Summary: Religion does not create a relationship with God, nor does ritual. It is refinement born of repentance that shapes that relationship. Repent, relate, and receive.
“Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” Famous words supposedly spoken by journalist Henry Morton Stanley somewhere in Tanganyika at the end of his expedition to find the missing explorer. “I presume”. It means, “I think I know what I am doing. Would you please confirm it for me? You look like what I came to find; please tell me I am right.” When we presume something, we are already rather well convinced we are right, but we want somebody to confirm it for us. Presumption; what we think we already know.
There is a Sufi saying, “Those who do not know that they do not know are ignorant: Pray for them. Those who do not know that they know are asleep: Wake them. Those who know that they do not know are children: Teach them. Those who know that they know are realized beings: Follow them."
But I have a problem with the Sufi saying. (And by the way, please do not ask me to repeat it!) I agree that not knowing is a situation that calls out for remedy. Teaching, waking, praying. But I do not agree that those who know that they know are always those who should be followed. I find that those who know that they know are presumptuous. They are self-contained. They can even be arrogant. Those who know that they know are presumptuous, and expect others to confirm them and applaud them. There is a problem with that. There is an issue with presumption. And that issue becomes a very serious one when it is turned toward our relationship with God. If you and I become presumptuous about God, we are far off the mark, and need serious correction.
I want to introduce you this morning to a preacher who made very certain that his audience got serious correction. This preacher was unmistakably clear with his assessment of those who presumed to know that they knew. This preacher is likely not a candidate that your Pastor Search Committee will bring before you. For one thing, his wardrobe is well out of style; I know that you have no dress code, and am happy that here people can wear jeans or be as casual as they like. But really, camel’s hair? Wardrobe does not measure up. And then there is the issue of diet. I have been to several of the Sunday night suppers, and even if you have not attended those, you have heard Jim Kirk bellow out the menu; never have I heard him announce that locusts and wild honey will be served at 5:30 tonight! No, neither the wardrobe nor the diet will do, and maybe we would even quarrel with this preacher’s theology. Maybe we wouldn’t like to listen to what he has to say. Yes, he is a Baptist; but somehow what he is preaching is not what we expect to hear from Baptist pulpits. Is this the message you would come out for, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near”? Is this the flavor you prefer, “You brood of vipers”? And all this stuff about fire? Too negative for our tastes, right? Too extreme.
But, brothers and sisters, therein lies the issue. Therein is our problem. It is easy to be guilty of presumption. It is easy to presume that we are on the right path. We readily presume that we are signed, sealed, and delivered before God. “Once saved always saved” is our favorite doctrinal statement. But here comes one John the Baptist, all unshaven and unwashed, wagging his bony finger at us, and fairly shrieking, “Do not presume.” “Do not presume to say to yourselves …”