Ordained to Heresy

June 18, 2017

Series: June 2017

Category: Faith

Passage: Jeremiah 1:4-9

Speaker: David Pittle

In 2009, I was visiting Japan and my good friend and brother from my air force and college days, Sunao Yokobiki. I mentioned that I was looking, while there, for a wall scroll with a few words of spiritual significance. He tried to help me find the right scroll but we found nothing that spoke to me.
A few weeks later, I had a phone call from him asking for my favorite scripture passage. I have many passages with deep meaning for me, but perhaps deeper still is this passage from Jeremiah because this speaks of the source of my call to life, not only to ministry. My heart resonates with these words of God speaking to Jeremiah’s heart.
Three months passed and a package arrived with this scroll. Sunao had commissioned a “national treasure” calligrapher to make it for me. The scroll actually hung in our narthex for a while.
Next to it is an English translation for the few of you who can’t read Japanese.
I did consider sharing a little more of my own story today, but am choosing not to take the time. If you are interested, each of my daughters has pounded on me to write about my life. After years of being browbeaten, I finally succumbed. I have a personal website, www.norbay.org. Posted there is my autobiography, “My Life So Far.”
Many of you may not know the second reading from the Gospel of Thomas. Probably written around the 55th year after Jesus birth, it may be the oldest New Testament material we have. Why, you might ask is it not in the Canonical New Testament? Two reasons: It is not a narrative gospel. There is no story line, only Jesus sayings. Secondly Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyon, now part of France, strongly insisted that there could only be four gospels. There are four columns which hold up the canopy of heaven and therefor there could not be more or less gospels as four was the perfect number.
I share those explanations first, to make the point that it is the connection with the Ground of Being, God, which is the origin of calling as a heretic and at the heart of both passages.
The Presbyterian church says that it ordains people to specific ministries, but the ordination is normally a lifelong designation. But that is a bit of hubris—or as my Jewish family might have put it, Chutzpah.
The reality is that ordination does not come from the Presbyterian church but rather it comes from having a Jeremiah experience with God.
Jeremiah’s encounter is not unique. Every person has the potential to wake up to her/his calling as Jeremiah. If you pay attention you may hear some still small voice which says, “Margaret or Frank, before I formed you in the womb, I knew you and I consecrated you.” There is nothing special about David or Rob, Don or Bethany. Every person has only to quietly be present, to sense God’s presence. To pay attention to the still small voice in which God speaks and says “I love you. Now get off your keester and do something. Be a heretic.”
We need to stop demanding that God speak in words that are comfortable for us, traditional words we’ve heard before, perhaps abandon words altogether. We need to become comfortable with heresy.
Christianity is a great religion. I know that there are crazies like Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham, John Hagee and others out there to embarrass us, and even make us wonder at times. But throughout the centuries, Christianity’s core has been care and concern for the human family and the universe, celebrating God’s love. Despite the professional hierarchy, the church has followed Jesus best when it has listened to the words of the prophets and Jesus’ words in Matthew 25.
Buddhism is also a great religion as are Judaism and others. Each religion has something that is its strength. If the strength of Christianity is in passages like Matthew 25, the strength of Buddhism is in its awareness of the Presence in silence and subtlety. Each of the major religions is greater than its official doctrines, creeds and beliefs. However, each religion has a tendency to carve its doctrines into granite. Each has great need for its own heretics.
What is a heretic. A heretic is someone who calls into question the common wisdom of the day. The word was thrown around as an attack against theological enemies, especially in the debates and arguments of the early church. But at core, heresy is the need of the follower of Jesus to challenge tradition and dogma; to pay attention to following the way of Jesus and not succumbing to doctrines and creeds.
By its very nature, common wisdom is neither common nor necessarily wisdom. I remember when, in the late 1960s, there were people writing articles and speaking out in concern with the way the economy was using and misusing the environment. Some were saying that we are bringing calamity to the world; that in a few years, we would see the oceans rise, the Arctic ice melt and the shores recede. Common wisdom said, “no way”. We puny humans cannot really damage this earth.
We now know that the heretics were right. We see the proof in the melting of glacial ice; in the droughts that cause crops to fail; in the sinking of whole island nations in the Pacific. Common wisdom was wrong, heresy was right.
That’s why Jeremiah’s task was heresy, “call all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, says the Lord; and tell them, they shall come and all of them shall set their thrones at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its surrounding walls and against all the cities of Judah. 16 And I will utter my judgments against them, To all these rulers, heresy.
So Jeremiah was called—before he was formed in his mother’s womb—to be a heretic against the common wisdom.
Here are a few other heretics:
Jesus. Why do you think the Pharisees and ultimately, the Roman rulers were so angry and opposed to Jesus.  If he had not threatened common wisdom, and therefore their power, he would not have gained the following that threatened the established elite hierarchy. Yes, Jesus followed Jewish tradition and rules—as long as they were supportive of human beings. But, when they were not, he was quick to violate the rules. He was a heretic.
We can go back, before Jesus. Let’s start with Moses. He could have gone along to get along. He was well placed in the ruling hierarchy. If he didn’t make waves, he could have had a nice comfortable life. But, NOOOO. He had to stick his nose in it where it didn’t belong.
Elijah, for example. When all the people, in common wisdom, were worshipping Baal who seemed to be granting great harvests and prosperity, only Elijah stood against Baal’s priests. He also had some interesting moments calling the rulers to task.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
Micah, Now there’s a heretic for you. Stands up against the corporate and business interests of his day as well as the national rulers, the common wisdom. He spoke against other prophets who took money for their prophecies. Do people come to mind like Joel Osteen who live in a palace while the people live in poverty.
Finally Micah says . . .
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?
I could go on to Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”  Or to Hosea, Or Isaiah.
You may have heard of Hildegard von Bingen, an amazing woman heretic of the 11th century. She pushed against the hierarchy and was the first woman of the Roman Catholic church allowed to preach in public. She was able because she pushed her heresy and forced the church to accept her skills, knowledge and spiritual awareness. The medieval rhetorical arts included preaching, letter writing, poetry, and song. Hildegard’s participation in all these arts as a female who fought to go beyond the bans on women's social participation and interpretation of scripture. The acceptance of public preaching by a woman does not fit the stereotype of this time. But then, Hildegard was a heretic.
I’ll mention only a couple more. These two because they have become associated in recent years.
Matthew Fox was a Dominican Catholic priest. Honoring all of creation as Original Blessing, not Original Sin. Creation Spirituality integrates the wisdom of Eastern and Western spirituality and global indigenous cultures, with the emerging scientific understanding of the universe, and the passion of creativity. It is both a tradition and a movement, celebrated by mystics and agents of social change from different ages and cultures. It is also the tradition of the historical Jesus himself since it is the wisdom tradition of Israel.
Fox was censored by the Roman Catholic Church for his teachings.  Among the ideas that he published and that the church councils did not like, were that he called God "Mother";  preferred the concept of Original Blessing over Original Sin; worked too closely with Native American spiritual teachers and practices; did not condemn homosexuality; and taught creation spirituality, He was defrocked, but welcomed into the Episcopal church as a priest.
Among Matthew Fox’s accomplishments is his study of the Meister Eckhart, a 14th century mystic,
Meister Eckhart is the last heretic, with whom I would like to acquaint you today. I couple him with Matthew Fox because of the excellent research and books that Fox has written about Eckhart. Run, don’t walk, to Book Passage and buy Fox’s book, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic Warrior for Our Times.
You will also note the several Eckhart quotes on the front of the Order of Worship. One of his more provocative remarks is  that human nature is such that, whatever we may seem to be doing or however far we may seem to be from the mark, we are really searching for God, that searching for God is the nature of being human.  Eckhart’s most important idea and one that upset the church hierarchy most is that Jesus Christ is the Word, eternally born within us; that the eternal birth of the Word from the Father is ‘now born in time, in human nature’ … that, if nothing separates our souls and God, the birth of the hidden Word takes place in the depths of our souls. This teaching of his returns over and over again in his sermons and his writing.
With that, I bring you back to Jeremiah. God comes to us as the ground of our being and calls us out to be heretics. To accept nothing from orthodoxy that doesn’t accord with our own experience of this Ground of Being, God, who encompasses all that we are, do and encounter in life. Or to quote Paul—another heretic—“In him we live and move and have our being”
Being a heretic is more important than being ordained. It is central to being true to God, whom we find, not out there somewhere in the sky or the sea. As Jesus said, if the kingdom is in the heavens, then the birds got there first. If in the sea, then the fish did, but it is in you, in us and is our Ground of Being.
Jesus said, "Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and will reign over all.”
They will be heretics.