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Psalm 118: 21-24
John 20: 19-31
I wonder how many OMGs have travelled around the globe in the last minute, the last day, or even the last year. More than we can count. I wonder what millennials and the rest of us are thinking about when we/they text this message! Is it a shorthand form of prayer?
I wonder to what these mini-prayers are being addressed, especially by Millennials. I even wonder to what our prayers are being addressed.
When I was growing up in St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in New Bedford in the 40s and 50s, I dutifully said the Apostle’s Creed every Sunday from the time I was 7, until I graduated from High School, except once a month when we said the Nicene Creed. I didn’t start to question what I was saying until late in the 50s. “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth…” What was I saying “God the Father”? I was in the choir all those years, too. Just think of how many hymns and references to God I sang about!
John tells a story about one of the gang named Thomas, who chooses not to believe anything until he sees it with his own eyes. Maybe Thomas was secretly from Missouri!
Whether this story is a true story or not, after all it was written by someone who couldn’t possibly have been at an event, being written, according to some Bible scholars, somewhere between 80 and 100 C.E. And the Jesus Seminar, another bunch of Bible scholars, don’t think Jesus said these words at all, and maybe the whole Doubting Thomas story is just that a story.
My view on this ambiguity is it doesn’t matter whether the scholars are correct in their interpretation or not, it’s a good story and what’s important today is what can we learn about ourselves and about our relationship to OMG.
To doubt or not to doubt that is the question.
I experienced several events in the past 75 years, that were spiritually transforming and about the God-thing. I can’t relate all of them to you in 10 minutes, and I can’t even remember them in chronological order. But here are a few. Joan Lindeman, Jeannette Heines, and I read Mary Daly’s book, Beyond God the Father. After reading Daly’s book, and after much discussion, I decided that Mary was correct, God was not a he, God was a verb. I made a banner to that end, and hung it up there. John Maggs was the choir director at the time, and I thought he was going to have a stroke. It wasn’t the first or the last time I was called a heretic! I thought I could live with God being a verb instead of an old man with a beard, putting tick marks next to my name every time I sinned. However, thinking of God as a verb did not fit in too well with all the hymns we sang and the prayers we said.
This was also at a time when women wanted equality and indeed wanted to go beyond God being just a Father, regardless of how Almighty He was. And so we included the pronoun she in our readings and some of our hymns. Diane Kelton and I sat in different pews every Sunday for a while, scratching out the Hes in the statement of faith, and inserting he and she in its place. For me it was a temporary fix. This improvement only continued to personify God and continued the idea that He/She could demand the parting of waters, destroy all living things with a flood, or consciously have their only Son crucified. To me God had to be more than just a verb.
I then decided that God was a bunch of metaphors. God is like the wind. God is like all the stars in the heavens. God is like a Mother or a Father or a Child. God is even like an Eagle or a Hen. The metaphors go on indefinitely. We can fill pages and pages of words to metaphor God, but is that enough? I began to wish we never used the word God at all. Ancient Jews were forbidden to say the name of God. And the commandments suggest that it is not OK to take the Name of God in vain. Fifty years ago, Paul Tillach suggested not using the word God for at least 100 years. What about all those OMGs zooming around the Earth?
Today in my spiritual journey, I am going back to a modification about God being a verb. This is tricky in the English language and I have no idea how it will work in other languages. I think God is a special kind of verb, God is a progressive verb. We never learned about progressive verbs when I went to school, or if we did, I’ve forgotten.
Here is an example: John runs and John is running. ‘Runs’ is the present tense, and ‘is running’ is the present progressive tense.
I can hear your minds going, “Oh no, she’s gone off the rails again!” Some of you are asking “What difference does it make?” My only answer to that question is that it makes a great deal of difference to me. For me, God isn’t a spirit Being of no gender or maybe all genders floating out beyond the cosmos somewhere.
Try thinking of God as “God is loving,” rather than “God is Love.” “God is forgiving,” rather than “God forgives.” I admit that the difference on the surface doesn’t even seem to be worth mentioning.
I made a banner many decades ago that said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Pay attention to the verb. Listen again. “God is loving.” The verb goes from being the present tense to being present progressive. God isn’t a noun doing the loving. God is now by definition the present progressive verb of is loving. And what about this? “When humans really and deeply love one another, then that is God. Change the noun of God or the personification of God (He/She) to a present and progressive action on the part of humans, one that exemplifies the Mystery and the Glory of what is Holy and sacred. Listen again. “When humans really and deeply love one another, then that is God.
This isn’t just about an argument over semantics, this is a profound paradigm shift for many of us. It may not work for all verbs, but let’s try verb create. Change God the noun doing the verb creates to God is creating. When humans are creating, whether it be, painting, singing, dancing, writing poetry or novels, writing lines of code for a computer, designing automobiles that may someday totally drive themselves, or building a rocket that will take some of the future generation to MARS, then we can say humans are creating and that is the Mystery of God.
A few years ago, some of you were in an all church book reading group. Some of you read books by Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, Matthew Fox, and John Shelby Spong to name a few. All of these people and many others are major contributors to a movement in our Christian tradition called Progressive Christianity. Many things and much thinking have changed since Thomas in our story doubted what was going on. Some still doubt. The Progressive Christion movement is not just a new name for old things. The movement isn’t new, but it also isn’t very old. Two decades ago, Spong wrote A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith is Dying and How a New Faith is Being Born. First Church was part of the movement 20 years ago and in some way still is. I applaud all that is happening, but when I look around the congregation, there are people here that weren’t here 20 years ago, and weren’t involved in that exciting time, and there are many who were actively involved that are no longer with us. If we are ever going to attract the millennial generation, who seem to be calling out OMG, Oh My God, OMG we need to re-energize ourselves and work to be a shining example of Progressive Christianity. We have to let the world know that this church is not dying. Christianity as we once may have known it is dying and dead in many places. Last week we shouted Christ is Alive, Christ is Alive, Christ is Alive. I’m not sure if we could agree on what we were shouting about. I would have been happier, if we were shouting, the Christ in me is alive, the Christ in all of us is alive. Let it be so. Alleluia.