Sermon Post: Wild Things

“Preached at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Epiphany this last weekend. Went in with one sermon, but ended up doing this one…

Our ancient mothers and fathers conceived of God as being a bit wild.  Why do you think the angels always open with the words, “Fear not!”? We’ve domesticated God, equating God with Santa Clause, the giver of gifts and tally-taker of who is on the nice and naughty list.  But God’s encounter with Moses was not the red of a flannel suit and rosy cheeks, but a bush on wild-fire, defying physics and tantalizing the imagination.

We’ve domesticated Jesus, pretending he votes our values (or we vote his), putting him in stark white robes so that he looks like the pastor we’ve always dreamed of (with considerably more hair).  But perhaps Jesus is more John the Baptist than John Smith.

We’ve domesticated the Holy Spirit, relegating her to a peaceful dove who gently alights upon shoulders and inspires beautiful paintings.  But maybe the Holy Spirit is more gadfly than dove, aggravating more often than alighting.  For this example, I appreciate my Celtic ancestry.  They referred to the Holy Spirit as “Ah Gaedh-Glas” or “The Wild Goose,” sending the Celts on a wild goose chase, literally, as they sought out the Spirit to inform their lives.

And if God is wild, then the kingdom of God is wild.”

On Melding

On December 5th the church honors an interesting Saint who sought to incorporate some pagan practices into the Christian faith and life (and, for that alone, he has my admiration): St. Clement of Alexandria, Priest and Scholar.

St. Clement of Alexandria (not to be confused with the Clement of Rome or any of the other many Clements of the ancient world) was a Greek philosopher born in the middle of the Second Century. He found himself making a home in Alexandria, the center of scholarship in the ancient world, and he headed up a school there that would eventually teach catechumenates about the faith.

St. Clement is noteworthy because he was a seeker of truth, and though a professed Christian he honored the truths and practices that other religious paths offered. He defended the faith in the midst of both his pagan friends and his Christian friends, trusting that melding certain practices was not only necessary, but good and human.

He believed that many of the ancient texts the church was using were wonderfully allegorical and applicable to life, and in this way he expanded the reach of the church in philosophical circles. Origen, the greatest biblical scholar of the early church, was his pupil.

His writings are some of the first systematics documents for the church.

St. Clement is a reminder for me, and should be for the church, that “purity” is a fiction we cannot afford in the world when it comes to practices, dogmas, and doctrines. It is appropriate that we honor St. Clement of Alexandria in the Advent-Christmas season because this time of year, in particular, is a beautiful bouquet of melded practices for humanity.

We need not run from this truth or try in vain to defend that it is not so. We must embrace it, revel in its particular beauties, and be at peace.