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Is the Lord Among Us Or Not?

Exodus 17:1-7 Excerpts from With Or Without God: Why the Way We Live

is More Important Than What We Believe by Gretta Vosper**


Sunday October 1st, 2023

By Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche


Good morning again on this beautiful morning! I can’t believe it’s October!

I invite you now to take some deeper breaths as you are moved, letting

ourselves arrive, allowing each of us to tune into whatever word God has for

us today. As you are moved I invite you to join me now in a spirit of prayer

from Psalm 19. God may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all

of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our Rock and our Redeemer.

Amen.


In the last 25 years more Americans have left the Church than all of the

new people who became Christians from the time of the First Great

Awakening to the Second Great Awakening and the Billy Graham crusades

combined.(1) I had to read that a few times to really process it. That is a lot of

people! The number one reason people give is this… Do you want to

guess? It’s that church members, Christians themselves are experienced

and seen as hypocritical and judgmental. Isn’t that fascinating? It made me

think of that quote from Mahatma Gandhi “I like your Christ, I

do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”


I am truly grateful that I have had the privilege of spending my life investing

in and being a part of faith communities that are at least trying for a Christ-

like character, where love and inclusion and justice are at the center and

where questions are welcome and what matters more to many of us are the

relationships, the community and the connections with others who share

our values, more than the idea of being bound by the same beliefs.

We are spiritual seekers of all kinds and here’s the wild thing, not all of us

identify as Christians, we are agnostics, probably some atheists, we are

independents spiritually and otherwise and there are many of us who still

want to be rooted in the ancient faith, and need a modifier so we call

ourselves progressive Christians.


The point is that in this time and at this church and not just here, but

definitely here, we have given ourselves permission to ask the questions

that weren’t allowed to be asked within Christianity before.

We are freeing ourselves to wonder out loud do we need this? Do we need

church? Do we even need a god?

Because in our context we understand that much has been added by

history and patriarchy and the agendas of nation states that became

empires that colonized in the name of Jesus.

And as I was pondering, for many of us, we are doing something like

spiritual decluttering- decluttering our lives from the lies of the past, and I

notice that people are decluttering in general, so maybe it’s decluttering all

over the place?

But in our case, decluttering from some of the dogma created not by or

from the life of Jesus, but by those who used his name for power and

privilege.

For a while in the United Church of Christ we have decluttered from the

manufactured theological stance that only men can be spiritual leaders and

we have decluttered from the notion that each of us is born a sinner and

that the point of our life is to avoid a fiery pit, but it is clear to me that there

is still lots of decluttering to do.


This book that both Andy and Kamilla recommended, as you heard, it’s

called With or Without God: Why the Way We Live is More Important Than

What We Believe by Gretta Vosper, and in that she writes, “There’s stuff

left hanging about-bits and pieces of detritus that don’t get properly cleared

away- things we no longer actually believe but have not officially so

declared.” She says, “Unlike scientific paradigms, social, religious and

cultural paradigms seem to hang around forever. Though they may have

only a shadowy existence, they never really die, are never really

abandoned when a new paradigm appears. Rather, they get stacked up

like cafeteria trays in a self-service cafeteria.”


And you won’t be surprised to hear that I think one of the questions sitting

on that cafeteria tray is whether we even need God at all?


In this beautiful old story from the book of Exodus, the people are

wandering in the wilderness, thirsty and frustrated and they complain to

Moses- why would you lead us here, free us from slavery and bring us to a

place where we are going to die of thirst and starvation? And they ask, “Is

the Lord even among us or not?”


And clearly we humans are still asking this same question even in different

ways. And it is often under the other questions people ask. What I mean is

that if we now have science to explain weather- we know that a thunder

strike isn’t God mad at us well maybe it is, and we know that light isn’t just

some miracle but it is really just electromagnetic radiation that we can see

with our eyes and we know that some theology was made up to control us

humans into doing what governments wanted, do we need God? Do we

need church?


Gretta Vosper refers to the work of other historians and scholars and she

points to the work of Jack Good in particular who argued that we should no

longer perpetuate the idea of a world that is “safely secure within the arms

of a personal chaplain to the earth.” And further she says that letting go of

the need for some of that allows the space for us to get better about looking

to each other about caring for ourselves and one another.

I guess that is where I find myself. And I look forward to hearing where you

are too.

For a while I have been done with that God who is a personal chaplain, the

Santa that keeps track of missteps, the One who is distant, that is the god

that I long ago washed from my spiritual cafeteria plate. And maybe you

have too?

And there are many more- I have washed off the theology that says that it

is even possible to take the Bible literally. I washed off the idea that there is

only one kind of relationship construct and washed off the idea that even

though God is love, this God killed his son in some exchange to save us.

What a gift to be alive now and among this community to be able to

declutter, to be being open and honest about what is true, about what we

know and don’t, we are free to in the words of the poet Rilke, “live our

questions…”


I realize that especially in Colorado saying all of this could annoy and even

offend those who accept so much of what human beings have added onto

Christ, what has become Christianity, but I decided I am tired of letting

others be loud or mean or cause harm simply because they say they are

right. I am tired of people ruining things because they force the rest of us to

be made to feel inferior or have fewer rights because of their beliefs. Just

because you believe it, doesn’t make it so.


Last week, I was here for another event, and I encountered a couple who

shared that they are a part of a non-denominational church not far from

here and they started to ask some questions, and once we got a little

engaged, I could just feel their judgement. It was radiating toward me them

like heat. Another person I was with was trying to explain that we take the

Bible seriously, but not literally. And they couldn’t handle that. And I said,

well part of we do and I referred to Isaiah and how we take weapons and

turn them into garden tools. And her eyes got bigger. And then as kindly

and as quickly as I could muster I said, “the Bible says women shouldn’t

speak in church and that they should be silent,” and I bet you spoke in your

church? She didn’t say much after that. But I bet she is still pondering?

I didn’t have time to go into the fact that every reading of the Bible was a

selective reading, girlfriend don’t you know?


But it made me think of all of the people who have left the Church… And

this woman went at me and she said, “Well you believe in the resurrection

don’t you?” And I said, “we don’t exclude people who don’t.”

What a gift that we have a place like this where we can ask, “Is the Lord

among us?” Well maybe, but I believe yes, but also I believe no, we don’t

need to know. . In this decluttering, what if we can explore the idea that

maybe God is an experience? Maybe the gift of this time is knowing it’s not

out there, but an invitation to dive deeper in here and between each other?

Maybe we have evolved enough to see that now?


COMMUNAL REFLECTION: What do you think?


Beloved of God, is the Lord among us, maybe not like we thought? But look

around. The answer is still yes. May it be so. Amen.



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