Reframing the Will of God

This is an excerpt from my sermon on August 19th.

Paul (or more likely, someone writing in Paul’s name), in Ephesians 5:17 says, “Don’t continue in ignorance, but try to discern the will of God.” While I believe this is exactly what all of us should be doing, it’s very hard to get beyond the baggage that the word “will” carries. I know of very few people who hear the words WILL OF GOD and don’t hear it in a loud, threatening, I’m-going-to-get-you-now sort of voice.

We seem to have been instilled with the fear that if we submit, or give ourselves over to God’s will then we will potentially be asked to do something really hard that will in some way be hurtful or painful. It reminds me of the story of the woman who said, “I don’t want to get too close to God. I just want to get over in a corner and sneak into heaven quietly… if you’re too bad you’ll go to hell, and I don’t want that. But if you’re too good, God will send you to India, and I don’t want that either.”

The will of God is often tied to the unexplainable, negative things that happen – the hurricanes, the tornadoes, the floods. How many times when someone has died have we heard, “It was God’s will that they return home”? Even the situation with Jesus leads us to be a little suspect of God. There’s Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane praying for the cup to be taken from him, “But”, he says, “not my will, but thine be done.” And then the authorities arrest him and he’s beaten and crucified. Great. Thanks God.

We even use the term “willful” in negative ways, as in reference to someone who goes against an authority figure. When we hear about a willful child, it seems to be in the context of an adult who believes that the child’s will needs to be broken. In other words, their spirit needs to be broken so that they don’t question, or think, or push back, but merely obey whatever the parent or authority figure demands.

Traditionally God gets cast in this authoritative, punishing father role and we become the children who are either good, submissive children (Abraham being willing to kill his child, following exactly what the church dictates we are to do and believe) or we are the willful children who question and doubt whose spirits need to be broken in order to be good Christians. Yuck. It sort of turns my stomach.

If this is what surrender to the will of God is all about, then I want nothing to do with it. And who in their right mind would give themselves over to this power-hungry ego-maniac of a God who is punishing, judgmental, vindictive and without compassion? Not me. Lucky for me, that’s not the God I believe in. That, in my opinion, is a complete MISunderstanding of the very nature of God.

The God I know and have experienced is very simply LOVE… pure, unbounded, unconditional LOVE. This God wants what is best for every person… to live our true, authentic, beautiful selves. The God of LOVE does not want to break our spirits, but wants to encourage our questioning and growing (just like any good parent will do). A kid’s pushing back is part of their growing process, not to be beaten out of them, but to be channeled. You don’t want your child going out into the world and acquiescing to every authority figure out there. You want them to know who they are and to live lives of honesty and integrity.

So, if God’s highest desire for us is to be who we were created to be, to live life abundantly, to love and be compassionate. Then this is always God’s will for us.  We need to practice believing that God’s will for us is life-giving and positive. God is on our side!!

Wayne Muller suggests that when we think of the words “God’s will be done” we substitute the words “God’s love be done” because that is really what God’s will for us is… it is God’s love for us working for our highest good. To me this is the perfect way to reframe this baggage-ridden concept. God’s will equals God’s love. It’s that simple. And I am always (ok, almost always) ready to give myself over to God’s love.

Baptism Reframed

When a couple came to me last month asking if I’d baptize their child, I didn’t hesitate. But, I said to them, our community is now outside the bounds of any institutional theology or prescribed ritual so you are free to design a baptism ceremony that speaks to you… if you want to. Well, their eyes just lit up (I think… or her eyes lit up and his glazed over in anxiety, not sure). A month later we baptized their sweet little girl in a beautiful, unique ceremony designed mostly by her mom and dad.

As I discussed with communion last week, baptism is another one of those things we do in the church, but why? Do we just baptize because we’ve always done it? Does it still hold meaning? Does it hold the same meaning or a different meaning? Is there only one meaning? Why did Jesus instruct his followers to go out and make disciples of all nations and baptize them (Matthew 28:19)? As an inclusive, progressive Christian Church, what do we do with this?

Most of us have rejected the theological concept of original sin long ago, so we also reject baptism as the means for cleansing original sin. Children are miracles, blessings, beautiful, unique and filled with the love and gifts of the Creator. As humans, we seem to feel the need to celebrate this gift of the child into our midst.

So, here’s a thought, while John the Baptist was baptizing people for penitential purposes, to prepare them for the coming Messiah, when Jesus was baptized by John it couldn’t be understood to be for penitential purposes. Jesus was considered to be sin-free, so it wasn’t a cleansing of sin. And he was believed to be the Messiah, so he wasn’t preparing to meet himself.  Instead, Jesus’ baptism was considered a theophany: a self-revealing of God in which Jesus is identified by a voice in the clouds as the “Beloved Son” and commissioned as the herald of God’s kingdom.

What if we considered each baptism today to be a theophany – a self-revealing of God in each child, in each person? What if baptism is the formal recognition of what we already know… that the God spark is in each of us and that we are ALL beloved of God? This ritual then helps us remember that God once again breaks into our midst in the unique child or person who is being baptized. And each time we experience baptism, we are all encouraged once again to remember that we – you and I – are each a theophany, a self-revealing of God. Wow.

Then, as Jesus was commissioned, so too are we. I believe our commissioning is to help usher in God’s kin-dom by living true to ourselves and living with love and compassion. In other words, our commissioning is to live fully in God. It’s something to think about anyway.

Namaste ~ Kaye

Thinking… what a concept!

There are unique freedoms to being an independent spiritual community out from under the watchful eye of the institutional church. For example, we can now think about things that we didn’t really give much thought to before… like the sacraments of communion and baptism. What a concept… right?

Even when I was a United Methodist pastor, I revised the rituals to move beyond some of the archaic language and theology. What the institutional church didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. But my thinking is expanding even further now to the very basic questions of whether we continue them just because they’ve always been done? Do these sacraments still hold meaning for us today, and if so, what?

Over the centuries both communion and baptism have had so much rhetoric, pomp and circumstance, doctrine and dogma heaped upon them so as to all but obscure the grace imparted in each. For the past few weeks I’ve been striving to strip down each ritual, to get past the junk the church has heaped upon them – how they have to be done, who can do them, who can receive, what has to be said – to find their core meaning and purpose. What I’ve found is truly simple and beautiful, and it saddens me to realize how deeply that beauty has been buried.

We forget that our communion celebration grew out of a few changes Jesus made to the traditional Jewish Passover meal shared with his disciples the night before he was killed. He took a meal that remembered and celebrated the history of Israel escaping from slavery in Egypt and traveling to the promised land, and wove himself into the story. Unleavened bread, the matzah, is typically broken and shared as part of the Passover meal, as a remembrance of the bread that sustained them as they left Egypt and as a remembrance of their unity. In addition, four glasses of wine were traditionally blessed and drunk at the beginning, middle and end of the meal.

Matzah was their sustenance on the journey, but now Jesus, his teachings, ministry and love would be sustenance on the journey. Broken though his body would soon be, they were to remember him – his teachings – just as they remembered the rest of their history.

Wine was the symbol of blessing, abundance, life, and celebration. Blood – the same color as the wine – was also the symbol of life. Each time they celebrated the Passover (not communion or eucharist) they were to remember the new covenant (love God and love your neighbor as yourself) and his life poured out in that love.

I’ve personally never liked the “body and blood” language of  communion, even as a metaphor. But I believe this is Jesus saying, “I want you to take everything that I am, and everything that I stand for, and everything that I’ve taught you deep into yourself… let it fill you and sustain you… let it bring you life in a way that nothing else can bring you life.” It’s this simple for me.

It hurts me when I hear the stories of how this gift of grace, this desire of Jesus to share love, has been denied to people because they aren’t the right religion, or they weren’t married in the church, or they were divorced, or they aren’t heterosexual, or they didn’t confess how horrible they were first. I think they missed the point. This is a remembrance of how much we are loved and a hope that in re-membering we will be reconnected with that love. So despite all of the ways communion has been abused and misused, I find the symbolism and the purpose to hold great meaning.

In Celtic Spirituality there is the concept of a thin place. For me, the ritual of communion is a thin place where, by our intention, the space between this world (or dimension) and the next becomes permeable. The energy changes as we share a common meal, recognize the love that is given in it, and open ourselves to the experience of oneness with God and oneness with each other. These are moments when I don’t know where I end and others begin, where the music ends and my words begin, where we end and God begins. And this feeds my soul in a way that is unique.

Tune in next week for my exploration of the sacrament of baptism.

Acceptance, tolerance and other

Oak Creek is just 15 minutes from here, and yet the fact that an act of “domestic terrorism” took place there just yesterday morning seems surreal. While we were breaking bread together in an act of love and oneness with each other and with all creation, a horrific event was taking place not far away. I am certain that the entire community of Sacred Journeys aches, mourns, and prays for and with the Sikh community.

Today I find myself pondering the words acceptance and tolerance when it comes to the diversity of religious belief and practice. Acceptance is a beautiful thing, and it is happening more and more, but this world still has a long way to go. Acceptance of the different religious paths as valid expressions of individual and corporate spirituality is the only answer to world peace (okay, there might be a few other things, but this is a biggie). There is beauty, wisdom, love, compassion, history and poetry in each religion if we pause long enough to find it. Each religion strives to help its people find inner peace and connect with their source. Having taught religion at a local college this last year, I see the younger generation embrace this concept of religious pluralism and I am hopeful.

I have a harder time with the concept of tolerance. The dictionary says it is “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own.” That may technically be true, but in my head I hear people saying through gritted teeth, “Well, I can tolerate it, but I don’t like it.” Often tolerance still reeks of unacceptance, misunderstanding, dislike and barely contained disdain. Frankly, that isn’t going to advance society one whit.

Beyond acceptance and tolerance  are all the other responses to different religions. These range from ignorance to indifference, to “live and let live”, to the less desirable, outwardly hostile “we’re right and you’re wrong” reactions.  This is where the crazy gunman who killed six at the Sikh temple fits in. Extreme actions like this and less extreme actions resulting in bigotry, judgment and superiority complexes have wrecked havoc on peaceful people, religions and societies since time began. But I tell you hatred, anger and fear are not of God… those are human attributes that we like to blame on God.

The only solace I take today is in the outpouring of support for the Sikh community. From social media, to local churches, to the news, people are stepping up in compassion, support and yes, acceptance, of the Sikh as part of the human family. They may look and dress a little different from the mainstream, and they may worship in a different way, but they are sacred people, beloved in God’s eyes… as are we all.