For most of human history…
Maybe even long enough for it to be embedded in our primal instincts, if not in our DNA…
Is the story of God on my side.
My God on my side versus your God on your side.
And, since most of the others, whoever they were or are , were strangers and therefore enemies to be dehumanized, even demonized, I was on guard and ready to fight.
To protect my family. My territory. My tribe. My God.
And the story I was taught and then told to others was God wanted me to do it.
Even commanded me to do.
And, then protected me when I did.
That understanding of God is woven through the Biblical narrative which we call Holy.
That understanding of God directed Joshua stretch out his sword and to attack and destroy Ai and, in another instance, Jericho. And that understanding of God justified Elijah slaughtering the prophets of Ba’al, and it formed the basis of Christian exceptionalism which led to the Crusades and the Inquisition and our treatment of Native Americans and to war upon war. And, that same way of reading ancient texts and that same basic instinct drives Islamic extremists and Jewish extremist and Christian extremists to this very day. Just read the headlines in the news from violent jihad and suicide bombers to God gave us this land to burning clinics and killing doctors.
Maybe that is not a great way to start a Sunday morning message, especially on a morning like this morning so, to give you a moment to catch your breath and, before I plunge in any further, getting to what I hope is good news. credit first to where credit is due.
The first acknowledgement is to the Biblical scholar, Walter Wink, who died a number of years ago, but who was the first Biblical scholar I read who called into question what he and others have called the myth of redemptive violence. A myth which is not only a part of the Biblical narrative which surrounds us, but a part of our literary narrative in everything from the Lone Ranger and the westerns with which I grew up, to JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings which I reread every couple of years, to, more recently, the Harry Potter series.
The second thanks goes to Emilio Sironi. Several weeks ago following worship, in a conversation about the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe, Emilio talked with me his understanding of tribalism which, if I remember our conversation correctly (and Emilio, forgive me if my memory is not correct), he would argue still informs our understanding of who we are and of who we are in relationship to who they are and is a part of the struggle to respond to the overwhelming number of refugees fleeing the Middle East.
And, as so often happens, in the swirl of my own trying to put together seemingly disparate ideas, I found myself thinking about this morning as we celebrate the global community and World Communion Sunday. And about the often destructive and divisive nature of religion and how it often reinforces the worst of our tribal instincts. And about my own faith and my own understanding of that which I know and name as God. And, about the story that has so often and for so long been told of God. The story of my God being better than your God. And about a different story which I believe you and I and others need to claim and to find ways to lift up and to live. The other story is the narrative pointed to in the verses we read from 1 John which stand over and against the narrative found in Joshua and 1 Kings and the Psalms and elsewhere in Bible.
As People of Faith…
As those who seek to follow Jesus…
We need to be able to say that the parts of the Bible which advocate me over you and/or glorify violence as a way to redemption are wrong. They are wrong in our sacred texts and wrong in the sacred texts of others. They grew out of world and a worldview which no longer matches the world in which we live. The Bible is not inerrant. And, we need to be able to say that. And then we need to begin to claim and to tell and to live a different story with intentionality and conviction.
- We need to claim and to tell and to live the story which refutes tribalism and stands on the side of the entire human family.
- We need to claim and to tell and to live the story which refutes violence as a way to resolve differences and, instead, stand on the side of peace.
- We need to claim and to tell and to live the story which refutes the narrative that our differences and that which divides us is more important than our commonality and our shared humanity and the hopes we have for our lives and the dreams we have for our children and grandchildren.
We need to begin to tell and to live the story of the whole human family as the collective household of God.
Of my DNA being linked to your DNA.
Of my security being linked to your security.
Of my well being being linked to your well being.
Of my God being your God and your God being my God.
Yes, this story is out there.
And in many ways we tell and retell that story here each and every week, but in the face of our long history with that other, older story which still ripples through our country and around our world, here on this Sunday, I am reminding you, again, of how focused we need to be if this new story is going to become the larger and stronger religious narrative which not only shapes who we are and how we live, but also helps to reshape the world around us., We need to turn towards and to lift up and to live those texts and stories which speak of compassion and kindness and goodness and peace with an intensity and and a conviction which matches word for word and deed for deed the intensity and conviction of the fundamentalists and the extremists. I believe this new, old narrative has the ability to save. To save not just me for heaven, but to redeem us and to save us as a human family.
I grew up being taught and believing that the only way to be in God’s good graces was to believe in Jesus. And, that all other religions paled in comparison to my own. As I have said before, I no longer believe that to be true. I am at a point in my life when I need a better story in which to believe. One that pulls us together rather than pushes others apart. One that builds up rather than tears down and destroys. One that is reflected in this insight by John Shelby Spong, theologian, author and Episcopal priest:
God is not a Christian, God is not a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist.
All of those are human systems which human beings have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God. I honor my tradition. I walk through my tradition, but I don’t think my tradition defines God. I think it only points towards God.
May we find ways to live which point towards that which we know and name as God.
Not towards my God or your God, but the God of us all.
The God in whose image we each and all are made.
And, then, may we find ways to live that help others do the same.