Generous Orthodoxy: Creating a Faith Foundation 10-2-16

From our assigned reading this morning is from 2 Timothy. In this letter, Paul is writing to his student and follower Timothy, recommending to him that he follow in faith the path of his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice.  For the next few weeks, I want to talk about a model of faith as “Generous Orthodoxy.” I think our grandmothers are often models of such a faith.

2 Timothy 1: 1-14 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, 2 To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. 3 I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. 6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7 for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. 8 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to God’s own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

October 2, 2016

Generous Orthodoxy: Creating a Faith Foundation

My grandmother Tatgenhorst always sat in the same spot in my church growing up. That pew was hers, like those folks who used to purchase their place. She had a stroke and was not able to speak more than a few words as long as I knew her, but she was still able to impart to me a sense of what she valued and what she didn’t.

She valued family. On alternating Sundays, she and my grandfather would take me or my brother to the restaurant across the street from the church for lunch. I loved their corn fritters. To this day I’ve never tasted any better. Little did I know that the time with them was more precious. She valued honesty, directness, & tradition. She was a no-nonsense person who let you know when you crossed a line. When I came home from college with my hair long, she shook her head and said, “no, no, no,no!”

And she valued her faith. She brought her son up in the United Methodist Church, and she expected everyone to be there on Sunday. She couldn’t express any complicated theology or views about God, but I had no doubt that her faith was orthodox United Methodist, if there was such a thing. “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.”

I think of her from time to time as I preach and create worship, knowing that the different things we try would make her shake her head and say “no, no, no.” And though our church is really different than the one in which I grew up, I have to admit that the relationship with my ancestors in faith matters to me. I love studying and thinking about theology, partly because of the way I am in relationship with my forbears.

Paul in this letter to Timothy says, “I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.”

That is so interesting how Paul invokes his ancestors – who were obviously orthodox Jewish. Though his path was changing and evolving, he did not feel a sense of discontinuity with those ancestors. Rather, he was living out what I’m calling in this sermon series, a “generous orthodoxy.”

Orthodoxy means literally, ‘right opinion’ or maybe we think of it as ‘correct doctrine.” Generous orthodoxy sounds like a contradiction in terms, but it is an appreciation of right opinion, with some room for compassion. I heard the phrase ‘generous orthodoxy’ this summer as the title to a Malcolm Gladwell podcast about a faithful and traditional old Mennonite pastor who decided to bless the relationship of a gay congregant. He saw it as being totally faithful to his belief and tradition, but his denomination did not. He knew, of course, that he was engaging in a generous interpretation of his faith, but when they defrocked him at age 91, he did not feel any less Mennonite. He felt thoroughly rooted in his faith belief & tradition.

This sermon series is also and more primarily inspired by devotional readings I’ve been receiving each day by e-mail from Father Richard Rohr of New Mexico. For the last three weeks he has been writing about the Trinity and the importance of a kind of generous orthodoxy in understanding this basic doctrine of our faith – the Trinity.

Father Rohr says, “If you draw close to someone who is in a violent or fearful state, you will likely discover that his or her operative image of God (usually largely unconscious) is inadequate, distorted, or even toxic. That’s why good theology is still important.”

Good theology is still important. I don’t necessarily think that believing in the Trinity is the only good theology. But understanding the Trinity through generous orthodoxy is good theology. Next week, I will tell you about some of my journey of doubt and belief in this doctrine, which is never explicitly outlined in the Bible, but has become core to Christian theology. Reading little snippets of Richard Rohr over the last few weeks has reminded me and convinced me of how important the idea is in my own understanding of God and in my ministry.

I offer you this prayer from Richard Rohr as a prelude and summary:

God for us, we call you “Creator.”

God alongside us, we call you “Jesus.”

God within us, we call you “Holy Spirit.”

Together, you are the Eternal Mystery

That enables, enfolds, and enlivens all things,

Even us and even me.

Every name falls short of your goodness and greatness.

We can only see who you are in what is.

We ask for such perfect seeing—

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.

 

I like to think my grandmothers are with me on this journey and exploration of generous orthodoxy. As we pass along to our children and grandchildren our understanding of who God is, it’s hard to see the rejection and lack of understanding of the tradition. This morning, we come to the table with Christians all over the world, people who learn and teach about God as three in one. They welcomed to the table God as Creator, Christ and Spirit. We join the dance of the Three when we come to this table. We too are invited. We too are welcomed to the dance. Come to the table of grace. We will sing ‘come to the table of grace as we receive our morning offering and during the communion prayer.

*Communion Hymn   No. 3168    Come to the Table of Grace