Is it possible for people, and even for a whole society, to lose faith in God? ... [If] it happens, [it is] not primarily because something they used to think existed does not after all exist, but because the available language about God has been allowed to become too narrow, stale and spiritually obsolete ... the work of creative religious personalities is continually to enrich, to enlarge and sometimes to purge the available stock of religious symbols and idioms ... (The Sea of Faith, 1984)



... people of different periods and cultures differ very widely; in some cases so widely that accounts of the nature and relations of God, men and the world put forward in one culture may be unacceptable, as they stand, in a different culture ... a situation of this sort has arisen ... at about the end of the eighteenth century a cultural revolution of such proportions broke out that it separates our age sharply from all ages that went before (The Use and Abuse of the Bible, 1976)

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Lord and Power

Matthew 7.21
  Not everyone who calls me "Lord, Lord" will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only those who do what my father in heaven wants them to do.

have always been uncomfortable with the continual use of the word "Lord" in the Scriptures and with the Church's traditional obsession with it and the notion of power.

Yet it is true that those of us familiar with Christ's use of the idea of power understand that it refers to the power of being powerless, and that the title "Lord" has more to do with service than with hierarchy.

However, it is easy for someone outside the Church and its tradition to get a little confused with our proclamation of service on the one hand and our love of hierarchy on the other.

It's not just mainline churches that are guilty of this confusion. Many so-called free churches and Pentecostal churches have difficulty dealing with people who question the authority of the pastor or who cannot meet prerequisites for membership - like being able to recite  the phrase "Jesus is my personal Lord and saviour" or being able to speak in tongues.

Many of us can easily get caught up as practitioners of religion in the seductiveness of hierarchical power. Some of us get caught up in the spectacular, such as prophecy, healing, tongues and other bits of faith that can make us feel and appear religiously or spiritually powerful.

Today's Gospel reading, for me, cuts right through my obsession with power and authority. It reminds me that true power does not lie in public profession of faith and belief, nor in the an ability to perform the right religious acts at the right time, in the right place. 

These things may denote respect, authority or power within our religious groups. But I don't believe them to be of the essence of those Christian beliefs and practices that identify people as followers of Jesus. 

On the contrary, to me Jesus seems continuously walking away from fame. I think even in his own time people were getting much too caught up in miraculous stories and so avoiding the real challenge of discipleship - which seems to me to be service.

Another aspect of this reading for me is how it challenges the apparent certainty of some religious zealots in their confidence about salvation. There are some religious people for whom salvation is a sort of contract struck between themselves and God. They do the right things and say the right formulas and "Bingo!" - God gives them eternal life. But heaven forbid if you mess up because then you just won't get a seat in heaven.

Eternal life has not been a great bargaining thing for me personally, because at the moment I am quite happy with whatever years I am given. Though when I reach 80 I might change my mind!

The eternal life that I  believe God gives us consists of the quality of life we are part of in the here-and-now when we are positive participants in community in the way that Jesus suggests.

In other words, eternal life is what happens when I am fully involved in the community around me. Every action of justice, love or peace in which I participate reveals another aspect of the Kingdom for me to embrace.

Feeding someone does far more than getting up in front of people and saying "The Lord Jesus is my personal saviour". The phrase does nothing more than make a few believers feel good because someone else agrees with their view of the world.

The world is saved when we take seriously the commands to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the lonely and the outcast and the sick, and when we treat each other as we would treat God. At the end of the Eucharist the phrase "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord" or something similar is often said. I am always tempted to elaborate and say, "Go in love and peace to love and serve God through our love and service of each other".

Running around telling everyone that we know the formula for what pleases God is for me a waste of time. So much more can be said through my action to love another human person or another part of God's creation.

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