June 14, 2015 Leaky Pipes, Leaky Theology
Do your pipes leak?
At, home, I mean. Do your water pipes leak?
There is a story about an Appalachian woman who had lived in the hills all of her life and had seen the coming of all the modern conveniences. She was asked, “What kitchen appliance do you most appreciate having,” and her response was, “Indoor, running water.”
Whenever I have told this story I have asked my hearers to name which appliance they thought she would name, and, to date, no one has come up with her answer. The invariable response is, “I don’t consider indoor water an appliance.”
Tell that to the 1.6 million Americans who do not have it.
Or to the 2.5 billion in the rest of the world.
We take it for granted until we don’t have it or until it leaks. For a while, every few months whenever I went down in the basement to our washer and dryer, I would discover a pinhole leak in the copper piping. It was always near the water heater and would be spraying out a foot or so before falling to the floor. Fortunately, it never happened over a period of several days; I always seemed to discover it within less than 12 hours. Eventually we had to replace all the copper with plastic because the water heater was setting up some sort of electrical current which was causing it.
This was not nearly as bad as the church member who had an upstairs sink overflow while continually running for about six hours. The whole back wall of the house had to be replaced. Another member had pipes freeze, break, thaw and freeze again while they are in the south for the winter. They had a foot of ice on their main floor.
So, do your pipes leak?
No, I am not talking about your water pipes but your spiritual pipes. Just like there is an intricate connection of pipes, joints, and pumps that connect your water faucet to the water reservoir deep in the ground, so too there is theology that connects God and us.
According to Webster, theology is
- the study of religious faith, practice, and experience,
- the study of God and God's relation to the world,
- a system of religious beliefs or ideas.”
It is more than just what we believe about God; it is the whole system of beliefs. And, just like poor plumbing leaks, so too does poor theology.
The most common example of this that most of us have is an incorrect image for God. In part this is due to the fact the immensity of God is beyond our human ability to fully comprehend, but even the parts we can understand we misunderstand. We call God “Father.”
So our image of God as Father is strongly influenced by our experiences of our father and father figures in our lives. Whenever those persons were inadequate, hurtful, or harmful, we instinctively apply those same characteristics to God. We need to have a positive, father-like experience of God in order to replace that negative human experience.
However, before we can have that experience, we need the knowledge and understanding that God is like a true Father. Here is where theology comes in. The experience of God as Father is the pure water. It comes to us through the pipe of theology.
One of the characteristics of Lutheranism is that we believe good theology brings us a good, correct, and holy experience of God while bad theology brings the opposite. Martin Luther was so insistent upon this that he condensed the most essential theological understandings of God into a small book for parents to use in instructing their children in good theology. It is called The Small Catechism.
So that our theology will not leak, we will be using portions of The Small Catechism during the creedal time in worship this summer.