By Rev. Jim Innes
Jesus, in conversation with a postmodern theologian, asked, "Who do 'they' say that I am?"
"They say you are the incarnate, eternal, omnipresent, galactical supremacy that systemically creates and sustains all that is eternal and life-giving."
"Say what!? Try it another way. Who do you say that I am?"
"You're the truth that resonates with my life energy at a molecular level."
"Hmmm, but do you feel my love and acceptance?"
"Then I'm satisfied."
With all good intentions, religious adherents have attempted to safeguard their faith through a regulated expression of core beliefs. Yet, ironically, as folks try to shelter and defend this good faith, they can inadvertently produce energy that runs counter to the original intent.
For example, the early Christian church began amidst multicultural pressures that triggered a severe backlash, even death, when challenged by something new. So, as leadership attempted to safeguard their new-found faith, explanatory language was carefully crafted, passed along, and, over time, indoctrinated.
Over the next several hundred years, a more aggressive indoctrination process was born as the church became more politically powerful (and safer for Christians to express themselves). And though this proselytization worked well to protect core beliefs and stories, it triggered its problems and conflict, losing some of its original warm attraction.
At its worst, religion can lead us astray, confuse us, and be no more than an exercise in linguistics. We can lose the simple truth that God loves us unconditionally within words that are too pollical, too narrow, and too many!
As a priest in an episcopal system, I am part of the institution that attempts to safeguard the faith, hopefully, the best of the faith. It requires carefully crafted words to sift and sort priorities and direction.
Nonetheless, despite the limits of words, we must make the effort. And, I believe that as the church has matured through history, increasingly, we have acknowledged our shortcomings, faced our faults, and continually healed (and corrected) ourselves.
As I see it, one of the issues the church faces is finding the appropriate words to define itself and its boundaries. As a preacher, I can attest to how difficult it is to convey the unconditional love of God without sounding like I'm lecturing on boundaries or moral practices. For example, "God loves you. So, here is what you've got to do next."
So, as a preacher, I need to say this: if a sermon fails to project love, it fails to project God. It may sound good and even keep our attention, but it is missing the mark if it fails to affirm how much we are known and cared for. More than receiving a carefully crafted idea about God's design, the preacher must confirm their place in God's heart. Then and perhaps only then can real ministry and mission be developed. And not formed from words and plans but from heart and passion, an organic expression of the God we know.
Words are a needed nuisance. They are a must for communication. But they can be limiting and even distracting. The longer I'm in ministry, the more aware I am that what's essential is not how we can cautiously convey our beliefs and manage order, but how we assimilate our experience of how God wants to Love us up!!
Rev. Jim Innes is the rector of St. John's, Grand Bend with St. Anne's, Port Franks.