I was reflecting on what it means to minister this week. How do we minister to one another? How does one minister to a group with diverse needs? I’ve been thinking about this for a while. What makes a good minister? How to hold true to one’s own faith while being welcoming, open, and affirming to those who hold different truths and different faiths?
I think it is to Hold Space. To create a safe and steady place from a place of ones own stability for others to listen to stories and ideas and learning and explore in ones own way. To offer layers of learning and stories. To help guide one another to turn knowledge into wisdom. To listen. To hear. And to share and support. Holding space. Together.
I remember Reverend Don talking about the “Dones” and the “Nones”. Those who had no church and those who were done with church. How do we connect on the spectrum of one end of “Dones” and “Nones” and the other end where the Bible is the exact word of God? And everything in between?
Especially in a world where we can barely discuss a glass of water without arguing about it. It makes it hard to talk about. Where do we begin?
How did we get here and what does it mean?
I decided to go backwards a bit. Take a little peek at where we were. I keep telling Paul I am going to do a series on historical sermons, including fire and brimstone. So occasionally, I quote Johnathon Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God to him. It’s mostly a joke, but I decided to start there. Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God or Johnathon Edwards, you’ll catch on.
When Edwards was writing Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, it was 1741 and Puritanism was waning. There was a bit of embarrassment about the enthusiasm of the witch trials and hangings. And people were beginning to feel good about living good lives and being good people. For a Puritan, this was a scary idea. Edwards wanted to remind people that it is NOT enough to be a worthy, decent, hardworking, successful citizen, but one MUST bow down to God on High. God is in control. Completely.
Let me ask you: What’s the best emotion to shake people up? Fear. Most of the sermon is a reminder that Hell actually exist, a visual of the horrors of hell, the dangers of sin, and the terrors of being lost.
There are three parts: the first is the “slippery slope”: it is so easy to start the fall and ONLY God can keep you from falling.
Second that you must have both an intellectual commitment to God, but also an emotional commitment to God. What is the opposite of FEAR? I’ll let you ponder that yourself for now. What is going to balance the FEAR imposed in this sermon?
Thirdly, he addresses the audience with lakes of fire and brimstone. The seat of hell. There are no degrees of sinners, but ALL sins and all sinners will feel the full wrath of God.
There are ten aspect to Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God: these are just a few of them:
- The wicked will fall at any moment into and deserve to be cast into hell
- Sinners suffer now the torments of hell on earth
- Satan is ready to snatch the sinner up as soon as God drops them
- Don’t feel secure—you will die, possibly at any moment
- You are not safe from God’s wrath and God never promised to save us from hell
“The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked.” Yikes. Talk abut fire and brimstone.
Fear and Anger. Even God is angry and full of emotion in the sermon.
Only at the end to we find any redemption. Christ. That’s the only way of redemption from this fire and brimstone. And Edwards wants his audience to accept that NOW while emotions still strong. He doesn’t want to lose his flock of, uh, spiders. He wants them to commit immediately to his church and his God.
We’ve changed. Quite a bit. When was the last time you made a good decision based on emotion?
Time passes. World War 1.
World War 2. All the atrocities are piling up and piling up and piling up. There is an extreme shift and suddenly the question is:
Where is God? Where is God?
God was always in heaven. On high. Watching. No one asked before: where is God? Now, there’s a sudden instability. Many clung desperately to home and the stability of a church. But the question had arrived and could not be stopped: Where is God?
War. Atrocities. TV…the visuals of what was happening. It seemed like the world was falling apart. Emotions were unstable, people felt unworthy, nobody felt safe, nothing seemed secure…
It felt like we were sinners hanging off the end of the spider’s thread in the hands of an angry God. Suffering that hell on earth that Edwards speaks of, but we couldn’t look at the world falling apart and believe that we deserved this or that God could allow it to happen to children, elderly, the innocent, the devoted, the pure…
Where is God? Some said God was dead. Others clung desperately to religion with such a fear of letting go that they stopped listening and stopped connecting.
The “Dones” and the “Nones” will begin to arrive.
And awful things keep happening. The question used to be why did God let this happen or what is God trying to teach us. We are still asking: where is God? I’m sure we can all come up with our own examples of horrid events that we wondered: where is God?
The surprising answer? God is with us. God is with us. God is with the heroes and the victims. God is even with the “bad guys”. God and Grace is with us. Not “On high”. People feel God is with us. We feel the presence of God directly in their lives and hearts.
Where do you find God?
- Passages of the Bible (God is whispering answers)
- Christ walking with you (footprints)
God with us. If God and Grace is with us, then we must do God’s/good work and make spaces of heaven here on Earth. Sacred spaces to be safe and connected. The opposite of Fear is Connection/Joy. If God is with us, we have a part to play in creating a world that serves God.
In a world where we feel unstable, anxious, fearful, God, the Divine, Grounds Us.
Offers us diverse paths to God: High, within, beside, interaction, all of it? All of it. Where do you find God and Grace?
We can be open to God’s Grace in all the diverse ways. Holding space for one another to explore and knowing that each of us is different and needs something different. God seems to be holding space for us in a diversity of ways. How do we hold space for one another?
What if God isn’t the hand holding the spider over a pit of fire and brimstone, but what if God is the web itself? Holding us, sustaining us, as we each keep together our place on the web. Cultivating goodness and kindness, like dewdrops shining in the morning sunlight reflecting back God’s love toward one another? The web connecting us with Grace. What if God is the net beneath us, catching us, supporting us.
To quote Diana Butler Bass: “God is not above or beyond, but integral to the whole of creation. Entwined with the sacred ecology of the universe.”
God is the world. Within. Without. Above. Below. Beside.