Doug Norris

A couple of weeks ago I asked for some themes to discuss, here in my last set of sermons.    I got a  very fine and challenging response – from Jocelyn.

I’ll paraphrase but just slightly : Can I be committed to both the practice of my Christian faith, and to the authenticity of others who practice other faiths?   It seems that to identify myself as a Christian is to identify myself in the eyes of others as believing that only Jesus has any authenticity.   And so it is often easy to not say anything…  Can a ‘real christian’ be this open?     Two critical questions in our day : 

1 – How do we relate to one another as people of different faiths?   Because really this is a kind of ‘proxy’ question for  ‘how do we relate to the other, the foreigner, the different one, the stranger at the gate?  Is there any more crucial question in the world right now?

2 – Are there several versions of Christianity?   One that is tolerant and one that is narrow?  Will the real Jesus please stand up?   And can we just choose a version that suits us?

I’ll digress for a moment, tell you about the title here this morning.  (Titles we write on Wednesdays, sermons we write a few days later…)

1984, living in Scotland, I had just arrived eager to experience all things Scottish and I hankered for a traditional fish and chips – and served by a very nice Punjabi man, and the meal was slathered in a very fine curry sauce.   Tribal becoming global.   My story is light, but this has not been an easy story in the UK, with much fear and violence over the past decades.  Curry in Carnoustie has not been simple.  

The gospel reading set for this week may help us here.   Luke 4, we began it last week.  To recap : Jesus is the guest speaker at his home congregation, quotes the beloved prophet Isaiah.   So it starts well – Jesus solidly identifying himself with his people, his tribe – the deep Jewishness of using the words of the Prophet Isaiah to define his work says – I am of this group,  look at this remarkable heritage we have !

But then it gets odd.  He references two occasions on which the Jewish God quite clearly acted to bless and protect a non-Jew.   Hey, he said,  remember when there was famine in our land, and it was a widow in That Other Land that was miraculously fed?   And remember how in the time of Elisha there were all kind of people suffering in our land, but God sent Elisha to heal the guy in Syria??   God is bigger than you might imagine !

They were angry, and led him to the brow of a hill, intending to kill him, but he slipped away.   This is a very odd ending.     (a sidebar – a literary device – prolepsis?  this is how the story ends, after all – the people are angered, call for his death, lead him to the brow of a hill, but he gets away – resurrection.)  It begins in the way that it will end.  A mob, a hill, but it’s not over.

But here’s the thing – He made the claim that the new humanity dreamed of by the prophets would be larger than one people, more than one race, better than just one clan, but they could not join him in imagining this new humanity, and their fear became violence.

Clarence Jordan – Georgia in the 1950’s, a new testament scholar and peanut farmer who began a community to live out the kingdom of God with blacks and whites living and working together.  He was shunned and threatened and shot at, and he wrote in one of his sermons  “If someone isn’t bombing you in the night, well, what have you been up to?  (from ‘Cotton Patch Sermons’)

You may have seen in the weekly email that we will have an oportunity to celebrate the work of Claude and Linda, years of leading our refugee program, and that is more than just a story of some very diligent eforts.     They and all of you are a victory of the moral imagination that says God is bigger and the possibiities more amazing than we might imagine.

Isaiah – ’…on this mountain, a feast for all peoples…  my house shall be a house of prayer for all nations…’

 So, if there are several versions of this tradition – competing versions of who God is, who Jesus was, how it all works in us – how do we know which one to stand up for?   Can we prove what we hold to?

Here’s what I’ve got :  We know more than we know.

To be part of this movement is to make some claims.  These claims will be some things that we know to be true because we experience them, and,  they are also in the category of things we can’t know.   They lie beyond certainty.   But we hold to them anyway.  We know things we can’t know.

Life is holy – transcendant, charged, luminous, beautiful, every life, all life…  

Redemption is possible ;

Hope is real.

We KNOW enough to live with conviction.   We claim a space,we own what we know.

And, we live with a humility that what we know can’t be known.   So we can be slow to judge others who know something different.  

This is not to say a ‘maybe’ to the world!  To say  ‘Meh’.  It is to say a resounding YES, and, to acknowledge the risk and the humility of knowing what we can’t yet know.

Paul in that well-loved passage : We see only dimly right now.  One day we will see fully.  For now, in the meantime, while we are in this ‘not knowing’, there are some things we know.  Faith, Hope, Love, abide these three…