Friday, June 22, 2007

Doing the Sunday Sermon

It's almost summer, and now is the time when preachers, finished with Easter and Pentecost and Sunday School teacher recognition, decide to take off a week. As they say, "When the cat's away, the mice will play." In the case of this mouse, that means I got to preach a sermon at someone else's church - a Methodist Church , no less! And this Sunday there will be an encore at my own church, since our minister is on vacation as well.

The Methodist invite was a "reciprocal". Our pastor took off the first Sunday of the year, January 7th, and after striking out with many potential substitutes, we chose to ask a friend of mine who is a "Certified Methodist Lay Preacher". He did a good job. Now his pastor took a day off, and payback time arrived. I don't have the official credential - just a lifetime of study and contemplation - and I've preached maybe ten sermons before this one. Not a very scary thing for me, and the response of the Methodists was positive. In fact, there was a Baptist minister in attendance (another preacher on vacation) and he gave me the "thumbs up."

I follow two rules when I preach: keep it simple, and keep it short. I remember that the Gettysburg Address took about two minutes for Abe Lincoln - and I'm no Abe Lincoln. So my sermon is titled "Simple Christianity", and it lasted 15 minutes. The text comes from the end of Matthew 22, where Jesus is asked "What is the greatest commandment?" Jesus answers (in short), "Love God, and your neighbor as yourself". Can't go wrong with this one!

Here is the conclusion of my sermon. "I’d like to conclude this morning by reminding myself and each of you that God has given us the freedom to choose – to choose to notice Him or ignore Him, to choose whether we will love our neighbor or only ourselves. God is right here and everywhere, in every moment, hidden in plain sight, waiting for us to take notice. Let’s choose to notice Him, to say “Thank you, God” all through the day. When we do, the Spirit will fill us, Jesus will walk beside us, and we will be joyful when we meet a neighbor who needs us. We will be a Simple Christian."

I've been studying religion my whole life, only to decide that most of what passes for religion is either legalistic speculation, organization/tradition justification, or money-grubbing avarice. Garry Wills, in his excellent book "What Jesus Meant", resonates with me when he writes:

"The most striking, resented, and dangerous of Jesus' activities was his opposition to religion as that was understood in his time. This is what led to his death. Religion killed him. He opposed all formalisms in worship - ritual purifications, sacrifice, external prayer and fasting norms, the Sabbath and eating codes, priesthoods, the Temple, and the rules of Sadducees, Pharisees, and Scribes. He called authentic only the religion of the heart, the inner purity and union with the Father that he had achieved and was able to share with his followers."

In the end, it seems to me that a person either believes in a creative and benevolent god who wishes to be noticed by creation - or in no opinion, no god or some flavor of that. I believe, simply because my senses tell me that my life and the universe around me is no accident. And people like Jesus and so many others have illuminated this idea far better than I, while rejecting the man-made baloney that masquerades as God-centered while actually being all about power.

Rodney King asked "Why can't we all just get along?" Well, we would if we truly could "Love God, and our neighbor as ourself". Some of my favorite blogger friends seem to be trying to live in this way! Thank you, God, for them.


ThomasLB said...

When I took chemistry in college many years ago, the professor paused in the middle of a lecture once and said, "You know, really there's no such thing as protons, nuetrons, and electrons, but the truth is so unbearably complicated that we use this as a model."

That's the way I look at organized religion: a model, a way to visualize something/someone who is unbearably complicated.

That's why, even though it seems contradictory, I am able to believe that a Taoist, a Christian, a Hindu, and a Muslim can all be correct. We're just using different models.

Ron Davison said...

great quote.

you are so exemplary in your active retirement. Just one more reason to get to the point of financial independence.
Jesus did give commandments, but very, very few. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself is pretty much the work of a lifetime. Jesus said alot about what I should, but very little (maybe nothing?) about what I should have my neighbor do. This seems like one key distinction between good and bad religion: whether the religion is about what I should do or what I should have you do. Thanks.

Life Hiker said...

Thomas, as a Bahai friend of mine once commented, "God is like a light bulb and the various religions are like the panes of a Tiffany lampshade...adherents see through different colored panels, but the light is the same light.

Ron, your comment about how Jesus said nothing about what you should have your neighbor do is a great potential subject for another sermon. Very perceptive comment, as I've become accustomed to get from you.