Intellect and Faith

Life Notes—April 25, 2013 

“Do not deceive yourselves.  If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”  I Corinthians 3:18-19a

My godson was confirmed into the United Methodist church last weekend.  I had the honor of serving as his mentor through the process.  Confirmation occurs at about age 13 and involves several months of study about the church, its history and practices, and concludes with induction into full membership in the church.  As his mentor I was given the opportunity to say a few words about him to those present at the confirmation service, as well as to pass along some thoughts specifically for him. My godson has a highly developed intellect for his age and is very analytical.  He is well beyond his years in activities like chess and mathematics. I read the scripture above and told him his intellect would serve him well, but warned that earthly intelligence will only carry him so far.  In fact, it can be downright foolishness.  Earthly intelligence focuses on what can be physically observed, leaving the unknown and unknowable largely unaccounted for.  To fully develop our intellect requires faith, because faith opens our eyes to realities beyond physical observation.  Intellect without faith is shallow, and faith without intellect is weak.  We need both to begin to reach our potential, and while he will naturally be drawn to intellectual pursuits, he (like most of us) will need to work to develop his faith in a similar manner.  Just as our two eyes, working together, can perceive depth in our field of vision that one eye alone cannot, so our intellect and faith, working together, inform our life experience in both earthly and spiritual ways.  In fact, intellect and faith may find their highest expressions in each other.

I sought a visual reminder of what I most wanted him to remember of his confirmation—some common artifact that would help his recall.  I shared it with him that night, as I share it with you today.  That reminder is the cross.  The cross consists of two elements—a horizontal crossbeam and a vertical post.  The horizontal beam can represent our intellect.  It stretches to the east and west and represents our knowledge of this world.  The vertical represents our faith, a connection between earth and heaven, the known and the unknown.  Where the vertical and horizontal meet, where intellect intersects with faith, is where wisdom begins.  That is where I pray my godson will reside.  It is where I pray we all will reside.  And it is exactly where we meet Jesus on the cross.

Tom preaches downtown about “The Power of a Single Life,” based on II Corinthians 6:3-13.  Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Mitch’s sermon at the west campus, where worship is at 9:00 and 11:00, is “What God Has Made Clean,” based on Acts 11:1-18.

Come home to church this Sunday.  We can help grow your faith.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

The Power of One

Life Notes—April 18, 2013 

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.  As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one.  I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  John 17:20-23

The passage above comes from the 17th chapter of the Gospel of John.  Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, minutes before he will be betrayed and murdered.  He prays for himself to successfully complete his earthly work.  He prays for his disciples, who will establish his church.  Finally, he prays for us—those who will believe through the Word passed to us by his disciples. There is a common theme in this intimate prayer: Oneness.  Many times throughout his ministry Jesus declares that he and God are One.  And here, in the Garden, he prays that we—two thousand years in the future—will be completely one with each other.  He (Jesus) in us, and God in him, all together as One.

So, what does it mean to be One?  In Genesis 2:24, referring to marriage, it is written, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.”  Could that be the sort of Oneness Jesus refers to?  I am married, but my wife and I are very different and unique individuals.  Yet we are one, according to Genesis.  Certainly, we have all seen how the lives of folks in committed relationships become intertwined by bonds that are painfully difficult to try to break.

There are bonds uniting us all that are beyond our ability to perceive, not just in marriage, but in humanity.  I believe Jesus is referring to a Oneness that is an absolute reality, regardless of whether we are consciously aware of it.  And that sort of Oneness helps bring perspective to some of the more difficult passages in the Bible.  For example, we are told to care for the poor and less fortunate.  If we are truly One, no one can truly prosper until all prosper because we are all interconnected.  It is true in marriage that a couple suffers or prospers together, and it is equally true of humanity.  Such shared fates may not manifest in obvious ways, but I believe they are there nonetheless.  Jesus recognized the importance of affirming that connection, even if we cannot see it.  We are all unique expressions of the One.  But we cannot separate ourselves from that source or our fellow beings; we can only ignore the connection—at our own peril.

Life worship is downtown at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary. Tom’s sermon is “The Power of a Helping Hand,” based on Luke 10:25-37.  West campus worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Experience the power of One…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Love and Freedom

Life Notes—April 11, 2013 

“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.  For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”  Galatians 5:13-14

One of my favorite singer/songwriter/recording artists over the past several decades has been Dan Fogelberg.  He had a wonderful talent for uniting intriguing lyrics with beautiful melodies, and many of his songs held me spellbound for many listenings over many years.  One of his lesser known songs is “Sweet Magnolia,” a story of two young, independent souls whose paths cross in a fierce romantic way.  The line in the song that has stuck with me since first hearing it in the 1980’s is this:  “Magnolia, now I see, that freedom isn’t free, and love’s the only true redeemer…”  The two young people who fell madly in love, also held a similarly impassioned love for their freedom.  As is often the case, love and freedom, when not properly understood or handled, do not always peaceably co-exist. When focused exclusively on freedom, one often longs for the blessings that come from freely giving up at least a portion of that freedom.  And, of course, the opposite can also be true.  But very often, giving up a portion of one’s freedom to serve another person in love, like in marriage, can actually result in an exponentially more freeing experience.  Thus the line, “love’s the only true redeemer.” 

Paul’s letter to the Galatians considers freedom and love; not romantic love per se, but love for others.  He says we are called to freedom.  Jesus, through his life, death and resurrection, redeemed us from our enslavement to sin and provided the opportunity for a new life through faith.  Redemption brings freedom; and much of what had been forbidden by the law became permissible. But just because something is permissible does not make it a wise or preferred choice.  We have free will to choose one path over another, but Paul warns not to use our freedom for self-indulgence, but to serve one another in love.  Love is a verb and requires action.  Action requires a sacrifice of freedom, as choosing one action necessarily means not choosing another. And what is love without freedom, or freedom without love?  No one wants to be loved by another who is forced to love them.  We want to be loved by those who chose to do so of their own free will.  Love finds its highest expression in sacrifice. And freedom finds its highest expression in love.  Like Jesus on the cross. Love is the true redeemer.

Tom preaches downtown where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary. Tom’s sermon is “The Power of Vision,” based on II Corinthians 1:1-11.  Reverend Sharon Howell will be installed as Pastor Emerita at the west campus services, where Mitch will preach at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Exercise your freedom in love…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Lukewarm Christianity

Life Notes—April 4, 2013 

“I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish that you were either cold or hot.  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.  For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’  You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.”  Revelation 3:15-17

I find this passage from the Revelation of John fascinating, in a troubling way.  I would describe a lukewarm person as a sort of middle-of-the-road, let’s not rock the boat, and let’s not take a strong stand type of person.  And I worry I may be lukewarm.  I like to keep my options open.  I try not to cause unnecessary offense, and I want to be liked by people.  I seldom raise my voice, either in anger or in joy.  Does that sound lukewarm?  In my Christian beliefs I tend to be skeptical. When I see someone doing something I believe to be sinful my first response is seldom condemnation.  I do not believe many bible writings are as clear-cut as they initially seem, or as others might believe.  I believe the Bible was inspired by God through humans, not dictated to scribes to be written down verbatim.  As such, scripture is to be wrestled with, contemplated and revisited time after time.  And in that wrestling a relationship develops.  I believe God is mysterious and defies our efforts to limit who and what God is, and how and why and when God acts.  I am not comfortable with those who feel, speak or act as if they have God figured out.  And so I am reluctant to pretend I do.  Does that make me a lukewarm Christian?

Personally, I do not consider myself a lukewarm anything.  I consider myself passionate and even zealous at times, although I am not often outwardly demonstrative.  Sometimes people confuse passion with raw emotion or impulsivity.  Is a person lukewarm because they do not fly off the handle at every perceived slight?  That is certainly not the picture scripture paints of Christ.  He was intentionally direct in his criticism of those who led others astray, like the scribes and Pharisees. He attended to those in need, providing healing and teaching in his humble, unassuming way.  When he overturned the tables of the money changers in the Temple (John 2:14-16) Christ showed what may have been raw anger.  But for the most part, the Bible portrays Jesus as a man under control, at least outwardly—patiently and compassionately showing others a better way.  Even during his agonizing crucifixion he sought the forgiveness of his persecutors.  He personified great passion.  We are called to be passionate Christians, expressing that passion in the ways we are gifted to express, showing others the better way we have found.

Tom preaches downtown where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Reverend Sharon Howell will be installed as Pastor Emeritus at the downtown services.  Mitch is preaching at the west campus where worship is at 9:00 and 11:00. Communion will be served at all services.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Come hot or come cold, but come…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator