Sunday, September 23, 2012

Classical Revisionism

Today's lay preacher presented to the congregation a classic revisionist look at how we should interpret the stories found in the Bible. He began by stating that he was not going to preach on the appointed Gospel reading for this Sunday, Mark 9:30-37, but instead would be talking about the subject that he really wanted to talk about (See rule 1 towards the end of this post).

Our preacher reached for Matthew 14:22-33 instead.

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Next, he drew from Greek mythology the story of Sisyphus who is condemned to roll a stone uphill, again and again for eternity.

He then pointed out that nobody these days believes that the story of Sisyphus is literally true, and that the story has to be read metaphorically, and likewise, no 21st century, rational, modern, thinking person can believe that Jesus or Peter actually walked on water. The story from Matthew 14 has to be read as a metaphor for giving up the safety of whatever boat you are in and placing your trust on some nebulous something outside of yourself. (See rule 2)

No good sermon leaves out the Cross and the Resurrection. So today we got a taste of the revisionist "resurrection as a metaphor" story to round out the sermon.

Sermons like this are probably pretty common in the Episcopal universe. While this kind of thing may appeal to a small elitist subset of American "progressives," I don't think a strictly metaphorical approach to Biblical exegesis does anything but create a self pleasuring trap for people to fall into. What does such an approach, in which the congregation is told that they can't believe the events in the Bible literally, do for people who, immediately after the sermon, are asked to stand and say the Nicene Creed? (Rule 3)

CREED: (From the Revisionist Dictionary) What we usually say after the sermon, together professing things that none of us individually believes. “Those creeds are not about checking off a bunch of propositions. They are about giving our heart to a sense that Jesus shows us what it looks like to be a divine human being” (Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori).

Is it any wonder that "...Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power" (shamelessly borrowed from the title of a book by Marcus Borg being studied in the adult Sunday School class).

I was working on the Revisionist Rule Book (revised edition) and today's sermon suggested four additions:
1) Talk about the subject you desire most because the Gospel reading for the day really doesn't matter (it never happened anyway).
2) Focus on a metaphorical approach when events in the Bible cannot be believed as actual events.
3) Increasing doubt is good.
4) Stay in your self made pleasure craft, and you will never be in danger of sinking.
I also wonder if it is time for TEc to come out of the closet and break out,

We believe in a higher power, the divine,
which is worshipped by many religions,
like Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism.
We believe that Jesus was an exemplary human being.
He was so good that people thought he was the Son of God.
He was dedicated to justice and helping the poor.
He preached love.
People thought that he was the Savior.
He died on a cross, and, similar to the ancient belief
in atonement through sacrifices,
people believed that he died for their sins.
Like Socrates, he was a teacher of a subversive wisdom.
Like Buddha, he had an enlightenment experience.
Like a shaman, he was a healer.
Like Gandhi, he sided with the minorities and the outcasts.
He was a classical prophet of Israel.
He was concerned with the shape of society and criticizing the elites. He was a most remarkable man whose example we should follow.
We believe that, as the church, we are a group of people
who stand up for justice and the acceptance of diversity... 
We believe that the New Testament was mostly made up by the followers of Jesus. But it is a good book that teaches people to love each other, look after the environment and engage in social justice. AMEN  (H/T Articles)


  1. Pewster - From the look on your face when the sermon was being presented I am pleased that you were as gentle as you were in your post. I, however, am of the opinion that you are giving the guest preacher too much credit. Yes - he obviously is wedded to the opinion that he voiced from the pulpit - but I don't believe that he is capable or interested in taking his thoughts, belifs, and ideas any further than the space that his voice carries. Please remember that he is a member and leader of the fringe pseudo-intellectual Book Club that meets on Sunday mornings at your church whose members revere "theologians" who do not believe in the Resurrection. I would not give yesterday's guest preacher credit for trying to effect the Episcopal Church USA as a whole. His behaviors indicate that he is wrapped up in his own little bolder pushing world and not aware of or interested in influencing anyone outside his small sphere of existence.

  2. beliefs - not belifs - so sorry for the typo!

  3. My pain tolerance has been increasing as time goes by, thanks be to God!

  4. In truth, it is depressing (though I pray things are not as dark as we are wont to imagine them; it's often easier to see the bad than the good), but I have to admit that the Emerging Revisionist Creed made me smile. Maybe it's because it reminded me of an old Not the Nine O'Clock News skit I found on youtube a while back.

  5. James H and Rob Scott,

    Because the revisionist message is depressing, it is doomed to be defeated by the Gospel of Truth.