Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hear, Pray, Affirm: Three Essentials of Liberal Christian Formation, book excerpts

Read Excerpts below from Hear, Pray, Affirm: Three Essentials For Liberal Christian Formation. The Decalogue, The Lord's Prayer, and The Apostles' Creed, and more. Sermons by the Rev. Thomas D. Wintle, senior minister, First Parish Church, Weston, MA, long time editor of the UU Christian Journal. This book is vol. 62 published by the UU Christian Fellowship. Copies of the Journal and more excerpts to read are available by going to to read more, or to to order a copy or order gift copies for others.

From sermons on The Ten Commandments:
"The first commandment--no other gods--provides at least two things: order and unity. It provides order by forcing us to recognize that there are and there must be priorities--if you cannot sort out your priorities, you will be forever thrashing around rushing from one hectic moment to another, without ever knowing accomplishment, completion or peace. I do not mean that if you obey the first commandment you will not have conflicting priorities: I mean that if you try to dethrone God in your life, you will be forever shifting your allegiance among lesser things. And it provides unity to our lives. Once upon a time the world was filled with people who believed there were many gods, one or more to each people and nation, even each village or brook or storm. But the Hebrew people taught something new to the world. In so many ways, the consciousness of one God created the consciousness of one world and one humanity...

"What do you do when you break the commandments? And, for that matter, just what's the purpose of the commandments? What's the goal? Is it to make you feel guilty, inadequate, a failure? I'm convinced that's one of the reasons the Ten Commandments have pretty much disappeared from the liberal and mainline churches today. It's not that people disagree with the commandments, it's just that they make us uncomfortable. We think that we already have plenty to make us feel guilty and inadequate and failures!...I don't know who said it, but religion was once defined as 'the art of keeping good company in the inner life.' The good company consists of those models, the motivators, those who inspire. What works inside you are the stories that move you, the tales of action that excite your deepest feelings of rightness, the ones where you say to yourself, 'this is right, this is how things ought to be.' It is the whole orientation of your inner life. In a word, Jesus. We haven't said much about Jesus in this series, but I want to suggest that what enables us to do the will of God is the way in which "the spirit of Jesus Christ" (as we say in our church covenant) lives in us and we in him. We need his life, his spirit, inside us....

"The point is not that we're going to hell if we break the commandments; the point is that, with God's help, we can keep the commandments. We can keep them not just by obeying the letter of the law, but we can understand the meaning and the purpose and the intent behind the commandments. Rules alone are not enough. God, I am suggesting, wants spirited lovers, not nitpicking legalists. And for that, we should give thanks.

From sermons on The Lord's Prayer:

"I call God "Father" because Jesus called God "Father" and taught us to do the same. Jesus was not the first to call God "Father."... The kind of father Jesus had in mind, I think, was not the father in a patriarchal society (where fathers rule) but more the father in the story of the Prodigal Son...God, like that father, will let us go off on our own, and live as if God didn't exist, and make fools of ourselves, and still embrace us when we finally come home....So, can we call God "Father" anymore? Not, I think, in the secular culture, for in the world's eyes, we would be saying that men are better than women. But here, in the Christian community, among people who have been taught by Jesus and blessed by his presence, here in the community founded by him, we have a special treasure, an inheritance, and that is the invitation to call God "Father" in the same way and with the same meaning and with the same intimacy as Jesus did. It is, finally, a question of how we hallow the name.

"[on For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory]...The finest prayer is when we stop asking for what we want--gimme this and gimme that, God--and start asking God what God wants: "not my will, but thine be done."...For all our uncertainty, our weakness in prayer, our doubts, these last words of the Lord's Prayer provide what one scholar called "our redemption from ambivalence." Our last word of praise,you see, is simply the recognition that the last word will be God's.

From sermons on The Apostles' Creed:

"Creeds are not as important as deeds...creeds are narrow and defining and are incapable of capturing the fullness of Christainity...Creeds are non-biblical ecclesiastical constructions, and we prefer to go directly to Scripture...They can be wrong...They promote a legalistic outlook...They have been used as conditions of fellowship...and as ways to declare anathema upon others...But Christ envisioned a more welcoming church...They become a source of division between Christians...They can promote a "Christianity by rote"...In churches which proclaim them as required beliefs, they inhibit liberty of interpretation and free inquiry...They emphasize faith as a body of doctrine at the expense of faith as a personal act...

"Having said all that...if you break the spell of creeds, if you eliminate the idea that you "have to believe them" if you recognize their limitations, in other words, if you remind yourself first of the ten points above, then an ancient creed can be useful. Here are three possible ways: 1. A summary of faith....Although the Apostles Creed was not really written by the Apostles, in its present form it dates from the sixth century and an earlier form has been traced back to the second century. It lifts up the beliefs Christians considered central for centuries. it is our heritage. 2. A personal affirmation...You may find you agree with parts nd disagree with others--that is your right--but the process is important. Unlike some creeds that go off into terribly esoteric areas, the Apostles Creed points to some crucial themes. 3. A doxology:...they are like hymns sung to God, and the very saying of the creed becomes a devotional act in much the same manner as reciting the pledge of allegiance is for many an act of patriotism. The idea is that the act of saying/singing them is more important than the meaning of the specific words, which need to be reinterpreted for every age.

"In this free church, no one is required to accept the Apostles' Creed. But here is the flip side: you're also free to accept it!

Other sermons address What Is God? What is a Christian? A Theology of Prayer. A theology of baptism. World Religions.

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