Sermon
I appreciate being invited to preach this morning in response to Bill Holmes recent
provocative and stimulating book.  He suggests that we need a mature Christianity in
which we exercise, in our decisions and actions, personal responsibility and social
conscience.  In order to do this we need to know ourselves and to be informed, as
Bonhoeffer states, about the tension between freedom and obligation.  In addition, to be
“well, whole, and healthy” we need to understand “suffering” in a modern, scientific
world that benefits from the “revelatory insights from modern psychology” [p.17] and
“depth psychology” which Bill says he did not have room to include in his short book.

This afternoon let me share with you three areas:  some of my understanding of depth
psychology, creation in the image of God, and an illustration of mature responsible
decision to enter into another’s suffering in healing and redemptive ways.  My prayer is
that this brief time of sharing will encourage you on your journey as a mature Christian.

Recently at the Library of Congress there was an exhibit of the Swiss psychiatrist Carl
Jung’s Red Book in which he describes in detail with dynamic images and illustrative
drawings his dreams during his creative illness, beginning in 1913, which gave him
insights about the collective unconscious.  Later in 1952 as a result of this experience he
wrote a small book, “Answer to Job.”  [In C.G. Jung, The Collected Works, Vol. 11, pp.
355-470.]

Pastors are often asked what they believe and so I want to be honest with you and tell
you that I have been very much influenced by this work in which Jung found that good
always is accompanied by the potential for evil in the tension of opposites.  He even goes
so far as to say that God is not always good but that God’s actions can sometimes be evil.

As creatures each of us also has the capacity for great evil as well as the capacity for
great good.  We need to examine and know ourselves to tap into the forces which control
us. In our Christian faith we affirm that we humans are made in the image of God.  Jung
argues that we have a personal self within us, small s, as well as knowledge of a divine
Self, written with a capital S.  This divine self is God.

In practical terms for me this means that every time we meet a stranger there is an
opportunity to learn about another aspect of the nature of God. Every human being is
special.  When we are uncomfortable with another it is probably because of a recognition
of our own worst inner self projected on the other.  If we are aware of this projection we
can decide to go ahead and enter into a relationship in which we can discover our
common humanity.  Love can be expressed, even to the most troublesome enemy.  
Forgiveness and reconciliation are the hallmarks of a mature Christian.  And, amazingly,
in this encounter we can learn about the divine nature of God.

But especially let me tell you about Jung’s strange new ideas about the incarnation and
crucifixion which impressed me when I first read this book in 1954.  His ideas to me are
more satisfying than the traditional views of Anselm about Atonement.  

Job you remember suffers when God enters into a wager with the devil and allows Job’s
possessions, children, and physical health to be taken from him.  Because Job remains
steadfast in his trust of God in spite of his suffering God is impressed.  So impressed, in
fact, that God decides there is a necessity to learn what human suffering is.  And so God
decides to be incarnated as a child and grow to maturity as Jesus, subjected to all of the
human travails which we are subjected to and allows himself to be crucified.  God, the
creator of all that is, powerful and omniscient, doesn’t know what it is to be limited and
to suffer in doubt and anxiety.

God grows and changes psychologically by entering into human suffering.  God becomes
self-aware and conscious of his unfair treatment of Job.  To me this is much more
satisfying than the classical mythological language of our being washed in the blood of
Jesus, as many of our hymns state, for our salvation from sin.

In my classes with student pastors at Wesley Seminary I often tell a true story of a
dysfunctional church.

A small church has been unable to have the same pastor for more than a couple of years
since they become dissatisfied and complain to the District Superintendent to send them
a new pastor.

Recognizing that the pool of available pastors has been exhausted, the DS calls a meeting
of pastors and explains his problem.  He asks, “Who would be willing to serve such a
troubled church?”

There is silence.  Finally, one of the women pastors says: “I will serve this church.”  
There is a collective gasp since the woman who has spoken is known to have serious
problems herself.  She is approaching retirement age, has been recently divorced as her
husband left her after an affair, has become an alcoholic who drove under the influence,
had a serious accident and served time in jail, where she was able to overcome her
addiction and was released early for good behavior.  In her rehabilitation, she has been
readmitted to the Annual Conference, has resumed her work as a pastor and the DS has
suggested that she serve a small, loving and supportive congregation he knows of for a
few quiet years where she will not have much stress and can then retire.

The DS responds, “Are you sure you want to do this, Sarah?”

“Yes, I know something about suffering and being dysfunctional.  I think I have
something to offer this congregation and I think I could serve them well.  However, I
must make two stipulations.  First, they must find someone to preach for the first few
months after my appointment.  Second, I will let you know when I will preach my first
sermon after I have had a chance to visit every member of the congregation.”

The DS nodded, “I think that can be arranged.  There are some lay speakers in the
congregation who would like to preach.”

So Sarah was appointed and began to visit members of the congregation.  As she did so
she asked them two questions.  Why are you a member of this congregation?  How do
you know the love of Jesus the Christ in your life and express it in your membership?

Needless to say the gossip mill, curiosity, and conversations of the members were
stimulated as they shared what Sarah’s visits were about.

Finally, Sarah scheduled her first sermon.  The sanctuary was filled to capacity as the
members anxiously awaited what she would say.  

As she stepped into the pulpit to give her sermon a loud voice rang out from the rear.  A
red faced, belligerent man shouted.  “How can you possibly be our pastor and spiritual
leader?  We know you are a drunk, your husband left you, and you served time in jail
after you had injured a small child with drunk driving.”

Silence continued for a minute as Sarah calmly looked at him.  Then she stepped down
from the pulpit and walked to where he was standing.  She looked at him, smiled, and
said, “George, I know you miss your wife who died.  I know what your pain is like, and
I know you don’t think this congregation has been loving and supportive to you in your
grief.  As you said, I am a sinner but I know that I am loved and forgiven by Jesus the
Christ.  He has set me free to be a new person, free to love and be his disciple.  Can you
accept that love?”

Startled, George looked intently at her, shook his head, and then began to sob.

After a few moments, Sarah invited members of the congregation to gather around
George, and she led them in a healing prayer, acknowledging his pain and sorrow at the
loss of his beloved wife.

George is now one of the most supportive of Sarah’s congregation as she completes her
seventh year as their pastor and is moving now to retirement.

I think this is what mature Christianity is all about.  It is the capacity to make responsible
decisions, to enter into the difficult areas of congregational life, probing and questioning
as we search for truth, and to be willing to enter in empathy with the suffering of
another.  As we have experienced God’s love so we must share that love.

Each one of us, no matter what our position is within the church, can, with spiritual
reflection using our knowledge of modern psychology, learn about our complex selves
and can in new relationships with others learn of the nature and mystery of our creator
God.  For this knowledge can free us to be the persons God intends us to be, expressing
love to all.  

A final footnote:  C.G. Jung was once asked if he believed in the existence of God.  He
replied, “I don’t believe in the existence of God, rather from my experiences I know
God.”  To know God is better than mere intellectual belief.  That’s mature Christianity.

May it be so.  Amen.

Book Review by Walter Shropshire of WesleyNexus:
Holmes, William A.  (2010).  Mature Christianity:  For come-of-age Christians in a come-
of-age world.  Lutz, FL:  Resurgence Publishing Corporation.  [As reviewed:  $15.00 --
available at www.resurgencepublishing.com -- ISBN  0-9763892-3-1]
Mature Christianity:  A Sermon Responding to
William A. Holmes Book, "Mature Christianity:  For come-of-age
Christians in a come-of-age world," using John 13:31-35.
Presented by
Walter Shropshire at Metropolitan
Memorial United Methodist Church on October 31st, 2010