As a community Spokane is truly blest to have Riverside State Park right in our back yard. It is Washington State’s largest State Park. It offers two rivers, three campgrounds, an Equestrian Area, an off the road vehicle area, Cultural and Historical sites, swimming, access to boating, kayaking, fishing and paddling, miles and miles of mixed use trails with stunning scenery and views at every turn and disc golf.
You can hammer in your tent stakes and unroll your sleeping bag in a primitive camp site or uncoil the electrical pig tail of your Class A diesel motor home and watch the Mariners loss another game while sitting in front of your on board fire place.
And to use the camp sites there are rules with which you must comply or they will kick you out. I’ve consolidated them. The first one isn’t even one of the eighteen listed. That rule is that you are required to report to Park Rangers those who are in non-compliance with the rules.
As a camper you must display the Discover Pass which testifies that you pay your fair share. You have to be in by ten p.m. Quiet Hours are from 10:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m. and must be observed. Those with engine driven electric generators must shut them off by 9:00 p.m. and can’t run them again until 8:00 a.m. You can’t stay for more than ten or twenty days depending on the time of year. You can’t have more than eight people on your campsite. Removing or damaging any wildlife, plants, park buildings, signs and tables and other structures a prohibited as is feeding animals. Pets must be on leashes not more than eight feet long. Horses and alcohol are allowed but only in designated areas. Fireworks are prohibited as is smoking inside park structures. Pets, glass bottles and metal cans are not allowed on swimming beaches.
Now that’s just for a temporary stay in the park. Here in Spokane we can have three chickens but not roosters at our home. We aren’t allowed to have open fires or discharge weapons. And folks get even more demanding of each other as residents in a condominium or a gated community.
So why is that important for us today? The reading from the Epistles for today is Hebrews 11:1-16.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
I’m going to drop down to where the author writes of Abraham:: By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
From the very first phrase in this chapter the writer encourages us by writing that trust in God, or the conviction that God is good and that God will perform that which God has promised, though not visible to our senses, is literally the foundation upon which we construct our lives. The words not are a definition of what faith is but what faith does. Faith gives to things a future which as of yet are only hoped for. Things future and things unseen must become certainties to our mind if we are to live a balanced life. Faith mediating between us and the supersensible is the essential link between ourselves and God.
The word of God is an invisible force which cannot be perceived by sense. The great power which lies at the heart of all that is does not itself come into observation; we perceived it only by faith which is ‘the evidence of things not seen. There exists an unseen force that does not submit itself to experimental science, and that is the object of faith.
Yet as strangers and foreigners we desperately want the security of a city that has foundations but what we are able to construct can never secure us firmly to bed rock. It’s our upside down equivalent of the Tower of Babel. Rather than trusting God compulsively we codify rules and seek to build palpable structures and expect everyone within our community to comply.
It’s like we worry about devising ways to anchor our double wide mobile homes to the earth. And we feel so secure that within our mobile home park we compose and seek to enforce covenants that control what our neighbors can and can not do. But despite our most sincere efforts the changing winds of life blow our dwellings off their fragile pads. We are more like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob than we want to believe, imagining we have constructed foundations only to learn that our lives are really about tent stakes. We have no deed for our double wide despite how luxurious we’ve made it, we have no foundation.
I was saddened this weak as I read, and then re-read, “A Progress Report from Northwest Yearly Meeting Board of Elders”. Clearly it written to defend themselves against the charge of being ‘unconcern or weak’ made against them for not more quickly censuring a local Friends Meeting that conscientiously and intentionally placed themselves “out of compliance with Northwest Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice’. They have chosen to welcome into their faith community and persons who live in committed same sex relationships.
In the report the Elder’s reminded the readers that in response they had decided to reiterate the ‘historic stance’ in the “Our Witness to Human Sexuality” portion of the Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice and that they had formed a sub-committee to draft language that ‘upholds that stance while seasoning it with grace’. During Yearly Meeting sessions sufficient unity was not found to accept the more gracefully stated statement as having had its first reading toward adoption.
Attached to the Progress Report was a draft proposal for a formalized multiyear and multi-step legal process for adjudicating charges of noncompliance intended to assure adherence with the language of Faith and Practice or if “reconciliation” is found to be impossible severing the non-compliant local church’s relationship with the Yearly Meeting, “with property issues handled with grace”. For me, reconciliation supposes movement on the part of both parties. Such would entail a serious revisiting of the intent of Faith and Practice which is not contemplated.
Through out human history those who have stood against acknowledging truth when it has contradicted their fondest notions have been characterized as ignominious. For instance, the Gospel is for all, not just Jews. The world is round, not flat. The Sun, not the Earth, is the center of our solar system. Creation can’t be dated to 4004 B.C. Native Americans who were here before most of us and the Afro-Americans we brought here are neither children of
Satan and obstacles in the way of our manifest destiny nor sub-human tools for our use. People who suffer mental illness or physical deformity deserve having a life rather than being hidden away. Women are equal to men.
I think it is an extreme imposition to charge someone with defending the language of a document as if it were a perfectly complete foundation for faithfulness. Those who have been put in such a position have consistently been marked by disgrace, shame or humiliation.
The Religious Society of Friends has for 370 years sought to avoid such inquisitions. For himself, Jesus, in Luke 12 asks: “My friend, who set me over you to judge or arbitrate?
The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that such statements which pretend to being foundational for faithfulness are at best tent stakes which mark where we are in our faith pilgrimage and the holes left from where they are pulled up when we move on are quickly filled in by the sand which had held them. We are wilderness wanderers and the appropriate role for our Elders is to point a way forward through a constantly changing landscape, not defend where we most recently erected our tents.
Despite our comforting prejudices Paul in his letter to the Romans says that in God’s sight we are all equals, saved not by our adherence to doctrinal orthodoxy or our compassionate witness but by grace – alone. Maybe Paul’s advice in Romans 14:22 needs to be taken to heart. He writes: “If you have some firm conviction, keep it between yourself and God.” We are obliged to accept one another. In the 15th Chapter he penned that we are to accept one another as Christ accepted us. He wrote: “ …do you think lightly of his (God’s) wealth of kindness, of tolerance and of patience, without recognizing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to a change of heart.” Paul pleads in the 14th chapter of Romans: “Let us therefore cease judging one another….”