanding of the nature of our Gods arise out of ancient pagan traditions and rituals honoring the cycle of seasons, the mystery of birth and death and the celestial void. They are further influenced by early Sumerian traditions, indigenous faiths of the Middle East and later Roman and Greek customs.
These stories tell of a human history of faith maintained in the face of disappointment or unexpected turns of event. Ancient Gods were often capricious and vengeful. Putting your faith in them was risky but not doing so was fraught with even greater danger. As people moved from polytheism into monotheism, religious understandings began to change. Religions began to focus more on a God of love and mercy, yet our faith stories in the Old and New Testaments still contained many surprises, some of them quite unpleasant. Think about Job to know that truth.
The Jesus of the Easter story does not become the King of Kings as expected, instead he is martyred on the cross like a common criminal; A sad turn of events Yet, there are also miracles celebrate, Jesus rises from the tomb, the Hanukkah candles that were only to last a day lasts for eight nights; the Passover story has Moses’ calling for the Red Sea to part, only to go unanswered until one brave soul, in an act of faith, enters the water. The Christmas story of a child’s birth out of humble origins becomes an event that changed the course of human history is miraculous.
All these stories and more arise out of the realm of the unexpected. We Unitarian Universalist are called to bring our own intellect and faith to bear as we interpret these stories and texts. Our challenge is to find the healing truth within these stories. As Buehrens remarks, we are called to find “the mark of God less in the regularities of nature than in the unexpected turn that life can take, in the humbling of the arrogant and the uplifting of the lowly”. The lesson embedded in the unexpected is to find love in the face of our disappointment in God or in each other.
We can still be humbled by small events, insignificant ones that teach us to move out our narrow understanding of what love can mean and what love calls us to. We can do that by conducting an owning and acknowledge both our shortcomings and successes in offering love. None of us are perfect in that regard yet, none of us are condemned for our shortcomings. We are however, called to keep trying to become better people, to allow our better angels sprout wings allowing us to become the most authentic person we are meant to be.
To act with love is hard work when we are limited by our frail and fallible humanity. In human relations whether with friends or families or in settings such as at our jobs or in a church Buehrens reminds us, “the real work of growing together religiously consists above all else of learning to behave well, to respond creatively even when our expectations in life are disappointed”.
As a minister and a recovering fixer and rescuer, I want to meet all your expectations, to be perfect in how you experience my ministry but that will never happen. What any minister can do is only their best in a moment. I am also mindful of the aphorism that my role as a minister is to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted”. In truth, I am not here just to meet your expectations, but to provoke you, to stimulate your thinking, to help you grow spiritually, to comfort you in times of crisis, to provide leadership and direction, to help you find your own truth. Whoever you think we UUs are and whomever you think I am as your minister is probably an incomplete picture.
All of us are a whole lot more and something less than we might have hoped for or expected. Buehrens speaks of this as a “theology of juxtaposition”, running the rasp against the grain.” That expectation applies to all of us. We are admonished to take care in what we put our trust. When religious people take pride in trusting God, then the prophetic thing is to test how that effects and changes our day-to- day treatment of each other. When we pride ourselves too much on being ethical and moral beings, then perhaps we need reminding that our long-term capacity to embrace the second great commandment of Jesus–to love thy neighbor as thyself—depends on the depth of our ability to live out the first—to love God with all your heart, and soul and mind.
The theologians Paul Tillich had a very different understanding of that precept. For Tillich theism is bad theology. He believed, God is the ground upon which all beings exist, the Holy the sacred other. God is the holy sacred other, the foundation, the bed rock of all that exists upon it. It is that which we must love with all our heart, mind and strength.
“The difficulties we experience embodying our Jewish and Christian faith traditions and sacred texts is that they call us mere mortals to Godly standard of devotion. The best we can do is to be more open in our love, more accepting of differing perspectives and theology, more inclusive of other cultures, more willing to let go of our expectations of what we need from these texts and to meet these texts on their own ground with their built in human flaws and frailties. These moral parables and psalms are written by men for human consumption and as such are fallible and flawed by the bias embedded in a patriarchal culture in a limited cultural and social location. Why would we expect more from the authors of the Bibles then we would of ourselves with our inability or unwillingness to find the true message of love within the bottle. Why would we expect the measure of our love to equal that of our God? That is the pathway to disillusionment and unmet expectations.
No wonder we reject the Scriptures because they are way too human for us, flawed and imperfect, and yet these text like we UUs are always open to new understanding and interpretation as we grow in wisdom and knowledge. The true ground of our hope writes Buehrens “is not in our expectations however, no matter how grand or how humble. It lies in the hubbub, which upsets our expectations and reorders our perceptions”. In so doing this opens us to forge new paths to love eternal.