The Smiling Heretic's Blog

Easter 6 :: An Unknown God?

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“I see how extremely religious you are in every way.”

St. Paul had been in Athens for a short while, walking around the city and viewing all the statues and shrines to the pantheon of gods the people worshipped. During his time there, he began to discuss with the people—Jews, God-fearing Greeks, philosophers, and anyone who would listen to him—about his belief in Jesus. He soon found himself standing in the Areopagus, an ancient court site, accused of preaching about foreign gods. Just 500 years prior, Socrates was also put on trial at that very place, accused of the very same thing. Remember his fate?

It is perhaps a good lesson to us that Paul did not try to convince the crowd that his was the true spiritual path and theirs was false. Too often nowadays we hear of Christians who take such a negative approach: “Jesus is the one true way and if you don’t believe in him right away your soul is in jeopardy.” “My God is bigger than your god!” I don’t think such tactics serve the cause of Christ well at all. In fact such in-your-face proselytizing has turned many away from wanting anything to do with Jesus.

Easter 5 :: Getting to Heaven

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“No one comes to the Father except through me.”

There is a kind of US vs. THEM attitude when considering the afterlife. We want to get to heaven, but we sure as heck don't want our enemies to get there. We very much like the thought that heaven is special and that only the most spiritually fit will get in. God forbid if someone we detest is seen in heaven! That would somehow diminish our efforts. And it’s that way with all sorts of things in society: gay marriage, unfettered wealth, great achievement in sports, or success at work. If we see others we don't agree with [or don't like] doing these things, we think it somehow diminishes us and the efforts we have taken in life. Could this be behind the idea that "Jesus is the only way to heaven; everyone else is going to hell”?

Easter 4 :: Called by name

I can still recall her voice echoing through the years: “Paul! Paul Gill! Paul Gill Rider, you come home right now!” It didn’t help that I was three blocks away and her voice carried like a tornado siren. Nor did it help that I was a nascent teenager, easily embarrassed by such a display of maternal vocal power! But, I knew her voice and I came dutifully—if not reluctantly—home.

Actually, there is something quite reassuring about hearing a familiar voice calling out your name. Though I wouldn’t have thought much of it back then, hearing my mother’s voice meant I belonged, that I had a home to live in and a family who loved me. 

Though I do not really like the image used in scripture of the followers of Christ portrayed as sheep, I can easily understand and relate to the response of the sheep hearing the shepherd’s voice. Sheep tend to wander far afield in search of fresh pasture. Oftentimes, this can bring them to danger from predators, unfamiliar ground, and dangerous precipices. The ever-watchful shepherd is keen to such ovine distraction and calls out when danger is afoot. I would imagine that it is especially comforting [in a sheep-sort-of-way] for the sheep to hear that familiar call if it is lost. It’s as if the voice is saying, “Here I am! Over this way! Come on!” How often it is that I need to hear the voice of God calling out to me in such a way.

Easter 3 :: Those crazy disciples!

Those crazy disciples! They didn’t know it was Jesus who had joined them on that road? Really? They’d been with him for how long? Weeks? Months? Years? How could they not recognize him?

I suppose that’s the real question here. I’ve greived the deaths of family members and friends over the years. If all-of-a-sudden one of them approached me while I was out for a walk, I’d like to think I’d know who she was. Her face is etched in my memory. Sure I’d be surprised—dumbfounded even—but I’d still recognize her. Wouldn’t I? Perhaps I’d at first think she just looked like my mother, was maybe some long-lost twin of hers. But as we talked, it would become clear to me who she really was.

Were the two just so wrapped up in the events of the past few days—so confused, upset, sad, even angry—that they were so unable to know? They referred to Jesus as a stranger, so obviously they were completely oblivious to who he really was. They shared with him what they had been talking about: all that had recently happened to their friend and master, a condemned prophet.

Ponderings for May 2011

Pre-e-e-pare ye the way of the Lord!

Is there a soundtrack to your faith journey? You know: the songs, hymns, and other sacred music that have some special place in your spiritual quest? No doubt, even if you’ve not thought of them as a soundtrack to your faith journey, you have a favorite hymn or two that gets stuck in your head from time to time. “Amazing Grace,” “Rock of Ages,” and “I sing a song of the saints of God” are favorites for many people. I know you can name one or two yourself.

I actually have a whole musical soundtrack that provides a profound accompaniment to my spiritual journey. The congregation I serve is performing it early this month: Godspell.

Now this may sound a bit crazy, after all I’m pretty much a traditional Episcopalian who grew up with a love for The Hymnal 1940 and for the sacred music of Haydn and Mozart [and I have a special place in my heart for Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem] but there is something about the music in Godspell that speaks so deeply to me. I suppose one of the reasons is because the music is so joyful [most of it, anyway] and I cannot help but to sing along. I was a teenager when the musical came out in the early 70s and I was a bit of a church geek. I remember one youth convention in Dallas back then and a lot of the songs we sang were from the musical: “Day by day,” “Prepare ye the way of the Lord,” “Long live God.” Being with a bunch of teens who were “into” God was very powerful. And seeing a bunch of priests not wearing the standard-issue black suit was a novelty for me. It almost made being a church geek kind of cool!

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