May 31, 2015
In 2009 in the UK a group of atheists decided to announce their version of the good news, so “They paid for large advertisements on London buses, which proclaimed in cheerful colors: “There’s probably no God: now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” (See Anglican Bishop and New Testament scholar Tom Wright’s wonderful book, written for ordinary folk like us, called Simply Good News: Why the Gospel is News and What Makes It Good , page 129)
Notice the assumption in this advertisement: it assumes that god is the sort of being that causes us a lot of worry, so that if we would just dump this bogey man in the sky we could relax and enjoy life.
We all have deep-seated and often unexamined assumptions about god that we pick up from the culture, even if we don’t believe in god or attend a church that does not teach them. Many adults have not done the necessary inner work and thus are not aware that what resides in the depths of their being is some form of this god that causes more worry than peace.
This is why on-going faith development is every bit as important for adults, as it is for children, if we are to move beyond what we absorbed as kids.
For example: After the wedding rehearsal here last week, a mother said to her bridesmaid daughter, “Well, imagine that, you’re in church and lightening didn’t strike and the roof didn’t fall in.”
Both mother and daughter laughed, but look at the assumption in this statement.
God punishes us when we wander away from the straight and narrow.
I’ve heard this kind of thing so many times, I couldn’t let it pass, so I said: “Oh, the God we worship here throws a big party when the Missing in Action show up. That’s what Jesus says in the parable of the Prodigal Son!”
What would it be like if our deepest assumption is that God is so thrilled when we show up that the servants are always on stand-by to fire up the grill for a feast?
And of course Jesus not only taught this good news, but he lived as a good news person, welcoming and transforming just the sort of people everyone else expects and maybe hopes lightning will strike.
In Jesus’s presence the lonely and lost are overwhelmed with three realizations: God never gives up on them; in Jesus God is vulnerable to them; and they too can become good news people.
As Bishop and Scholar Tom Wright says, “our calling is not simply to believe the good news. It is to become good news people.” Ibid. Page 153
So the next time you hear someone say, “I no longer believe in god,” don’t panic but ask them to describe the god they have stopped believing in.
Usually they’ll say something like, “Oh, you know, the angry, judgmental, anti-sex, anti-fun, homophobic, violent, killjoy god.”
Then you can respond: “Oh, at All Saints we don’t believe in that god either!”
But then, of course, you will be called upon to articulate what god you do believe in. But this can be answered by saying: “I believe in the God revealed in Jesus Christ, who is the perfect image of the One, True God. When you see radical acceptance in Jesus as he forgives the woman caught in adultery, then you can say God is like that too. When you see non-violence in Jesus, then you can rest assured God is like that too. Jesus embodies God returning to save the sick and hurting, in order to draws all people into the power of a great affection.
Colossians 1 says: In Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Christ God reconciled to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood on his cross.” Colossians 1: 19-20
But you see the problem this generates when we say that Jesus is God with us. These first Christians are faithful monotheistic Jews, so it is a mind-blowing experience to have to combine the fact that the God who is creator of the cosmos, dwelling in light inaccessible beyond all human knowing is, at the same time, fully present to us in the man, Jesus of Nazareth.
If God is Father and God is Son, incarnate in Jesus, and God is also Holy Spirit, filling our hearts, then we are going to have to get a bigger operating system that can download this updated image of God. That lonely bully-god floating off somewhere beyond space and time will no longer do.
When Jesus tries to explain such things, Nicodemus says, “How can these things be?”
That is an honest and legitimate question.
God knows that no one on their own can understand the mystery of God. In fact those who think they have god nicely categorized in their minds are worshiping an idol built with their own ideas. The only way we can know anything about the Triune God is through the revelation found in Jesus Christ.
What Jesus asks is not that we understand God, but that we realize that God understands and stand under us–That the God who is with us in Jesus Christ holds and heals us forever and anoints us with the Spirit who blows where She wills in every moment of our day. That’s why I love the lines from our opening hymn that go:
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the name,
the strong name of the Trinity.
In just a moment we will baptize three children into the strong name of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—so they can know that the deepest assumption of the Christian faith is that the Triune God–Father, Son, and Spirit—is eternally for us and with us in love.
If we stay stuck in the assumption that god is not for us and with us, then we will spend our lives searching for love, as the song says, in all the wrong places. The human heart becomes like that which it worships: worship money you become green and crinkly; worship youthfulness and you become juvenile.
Here’s a test: if our love becomes smaller and less generous, then we know we’re not worshiping the Triune God, creator and lover of the universe.
So let us pray daily for faith that Father, Son, and Spirit, is eternally for us, then our lives and life itself come into sharper focus.
On 22 November 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of his death in 1963, a memorial stone was unveiled to scholar and writer C.S.Lewis in Poets’ Corner inside Westminster Abbey. Many know Lewis as the author of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Mere Christianity, or The Screwtape letters. The marble plaque… gives his name and dates in the centre and around this is written a quote from one of his lectures. It reads:
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else”