“I wanted to throw a hand grenade into our understanding of God this week. We have tried to make God small and manageable, and God is not,” said the Very Rev. Alan Jones. He preached at the 9:15 a.m. Friday morning worship service in the Amphitheater.
His sermon title was “It’s a Love Story — The Mistake of Wanting the World (Our World) to be Small and Manageable! It Isn’t!,” and the Scripture reading was Romans 4:1-5; 13-17.
When he was growing up in England, Jones said, the image of God was of an Anglo-Saxon and the Church of England was the Tory Party at prayer. When people read from the Scriptures, the prophets sounded “like they had been to a minor public school — very posh accents.” When he moved to the United States, he found that the Bible became the “Buy-bel” with a different syllable accented.
He quoted St. Augustine, that if we say we understood God, then what we have understood is not God.
“We should apply that to ourselves,” Jones said. “There is something incomprehensible, something more about me than I myself know. I am a mystery to myself.”
In The Divine Comedy, Dante takes a journey into paradise to the very face of God. At the end of the journey Dante’s face shines with I am.
“That should remind of us of (God’s words to Moses) ‘I am that I am.’ We share in God’s divinity,” Jones said. “There is no one else like you and you are a mystery to you.”
He said again the phrases that he has used all week: I cannot be me without you, everybody matters, and we are all in this together.
The scandalous doctrine of the first century church was not the resurrection or the virgin birth, but everybody matters. Slaves, women and children were not full humans in that society. The Roman emperor was irate because the church not only cared for its own poor, it cared for the Roman poor.
“I think all the great religious traditions are just beginning to come into their own and rejoice in one another,” Jones said. “The Bible should be a prism of the glory of being human and the mystery of ourselves.”
Marsha Truman Cooper, in her poem “Fearing Paris,” asks what if you could take what you fear and trap it and hold it in Paris? Then would you feel safe and have the courage to go everywhere else in the world? The problem then becomes that you fear going to Paris or near Paris, or even France. Her solution? See Paris first.
“We have to look what we fear squarely in the eye so that we can get in touch with the mystery of things,” he said.
Interpretation of reality requires a communal effort, he added. Jones shared two stories from fourth-century rabbis in Alexandria. The rabbis described the Torah as like a castle where all the rooms are locked. There is a golden key beside each door, but it is not the key for that door. It might take six or eight people to open the door.
“It is collective wisdom that opens the door,” Jones said.
In the second story, when the Ten Commandments came down from Mount Sinai, every person gave meaning to every letter on the tablets.
“They had to have a committee of 10,000 to do the interpretation,” Jones said. “It was the only way to make it all manageable.”
“Love After Love,” a poem by Derek Walcott, begins “The time will come when, with elation you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror and each will smile at the other’s welcome, and say, sit here. Eat. You will love again the stranger who was your self.”
The human family is under strain and our beliefs can get in the way of our being (human). He called for fresh vision and new alliances and quoted Pope Francis that we are not in an era of change but we are experiencing a change of era.
As an example, he cited the end of binary gender labels. There are culture wars around what gender means. He said gender labels “had an evolutionary function, but our technological and other advances makes the labels moot.”
In the map of life, God created us to be in community, he said. We need to embrace a more generous view of what it means to be human.
“We have lost touch with our common cultures and stories,” Jones said. “We have to give up the illusion that we can get it right once and then close down the conversation.”
For example, Jones said that we thought we had abolished slavery in the 19th century, but today we have a new name — human trafficking — and a new abolition movement.
“Our journey beings when we glimpse the infinite value of the other,” Jones said. “You can make a difference in the name of Jesus, like Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King Jr. I want you to fall in love with yourself and for us to see the terrific thing in each other. That is my gift to you — to see what is terrific — and your gift to me.”
In his series, Jones began each sermon with a poem, “Love and Fear” by Michael Leunig and words from Leonard Cohen’s Anthem.
“Love and Fear”
There are only two feelings.
Love and fear.
There are only two languages.
Love and fear.
There are only two activities.
Love and fear.
There are only two motives,
two procedures, two frameworks,
Love and fear.
Love and fear.
“Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.”
“The time will come when you will greet yourself arriving at the door,” he concluded. “See Paris first.”
The Rev. George Wirth presided. Bryce Thralls, from Durant, Oklahoma, read the Scripture. He is a communications major at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and expects to receive a degree in agriculture communications and agriculture business. He is a scholarship student at Chautauqua Institution with the International Order of the King’s Daughters and Sons. The Motet Choir sang “The Storm is Passing Over” arranged by Barbara W. Baker. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, directed the choir. The Samuel M. and Mary E. Hazlett Memorial Fund and the J. Everett Hall Memorial Chaplaincy supported this week’s services.