Call From Tomorrow

Randall Tremba
March 25, 2012
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church

* * *

so much from God
that I can no longer
a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim
a Buddhist, a Jew.

The Truth has shared so much of Itself
With me
That I can no longer call myself
A man, a woman, an angel,
Or even pure

Love has
Befriended Hafiz so completely
It has turned to ash
And freed

Of every concept and image
My mind has ever known.
Hafiz (14th century Persian poet)

Jeremiah 31:31-34
The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.And had Jeremiah lived later he might have added: with the house of Jesus, and the house Mohammed and the house of Buddha.

* * *

I began life as a Baptist and not just any kind of Baptist. I was a born-again, washed in the blood, Bible thumping, fundamentalist Baptist.

I was baptized at age 12. It was not a little-dab-will-do-you kind of baptism. It was full body immersion. I went down clueless and came up clueless but it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that I’d been “done” the right way, the only true way. Or so I was told.

I felt sorry for my catholic, Methodist, Lutheran and Presbyterian schoolmates who had not been “done” right and thus were bound for Hell. Or so I was told.

Five years after my baptism, I was asked to preach the sermon in the so-called “Youth Sunday” service. It was 1964.

At my father’s encouragement I had recently read Better Dead Than Red. So I used my first ever sermon to denounce communism. But not just communism. I also denounced the suddenly popular, satanically inspired, rock and roll band from England known as “The Beatles.” I had heard at least three or four Beatles’ songs, including: she was just seventeen, you know what I mean.

You betI knew what that meant. It meant the Beatles were sinister!

The following year, I went off to college and just like that fell in love with communism and the Beatles. I mean, “Strawberry Fields Forever?” WOW. What a song! I was hooked on the Beatles forever.

And communism? Well, at the time, communism actually seemed, at least on paper, exactly what Jesus had in mind—from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs. What was there not to love about that?!

I attended Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois as had Billy Graham. It had high academic standards and a rich evangelical flavor.

I majored in philosophy. I read Aristotle, Rene Descartes, Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Bertrand Russell. At the end of my freshman year I gave up fundamentalism and became an evangelical. I know, I know. It may not seem much of a change to you but for me it was a huge change.

Things change. People change. Sometimes slowly. Evolution never stops. It’s a Spirit thing, if you know what I mean.

After college, I went to Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA. For my required church work experience I applied to be a part-time youth director in a Baptist church. The pastor interviewed me and after an hour he said he would not hire me for two reasons: one, I didn’t sound like a Baptist and secondly, he wasn’t even sure I was a Christian.

That rattled me. Apparently I had changed or had been changed more than I realized. (Beware: full body baptism eventually catches up to you!)

Anyway, that was an identity crisis. If I wasn’t a Baptist, what was I?

I had to do some kind of church work, but where? I went back to the listings and saw a position advertised by a self-described “liberal” church in Whittier. My father had long ago sternly and often warned me about “liberals.” I went anyway.

The pastor interviewed me, liked the way I thought and hired me. It was a Presbyterian church. And just like that I’d found a home in a thinking, questioning, education friendly, science friendly, reformed and always reforming Christian tradition.

Things change. People change. One world dies; another is born. Rigid religious forms die. Something is born from the ashes. From the cocoon arises a butterfly. People change and things keep changing in part because the Spirit that’s been stirring things up on this planet for 4.5 billion years is still stirring things up, not only in the earth, sea and sky but also in human hearts and culture.

I have learned so much from God that I can no longer call myself a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim a Buddhist, a Jew.

In Persia, 700 years ago, in the 14th century, the poet Hafiz was paying attention. Hafiz was listening to the call from tomorrow. And 2500 years ago in the land of Judah the prophet Jeremiah was paying attention, listening to the Spirit.

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. But this is the covenant that I will make: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.

Jeremiah was paying attention. Something new was about to happen. The external forms of religion were about to be turned inside out. The divine would be discovered and experienced within each human heart. Imagine that!

I used to think that particular change happened long ago. Once. In the past. But, as it turns out, it happens time and time again and it’s happening right now before our eyes in our own time as it did nearly 2000 years ago right in front of Jesus.

Now among those who went up to worship at the Jewish festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man [“Child of Humanity”] to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.(John 12:20-33)

Or, Jesus might have said. WOW. It’s happening. Again. Tomorrow is here.

This gospel lesson reveals an evolutionary, quantum leap in the making. Something new was about to spring forth on the earth. Two alien—and often alienated—cultures were about to engage each other in conversation. What in the world would happen?

According to recent polls, the fastest growing religious group in America is “none of the above.” You’ve probably seen such polls. Are you Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, etc., etc., or none of the above.

I don’t know for sure, but I can guess: many of us are at least a little uncomfortable being labeled a Presbyterian or even a Christian. You sense there’s more to religion than rules and rituals, creeds and conformity.

Twenty some years ago more and more people were saying: “I’m spiritual but not religious.” That was an early sign of something big happening. Lately, more and more people, according to the polls, have begun to say, “I’m spiritual and religious.” Spiritual and religious?! Hmmm. Apparently another form of cross-fertilization is underway and heaven only knows how that will turn out.

Just when you think it’s going to be Strawberry Fields Forever you discover a patch of rhubarb. I suppose you could just let it be or you might want to try making strawberry rhubarb pie!

I am glad and grateful to be part of a faith community and tradition like this one, one that keeps listening to the call of the Spirit bidding us break ancient schemes and allow the new to flourish. Yes, it’s a good thing to stand within a particular tradition; but it is not such a good thing to bury your head in it.

Love has befriended Hafiz so completely
it has turned to ash and freed me
of every concept and image
my mind has ever known.