(After church at Emmanuel, Ray asked me if I were going to email the sermon I gave. Truth was, I didn't have a bit of it written down. It wasn't 'off the top of my head'---I usually read the lessons early in the week and let them roll around in my head and heart. I have a beginning and an end--it's just most of the stuff in between is relatively spontaneous, within the bounds of what I've been digesting during the week. But because he asked, I'm going to see what I can reproduce here from this A.M.)
I teach every other semester or so at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (know as OLLI!) at the Waterbury branch of UConn. You have to be 50 to take OLLI courses: see, getting older has some advantages!
One of the classes I teach is called "Reading the Gospels Side By Side". If I asked all of you to write down the 'gospel story', I'm sure you could. But what you wrote would be a conflation of all four gospels and the point is, they are very different. I sometimes say, "isn't it nice to have four friends named Jesus instead of just one?"
Luke's Jesus is 'compassion' all the way down! In contrast, John's Jesus heals and does miracles to 'make a point'. John's Jesus' 'signs' are all to demonstrate 'who He is'. John's Jesus is all about demonstrating his identity.
But Luke's Jesus simply responds to the needs about him. He is 'compassion in action'.
In today's gospel, after he's healed the Centurion's slave, he enters the town of Nain and encounters a funeral procession. A widow's only son has died and Jesus is so moved my the woman's plight that he raises her son from the dead.
We need to remember something about the culture of first century Judaism--women are not 'persons', they're 'possessions'. Women belong to their father and then their husband. A woman without a man to belong to is essentially a 'non-person'. So, this widow, like the widow in the lesson from 1st Kings today, 'belongs' to her son. It is her son who will care for her and keep her from dire poverty. We don't like to recognize such stark and awful injustice, but it was true.
So, Jesus' compassion was for the widow and he felt it so deeply he resurrects her son.
Luke's Jesus is all compassion all the time...
So, having done that, let me get to what I really want to talk about: today's collect.
I usually don't talk about collects. Collects are written by a committee and most of them sound like it!
But the collect for today is so simple and sweet, it's worth a second look. Listen:
O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them....
Think about that. God is where 'goodness' comes from and the prayer asks God to 'inspire' us, send the Spirit into us, that we 'may think those things that are right' and then, with God's guidance, 'may do' right things.
That's pretty simple and basic, isn't it? I think, more often than not, we make this whole religion thing too complicated. We make it too much about what we 'believe' and not enough about what we 'do'.
If we 'think those things that are right' and 'do them', what else matters. If we can be always compassionate, always caring, always loving, always just--what else could possibly be required by God? What else? That seems enough to me.
Some of you know I have a real problem with the Nicene Creed (or any 'creed' for that matter) because it's about 'belief' rather than action. Give me 'right action' any day over 'right belief'.
I once led a class on the Nicene Creed at Christ Church, Capitol Hill when I was in seminary. I opened the class by saying something like, "I'll just start reading the Creed and just raise your hand if you have an issue." Then I said, "I believe in God..." and five hands went up! I knew then that was a tough group....
Here's an example of my problem with 'belief'. It's the 'filioque clause'. When I was at Virginia Seminary, there was really no prayer book. The 1928 Book of Common Prayer was in revision and there were a whole series of drafts for the new book: the Green book, the Zebra book, the Blue book, on and on.
At some point during those revisions, the 'filioque clause' was removed from the Nicene Creed. Here it is: "We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father (and the son)...."
"And the Son" is the filioque clause. It was removed because the Orthodox Churches don't say it. The Orthodox Creed says..."the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father. With the Father and Son he is worshiped and glorified."
So, in chapel, when the Creed without the 'filioque clause' was said, lots of people would yell, loudly, AND THE SON, though it wasn't there in print. I was in a class where we discussed this change and I said, "the 'filioque clause' is one of the great non-issues of this or any other age."
Betty, who was sitting beside me, burst into tears at my heartlessness about those three words. I just didn't get it. There was so much theological outrage that the final draft put the clause back in the Prayer Book. I still don't get it.
That's the thing about making this whole 'religion' thing about 'belief'. People just believe differently. I don't much care what they believe, if the truth be known, but I'm real interested in how they live out their lives, in their actions.
What if the whole thing is simply as simple as today's collect? What if all that matters is that we acknowledge God as the source of 'goodness', ask God to inspire us to 'think those things that are right and ask God's guidance to 'do' what is right? What if it's that simple?
Be compassionate. Be fair. Be just. Be loving. Think right things and do those right things.
I don't know, but that might be more productive and ultimately more holy and more healing than anything we might or might not 'believe'.
Think right things and do them. What if that's all that's required?
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