A New Year, A New Sermon Series

2010 has kicked off and things have changed for me a bit (again) at Alum Creek. Effective the first of the year, I am back to being the only paid minister on staff. For about a year and a half I have been working alongside Anthony Whitley and have been greatly blessed in that relationship. I will miss working beside him for sure. Fortunately, he’s not going anywhere, but his work responsibilities have made his position at Alum Creek impossible.

So . . . as I press on into a new year, full of possibilities and new challenges and all that, I have worked towards a new sermon series that I kicked off this past week. I wrestled with whether or not this series would best fit into a sermon setting, but have been encouraged by ministry peers that it is very much the kinds of things we should be talking about in our gatherings on Sundays.

In 2009, I greatly benefited from having the year’s worth of Sunday morning foci already determined and in the same way I have set the themes for this year. I am excited to kick off this year with a series that I know will be a challenge for many. The series is entitled “Deconstructing Theology: Unlearning the rules to church.” I wasn’t crazy about using the word “deconstructing” because I figure that isn’t really helpful to a lot of folks and to others it brings to mind connotations that aren’t helpful. However, in the end, I felt as though it was accurate enough. I hope it brings to mind thoughts of building construction more than esoteric philosophical presuppositions.

In any case, I feel as though I’m shooting the moon a bit, but the risk, I think, is worth taking. When we’re all done with this series, I hope that our folks have though through their beliefs a little more critically. I hope that we can approach each other with a little more humility when it comes to our beliefs and that we’ll be quicker to listen instead of incessantly talking. I hope that we will allow for more diversity of thought, but also praxis as a group of Christians. Maybe it will be helpful, maybe it won’t. You can help be the judge. I will try to post each one here in text format and, if you’re really bored, you can listen to the sermon in the sidebar of my blog. I trodding on a bit of new ground and would appreciate comments from anyone as to your reactions to this material – helpful of blasphemous? Here’s installment #1 (a bit more choppy than usual as I was preparing this over the holiday in various places and then crammed a bit Saturday night):

Deconstructing Theology #1

Alum Creek – Jan. 3, 2010

Under Construction: Honestly Confronting our Belief Structure

What if you’re wrong? Is there a more challenging or difficult question to ask yourself that that one? What if you’re wrong? And I’m not talking about what if you picked out the wrong movie to watch or blouse to buy or football team in your bowl selection pool. I mean, what if you’re wrong about the really important stuff? What if you’re wrong about everything? Now . . . of course, we all know that you’re not . . . but what if you are? Everything . . .

This morning we set out on a new series of lessons that will span the next eight weeks. Those of you hungry and thirsty for something deeper, something more challenging – here you go. I guarantee you’ll be challenged . . . .or double your money back. I guarantee that at times you’ll disagree with some of what you’ll hear said . . . and I hope to prove to you that that is good and downright healthy to hear things you disagree with. I guarantee you’ll think about things you’ve never thought about before – and hopefully longer and harder.

For those of you not so excited about the deeper things, I also share with you a challenge . . . hang in there, take a chance, work to grow. If all you ever hear only affirms what you already believe, then you will never grow.

Over the next several weeks we’re going to dabble into the deep waters of philosophy, theology, and reason. It’ll be a fun journey that I’m sure some of you will enjoy . . . and, I’m equally sure, some of you won’t. In either case, hang in there with us as we hit the ground running this morning by asking two very challenging and introspective questions:

  • What if you’re wrong?
  • How do you know what you know?

We begin with the first question . . . What if you’re wrong.

Galileo came into a time in the world when you didn’t have to ask that question, “What if you’re wrong.” In many ways it was a freeing time because you didn’t have to worry about being right – the church told you what was right and you just had to fall in line with them. The church had final say in all things scientific. The answers were already given for you.

And in this world where the church had the final say . . . and the church had all the answers . . . Galileo is led to a very scary place. The Bible, as he knew it, was wrong. He actually began as a theology student, later turning his attention to science, but always maintained a prominent place for faith. He gave his daughter to be a nun in the Catholic Church. His path of discovery was not one of rebellion . . His path of discovery was one riddled with challenges, humility, and obstacles.

The Bible, he was told by church scholars, teaches that the universe revolves around the earth. Copernicus, however, had proposed that perhaps the sun is at the center of the universe and the entire cosmos revolves around the sun. It’s more than obvious to us now, but in Galileo’s time, this was hippie, way out there stuff. It was more than some way out there wacky idea, it was downright heresy – blatantly against the teaching of the church.

This was no simple bullet point for the church’s teaching on astronomy – this was foundational to all their belief structure. It wasn’t simply their basis for space mobiles that hung in church offices, it was the substance of their philosophy stemming from Aristotle. To challenge this belief of the church wasn’t to challenge their science textbooks . . . it was to challenge everything they knew to be true. And, as you know, this led to a great deal of trouble for Galileo. We don’t have time to get into all of the intricacies of the church’s relationship with Galileo, but suffice to say, Galileo, wasn’t completely reconciled to the Catholic Church until 1992 when Pope John Paul II issued a declaration expressing regret how the situation with Galileo was handled. Perhaps it’s been awhile since you’ve had a history class and you’re following all the way here. Galileo died in 1642. That’s right, it took the church 350 years to acknowledge that they had been wrong. Turns out the church doesn’t like being wrong any more than the rest of us.

What if you’re wrong? Galileo asked an entire generation of the world’s population to ask themselves that question.

What if you’re wrong is the question that is at the heart of all that faces people as they consider the Gospel. In Romans 12, Paul asks us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. What exactly does it mean to renew our minds? To be transformed? Changed. To begin to think differently. Differently than what? Different than we used to? Different than other people do? Transformation is an ongoing process. We never arrive. We never circle the wagons around what we believe and put down stakes and say . . . we’ve done it. “What if we’re wrong?”i s a question we must ask of ourselves constantly. It’s at the heart of transformation.

“What if I’m wrong” is a question full of humility. “What if I’m wrong” is a beginning point. It’s a conversation starter. It’s a relationship starter.

In considering this question, we’re faced with a question that is a bit of a prerequisite to the other: “How do I know what I know?” How do you think? In philosophy, this is called “epistemology.” Big fancy word, but basically it asks the all-important-question: How do you know the things you know? We spend a lot of time talking about the things we know, but seldom do we consider how we know them. In this series we’re going to do some thinking about thinking. Think about that.

I’m guessing this beginning conversation isn’t connecting with several of you. You’re out there thinking, what in the world does this have to do with anything. Just give us some Bible. But, you see, that’s just it . . . I can’t give you just the Bible. I can give you my understanding of it. I can give you my perspective of it. And even if I could give you just the Bible, you couldn’t receive it as such. You could only receive it through your experiences and your perspectives. Through your glasses. A lot of you may want to rush out and argue away the implications of this. “We can’t believe this or else . . .” and off we go drawing a million different conclusions. Let’s stay away from the implications and think through this. Let’s see it for what it is. I want to work through a passage this morning and instead of really camping out on the meaning, let’s explore the way in which we perceive the meaning of this text.

Read 1Timothy 2: 6 – 10.

Now this is one of the more peculiar passages in the New Testament. We don’t have time to go around and ask each one of you for an interpretation of this passage, and we’re not really going to concern ourselves with the meaning of the text as much as we’re going to consider how we would go about determining the meaning. Consider the many aspects that impact the way we are going to “know the things we know.”

  • Gender
    • Do you think that men and women are going to read this text the same way? It doesn’t concern men, for the first point, so I wouldn’t imagine they would be quite as interested in it as a woman would be. This is just me, but I know that I’m going to read through here and when it says “for men” I’m really going to pay attention, but when it begins, “I want women” . . . I’m just not as tuned in. It doesn’t affect me. Whenever there are generalizations made, “All women . . . all men . . .” we tend to really pick up our ears to what’s being said. Why is this? Because it is true? Or . . . perhaps whether we are male or female determines a great deal of how we know what we know.
  • Tradition
    • What have you been taught this passage means? Should you dress up to come to church? Should you not draw attention to you? What did your parents teach you? What did your Bible school teachers and preachers teach you about this text? What we have learned from others forms a great deal of how we know what we know.
    • Perhaps you’ve heard the old preacher story about the woman who was teaching her daughter how to prepare the Christmas ham. The first step, she instructed her daughter, was to cut two inches off the ham, before placing it in the pan. “Why do you cut two inches off the ham, Mom,” the daughter asked. The mother had never thought to ask the question, and didn’t know the answer. “My mother always cut two inches off.” She called her mom and asked her the same question, “Mom, why do you always cut two inches off the ham before you cook it.” My mother always did, she instructed. Fortunately, her mother was still alive in a nursing home, and she called her up to ask her. “Mother, why did you cut the two inches off the ham before cooking it?” Because the pan was too small!
    • The story could have just as easily ended by the grandmother telling the granddaughter that she cut the two inches off the ham and brought it to their neighbor who was in need (a more valiant reason than the other) but the point is . . . . if we don’t know that reason, we live in ignorance and do not avoid fulfillment.
    • Sometimes, the traditions we get passed down to us aren’t as clear as we may suspect them to be. We sometimes are passed down things in the name of what’s “true” or what is “truth” and not realize they are simply part of tradition.
  • Education
    • Consider how differently an ultra-liberally trained woman on the West coast would read this passage compared to a man raised in a super-traditional, woman does the women things around the house person would. What about someone educated in ancient near eastern culture? What about someone who didn’t graduate college? High school? Middle school? Think about how differently someone who was trained in school in China versus Western Europe versus the United States versus Africa would understand this passage. Our education background is going to have a great impact on how we know what we know.
  • Unending other options . . .
    • Personality
    • Think of the ways that our personalities so dictate the way we view the world and the way we understand things.
    • Family background
      • What ethnicity are you?
      • Where were you raised?
        • In the city
        • In the country
        • In poverty
        • In wealth
      • Birth order
      • Parenting style you received?
        • Did you get spanked?
        • Did you get abused?
        • Did your parents send you to Time out?
        • Were your parents good and loving?
        • Were your parents neglecting and hateful?

We’re foolish if we think that these unique situations and realities do not impacdt the way that we understand the world around us. As we set out to consider how we know the things we know, we have to realize that a great deal of the way we see the world is set for us. I would liken it to body shape. You can work out all you want to, eat healthy, take care of yourself . . . and in all settings you’ll be better off than if you hadn’t done these things. But, none of these things is any more powerful than your genes.

We must come to terms with the fact that setting out to find the “truth” is going to be a tall order. We must realize, first and foremost, that truth its elusive, perhaps even impossible to find. In acknowledging this, we affirm that the pursuit of truth must be accompanied by humility. No one has a corner on truth. We should never become static in our approach to finding truth – as if we have it all settled. Instead, we should be slow to speak, and quick to listen. And once in awhile, someone is going to come along and challenge our understanding of truth. Someone will come along and force us to ask that incredibly difficult question, “What if I’m wrong? What if I’m all wrong?”

Isn’t it interesting that it was the church that stood in Galileo’s way of revolution? Are we naïve enough to believe that we would be on his side? All of us think that we would be Galileo, but Galileo stood largely alone. The next several weeks we’re diving into the deep end, but, I promise you, you won’t drown. We’ll need to hang onto the walls for awhile, but, give it some time, and it will be an incredible feeling once you push off the wall and take a swim.


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