Editor’s Note: [Secular Sermons Series #5] Here’s another real sermon, though greatly reduced, the writer tells me, from a sermon he gave almost ten years ago, long after he left his ordination in the Presbyterian Church. He thought that the congregation, which included some of his seminary professors, wasn’t “too shocked” because they had known him since his chaplaincy days. He sure didn’t pull any punches! / Linda LaScola, Editor
By Chris Highland
Christ Presbyterian, Terra Linda, CA, July 26, 2009
It’s good to be back among you. Actually, I’m a bit surprised to be back in the pulpit! It’s shocking really! Last time I spoke here I essentially said that God was Green! I blabbed on about Nature as identical with God—that God equals Nature. Pretty radical stuff! Truly heretical! And you didn’t budge; you didn’t throw your hymnals at me or chase me out! In fact, you invited me back! How’s that? I can only conclude that either you brought me back to burn me at the stake on a pile of Calvin’s Institutes, OR, many of you are — secret heretics! Well, today, I make you honorary members of HA! Heretics Anonymous. HA! And in this place, today, maybe we don’t have to be so anonymous anymore.
I take walks and talks with a pastor friend sometimes. He’s an Evangelical. I know, that’s scary, but I used to be one, so I know their moves. I sense their tactics, their tricks, how they sneak up and want to bop you over the head with their beliefs and their big black Bibles.
They try to lure you in and pounce on you to save your sin-loving soul. Well, my friend is not like that at all, so I think I’m safe.
We talk about Faith and Reason; we throw around ideas of Heaven and Hell; we jabber about Jesus and debate the old and moldy Evolution versus Intelligent Design arguments. But you know? After all the banter and Bible texting, it always comes back to one thing:
We’re friends. And we’re friends because we worked together last winter to keep the emergency homeless shelter open. We did the same work, got to know the same people, saw the same critical needs and acted in cooperation. My friend disagrees, but I think that faith and religion, beliefs and the Bible take a backseat when it comes to doing what must be done. As he put it when he first opened the doors of his little church to take people in off the street:
“This is the right thing to do at the right time.”
I’m good with that. In my book, compassion trumps faith and the scripture of what’s right deletes the scripture of what’s righteous—or at least renders it rather irrelevant.
Forty years ago, a couple of white guys were kickin’ up dust on the moon—and the world watched—at least those with televisions.
Heretics are like those explorers who kick up a little dust by wondering what’s out there beyond the old ideas, the old beliefs and the old books. Heretics (and you know heresy just means to choose another opinion—out beyond the “right opinions” of ortho-doxy) are unafraid to take small steps that risk becoming Giant Leaps in our consciousness and possibly in our communities.
Now, here today, in the proud tradition of Holy Heretics (and among all you formerly secret heretics) I simply want to take a leap with you—Our “Eagle” lands here! This is our Tranquility Base!
You know, it looks to me—and I might be off the mark here, which is the classic definition of SIN—but it looks to me like the Bible, all scriptures really, have one great message:
Is it Love and Service? Yes, maybe.
Is it Compassion and Justice? O.K. Perhaps.
But I hear one overarching universal message of truth in all the Holy Books on the Planet, from all the high and huge pile of holy paper and ink (well, alright, I haven’t read them ALL).
What’s the message? Are you ready?
“Let ‘em go!”
That’s the message.
“Let ‘em go! Drop the book and get on with it.”
I hear all the sacred scrolls say,
“You get the point, at least you ought to by now, so now—like an owner’s manual, file it or recycle it and get on with running the machine—run your life. It’s really all about Life—not a book.”
Besides, think about it: We’d save a lot of trees and a ton of cowhide if we drop the books!
Heresy! Yes. Infidel! Yes. Not nice! I suppose. This isn’t gonna preach too well in some quarters. This weird form of Good News will seem like pretty Bad News for the people who base their beliefs on One Big Book. But, really, it must be said loud and clear:
Let the Book go.
So, my fellow heretics (choosers of other opinions other than what has been handed to us for centuries), we need to re-define the Sacred—don’t you think it’s time?
I’m going to stop here, because I’ve made my argument and I have no argument with you. After all, you are fellow and fella heretics, and we’ll all be burned at the stake someday and we’ll deserve it. Because we’re Choosers of another way, another path, a greener path, and a new kind of Sacred, re-defined as Life itself. Ahhh, that’s something to sip; that’s something to savor.
“Nuanced with earth tones to round it out.”
That’s us. That’s the Greening Goodness squeezed from Life! That’s the Awe and the Wow that makes life a moonshot—a never-ending challenge and call to adventure. And all a good heretic really needs to remember is this:
If there is hope for a tree, there is hope for thee and me.
And let us all say “Awe” —- Awwwwwwwe!
Bio: Chris Highland was a minister and chaplain for many years in the SF Bay Area. Now teaching courses on Freethought in Asheville, North Carolina, he writes a weekly “Highland Views” column for the Citizen-Times. His new book, A Freethinker’s Gospel, will be released in October 2018. Chris has been a member of The Clergy Project since 2012. To learn more see www.chighland.com.
>>>>>>Photo Credits: By ru:Участник:ArgoDag – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25434428; By NASA – http://www.hq.nasa.gov/alsj/a11/AS11-40-5903HR.jpghttp://www.archive.org/details/AS11-40-5903 (TIFF image), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3847764