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First Parish Universalist Church
790 Washington Street, P. O. Box 284, Stoughton, Massachusetts 02072 
(781) 344-6800
Worship: 10:30 AM
Church School: 10:45 AM
 

Does God Believe in You?

Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz, October 4, 2009


            During a naval exercise in the north Atlantic, a new Ensign goes to the bridge of the ship and announces to the Captain: “Captain, I have a message from the Admiral. I’ll take it immediately to decoding.”

             

            To which the Captain replies, “No need to do that. Just read it to me.”

             

            But the Ensign says, “I’m sorry, sir, but I really think it needs to be decoded.”

             

            The Captain is getting a little impatient by now; he raises his voice, and says, “Ensign, just read the Admiral’s message, and that’s an order.”

             

            So, as ordered, the Ensign reads the message from the Admiral: “Captain, what you just did was the damned stupidest naval maneuver I’ve seen in my 40 years on the sea. Signed, the Admiral.”

             

            Whereupon the Captain replies, “You’re right, Ensign. Take that message to decoding immediately!”

             

            That’s the way we might feel sometimes when other people use a simple three-letter word, like, “God”.  Everyone else seems to know what they mean, but for some of us, things get a little more complicated. Someone might ask us, “Do you believe in God?” and we think the message seems to be saying something more than it appears to.

             

            It seems like such an obvious question to most people—“Do you believe in God?”-- and one with such an obvious answer, to many people at least. According to Mr. Gallup, when asked that question, something over 99% of Americans answer in the affirmative. Yes, they say, of course they believe in God. Doesn’t everyone? But I would bet that that answer doesn’t come quite as easily for most of us.

             

            “Do you believe in God?” For some of us, that’s a question which seems to yearn for clarification at the very moment it leaves the asker’s tongue.  Which god is it that we’re being asked if we believe in?

             

            If someone were to ask me if I believed in the powers of the ancient Roman and Greek gods and goddesses, I’d have to say, no. Metaphorical powers, perhaps-- but actual supernatural powers? No, I don’t think so...

             

            If someone were to ask me if I believed in the vain and vindictive tyrant God that seems, at times, to dominate so much of our Western religious tradition—that keeps score as to whether we’ve done this or that right or wrong; that sees us when we’re sleeping, that knows when we’re awake, and that seems poised to push the button on the switch that’s going to open the trap door, and send us straight to hell--  I’d answer even more quickly-- “Absolutely not!” (Such an idea of God is a complete blasphemy to me.)

             

            I’ve read somewhere of a cult which believes that John F. Kennedy was the messiah, and that after his assassination, he was assumed into heaven, and is now a god. Do I believe in the “god” of the Kennedy Worshippers? No, good Democrat that I am, I don’t…

             

            When we are asked by someone “Do you believe in God?” then it seems to me, that as people who are serious about our religious beliefs, we are obligated to answer the question with a question: “Which God are you asking me if I believe in?”

             

            From earliest times, our ancient ancestors have felt the need to believe in some kind of Ultimate Reality, some kind of eternal life force, a Ground of Being, sustaining and upholding all creation. Every culture, every civilization, has affirmed the existence of this Ultimate Reality-- and yet, has given it different attributes, different characteristics, and different names. We have brought so many different names to this ultimate question.  From time immemorial, we human ones have tried to articulate our own view of Ultimate Reality-- and how our human reality interacts with the Ultimate. In our own civilization, the most common name given to this Ultimate Reality has been, of course, “God”.

             

            But it’s just not possible to list everything that people in our own day mean when they use the word “God”. I sympathize with people who say that “God” has become a meaningless term to them-- a kind of catchall for every sort of theological notion, good, bad, or indifferent.

             

            Spurning the use of the word “God” is relatively easy, for those who are brave enough to do it. The very word has become so cluttered. Getting rid of the word is easy. But getting rid of God itself— the reality that lies beneath the word-- that’s different, and not so helpful, it seems to me.  

             

            Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, anchors his understanding of the word “God” in his mystical awareness of connection.

             

            He writes: “In my best, most alive moments-- in my mystical moments-- I have a profound sense of belonging. At these moments I am aware of being truly at home in this universe. There is no longer any doubt in my mind that I belong to this Earth Household, in which each member belongs to all others-- bug to beavers, black-eyed Susans to black holes, quarks to quails, lightning to fireflies, humans to hyenas. To say yes to this limitless mutual belonging is love. When I speak of God, I mean this kind of love, this great yes to belonging.”

             

            And, Brother David concludes, “How does God speak [to us]? ... in five languages: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. All the rest is interpretation.”

            We want to feel a solid foundation under our feet as we walk through our days upon the earth. We want a sense of security. I think we yearn for something more than an intellectual understanding of the atomic and molecular structures that make up life. We want to feel connected to them—part of them-- on an even deeper level. We don’t want just to know that the universe is vast and infinite; we want to feel that the universe cares about us, that the Creation is a friendly place, and that the Creator, somehow, believes in us. Often, I think, what we are yearning for is what the theologian Henry Nelson Wieman called a sense of “intimacy with the absolute”. But where can this sense come from?

             

            The noted inventor Buckminster Fuller once tried explaining to an interviewer the deep sense he had that the true source of his own creativity and genius lay somehow beyond himself; that it came to him, somehow, from a deeper place in the universe, and that he was just the vessel through which this creativity flowed. The interviewer then asked Fuller, “Well then, how do you get in touch with the universe?” To which Fuller replied, very directly, “[To get in touch with the universe] You must first get on the same frequency.”

             

            Fuller’s comments reminded me, of all things, of one of the characters in the “Bloom Country” comic strip. This character was named Banana 9000, Jr., and he was a personal computer with legs. One day, all of a sudden, Banana began to speak. He was very pleased with himself, indeed. “I think, therefore I am,” he declared. “I AM!”. As he got more and more excited, he started to dance around the office. “I think! Therefore I am alive! Alive with life and thought and mind! Sweet consciousness! And immortal soul!”

             

            But as Banana says these words-- “And immortal soul!”-- he jumps up, and accidentally pulls his plug out of its outlet. He falls to the ground, no longer thinking or feeling or experiencing, no longer alive.

             

            I don’t know about you, but I feel like that computer sometimes. I think. I feel. I ponder the great questions of life. But unless I am “plugged in” to the Source of Life-- unless I am “in sync” with the ongoing processes of all creation—unless I acknowledge my reliance on some Greater Power in whom I live and move and have my being, that gets me through the day-- then life overwhelms me at times, and my strength falters, and my creativity wanes.

             

            But the difference between us and Banana 9000 is that we don’t have just one plug connecting us to our life source. We have hundreds-- thousands-- of connections, all tying us in with the Source of Life. The stronger those connections-- the better we discern those five great natural languages-- sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste-- the deeper our connection to life will be.

             

            It is important for us human ones to speculate on whether God exists or not. We’re wired, inside, to do that. Like those who came before us, we are made to stretch our minds and ponder the great unknowables about life. But I don’t know if we’ll ever know the answer to that Great Question, with absolute certainty.

             

            But we know that we exist; we know that we are part of this creation.

             

            We need a new picture of who we are, as physical beings, and as spiritual ones. We’re not isolated creatures, all alone in the universe. We are integral parts of a great creation beyond ourselves-- joined with all others in the great dance of life. That’s not just religion; that’s science.

             

            Each one of us stands at the confluence of a whole myriad of relationships between ourselves and that which is beyond ourselves-- family, community, state, nation, world… To deepen and enrich our lives, we need to take the time to turn in to the frequencies of each of these levels of relationship. I think that it is our belief in a Higher Power-- our reliance on a Higher Power-- our relationship to a Higher Power-- that helps us “tune in” on the universal frequency which serves as the ground and support of all the others.

             

            In his biographical work, For The Inward Journey, Howard Thurman writes of his early years growing up on the east coast of Florida:

             

            “[One night] ...I walked along the beach of the Atlantic in the quiet stillness,” he writes. “I held my breath against the night and watched the stars etch their brightness on the face of the darkened canopy of the heavens. I had the sense that all things, the sand, the sea, the night and I, were one lung through which all of life breathed.”

             

            Thurman’s words are echoed in those of the poet Robert Penn Warren:

             

All will be in vain unless...
...you can, motionless,
standing there,
Breathe with the rhythm of the stars.
You cannot, of course , see your own face, but you
know that it,
Lifted, is stripped to the bone by starlight.
This is happening.
This is happiness.

 

            All will be in vain unless we learn to breathe with the rhythm of the stars. All will be in vain unless we know more of ourselves than our little selves; till we know our deeper connection with all life.

             

            We human beings are made of the stuff of stars. But in our humanness, we are also creatures whom the night surrounds. We are, all of us, to one degree or another, broken and lonely and despairing. There is a tragic dimension to our human be-ing, which only a blind man or a fool can choose to ignore.

             

            It is only in our sense of connectedness and interconnectedness-- with one another-- with all that is-- that our broken places can be joined again, that we can heal, and that our despair can be transcended.

             

            On the most fundamental level, and on the simplest, we are part of an interdependent web of all existence. We are part of the stars. We are part of each other. We are part of all that we have met. Even as we sit here in this room this morning, we have exchanged water vapor, the breath of life, with one another (so we give one another our colds along with our wisdom, I’m afraid).

             

            As Matthew Fox reminds us:

             

            “This is interdependence. To take a deep breath is to breathe in some of the breath that Jesus breathed on the cross-- so we are assured by [physicists]... Every square mile of soil on our earth contains particles from every other square mile of soil on the earth. So we are assured by [biologists].”

             

            This is the call to connection, which we must answer, all of our days, and in all of our relationships:

             

            We are one. And we can be here for one another. We are connected to each other in ways we can’t even imagine.

             

            As that sweet singer Jewel reminds us:

             

My hands are small I know
But they're not yours, they are my own
But they're not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken
We are never broken
We are God's eyes
God's hands
God's mind...

 

And:

 

In the end only kindness matters...

 

            We are where the powers of compassion and caring in the universe ultimately come alive.

             

            Does God believe in us? Only if we believe in one another.

             

 


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