Meister Eckhart’s fervent plea: “I pray God, rid me of God” becomes a sort of mantra for me whenever the task of contemplating the Trinity rolls around on the liturgical calendar. Once again, I have failed to have the foresight to book my holidays so as to avoid the task of preaching on this festival of the church, so I find myself plumbing previous sermons in search of a way through the quagmire of doctrines which threaten to overcome even the most dedicated of preachers. I offer them here to my fellow preachers as my way of saying, “I pray God, rid me of God!!!” Shalom
According to Pete, “There was once a fiery preacher who possessed a powerful but unusual gift. He found that, from an early age, when he prayed for individuals, they would supernaturally lose all of their religious convictions. They would invariably lose all of their beliefs about the prophets, the sacred Scriptures, and even God. So the preacher learned not to pray for people but instead he limited himself to preaching inspiring sermons and doing good works. However, one day while travelling across the country, the preacher found himself in a conversation with a businessman who happened to be going in the same direction. The businessman was a very powerful and ruthless merchant banker, who was honored by his colleagues and respected by his adversaries. Their conversation began because the businessman, possessing a deep, abiding faith, had noticed the preacher reading from the Bible. He introduced himself to the preacher and they began to talk. As they chatted together this powerful man told the preacher all about his faith in God and his love of Christ. He spoke of how his work did not really define who he was but was simply what he had to do.
“The world of business is a cold one,” he confided to the preacher, “And in my line of work I find myself in situations that challenge my Christian convictions. But I try, as much as possible, to remain true to my faith. Indeed, I attend a local church every Sunday, participate in a prayer circle, engage in some your work and contribute to a weekly Bible study. These activities help to remind me of who I really am.’
After listening carefully to the businessman’s story, the preacher began to realize the purpose of his unseemly gift. So he turned to the businessman and said, ‘Would you allow me to pray a blessing onto your life?’
The businessman readily agreed, unaware of what would happen. Sure enough, after the preacher had muttered a simple prayer, the man opened his eyes in astonishment. ‘What a fool I have been for all these years!’ he proclaimed. ‘It is clear to me now that there is no God above, who is looking out for me, and that there are no sacred texts to guide me, and there is no Spirit to inspire and protect me.’
As they parted company the businessman, still confused by what had taken place, returned home. But now that he no longer had any religious beliefs, he began to find it increasingly difficult to continue in his line of work. Faced with the fact that he was now just a hard-nosed businessman working in a corrupt system, rather than a man of God, he began to despise his work. Within months he had a breakdown, and soon afterward he gave up his line of work completely.
Feeling better about himself, he then went on to give to the poor all of the riches he had accumulated and he began to use his considerable managerial expertise to challenge the very system he once participated in, and to help those who had been oppressed by the system.
One day, many years later, he happened upon the preacher again while walking through town. He ran over, fell at the preacher’s feet, and began to weep with joy.
Eventually he looked up at the preacher and smiled, ‘thank you, my dear friend, for helping me to discover my faith.’”
In a parable handed down to us from our ancestors in the faith, Jesus’ disciples ask him to “increase their faith”. It is a request that I believe many of us can identify with for who among us has not at some point or other asked for the gift of more faith? If only we had more faith we would be able to believe and if we could believe we’d have the courage to cope with whatever crisis is overwhelming us. If we could only believe, we’d be able to understand why, or how, this or that. If we could just believe strongly enough, we’d have the courage to risk, to speak out, to stand-up for, to open up to, to ask for, to go on, to do something. If only we could believe in God, believe in the life death and resurrection of Jesus, believe in the power of the Holy Spirit if only we could get it all straight in our heads we’d be able to tell all the world what it is we believe. In the meantime, we’ll just keep on struggling to believe.
For years, and years, I used to believe that what was necessary was to just believe. So, I struggled to understand what all those “I believe statements” that the church, the community of believers asks its followers to make.
“I believe in God the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth and in Jesus Christ,
his only Son our Lord,
he was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again,
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.”
Over and over again, in liturgies, Sundays after Sunday, the church; the institution of the faith, offered me the opportunity to stand among the faithful to declare what it is that we believe. Whether it was the Apostles or the Nicene or heaven forbid the Athanasian creeds, the Church made it very clear exactly what it is that we are supposed to believe in order that we might number ourselves among the faithful. The very word “creed” itself, was handed down to us from our ancestors creed from the Latin “creedo” which translates into English as “I believe”.Continue reading →
In addition to Isaiah 11:1-10 and Matthew3:1-2, the readings today included Maya Angelou’s poem “His Day Is Done: a Tribute to Nelson Mandela“. I am indebted to Glynn Cardy for much of this sermon and we are both indebted to John Dominic Crossan and Robert Funk for providing historical perspective.
“I must never allow my neighbour to go hungry while I’ve got a little food in my house…We as human beings must sustain each other even during times of greatest peril.” Let our Thanksgiving become compassion and let us bring our compassion into colourful practice!
Desmond Tutu, Peacemaker: A conversation with Desmond Tutu and John Allen. Recorded March 21, 2013 by Pepperdine University School of Law. This brilliant video provides an opportunity for Desmond Tutu and his Press Secretary John Allen to reflect upon the work of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is a marvellous testament to the potential for goodness that exists in humanity. Tutu’s use of the African word “ubuntu” to express his conviction that we cannot be fully human without other humans is wisdom born of human evolution witnessed up close and personal.