In continuing my focus on an “Open Christianity,” my sermon is entitled, Jesus was never a fundamentalist.
We do not expect change from religious folks. We have come to understand that religious love the past, and they are afraid of the present because they fear it presents change. They are terrified that the changes the future will bring will be much more more dramatic in comparison to the present.
This is so true of fundamentalists. There is only one interpretation of scripture; there is only meaning to God’s laws. It is written for all time. So when the scribes and Pharisees bring the woman caught in adultery is brought before Jesus, they say to him: “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”
We understand that these scribes and Pharisees are fundamentalists and legalists. They comprehend God’s rules written and given in stone tablets to Moses. They are afraid of alternatives to their interpretation of the rules. After all, God gave the law of 612 prescriptions to observe, and there is only one way to understand and interpret them. Any flexibility in interpretation of the laws and rules of religion creates fear in fundamentalists. The Pharisees and scribes who condemned the woman caught in adultery understood the law as written in stone. There was no other possible outcome than stoning the woman to death.
And Jesus was notorious as a religious rule-breaker. He challenged their hardened and literalist interpretations of God’s laws. Their hearts were as petrified as their interpretations–and so he wrote in the sand. It was yet another parable to teach them that God’s laws were not written in stone but in the sand. There was flexibility in applying in any laws with the scripture “Be as compassionate as your God is compassionate.”
Fundamentalism is fear-based; it fails to trust God in the present and the future. Yet Jesus consistently warns against fear more than anything else. He says often, “Do not be afraid.” This one line appears over 300 times in the Bible. Fear distorts our relationship with God by narrowing our listening to what is really important in scripture: mercy and compassion, love and forgiveness. It results in moralism and dogmatism. Father Richard Rohr writes about the blindness of fundamentalism in stressing literalist and narrow interpretations of the law:
Jesus is clearly much more concerned about issues of pride, injustice, hypocrisy, blindness, and what I have often called “The Three Ps” of power, prestige, and possessions, which are probably 95 percent of Jesus’ written teaching. We conveniently ignore this 95 percent to concentrate on a morality that usually has to do with human embodiment. That’s where people get righteous, judgmental, and upset, for some reason. The body seems to be where we carry our sense of shame and inferiority, and early-stage religion has never gotten much beyond these “pelvic” issues. As Jesus put it, “You ignore the weightier matters of the law – justice, mercy, and good faith . . . and instead you strain out gnats and swallow camels” (Matthew 23:23-24). We worry about what people are doing in bed much more than making sure everybody has a bed to begin with.
….Christianity will regain its moral authority when it starts emphasizing social sin in equal measure with individual (read “body-based”) sin and weave them both into a seamless garment of love and truth. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/zhoag/2013/06/17/richard-rohr-homosexuality/
The most common spiritual malady of contemporary Christians is “fundamentalist fear.” Most of us need a release from the almost demonic hold it exercises upon spiritual practice. It keeps us from appreciating the true and authentic richness of the epiphany of Jesus, breaking rules and disrupting our hardened hearts as he quietly tries to teach us that God’s laws are not written in stone but in the sand. It can be swept away by God’s compassion and mercy and can change by the Spirit instructing to release fear for the rich spiritual relationship with our loving God.
During this month and March, I am conducting a World Spirituality series on Wednesday evenings 7:00-8:15 PM (February 12, 26, March 12 & 26). I’m exploring Buddhist Spirituality: the Buddha’s message, the various types of Buddhism, what Buddhists practice and believe, and how we as Christian might engage in open and respectful conversations with Buddhists. Each presentation will end off with a Buddhist spiritual practice to enrich your spiritual life.
For my own spiritual journey, Buddhism has enriched and deepened my faith experience as a Christian – opening me to a deeper understanding of compassion, mindful attention to human and animal suffering, peace-making and non-violence. I will introduce the major spiritual Buddhist leaders such as the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh, and the practice of “green Buddhism.”
On February 16th, Allis Druffel from California Interfaith Power & Light will preach on Climate Change Sunday about the Earth and our faith responsibilities for the Earth.
On February 23rd, Douglas Graves, an ordained clergy from the Community of Christ, will be preaching. The Community of Christ is a denomination that broke off from the Mormon Church 10 years after Joseph Smith founded the movement. It has continued as a church of over 100,000 members that have just gone through the decision to ordain openly gay/lesbian clergy and perform same-gendered wedding. I have been giving some assistance Douglas on his theological studies, and when he is in LA, he joins us for labyrinth meditation practice.
We will also welcome the President of Claremont School of Theology preaching at our Sunday service on April 6th.
Come and bring a friend to service this Sunday.