Here are my thoughts for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, 20 June 2010. The Scriptures for this Sunday are 1 Kings 19: 1 – 15, Galatians 3: 23 – 29, and Luke 8: 26 – 39.
Some opening questions:
- If there is a God, why are there atheists?
- If there is a God, why are there so many religions? And why are there so many denominations within each religion?
- If religions are nothing more than superstitions then why have they existed over the years?
Some opening comments:
- I hold a Ph. D. in Science Education. This means, I think, that I have an understanding of what science education is about but it doesn’t automatically make me a philosopher. But it proves that I can think.
- I am a certified lay speaker in the United Methodist Church. I may write and speak about the Gospel and what it means to me and in this world but that doesn’t make me a theologian.
- I use the skills and experience that I have as a chemist and as an educator to better understand what I read and think each day, be it in the church or in the lab.
- These points all come together somehow into the Wesleyan Quadrilateral
As one who chose to follow the Wesleyan tradition (at first without knowing that I was), I seek a balance of the four points. I chose the tetrahedron shape because of its symmetry, that each of the four points is equivalent in meaning. If you put more emphasis on one point than the others, the symmetry is broken and life is not in balance.
But I see a world in which that is exactly what is happening. It is a world where there are some who insist that tradition or scripture take precedence over reason or experience. But the balance of life is removed when that is done.
I see a world in which religion and science have been made to be opposite ends of some sort of rationality spectrum that has no continuum; you are either one or the other and cannot be both. I see a world in which those who chose to live in a world of religion ignore the outside world and those who live in a world of science do likewise. It is as if you can live a complete life with one but not the other and I wonder how.
I think that part of the reason for the unpleasant dichotomy in our world is that we 1) don’t understand what each part does and 2) we have fallen into the trap that so many people have done in the past; we have allowed a structure designed for one task to take on another task.
Those who are most adamant in expressing their hatred and displeasure of religion point out the various cruelties and atrocities done in the name of the church. The history of this country and the attempted forced indoctrination of the native peoples, not only of this land but every land, are often used as the prime example. But is that the fault of religion or a group of men in the name of religion?
Methodist’s own John Wesley came to Georgia with the express purpose of preaching to the native population but I have always thought it was not to preach the Gospel but to test his ideas that would evolve into Methodism. We know that he was a failure in this task but not perhaps because the methods didn’t work but because the Spirit was neither in Wesley nor in what he was trying to do.
That others have attempted to subjugate others in the name of Christ should be seen for what it was and what it is today, a blatant power grab by men, not as the work of God through men. And I don’t necessarily mean mankind in this; the early works of the church gave women equal status with the men. It was the men of the church later in time that created the structure that subjugated women. And when you apply reason to the reading of the Bible and compare that with the present, the symmetry, the balance is clearly broken. It is no wonder that people question the meaning of the church. But they should question the people who are the church; not necessarily the institution.
Also, if we are to have an understanding of what Jesus said in His Great Commission (“go and make disciples”) then we must also remember that he told the seventy that they should leave a town behind if they did not want to hear the Word. I am not entirely sure where this “follow or die” mentality came from. If one chooses not to hear the Word or if one chooses not to follow Jesus, do I have the right or the authority to make them follow? I do not think so.
Keep in mind the Gospel story for today. The one who was cured (and we will not go into the nature of the cure but accept it as an explanation written at that time) wanted to follow but Jesus told him to tell others what had happened. Is that what those who believe are to do; tell others what has happened and show them the results so that they can make up their own minds?
And by the same token, those who proclaim that there cannot be a God because one cannot physically prove His existence are missing the point. You cannot prove the existence of something that is a spirit or, if you will, energy. The early ideas behind energy and light should tell us something about that difficulty.
Before we developed our modern ideas about energy, we (speaking of mankind) first developed the idea of phlogiston and then the caloric theory. Attempt to measure energy as a physical substance failed, not because they were wrong but because the idea was incorrect. As we understood what took place in heat transfer, we were better able to understand the concept of energy.
I hold that the same is true in understanding God. Those who insist that we need to physically prove the existence of God are missing the point. You are not going to do it. They are like Elijah, standing on the mountain as the wind blew, as the earthquake rocked the mountain, and a fire burned. God was not in the events that took place but in the Spirit that existed in all of them. The only problem for such modern day would-be prophets is that they don’t want to have the spirit in them and so they missed the point.
In the end, we are like those to whom Paul was writing in the reading from Galatians for today. We are trapped within the law, a framework of our own choosing. We seek easy answers to difficult questions. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote that “cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance.” It goes back to what I said earlier; we have changed the nature of the words of the church, the words of Christ, from what they were to what we want them to be. We are not willing to invest the time and energy that is required to be serious Christians. We want a set of laws, rules, and regulations that we allow us to check of what we have done so we can see how good we have been.
It doesn’t work that way and it never did. It was the very system that Jesus challenged and sought to change when He was here two thousand years ago. It is the system that must be challenged and changed each day that we are here today. We will be trapped and without escape unless we are willing to go beyond the structure that we have imposed on ourselves. The challenge is clear.
I started off by asking “where is God?” He is out there in the world, waiting for us. It is not a matter of my telling you that He is out there and you need to believe what I am telling you. You don’t have to because you have the right to not believe. But somewhere along the line, you have to make some decisions, decisions that go to the very core of your being, and you will find that you cannot make them, because you have nothing upon which you can turn. The struggle of mankind throughout the ages shows there is a need for a God. There is that opportunity at this time to open your heart and mind to the power and presence of Jesus Christ as your personal Savior; this is the time to open your heart and mind to the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit to allow a change in your being from one who has been trapped to one who has been freed. This is the time to discover that God is here right now, standing by your side where He has always been.