When I was preparing today, I googled ‘Unitarian Mysticism’ and to my surprise and delight, up came an inspiring 10-week Adult Religious Education course on the Unitarian Universalist Association website (uua.org) called ‘Spirit in Practice’ by Rev. Erik Wikstrom Walker. This morning, I’ll be weaving together some of the stories he tells on that course with readings and quotes from other inspiring authors.
My sermon today says Let’s stop making apologies for God. She’s a total nuisance.
In the Christian circles I grew up in, people were constantly saying how good God was.
They blindly ignored all the grief and harm in the world, and if anybody drew attention to it, they’d come up with excuses. Like: God sent this to test you.
If you pointed out that God did nothing whatever to help you through these troubles – after you prayed for help and nothing happened, they’d say: God aways answers your prayers: Sometimes the answer is Yes. Sometimes it’s no, and sometimes it’s wait.
I was not very old before I realised this too was crap, because that means absolutely any thing can be called God, and in practice that’s the same as there being no God at all.
So I’d like to talk about the claims religious people make for God, and the major excuses they make when she doesn’t deliver.
Since I mentioned it at the beginning of our time together, let me start my musings with a bit more background on my hospital stay. As I mentioned when I last led our service, in October, I’ve found myself during this lockdown eating less well, gaining back weight I’d thought I was long rid of, and becoming more and more sedentary. My workdays have gotten really long, resulting in my spending as much as 15 hours a day sitting in this very chair.
I need to begin this musing with a warning to those who might be triggered by words like Jesus or Christianity. On the Sunday before Christmas, I give myself permission to express some of my thoughts and ideas about progressive Christianity, which are the foundation of my faith. My justification is that both of the denominations that make up Unitarian Universalism were progressive Christians before we had a term for it. While Unitarian Universalism no longer identifies only with Christianity, many of our members are progressive Christians or Christians without God as I like to call them. For those who are repelled by Christianity either because they have experienced toxic Christianity or count themselves amongst rationalists and humanists or follow another faith tradition they bring to the mix, I hope learning about the scholarship that has revealed a very different Christianity from what we normally see around us will be both enlightening and beneficial.
Buddha told a parable: A man was travelling across a field when he encountered a tiger. He began to run, and the tiger chased after him. Coming to a precipice, he slipped and was able to catch hold of the root of a wild strawberry bush, hanging in the air. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down only to find that another tiger was waiting to eat him. He thought the bush could sustain him for a while, until he saw two mice gnawing away the vine. A tiger above, a tiger below. The man saw a ripe strawberry near him. Grabbing the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other, and ate it. How sweet and delicious.
We are hearing a lot about freedom these days. Brian Tamaki holding “freedom” rallies in the Domain, violating his bail conditions in the name of personal freedom. Protestors marching down Queen Street in Auckland and gathering on the steps around Parliament in Wellington, angry about lockdowns and vaccine mandates. Farmers clogging motorways from Auckland to Dunedin with their tractors “howling” their objections to the government’s electric vehicle rebate policy. And that is just in New Zealand. Major protests throughout Europe against the reintroduction of restrictions in response to another wave of Covid. Even in the “Land of the free,” Trump encouraged insurrection against Congress in the name of “freedom.” Then there is the debate over whether people have the freedom to spread misinformation about Covid and vaccines on social media.
As your minister one of the riskier things I do is to offer choosing a sermon title to bid on at the Service Auction. Perhaps one of the more challenging ones I have been given was concocted by Paul Henriques. He wants me to muse on “Unitarian Universalism and Philanthropy: Past, Present and Future.” I confess I would never have come up with this topic on my own. Even if it had crossed my mind I would have quickly discovered very little has been written about it, and what has been written is in scholarly articles I am unable to access without enrolling in an academic institution. So thanks Paul for a mission impossible.
After some of my recent musings confronting the disintegration of social cohesion due to Delta and how little COP26 in Glasgow will achieve in reducing greenhouse gases, you might think I’m channelling Henny Penny AKA Chicken Little. You remember the story. After an acorn falls on her head, she panics, running around the barnyard yelling, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling.” Of course, Henny is mistaken, much to the amusement of the other farm animals as they point out the sky is fine.
In my defence, I can’t be a Unitarian Universalist and channel Henny Penny.