8/25/19: A Sabbath for the Earth

There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.

Rabbi Abraham Heschel, The Sabbath

I’ve written before about how Christian theology has often failed the Earth; too often, we read the words of Genesis – that we have dominion over the Earth, that we ought to subdue it – or read Psalm 8, and we take them at face value and call it a day. The result is a misguided, sinful notion that we can do whatever it is we’d like with the land, air, and water on which all life depends.

But, the Bible is more complicated than that. A Christian relationship with the Earth is a far cry from this dominating, hateful approach to the ways Christian cultures have historically regarded the Earth (an approach which is anything but Christlike).

I preached this sermon at the First Congregational Church of Glen Ellyn, a suburban UCC congregation where I currently work as the senior high youth director. In it, I borrow the concept of the Sabbath – born out of Jewish practice and expounded upon through millennia by Jewish theologians, but still present in Christian tradition – to suggest a different way we might come to relate to the other life on our planet.

I use a text from the prophet Isaiah, which you can read here, to highlight the ways in which Jesus was firmly rooted in his own Jewish faith – and then to explore the implications of this teaching for our relationship to our planet and all life on it.

You can watch the sermon in the video below, or read it in the transcript on the following page.

4/28/2019: Doubting, faithfully.

Mosaic in the Resurrection Chapel in the Washington Cathedral. Washington, D.C.

“Christianity has nothing to do with certainty… Christianity is about living in opposition to certainty; it is about faith in the midst of doubt. Indeed, Christianity has no room for certainty, for certainty lives by the law of self-protection; its own rightness keeps it from hope and, most importantly, (the greatest of these, Paul says) from love… Doubt then is not our enemy, but our friend. For it keeps us from the most unchristian of things: assuming that we possess certainty, that we need not think about faith or love our neighbors, and worse, that we need not search for God.”

Andrew Root, “Doubt and Confirmation: The Mentor as Co-Doubter” in The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry

I worry that our churches are setting faithful people up for failure. Given that the people in our pews are thinking, intelligent people, and given that they listen and engage with faith every day, it is only a matter of time before anyone who attends church regularly will begin to think: hey, wait a minute. What about…? And yet, our churches don’t often have room for this kind of doubt, and people feel that they cannot both doubt and find a home in our communities; the only option they have, it would seem, is to leave.

Questions and doubt shouldn’t scare us, whether the questions are our own or the doubts of someone whom we love. Doubt, questions, ponderings – these are all the surest sign that we have engaged our faith seriously, that we are seeking our tradition and God on a deeper level. Put another way, questions mean that we taking the things we hear seriously, and wanting more information; questions are a sign of great faithfulness.

And yet, this is not often how we approach questions in our faith communities. Confirmation classes are often structured to simply hand information over to the young people in our congregations, sermons are often filled with statements born in a certainty foreign to the people in the pews, and one does not often hear people voice their doubts in the church coffee hour.

Scripture gives us an alternative way of approaching doubt. Indeed, in the story of Thomas at the end of the Gospel of John, I am struck by how the doubtful apostle is so able to express his doubts to his community – and still remain a part of the community. I can’t help but wonder whether the story of Thomas might help us to build church communities which encourage curiosity, doubt, and questions as integral, healthy parts of faith, rather than obstacles to be overcome.

I wrote this sermon for Resurrection Lutheran Church here in Chicago to speak to the virtue of doubt. So, here’s to doubt: our friend on the road of faith, encouraging us to seek more knowledge about God, about scripture, about what it means to live faithfully. Doubt our co-companion, who keeps our minds and our hearts open to something new, who weeds out our certainties so that we may flourish in our faith.

Here is the lectionary reading for the day, and you can see the sermon by going to page two just below this text.