The Rev. John Dorhauer, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, has a weekly podcast called Into the Mystic. In this podcast, Rev. Dorhauer explores current events and spirituality and how we can enter more deeply into the mysticism of Christianity. He believes as I do that mysticism is something that is lacking in the church today and that we need more mystics in the church, as well as a few prophets thrown in for good measure.
Shortly after the mid-term elections, Rev. Dorhauer released a podcast called “I’m Tired.” He spoke from his heart about how tired he is at the division on our country and in our church. He laments that although we speak in terms of all are welcome, and it is getting more challenging to welcome those who stand in direct opposition to what we, you are I, believe on a fundamental level. The church needs to be a place of healing, but at the same time, the church cannot be a place that harbors hatred of others. He is afraid, as am I that friendships are being laid waste in the process. However, sometimes sacrifice is what is called for when we are called, as all Christians are, speak the truth.
The Gospel passage we heard this morning show just what speaking the truth can cost. The passage comes at the end of the ministry of John the Baptist and just before his arrest. He is handing off his ministry to his cousin Jesus, and he is fading away, well not quietly anyway. John stands up for what is right, and he speaks the truth to power, he calls Herod an adulterer, and for that, he is thrown in prison and eventually killed. This is a foreshadowing of Jesus own arrest and murder at the hands of political power.
Both Jesus and John knew the cost of their ministry, and they took up the mantle and carried it out.
This past week I was involved in a conversation about opinions. I am a firm believer in the notion that everyone has the right to their own opinion. I never try to force my opinion on others, I present evidence, and let you decide for yourself. I encourage people to ask questions and to challenge what I present for I believe that through questioning we clarify our own beliefs, but in the end, you have to decide for yourself.
However, I am also of the belief that not all opinions are valid nor are all opinions equal. Opinions based on lack of evidence or fact are not equal to opinions based on fact. You can, for example, be of the opinion that 2 + 2 equals 5. You are, of course, entitled to that opinion. However, facts prove otherwise, and therefore I am going to reject your opinion based on evidence that 2 + 2 equals 4. This is a very simplistic example I know, but it shows that not all opinions are valid.
Theological opinions are another area. Get any group of theologians in a room, and there will be as many opinions about things are there are theologians. This is why we have so many denominations and independent churches in the world today, everyone has an opinion, but not all opinions are equal or valid.
One of the things that drive me crazy is proof-texting. This is where I take a line from Scripture to try and prove my argument as being biblical, and I am attempting to use the text as the proof of my argument. The study of Scripture needs to include not only the text itself but an understanding of what was going on at the time these things were written. As much as we want to believe these texts speak to us today, and I believe they do, they were written to particular groups of people dealing with specific things in their history. An understanding of those things becomes of paramount importance if we are going to understand what is being written.
We also an understanding of the literary forms of the day. Allegory and imagery were a large part of the writing of the day so not everything is to be taken literally or we would believe that Jesus was a vine, a door, a lamb, etc. The imagery was a common form of literary use in the first century, and an understanding of that is essential.
We also need to drill down on passage. Not every passage of Scripture says what we think it means on the surface, so we need to drill down. What came before and what comes after are all critical questions. Sometimes what is not said is more important than what is being said. So just picking a verse from Scripture to prove your point, or disprove my point, can be very dangerous indeed.
There have been many times in history when men and women of faith have been called upon to be beacons of hope in a world gone mad, and I believe we are in one of those times now. Christianity is being used by all sorts of people to say all sorts of things, some of them right and some of them bad. I am a simple theologian that weighs everything by the simple principle of love. Is what I am doing showing love to God and love to neighbor or is it harming. Is the policy I support showing love to God and love to neighbor, or is it damaging. Is my belief based on love or hate, because if it’s based on Christianity, it has to be based on love we have no other option.
However, love brings risk, and we have to be willing to take that risk.
In my From the Pastor column this week I wrote about the start of our Confirmation program. I am excited about this because six young people have decided that they are going to make a public profession of their belief in Jesus Christ and reaffirm the promises that were made for them years ago in their baptism. This will not be an easy journey for them, and they might have to make decisions, some might even make the decision not to make a Confirmation, and that is okay as well. However, they understand, and we need to understand, that any decision to stand and say this is what we believe just might cost us.
In Rev. Dorhauer’s podcast, he speaks of his worry of losing relationships based on his beliefs and the stances he has taken on issues, and it is something I also worry about. I know I have lost friends over my positions, and with some family members we have to avoid specific topics, and all of this makes me uneasy. My views are not always popular but I have to do what I believe is right and if it costs me, well, so be it.
I am not a big fan of the Book of Revelation. I believe it is an incomprehensible book that has caused much trouble and turmoil in the Church and in the world. I had to study this book while in seminary, and I have not looked at or read from it since, but there is one passage that sticks in my mind above all others. It comes from the third chapter and the 16th verse:
“So, because you are lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I am about to vomit you out of my mouth.” This passage is a warning not only to the church but to church folks, we cannot be lukewarm, we cannot be fence-sitters, we have to stand up for what is right, we have to be the voice of the voiceless in society no matter what it costs us because, in the end, I want to hear God say to me, “well done good and faithful servant” and not the line from Revelation.