Sermon Text: My Coffee Mug
It's time for me to earn my coffee mug....again.
My friend Renee is really smart and knows a lot of theology and stuff from the Bible. A couple years ago, she awarded me with a special coffee mug. It says, "Number One Heretic" for 2018. She felt I deserved it. You see, I'm not afraid to go public with my disagreements with classical Christian doctrine.
And today, I want to go on record once again as a heretic. Have you ever heard of "The Thirty-nine Articles"? This is a document of faith from the English Reformation of the 16th century, when the English church broke from the authority of the Roman pope. The document is called "The Articles of Religion," and is a list of beliefs held by our church back then. You can find it in the back of the Prayer Book in a section called "Historical Documents of the Church."
Article 9 is the one I want to reject today. It's called "Original or Birth-sin." It says that every baby is born full of sin. It says that every baby (and I quote here) "deserveth God's wrath and damnation." Every baby ever born.
Now, this reminds me of the man -- a bachelor, of course -- who said, "A baby can be defined as a loud noise at one end, and no sense of responsibility at the other."
I have had two babies, three grandbabies, and a whole bunch of nieces and nephews, so I know a little about babies. I am not saying they are model citizens from the start. A baby is selfish, of course, because that baby has to survive. But in spite of that nasty colic my son had when he was born, which made him cry loudly for weeks at a time, I do not believe he was twisted and evil.
Christianity sometimes talks about "original sin," the doctrine that every baby born deserves God's wrath and damnation. I reject that. Instead of original sin, I choose to call it original blessing. I remember the Genesis creation story with its refrain: "God made this, and saw that it was good...God made that, and saw that it was good..."
Now, it was not just in the 16th century that Christianity went to the dark side. Back in the 4th century, one of the most influential church leaders of all time was at work. His name was Augustine. He taught again and again that human nature is evil and unrighteous, and that every baby is tainted with original sin, like a disease inherited from the parents. And Augustine's teaching became the standard line in the Western
But remember my coffee mug. As a one-time holder of the "Heretic of the Year" award, I prefer another Christian teacher of the 4th century.
He was British, a Celt, and Augustine, who lived in northern Africa, did not like him at all. His name was Pelagius.
Augustine trashed his reputation so badly, he became known ever since as the big English heretic. You see, the Roman Christians who followed Augustine's teaching did not like how Pelagius viewed babies.
Pelagius believed that every child is born in the image of God. He believed that those babies of mine, children and grandchildren, came fresh from God, and they share the original, unspoiled goodness of creation. Pelagius did not believe in original sin, but he affirmed original blessing.
Of course children grow up and fall into mischief and sometimes into harmful or evil behaviors. But Pelagius could not look at a newborn infant and call that child depraved. As a heretic myself, I will side with Pelagius instead of with Augustine in this debate.
And you know, that means I will side with Jesus, actually. Jesus treated children the way he treated all the underdogs. In the ancient world, children were at best only tolerated, but could also be considered expendable.
Remember the time Jesus got really mad at his disciples? They tried to stop some parents with babies and little children from coming to Jesus for a blessing. The self-important disciples tried to stop them. Jesus got angry and insisted on receiving these children. He took them in his arms and blessed them on their way.
Or how about the time Jesus held children up as a model of trust? "Unless you receive God's kingdom like a child, you'll never enter it,"he said.
So I think about the attitude of Jesus toward children. I think about the attitude of Pelagius toward children. And I think about my own children, and grandchildren, and all the children who have blessed and delighted us here at St. Mark's. Like Pelagius, I look into the face of a newborn and see God's goodness and blessing.
Maybe I'm a heretic, but I think this is the first thing we should teach people in church...
not that we are sinners (though we are)...but that first of all, we are loved and cherished.
So, in honor of my coffee mug,
along with Pelagius,
and along with Jesus,
I say to all of you children of God:
You are blessed.
You are treasured.
You are loved.
For ever and always.