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Good morning church, one of today’s lectionary passages is the creation story from Genesis 1:1 to 2:4. This is a familiar passage to most of us and serves as a lead in to introduce god into his/her relation to the first human kind.
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.
5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.”
7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so.
8 God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so.
10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so.
12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years,
15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so.
16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth,
18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good.
19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.
20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.”
21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”
23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.
24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so.
25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.
30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
2.1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.
3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
This is quite a straightforward passage and it is quite often used as an example in the teaching of different writing styles that the bible contains in the interpretation of the bible. The bible may be written as a historical narrative, as laws, as poetry and prophecy, in parables and so on. Some of us may read this passage literally, some of us may take it as a metaphor and some of us may dissect through everything and point out the inconsistencies in this passage verses the actual scientific evidence on how earth and everything on it could actually come into existence and debunk this passage as nothing but a myth.
Reading the bible is not just knowing what it says, but what does it evoke in all of us? Is there a sense of awe when we read this passage to feel what the author is trying to tell us about god and god’s creative might? Do we have a sense that each of us is part of this continuing creation story, and god still has a hand in our lives?
What does it mean to be a Christian?
The thought of what being a Christian means has been on my mind lately. Why did it come about was because of the proverbial question: what is the purpose of it all? All the things that have been happening in the world have made me feel very helpless. The senseless violence and taking of innocent lives, the increasingly protectionist sentiments that countries are adopting, the need for barricading up Hong Lim park for pink dot just to ensure that no foreigners can take part, and the complaints lodged about the pink dot advertisement in Cineleisure. Life goes on as usual for me as the world around continues in its struggle and chaos. Please do not be mistaken that I am not thankful for the life that I am living, I am aware that I am so fortunate compared to many out there, with a roof over my head, a job that pays for meals and other living expenses, and relative peaceful country that I am residing in. Many of us here do have it good in life. But my question to myself is whether I am a Christian or not, would my life be so different from how I am living it now? Would yours be any different?
What does it mean to be a Christian? Is a Christian a person that proclaims his/her belief in Jesus Christ as their saviour? Or one that attends church and participate in some kind of church activities? Must a Christian read the bible and pray? Do Christians need to believe in the afterlife, that there is a heaven and hell (whatever impression these two words connotes in your mind). Are we as Christians determined by how we approach the bible and how we practice our faith to ensure that our actions in life reflect our faith? If one believes in Christ but choose not to be follower of his teachings, can he/she still be called a Christian? Is a Christian supposed to trust in the goodness of god and that no matter what happens, it is all in god’s plan? Somehow this is getting difficult to believe given how 2017 has been panning out. So far Do you know what defines you as a Christian?
If you define being a Christian as having most or all of the above qualities, I have to admit that I probably failed miserably. Most of what we define as being a Christian is has been shaped by the teachings of the churches where we were first exposed to Christianity. And along the way, the definition changes as our understanding of god and the bible changes, and as we grow in knowledge and with our life experiences.
Christianity and FCC
If you have not grown up in other churches before coming to FCC, then this is the place where your idea of Christianity is being moulded. So what does FCC teach about Christianity? That each of us is a beloved child of god worthy to be loved regardless race, gender, social and economic status, sexual identity and so on. This is emphasised by the open communion that we partake of each Sunday. How many of us do feel this love and acceptance when you step into this place? As a church of around 100 plus people, it is supposed to be easy for us to get to know each other and build up relationships. Yet, if I ask all of us to look around, do we even say hi to 50% of the people here (not counting those who are serving in the welcome team) on a Sunday morning?
What sort of Christian god does FCC preached about, quite often the loving, generous and forgiving fatherly figure portrayed in the parable of the prodigal son. Sometimes it is the god of wrath and justice that punishes the evil doers and those that do not follow his commands. Depending on the person standing up here sharing, sometimes god and Jesus is never mentioned, but implied in the sermons. Of course one does not have to pepper the sermon with god and Jesus to make it Christian sermon, is there even such a thing as a Christian sermon? If not, what makes the teachings in church different from those which are shared in the mosques and the temples? Does it matter? Obviously it does as FCC is often said to be not providing enough spiritual food for our congregation that they have to attend other churches for their spiritual growth.
We also preach about what kind of Christianity and what kind of church are we called to be, to fight for the marginalised, to do social justice, to be the light and salt of the earth. Have we been or done any of these? Maybe a little here and there, but is it enough? And if things have not changed for you, for me, for us in the last how many years, do we still hold on to the hope that change would come? The scary thing to me is that if I stepped out of this place on a Sunday, and I find my life more impacted by my social interaction with people than the entire service itself. Sometimes I wonder how does our name fits us? We have the FREE (First Realise Everyone’s Equal), we have the Community (group of people). Yes, we may have all the elements of what a church service is to be like, but are we truly a church? Would the two words Free Community suffice to describe who we are? Or maybe we can call ourselves the Free Community Club and our attendance will probably be boosted in no time.
Some of you may know that we have been the subject of an investigation on the proper use of this space due to a complaint from an unknown source, and we are currently in the process of appealing and waiting for an outcome. If this place closes its door, would it make a difference to you? This is the wake up call to all of us, whether we are siting in the congregation, or serving in various ministries, for the board and for the pastors. Some of us may be able to walk out of here and easily find another community to join with; but this may be the only place that some of us can call home. So what does FCC mean to you?
In preparing this sermon, the lives of two persons struck me. The first is Bart Campolo, son of famous evangelist Tony Campolo, who became an atheist at the age of 51. It was not an overnight process, but in his own words: “I passed just about every stage of heresy on my way to apostasy,” Bart said. “It wasn’t until I exhausted every option for staying a Christian that I gave it up.” Apostacy is defined as the abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief or principle.
He says he was drawn to Christianity by the sense of community and the common commitment to love people, promote justice, and transform the world. “All the dogma and the death and resurrection of Jesus stuff was not the attraction,” Bart said.
While he was doing inner-city ministry near Philadelphia, Bart encountered a girl who had been gang-raped at age 9 and who rejected Christianity after her Sunday school teacher said God could have stopped the act but allowed it for a reason. Bart decided that if he was going to remain a Christian, he had to believe that God did not authorize that child’s rape and was not in control of the world. He no longer believes in God’s sovereignty.
The next rejection occurred as a student at Haverford College in 1981, when two of Bart’s roommates came out to him as gay. Though evangelical Christian teachings repudiated same-sex orientation at the time, he chose instead to jettison the biblical verses that spoke negatively of homosexuality. “I decided I was going to make room for gay people in my theology, and I became very open about the fact that I would ignore certain Bible verses and underline others,” he said. He cannot take the authority of the bible as his core belief.
Last but not least, he simply couldn’t fathom a God who would condemn his nonbelieving friends to hell for eternity. “I was only interested in a God who would save everybody,” Bart said. “It didn’t matter that the Bible had some verses that said something different.” There is no one and only way to salvation.
Once he was unable to convince himself the above three core tenets in Christianity, Bart Campolo can no longer consider himself a Christian. In a way, it was like he was “coming out”, but instead of being about sexuality, it is about his faith. His father’s heart was broken when Bart said that he no longer believes. Today, Bart Campolo serves as the humanist chaplain at the University of Southern California. While his new community is neither orthodox nor theistic, he believes it will still be a place of hope. Bart said he wants to create a humanist community that Christian people can celebrate — what he calls “a church for people who don’t believe in God.” He wants to curate experiences with inspirational talks, uplifting music, service opportunities, and perhaps even potluck suppers.
(All the above is taken/paraphrased from his interview with Jonathan Merritt published on October 6, 2014 by the Religious News Service)
The second person is Gretta Vosper, an atheist minister of the United Church of Canada in West Hill. “I do not believe in a theistic, supernatural being called God, I don’t believe in what I think 99.99% of the world thinks you mean when you use that word.” For her, God is instead a metaphor for goodness and a life lived with compassion and justice. One of the congregant chose to attend her church because it is the same sort of church she had been raised in, without the burden of belief. “It’s like that sense of community without the barriers”. Is this taking the easy way out?
A review committee in 2016 has recommended that she be defrocked as the minister as she is not suitable to continue in ordained ministry because she does not believe in God, Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit. Regardless of all the good that she has been preaching and that she has the support of her congregation. The final outcome on Gretta Vosper will be decided on by end of the year.
Is this how Christianity will evolve (and have to evolve?), or has this been taken too far and lines have been crossed?
Some of our faith journey may mirror what these two people have gone through, and some of us will never walk along this path. We each have our own road to walk, whether you are a young Christian of several months to a few years, or one who has walked this path for a decade or more. My challenge to all of us is to look at our lives;
As individuals: How does our Christian faith actually make us different? What were we like pre-Christ, what are we like in Christ, and is there a path for some of us post Christ.
As a community: how do we make an impact on each other and on the society. Who will we attract and who will we repulse with what we are and what we do as a church? Who among us will walk out of these doors and carry on to make a difference, and who will be rinsing and repeating their lives days after days and wonder where has the time flown by.
May each of the small difference that we make, may be magnified in the big difference that we can make together.