“God is…” Part 2 of the Sermon Series, What It Means to Be Christian Rev Dr Durrell Watkins As you undoubtedly know, there is a whole lot of ugly wrapped in crazy covered in stupid and garnished with mean being served up lately in response to marriage equality. People speaking from the fear and contempt […]
Part 2 of the Sermon Series, What It Means to Be Christian
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
As you undoubtedly know, there is a whole lot of ugly wrapped in crazy covered in stupid and garnished with mean being served up lately in response to marriage equality. People speaking from the fear and contempt are calling for an apocalypse, a civil war, a mass migration, the so-called rapture, and one fundamentalist of particular notoriety has even threatened that God may strike the White House in response to marriage equality. That is, by the way, bad meteorology and it’s bad theology.
Theology, how we think about and talk about and relate to what is Divine, what is Ultimate, that omnipresent…that is our focus this morning.
Our readings today show a glimpse into how it is to pray as if we believe God simply is…God is present, God is the substance of all reality, God is as close our next thought, our next breath; God would never and can never let us go. With this progressive and peaceful understanding of the divine, the Psalmist affirms that divine help is at hand…Love and faithfulness will meet; justice and peace will kiss each other…God will give what is good…
The writer of the book of Ephesians assumes that spiritual blessings are on their way, that they have already been ordained for us.
And Marianne Williamson shares that same idea in her own poetic, prayerful way:
“…what I place on the altar of my mind is then altered in my life. When I do not know what to say or do, [God] who is alive within me will illumine my thinking and guide my words…And when the road seems lonely and long before me, I will know I am not alone.”
Prayer isn’t begging a far away deity to do what It would not have done without our begging; prayer is learning to trust an omnipresence that can’t be adequately defined, that transcends all words and images, that can be experienced intimately but never fully known intellectually, and so prayer is communion with Isness, a conscious realization that we are one with all that is and with the Source of all that is, and once we have a consciousness of oneness, our fears begin to fade, our hopes seem reasonable, and we experience at least moments of peace that circumstances cannot take away.
Now, this positive, optimistic way of approaching life and spirituality comes from an experience that we can sum up as, “God is…”
We are so tempted to elongate that two word sentence. We want to say that God is merciful, or angry, or mighty, or forgiving, or limited to certain people or ideologies…we want to make God a noun, instead of a verb, a super-person instead of a presence, a thing instead of an experience. We want to use language that makes God manageable, very often in the image of our prejudices so that we feel our hatreds are holy, our fears are faithful, and our rage is righteous. We want God to have skin, and gender, and personality, and be on our side. But that winds up being one more graven image, one more false and not terribly useful idol.
Moses asked God, “who are you?” The story doesn’t say that God answers with a lofty, creedal statement. No, the answer is simply, “I am who I am.” I am. Period. I am amness. Isness.
God is, and it takes maturity and faith to let that be the whole of our affirmation of faith.
The late Marcus Borg said this about God: God is real, and God is mystery. Nothing as tangible as we find in creeds; just another way of saying, “God is.”
In his book, Convictions: A manifesto for progressive Christians, Borg shares that as a young person fascinated by science he had abandoned much of the Lutheran theology of his family and was pretty firmly established already as an agnostic. But then he had a mystical experience.
It was, as most mystical experiences are, very brief. It was almost impossible to describe. He simply looked around and saw the world around him as energy, or as filled with light. The world was radiant. A minute or less later, the world was the world he had always known. But in that brief instant, he realized there was more to life than he had realized. More than could be seen. More than could be explained. One of the ways he came to understand God was simply as “More.”
The young skeptic became a New Testament scholar and spent his entire career sharing a progressive view of Christianity, which included helping people experience the “moreness” of life, which he called God. Of course “moreness”, energy, light, luminance, radiance, power, presence cannot be summed up in creeds or scriptures or sacraments…these things point beyond themselves to send us on an exploration of the mystery of life, the always more, the Sacred, or we could say God.
Borg noticed that God is described in terms of glory in the bible…the glory of God would shine on people when they experienced God. He came to realize that glory meant light or energy, and people experienced light or energy or brilliance when they had an experience they called divine. God wasn’t something to figure out, something to have correct beliefs about, an ego-maniac judging and rejecting those who broke rules or couldn’t embrace certain opinions. God must be an energizing experience, a profound experience that could never be summed up with words or statues or rituals. God isn’t a thing or even a person. God simply is, and as Isness, can only be experienced.
Other mystics would share this same realization:
The Rev Peter Gomes, the late minister of Harvard Memorial Church and faculty member at Harvard Divinity School said, “Mystery is not an argument for the existence of God; mystery is the experience of the existence of God.”
Episcopal bishop John Spong has said, “God is not a noun that demands to be defined; God is a verb that invites us to live, to love, and to be.”
Religion scholar and former Roman Catholic nun Karen Armstrong once said in an interview, “God is unnamable. You can never know the essence of the divine…So Christians have experienced God as [Parent], a sort of brooding…caring presence; as Spirit immanent within us; and as Word, which is spoken in Jesus and in creation.”
And physician turned spiritual teacher and writer Deepak Chopra says, “God is a journey in consciousness.”
Mystery. Verb. Experience. Journey. These are the words the profound thinkers, the great teachers use to help us with our own spiritual paths.
Paul Tillich, perhaps the greatest Protestant theologian of the 20th century referred to God as the ground of being. Not a being, but the ground of all being, the No Thing which is the Substance of all things, the Source of all life.
That must have been what a Dominican in the Middle Ages, Meister Eckhart, meant when he wrote, “I pray God, rid me of God.”
In other words, may I be free of theologies and philosophies and dogmas and doctrines so that I can simply experience what can’t be adequately named, commune with what can’t be described, love and feel loved by that which can’t be fully known, trust what can’t be seen and yet can be discerned in all that exists.
God, rid me of God, might be the most profound prayer of faith ever. Or we could say, “Nameless Omnipresence, may I release all idols and images that I have called God, so that I can simply experience your light in me and in the world.”
Marcus Borg believed that everything is part of God, and God is in everything. Borg called God “Isness”…not merely real, but reality Itself. Not a being separate from the universe, but “a reality, a ‘more,’ a radiant and luminous presence that permeates everything that is.”
But if God is omnipresent, then our faith isn’t about believing the right things or being against the wrong people. Christianity isn’t this or that belief about the symbol of the Trinity. It isn’t about arguing over what made Jesus important. It isn’t about how much water to use for baptism or how often to celebrate the Eucharist. It isn’t about escaping an afterlife prison camp or getting to an afterlife cosmic country club. If God is omnipresent, then we will all be in God’s presence forever. Religion isn’t meant to get us there; it’s meant to help us realize we are already there, and start enjoying it and being empowered by the realization.
Being Christian isn’t about beating us into saying we believe certain things about God or Jesus or the bible…it’s about following Jesus’ example of journeying deeper into the Mystery that many of us call God; it’s about communing with this Omnipresence and knowing ourselves to be part of it. We can’t know much about God, but we can know our experience of God. We can’t figure God out, but we can trust God in us. We can’t make God fit into a theology, a doctrine, a hymnal, or a tradition, but we can experience the light of God in our own lives.
Being Christian is about saying, “God is…” and then having the courage to leave it at that. Now, you are probably thinking that Christianity is about action as well, and you are correct; but remember, it’s a nine week series. You’ll have to keep coming back.
If you are willing to affirm, “God is,” and then resist the temptation to layer a lot of rules and dogma on top of that, then you are ready to experience more of God beyond anything you thought you knew about God, and experiencing more of God is, after all, what it means to be Christian. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2015
I accept peace, hope, and joy…
As I affirm very simply…