Listen to the sermon here
Watch the video that was shown in place of the traditional readings for Reformation: Thomas Berry and the Earth Community here
Gospel Text: John 8:31-36
Despite the fact that my parents named me Dawn, I have never been much of a morning person. Those who know me well would probably agree that I should have been called Dusk instead of Dawn. But Dawn I am and so from time to time, I actually venture out to explore this phenomenon for which I am named. Earlier this week, after a long sleepless night, of tossing and turning, wondering and worrying, I decided that as sleep was eluding me, I might as well give up and get up. The sun was about to rise and so out I went into the quiet world of our little subdivision. We moved into our subdivision nine years ago. The subdivision was built about six years before we moved in, so our little community is only about fifteen years old. Before the subdivision was built, the land was used by a farmer to grow corn. On the fringes of our subdivision, they are expanding further into the cornfields. The neighbourhood is expanding, growing, and changing. The demands of modern life are encroaching on a lifestyle that is disappearing from countrysides all over the planet. Modern subdivisions are built to a pretty standard plan. Before the streets and infrastructure can be developed, some pretty basic problems need to be addressed, not the least of which is water run-off. As near as I can tell, modern developers deal with the problem of drainage by establishing ponds which function as catchment basins for rainwater runoff. At the foot of our subdivision there are four such ponds around which the developers created footpaths so that we suburbanites can at our leisure have someplace to take a walk.
When we first moved in, the ponds weren’t exactly picturesque. Just open pits into which runoff had poured, surrounded by paths and building sites. In the beginning these ponds were more like scares on the landscape and failed to inspire us to wander past very often. Indeed, if we wanted to take a walk, Carol and I would often get in the car and drive to a nicer spot to walk. But over the past nine years something miraculous has happen and in our neck of the woods Mother Nature has healed the Earth’s wounds and those ponds have become a favorite place to walk. Where once there was just muck and the open wounds of the Earth, now there are well healed pathways, beautiful bushes, fruit filled trees, and a whole host of wildfowl. Nature has repaired what we humans came close to destroying.
So, as the sun was rising in the east, I couldn’t help thinking about the natural rhythms and blessings of this life. And because I had been kept awake by worrying about the content of this Reformation sermon, my mind began to think about the similarities between the relationship of nature to the pond which humans created where once there was no pond and the relationship between God and the church humans created where once there was no church.
I know it’s a stretch, but bear with me for a moment or two. When the church was first created it was a rather crude response to the experience of God that people met in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In the beginning it was all about the experiences the people who encountered Jesus had and how those experiences changed their lives; as they encountered a new way of being in the world together with a new way of relating to the source of their being. Over time, the followers of Jesus shared their experiences and communities grew; communities that nurtured this new way of being in the world and shared this new way of relating to the source of their being. In the beginning the structures were loose and it was a pretty lean and agile organization. The rate of growth was phenomenal as people were drawn to this new way of understanding and relating to God empowered them to move into a whole new way of being in the world and provided hope for a future in which people everywhere could live in peace achieved not through violence but through justice.
The birth of the church did not occur in a vacuum and as is the way with most new phenomenon it’s interactions with the powers that be became determinative as the needs of the Empire encroached upon the character of the church and so it was that within a few hundred years the church and the Roman Empire became entwined in a marriage that spawned the Holy Roman Empire and the rest as they say is history. The powerful Roman Catholic Church and the powers of the states in which the church thrived were so intertwined that the members of the church, the people the church was created to serve, became the servants of the church itself. Like most human endeavors there was much that was good about the church and there was much that was bad. Over the centuries as the church continued to grow in power and in might, the bad very much outweighed the good. What had begun as an organization designed to enable people to relate to one another and to the source of their being, in ways that fostered justice so that they could live in peace, became an organization that in and of itself was unjust and all too often became the source of violence and perpetrator of wars.
The radical nature of Jesus’ teachings which opened people up to a whole new understanding of who and what God is and empowers people to live in relationship to God in ways that enable them to live into the power of love; these teachings remained at the core of Christianity, but the Church’s need for power all too often corrupted the teachings in ways that were designed to keep the members of the church in line so that the powers that be could maintain their power. The excesses of the church became so intolerable that over the centuries many of the church’s own brightest and best challenged the powers that be by reminding the church of the teachings of Jesus and calling the church back to those teachings; none more so than, Martin Luther whose actions we celebrate by calling to mind the Reformation. 499 years ago, Luther nailed his 95 Theses, to the doors of the church at Wittenberg, which pointed out the horrendous abuses of the church and prescribed measures designed to heal the church and bring it back into right relationship with God so that the members of the church could once again become justice-seekers and peace makers and live into the Love that is the source of our being.
Luther’s prescription included a new way of understanding God. A way that reached back into the teachings of Jesus and uplifted the grace-filled ways in which Jesus proclaimed the love of God to the world. Luther’s reformation changed the way in which the church proclaimed the Gospel. But a lot of water has flowed under a lot of bridges since the Reformation. Martin Luther lived in a three-tiered universe. Heaven, Earth and Hell. Martin Luther’s doctrine of grace, offered the kind of medicine that was need by folks living in a three-tiered universe by expanding peoples image of God beyond the disciplinarian who hold the power to damn them to Hell. By expanding people’s notion of God, to include the kind of grace that loves beyond measure, Luther freed people from the confines of their notions of a God so small as to be manipulated by the powers that be.
But that was nearly 500 years ago, and while the notion that God is a loving and forgiving Being, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love has provided the balm that generations of believers have been empowered by, that balm, all too often fails the inhabitants of a universe that is beyond the imaginings of all the generations who have gone before us. Our knowledge of the universe has surpassed the limitations of the three-tiered universe. The kinds of questions we have about the nature of reality, the why of our existence and the source of our being, would make Martin Luther’s head spin.
Here I stand, for I can do no other, peering into the vast unknown of a universe, that is but one in a million universes, wondering what it is to be. Like Jesus, like Luther, like Moses, like Sarah, like the Buddha, like Mohammad, like Einstein, like the saints of old and the scoundrels of the ages, here I stand, with all my many questions, for I can do no other. What separates me, what separates us, from all those who have gone before us, is that we no longer live in a three-tiered universe. In the words of the old song, “We know there ain’t no heaven and we pray there ain’t no hell!” As for the source of our being, well here we stand, the inheritors of the wisdom of the ages, the possessors of knowledge beyond the wildest dreams of our parents, gazing into the future with hopes and dreams that are so similar to our ancestors that it could make you weep. For just like every generation that has gone before us we long for justice and peace, and seek the power of LOVE to transform our lives.
Here I stand for I can do no other. Staring out at the abyss of unknowing, these words of Martin Luther comfort me. When he stood accused of heresy, a charge that put his very life in jeopardy, and the powers that be demanded that he recant his teachings, Martin Luther knew that all his questions threatened the very church that he loved, and he had the courage to say, “Here I stand for I can do no other.” The church survived. Indeed, the church thrived. The reality is that like all human institutions there is much that is good about the church and much that is bad.
Over the years the church has continued to nurture millions even as it has failed to nurture millions. The truth is that the church is not the issue. It never has been and it never will be. For as we stare into the abyss of unknowing what matters is not the church, but rather our Being. Who we are and how we are, that’s what matters. Who am I? What am I? Who will I be? What will I be? Where am I going? How will I be? What is the source of my being? These are the questions upon which our very being stands or falls. These are the questions, which drive our very being and inform our ways of being and of relating to other beings. Here we stand for we can do no other.
Here we stand, wondering what it means to be. Here we stand, longing to know the source of our being. Here we stand, seeking to live in harmony with other beings. Here we stand, for we can do no other. Isn’t it marvelous! Isn’t it magnificent! Isn’t it wonderful, exciting, terrifying, amazing! We stand on the shoulders of all those who have gone before us! Wow! What an amazing place to be!
We are the heirs of a tradition that has nurtured, grounded and sustained millions upon millions of people who have gone before us. We can’t even begin to scratch the surface of the wisdom that has been amassed in this amazing world of ours. We can only begin to imagine the wisdom that is out there to be discovered. The church is not the point, it never has been and it never will be. The church at its best has been a tool, an aid, a mechanism to assist us, sometimes a crutch to lean on, or a light to guide us, or simply a safe place in which to rest our weary heads. The church at its best will be a place where we can stand together, engage together, seek together, ask together, argue together, build together, change together, weep together, wonder together, resolve together, love together, live together, be together, as we learn to relate to the source of our being and love as we have been loved.
As the sun began to rise in the east, a flock of Canada geese were disturbed by the arrival of a pair of graceful white swans. An orange hue rested upon the varieties of tall grasses that surrounded the pond, and there I stood for a moment marveling at the ways in which nature had reclaimed the wounds of our development. The gaping holes in the ground had been filled and the muck dried up, the barren spaces filled with beauty and for a moment I could see Nature’s power to heal and I was overwhelmed by the knowledge of the power of God to heal and restore all our wounds. Where once there was only a gaping hole; a wound, nature has provided a pond to nurture and sustain so many creatures of which I am privileged to be one, so too the Creator of all that is and ever shall be provides a church to nurture and sustain so many people, of which I am privileged to be one. That pond relied upon the work of many creatures in order to grow into something as beautiful and as nurturing as it is. So to, the church relied and will continue to rely on many people in order to continue to grow into something beautiful and continue to be a place were many can find the nourishment they need to live into the LOVE that is the source of our being.
Here we stand, for we can do no other. Thanks be to God. Semper reformanda. Always reforming. Always changing. Always growing, nurturing, and sustaining. Always loving and being. Thanks be to God!
Benediction: Here we stand, for we can do no other.
Always growing, nurturing, and sustaining.
Always loving and being.
Thanks be to God!
Our Lover, Beloved, and LOVE Itself. Amen!