Sermon 7-3-2016 ‘Faith in Action’
Arthur Kincaid, The Cradle of Quakerism, Quaker Books, Friends House, London, 2011.
Thomas R Kelly, Reality of the Spiritual World, Pendle Hill, 1942.
Parker Palmer, The Promise of Paradox, Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame IN, 1980.
George Fox, Journal, http://www.strecorsoc.org/gfox/ch01.html, footnote #30.
Pastor Ruthie Tippin, Indianapolis First Friends Meeting
The basis of faith for a Quaker is the experience of God. It is not a logical argument. It does not exist in creed or doctrine. It does not exist in law or command. It is Moses’ burning bush. It is Samuel’s voice in the night. It is Paul’s blinding on the Damascus Road. It is Fox’s experience of Christ speaking to his condition. It is this for each one of us… our own experience of God.
Friend Thomas Kelly writes: ‘There is a wholly different way of being sure that God is real. It is not an intellectual proof, a reasoned sequence of thoughts. It is the fact that [people] experience the presence of God… Sometimes these moments of visitation come to us in strange surroundings – on lonely country roads, in a classroom, at the kitchen sink. Sometimes they come in the hour of worship, when we are gathered into one Holy Presence who stands in our midst and welds us together in breathless hush, and wraps us all in sweet comfortableness into His arms of love. In such times of direct experience of Presence, we know that God is utterly real… This evidence for the reality of God is the one the Quakers primarily appeal to. It is the evidence upon which the mystics of all times rest their testimony. Quakerism is essentially empirical; it relies upon direct and immediate experience. We keep insisting: It isn’t enough to believe in the love of God, as a doctrine; you must experience the love of God. It isn’t enough to believe that Christ was born in Bethlehem, you must experience a Bethlehem, a birth of Christ in your hearts. To be able to defend a creed intellectually isn’t enough; you must experience as reality first of all what the creed asserts. And unless the experience is there, behind it, the mere belief is not enough.”
Do we trust the experience? There are many, including ourselves if we are honest, who wonder… ‘Is this God, in me?’ Kelly answers this concern in three ways: the Divine Energizing given to us by our experiences of God – not required of us, but brought forth naturally; 2) these experiences coming from beyond us – not ‘mustered up’ by our own doing, but from God as the active initiator; and lastly, a felt reality of God that is utterly different from an intellectual convincement of the reality of God. Experience brings a new meaning.
Are there ‘intellectual holes’ or ‘defects’ in the logic of faith in God? Certainly. But such defects, says Kelly, “do not prove that God does not exist. They only drive us back to the old, old truth: we walk by faith and not by sight. Let us then be bold enough to face and acknowledge such criticism of the testimony of religious experience.”
The experience of God was all the people of Cumbria longed for in the mid 1600’s. The English civil war had divided the country politically, socially, religiously. The enforcement of God as Catholic or Protestant, Presbyterian or Church of England, left people wanting. There was an apocalyptic sense of doom… what was God’s intention? Where was God? Was God real?
Religious life in England had been torn back and forth between Catholic and Protestant doctrine, depending on who sat on the throne. Civil War had ravaged England, the king had been beheaded, and government was in the hands of the people, under Oliver Cromwell and the Commonwealth. The Fifth Monarchists were certain that Christ was returning and would destroy the government.
For a young man named George Fox, there was no waiting for an apocalypse – for Christ’s return. Christ was already present, and would teach his people himself. Fox’s openings – his experiences of God - came at a time when a great number of people in North West England, like him, were seeking truth in their own lives. They were poor, isolated, and hungry to hear God declare himself to them. They had begun to meet in small gatherings, sometimes with travelling ministers, sometimes not, but always in waiting worship. ‘George Fox was to draw together many of those in search of a new religious impetus… in the spring of 1652… he felt God move him to climb to the top of Pendle Hill in Lancashire.’ [Kincaid] He struggled to the top, looked westward toward the sea, and saw a region where the Lord had ‘a great people to be gathered’. That ‘great people’ became the Religious Society of Friends.
The experience of God changes us. It changes the way we see ourselves, our families, our cities, our nation, our world. It energizes us, motivates us, moves us, into action. It causes us to seek. We are not satisfied with the status quo. Just as the people in Ulverston, Preston Patrick, and Sedburgh felt, we feel hungry for more of God, and see and feel God transforming us. But it’s not enough that God is transforming us alone – we need God to transform the world. And… we feel called to this transformation, with God.
Thomas Kelly: “Lives that have experienced God as vividly real are new lives, transformed lives, stabilized lives, integrated lives, souls newly sensitive to moral needs of men, newly dynamic in transforming city slums and eradicating war. By their fruits we know that they have been touched, not by vague fancies, by subjective, diaphanous visions, but by a real, living Power. The consequences of the experience are so real that they must have been released by a real cause, a real God, a real Spiritual Power energizing them.”
You can’t be a Quaker and not put your faith into action. The experience of God within you is so real, so important, so life changing, that you cannot help but be an activist. For Early Friends that meant prison reform, government reform, the right to assemble, civil disobedience. Their experience of God taught them the value of each person – that we are all God’s creation – there is ‘that of God’ in every person and that God speaks directly to each one of us.
The understanding of God’s love and capacity for mercy, forgiveness, grace, and wholeness is so real and so full, that living out your faith with everyone around you tells them who you are. Your lives, often more than your lips, preach. Our testimony of integrity underlies all of life… the inner experience of God for us, informs the outward expression of our lives. This is what James, in his scriptural letter tells us: It is not enough to say, “Be well, be fed, be safe”. Just as the experience of God enlivens us, so our experience, our faith in God, must serve to enliven others. This is why Quaker physicians serve medicine more than money. Quaker judges serve rehabilitation more than repression. Quaker business people consider the welfare of their clients as much as their own.
The expression of our activism is personal, formed by God in us. What God is in you will look different, feel different, and make a difference in a unique way. Some of us, like John Woolman, will act alone, tirelessly reaching out to change the world. Others will surround themselves with a team of people, dedicated to a cause. Some of us, like Abraham, are willing to sacrifice our future, putting our faith into action.
Some, like Rahab, are willing to sacrifice ourselves. Some of us pray like mad, and some of us anger others with our persistence. Some of us carry banners. Others knit baby blankets. Your activism may lead you to the Food Pantry. Others will find themselves in a classroom, teaching young children how to resolve difference peacefully.
Some may say they are moved to social concern, political activism, without the benefit of faith. It’s my position that those who have experienced God have no choice – they are drawn to concern for the wellbeing of others as a result of their experience of faith. And, I would propose, those who say they are acting independently of God have not recognized yet, the power of God acting in them.
Do we recognize the experience of God in our lives? Do we long for truth, Divine energy, initiative, and presence? Do we recognize it when we feel God in us – when we see God in the world around us? What does that experience call us to? The beauty of our life of faith – of paying attention and recognizing how God moves, lives, and works in each one of us, is that it challenges us all. Jesus began his ministry with these words: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” [Luke 4:18] What has your experience of God called you to?
“Faith in action is love, and love in action is service. By transforming that faith into living acts of love, we put ourselves in contact with God Himself, with Jesus our Lord.” Mother Theresa