Come and See: From Welcoming to Inviting
Texts: Genesis 2:15-19 ; John 1:35-42
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
March 9, 2014
In watching the news I'm distressed over the wars and conflicts around the world. The Ukraine is in a dangerous spot. I think there exists a great potential for Russia to step in and seize control. There is rioting in Venezuela. North Korea has been exposed as possibly the cruelest nation on the planet. Syria is in the midst of a horrible civil war. Iraq is unraveling and Afghanistan is largely unraveled and our troops are supposed to vacate the country by the end of the year. While I understood the first Iraq war, I never understood the second one. I understood the initial incursion into Afghanistan but I never did understand why we have stayed for so long. This has now been played out with two very different Presidents.
People often look to the United States, and we look at ourselves as the great super power that is supposed to do something. Tragically, we have lost a significant number of amazing young men and women who died in the service of our nation and have seen thousands of others devastated by wounds. As we watch Iraq devolve and recognize that Afghanistan will never not devolve, I grieve over this loss of life.
I do not believe President Obama has any desire to go to war and even if he did, the Congress would never support him. Both houses of the Congress have become a place of "Whoop, whoop, whoop! Nyuk, nyuk nyuk nyuk nyuk," more than anything else. For me, I'm praying that the peace of God which passes all understanding impacts the hearts and minds of people around the world. This killing must come to an end sometime. Far, far, far too many people in the world have died----and ultimately I'm wondering what exactly so many people have actually died for.
The United Church of Christ and the United Church of Canada are in discussions to enter full communion with one another. At present, The United Church of Christ has a full communion with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a Formula of Agreement with the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and a "Kirchengemeinshaft" with the Union of Evangelical Churches in Germany (UEK).
The partnership with the United Church of Christ would be a first for United Church of Canada. The Rev. Michael Blair, executive minister of Church Mission for the United Church of Canada, said after the resolution was approved in July that it was "a first for us because we work in partnership with many denominations, but no formal relationships like this resolution would produce."
Since entering into the full communion agreement with the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, there has been a rich partnership between the two denominations. At my own church my colleague in ministry is an ordained minister in the Disciples of Christ and has been a joy to work with. It is a reminder of Jesus’ great prayer for all to be one, as it is the foundational motto of the United Church of Christ in 1957, “That they may all be one.”
The United Church of Christ is a denomination that came as the result of the merger between the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches in 1957. The two predecessor denominations came as the result of mergers as well. The idea of ecumenism is well ingrained within the United Church of Christ and this border crossing venture into full communion with the United Church of Canada furthers this mission.
I wish we didn’t need to have these kind of discussions. We are all the Body of Christ, or, perhaps better said, we are all supposed to be the Body of Christ. We are, after 2000 years of Christianity a church divided. Sadly, we are a church badly divided.
Who is to fault? In a way we all lay claim to this.
For example, when I see a group from Westboro Baptist Church picketing military funerals or having a website entitled, www.godhatesfags.com, I want no part of them. Frankly, I am embarrassed they use the word ‘church’ to state what they are.
When I see many megachurches preaching the prosperity Gospel, if you believe in Jesus you will be blessed with great riches, I recoil. That is not and has never been the teaching of Jesus Christ. No matter how many random scripture passages you string together to proof text, that is not the Gospel of Christ and it never will be.
When I see churches prevent people from receiving Holy Communion I recoil at this as well. It’s the Lord’s Supper, not ours to pick and choose who we want to participate or not.
We divide over some things we see as really big things. What age should a person be Baptized and how should we do it? Do we use wine or grape juice at Holy Communion? What exactly is it when we are taking Holy Communion? Is it really Jesus? It is a symbol? When all is said and done, does any of it really matter? There is a part of me that God may actually be rather amused by the fact that our theological opinions actually matter this much. Maybe the problem is that we think more of God’s church than we actually do about God.
Do all of these things matter? They do. As I said, there are things that matter to me greatly.
Ultimately it makes me feel really good that the United Church of Christ and the United Church of Canada are talking about entering into full communion with one another. I have been a United Church of Christ minister for over 30 years and I’m proud to be a part of a denomination that takes Jesus’ prayer of all being one seriously. I’m proud to be a part of a denomination that says, ‘no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here,’ and really means it. I’m proud that when we invite everyone to God’s Table, we really mean everyone, not just the people who agree with us. I’m happy we are doing this with the United Church of Canada.
I look forward to the day, however, when we really all are one and these kinds of conversations are no longer necessary.
Sometimes, it seems for personal torture, I read blogs of people of a variety of theological perspectives. Many are good and many are awful. It strikes me that the ones that are ‘apologetics’ are among the worse. Christian apologetics is a field of Christian theology which aims to present a rational basis for the Christian faith, defending the faith against objections. Most of them are done poorly and are essentially making arguments as to why that person and his or her tradition is right and the others are wrong.
I was just reading one the other day. I will leave the writer’s tradition out of this as its pretty irrelevant. He is well educated and a seminary student who has mastered the fine art of pious platitude sharing and a belief that his tradition is right and the other traditions are wrong. His essential instrument is to pick and choose portions of other traditions and make them caricatures for him to pick apart. It’s the class ‘straw man’ argument. The student is studying theology and philosophy and just seems to delight in using some of the newly learned concepts and applying them, rather poorly I might add, to make his point.
I say this recognizing that many people do this. Like many people who delve into apologetics so gleefully, straw men and paper tigers are mandatory.
He most recently decided to delve into the ever delightful topic of trying to rationally determine if people outside of his tradition can go to Heaven. He makes a long argument using some theological terms that aren’t really part of the discussion until he makes them a part of his conversation. Ultimately he comes to the conclusion that his tradition and Jesus are pretty much interchangeable and that ultimately there are people who go to Heaven even though they weren’t a part of his tradition. Except, in a brilliant stroke of logic, he determines they actually WERE a part of his tradition but didn’t know it.
Let me exhale here and suggest that I really need to stop reading people who take a stab at apologetics. I mean, seriously….
Okay, back to my post.
This blog post is actually 14 double spaced pages and in those 14 double spaced pages he wanders from hither to yon and never once uses the word ‘grace.’ Not once. A central word, a central theme of the New Testament is never mentioned. Not once. Lost in the pious platitudes and philosophical and theological terms aptly misapplied was the word ‘grace.’
This is what happens when we decide to dance with apologetics. Classically Christianity has dealt nicely with ‘didache’ (teaching) and ‘kerygma’ (proclamation). Those two things are adequate. We really do not need to defend ourselves from people who disagree with us. Christian and how we practice it is a choice people make. It is not an argument to be defended, it is a choice to walk on a faith journey. Instead of intellectually or philosophically trying to defend our choice, we need to simply teach what we believe (learning it first helps!) and proclaim what we believe. No more is really necessary.
And for those who believe they have to assert why people need to belong to their particular tradition or denomination to go to Heaven I have a request. Please get over yourselves. You are doing no one a favor with this silliness.
I chose not to watch the debate between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham of the Creation Museum. Why? There really wasn’t a debate. Ken Ham is arguing that the universe we live in is 6000 years old. It isn’t. We know the earth we live on is billions of years old. We have overwhelming fossil evidence. The age of our planet is not really subject to debate at this level. Maybe a 100 million here or a billion there, but going from billions to 6000? No.
Bill Ham is bringing us to the world of Fred, Wilma, and Dino. Dinosaurs and people did not inhabit the earth together. I was a small child at the Natural History Museum in New York City seeing the fossils of ancient dinosaurs. I knew that people and these creatures did not inhabit the earth simultaneously. That is not an opinion. It’s well documented science that Mr. Ham denies.
I can be incredibly cynical and say that Mr. Ham has $35,000,000 reasons to deny this. He has invested a large amount of money in a museum that is dedicated to his perspective that the universe is 6000 years old. He claims that he is advocating his Christian faith and belief in the Bible. Sadly, very sadly, he’s actually doing great damage to Christianity and to people approaching the Bible.
The universe is at least billions of years old. Scientists have demonstrated why this is true and when I encounter facts I accept them. They have also demonstrated things like gravity and personal experience has told me, when I drop something and it hits my foot, that gravity exists. I have tripped far too many times in my life to be happy about it and I have never once, tripped UP. I always fall down. Always. When people drop trash out the window it never hangs there in the air or goes up. Gravity is a fact in the same way the dating of the universe is a fact.
Mr. Ham made this debate seem like it was a debate between the Christian faith and science and that he, Ken Ham, had to defend Christianity. In fact, I dare so, he did more to discredit Christianity than he did to defend it. He made it appear that Christianity does not believe in science and that all Christians, all REAL Christians, agree with him.
I believe I am a real Christian. I am very imperfect at my faith. I question things. I sin. I wrestle with all sorts of things with my faith, but, at the end of the day, I am a Christian. I also read the Bible, find God’s Word in the Bible, and even preach from it. I actually really love the Bible. I love it enough to not take everything in it literally.
In Genesis between the first and second chapter, there is an obvious change of authors and two quite different creation stories. The two authors tell different stories and actually have different names for God. For people who read Hebrew, the difference is very pronounced. If you don’t, I’d recommend the New Jerusalem Bible translation as it uses the Hebrew names for God. The change of authors is quite pronounced and visible. I love both authors and both of them are trying, theologically, to explain the world around them.
The first author speaks of creation rolling out over seven days and the second author speaks about human imperfection. They were theological narratives that attempted to explain what the people of the era had no way of explaining. They were written in a response to other ancient writings by a people who had a faith in a God they were trying to understand. Whereas everyone else saw creation and the universe as something flawed and ugly, and coming from ugly things, these writers saw beauty and goodness. They shared with faith and they wrote about it.
It was not science. It was never suggested to be science and the people of Judaism have always known that and through most of Christianity people knew that. In the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas articulated that quite well. He knew the creation narrative as not a story of science, but a theological narrative.
Do I believe God created the universe? Yes.
6000 years ago in seven 24 hour days? No.
Do I believe in evolution? I sure do, as I believe God is a creating God who created and set things in motion and things remain in motion. To me, Ken Ham’s view of creation is static and I do not believe in a static God!
I do not believe in a static God….
Those words, to me, help define my view of creation. I see God as one who created and is creating and who is not static. I love the passage from the United Church of Christ Statement of Faith that reads, “God calls the worlds into being, creates humankind in the divine image, and sets before us the ways of life and death.” I love the premise of “God calls.” It is active. It is present.
Ken Ham, to me, is anti-science but he believes in a God who is static and limited. God did it and it’s done. To me, it’s not done. God lives. God breathes. God creates. God speaks. God is alive and well.
For me, there was no reason to watch the debate. One person advocated science and I have no problem seeing God in science. One person advocated a static God and I do not believe in a static God. Period.