This has been a difficult week to read the paper. Home values are still going down; our legislature has finally stopped debating whether to give additional benefits to the unemployed in Oregon. Japan is languishing over the earthquake and tsunami and nuclear issues as well as dealing with the thousands and thousands that are either dead or missing.
All of these issues and events remind us starkly that moments of wholeness are few and far between and fragmentation in our world is something we are all living with each day. Lives once carefully constructed have become fragmented and torn asunder. How is God present in the midst of these fragments? Or maybe the question should be—can we spot any simplicity—any easier way—to live in the midst of all the things that go wrong in our lives and in the world?
This is the fourth of our sermons on God for this season of Lent. And today I want us to look at the ways in which our participation in this community of faith can assist us in looking at God’s plan—and when I use the word “plan”—I don’t mean the precise or exact way that God would have us live—I believe that God doesn’t have any exact way that each one of us should live—God doesn’t have a unique plan for each one of us as individuals. Otherwise none of us would have free will. But what I do mean is how does the practice of belief in God help us to do, and to be, and to live?
Let’s remind ourselves that according to Christian tradition and according to scripture, God is and God is reality. This means that it is God who is the ultimate reality in our vast universe. And it means that God works in and through the realities of history. This is a basic, prophetic insight of the Bible.
So, if we’re looking for a more simple way to live and if this simplicity is to be Christian, then what we’re seeking has to be open to the contemporary complexities and problems of our day. If we want to seek ways in which to live life as a Christian and within a community of faith, then we have to live with the problems that we are faced with in life.
So here’s the gist of what I want to leave with you today: God never—never—confronts us with judgments and challenges without at the same time offering us ways of forgiveness and the means of responding in creativity and hope!
That’s what needs to sink in today—God never confronts us with judgments and challenges without at the same time offering us ways of forgiveness and the means of responding in creativity and hope.
In the face of all the complexities of living, you and I have before us the fundamental promise of the kingdom. If what we call Christian and if what we call belonging to a community of faith closes us up to the realities of living—then we’ve missed the message and truth of the gospel. At the same time scripture and the Christian experience have shown us, God is constantly troubling us to move from defeat to living a hopeful, sustaining and celebrating faith.
So how do we get at this truth? How do we place God in perspective to the world? Let’s look at some ways in which we may discover God in our lives.
I want to suggest five spiritual ways—five spiritualities—five paths—that we may focus on:
The first is the spirituality of the aporia point. The word, aporia—spelled a p o r i a
is a Green noun and it is used to describe the method that Socrates used to teach his students. Socrates would ask a question and get his students to respond—and then he would ask a deeper form of the same question to get to an even deeper response. In each case, as the questions went deeper and deeper, they also formed an anxiousness in the student—the word aporia then means perplexity, anxiety. An anxiety like “what’s the next question going to be?”
In the biblical sense, aporia means not having an obvious path—not being sure of where things are going. For the Christian, aporia can mean all of the bewilderment and confusing change that we experience in the world.
But—but—if we are a people of faith, we will also be people who wish to stay at that aporia point. We’re never going to be sure where things are going. We’re going to be uncertain—uncertain of what to do, of what to say, unsure of what to believe.
Now this way of being can be exciting, exhilarating and opening for us. And at other times it can be and certainly will be painful and difficult. But here we are—at this aporia point—and we stay where we are until God moves us forward and onward. This is the challenge of a committed, dedicated faith.
Secondly, there is the spirituality of collaboration. It may not be necessary to say, but people who believe they can respond to God all by themselves without any community of faithful people to be partners with are simply fooling themselves when it comes to under-standing a relationship to God.
One woman, one man Christians, is a contradiction in terms. None of us here has all of the knowledge or all of the necessary sensitivities to the work of God. We have to live and think and respond with and through each other as we live out our Christian vocations.
We can’t make all the difficult judgments on our own. Most of us require help to maintain the balances between the tensions and demands of our daily living. So we need the support and suggestions of others as we work our way through decisions and the delicate balancing act of a living faith.
A third spirituality is a spirituality of God. This may seem to be absurd and even an obvious statement—after all, all spirituality is about God.
But that assumes that we are willing to grapple with God. And a spirituality of God asks of us the risky business of exploring questions like: “What do I mean by ‘God’”? And “what does ‘God” mean to me?” These are questions that we openly think and talk and pray about. God is not only at the aporia point—God is the aporia point. Knowing God and not knowing God may seem like the same thing at times; yet there is an awareness, a beckoning and a reaching out to whomever and whatever God is as a response. In the Hebrew Bible, God is the presence often remembered as absence.
And if we are true to faith, then God is what we hope—what we expect to “come out of it all” in the sense that it is in God that we find a resting place, which is peace, communion and a deep sense of joy. That’s the purpose of God. God is to be God!
A fourth spirituality is worship. Worship is the continuing practice that is central to being Christian. Worship is the conscious way in which we focus on and recognize the “goodness of God”. Our role in worship is to be an active role as well as an active search for God now—for what is happening now and to be looked forward to now. Giving up those things that keep us from worship is crucial.
Finally, a spirituality of salvation. Now there’s a scary word. What does salvation mean?
The gospel is the Good News about God. And the Good News of salvation is our response to the goodness of God and God’s invitation to be part of God’s creativity and loving work.
Our part has to do with the work. God’s part is to redeem and fulfill. And we shouldn’t get this backwards.
A couple of ideas about a spirituality of salvation: most of us think that salvation has to do with some big theological idea. But salvation is the idea that enables us in the human sphere to be realistic about all of the failures that happen in relationship to caring for people in need, in our desire to support people where support is needed, to cooperate in our work together, to be aware of global concerns, to assist in making our human institutions function in a honest, supportive and perfect way.
And all along, you though I was going to describe salvation as that merging of the heart and mind of God to ensure that we each receive a good end to our lives.
I don’t think so. I think, instead, that salvation has to do with a foretaste and a ‘down payment’ of what the kingdom of God should be. And how we live in our daily lives is critical to Gods effort to save the world for that kingdom.
And what is that kingdom about? It means to continue the work of God in the world. It means that we will struggle with problems, we will find many joys in that work, we will need to collaborate with each other as we try to know something about God’s will, we will worship together and care for one another.
Let me finish with words from the Apostle Paul: “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servant for Jesus’ sake, (Now, here comes the meaty part) for God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face if Jesus Christ.”
That is, loosely interpreted, you and I are called to serve the purpose of God in and for all of creation in our ministry and in our lives. And our ministry is to “all who have faces” –to men and women and children as persons who are created by God, loved by God and know what it will be to be saved by the glory of God.