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Sermons and theological ramblings of an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ.

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A theological starting point

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Categories: Main Blog

The blow that brought the Enlightenment to its knees was certainly the one delivered by a patent clerk with his theory of relativity. Equally important in bringing down the hubristic enterprise, though less well known, was the contribution of Kurt Gödel. His incompleteness theorem undermined the efforts of his generation’s greatest mathematicians, who were determined to reduce all of mathematics to a handful of axioms that must be taken on faith, though in the positivist tradition, none of the thinkers involved would use such a word as faith.

Gödel’s proof states that you cannot prove the system of mathematics from within that system, a move every bit as destabilizing as Einstein’s relativity. It should come as no surprise then that both men had faith in the divine, though neither could be classified as religious.

This may seem like a strange starting point for a theology. How can you move from math and physics to God? I would ask, how can you not? I hope the similarities between Gödel’s thought and my theology will unfold as I work through some of my theology here.

I begin with an apophatic theology, that is a belief that God is unknowable. The very statement that God is unknowable is an example of the problem. The moment I make it, I have claimed to know something about God, a bind known as aporia. In any case, that is my axiom. For God to be God as humans have conceived, God must be beyond human ability to conceive. Any theology that points to God must begin by acknowledging its limitations.

The starting point for theology is the human enterprise of reacting to and theorizing the divine. The theologians task is like that of the artist. A work of art is not a thing in itself, but is a pointer to something just beyond, some transcendent other. Theology never describes the divine, theology simply points to the divine, which can never be contained or described adequately.

Some would argue that we can know the divine through revelation. But who gets to decide what revelations count? Moses and Jesus are in, but others, from cult-leaders to founders of world religions, are out? Don’t get me wrong, I am a Christian, though I do recognize the “scandal of particularity” when one begins to ask how a loving God can love one ancient tribe more than all the others. But let’s face it, even the Christian tradition, with its notion that the Holy Spirit acts to insure the integrity of Scripture and the Church, is filled with a history of schism and uncertain texts. I believe in the Holy Spirit, just not as Divine Copy-editor and Cop.

But back to the task of theology: one measure of a theology’s authenticity might be that it serves as a pointer, and that it acknowledges its inability to contain the divine.

The other trait I seek in a theology is that it un-makes itself. I do not yet have the words to clarify this, but I do have an image. It is the double helix of our DNA. We think of it as stable, but in truth it is dynamic. Segments unzip, build copies and proteins, reform, sometimes changing in the process. This dynamism that is so basic to life is, I believe, as crucial in a theology. In a theology this might manifest as a theology that is elegant and well-formed, but contains within it a paradox that, from the human perspective, destabilizes the entire structure.

Enough rambling. Not every idea that makes it to this blog will be well-formed. My own theology is unmade and remade every time I study Scripture, pray, participate in the Sacraments of the Church. And I have not determined how we prevent false and dangerous doctrines from developing if theology is always dynamic, always inadequate. The image of faith/theology as DNA would suggest that some mutations are advantageous and survive, while others die out. This would mean that any robust faith contains the divine. That is a claim I cannot make.

Have a blessed Sunday!

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A morning worship from December 06

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Categories: Main Blog

Call to Worship

“In God’s hands, cleanness is not fragile, but dirt vanishes at the touch of a holy God. Our God is holy and our God is everywhere. No matter what we suffer, no matter what mud puddles we have splashed in, whatever defilement we have embraced, God has run out ahead to greet us: ‘I can, I will, I have already made you clean.’”
-Anglican Theologian The Rev. Dr. Marilyn McCord Adams

Opening Prayer

God,
We have rights, or so we claim,
The right to be angry and hurt,
The right to decide what is just and unjust.
And then you happen,
Again and again.
Open us as we read, reflect and pray on your word
That we might welcome the radical love
That is Jesus
Again and again.
Amen.

Responsive Reading

O LORD, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?

Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;

who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;

in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
but who honor those who fear the LORD;

who stand by their oath even to their hurt;

who do not lend money at interest,
and do not take a bribe against the innocent.

Those who do these things shall never be moved.

-Psalm 15

Scripture- Luke 5:1-8

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
-from the NRSV copyright The National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.

Reflection

You might think this an improbable text for a progressive protestant to preach on the Feast of Saint Nicholas during the season of Advent. And you’d be right. I stumbled upon this text a couple of weeks ago quite by accident. You see, the Rev. Mary L. was preaching on Luke 15, and my eyes aren’t what they used to be, so I missed the one and turned to Luke 5. And as so often happens when a text finds me, I realized I had missed something, something important and alive, and it made me think about Saint E’s. So here goes: You are a sinner. I said it and I’m not taking it back. And guess what, so am I.
Peter is a sinner too. We tend to make Peter into a very two-dimensional character, he can be a bit thick at times, and that whole “you will deny me,” who can forget that? Peter can proclaim Jesus the Messiah one moment, and be called “satan” the next. I am convinced that Peter’s name, and remember that Peter is his nickname and means “rock”, is based on how hard his head is and how dim he can seem. A friend of mine used to use the expression “about as smart as a box of rocks”, and it fits. But Peter is part of the pastoral care team! Peter the chaplain heals and preaches and brings the presence of God with him. When Jesus is dealing with major issues, he brings that pastoral care team with him onto the mountain to pray. You can name them, Mary and Peter, and John, and even Judas. They are all on the Spiritual Care team that is Jesus teaching, preaching and healing ministry. They are spiritual care interns learning from the greatest teacher ever, no disrespect intended to our fine leadership here at Saint E’s. And every one of those men and women walking around Galilee and down to Jerusalem had one thing in common. They were all sinners.
We forget Peter’s response to the call narrative in Luke’s gospel because the next line is so rich in meaning. Jesus tells Peter that he will make him a “fisher of men.” That text we all know. But how many of us remembered what Peter said first? “Dude! go away, I am a sinner.”
Today, a chaplain will show up on your floor. A chaplain will show up in your room. And you may be tempted to say, “Go away.” Because you are tired? Maybe. Because you don’t believe? Could be. Because you are not worthy? Not a chance. Because that chaplain is a sinner too. And that chaplain is loved by God, like you. And there is nothing you can do to get away from that love. Oh, you might try to drown it out. You might send the chaplain back out the door. You might ignore the chaplain next to you in the staff room. But like Peter with his head hard as stone, God is going to ignore your protests and love you anyways, just as Jesus ignored Peter’s request, “Go away, for I am a sinner.”
They say there are few guarantees in life. I don’t agree. Here are my guarantees for today. Today, I guarantee I will say something that I shouldn’t, that I won’t mean, that will sound different than I intended. Today I will hurt someone’s feelings. Today I will fail to hear and to see what someone so much wants me to hear and see. Here are my maybe’s for today: Today I might know that I have failed, have fallen short. I might see my mistakes. I might get a chance to apologize.
And all of this is because I choose today to be in this community, to be fully present, even as the sinner that I am, even with the guarantee that I will fail. Like Peter, like you, I have chosen to get up and follow. What else can I do?
In W. Somerset Maugham’s novel “The Razor’s Edge” there is a priest who has lost his way, who has become a drunkard, who is running away. When asked from whom he is running, his answer is simple: God. When asked what he thinks God is going to do to him, he only needs four words: God will love me. And you know what: He’s right. Today be open to the presence of God in one another, even in our mistakes and imperfection. I am a sinner and will be when I come to minister to you today. You will be a sinner when you minister to me. And yet we choose to love one another as God loves us, without condition, without hesitation, without giving up. May it always be so. Amen.

Prayers of the People

God, we forget about repentance. We prefer happy clappy, and this season especially we prefer to make a joyful noise. We claim that we make this noise for you, but maybe we make it to drown out our own feelings in the face of the Immensity of You, our God. We tell ourselves there will be time later, we’ve designed a season for it, we call it Lent. But this Advent we must also remember that there is a reason for the incarnation, a reason for Jesus. We have fallen, we will fall again. But Jesus calls us again and again. ‘I love you. I forgive you. Get up, take up your matt and walk. Your sins our forgiven.’ And so you have instructed us, ‘Forgive one another as I have forgiven you.’ We pray this morning that we can and will forgive one another the imperfections of our humanity, that we will bring the presence of Christ into our offices and labs, our wards and our rooms, that cleanness will be contagious, that forgiveness will be an epidemic. And so we pray together, as one community of love:

Blessed are you eternal God,
Your creation is filled with blessing.
We thank you for your church universal and its ministries of love,
Fill us with your Spirit that we might love one another.
We thank you for your saints on this feast day of Saint Nicholas,
May they walk with us in all that we do.
We pray for those who are sick, who are tired, who are broken,
Help us to comfort them and to comfort one another.
We celebrate the lives of those who have departed even as we mourn our own losses,
May they join the saints in your presence.
We bring you our concerns, personal and global, spoken and in the quiet of our hearts,
(Please add your own petitions).

God, this is the day you have made for us, even in the midst of our pain and brokenness, the new day dawns, babies are born, love happens. We praise you and thank you always.
Amen

Blessing

May you always walk in this certain knowledge: Nothing can separate you from the love of God, nothing you do, nothing others can do. Go in peace and love one another as God loves you. Amen.

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Welcome!

Categories: Main Blog

I have no idea how often I will be able to post to this blog during the Spring term, but I hope often. I do write a sermon here and there, a paper with a bit of theology that might be worth sharing. The old blog sat idle, then was attacked by spammers and others of that ilk. I’m actually going to launch this with an entire worship service… a short morning prayer from my Clinical Pastoral Education site.

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