Monday, 16 June 2014

Father's Day and Unity Sunday

Today is a day fraught with dangers for preachers!

On one hand it is Father’s Day. And, on the other, it is Trinity Sunday.

 Father’s Day, like Mothering Sunday, can be incredibly difficult days to preach on. I, for one, could not preach about fathers with any real authenticity because I never knew my father (alltho' Lloyd George may have done.....(joke)). And, for everyone who had an idyllic relationship with their father, there are others who had a turbulent time. And for every one  who has been able to talk to their father today, there are many others whose father has already died. Worse still, there are fathers who have lost children.

I could use this sermon to talk about the theology that caused Unitarians to question the Trinity (hence giving us our name, Unitarians rather than Trinitarians) then I open myself up to the accusations which are sometimes hurled at Unitarians: that we only ever bang on about the Trinity and that, sometimes we always talk about what we DON’T believe rather than what we do! We most certainly do not believe in Original Sin, Hell, or any form of bloody Atonement Theology. Maybe that's because we don't have a corporate set of beliefs? Maybe it's because several hundred years of persecution have left their mark on the body corporate? Maybe it's because we shy away from all forms of evangelism. Maybe that's a topic for the Westgate Forum?

I have always thought the concept of the sun and moon describes perfectly the Unitarian view of God and Jesus. That’s because the moon doesn’t cast any light of its own – we only see the light of the sun reflected on it – and if something casts a shadow and stops the sun’s rays reaching the moon, the moon disappears. 

Unitarians have always preached that there is One God – just as other churches preach – but then we are left with the question that has divided Christendom for centuries: if there is One God, then who was Jesus?

Orthodox and mainstream Christianity proclaims that Jesus is part of the 3 in 1 which makes us the One God.

Unitarians take a different view.

Unitarians see God and Jesus as being like the sun and the moon – very separate things.

Jesus, by his life, his ministry, his teachings and his example reflected the very nature of God. If you look at Jesus of Nazareth you see the very light of God reflected off of him. And if you look at the accounts we have of Jesus’ life, we find he was always very careful to acknowledge this.
He didn’t want people to worship him. He always asked people to keep quiet when they concluded that he was the chosen one. 

Granted, he was recorded as saying things like “I and my Father are one” – but I’m not sure that means he was saying he and God were one and the same thing. And anyway he also said "that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you." He was calling us to a one-ness with God....just as he was "one" with God spiritually, poetically. The language of religion is poetry and metaphor. It is not to be understood  literally.

So if we – as Unitarians – conclude that Jesus was a human who reflected God, how does that make him different from other human beings?

Well the difference – as I see it – is about his refusal to let anything eclipse his calling. He allowed nothing to cast its shadow and so stop him reflecting God. He continued to reflect the light of God even though it meant certain death.

Even the most spiritual of humans allow their spiritual side to get over-shadowed at times. We all do things that stop us reflecting the light of God.The old fashioned word for this is "Sin". For some reason, humans tend to get attracted to the shadow side - the Dark side perhaps? - maybe that’s because it’s actually much easier not to reflect God.

Right at the start of the Bible it tells us that actually humans do reflect the image of God. And this is one of the theologies which sets us appart: we have no time for 'Original Sin' but we do beleive in Original Blessing. We are not 'Miserable Sinners' (Most of us are definately not miserable). But,  you know,  it can be so easy to let something come between us and the Divine, and before we know it, it has overshadowed us. 

Jesus is sometimes referred to as Christ. It’s not a term we use so often in Unitarian churches. We tend to refer to “Jesus of Nazareth” or even “Rabbi Jesus”. I don’t think “Christ” is an unhelpful term for Unitarians, if we use it in its true sense: meaning “anointed” or “chosen”. To me, Jesus was the Christ because he fully answered the call on his life and he fully reflected God.
We’ll probably never be able to do the same – but we can try. 

If we believe - to quote the Book of Common Prayer - that we are nothing but depraved, miserable sinners who can do nothing to help ourselves - - then that’s what we’ll be - - and we WILL do nothing. 

However, if we believe that Divine anointing is also trying to reach US, and that we need to start reflecting that, then we’ll live and act very differently.We have the in-built potential to be Christ-like. John Goodchild suggests, very movingly, that there was only ever one 'Christian' - Jesus - and that everyone else is a potential Christian. And I like that. It moves me quite deeply. Because there is no differance between Jesus and me other than time, space, .... and religion it means I have the same potential to be like him.

I am not setting out with the intention of criticising other churches and other beliefs today. I don’t want to be in the business of criticising sincerely held beliefs...... but I wonder whether mainstream Christianity actually sets people up to fail a little? Have they invented a disease for which they have the only cure?...

We get told that we need to be like Jesus and act like Jesus, yet at the same time get told that Jesus was God.
It gives us an impossible example to live up to.
What we need is a good human example.

If Jesus was God and had all the power of God at his fingertips then none of the things he did were difficult for him or even amazing, but if Jesus was human and still managed to accomplish all those things, then maybe there is hope for us too.

Maybe we have some hope of having “the same mind as Christ” - - opening ourselves up to the anointing, and choosing to reflect God.

And not only do we have take responsibility for ourselves, but also for others. It’s all very well saying that we all tred our own spiritual path, but how often do we cast a shadow over others and stop them reflecting God? Too often, we can cast a shadow on the Divine reflection of others instead of allowing them to shine. 
That brings me back to the subject of Father’s Day. We sometimes hear it said of people “he’s always lived in his Father’s shadow” – meaning that he was never allowed to decide things for himself, or never truly been allowed to shine. 

To me, that’s not the sign of a good father. A good father allows the child to grow up, to make decisions, to find its way in life. A good father doesn’t stifle the child..... and probably the sign of a good father, and good parenting generally, is that the child grows up to reflect the best attributes of their parents, not because it has been beaten into the child, but because the child wants to be like its parents. Just like Jesus, reflecting the very nature of God.

Over a decade ago, when I first walked into a Unitarian church I realised pretty quickly that here was the place I could best reflect God.I was at University ast the time, struggling with minor issues such as sexuality and really struggling with the 'Christians' on campus. In fact, I was a leader of one of the bible studies and was always told off for not using the prepared 'answer sheet' and asking too many questions. It started a lively email discussion with Kate Taylor over issues of the historical Jesus, authority in religion....And, to be brutally honest I don't think Ive ever understood Jesus or experienced Jesus as anything other than a human being. Mum always taught Paul and I to question everything - and by golly don't we just - and she often quoted the late Rev Nigel Jilson, the chaplain at her school, saying that, for example, the "Miracle" when Jesus fed the 5,000 was not that food spontaneously popped into existance, but the boy who offered to share his meagre food was the miracle, which triggered others to do likewise. Instead of praying for "instant" gratification, of instant food because I'm hungry right now is to see common humanity and share what we have so no one goes hungry. That's the miracle.

No religious experience that I had had in the past compares to what I found within Unitarianism.

I knew that this was the place I could shine, not because I have any particular talent, but because it was here I could feel safe enough to express what God really means to me. I can express my faith, and my doubts and do so in atmosphere of welcome, where others' expressions of all that is Divinen are welcomed, and affirmed, where like the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles there are countless differant reflections of the Divine.

It’s important to know where Unitarians fit in to the religious map and how we differ from other churches. 

It’s important to know where we came from. It’s important to know why Unitarians questioned the doctrine of the Trinity - - and when you learn about these things you realise that our respect for Jesus is not in any way diminished, in fact it is heightened because we honour a human being who fully reflected God, and it inspires us to try to do the same.