Sunday, August 13, 2006

As a former Southern Baptist, it was quite a shock to me when I realized that many Episcopalians believe in universalism, which is defined by Wikipedia thusly:

In comparative religion, universalism is the belief that true and valuable insights are available in many of the religious traditions which have grown up in various human cultures. It posits that a spiritually aware person will respect religious traditions other than his own and will be open to learning from them. It does not deny that immersion in one tradition is a useful anchor for an individual's spiritual development. While it celebrates the richness and value to be found among humankind's religious traditions, it does not necessarily deny that some things done in the name of religion, and some religious practices, are not constructive. But it distinguishes itself from the view that there is only one true faith, one uniquely chosen people, or one final prophet superseding all others. The name Universalist refers to certain religious denomination of universalism, which as a core principle adhere to standards and rituals which are convergent rather than divergent, often espousing themselves as alternatives to denominations based on dogmatic or factionalized differences.

Here's the sermon that will be preached today by the Rev. Barbara Cawthorne Crafton at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Metuchen, NJ. I'm having trouble digesting it, but I am chewing on it. I don't know if she calls herself a universalist, or not, but in my limited exposure to such a liberal view, I'd say this comes pretty close.

"Taste and see that the Lord is good." But is He really this good? Imagine that! For further info on this priest and author go to her website.

No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. - John 6:44

Let us remember who the Father is in the gospel of John -- it is the Father who creates the world. It is the Son through whom the world is created. Life comes from God, everything that is. Without the Father and the Son, nothing is made.

And so the idea that God the Father is involved in the sorting of people into the company of the saved and unsaved -- or that Jesus engages in such sorting -- seems unlikely in this context. It is the entire creation that is soaked in God's creative power. This drawing that God does is the omnipresent love that caused us to be here in the first place and orients our longing in the direction from which we came. It hasn't gone anywhere. It hasn't been withdrawn from any of us. We may have made decisions about how we will or will not respond to it, but God hasn't left any of us behind.

And so the favorite verses in this gospel that seem to point toward a salvation intent on involving an elite few -- or even an elite many -- only do so if we are determined to remake John the Evangelist in our own narrow image. Nobody comes to the Father but by me, his Jesus says, and we think that means that lots of people just don't come, just don't get in, just don't make the grade, because they didn't sign up with the historical Jesus or with his organization.

No. What Jesus says here is much more matter-of-fact. Are you saved? Yup. Who saved you? God. How? Through Jesus. Are there any people who got saved another way? Nope, Jesus was there for every last one of us, whether we knew it or not. There weren't any exceptions. God's love doesn't have exceptions.

Well, what happens to you if you don't accept Jesus Christ as Your Personal Savior?

Well, I may engage a personal shopper or a personal trainer or a personal assistant, but I don't have a personal savior. I have the same one everyone else has, and I have him by virtue of having been created through him. My salvation is my return to him, from the midst of the worst muck-ups into which I can stumble. It is not my reward for good behavior or for having the right answer when someone asked me a question about him.

As always, we are uncomfortable with a love that is all-encompassing, not least because it cuts us out of a decision-making role in the matter of who is in and who is out. It turns out we're all in.

What we do with who we are, and whose we are, is up for grabs. We can ignore it. We can decide we don't want it, although that won't change God's mind about us. We can determine to experience none of it as long as we live. We are free.

Or we can turn into it. Now. Before we have to live another minute unaware of its beauty.

Deuteronomy 8:1-10
Ephesians 4:(25-29)30-5:2
John 6:37-51
Psalm 34 or 34:1-8

No comments: