I will tell you, honestly, that the events of this week have challenged my faith.
My faith in humanity has been challenged to the point of breaking.
My faith in God, too, has been shaken. But I am not ready to take off this robe and leave the pulpit. Ultimately, my commitment to a life informed by religion is strengthened – but the events of the last week have left me with a stronger conviction than ever that, in order to call myself a Christian, I must criticize Christianity, as it has been practiced for thousands of years.
When we think of God,
when we pray to God,
when we worship God
We imagine something in our minds…
Too often, our imaginations provide us with the image of a very big person – usually a white male with a long white beard. This big male God sits on a throne in the clouds. This God is the King of the universe, and He controls all of our destinies as a puppet master pulls strings. This God even looks a bit like a Medieval monarch, with his jeweled crown and flowing white robes. He certainly acts like one, showering his obedient minions with blessings, and petulantly sending those who disagree to the chopping block.
Off with his head!
When, in the dark nights of our souls, we are tortured by pain, neglect, addiction, alienation, grief, depression – this is the God that we cry out against.
What have I done to deserve the pain that you have inflicted upon me, oh great and powerful King of the Universe?
We think of this God, sitting in judgment, and we imagine that it is somehow our fault – the awful, unrelenting pain of life.
Of course, we know better.
We know that this vision of God is absurd…
We know that clouds are not thrones and that the heavens are not teeming with harp playing angels. These fancies ought to have disappeared centuries ago, along with other medieval beliefs, like the natural buoyancy of witches, and the flatness of the earth.
In 1969, Niel Armstrong stood on the surface of the moon. Cell phone satellites now occupy the heavenly positions that our ancestors imagined to be populated by choirs of angels…
And yet, this image of a celestial “God the father” will not leave us alone. It is stubborn. It is a habit of mind that is encouraged by centuries of oral tradition, biblical literature, and that language of ritual.
When we pray,
when we worship,
when we seek comfort, or curse our fate
our minds search for something or someone to focus on, and our cultural associations have created neural pathways that seem, always, to lead us to the image that is most associated, in our lives, with power.
The white male.
We must not imagine our God as a man in the sky.
The events of the last week prove to us, yet again, that our very survival depends upon our ability to wean ourselves of this image of the puppet master God.
Indeed, the events of the last week have convinced me that if such a puppet master God is in charge of the universe, then I revoke any pledge I have made to give my life to its service.
Instead, I pledge my life in defiance of such a God.
The God who is the CEO of the universe – the God who is enthroned at the top of some imagined celestial hierarchy – that God is not a God to be served. The God who points to one of us and says “I bless you” and gives that person wealth and health, while quietly slipping a noose around another person’s neck, abandoning that poor sap to a life of privation and suffering because that person failed to show proper obedience – that God is a God to be resisted and defied, because, that God – I tell you with all the certainty I can muster – that God is not God. That God is nothing more than human power disguised as God and…
Human power disguised as God is the opposite of God.
Serving that God is like serving the worst inclinations of the human soul.
Believing in, and being obedient to such a God may be the most dangerous thing that we can do as people of faith.
When we allow ourselves to be subservient to this image of God, we create, in our deepest selves, a habit of obedience to power – a habit that can very easily be usurped by the most vile caprices of human greed and ambition.
In this sense, Religion has done humanity a great disservice. Religion, in all its forms, has trained us all to accept, without question, the idea that the proper thing to do is to obey power.
Vladimir Putin need not even claim to be working on behalf of God. Having seized the reins of power, he makes shameless use of our deeply held inclination to obey. And like so many mindless automatons, his soldiers perpetrate his awful crime.
Four days ago, on Thursday February 24th 2022, Russian president Vladimir Putin declared the beginning of a “Special military operation” and moments later missiles began hitting targets in Ukraine.
People – like you and me – who never had anything to do with Vladimir Putin, began dying.
With these three words “special military operation” one man set in motion of course of action that has already claimed hundreds of innocent lives.
The “hate your enemy” world view has prevailed once again, and power is being wielded, not to support human life, but to annihilate it.
Why is this activity so beloved to those in power?
Why do humans, who have the power to do whatever they want, use the trust given them, to turn on other humans and kill them?
Putin must have woken up on the morning of Thursday February 24th, with the awareness that our species was already bedeviled by an environmental crisis that threatens our very survival. Surely he woke up to the same world that we did, in which a global pandemic has been raging, that has claimed nearly 6 million lives.
And yet, he decided, of his own accord, to add to our troubles by placing an immense and dark shroud of peril over every human soul alive on the planet.
For most of human history war happened over there. There was something known as a battlefield, where opposing armies clashed. Swords, spears, bow and arrows, then guns, trenches, grenades, land mines, battleships, airplanes. Over the centuries we have gotten better and better at killing each other.
But today, if a war happens, it’s not something that happens over there.
In 2022, if war gets out of control, it could bring about the complete annihilation of human civilization.
We have the weapons – they are waiting for us to use them – weapons that could, in a single day, kill almost every human being on the planet and leave the unfortunate survivors in an environment so utterly poisoned as to leave no hope of long term survival.
Some of you, who are in this room, were alive on the day, in August of 1945, when the first atomic bomb was dropped on a populated area. The city of Hiroshima was flattened in an instant.
What happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was mere child’s play compared to what can be done now.
Our moral sophistication, as a species, has not kept pace with the technological capability of our weapons.
We are sitting on missiles that can wipe out every living mammal on the planet, and we have not bothered to put in place any measure to keep those same weapons out of the hands of a mad man.
This sermon may be the closest I ever come to “fire and brimstone.”
I have spent half of the sermon blaming God – or rather our traditional image of God… and the other half scaring your pants off.
But you knew all this before you came here today. It was already making you anxious.
And here is another thing that you already knew when you came here today – a deep knowledge that led you here…
As surely as there is murder, there is also compassion.
As surely as there is madness, there is also sanity.
As surely as there is war, there is also love.
In the Christian tradition, the story of the Transfiguration, which was read this morning, is said to be the moment, in Christ’s life, when he was transformed from being human, to being divine.
From human to divine.
From mortal to immortal.
From dull, to radiant.
This is a very significant moment!
So let’s pay attention to what happens at this crucial moment?
The story tells us that Peter, James and John saw Jesus speaking to Moses and Elijah, and then
“…suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice spoke…
This is it folks – the critical moment. What is God going to say from the cloud that will be so significant as to transform Jesus of Nazareth, into Jesus Christ, the Messiah?
Does God say “This is my son, he shall rule the world with his stupendous power…”?
No. God doesn’t say that.
God does not say: “This is my son, he will command great armies and subdue the world…”
No. God does not say that.
God does not say: “This is my son, he will be able to wipe out entire cities with the press of a button…”
Of course, God does not say this
To become divine, Jesus does not have to be powerful.
This is what God says… are you ready? God says:
“This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
To be divine, Jesus didn’t have to do anything. He just had to do be beloved.
God didn’t do anything accept bestow love.
God doesn’t even have to be anything, in this story except the source of love.
God is the act of Loving.
God loves Jesus into divine-ness.
God is not a big king in the sky dispensing power.
God is a cloud – a mysterious and glorious concentration of love that blesses Jesus and makes him radiant.
And in the end this is the source of my faith, and the one source of our hope.
Love is as real – more real than war.
This reality – and this reality alone, will save us.