Sunday, May 12, 2013

God Exists! I can Prove it!

God Exists! I can Prove it!
"Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you”
I’ve never told you that I can “prove” the existence of God! But now that we are drawing near to the end time of our relationship as priest and congregation, I must tell you that I have proof that God exists.
It came to me at a clergy conference many years ago when John Coburn was our Bishop in the Diocese of Massachusetts. Bishop Coburn has a very special place in our hearts since it was during his episcopacy that Cindy and I met and fell in love and got married. He officiated at our wedding along with my first boss, The Reverend Chester Porteus. He blessed our rings and was very kind to us. Cindy was Roman Catholic at the time and Bishop Coburn assured us both that she could enjoy all the privileges and responsibilities of full membership in the Episcopal Church without actually going through the mechanics of being “received” into this branch of the church. The bishop understood large Italian families.

For example, Cindy’s mom came to my office one day during our courtship and asked me what we Episcopalians believe in anyway. I told her that we believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. She looked surprised and said; “You believe that?” I showed her the Nicene Creed in the Book of Common Prayer and explained to her that we recite the creed every week when we say Mass. That seemed to satisfy her.

Cindy’s dad was another story. I knew it bothered him that his daughter wanted to marry me. In his mind, there was only one church. So we went for a long walk one day and he was looking for the right words. Finally, he said to me, “I don’t like my daughter getting married outside the church.” I hesitated, stopped him dead in his tracks, looked him straight in the eye and said to him; “The day you start going to church is the day I’ll take your objections seriously. Until then, you have nothing to say.” That was pretty nervy on my part! While I don’t think that satisfied his reservations, he did hold his tongue on the matter, and he still doesn’t go to church. His daughter and I do, and so does at least one of his grandchildren.

But lets get back to the “proof” for the existence of God. As I say I was at a Clergy Conference in the Diocese of Massachusetts. We were in Falmouth on old Cape Cod in the off season in the early spring. There was still a chill in the air and I remember that there was a session with the bishop, and clergy morale at the time was a bit low. There was some grousing about this and that and I was growing impatient with my colleagues. Clerical “thumb sucking” as I call it is unbecoming to the church and the clergy, and I always want to scream out; “get on with the work, people!” But  I held my tongue then. 

But Bishop Coburn’s eyes twinkled and he stood in front of us smiling like the proverbial Cheshire cat and he said; “I can prove to you the existence of God”. The room felt silent. Were our ears deceiving ourselves? This is the Bishop of Massachusetts, formerly the President of the House of Deputies, the man who engineered the passage of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and the Ordination of Women through the legislative process of the General Convention. No mean feat! And here he stood, claiming he could prove the existence of God. This should be interesting. We were all ears.

There was a long silence, when someone said; “Go on!”

The Proof

He said; “It is quite simple and quite obvious. If the wife of a priest can believe in God after all she knows about him, then, by God, you know there has to be a God!”

The room erupted with laughter. After all, the Bishop had to deal with plenty of clergy and their spouses on a regular basis. All the saints and sinners among us. All the celebrations and joys as well as those tragedies and dilemmas that confront the human condition on a regular basis. 

Cindy and I have been through plenty of life. And so it is in that same spirit just last Monday Cindy said to me; “I rewrote the prayer for the search committee this morning around 4am.” We’re both in the habit of waking up around 4am with something stirring deep inside. Cindy knows plenty about me. And still she loves me and she loves God. And, by God, she believes.

You may be interested in what she wrote. It is only slightly different from the prayer for the search committee that's we have been using now for some time. Let me read it to you:

Almighty God, giver of every good gift: Look graciously on your Church, and so guide the minds of those who shall choose a rector for this parish, that we may call a faithful priest, who will care for your people; and, in turn we your people will care for our new priest and family. Together we will equip and support one another for our ministries while remembering to be open to your will and that of the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

You will notice here that Cindy added several key phrases, firstly; “that the people in turn will care for our new priest and family”. And that phrase is key. This congregation is a caring congregation and sometimes it is important to remember that someone should check on the wife of a priest from time to time. Someone should wonder, how is she doing. After all, Bishop Coburn is right...if she can believe in God not only after all she know about him, but also what she knows about congregations, good God then you know that there is a God.

Cindy added another key phrase; “while remembering to be open to your will and that of the Holy Spirit.” The priesthood is a way of life. It is a calling. It is not a job. You and your priest together form what Paul calls the Priesthood of all believers. You are not hiring somebody to work for you. You and your priest together are listening to the still small voice of God within, you’re waiting on that moment when you “know” that the Holy Spirit has moved within you and then, and only then you cast your vote for a call or for any major initiative in ministry you share.

This is what your Search Committee and Vestry have done. And because they have acted in this way, God now has the possibility of working with you to support one another in your ministry together. And what a wonderful gift that is when you can discern the call of God at this particular moment in time.

The Feminine Dimension of God

There is a feminine dimension to our spirituality. God is not just “A Mighty Fortress”, God is also the Child of Mary Mild, the Mother of God as she is called in Orthodoxy. Even in creation God is said to have created us in the image of God “male and female”. And the Holy Wisdom of God “Sancta Sophia” as she is called in the Eastern Church comes to us in the feminine form.

It is interesting that in so many cases it is the Grandmother who brings a youngster to know something of God. Fathers, Mothers, and Grandfathers can do so too...but how interesting it is to me as a priest of the church to record the number of cases I’ve seen where it was the Grandmother’s nurture, the Grandmother’s love, and her fierce no nonsense discipline that formed the spiritual values, ethics, and joy of a child in knowing and loving God.

When I think of the existence of God, I cannot help but think of my Grandmother and her love for me, and my undying love for her. And so too my wife. My soul-mate. 

The Social Dimension of God

There is a social dimension to our spirituality as well. In our Baptismal Covenant we say that we will respect the dignity of every human being. compare and contrast that with current events. This week we’ve seen tragic events in which young women are treated with exquisite cruelty on Cleveland’s West Side. And even in the Air Force an officer in charge of protecting women from assault has himself been charged with the very crimes he was supposed to be protecting women from. There are, of course, other matters effecting the social well being of women. Equal pay for equal work is still a promise yet to be realized. A woman’s free right to be sovereign in her own body is even now a matter of controversy and debate. For much of the world of faith women are called to bE second class citizens or subservient.  If you think for a moment that Cindy is prepared to “submit to the authority” of her husband, then you don’t know Cindy. Our love and our life is a partnership not a hierarchy. 

If I were to wish my wife and other women a Happy Mother’s Day, it is more than sentiment, flowers, or a meal out in a nice restaurant. We are all united in the challenge to work for the deepest respect and love for all women...a respect for equal rights under the law and robust protection from those who would abuse or assault them.  We are called to respect the dignity of all human beings.

And to imagine what it was like for Mary to bring the Holy Child to birth, to nurture him, love him and even discipline him. And then at last to hold him in her arms as he is taken down from the cross, that final and ultimate love to hold your child in your arms when it is all over...and then to know she believes in God!

There it is in Michelangelo’s Pieta; one of the most heart rending sculptures in Western Art. The Mother Mild holding her son in her arms, now a lifeless form after so much hope and healing and so many miracles. Yet on the cross, he died an excruciatingly painful and shameful death. There were no miracles then, there was only the brutality of a crucifixion.

And yet somehow she believed in God even before the Resurrection! The love she bore for him in her heart is God’s Grace in Believing. On Mother’s Day or any day, it is the Grace of God’s love and our love for one another that gives us faith that our loved ones live with God both in this life and in the life to come.

So to my wife who believes in God even after all she she knows about me; and to Mary the Mother of God who even after all her sorrows believed in God and to the tireless, indefatigable love of a million moms and particularly those gathered here today; Happy Mother’s Day and thank you for believing. You are the proof that God is!

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