If he still lived, he would have celebrated his seventieth birthday half a year ago. Unfortunately, in the last months of 2010 he disappeared from the pulpit of Harvard’s Memory Church, and died on February 28 2011: the Rev. Prof. Peter J. Gomes, Baptist minister with “an Anglican over-soul,” honorary priest in the Episcopal Church, Pusy Minister in Memorial Church and Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard Divinity School was called “one of the great preachers of our generation, and a living symbol of courage and conviction.” Listening to sermons preached by the Rev. Gomes and the liturgies at which he presided was for us a regular element of Sunday afternoons and we still miss his deep voice, beautiful English, and in the first place the way he managed to show each time that the Gospel is an endless source of life wisdom: difficult, challenging for us all and still (and perhaps because of that) irreplaceable. Today we came across highlights from an interview with him by Sally Quinn. You can watch them here. Below we posted the transcript. (We made the transcript and we alone are responsible for any imperfections.)
Peter J. Gomes: My guess is he’d weep.
PG: Because it seems so far removed from the radical doctrines of love and social change and inclusiveness Jesus seemed to represent preponderantly in the Sermon on the Mountain and his teachings. It almost looks as if the church is trying to find the easiest way around those demanding aspects of the Gospel. It’s on that we’re proposed to agree and I think that would brake his heart.
The Scandal of the Gospel
PG: Many people found Jesus far more compelling and interesting than the message. In other words, we ended up focusing on the messenger as opposed to the message, and in a way, while we are supposed to be dealing with what Jesus preached, we end up preaching Jesus. And that’s easier to do, because we can draw the pictures and make the biographical, the creedal and the doctrinal statements. They don’t involve any substantial change in us. We can debate is Jesus divine, is Jesus human, is there a historical Jesus, where is Jesus buried, all that sort of thing. But the content of his message, love your neighbor, turn the other cheek, all that sort of thing, that’s far more dangerous, delicate.
On Communism as Christianity
PG: Communism, the early 19th century kind, espoused something closer to Jesus’ Gospel than most of our churches today are. To each according to his needs, from each according to his ability – what’s wrong with that? I put that on a quiz once, and most people thought, “Jesus did say this.” It was Karl Marx, actually.
On Black and Homosexual Labels
PG: It was very difficult [to come out]. Not because I was ashamed t be homosexual. The difficulty was that, knowing the way this world operates, that would be for ever my identity and I’ve spent my life making my identity as a Christian the defining one, and I said, “I don’t want to be known as the black guy or the gay guy, or the Republican guy or whatever guy.” I wanted to be known as Jesus’ guy, that’s what I am.
On Our Superficial Culture
PG: We have tended to take the most superficial aspects of our culture an exalt those as absolutes. We’re not very introspective, we don’t dare look to closely at ourselves for fear that we won’t like what we see. And we’re not particularly trusting that we can learn from other people. Those are all signs of a culture just a little paranoid, a little uncertain of itself.
On Heaven, Hell and the Divine in between
SQ: We are all searching for some kind of meaning, some sense of the divine. What is your sense of the divine?
PG: Well, it is that perfect union of means and opportunities, as they say in the law school, means, motives and opportunity. When those three things come together, and the result is this sense of wholeness and goodness, that is for me a life fulfilled. When you’re able to say, “I really am doing what I always wanted to do, what I know needs to be done, what I know I ought to do”, and then, doing it well, I have a consciousness of this, and it makes a difference not only in my life, but in somebody else’s life, that for me is heaven. That for me is fulfilling the destiny we’ve been called to do. We all want it. I believe that…