Sunday, July 12, 2009
New light, ancient path
The Prayer of Confession:
"Lord of Life, we gather as a community of free people who believe that there is yet more light to break forth from Your word and Your spirit. Open our hearts and minds to the wisdom that surrounds us, and then help us to act on the truth we receive. It is not enough to talk about the good; we must do good, and begin by loving the neighbor. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth our Teacher and Lord we pray, Amen."
The sermon text:
Jeremiah 6:16 (NIV)
"This is what the LORD says:
'Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.'
But you said, 'We will not walk in it.' "
They only seem contradictory at first. New light. Ancient paths. That's what Jesus was all about, wasn't it?
What's more ancient, in the Judeo-Christian sense, than to strive to love God and love neighbor as yourself? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with God?
Yet, as we say in the United Church of Christ: God is still speaking.
What we have ended up being is the safe haven for ex-Southern Baptist and apostate Catholics.
In case you didn't know, that's from John Robinson's address to the Pilgrims in 1620 (as told by Governor Winslow), before they left for America. It's where the group "More Light Presbyterians" (the LGBT advocacy organization in the PCUSA) gets the name.
The full quote from Winslow is, "For he [Robinson] was very confident the Lord had more truth and light yet to break forth out of his holy Word."
Another great quote, "He [Robinson] took occasion also miserably to bewail the state and condition of the Reformed Churches, who were come to a period [full stop] in religion; and would go no further than the Instruments of their Reformation. As, for example, the Lutherans: they could not be drawn to go beyond what Luther saw, for whatever part of God's will He had further imparted and revealed to Calvin, they will rather die than embrace it.
'And also,' saith he, 'you see the Calvinists. They stick where he left them, a misery much to be lamented...."
(Heh. Timely, given that last Friday was Calvin's 500th birthday.)
"... For though they were precious shining lights in their Times, yet God had not revealed his whole will to them; and were they now living,' saith he, 'they would be as ready and willing to embrace further light as that they had received.'"
For all the grief the UCC gets for it's "God is still speaking" motto from the so-called protectors of tradition, it's an old, old notion that was right there at the very beginning of their birth in the US. But then, few people who claim to uphold traditional values know or understand what those values actually are.
There are lots of times I really miss congregational polity. But the benefits outweigh the downsides .... most of the time. :)
While not quite the age of Dear St. Jean of Geneva, Wesley, too, saw much wisdom in the ancients, his reading being quite broad in the Greek Fathers. From this his theology of the Trinity has much more affinity for the near-Tri-theism and mysticism of the Greeks than the essentialism of the Romans and Protestant Reformers. Odd for some that he would see the link between the pietism of the Moravians and the neo-Platonism of the Cappadocians; yet, I think the link should be clear enough because it lies not in philosophical or theological presuppositions, but flows from Wesley's final surrender to God's prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace. This reflection of the Trinitarian life of God flows through one's life, informing and enforming one's practice of piety and discipleship. For Wesley, there was no artificial division between what one believes as a series of propositions and how one lives. A kind of early hermeneutic circle of action and reflection.
Kind of far afield in a way, yet rooted in the same notion that new light can be shed from the most ancient of paths.
Anyway, the ancient path provides enough light not to curse our present darkness too much.
Also, it should be said that Albert Outler almost immediately regretted his formulation of Wesley in the sixties.
And, finally, the way the Cambridge Platonists formulated Reason, it is the more expansive, nearly Romantic and Ideal notion of Human Reason that is Experience.