Tell us what you know
I’ve heard it said that pastors don’t say what they know. The idea is that there is stuff taught at seminaries that makes sense, that is worthwhile knowledge, but when it comes to conveying it from the pulpit, many (most or all?) pastors tend to toe the line on tradition and they say things that affirm what people already know – or have come to take for granted.
“What do you mean?” you might ask… Consider, for example, the big festivals of the church-year. We all know about Christmas and Easter (at least all of us in western culture). If I, as a pastor, tell you that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary – as it’s laid out in Matthew and Luke in the Bible – and that he was raised from the dead in a bodily resurrection (like the “empty tomb” story found in John), and then follow it up with “that’s how God works” (messiahs born of virgins; eventual bodily resurrection), that’s confirming what people know (at least in popular culture). It doesn’t take much to say, “believe this and you’re a Christian.”
I can tell you, however, that that is not what I know about God. (For that matter, I’m not going to be able to lay everything out in this blog-posting, either.)
If I preach on Christmas Eve about myth and ancient literary forms, and point people to Mark’s gospel where there is no birth-narrative (and also let people know that, of the four gospels in our biblical canon, Mark’s is the earliest – which also points to the fact that Matthew and Luke were inserting something into their gospel accounts, and so one might ask “why?”), it dispels what people might want to claim as comfort and miracle – and how God (however they may conceive of divine nature) works.
It’s always “baby steps” in the church because there are all kinds of perspectives that might show up at a gathering of the community (on Sunday or otherwise). And we want for all those perspectives in community. Encouraging openness and acceptance among those perspectives is a challenge (perhaps the challenge).
So what might I say? What I try to do is to work with the images that are familiar, and re-frame them for the community. At Easter, I’ve preached about ‘new life.’ People know that image – we’ve all experienced a baby in our arms, or a second chance (be it in sports, or otherwise), or perhaps recovering lost files on a computer that crashed – we can resonate with what new life is about.
When talking about God – why all the “Father, Son, Holy Spirit” stuff? We know things about what drives us, what gives us life (be it a hobby, a gathering of people, a walk in the great outdoors, or what-have-you). The ‘triune’ nature of God, as theologians have put it, is an attempt to explain the unexplainable. Trying to pin-point “God” becomes an impossible task – and, yet, one worth pursuing because life is and we all receive life in different ways. I would say the whole of The Bible is peoples’ account (or accounts) of their experience of the divine. So we have poetry, prophetic writings, wisdom literature, history – all kinds of styles of writing – to capture those various experiences. …and the biblical accounts are not the end of the experiences, but we continue to refer to those ancient writings because we can resonate with them (or some of them) today.
Instead of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” I prefer “Creator, Word incarnate, and Spirit” when referring to the triune nature of the Mystery, or the Divine, or God. This isn’t to say I’ll never use “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” but I try to work in other ways of speaking about God so its relevant for me – and perhaps for others, as well.
“Holy Trinity Sunday” is the Sunday after Pentecost – May 30, this year. Let me know what you know – let’s talk! …it’s always an ongoing conversation!