04 July 1996

VCBC Opens Its Bitstream

Our Inaugural Sermon

4 July 1996

Old Testament Message

The wise among the people shall give understanding to many; for some days however, they shall receive a little help, and many shall join them insincerely. Some of the wise shall fall, so that they may be refined, purified, and cleansed, until the time of the end, for there is still an interval until the time appointed. — Daniel 11:33-35

New Testament Message

It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumsised -- only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. Even the circumsised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumsised so that you may boast about your flesh. May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumsiscion is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule -- peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. — Galatians 6:11-16

Gospel Message

And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying "Lord, save us! We are perishing!" And he said to them, "Why are you afraid, you of little faith?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. — Matthew 8:23-27

Long ago, in an America of big cars and divisive wars, there lived a band called Chicago, who asked, Does anybody really know what time it is?

Then, as now, it was and is sometime in the interval until the time appointed, the eyeblink of Eternity between the Resurrection and the Apocalypse. But since that eyeblink has already outlasted many lives, we need more than eschatology to make it through our daily lives — we need a practical, working faith.

Faith is a state of being, a way of living with a God who leaves us in a state of absolute freedom from God, our actions constrained only by physical reality. A working faith thus comes from taking seriously the facts of everyday life, the secular domain, so to speak. Only then can we have a faith that is relevant to the real world, or even to ourselves. Only then can we begin to see that the secular is a convenient fiction — that everything is sacred to its Creator.

And so, at VCBC we view the physical Universe and everything in it as a sacred text, which we must consult in order prevent our understanding of the Scriptures from being clouded by our own self-will, wishful thinking, cowardice, or mental laziness. Since reality includes the personal and historical experiences of all peoples, we also use the sacred and secular writings of other cultures to broaden our awareness, to help us look at our old Bible with new eyes. It is revealing, for example, to acknowledge that, in the form of fossils, the stones cry out that the superficial interpretation of the Biblical Creation story as history is a smokescreen that we have invented to cover up what Genesis really says about us. It is surprising, for another example, to see how the Hindus' Bhagavad Gita shows up the smallness of the popular Western concept of God.

And so, while we rely on the Bible as a light unto our path, we make the effort to view that light with an understanding shaped by the conditions of life in which we are set, rather than by our own self-will.

We count this as a paltry kind of wisdom, on a low level of morality similar to the golfer's rule to "play the ball where it lies." We think of it as a beginning that few other churches make, and hope that we can give a little "understanding to many."

Part of the understanding we want to give is that while religion implies morality (a'la Pope John Paul II's "absolute morality based upon absolute Truth"), morality is not religion. That is to say, morality is a good and necessary start, but being good is not good enough. You can obey all the commandments, and still be estranged from your own innermost self, from everyone around you, from the natural world, and from God. These four basic estrangements are what we take to be the downside of the Human Condition, i.e., Original Sin.

To become that "new creation" as St. Paul puts it, you're going to have to get cozy with God, which means that you're going to have to get to know yourself, because it is your own preconceptions and desires that stand in the way. This getting to know oneself is confession, which St. Paul appears to think is more important than a slavish obedience to rules. This is because obedience to the rules can be used as smokescreen to avoid knowing ourselves — we can measure our imagined goodness by counting up our acts of submission to the Law, without ever having to look into our own souls. In other words, in order to be good one has first to be honest.

And so, with awe and honesty, which necessarily implies a sense of humor about ourselves, we set out here to stumble along the path lighted for us by the God who is alluded to by the fact of existence itself, who is immanent in all aspects of existence, and yet who transcends existence as we now know it. We seek to understand something of what it all means in light of the God who can rebuke the wind and the sea, and who came to us as one of us, because God wants us to come with God.

Canned Theology

Junk Food for the Soul

Conservative Flavors

God is just waiting to get you the minute you screw up.
This is taken by many practicioners of the Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — as the basis for moral behavior. Since externally imposed order is repugnant even to those who believe in it, they occasionally rebel against such order, either openly, or by willfully misinterpreting the commandments, as in "Thou shalt not kill, except for that heretic over there."
Christ died for your sins, so now you really better not screw up.
This is the distinctively Christian form of the item above. God in the form of the God-Man, Jesus, allows himself to be murdered by bad people so he can come back from dead and say, "See, I died for you. Now you really owe me bigtime, so you better shape up!" In Games People Play, Eric Berne called this game, "Now I've Got You, You Son-of-a-Bitch!"
You must build the Kingdom of God on earth by making it impossible for anyone else to screw up.
When people are full of this one, they try to control the behavior of people whose beliefs differ from theirs. Used in repressive legislation. Also a prime ingredient in recipes for religious and ethnic conflict. Used as a condiment in some liberal environmental agendas.
You must purify God's Kingdom on earth by killing those who screw up anyway.
Consumed by those who have no taste for mercy. Typically, when they partake of this one, they screw up bigtime.

Liberal Flavors

God's justice cannot be fulfilled until the world's wealth is equally distributed.
A saccharine version of the belief of the earliest Christians, who embraced poverty as a virtue, which they achieved by holding all their goods in common. Mostly consumed by those who live in gated communities.
Meaning well is more important than achieving results.
Used to simulate barnyard odor. Hitler wanted to purify his people so that they could become like gods. He thought he meant well, but millions of people couldn't live with the results.
No one can really pass judgment on another. Each must judge for him- or herself.
A watered-down decoction of "Judge not, that ye be not judged," used by the guilt-ridden to deny God's judgment, because they also deny his forgiveness.
Tolerance is the highest good.
Often regurgitated by people who will hate you for disagreeing with them.
Thanks to Andy Busch.
Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.
A "lite" sweetener and feel-good remedy if you want to "love kindness" without having "to do justice, and to walk humbly with your God." Often consumed by those who "practice charity when it is sufficiently convenient."
Thanks to Mike Szilagyi

Wacko Flavors

We must of our own accord shed our mortal form to progress to a higher plane of existence.
Practically inhaled by those who don't realize they were put here by God to "Get a life!" Although they occasionally give up what they never got, at least they respect the rest of us, and let us continue on our journeys. May they get a better pilot for their higher plane than whomever they've hired so far.
God tells us to tell you to do whatever we say.
This cult version of "Father Knows Best" satisfies power cravings without guilt, because partakers consume it with submission to a higher cause. A tasteless version for speakers of superficially polite psycho-babble is being test-marketed as "I'm OK - You're OK, but some of us are more OK than others."
Thanks to Charles Perry
There really are no such things as "right" and "wrong."
A non-nutritive flavor-reducer used by college professors to get students to swallow anything. Also, an anti-clumping agent used to unglue civil societies. Toxic to children.
You must stockpile weapons because you are the the People of God, and everyone else is out to get you.
Very spicy, especially the Branch Davidian variety. Savored by those who like it hot.
You must create the earthly Kingdom of God by killing or controlling everyone who isn't like you.
Drunk by those who like to slam it down fast (like the Aum Shinrikyo and various racial supremacist and terrorist groups), instead of waiting for the apocalypse.