Is Your Pastor the Ultimate Authority? [Sermon]

One Sunday, perhaps before I even went to seminary, I was filling in for my pastor. And I preached a sermon that I thought was pretty clever, and even had a twist that I hoped would make people think.

And the next Sunday, our music director came up to me.
She said

“Cindi! Cindi! Cindi!”


I do remember her saying my name three times. She said

“Cindi! Cindi! Cindi! I did what you said last Sunday.”

In my mind I was thinking

“Uh oh.”

Let’s go to God in prayer.

God of wisdom, may the words that I speak, and the ways they are received by each of our hearts and minds, help us to continue to grow into the people, and the church, that you have dreamed us to be.

Amen.

Our reading today is from the first letter of John.

John is writing about testimony regarding the nature of Jesus. And he is differentiating between the testimony of humans and the testimony of God.

What is the testimony of God?

Well, in the church where I grew up, it was the Bible, because the Bible was the word of God. That church aught that the Bible was the infallible word of God written in the hands of people but from the mind of God.

And that Bible includes this letter, so this letter saying to trust the witness of God over the the witness of people like, shall we say, the author of this letter, is part of the witness of God.

That seems as convenient as it is circular.

In many churches, it is important to believe in various screens, such as the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed, or a particular denominational statement of faith.

Are these the witness of God?

And in may churches, the word of the pastor is seen as authoritative. And that concerns me. A lot.

Having a pastor is not an excuse to put one’s mind on autopilot and let the pastor fly your life.

The song is “Jesus take the wheel,” not “Pastor take the wheel.”

Following one person is a great way to start a religion, if that leader is Moses, Jesus, or Mohamed [PBUH], but it’s also a great way to get drawn into a cult if that leader is Jim Jones, Marshall Applewhite, or Charles Manson.

Your pastor, or any preacher, is going to give imperfect, human testimony about how they experience the divine.

They will not, and cannot, give you one hundred percent accurate witness about the nature of God, because they are not large enough.

They cannot even tell you who God needs to be for you, because even though they are human like you, they are not you, and your experience of the divine will necessarily be different than yours.

So when that music minister came to me with

Cindi! Cindi! Cindi! I Did what you said!

it made me nervous, because the unfiltered witness of Cindi is probably not the best way to live for people who are not Cindi.

It’s not always the best way to live for people who are Cindi.

But she told me what she heard, which was to be brave in risking an unhealthy relationship by communicating with someone in the hopes of making it a healthier one.

That was sort of what I preached, but I was thinking more along the lines of differences in the church, and she applied it to her work life.

She approached someone she was concerned didn’t like her, and while I don’t remember the details, the conversation ended in their having a much healthier work relationship.

And to me, that’s the beauty of the testimony of God: that is a testimony that is written everywhere: in scripture, in speech, in hearing, in nature.

And though humans are imperfect vessels for God’s wisdom, there are many places for the wisdom to reassert itself as needed.

I may read something in scripture, and my mind interprets it one way. Then as I write, there is a chance to reinterpret it. And as I speak it Sunday morning, I may again change how I express it. And as you hear it, you may hear something different from what I say, and it might be more appropriate for you.

And, here is an important thing:

YOU DO NOT HAVE TO AGREE WITH ME.

I’m not saying I want hecklers on Sunday morning, but if what I say makes you think that’s not right. Then I have still been effective, because I have given you an opportunity to engage with what you believe and to consider what you believe and why.

Church is not here to put your brain on vacation and let your toes take over.

Church is here to create a community where we can grow our faith in ways that are beneficial to each of us.

So my challenge to each of us this week is to be mindful of the teaching we receive and to engage with what we believe, so we are participants in our own faith.

Seek the wisdom of God.

Amen.


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