The Pyramid of Faith -
Four Ways God Speaks To Us, Part 3:
R is for Reason
May 15, 2011
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
As you remember during this month of May, we have been talking about the primary way that God speaks to us and strengthens us.
I call this system the “Pyramid of Faith.” It’s really not my original idea, though; it was originally called the “Methodist Quadrilateral”, and the idea goes back to the 1700’s, right around the time of the American Revolution. It comes to us from our founder, John Wesley.
We can think of this as the four sides of a pyramid (sneak preview: in an upcoming chapter, I’m going to add a fifth aspect!)
On the first panel of the pyramid, the letter “S” stands for Scripture, the Holy Bible. The second panel of the pyramid has the letter “T” which stands for tradition. The church springs up out of the Bible, the Holy Ground. We are blessed by the church’s services, sacraments and saints.
Wesley also believed that tradition was what you grew up with in your family. I grew up in a family where my parents prayed every morning and took me to church every week. This was my family’s ritual, part of the tradition through which God touches my life.
The Third Side of the Pyramid of Faith
Today we are discussing the third side of the pyramid of faith. The letter “R” on this third panel stands for Reason.
What is reason? Reason is a gift of God. It is not meant to replace Scripture or Tradition. Reason is a lens through which we can see greater truth. Today is the day that we are celebrating God’s great gift of your wonderful mind. Your mind is a gift from God – a gift of infinite worth. Your mind is more powerful than any computer in the world. Methodists are people who do not check their brains at the door. Methodists give thanks to God for the ability to reason, to think things through and to practice good judgment. In a way, we can say that today we are thinking about living our lives according to the Gospel, according to common sense. Common sense is an element that we bring to our faith!
Insight is what reason brings to our study of Scripture. When we come to a confusing piece of Scripture, we can say, “I don’t understand that passage”. Your common sense allows you to interpret the meaning of the passage. You can think, is it reasonable, is it good judgment? For instance, there may be people who find a piece of Scripture that seems to imply that women ought not be allowed to be ordained to the ministry, or ought not be allowed to speak in church. We Methodists can look at this and say, Is that reasonable? Is it good judgment? We can use our reasoning to say that what a tremendous treasure the church would be losing, if women can’t be ordained, or speak or read in church. We can point people to the passage that says: In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek nor male or female, all are one in Christ. Reasoning brings us insight. Reasoning brings us new light.
Reasoning also brings us balance in our faith. If you look at the news, you see mention of leaders who claim to be following the Bible yet they do and say the craziest things. What do we say to that as Christians? We can say, “Let’s be reasonable about this, let’s exercise good judgment.” Isn’t it wonderful to be a Methodist? John Wesley once said, “Think and let think.” He also said, “We may not agree on all things, but if thy heart be as mine, give me thine hand.”
You may be riding down the road and you see a billboard that proclaims that the world will come to an end this Saturday. Is this reasonable? God’s great gift to us of our intellect is not one that should be dismissed or minimized. We can use our gift of reason to think about these types of questionable predictions.
I am reminded of a prediction I saw some years ago, in August when I was on vacation. I was in a supermarket, pushing my shopping cart towards the checkout line. I saw one of those tabloid papers with the big print. The headline read: Nostradamus says absolutely and positively that the world will end completely on September 22, 2005. I thought to myself, “Oh No! Well, maybe something good will come from this, at least it will happen before the Charge Conference.” (Much laughter throughout the Congregation) Well, as you know, we are still here. Let’s bring our reasoning power to bear on these extreme predictions.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are many things in the life of faith that transcends our reasoning ability. That’s why it’s called “faith” and not mere “reason”. Belief in the Resurrection. Belief in everlasting life. Belief that God sent His Son to save us. Belief in miracles. There are spiritual truths in Scripture that transcend our reasoning. But when it comes to moral issues or confusing passages, let’s bring the power of our reason. Reason brings us insight and balance.
Jesus used reasoning all the time. Remember the time when some people approached Jesus, pulling and dragging a woman. They threw the woman down in front of Jesus. These Pharisees, who were experts in the letter of the law, spoke to Jesus saying that the woman had been caught in sin and should be stoned. Jesus used reasoning in this situation. He said, Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone. One by one, starting with the eldest, they dropped their stones and walked away. When the woman looked up, all were gone. Jesus said to her, Neither will I condemn you. Go and sin no more.
Jesus used reasoning all the time. In another instance, the Pharisees brought a coin to him. They said that Scripture says we should give to God, but the Law says that we should pay taxes to Caesar. They were trying to trap Him. Jesus would not be fooled. He used reasoning to interpret the law
Jesus asked whose picture was on the coin. The answer was Caesar. Jesus used reasoning and said, Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.
One of my favorite stories of the Bible is found in Matthew 7: 7-11.
7 "Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
8 For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
9 Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?
10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?
11 If you then, who are merely human, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
Jesus used reasoning and he invites us to use it to. How powerfully we know our wish to give good gifts to our children! How much more powerfully God wants to bless us.
God invites us to stay lively, insightful and flexible in our faith. Our reasoning power allows us to be flexible as we live out our faith.
Some years ago, I got a call. The daughter said to me, “My Dad will pass away soon. He is an entrenched atheist. Will you be willing to preside at his funeral?” I replied, “Only if he wants me to. Can I talk to him?” They said he was willing to talk with me.
I called him up. He knew who I was and what I do. He said, “I know who you are. It is fine if you perform my funeral. I know it is important to my wife and daughter.” (Interesting – wasn’t it rather a Christian thing to do on his part, to want to please the wife and daughter?) He passed away that summer, while I was down the shore. As I prepared what I would say at his service, I thought about the words of this wonderful hymn.
wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty. If our love were but more simple,
We should take Him at His word;
And our lives would be all sunshine
In the sweetness of our Lord.
(Frederick W. Faber, Oratory Hymns, 1854)
It is not for me to judge. It is for me to be loving and to help folks. I was honored to preside at his funeral, and for the love and blessing of his family.
Reason allows us to be flexible in our faith; flexible like a tree that sways in the wind, and does not break. This week I invite you to think about this and to see what act you may perform to reflect commonsense, Christian loving faith according to the Gospel of good judgment. It is what Jesus did and I believe it is what He wants for us.
God loves you; I do, too. Have a blessed week. Amen.
© 2011 Anthony J. Godlefski