Saturday, February 25, 2012

What makes us human?

The other day in our Education for Ministry (EfM) group we did one of the exercises known as “common lessons.” The exercise asks each of us to write our own creed by answering a series of questions.

The questions are as you might expect – who is God? Who is Jesus? Who is the Holy Spirit? All rich questions for thought and conversation.

I’ve done this exercise many times before in EfM groups. But there was one question this time around I found most intriguing:

What makes us human?

We had many answers, starting with the obvious: our DNA. But what else makes us human? What connects us as human and makes us different than any other living creature on this planet?

We had many answers.

Is it human intellect? Not all humans have intellect.

Is it technology? Other primates make tools.

Is it language? Chimpanzees and whales have language.

My answer: Humans have story.

A wise sage once said there is no past and there is no future. There is only the present. We give the past and future shape by the story we tell, and how we tell the story.

We certainly have secular stories and call it history. The story of wars, heroes and villians, national myths and traditions. Science itself is story by the selective examination of the facts that science discovers. The fact of the cosmos – the stars and planets and this earth, our island home – is a story.

Quran, 11th century, North Africa
British Museum
Our stories connect us as human because at some level each of us become part of the story.

Human religious traditions are essentially story, whether it is the Hindu saga of many worlds, or Moses leading the exodus out of Egypt, or Muhammad’s prophetic vision, or Jesus Christ dying on the Cross.

Each of the religion tells the story its unique way.

The Christian story is a continuum connecting the people of God to the primal story of creation, to the desolation and redemption of the Jewish people, to the story of Jesus of Nazareth and his Resurrection, and to the people of God who came after living into the hope and promise of salvation.

Baptism is story.

When Christians are baptized they enter into the story and thereby continue the story of salvation into the next generation and beyond.

It is true that there are many things going on in baptism – the initiation into the Church and the outward and visible sign through symbols of water and words of the inward grace of the Holy Spirit present in the person being baptized. All that is true.

Yet there is something more to baptism that makes it completely human: When we are baptized we enter into the great story of salvation history. The ancient story continues onward through us.

It doesn’t matter our age or intellectual capacity to understand because baptism brings us into the story. It doesn’t matter that we fall short, or whether we are a sinner or saint or combination of both. We continue to write this story of baptism the rest of our lives.

It is no accident that Christians use the Apostles’ Creed at baptism. Unlike the Nicene Creed, which is an abstract (and hard to access) statement of the definition of the Trinity, the Apostles’ Creed is a story. It isn’t abstract. Hear the Apostles’ Creed again, and hear it as a story without an ending:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth;
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
+ + +

This Lent I am offering a special course for adults who have not been baptized or confirmed in the Church. The course, entitled “Journey of Faith,” begins this Sunday at 11:30 am at St. Paul’s, and will continue for seven weeks. All you need to do to get into the class is show up.

Even if you have been baptized or confirmed, the course is a good way to explore your faith, your doubts, and this great story we share together as the people of God. Come ask the hard questions of faith and life and meet fellow sojourners on the path.

For those adults who are interested, the course leads to baptism at the Great Vigil of Easter on April 7 at 7:30 pm. We are also offering baptism for babies and children on the following Sunday April 15, and for information on that please contact our office.

For those who are interested, the course leads to confirmation or reception as an Episcopalian at a special service Wednesday April 18 at 5:30 pm with Bishop Shannon Johnston.

You can still take “Journey of Faith” even if you aren’t interested in receiving any of these sacraments. I hope you will join me beginning this Sunday.

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