Sermon for July 9th, 2017
Some people just don’t want a savior. I get it.
To have a savior, to need a savior, means on some level admitting that you cannot save yourself. I can understand having difficulty with that.
I am a very independent person. I like to be able to figure things out myself. I like to do things for myself. Some things I am pretty good at, but then again, I do get things wrong, all the time. Sometimes the errors are factual: like forgetting a name or a date. Sometimes the errors are moral: I know that I have done and said things that have hurt others, and I have done and said things that have hurt myself. It’s not that I ever set out to make either kind of error; I don’t try to be wrong, but sooner or later it always happens again.
When the apostle Paul says: “I do not do the thing that I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” I get that. It’s frustrating to make mistakes, especially when you are trying really hard not to.
You could tell yourself that you are simply not trying hard enough. You could blame your mistakes on others as many do.
Or, you could realize that you simply don’t have the power to do it on your own and that you need someone else to help you.
That was the revelation that Paul had. He eventually understood that salvation wasn’t something he was going to achieve through his own effort.
Some people still approach religion as if it were something that they could master, as if their intellect were more important than the disposition of their hearts.
Last Sunday our group attended mass while on pilgrimage at the cathedral which was just around the corner from our hotel. After we offered our worship to God in a very nice service, Keith and I thought that we might stop in at the coffee hour and meet some of the local congregation and perhaps greet the resident clergy.
As we were trying to mingle and make polite conversation, we encountered a retired clergy couple from England (a man and a woman). They were living in the area temporarily and were very excited to hear that we were married.
They thought that being two men, and priests, that we must be very theologically liberal, just as they were. And what commenced was an inquisition into our beliefs of various points of theology and biblical interpretation. In short order they were sorely disappointed.
They were shocked to find out just how seriously we take the Bible, and the traditions of the church.
When they found out that we actually believed in the Creed, the virgin birth and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, they were simultaneously astonished and annoyed. If we disagreed with Paul about homosexuality, shouldn’t we disagree with him about everything else as well? Wasn’t all of this just an oppressive and backwards myth, which should have been dispensed with by sensible people long ago?
You know, and this may be a revelation to some people on both sides in the church, it is possible to faithfully disagree: it is possible that our faith is not an all or nothing proposition. It is possible to be neither liberal, nor conservative, but a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, sinful, but forgiven, thoughtful and believing. It is possible to disagree about particular issues and still uphold core doctrine. It is possible, but some people just can’t do it.
Honestly, at this point I was more taken with their bad manners than their bad theology. I am totally sympathetic with people who struggle with questions of faith and belief, but don’t attack me for actually believing what we all stand up and say we believe every week.
At last came the coup de grace, when he claimed that he absolutely did not believe that he was born in sin. He just wanted to come to church to hear that God loved him. To which my husband replied that we absolutely believed that we, like all men and women, were born sinners and that we had come to church not so much to hear that God loves us, but to say that we loved God. Of course we believe in a loving God that loves us first, but worship and therapy are not the same thing.
Those are two very different outlooks. They were intent on being correct, we were intent on being forgiven. I didn’t get the sense that they thought they needed a savior, we were pretty sure that we already had one.
If you think that following Jesus can be hard, you’re right. Trying to do the right thing, and then asking for forgiveness when you fail can be something of a burden, but it is the lightest burden you will ever carry. Trying to be perfect all on your own, now that’s hard. Some people just don’t want a savior, but I know I certainly need one.
Eventually we extricated ourselves from the situation as politely as we could, but I did find it a bit sad that here we were visitors in this place, and had happened upon another clergy couple that could accept our marriage, but not our faith.
I don’t use this experience as an example of most of my interactions with clergy in the U.K., far from it. This couple was the exception, not the norm. I use it as an example of how we often misjudge what people are looking for, both when they come to church and when they engage us in conversation and I use it to illustrate how dangerous it is to make assumptions about people, including theological assumptions, based upon knowing one thing.
I hadn’t come to church looking for an inquisition or a theological debate. I wasn’t looking for an enlightened priest that had all the scientifically and politically correct answers. I didn’t need someone to solve all the mysteries of the Bible, or to lecture me about the various nuances of scriptural interpretation. And I certainly didn’t need someone to tell me that what I believed was a myth.
I wasn’t looking for a savior during coffee hour, I already knew I had one. That is who I had just come to mass to worship. In truth, all I was really looking for at that point was a decent cup of tea.
Some people just don’t want a savior. I get it, but I am not one of those people.