Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Good Book? - Kurt Nelson

Thus ends our term of reflection on the Problems and Promise of Scripture...

Kurt Nelson, Rollins Chapel, 3.6.11
Amos 5:21-24

One of the more honest prayers, I think,
in all of Christendom goes,
“Lord, save me from your followers.”
I have prayed it, fairly often.
It seems an unfortunate,
but pretty basic truth about humanity,
that the more important something is,
the more we can to mess it up.
It’s true of governance.
True of economies.
True of relationships.
And true of faith and religion.
How many times have we wondered,
“How did we get from Jesus, to the current state of affairs?”
My frustration with religious leaders and religious hypocrisy,
has occasionally dragged down my view of the whole faith,
and of the Bible.
I suspect I’m not the only one who,
in the face of hypocrisy, violence and vitriol,
quoting scripture for defense,
has wondered, “Is this really a good book?”
Filled, as it is, with complexity and difficulty.
With strange and seemingly backward laws.
With wars and unfit leaders?
Of course there’s lots of good stuff too.
But it is no doubt complicit,
in some measure of our violence, our oppression, our domination, our misogyny.
And given these challenges,
I’ve occasionally wondered,
if we might not just leave it behind.

It seems like a radical proposal, I know.
But people of course do it all the time.
Leaving behind scripture and community,
in favor of personal communion with God.
And self-directed spirituality.
And I for one,
can empathize.

And given all the good work,
and good writings on God, and Christ and humanity,
Given the Bonhoeffers, and the Martin Luther Kings of this world.
The CS Lewises and JR Tolkeins?
and the Thomas Berrys and Augustines,
 Luthers, and Dorothy Days, and Howard Thurmans?
Couldn’t we find our spiritual source,
outside of the scriptures?

But I’ve come to the conclusion,
that it is indeed a good book,
and we cannot just leave it behind,
for three main reasons,
which stick with me even during the worst of times.

First, we ought not forget that while countless malevolent,
and unholy acts have appealed to scripture,
so have countless goods.
Including all those authors I mentioned before,
and many more.
And we cannot understand them without the scriptures.

Second, because I think the Bible anticipates,
in amazing and unexpected ways,
the problem humanity has with religion.

And third, because I think,
our scriptures don’t give up hope in us.
And neither, I think, should we give up hope in them.

The great prophet Amos,
wrote during one of Israel’s few peaceful and stable historical moments.
The economy was growing,
political leaders were becoming increasingly corrupt,
people were secure and safe,
and set about worshipping their God.
Indeed, ritual became the center of life.
But, as Amos says,
they had turned their faith, their hope, and their love,
into a duty,
a purity.
And in so doing,
lost the point.
That worship without justice,
worship without love,
worship without care for others,
is not really worship at all.
“I hate your solemn assemblies,
you who trample on the poor,”
reminds that reluctant prophet, Amos.
They turned what was good, and beautiful and true,
into what is hateful and unjust.
And this is, of course, the story of us,
not just them.
Jesus came bearing essentially the same message,
His was a challenge directly to the religious faithful of his day.
The scribes, the priests, and the Pharisees.
“beware of the scribes who devour widows’ houses.”
Those who had given up justice for ritual.
Those who had lost love in their searching for purity.
Those whose prayers didn’t match their worldly lives.
Undermining decent peoples’ sense,
of who was in, and who was out.
This was one of Jesus’ essential tasks.
And yet he hadn’t been gone but a few years,
and his followers were arguing over circumcision.
Over who was in, and who was out.
It is our story.
To turn love and faith,
into ritual, purity, and hypocrisy.
Our church has done it throughout time,
over countless issues and ideas.
And it continues today.
We are tower builders,
and boundary drawers.
It saddens and hurts me.
And I’m sure I’ve done it myself.

And its right here,
not only in our lives and history,
but again and again within our text.
The great irony of turning of our Bible,
into a rigid religion ought not be lost on us.
And there is, I think,
a strange comfort in knowing,
that we are not the first,
nor will we be the last,
to turn our beautiful faith,
into an occasionally ugly religion.
It’s one of humanity’s deepest issues,
Right there in our text,
again and again.
Anticipating  us,
And not giving up.
And that’s the real good news -
Ultimately, this is not a story of our sin,
but of God’s love.
And if we know not love,
we know not God.

This is the essential message,
the good news of this Good book.
That God loves us,
Knowing that we will slip up,
and beckoning us still forward.
Daring us to float on this sea of faith, and hope, and love.
Not secure in the right words or rituals,
but only in love.
Asking us if we’re truly willing to love,
as God first loved us.
Knowing that we will fail,
and offering us no less grace.
This is indeed good news for all.
And a very good book.

1 comment:

  1. Very well written. Thank you for your thoughts