This is the message that I am presenting at Gaylordsville United Methodist Church on July 5th. The Scriptures for that Sunday were 2 Samuel 5: 1- 9, 9 – 10, 2 Corinthians 12: 2 – 10, and Mark 6: 1- 13.
I will be at Gaylordsville for the next three weeks; services are at 9:30 and you are welcome to attend.
And on a personal note, this marks the start of my 4th year of blogging; today’s post is my 500th post.
When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
With these words, Thomas Jefferson began the Declaration of Independence, the singular most important political protest document of all time. While there is no doubt about the political significance of this document, there remains to this day some question about the role that God played in all of this.
To hear some people, these words are equivalent to many passages in the Bible. These people speak of a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles but which has fallen from being the greatest because it has left those principles behind.
But which God are we talking about? Are we talking about a God who would give absolute authority to a monarch, to rule over a people as He would see fit; or are we talking about a God who would empower the people to think and be creative and find a way to bring equality and hope to the world?
At the time of the American Revolution, most monarchs believed that they had been given the power to govern directly from God and that to question that authority was to question God Himself. It is a feeling that many politicians, in this country and in other countries around the world, still feel today. And the people have allowed that, in part because they are more willing to let someone else lead them than bring about questions of why or how.
We live in a world that believes more in the power of the gun and the checkbook than in the power of the mind. We are more willing to consider the color of a person’s skin, their economic status, or their lifestyle than we are with the content of their character. We no longer demand quality in our work and we quite willingly accept mediocrity as quality; we prefer instantaneous response and sound bites over thoughtful consideration.
This is true in the church today. We are told that the Bible is, in effect, the exact words of God and they are not to be questioned. Any words that contradict the Bible are to be considered heretical and banned; any one who thinks in a different manner from the prescribed orthodoxy is to be expelled. But what do you do when the evidence suggest otherwise? Do you continue to own slaves and subjugate individuals because that’s what is written in the Bible? Shall we continue to solve our problems through force and warfare simply because force and warfare are written in the Bible?
If that is the case, where do we find the strength to fight against the sickness and death that stalks the world today? Where do we find the strength to speak out and act against injustice in this world today? Where is the power to change the course of history in the simple good works of people? Where did Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the others in Germany during the 1930’s and 1940’s find the strength to stand up against injustice and oppression when all the other people could not? Where did the young people of Birmingham find the strength they needed to withstand the torrents of water and the dogs when they sought equality some forty years ago?
I do not deny the Bible; I cannot deny the Bible for it tells me the struggle of a people to find their own identity. It tells me of a people who time and time again traveled the world on their own, only to become lost in the wilderness. And it tells me of a God who loved His creation so much that He would send His Son to save it. It tells me of Jesus Christ who would empower His disciples and His followers to go out into the world healing the sick, giving vision to the blind and bringing hope to the oppressed and forgotten.
Robin Meyers, author of “Saving Jesus from the Church”, stated that “It is not the case that faith is more pure when it is uninformed or when it turns away from critical thinking and sound reasoning as threats to the life of the spirit.” He also states that science and faith can work together, not against each other. The two things that most threaten faith today are the fear of what can be known and the fear of searching to know more. (Connections, July 2009)
The American Revolution began because our ancestors could not blindly accept the dictates of a king thousand miles away. In an age when individuals spoke of a God who created the world and gave them the power to think and reason, it no longer made sense to blindly accept the authority of an absent king.
If God gave mankind the ability to think and reason, then He gave mankind the authority to make decisions. In the Old Testament reading for today (2 Samuel 5: 1 – 5) the leaders of Israel, while recognizing that God had chosen David as the one to replace Saul, made a covenant with David to accept his leadership. It was not a blind acceptance of God’s command.
We are not called this day to blindly obey God; rather, we are to make that decision openly and of our own accord. The consequences of such blind obedience are all around us. We see a church that is no longer a church for all the people but only for some. Instead of challenging society to do what is right, it mirrors society and closes its doors to anyone who would challenge its authority in this world.
We have created a vision of the church that is elitist, exclusionary, and condemning and we expect people to accept this vision. The church today claims the power to judge and condemn even when such powers are counter to the thoughts and words of the original church. Society has, in effect, said we do not want the church. And people who were raised in the church all their lives are leaving because the power and the authority of the church are directed inwards and towards the maintenance of the status quo.
In essence, that is what Paul wrote to the people of Corinth. Paul could have clearly boasted of what he had done and how his life had changed but he chose not to do so. He was not the message but the messenger. We are not to look at the church but its message and too many churches today miss that point. Jesus brought the message of the Gospel, the Good News, to the people of Nazareth but they could not hear it because they only saw the son of Joseph and Mary. And because of their vision (or the lack of it), they could not experience what the Gospel truly is.
The church needs to move outward, to again be a place of free and fearless inquiry, a place of radical hospitality and spiritual sustenance. There is no doubt that Jesus gave His disciples some authority but it was the authority to change the world, not control it. He gave them the authority to heal the sick and drive out demons. And when they returned, they rejoiced for they had done things that even they could not have imagined.
They had sensed a power and an authority they never could have imagined. It was something counter to the thoughts and preferences of society; it brought hope to the people, it brought people in rather than cast them aside. It was a power and an authority not to be held over people but a power and authority to share with people in order to bring change.
We have an opportunity today to do the same thing, to bring about change in this world. But we must make a choice? Shall we accept the authority of this world, which believes in the gun and material wealth? We have seen what that authority can do.
Or shall we accept the authority of Jesus Christ, as did His disciples and the seventy-two later on, to take the Gospel message out into the world, not caring about what the world says but caring for the world and bringing hope and freedom to its inhabitants.
On this weekend, when we celebrate our freedom from earthly tyrants, shall we also not celebrate our freedom from the tyranny of sin and death? Whose authority shall we accept?