Progressive Faith Sermons - Dr. Roger Ray

Without absolutes, without a God given set of rules in holy writ or a supernatural theistic judge in the clouds, how do we determine right from wrong or even sensibly talk about what it means to be good? Are these arbitrary value judgements in a toothless religious debate? Progressives tend to elevate the value of compassion as a primary spiritual attribute. As you might guess, conservatives and progressives don’t always agree!

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In the ancient Persian slave ghetto, Zoroastrian religion evolved an expression of ethics and eternity that influenced what became modern Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Their succinct description of how to be a good person was the three fold injunction to think good thought, speak good words, and do good actions. I tell my world religion students that this has hardly been improved upon over the centuries but now, in 2023, I am forced to wonder if many people even have being a “good person” as a goal? Dishonesty, self service, greed, all seem to be assumed to be normal conduct.

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This last week, trans folks in Missouri have been living in the thick of the intentional, ongoing attacks against transgender lives. On Thursday, April 13, 2023, Missouri’s Attorney General, Andrew Bailey, issued expanded emergency regulations that effectively restrict and, in many cases, make impossible life-saving, life-giving care that many transgender and gender expansive people depend on. We are supporting each other and doing an amazing job of it. We are not giving up or backing down. But we can use and need all the community support we can get right now. Please do not stand idly.

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When we begin to give up the formal, creedal faith of our youth, accepting that no religion is entirely true and no sacred text was actually written by God, many people will abandon the journey of faith entirely. But for those of us who find value in a spiritual life, we are inclined to turn away from the false certainty of formal religion and turn towards the more honest uncertainty of a mystical faith in which we accept the “isness” of God, as Meister Eckhart said, “God is a word unspoken, a thought not thought, a belief unbelieved.” For those of us raised in a formal church, the mental prison of belief is hard to leave behind . . . especially for the clergy!

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Walter Brueggemann posed the challenge of Easter as deciding to be “a part of the Easter movement of civil disobedience that contradicts the empire,” to “see if life is longer than death.” Each day, we face a litany of suffering born of oppression, mirroring the crucifixion, that we must match with the determination to keep going, mirroring the resurrection. In the face of injustice, we insist on creating just, joyful, equitable communities. At Easter, we repeat these stories in order to remember the choices we make between “empire death and Easter life,” to make our hells into healing, and rise again.

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This is Palm Sunday so I am going to take my speaking time this week to demythologize the gospel narrative a bit. Judas was not a historical character. Mark created a literary fiction and named him Judas, which is spelled "Judah" in Greek, and means "Jew." Judas represented the faith community, nation, and family of Jesus. Mark set's the execution in a passion narrative in which Jesus is betrayed by his family, his faith community, his friends, his nation . . . and haven't we all been there? The passion narrative is not a historical piece about what happened way back when but it is an "everyman" story about surviving betrayal

Direct download: 20230402_Sermon.mp3
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