I was really glad I went to church, though.
Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.
Responsive Call to Worship:
Come, let us be sojourners on this Lenten journey.
What do we bring for this journey?
Bring a sense of expectancy, a vision of hope.
How do we walk on this journey?
With a vivid imagination and a glimpse of future possibility.
Why do we make this journey?
Because God's creation is not done.
Then let us fulfill God's creation.
Creator God, Creating Still [tune: O God, Our Help in Ages Past]
verse 3b: "pour out your love on us, through us, make this a holy place"
verse 4b: "Create, redeem, sustain us now to do your work and will."
Congregational Response: Santo, Santo, Santo
I remain rather indifferent to this hymn, but it does always make me think of First Churches.
Unison Prayer of Confession:
Forgive me for my restlessness, that I could not pause on the path to allow Your wisdom to come forth.
Scripture: John 20.24-29
Message: No Doubt?
Pastor Hamilton opened with an anecdote from when he was finishing up the ordination process. He said someone asked him his interpretation of John 14:6 and that this question is considered "dirty pool" -- either you affirm the statement and thereby damn billions living and dead, or you don't and are encouraged to take your degree with the Unitarians :) He said we'd have to wait until the end of the sermon to find out how he answered the question.
He said John is the most theologically developed Gospel and reviewed the preceding Gospels:
Mark: restless, enigmatic, apocalyptic, rebel Jesus
Matthew: rabbi, fulfilling the law and the prophecies
Luke: adds, skews toward marginalized ("blessed are the poor in spirit" becomes simply "blessed are the poor"), gentle Good Shepherd
John: completely different Jesus, in control, long and complicated discourses, God made flesh, no parables, only mention of the poor is "You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me" (which Pastor Hamilton commented is "not exactly a ringing endorsement of social justice"); incarnation rather than the cross is the decisive moment in history [and yet, I thought, there is no Nativity story in John]; all the Gospels challenge us, but John in particular demands an answer ("Do you believe?")
He talked about how in the mid-70s, John 3:16 signs began to show up at football games. He was at his uncle's house one time watching a game and his uncle saw these signs and asked what they meant. His aunt suggested that some guy named John was sitting in Row 3, Seat 16, and wanted everyone to know it. His uncle didn't lend this much credence. Hamilton said, "I think it's from the Bible." His uncle lent this even less credence. "Get the Bible," he said. "In an Irish-Catholic household, this is no mean feat," the pastor said. Someone actually got sent next door to get a Bible from a neighbor. So a player was going for a field goal and Hamilton found the passage and read "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son." Dead silence. "That's supposed to stop a field goal?" his uncle said incredulously.
Pastor Hamilton talked about how the Doubting Thomas story resonates because we all doubt sometimes.
He talked about how faith requires a leap at some point, that at some point you have to jump across and trust that you will grow wings. However, he said, he doesn't hold with blind faith. He said that with blind faith you don't know when to jump.
He said the greatest Christian thinkers were doubters -- Augustine, Luther, Mother Teresa (her diaries were opened after her death and found to be filled with bitter struggles with faith, to the consternation of many). He said it could be argued that even Jesus was a doubter -- "let this cup pass...." (He said that John just passes through Gethsemane -- literally; that the only mention of it is of Jesus and the disciples passing through it.)
Jesus' final words in John: "It is finished." No "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" as in the other Gospels.
John was writing ~yr110, to a besieged community, and the previous conceptions of Jesus were not enough; he needed a trump card. And his trump card was that Jesus is the only way to God.
At this point he told us how he answered the question. He said that the verse was taken out of context and he could just as easily pull out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" and say: Prove that Jesus never doubted. Then he said it was a two-part question/answer, that he does believe that Jesus the Way, the Truth, and the Life; but as for the second part he would leave that up to God. (He was slightly more articulate.) I found it interesting right at the beginning when he said it was a dirty pool kind of question because I made my peace with that verse some time ago -- namely, how do you define "coming to the Father through me?" It could just as easily mean living a life in keeping the Jesus' teachings, which certainly plenty of people aim to do without necessarily being Christians. It could even mean that Jesus is the gatekeeper at the threshhold of the afterlife, that he is the one who judges souls; and again, that doesn't necessarily necessitate being a Christian in order to get into Heaven. So yes, my answer basically comes down to the same thing --
These four gospels together make up the Jesus we will follow next week, through Palm Sunday and to the cross.
Pastor Hamilton mentioned extra Ecclesia nulla salus ("no salvation outside the Church"). My immediate thought was that I used to be certain that was the Catholic stance but then various Catholic friends said I was wrong, that in fact it is the Protestants who are more hardcore about this than the Catholics. Googling suggests that extra Ecclesia nulla salus is still the official Catholic position. Assistance?
Pastor Hamilton said something about "a moment of silence before we enter into prayer," and probably less than a minute later the organ started up. *sighs*
He also said something praying together like this being "so unlike solitary prayer," which struck me because it doesn't feel very different at all.
Sacrament of Communion
I don't expect they suddenly changed the wording, but I'd never noticed before that it said "sacrament." I think I noticed today because I'd been struck by the mention of sacraments in a recent Beginnings chapter ("sacraments" feels very Catholic to me, even though I know intellectually that Protestants call some things sacraments).
In the Invitation, Pastor Hamilton said that in Luke, Jesus says, "when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind," and likewise this table is open to all. I'd already decided to take Communion because I actually really liked the sermon, but that also made me feel much better about the decision. (Though he did stumble over the whole 'whether you're good with God or not, you are invited to the table' bit -- admittedly, something which it is difficult to articulate without making me feel weird.) Beth talked about the Bread of Life and said, "in the company who hunger for spiritual food, all are invited." When it came time to distribute the grape juice they talked about "the saving cup," and I was discomfited, but I couldn't very well refuse Communion after having taking the first part (and I was the only person in my pew). It was really good grape juice.
Recessional: What Wondrous Love Is This
Passing of the Peace!
(You may recall I had been distressed that we hadn't been doing this for some weeks.)
In the receiving line, Pastor Hamilton was hugging people, so without really expecting it I got a hug. Which puts him points ahead of Pastor Saling, which makes me sad.
"I didn't see you taking notes," he said. "No, I have like a whole page of notes. But I actually liked the sermon." Of course he had to repeat this last part back to me in a teasing way to which the only appropriate response was something along the lines of, "Way to make me feel bad." :P