More on Quaker Theology of Continuing Revelation

I gave this sermon on August 9, 2015 at Spring Friends Meeting.

As I had forsaken all the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those called the most experienced people; for I saw there was none among them all that could speak to my condition. And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, oh then, I heard a voice which said. ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition’, and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy.

– George Fox

In June, when I was last here, I mentioned the Quaker theology of continuing revelation. In that sermon, I said, “Some within our yearly meeting find this theology of continuing revelation distressing, but I find comfort in this theology because it honors Friends’ longtime witness that God is still speaking to our condition today, both as a corporate body and as individuals. We should always be listening for how God wants to use us and our abilities as disciples of God’s grace within today’s ever-changing world.”

Today I want to expand on this point and, by doing so; I will make a passionate defense for the theology of continuing revelation within modern Quakerism and within our yearly meeting.

For me, as a Christian Quaker, the words of George Fox, written above, still inform how I view my relationship with Christ: Christ as a heavenly guide, still leading us two millennia later. In the Gospel of John 1:9, it is stated that “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” This is the Light that is still among us and within us.

If we honestly believe that God has stopped speaking, all that God have ever said is in the Bible, let’s just close up shop right now and start calling us the Historical Society of Friends. Let’s just read the Bible as a historical novel that has no relevance to how we live today. Let us stop having waiting worship and pretending that we will somehow hear the voice of God today. Let us board up this meetinghouse and do our study of the Holy Scriptures in private.

But I do not believe this and this meeting does not believe this either. Throughout my readings of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, I see God is always present in the journeys of God’s people, even at the most difficult points of time. God was present with Moses, God was present with Ruth and Naomi, God was present with Christ on the cross, and God was present with the women as they discovered that the tomb was indeed empty. And God is still present with us today through God’s son, Jesus Christ, and God is still speaking to our condition today.

Why would God abandon us generations later and not continue to reveal Godself to us? In a way Quakerism should be described as a corporate journey towards building God’s Kingdom here on Earth.

Friend Lloyd Lee Wilson from our sister yearly meeting North Carolina Conservative writes: “God continues to teach those who make themselves available to be taught how to live according to the Divine Will in the present day. Continuing Revelation does not involve a new Gospel, but teaches us how to live out the Everlasting Gospel in our current circumstances.”

Our current circumstances bear some resemblance to First Century Palestine where an Empire was in charge of a large part of the world and injustice was rampant throughout the countryside. Yet, in many other ways, Twentieth First Century USA is also vastly different than First Century Palestine. We know more about the wider world and how the world functions than humans have ever known before. These scientific advances have largely helped the world to prolong and improve life. Some believe that these advances have led us into a new age where God is not needed; we have advanced beyond the need for Christ

Yet, I do not want to replace my belief in Christ with believing in only scientific knowledge, as some New Atheists have suggested. Science without morality has brought us the atomic bomb and other increased capabilities to kill each other, which have only increased misery in our world. We still need to offer moral guidance for the world and to proclaim that God is still present within our world and within our lives

Friend Lloyd Lee also reminds us that this is not a new Gospel that is being created through the continuing revelations we receive. Some liberal Friends have interpreted the theology of continuing revelation as a way to disregard the Bible and I think some conservative-theologically Friends within our yearly meeting fear that more liberal-theologically Friends are using/will use this theology as a way to discount the Bible and Christ. We are not trying to create a new Gospel but trying to understand what God’s message means in today’s context.

I want to go further with this and say that God will reveal Godself according to our individual and corporate abilities. For example, not in the too distant past, this meeting would not have approved of same-sex marriage. Friends here have now realized that God’s love applies to the LGBTQ community. But what if I brought a message advocating for the inclusion of the LGBTQ community to this meeting in 1990 or 1970 or even 1950? Would it have been too much for the meeting? What has happened in the intervening years? God hasn’t changed, instead we have changed and we are still changing. I often wonder what beliefs do we hold today that future generations will be stunned to learn about and think, “What were they thinking back then?”

Also, since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, one year ago today, we have started to look deeply at racism within our community and within ourselves in a different way than we have before. The shout of Black Lives Matter have brought this topic to the forefront in this country and we are slowly responding. We still have a ways to go in confronting the embedded racism within our midst. But that is the Good News: God will continue to be with us as we stumble towards creating God’s Kingdom here on Earth.

Before I end my message today, I want to speak about the dangers within continuing revelation. I have already spoken about how people think that we have surpassed the need for Christ and the Bible. I have also seen people with big egos run over others by saying that this is the will of God or that God has told them that others should follow them. Yet, this should not be happening as much as I see because Friends over the centuries have developed corporate and individual discernment processes to test leadings of individuals and of the larger bodies.

Within the theology of continuing revelation, we still need to heed this framework that Friends have developed over the last three centuries to test and carry leadings. Sadly I do not see many Friends heeding this advice and a lot of the strife within our yearly meeting is due to a lack of commitment to corporate discernment and discipline.

Let us continue to not only deepen our individual and corporate discernment into what God is revealing to us while we gather together, but also recommit to practices of testing and carry leadings among us to be certain that we are listening to God, not our egos.

God still needs us to be God’s disciples within the world and to work towards building God’s Kingdom here on Earth.


How Do We Proclaim This is the “Year of Lord’s Favor”?

I preached this sermon on December 14, 2014 at Spring Friends Meeting, near Snow Camp, NC. The text I used for this passage was Isaiah 61:1-4; 8-11.

Over the last few weeks, we have heard the voices of the oppressed. We have heard their voices coming from Ferguson, Missouri, Staten Island, New York, Cleveland, Ohio, and beyond. We have heard their cries yelling #BlackLivesMatter

Perhaps we have even tried to cry with them as we stood in the streets or as we prayed.

A week and half ago I stood in the streets the evening after the Grand Jury did not indict the police officers involved in killing Eric Garner over untaxed cigarettes. It was a time for public mourning. The tears and the anger all came out at once. It was not just about Eric and the way he died. He is just the latest one who did not get justice at all. People of color are tired of the injustice that criminalizes their bodies and are weary of the continuous fight to make their lives matter to the wider world.

In our Scripture reading today, we are hearing that it is the right time to proclaim that this is the “year of Lord’s Favor.” How do we proclaim that this is the “year of Lord’s Favor” in such a time full of injustice and mourning?

We are hearing from a prophet whom scholars call the third Isaiah. This third prophet appears in the Book of Isaiah when the Israelites have returned to their land from the exile in Babylon. What should be a joyous return has been marked with conflict between those who stayed behind and those who are returning. This is not what one would think would be exactly the events for a year to be declared the “year of Lord’s Favor”.

In this time that other Christians call Advent, the season right before Christmas, many see allusions in this Old Testament reading today to the coming of Christ, to the birth of the Messiah. In less than two weeks, that Good News is coming, Christ is coming, coming to be born to Mary & Joseph in a manger in Bethlehem.

This text from Isaiah is one that Jesus Himself preaches. According to the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, upon returning to Nazareth, Jesus reads this scripture in the temple. As we see throughout Luke, in Jesus’ time, Israel has its fair share of injustice and is being ruled once again by an outside Empire.

How can we proclaim that this is the “year of the Lord’s favor” during such a time of outrage and tragedy? When people feel the farthest from God’s love and righteousness?

In my own faith journey, there was a long time that I felt estranged from Christ. As a boy with a pronounced speech impediment, I did not feel God’s love when I suffered taunts and stares. Even today with two degrees, strangers still treat me as less than human upon hearing me speak. As if a person who is mentally handicapped is less than human. I often wondered: “Why did God curse me with an imperfect body?”

Even with my experiences, I do not know what it is like to have my whole existence as a human being disregarded just because of the pigment of my skin. What is like to be treated as nothing more than an animal, before and after death, like Tanisha Anderson in Cleveland? I do not know what it means to have a loved one lay out in the middle of the street for four and half hours in broad daylight in one’s own neighborhood, like Michael Brown in Ferguson.

How do we proclaim that this is “the year of the Lord’s favor”? What does the Good News to the Oppressed mean when there is only mourning in the streets and no sense of justice?

Christ’s beginning is not what we generally think about as “good news”. Jesus was born to poor parents outside in the elements because there was no room for them to stay at the inn. Shortly thereafter they all had to flee from an oppressive regime into a foreign land.

Years later, Jesus was later mocked and brutally executed by this same oppressive Empire. Yet another person of color executed in unfair circumstances, whose body was left outside for a long period of time to be mocked. Yet, in the end, we all know that the Roman Empire did not win. In the story of Christ, we know the ending; the State killed him after a sham of a trial, only to be Risen again. In that ultimate injustice, there was an everlasting justice that happened and is still happening today.

So how do we proclaim that this is “the year of the Lord’s favor”?

This starts by realizing that our human justice system is flawed.

In the second part of the passage we heard today from Isaiah, we hear Isaiah say while channeling the Lord, “For I the Lord love justice” What does God’s justice look like? Let us first remember Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Within this we can also remember the Quaker saying that there is a piece of God within each of us.

These two things are not taken in account in our humanly courtrooms. As we further divide ourselves into stringent categories of good and bad. We criminalize and demonize the part of humanity that does not fit in or fall in line, like bodies of color and disabled bodies.

We can start fighting for the kind of justice that builds God’s Kingdom here on Earth, where the Lord’s justice will forever reign. This is where people of color will be treated as fully human. This is where people with disabilities will be treated as valuable members of the community with diverse gifts to offer.

Our justice comes from a higher power and we are being called into the streets to proclaim this. This is the year of the Lord’s favor!

At the end of this passage from Isaiah, the prophet says, “The Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.”

In this barren winter land, I know there are the seeds of justice that are able to burst up at any moment. We do not have to wait until the spring for this new growth. This seed of God’s Kingdom is within each of us and we can share this when we stand up for justice for all!

Let’s go out and proclaim that this is the year of the Lord’s favor and fight for this everlasting justice to reign here on Earth!