Exodus 17:1-7 Excerpts from With Or Without God: Why the Way We Live
is More Important Than What We Believe by Gretta Vosper**
Sunday October 1st, 2023
By Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche
Good morning again on this beautiful morning! I can’t believe it’s October!
I invite you now to take some deeper breaths as you are moved, letting ourselves arrive, allowing each of us to tune into whatever word God has for us today. As you are moved I invite you to join me now in a spirit of prayer from Psalm 19. God may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our Rock and our Redeemer.
In the last 25 years more Americans have left the Church than all of the new people who became Christians from the time of the First Great Awakening to the Second Great Awakening and the Billy Graham crusades combined.(1) I had to read that a few times to really process it. That is a lot of people! The number one reason people give is this… Do you want to
guess? It’s that church members, Christians themselves are experienced and seen as hypocritical and judgmental. Isn’t that fascinating? It made me think of that quote from Mahatma Gandhi “I like your Christ, Ido not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
I am truly grateful that I have had the privilege of spending my life investing in and being a part of faith communities that are at least trying for a Christ-like character, where love and inclusion and justice are at the center and where questions are welcome and what matters more to many of us are the relationships, the community and the connections with others who share our values, more than the idea of being bound by the same beliefs.
We are spiritual seekers of all kinds and here’s the wild thing, not all of us identify as Christians, we are agnostics, probably some atheists, we are independents spiritually and otherwise and there are many of us who still want to be rooted in the ancient faith, and need a modifier so we call ourselves progressive Christians.
The point is that in this time and at this church and not just here, but definitely here, we have given ourselves permission to ask the questions that weren’t allowed to be asked within Christianity before.
We are freeing ourselves to wonder out loud do we need this? Do we need church? Do we even need a god? Because in our context we understand that much has been added by history and patriarchy and the agendas of nation states that became
empires that colonized in the name of Jesus. And as I was pondering, for many of us, we are doing something like
spiritual decluttering- decluttering our lives from the lies of the past, and I notice that people are decluttering in general, so maybe it’s decluttering all over the place?
But in our case, decluttering from some of the dogma created not by or from the life of Jesus, but by those who used his name for power and privilege.
For a while in the United Church of Christ we have decluttered from the manufactured theological stance that only men can be spiritual leaders and we have decluttered from the notion that each of us is born a sinner and that the point of our life is to avoid a fiery pit, but it is clear to me that there is still lots of decluttering to do.
This book that both Andy and Kamilla recommended, as you heard, it’s called With or Without God: Why the Way We Live is More Important Than What We Believe by Gretta Vosper, and in that she writes, “There’s stuff left hanging about-bits and pieces of detritus that don’t get properly cleared away- things we no longer actually believe but have not officially so declared.” She says, “Unlike scientific paradigms, social, religious and cultural paradigms seem to hang around forever.
Though they may have only a shadowy existence, they never really die, are never really abandoned when a new paradigm appears. Rather, they get stacked up like cafeteria trays in a self-service cafeteria.”
And you won’t be surprised to hear that I think one of the questions sitting on that cafeteria tray is whether we even need God at all?
In this beautiful old story from the book of Exodus, the people are wandering in the wilderness, thirsty and frustrated and they complain to Moses- why would you lead us here, free us from slavery and bring us to a place where we are going to die of thirst and starvation? And they ask, “Is the Lord even among us or not?”
And clearly we humans are still asking this same question even in different ways. And it is often under the other questions people ask. What I mean is that if we now have science to explain weather- we know that a thunder strike isn’t God mad at us well maybe it is, and we know that light isn’t just some miracle but it is really just electromagnetic radiation that we can see with our eyes and we know that some theology was made up to control us humans into doing what governments wanted, do we need God? Do we need church?
Gretta Vosper refers to the work of other historians and scholars and she points to the work of Jack Good in particular who argued that we should no longer perpetuate the idea of a world that is “safely secure within the arms of a personal chaplain to the earth.” And further she says that letting go of the need for some of that allows the space for us to get better about looking to each other about caring for ourselves and one another.
I guess that is where I find myself. And I look forward to hearing where you are too. For a while I have been done with that God who is a personal chaplain, the Santa that keeps track of missteps, the One who is distant, that is the god that I long ago washed from my spiritual cafeteria plate. And maybe you have too?
And there are many more- I have washed off the theology that says that it is even possible to take the Bible literally. I washed off the idea that there is only one kind of relationship construct and washed off the idea that even though God is love, this God killed his son in some exchange to save us.
What a gift to be alive now and among this community to be able to declutter, to be being open and honest about what is true, about what we know and don’t, we are free to in the words of the poet Rilke, “live our
I realize that especially in Colorado saying all of this could annoy and even offend those who accept so much of what human beings have added onto Christ, what has become Christianity, but I decided I am tired of letting others be loud or mean or cause harm simply because they say they are right. I am tired of people ruining things because they force the rest of us to be made to feel inferior or have fewer rights because of their beliefs. Just because you believe it, doesn’t make it so.
Last week, I was here for another event, and I encountered a couple who shared that they are a part of a non-denominational church not far from here and they started to ask some questions, and once we got a little engaged, I could just feel their judgement. It was radiating toward me them like heat. Another person I was with was trying to explain that we take the Bible seriously, but not literally. And they couldn’t handle that. And I said, well part of we do and I referred to Isaiah and how we take weapons and turn them into garden tools. And her eyes got bigger. And then as kindly and as quickly as I could muster I said, “the Bible says women shouldn’t speak in church and that they should be silent,” and I bet you spoke in your church? She didn’t say much after that. But I bet she is still pondering?
I didn’t have time to go into the fact that every reading of the Bible was a selective reading, girlfriend don’t you know?
But it made me think of all of the people who have left the Church… And this woman went at me and she said, “Well you believe in the resurrection don’t you?” And I said, “we don’t exclude people who don’t.”
What a gift that we have a place like this where we can ask, “Is the Lord among us?” Well maybe, but I believe yes, but also I believe no, we don’t need to know. . In this decluttering, what if we can explore the idea that maybe God is an experience?
Maybe the gift of this time is knowing it’s not out there, but an invitation to dive deeper in here and between each other?
Maybe we have evolved enough to see that now?
COMMUNAL REFLECTION: What do you think?
Beloved of God, is the Lord among us, maybe not like we thought? But look around. The answer is still yes. May it be so. Amen.