Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Stone Chapel, Proctor Academy, Andover, NH
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Sermon given by Rev. Dick Dutton on 1/24/2010

at Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

This is the story as it was told to me.  The Cardinals of the Catholic Church had gathered in Rome at St. Peter’s with unparalled excitement and anticipation.   This was the day when the mystery would be revealed…this was the day that Brother Anselm would speak to the Church.

Two weeks earlier the Pope had convened the College of Cardinals, and Brother Anselm had been commissioned by the Pope to leave Rome for 2 weeks and miraculously enter the very presence of God himself; then he would return and share with the Church, so the Church could share with the world, the ultimate mystery…what is God really like?

Can you imagine the thrill of that moment – absolute silence – enrapt attention?  Brother Anselm steps forward, kisses the Pope’s ring, and then addresses the multitude…

She was Black!

The shock value was far greater when I told the story in 1960 in the midst of the Civil Rights struggle and emerging Feminism…but most of us would say…”We have no clearer concept of God today than we did 50 years ago.”

But the story is merely a springboard for this morning.  I need your help.  For a couple minutes I want you to share with the rest of us…in a word, or a phrase, or a brief statement…your idea of God or spirit, or mystery, or truth…and then we’ll vote…just kidding.  From your experience as Unitarians, as Theists, as Atheists…what is God really like…who is God…what is God…how do you see God?

Give me a word, an idea…

Now I want to share with you a concept about God that has for me been incredibly freeing and unifying and empowering…and best of all it does away with all this ugliness…           

  • “My God is better than your God”
  • “My God is the true God”
  • “This God is on my side”
  • “I am commanded to kill you in the name of my God!”

There is a concept of God to which some of us are willing to pledge allegiance…it’s been quietly around for 100’s of years…it’s what Karen Armstrong calls

“God beyond God”

Each of us has our own idea of God.  Religion and philosophers and mythologies have their name for God…

From Greek and Roman mythology, we talk about Zeus & Apollo & Diana & Jupiter…

From Hinduism and Sikhism we talk about Bhagwan and Krishna and Waheguru…

From China Shangdi and from Egypt RA and from Native American to Great Spirit…

And today we worship primarily in synagogues, churches, and mosques…and call out to Yahweh, the Christian’s God, and Allah.

As the folk artist, Holly Near sang in one of her peace ballads…”I don’t care what you call the God you worship…I only care what you do in His name.”

But people do care about the name we choose for our God…we care about whether our God is the one true God…we care about converting others to follow our God…we care about wars that are fought because God has chosen us as his favored people…we care about the true God to whom we have committed our lives…we care about our God who has called us, and commissioned us, and blessed us.  We do care about the name we choose for our God!  But supposed as some said…

It don’t matter.

It don’t matter…because the God we name is not God at all…but only a partial reflection of the true God.  Most of the people of the world are arguing and fighting over the reflection and only a partial reflection at that.

Look in a mirror and you only see a limited reflection…even a full light mirror sees only the front…and so we argue…

My God is a god of teeth…

My God is a god of eyes or ears or hands…

We might say my God, the God I worship, my claim for the Christian God…is only a partial reflection of the true God…the God beyond God!  It’s silly…it doesn’t make sense arguing over reflections or perspectives or “the angle” we have as this lesser God, while we’re missing the true God…or Spirit…or mystery…as God beyond God.

The writers of the Bible save the larger picture…in Deuteronomy Moses said, “For the Lord our God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, the awesome!”

And John wrote in Revelations…”Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God almighty…worthy art thou to receive glory & honor & power for thou didst create all things.”

Suppose we were all to acknowledge a God beyond Gods, while celebrating our personal limited reflection…e pluribus Unum…one out of many.  Could we admit that our special, wonderful, uniquely revealed God is simply our perspective…while the ultimate truth…God beyond God is the “final solution”?

That’s the first step…the second is equally important…what is our relation to that God?  Is it a matter of belief, or a matter of faith?

I love the wonderful story, a true story about Albert Einstein.  A prominent leader in the American Jewish community in New York, in 1930, Rabbi Herbert Goldstein fired off a telegram to Einstein.  The Rabbi did not waste words…

“Do you believe in God?  Stop.  Answer period.  50 words.  Stop”

Einstein, to the consternation of some of his fellow scientists had referred to himself as “religious”.  So Einstein responded…

“The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious.  It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of all true art and science.  He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead, a snuffed out candle.  To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly:  this is religiousness.  In this sense, and in this sense only, I am a devoutly religious man.”

The question again…when it comes to our awareness of the God beyond god…for you, for me… is it a matter of belief, or a matter of faith?

Harvey Cox, Hollis Professor of Divinity emeritus, at Harvard, where he has taught since 1965, writes in his latest book just published in 2009, “The Future of Faith”…he says “It is true for many people, ‘faith and belief’ are just two words for the same thing…but they are not the same.

We can believe something to be true without it making much difference to us, but we place our faith only in something that is vital for the way we live.”

Cox says “There is an essential change taking place in what it means to be ‘religious’ today.  Religious people are more interested in ethical guidelines and spiritual disciplines than in doctrines”…and correct belief.  They also want to distance themselves from institutions and conventional religion, and refer to themselves as ‘spiritual’.

We know that ‘spirituality’ is all over the place…from meditation, prayer, or yoga…to ambiguous self-reflection…to an enhanced sense of responsibility in their work and socially…but for some a complete lack of discipline or structure or sense of community.

The good news is that “spirituality’ has far more to do today with faith than to a set of beliefs.  For many it becomes the basis for commitment, and something to live for…that’s faith!

A few years ago, drawn by curiosity, a totally ‘unchurched’ young woman named Sarah Miles wandered into St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco.  She must have arrived late because just as she stopped in, communion, the Lord’s Supper, was being served.

She watched for a moment, and then on shear impulse decided to receive the bread and the wine.  Something she finds impossible to describe in prose happened.  Despite the fact that she distinctly disliked the creeds and the ‘mumbling liturgy’, she felt drawn to return again and again.

Soon she began organizing a food pantry and using the altar as the table.  Within a short time 250 people crowded in each time, and Sarah enlisted first, church members, then the street people, to help prepare and serve the meals.  She discovered later that in early Christianity, as scholars now agree, the poor were also fed at the Lord’s Supper table.

Not creeds, not doctrines, not dogmas, not beliefs…not beliefs, baby…but faith…faith…not something we believe to be true…but faith that is vital to the way we live!

Belief may be in our diverse perception of God.
But faith, commitment to the God beyond gods!

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