Reflection by Dianne Cooper
Text: Psalm 23
For some strange reason lately I have been puzzling about what it means to us in the united church—or even to me—when I say the word god. And I have been puzzling about why it is that so many people who used to go to church, or who were raised in the church, no longer are connected. Min-goo’s words last week about people saying they were spiritual but not religious may be part of the same question.
If we live in a society (and we do) in which many many people no longer “believe” in god, or don’t turn to the church to express that belief what does our future as church look like?
When we say “I believe in god” or “we are all god’s people” what are we actually saying?
I suspect if I wandered through the congregation and asked each of you what it meant there would be huge variety of answers and maybe just as many questions. And that is as it should be.
Sometimes it is easier to explain what we don’t mean. Many of us know that there are the images others have of god that are not the ones we have.
I remember a former minister here telling me he was asked to go pray at the home of a couple who had just had a downs syndrome baby and when he got there they asked him to pray that she be healed. Although I do believe that the power of prayer can help with healing, the god I believe in doesn’t just ”fix” these medical realities.
In times of war we have always tended to say god is on our side and abandons the other. Although I do believe that the god of our bible stories does weigh down on the side of justice and fairness, and of course we take sides, I’m just not sure that “our side” is always the just one and that god is only with us.
2 In these times (as it has been throughout history) fanatics murder and destroy in the name of some strange god and I am sure that the god I know as one of love and peace is horrified. It was like that when earlier generations of Christians went on crusades and slaughtered Jews and infidels. It was like that when early missionaries crossed the world doing not quite so much slaughtering but certainly mass destruction of aboriginal cultures. It is like that now for the fanatics who bomb and maim and kill.
Each of you would have other examples when “god” is used to explain or defend in ways you don’t accept.
I think that my search for understanding “god” has lasted for many years and that is why I chose two very different readings today.
The familiar 23 psalm is dear to many of us. Many people say that they most frequently feel the presence of a spirit they call god when they experience the wonders of nature—the things that are beyond human creation. A sunset. (personally I never see the sunrises so I can’t comment), the flowers that arise every spring from the frozen earth, a baby giraffe. Majestic mountains.
for many of us the god of creation—the spirit of energy and life that whirled through the world and still does, is the god we see and feel.
Our United Church creed says” I believe in god who has created and is creating.” Our hymn says “for the fruit of all creation thanks be to god.”
For others of us the humanized images work fine: god in Jesus, whose life showed us better ways, god as healer by the bedside, god as loving father who welcomes home the prodigal son, god as weaver woman.
So I also chose the other reading because for me more contemporary writers using more contemporary images often point me to new and deeper understandings.
3 If we truly accept that god is still creating then we can accept that the many artists and poets and writers are still pointing us to god—or at least opening that possibility.
When I first heard the words “god sits weeping” I was stunned with a feeling that someone had spoken a truth, and every time I hear it or read it I still feel almost breathless.
But the beauty of the poem is those are not the last words. For the god of that poem, or could we call it a modern psalm, proceeds to mend the broken threads. And invites us to join in.
All this has been a rather long winded way of saying that so often we or at least I can’t perfectly describe god or what we mean. We find it hard to articulate what we believe about god.
and this takes me back to my question from my earlier words when I wondered about the people who have drifted away from church. Maybe those people who don’t “ believe in god” or at least don’t believe in the god they think we believe in.
So what if one way forward is to continue to speak in our words and our deeds of the holy, of the sacred, of god, of Jesus somewhat less in the stories of the ancient times and bible settings and somewhat more as realities we experience and feel and see in our lives and the world around us now. Two quick examples:
At our Christmas eve service people dressed in biblical costumes-Mary, Joseph, a soldier, a shepherd, Herod—and others. They did not read the traditional texts. They told the stories of what they were doing and feeling. An unmarried pregnant young girl; a guy wondering if he should still marry her; a political leader trying to know what to do; a shepherd wondering what the signs meant. And the ancient story came to life as “our” story. We who heard knew those people. The teachings were not for the ancients only, but for us.
Or what about this one. A woman in our congregation was in hospital and had a prayer shawl, a gift from our knitters. In an adjoining bed was a dying, crying, and terrified woman. Our woman went to her, offered her some words and the prayer shawl. The woman stopped shaking, went to sleep and never woke up. She had drifted into a peaceful death. The healing hands of knitters and donors helped mend that woman’s world.
4 All of us are doing those things already, but what if each one of us showed by what we do that we are folks who want to join the creator in weaving a new tapestry.
And could we invite others to join in? Some invites are literal; “come with me to visit: would you like to donate too: can you help with:”
Some are subtle as by our example we show the way. All give us a chance to join the weaver woman god in weaving the tapestry of a new creation.
Maybe that is how we can say what we mean by “god”.
I could give some examples but I invite you each to take moment of silence to think for yourselves of those opportunities you have – big and small – to do a healing act – and invite others to join you.
The journey lies ahead – and we are not alone.
Thanks be to god.
To Weavers Everywhere
God sits weeping.
The beautiful creation tapestry
is mutilated, torn into shreds, reduced to rags
its beauty fragmented by force.
God sits weeping
She is gathering up the shreds
to weave something new.
the rags of hard work.
attempts at advocacy
initiatives for peace
protests against injustice
all the seemingly little and weak
words and deeds offered sacrificially
in hope, in faith, in love.
She is weaving them all
with golden threads of Jubilation
into a new tapestry,
a creation richer, more beautiful
than the old one was!
God sits weaving
with a smile that radiates like a rainbow
on her tear-streaked face.
And she invites us
not only to keep offering her
the shreds and rags of our suffering
and our work.
But even more –
to take our place beside Her
at the Jubilee Loom
and weave with Her
the Tapestry of the new Creation
– Marchene Rienstra
(as printed in “Mending the World”)