Are we human or are we dancer?
Sermon preached at the introduction of the Reverend Mark Warrick as priest in charge of All Saints, Stamford…
Well Mark: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Or is there? For as soon as you use the word ‘probably’ surely you must also say ‘there is possibly a God’.
The world of science got to the point at which it said it had no further need of God: it could create babies in a test tube; manipulate the genetic code so that limbs and organs would regenerate and even propel people to the farthest sides of the universe to see the origins of creation itself. ‘We have no need of God’, they said ‘let’s challenge Him to a duel and be rid of Him once and for all’. So, in a contest like that on Mount Carmel, they drew together. God took a handful of earth and began to carefully craft it and mould it into the figure of a man and then he breathed on it and he came to life. ‘Your turn’, said God. ‘Easy’, said the scientists, and they gathered together the various test tubes and pipettes, the elements, minerals and compounds that they would need. And then, at last they took a handful of earth and God said: ‘Ah no. You get your own earth!’
A silly story, but one that adequately makes the point I am trying to explore, which is this: if every facet of Creation could be explained and described, if we could understand all we need to know about how things happen and the chemical processes that are entailed, we would still find it far harder to answer the question ‘why’. I don’t want to rehearse all the reasons why this particular form of fundamentalist atheism (that kind which would hire a bus to advertise itself) is debatable to say the least, only to ask ‘what God is it that they don’t believe in?’ I suspect you and I would not believe in that God either, for it is likely to be an infantile parody of faith and belief in God and far from the robust and intelligent faith held by a Mother Theresa or a Martin Luther King. This is a debate for another time.
However, I want to quote my favourite atheist-favourite, because he is uncompromising and thorough in his arguments and also coherent. He sometimes, also, makes the mistake of parodying Christian belief, but in the main he is worth listening to. I like him most because he is prepared not only to say ‘here I stand, I can do no other’ but also to let others hold the beliefs they wish to hold. What he cannot do, and I suspect he shares this with many Christians, is bear those who try to enforce their beliefs on others or, indeed, enforce the insights of belief by law, violence and coercion. He is Johan Hari, who writes in ‘The Independent’ newspaper.
His article this morning (27.1.09) is worth quoting, for he believes that the international agreements on human rights are moving away from protecting freedom of speech to protecting all beliefs and any, even if that compromises freedom of speech:
By definition if you have faith, you are choosing to believe in the absence of evidence…it is psychologically painful to be confronted with the facts that your core beliefs are based on thin air, or on the empty shells of revelation or contorted parodies of reason. It is easier to demand that the source of the pesky doubt be silenced.
In the end, it comes to this: is creation just what we can touch, perceive and know with our senses and our intellect, or is there, indeed, a mystery at the heart of life which pierces into our hearts and minds when we look at a sunset, or a new born baby or contemplate the death and passing of a fellow, deeply loved, human being? For, human life is the search for meaning, not just a search for how things happen. It is the discovery of the profound love one human being can have for another, even to death, not just the mechanics of how cells and tissue come together to make a human being. For the Christian, the search for meaning takes place in the context of the birth, the life and teaching, the death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ; but primarily the Resurrection.
At our last Lincoln clergy conference, Canon Martyn Percy, of Cuddesdon Theological College, warned us against seeing the Resurrection as just the resuscitation of a dead body: ‘to do that’, he said, ‘is to so limit the meaning of the Resurrection that it loses it’s force and power’. This is true, but there is also no doubt in my own mind that the Gospel writers are trying to point us to the stupendous knowledge that he who was dead is now alive. The story of the Christian faith is the story of how the meaning of that Resurrection is unfolding and should unfold in our lives and in the lives of our communities and nations. The realm of faith is the realm of meaning: meaning often shrouded in mystery, but no less true for that.
Mark, in your time here as the priest and leader of this community of Christians, will you see yourself as one who opens up and makes plain the meaning and mystery of the Christian Faith and what it means for the real lives and everyday joys and sorrows of your people?
I can put this no better than it has been put by the rock band ‘The Killers’ in their latest hit song:
‘Well I’m on my knees, looking for the answers. Are we human or are we dancer?’
Will this Christian community under your guidance be content to see human life, existence and experience as prosaic, ordinary, understandable and devoid of mystery and eternal meaning, or, will your ministry here be to remind us that, although human, we are also surrounded constantly by new possibilities, new opportunities and new mysteries and meanings with which our lives will be raised up to the eternal life. Will you help us dance with the Lord of the Dance?