The Integrity of the Cross

Posted: September 14, 2018 in Uncategorized

Pentecost 17B, 2018
Mark 8:27-36

The Integrity of the Cross

The cross is a primary symbol of traditional and modern Christian faith even if it may not be the first symbol. It is a symbol that grew in the 4th Century AD. In our tradition it is seen to represent the suffering of the Holy in the midst of humanity. It is also true that multiple meanings are given to it and multiple effects come from those meanings. It seems also too obvious to say that the cross is the nerve center of today’s gospel story by Mark.
But what does that mean?

What most progressives understand today is that the cross is a symbol of traditional Christianity ‘par excellence. It has been around a long time and it is universally known as a Christian symbol especially since the time of Constantine’s reign in the 4th century. And the rest, they say, is history. Looking back on history we can see how the cross became the emblem of Christian triumphalism, forged in the fires of the late Roman empire, in the process of a military victory” (Funk 2002:141). And prime among those ‘fires’ in days past, were the Crusades in and following 1096, the Inquisition in 1232 onwards, and Auschwitz in the 1940s. Prime among those ‘fires’ in the past 10 years or so, are Iraq, Afghanistan, terrorism, and the ‘religious right’, of several persuasions.

We can say that under the banner of the cross and Constantine’s motto: ‘in this sign conquer’, the ground was laid for murder and mayhem. We acknowledge that the hymn ‘Onward Christian soldiers’ was shaped, and a creedal Christianity developed which left
a human Jesus completely out of the picture! What we cannot abide with is that cruelty and a terrifying death, are part of the so-called plan or purpose of ‘God’, because we know that they are the doings of human beings. And sometimes, totally depraved human beings at that.

If all the above is true then we must ask; can the symbol of the cross be freed from
its triumphalist associations and evil overtones? Can the symbol of the cross be freed from the thinking that says the ‘cross’ means ‘blood’ and Jesus dying for our sins? Some would say it has to, others that it cannot and others that it can but it means a new view and understanding of God and who Jesus was and is for us today.

While I am sure I will not be able to answer those questions today I want to have a go at starting such a quest. In fact, it is probably more about putting into words what is already under way. What might be possible is looking to see if we can make just a small beginning at weaving another possible way of looking at the symbol of the cross.

I think the first thing we need to do is acknowledge a predominant portrayal of the Cross is an unhelpful one in that it is ingrained in our thinking and thus a large challenge when it comes to thinking alternatively. John Shea suggests that when the cross is portrayed as the preordained means by which humankind is redeemed, then God in implicated in the death of Jesus not as fellow sufferer but as executioner. And as a starting point for our thinking it is at best unfortunate. These are sharp words but it is the primary point in our change in thinking. It is true that Jesus’ death mattered to his friends, but only because his life mattered more. As S J Patterson suggests, what they did was begin to speak of his death in ways that affirmed his life and they came to see he stood for something so important that he was willing to give his life for it.

This I suggest is a fundamental and very important difference because there is a certain human-ness and integrity about it, which is absent from so much of the other ways of thinking. And as Rex Hunt notes there are three threads at work here. The first is that the cross is about Jesus’ integrity; The second is that God’s ‘love’ is not about supernatural payment or rescue from sin, but rather divine sharing in human suffering; and the third is that Jesus did not invite the cross, but accepted it rather than abandon his vision or glimpse of what the world is really like when you look at it with God’s ‘eyes’.

Another way of looking at this is to say that Jesus saw beyond his present, he saw the integrated bigger picture and he sought to pass his glimpse along, and he did this not by telling stories about how it was and stories about how it could be but rather by using common everyday idioms, images and metaphor through sayings. aphorisms and parables. We call this the unconventional wisdom of a sage.

We know that it is not possible to discover one uniformed view of Jesus, otherwise why has there been so many attempts to discover the historical Jesus but New Testament scholar Dom Crossan offers one helpful re-imagined response:

“He is watched by the cold, hard eyes of peasants…  They know all about rule and power, about kingdom and empire, but they know it in terms of tax and debt, malnutrition and sickness, agrarian oppression and demonic possession.  What, they really want to know, can this (realm) of God do for a lame child, a blind parent, a demented soul screaming its tortured isolation among the graves that mark the edges of the village?”

As Bob Funk said ‘This human Jesus did not write a definitive essay or publish a book. And the classic creeds from ages past seldom help, because they are preoccupied “with the status of Jesus rather than with God’s domain”. By contrast, we could say that Jesus’ efforts were more like that of a painter who uses broad strokes in both the political
and the social spheres of Galilean village life. And those strokes offer a picture which
enlarge God to include humankind, and enlarge the self to include the neighbour.

I want to take a leaf out of his book now and show you a big picture and use a modern idiom, or video to lay it out before you. As you watch think about the neighbour who potentially, an enemy! And hold fast to the idea that the death of something matters but only in that life matters more and that the challenge is to express a more absolute, uncompromising integrity as the true meaning of the cross. It might seem a bit of a stretch but I suspect that the result is what Mark’s, or his community’s, theological reflection.

And the challenge is that we will be able to hear this meaning only when, in an act of generosity, we keep our eyes open and our hearts hurting, and walk with those who, for whatever reason, carry unbearable crosses.

Video – The Next Revolution

Crossan, J. D. 1991.  The historical Jesus. The life of a mediterranean jewish peasant. VIC: North Blackburn. CollinsDove.
Funk, R. W. 2002.  A credible Jesus. Fragments of a vision. CA: Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.
Patterson, S. J. 2004.  Beyond the passion. Rethinking the death and life of Jesus. MN: Minneapolis. Fortress Press.
Shea, J. 1975.  The challenge of Jesus. IL: Chicago. Thomas More

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People Matter

Posted: September 5, 2018 in Uncategorized

Pentecost 16B, 2018
Mark 7:24-30

People Matter

What we have to explore today is an interesting and different story from our gospel tradition. It is a single-entry story (Mark 7:24-30) that not only paints Jesus in a not-so-positive light, but also seems to question the very spirituality that initially shaped him. Jesus is seen as being critical of a gentile woman’s social behaviour and a judgmental temperamental exorcist. Feed the children first rather than throwing the food to the dogs. Then accepting her claim that the dogs eat the children’s crumbs he casts out the demons, first of the daughter and then the deaf man.

Having redefined ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ in last week’s story, the storyteller we call Mark now has Jesus challenged (and by implication, the Markan community somewhere in Syria) to put that teaching into practice by ministering to those often seen as ‘unclean’—or just different. We might say in our everyday language… Take the time to look beyond external factors like nationality, religious heritage, or social position, which by their nature often exclude. In the language of ‘Marcus Borg’ we are asked; what ‘lens’ did the storyteller Mark use and why? What ‘lens’ can we use to hear this story with twenty-first century ears?

Rex Hunt talks of a gathering he attended several years ago in Queensland at which a keynote speaker was feminist theologian and Catholic religious, Miriam Therese Winter.
He speaks of the experience as a stimulating and awakening experience for many of the males present as they began to hear some of the biblical stories through the eyes and ears—through the ‘lens’—of women. Again, this reminds us of the importance of the lens through which we look at the text. So. In that spirit we might explore a couple of comments on Mark’s story.

It seems that through the storyteller’s ‘lens’ we have a Phoenician woman, and her unconventional behaviour as determined by social convention, and we have her getting one over Jesus and if we believe the storyteller, it caught him on the back foot, so to speak. What initially draws the dominant male’s wrath by its increasing boldness, cleverness, and basic moral correctness, eventually subverts that discomfort into agreement. Mark’s Jesus has already taught others that religious customs should not stand in the way of doing good for those in need. Now, Mark suggests, Jesus is faced with having to learn that social conventions, ingrained in his spirituality, should not do so either. And if it was good enough for Jesus to have a change of heart, then what seems implied in this story, is: why shouldn’t it be also good enough for others, especially Mark’s own community, to be so challenged?

On the surface the story is presented as one about healing. But if we dig a little deeper we can will find Mark intended it to be a story of inclusion and distributive justice. And it is a story where a woman becomes the lead actor or ‘lens’ in the interaction. The storyteller’s teaching moment seems to be as our title suggests: people matter most. No one can be excluded. None can be treated like ‘dogs’ or ‘unclean’ or ‘outcast’. None! Like I argued in our discussion last week; the restoration of the individual is sacramental of the restoration of society and like that which undergirds our communion this week; what we do at the table when we intentionally take our selves to the table we restore society together.

Changing tack a bit and changing the ‘lens’. We might look through the lens Arthur Dewey author, progressive theologian and Fellow of the Westar Institute Jesus Seminar takes In one of his many articles he explores the possibility of viewing Jesus through the ‘lens’ of a peasant artisan or craftsman. Why? Because Dewey reckons this could help us work out what Jesus was about.

He writes: It appreciates the texture of his imagination. How did Jesus craft his words? What did he envision as he worked? How did his words invite his listeners into his vision… What can we make of those words?

In answering this Dewey goes on: “Working in wood or stone demands envisioning ‘what is there within’ the material… He ‘sees’ what is ‘there’ and works painstakingly toward it. The task is to see a vision and to use the ‘grain’ in seeking to realize that vision.”

So, what might artisan Jesus have ‘seen… what is there within’ his audiences that Jesus is speaking to? Well! We, can probably say that there are some common sociological realities that we can identify in his audience.

  1. There will be disputes where the conventional wisdom that says one’s primary concern should be for those within our own social group or clan or family or nationality; Look after oneself first and so on.
  2. There will be a need to admit there is a degree of alienation in society, be it towards Muslims, gays and lesbians, or so-called illegal and perhaps even legal immigrants – whom we or they often turn into ‘the enemy’;
  3. There will be the challenge to all to reshape one’s social categories, especially those of others, formed by fears and rumours and innuendo. Who is in or out, who is appropriate or not.

Dewey asks how this change might happen and he suggests it begins with our imagination. He suggests that we imagine ourselves acting differently towards those outside the circle of our people. Not only to re-imagine our response but also to offer our oppressor a chance for a more humane reply.

In the words of Nelson Mandala and Desmond Tutu we are being challenged to practice ‘ubantu’. Tutu explains the meaning of this Zulu word when he says: We believe that a person is a person through another person, that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably with yours. When I de-humanize you, I inextricably de-humanize myself. The solitary human is a contradiction in terms and therefore you seek to work for the common good because your humanity comes into its own in belonging.

The challenge in looking through another lens is to acknowledge that there are still many in our communities who know what it is like to be without a voice, to be flattened,
to be destroyed. And when we seek to change laws to enable the church or businesses
to exclude or denigrate minority groups, it is no wonder that others in the community think it natural to also treat them: asylum seekers, gay, lesbian, and transgender folk,
the homeless that way.

In our own space right now in this country we are being asked this question of who’s in or who’s out. We have had the lets reduce the number of immigrants and we have without much acknowledgment raised the numbers back up. Economics has overridden the social concerns. The discussion about the correctness of the Prime Minister visiting Nauru is a smoke screen to the question of the abhorrent practice of locking up asylum seeker children in immigration detention centers, often in poor countries outside our own. A former ‘Australian of the Year’, Professor Patrick McGorry, described such places as “factories of mental illness.” And author Tim Winton said in his 2015 Palm Sunday address: “We have an irrational phobia. We’re afraid of strangers. Not rich strangers. No. The ones who frighten us out of our wits are the poor strangers. People displaced by war and persecution. We’re even scared of their traumatized children. And if they flee their

war-torn countries in boats, well, then, they’re twice as threatening.”

Here we have the challenge of the text for today, who’s in and who’s out? And right about now the even bigger challenge unfolds. We cannot escape some responsibility as we are social beings, We know we cannot survive as isolated individuals. We know we are at our best when we love, when we care for each other, when we seek justice for each other. Australian social commentator Hugh Mackay called this attitude of sensible avoidance of the issues as ‘disengagement’. In a newspaper article some time back, he wrote: “We prefer TV programs about backyards to news and current affairs; we have rediscovered the healing power of retail therapy; we have become more self-absorbed… We’re more prejudiced and, correspondingly, less interested in information that might challenge those prejudices”. And the result of this disengagement many, perhaps most of us is that we ignore the plight of others. Just a few years back many of us would have said that ‘trickle-down economics’ is the answer to every question. Even it seems, if the planet burns!

Until as our text reminds us a Phoenician woman, already with two strikes against her,
gives the ignored or the forgotten, a voice. Prophets come in all shapes and sizes and they don’t look the way you would expect. Don’t tell me who’s in or out, even the out eat the same crumbs.

What this says is that every generation must work out its values and its faith responses
to changing circumstances, just as those who preceded us were required to do. Not everything passed down has the same value for life in the modern word, and we must discern towards Justice. And that goes for science, for politics, for education, and for religion. When all is said and done, we actually live in a new present, that is qualitatively different from any of our human pasts. In this present, as we think about ourselves and others, how do we find the energy to nurture a creative and compassionate lifestyle?

I want to finish this talk with some words for Sir Lloyd Geering, who suggests we need to take a few things with radical seriousness: We need;

  • An attitude of awe towards this self-evolving universe.
  • An appreciation of the living ecosphere of this planet.
  • An appreciation of the capacity of the earth to regenerate itself.
  • An appreciation of the total cultural legacy we have received from our human forbears.
  • Responsibility for the care of one another.
  • Responsibility for the kind of planet we pass on to our descendants.
  • Its value to be found in life, in all of its diversity.

He goes on to say: “In developing a spirituality for today’s secular world we must not be primarily concerned with saving our individual selves…  Rather we must be primarily concerned for the welfare of one another, for the future of the human species, and for the health of the planet”.

It’s time for your creative imaginations to become part of the ongoing discovery of new ways. Look with a new lens to be a human community in the world. Especially when everything around us seems fragile and unsure. Amen.


Cairns, I. J. Mark of a Non-Realist. A Contemporary Reading of the Second Gospel. Masterton. Fraser Books, 2004.

Clayton, P. “Marcus Borg and the New Face of Christianity”. 27/01/2015.

Dewey, A. J. “Jesus as a Peasant Artisan” in R. W. Hoover (ed) Profiles of Jesus. Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 2002.

Geering, L. G. Coming Back To Earth: From Gods, to God, to Gaia. Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 2008.

Hunt, R. A. E. Against the Stream. Progressive Christianity between Pulpit and Pew. Preston. Mosaic Press, 2013. (Re-issued by Morning Star Publishing, 2014).[Back To Top]

Drawing Inclusive Circles.

Posted: September 5, 2018 in Uncategorized

Pentecost 14B, 2012
Mark 7:1-8

Drawing Inclusive Circles.

German theologian, Ernst his book, Jesus means freedom, published in 1969, tells this following story.

The scene is a parish in Amsterdam, Holland, when Calvinism had resulted in a high cultish response for people in their sense of duty. Duty came before everything and was the basis of morality. Duty was an obligation sustained by obedience. where people felt themselves strictly bound to obey God’s commandments, and therefore, to keep the Sabbath holy. The story tells of a time when the place was so threatened by wind and waves that the dyke had to be strengthened and it was a Sunday. If the inhabitants were to survive they would have to repair the dyke on that Sunday or perish.

The police notified the pastor, who now found himself in a religious difficulty. Should he call out the people of the parish and set them to do the necessary work,
if that meant profaning the Sabbath? Should he, on the contrary, abandon them to destruction in order to honour the Sabbath? He found the burden of making a personal decision too much for him, and so he summoned the Church Council to consult and decide.

The discussion went as one might suppose: “We live to carry out God’s will. God… can always perform a miracle with the wind and the waves. Our duty is obedience, whether in life or in death”. The pastor tried one last argument: “Did not Jesus himself, on occasion, break the fourth commandment and declare the Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath?” Thereupon a venerable old man stood up: “I have always been troubled, pastor, by something that I have never ventured to say publicly. Now I must say it.”

“I have always had the feeling that our Lord Jesus was a bit of a liberal”.

Having completed a long and complicated tour through some of the sermon-stories of John, this morning the lectionary returns to the stories of the earlier storyteller we call Mark. And this particular story, with all its different layers and subsequent interpretations,
raises an important question: How do we treat those who are ‘in’ and those who are ‘out’? How do we understand the meaning of inclusion and value diversity?

The vehicle our storyteller Mark uses, is a supposed encounter between Jesus, some pharisees, and his own disciples, over the entrenched purity laws and the traditions which encased them. Many scholars now agree such a debate, if it happened at all, probably took place among branches of the early Christian movement itself – between Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles – long after Jesus’ death.

Through the tradition of purity laws and the symbolic action of ritual washing, Mark appears to show a liberal or progressive Jesus, claiming such Torah provisions and associated inherited traditions, must be set aside. Why was this important for Mark? Maybe because, Mark knows about these inherited religious traditions and maybe this debate is not about health issues or hygiene at all. Maybe he is saying that this tradition needs to be re-imagined and rethought in new situations. Maybe Mark knows such inherited religious traditions can create enormous ‘power’ tensions between those who seek to include, and those who seek to exclude. This would make the inclusion claim less about all becoming the same or every extreme being acceptable and more about questioning and challenging the cultural, political and religious assumptions about who measures up and who doesn’t, in other words more about valuing the different as authentic in partnership as truth or not. Living the questions perhaps.

Maybe here Mark is capturing Jesus’ priorities, correctly. His radical inverting, alternatives even go as far as some so-called ‘biblical injunctions’ that should be disregarded because they can pollute the human heart and destroy social relationships. Maybe biblical traditions never take precedence over what is compassionate and caring. This immediately makes the simple inclusion, exclusion question far more complex. By focusing on attitudes of the heart and resultant behaviour, storyteller Mark invites his hearers and his readers to begin reimagining and rethinking the in or out question. We might remember here that only with modernity did the issue of diversity become something that is in tension with unity.

Briefly then, some of the ecological issues which are before us today are the debate surrounding a sustainable ecological environment, and the discussion around artificial intelligence and the discoveries within neuroscience. In one sense these are new discoveries and in another they have been around a long time just off the edge of our imagination. Like I said some weeks back more than 40years ago there was an article that suggested that traditional Christianity’s attack on so-called pagan religion, effectively stripped the natural world of any spiritual meaning. It was claimed that Christianity replaced the belief that the ‘sacred’ is in rivers and trees – with the doctrine – that God is a disembodied spirit whose true residence is in heaven, not on earth.

The author wrote: “By destroying pagan (religions), Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects.” (White 1967). Here lies the pollution of our oceans, lakes, rivers and streams by the introduction of chemicals, plastics and other pollutants that destroy the balance of evolution. Be careful here to note that I am not condemning the development of chemicals for enhanced production or even the development of genetic enhancement, but what I am suggesting is that when we make sweeping claims about what we don’t know we risk getting it horrible wrong. There is precedent for the extinction of a species and today’s environment would suggest a case for the extinction of that which we call human. It is claimed that we are now well into the sixth great extinction and while the previous five may not have shown a progression in severity ours is likely to become the most horrific and devastating extinction yet. And by devastating, I mean such that the evolution of the human will not be able to adapt quick enough. Simply, we have not yet accepted that Planet Earth is alive, filled with creativity – ‘God’ – and worthy of our respect. And if we want to continue to live on this beautiful yet fragile planet, we will have to take the findings of modern science far more seriously and do it urgently. Some who suggested that it may in fact be too late already might even have it right.

What is crucial is that we must think and feel that we are part of and at one with the whole holy system we call the global ecosystem if we are to continue. To quote Sallie McFague, we need to become “super, natural Christians”. I would suggest as I think Mark says; we need to take seriously the importance of belonging. To put the healing of our world before the need to exploit it.

So, how do we address issues which, if not addressed, will destroy us? How do we treat those who are ‘in’ our zone, our view of our responsibilities? And how do we treat those who are ‘out’ of it? Perhaps we all need to hear again Edwin Markham’s simple religious poem:

He drew a circle that shut me out

– Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win;
We drew a circle that took him/her in!


What being inclusive means is taking seriously the need to belong and now I want to leave you with a video to consider in that regard.


Show video


Kasemann, E. Jesus Means Freedom. London. SCM, 1969.
White, L. 1967.  “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis”.
McFague, S. Super, Natural Christians. How We Should Love Nature. Kindle edition, 2000.

Not Just Spiritual…

Posted: August 20, 2018 in Uncategorized

Pentecost 14B, 2018
Psalm 84, John 6: 60-69

Not Just Spiritual…

In the Celtic spiritual tradition, pilgrims often draw a circle around themselves before embarking on a journey. Initially standing still, the pilgrim points her finger outward, and then rotates in a clockwise direction until she completes the circle. During this circling today a contemporary ‘circling’ prayer is said. According to the Process theologian Bruce Epperly it goes like this…….

God protect me on this journey.
Surround me, whether I walk, drive, or fly.
Fill my heart and mind with surprising possibilities.
Remind me that I am always in the circle of your love.
Remind me this day, O Holy Adventure,
that your inspiration guides me in every situation.
Open my eyes to your presence in each meal,
as I turn on my computer,
as I start my car.
Awaken me to possibility and wonder.
Energise me to love and embrace all I meet.  

This practice of faith, the ‘caim’ or ‘encircling’, reminds the traveller that God surrounds him wherever he goes. “While [we] recognize that life is filled with risks and that faith cannot protect us from every threat, [we] also recognize that God is present as a force for wholeness and reconciliation in every situation” (Epperly 2005:80).

Today’s biblical stories, from the Psalms as reconstructed by Francis Macnab, and
from the gospel sermon-story by a bloke we call John, continue to reflect on God’s present-ness in the world, and in our lives.

When we read Francis Macnab, theologian and psychologist, in his presentation of Psalm 84, we see attempts to get into the mind and the experience of the writer
to see if he can discover or reasonable assume “what was bothering this philosopher of life, and what let him to say what he said” (Macnab 2006:ix).And this is what Macnab says he discovered: “I found [the writer] was emphatically and repetitively proclaiming a fairly revolutionary view of the world, creation, his beliefs about God, humanity, the human spirit and human potential. Again and again I found his psychology had long pre-empted our current psychological explorations and research on happiness, optimism, the positive human emotions, and the sense of awe and wonder” (Macnab 2006:ix).

He then says;

O God, from my place in the working world, and in the wide wilderness of life, I long for that sure sense of knowing what it is all about. I yearn for that experience of joy to come to my whole body and soul. I look for your presence as a pathway to life’s fullness (Macnab 2006). 

And then;

“Though we are often wounded and hurt in this fractured world, we discover that this world also has its source of healing. We are all enriched and our hearts are made stronger as we tap into that power that flows into us. The very sight of a spring of water arouses our anticipation of being refreshed and renewed. From all our external involvements, we hear the call of our inner spirits (Macnab 2006).

And finally Macnab says:

God – you stand in front of us when we fear the future. In our dark times you bring the sun to shine again. Out of our troubles you point us to the pathway of our best bliss. And as we receive: we are rich indeed! (Macnab 2006).

What do you think the Psalmist suggesting? Is it?

Experience the divine center in yourselves. In your bodies. In your actions. In your everyday lives? As a progressive Christian I want to agree with that.

But it’s a bit of a different situation when we come to John’s sermon-story. We’ve been wrestling with his concepts on and off for several weeks now. We’ve struggled with the language and the images. In and out of context, metaphorically and literally, communion and everyday meal, hospitality, compassion etc. And now, as a progressive Christian, I think we should challenge John, and reject his apparent denial of the ‘flesh’ or ‘body’ as useless. That has led us to horrific treatment of ourselves and each other as we separate spirit from body and reject the body as just a vessel for the real human. The spiritual and holy part as opposed to the mundane limited vessell.

With our understanding of biology, of language, of the mind and of science we can do better than John was able to. So, maybe we can support process theologian Bruce Epperly’s comments when he says:

“we need to redeem such passages for our time and place.  We can affirm that the spirit gives life, but the life of the spirit is not just ‘spiritual’, it is also ‘embodied’ and ‘incarnational’ (Epperly/P&F web site-06).

This is not to say that John’s position on this hasn’t got a long history. But it is to say that just because it has such a long-standing case for understanding it doesn’t make it free from learnings and changes in understanding. We know that what we usually hear as history is often the winner’s reflection of debates and events but not necessarily the most accurate or even the most widely understood position. It is the popular or the view that enables control of the masses. It is usually the basis for an institutionalized view.

We now believe that the earliest views of people who followed Jesus did not have a single exportable view, in fact there were perhaps as many different Christianity’s as there were communities of Jesus followers. Paul’s letters allude to this as he seeks to export the Jesus Way to the gentile and to be understood is the Roman world. He is about the task of marketing the faith and it is easier to have a single product.

Some of John’s view dates back as a challenge to these early Christian communities, whose theology seemed to prevent them “from seeing Jesus as a God-infused human being (forcing) them rather to perceive him as a divine visitor who came from heaven” (Spong 2005:61). John wants to tell the real story from his point of view.

And some of John’s view has stuck around where as recent as the early 18th century when one, Charles Wesley, “penned his popular ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ which portrayed Jesus as not human at all, but one ‘veiled in flesh’…” (Spong 2005:61). The key thing here is to see that Wesley’s world and John’s world is dualistic. Our world is not. Or at least not as much because we question dualism as a limited approach to the complexities and ambiguities of life as we know it. It is a useful tool but not the only one and it is limited.

So, what do we do next? Well, perhaps a richer understanding comes with the mystics from the past, as well as from process theology in the present. We can pick up a panentheistic approach and say; God is in all things and all things are in God. Rather than God as supernatural miracle worker in the sky who can come (or choose not to come) to our aid in times of need.

As a progressive Christian I want to start with the former rather than the latter: God in all things and all things in God. But equally important for me is, we experience this Creativity we name ‘God’, routinely, quietly, mysteriously, and intimately, evolutionarily and creatively moving through life, our life. Epperly puts it as: “It is less like a hammer on the head than it is a gentle prod”, “a tickle, sometimes as gentle as a feather, touching each moment into being” (Epperly/P&F Web site-2005). While it may be easier to handle God as above, beyond and all powerful benefactor and judge it is not the view that Jesus had of God as his view was more akin to father, mother, lover, friend, partner, breath, bread, etc. much more of an incarnated spirit body dynamic.

Yes, we can affirm with John and Paul that the ‘spirit gives life’. It inspires personal creativity and transformation. It lures us to support the well-being of others. It challenges us to look beyond our own interests to an integration of our well-being and the well-being of the planet (Epperly, P&F web site 2006). But the life of the spirit is not just ‘spiritual’.
It is also ‘embodied’, even in the rough and tumble of our everyday world. This is clearly in the biblical stories but it is usually found in the less read pages of sacred text!

Another John, Bishop John Shelby Spong, has some wonderful words in his book, The Sins of Scripture. Where he says:

“I experience God as the source of life calling me to live fully and thus to respect life in every form as embodying the holy. I experience God as the source of love calling me to love wastefully all that God has made, including the earth with its plants and animals. I experience God… as… calling me to be all that I can be and to affirm the sacred being of all that is” (Spong 2005:66).

Then the chapter concludes with these words:

“We have looked upward for a God above the sky for centuries, but we now know that this infinite universe is empty of supernatural invasive deities.  We need to shift our vision to look within – at life, at love, at being” (Spong 2005: 66).

May it be so with us in all our living. Amen.

John B. Cobb, Jr., Bruce G. Epperly, & Paul S. Nancarrow. 2005.  Call of the Spirit: Process Spirituality in a Relational World. Claremont. P&F Press.
Macnab, F. 2006.  A Fine Wind is Blowing. Psalms of the Bible in Words That Blow You Away. Richmond. Spectrum Publications.
Spong, J. S. 2005. The Sins of Scripture. Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love. New York HarperSanFrancisco.

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No Fast Food Here…

Posted: August 20, 2018 in Uncategorized

Pentecost 13B, 2012
John 6: 51-58

No Fast Food Here…

Staying with the theme of Jesus as the Bread of life theme I want to share some little stories that speak to what this might mean. The first is a quotation from a book by Robert Fulghum, supported by some notes from a Brazilian Rubem Alves and another from My Australian mate Rex Hunt’s daughter.

Robert Fulghum writes…..

“Once upon a time, somewhere far back in ancient human history
– so far back that personal survival was the only concern –
a defining event must have taken place.
Someone didn’t eat what he found when he found it,
but decided to take it back to the cave to share with others.
There must have been a first time.
A first act of community – call it communion –
in the most elemental form” (Fulghum 1995:79).

He also writes….. When my first son was in kindergarten, I was a parent volunteer
who visited the school once a week to teach folk songs to the children.
Singing came between rest-time and snack-time.

Regularly I was invited to stay after singing and join the class for milk and scones.
I gladly stayed. Not because I was particularly hungry, but because  I enjoyed watching the children carry out this ordinary task with such extraordinary care.

Two children set the table with serviettes and cups. Two others arranged the chairs.
Others went to the refrigerator for cartons of milk, while two more fetched the scones from the kitchen and arranged them neatly on plates.

One child was responsible for placing something in the middle of the table to talk about during the snack – a sort of ‘show and tell’. For half the class, their job for the day was being good ‘guests’. The other half were the ‘hosts’. Each ‘host’ took a scone off the plate, broke it in half, and gave it to a ‘guest’ before eating the other half.

During this snack-time, they discussed the ‘show and tell’ object in the centre of the table.

After the scones and milk were consumed, the children who had played ‘guests’ for the day cleaned up and put away everything, before they went out to play.

It was a high-point of my week.  For me, Fulghum writes … it was communion.

Fulghum then goes on to add some comments… He says; “the sacraments are often defined by the church as ‘outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace’”.

Scones and milk with those children became a sacrament he says. Grace was clearly present. It was a ritual reminder that civilization depends on sharing resources
in a just and humane fashion.

We understand that Jesus often talked about, or is represented as talking about, food.
And as he moved from place to place, the various storytellers declared he would seek rest in a house. Rumour has it once there he would make his way to the cooking space
because there he knew he could find food to transform his weariness into new energy and purpose. I was reminded here of the visit to the Marae. In my early ministry when I was wondering what to do when going on to a Marae and aware that the establishment of a relationship with the people of the Marae was the most important thing I asked a Maori colleague what to do. His reply was, “the first thing you should do is head for the kitchen and wash dishes.

Robem Alves suggests it is the cooking space – the kitchen – that is the place of transformations. “Nothing is allowed to remain the same.  Things come in raw, as nature produced them.  And they go out different, according to the demands of pleasure.” (Alves 1990:79). The raw must cease to exist for something different to appear. “The hard must be softened.  Smells and tastes which were dormant inside are forced to come out: cooking is a magic kiss which wakes up sleeping pleasures…  Everything is a new creature.  Everything is made anew.” (Alves 1990:79).

And here’s the link with my title. Jesus often talked about food, but it was always slow food rather than fast food. And we know that the gospel storytellers often put words in the mouth of Jesus to have him speak about food and eating. Bread and wine.
Body and blood. But Jesus was no literalist.  No fast food here …. And we know that religious language is primarily metaphorical or poetic.

Robert Fulghum suggests milk and scones at kinder snack-time is communion. Milk and Scones is grace enacted. “Since the beginning of time,”

Fulghum writes, “people who trust one another, care for one another, and are deeply connected to one another have shared food as a sign of and a reaffirmation of their relationship… (Pg 81).

“Every time we greet, get to know, hold hands and say a blessing before a meal, every time we lift a glass and say fine words to one another, every time we eat in peace and grace together, we have celebrated the covenants that bind us together.” (Pg 81-82

In other words, Jesus spoke so words would be eaten. I have said this already in the last few weeks but I say it again. When bread and wine are eaten, they become body and blood. When body and blood are eaten, they become compassionate deeds. When compassionate deeds are eaten, they become as the Holy One in our neighbour.

Rubem Alves suggests that we are what we eat; that “One eats and one’s body is resurrected.” (Alves 1990:86).

Traditionally, this morning’s gospel story from John has been given strong sacramental overtones. Holy Communion or Eucharist overtones, that is. We remind ourselves that this is the institutionalized development, this is the need for a transportable ritual, a common story that could travel across cultures and find a place in empire and an ordered church. It was not a true reflection of what took place in Jesus community but it was a ritual to preserve the essence of what it meant and how it was expressed. This does not diminish its value but rather but very much reflects John’s community many years after the life of Jesus. When things were getting organized and rules – dos and don’ts – were being put in place. But whatever the sacrament of Holy Communion is, “it is an act that arises out of our humanity, not organized religion.”

So we are again reminded that it is in the mundane, every-day basic need of humanity, the need to eat to survive, to nourish our bodies, that we find what drew the earliest followers of Jesus followers to gather together over food and it was not fast food, it was the bread of life sort of food common to our shared humanity and this is what we experience again when we eat together and this is what we remind ourselves of when we celebrate community in the sacrament of Holy Communion. We need to get beyond the literal and re-engage with the metaphoric and poetic to value the ritual as a reminder that as we share bread and the wine, civilization depends on sharing resources in a just and humane fashion.

And perhaps to contextualize sharing the bread and wine we conclude with the story from Rex’s daughter. It is a story of her invitation to a friend’s place where each guest was to prepare their favourite dish as the gift. She decided that her gift would be to share her feelings of food and cooking in a personal story to her friend…

She said to her friend; “Food and cooking has been a major influence in my life, from childhood until now.  My mother worked with food and preparation, so meals in my house were from all origins and always a feast.

As a child, my mother had us cooking in the kitchen, learning and creating – of course, back then we thought of it as a game, not knowing the importance until we were much older.

As a teenager growing up in Sydney, I learned very quickly that not everyone has the same ‘Apple Pie’ family.  Every friend who walked through our doorway was greeted with home cooked smells – some they had never smelt before – and learnt that home-made Lasagne was a great afternoon snack.

When I moved out of home at 20, my mother gave me her Woman’s Weekly recipe card box.  Back in the 70s she collected those tokens to get the complete set.  It was important to her back then so I knew how important it was to pass onto me.  It took me 10 years, but I cooked every dish on those cards (except the odd scary meatloaf).  It’s funny, cooking for myself every night made me feel so independent.

My feelings on cooking have changed again.  I now have a wonderful man to double my portions for.

My favourite pass time of all, is throwing dinner parties.  The food has to be exciting, for me too, and always different.  I plan for weeks and can’t wait to start the prep.  Then I get to share it all with my friends as I watch them having a good time, knowing my little dishes of love have put them all in the same room as me.

So to add to your collection is a Donna Hay magazine.  I’ve been collecting them for years.  She is my favourite cook, as she has similar traits that I recognise – food symbolising comfort and love, and bonds of family… friends… lovers.

My wish for you is that you experience how important you make others feel through your cooking… the first lesson I learned from my mum”.

No Fast food there…..Amen.

Alves, R. A. The Poet, The Warrior, The Prophet. The Edward Cadbury Lectures Philadelphia. Trinity Press International, 1990

Fulghum, R. From Beginning to End. The Rituals of our Lives. Oxford. Ivy Books, 1995.

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All About Perception

Posted: August 7, 2018 in Uncategorized

All About Perception

Pentecost 12B

John 6: 35, 41-51

I chose the title for today because it suggests that the way we view the world can either limit our horizons or it can expand them to eternity. It also touches on the dilemma we face today as we wrestle with the nature of truth as being less about certainty than it used to be. We begin our look at this with the story in John about Jesus being the bread of life and along the way I want to show you a comic clip that I think suggests why perception is important to consider and how it influences our world view. We begin with the gospel where the crowd that surrounded Jesus became angry at what they perceived as arrogance, if not blasphemy, on his part.

How dare he call himself the bread of life? The way they saw him didn’t fit with this claim. Wasn’t this the kid that grew up down the street? Wasn’t he the same one we used to have to run home when it was supper time? You know, the one who was so smart. Wasn’t this that carpenter Joseph’s son? How can he satisfy us? Do you remember that time he got lost in Jerusalem? How is he making such a claim? After all, he is one of us. In John’s story he told of himself as the bread of life, something that would last far longer than the bread we eat or the bread that had been fed to the multitude, something that satisfies the hungers of our souls. But they couldn’t see it. Do we have the right perception?

This talk of having come down from heaven only confused them. They had seen him grow up like us all, though he had been born during that oppressive census the Romans took that made people scatter all over to the cities of their heritage. They thought he had a mother and a father just like all of them. If they had seen more than the carpenter’s son, they might have heard and understood the depth of the good news. The challenge is that when we limit our world to what we know or have experienced, we can miss the vastness of God’s grace. Karl Barth wrote, “Were we to hear only of a god who measures up to our rule and is able to do what we can also do for ourselves without him, what need have we of such a god? Whenever the church has told us of such a tiresome little god it has grown empty. I wonder if that’s why the western church is in decline? Is that why people are not coming to church anymore? Because of our perception perhaps? And it seems to be happening despite our radical daring, our yearning for the living God that will not be denied.” How can we find the bread that will satisfy?

I want to show you a video clip now that I think asks us to examine a perception that might be getting in the road. As you watch notice the feelings that you have about its appropriateness, about what it is saying about God and Jesus and what it is showing of their nature and of their humanity.

Watch video

In the lectionary letter to the church at Ephesus for today, there is a challenge at the first of the fifth chapter that sets a high standard:

“Therefore, be imitators of God as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice for God.”

There is an ancient legend of a man with a scarred face who in trying to hide his scars had a mask made to cover his face. It appeared as a saint. He falls in love in the legend. Years later his past is revealed, and an attempt to reveal what he really looked like was made by ripping the mask away. His face had taken on the form of the saint’s face.

This is a claim that we become what we habitually imitate. We become what we make ours just as the bread we eat. The thoughts that fill our minds, the loves that fill our souls–these are creating who we are. If we fill our hearts and minds with the trivial, the faddish, the debase, we’re making ourselves a smaller person. When we accept without question the perceptions that drive us we risk developing the wrong ideas about ourselves and our potential as human beings. That is why it’s so important for what role models we choose for ourselves and our children. If the all blacks are the only role models we will benefit from the value of sport and good sportsmanship but we will also accept a high level of physical on life as a norm. We will become the patterns by which we live. Alternatively, if we fill our hearts and minds with the Jesus Way and attempt to love as he loved and to care as he cared, we are creating a perception based on values that can seek with confidence a peace filled world and a world where love is the motivator, vehicle and purpose of life. We get a glimpse of eternity, a glimpse of the possibility of the impossible. We becoming imitators of God. And I would say co-creators with God. We become one with a Creativity God

John Wesley once wrote, “First let us agree what religion is. I take religion to be, not the mere saying over of so many prayers, morning and evening, in public or private, but a constant ruling habit of the soul, a renewal of our beings in the image of God, a recovery of the Divine likeness, a self-increasing conformity of heart and life to the pattern of our most holy redeemer.” The week before last I suggested we are what we eat and again today that fits. We have come to make some hard choices that fill our days and thus fill our hearts and minds. We have to be selective about what will be the bread on which we feast. It is one thing to survive, to just get by…like the manna that got the children of Israel through the wilderness. It is another to feast on that which will last forever.

We have to ask, “What is our perception of God and Jesus and how does that perception shape our world view and how does that perception influence our thinking? What do we have to change to move out for God to move in?

In our letter to the church in Ephesus–in the chapter before the challenge to imitate God we find a list of things not compatible to God being the bread on which we feed. In verse 25 we read, “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours….” But what is this truth. In Jesus time it would have been less about literal certainty and more akin to perception. They did not have such an obsession with certainty as we have. Such certainty was not likely let along expected.

I suspect that when Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” He was speaking less about himself and more about a perception of what he was. It is the Way, the common and eternal and the purpose of living that he is on about. We are first of all challenged to deal honestly about what we know, think and do. Truth or humility, authenticity and integrity or if you like faith or trust that builds humanity and is the bond that makes community possible. Mark Twain put it well, saying, “When in doubt, tell the truth.” In other words, say you don’t know, that’s the truth. Anne Lindbergh wrote, “The most exhausting thing in life is to be insincere.” I want to suggest that to be absolutely certain is to be dead.

In verse 27 of that fourth chapter of Ephesians, we read, “Do not make room for the devil.” The challenge is that if we will fill up our lives ahead of time with the right things, we’re answering the questions in advance. This need for certainty can hide the truth.

There is the old story of the farmer and his mule. In order to save money, he tried mixing in sawdust with oats. About one-fourth seemed to work. Then he tried half. That seemed to work, so then he tried three-quarters, which seemingly had no effect. The farmer went to all sawdust. Two days later the mule died. The farmer commented, “That mule ate himself to death.” We need to be cautious on what is filling our lives. At first it may not seem to matter, but what we are filled with will be what we are.

Søren Kierkegaard told a parable of a community of ducks waddling off to duck church to hear the duck preacher. The duck preacher spoke eloquently of how God had given the ducks wings with which to fly. With these wings there was nowhere the ducks could not go. With those wings they could soar. Shouts of “Amen!” were quacked throughout the duck congregation. At the conclusion of the service, the ducks left commenting on the message and waddled back home. But they never flew. The perception of what souring was and needed was limiting fulfillment.

The challenge is also to realize the power of our words in creating our perception. Our words have the power to tear down or build up. Jesus used his words when he saw something of value in others. He saw stability in old Simon, a disciple in Mary Magdalene, a friend in Zacchaeus, and he say these things as build their self-esteem.

The power of words to encourage, to show appreciation, to express care–these same words can be twisted to tear down, to hurt, even to destroy. And, of course, the way to control the words is to make sure we are filled with the right things. We need to feast on the bread of life and to remember to build the loving, the measure of which we are filled with will show in our lives.

Then as we further tease out this living the way of Jesus we see that as we fill ourselves with the bread of life, we develop a skill of forgetting and forgiving. We can’t move on until you unload. Bitterness and wrath and wrangling leaves little room for God. Arguing over the certainty of something is unhelpful.

In the book The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom recounts the moment when the experience of such forgiving came to her. It happened in a church in Munich where she was the guest speaker. Out of nowhere there stood before her a former Nazi SS agent who had guarded the shower floor at the prison camp where she and her friends had been processed and exposed to many indignities and cruelties. The man reached out his hand to shake hers as he expressed his appreciation for her message, but Corrie ten Boom kept her hand at her side. Angry feelings surged through her, but she realized how wrong they were. She prayed, tried to smile, struggling to raise her hand but nothing happened. She breathed a silent prayer, “Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness.” She described what happened. “As I took his hand, the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand, a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that overwhelmed me. And so, I discovered that it’s not on our own forgiveness that the world’s healing hinges, but on his. When he tells us to love our enemies, he gives, along with the command, the love itself.”

I think I would want to say that she discovered that when we love our enemies we discover the depth of love that forgiveness invites. And thus, we are both forgiven and forgiver, challenged to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving.

Jesus’ promise in our Gospel from John today is if we will eat of such bread, if we question our perception, if we avoid the trap of a certainty that is oblivious to perception we will live forever. Amen.

Pentecost 10B, 2018
John 6:1-21
Food sharing – Becoming What We eat!

An average New Zealand household throws out $563 worth of food annually,
according to a 2008 study by the NZ Government – and that figure doesn’t take into consideration how much is thrown out by shops and businesses. The study claimed that 1,048,993 tonnes of waste was generated by the residential sector and that equates to an average of 260 kg per person, over 44% of which was organic waste.

But what is the significance of this for a faith community, for followers of the Jesus Way?
Well! From all that we now seem to know about biblical culture, meals played an important role in both community life, and in the Jesus Movement tradition. Scholars tell us that Christian Jews regularly ate together, even before they began to conduct worship services. We are also told that Jesus himself was closely associated with meals and that one of the criticisms leveled against him was, of his being a ‘glutton and drunkard’ (Matt 11:19).

Our story this morning of the feeding of people appears in all four gospels. All slightly different, but the plot is very similar in all. This says that there was a strong ‘storytelling’ tradition about it. It is also fair to imagine that all the biblical storytellers had heard some of these meal stories, often from what we now call the Q Source, and re-imagined or re-invented them. They knew the power of a good story. “Words and food are made out of the same stuff”, writes Rubem Alves. “They are both born of the same mother: hunger” (Alves 1990:77).

One very popular New Testament Scholars a before my time was the Scottish scholar William Barclay. I remember coming across the red-backed paperback commentaries on minister’s bookshelves. He set out three ways folk have heard or responded to this story.
One: as a supernatural event of bread being multiplied. Two; as a sacramental meal, where each got a small piece of bread. And three; a different kind of ‘miracle’ where people’s hearts rather than bread, were changed. I suspect that for those of us who call themselves ‘Progressives’ the third option is the preferred option. This would see the story as not about an interventionist supernatural God, or as a forerunner to Holy Communion,
or the Catholic doctrine of ‘transubstantiation’, but rather, everything to do with re-imagining the world and our relationships with others. And this implies an understanding that says that around a meal, food is shared not hoarded, friendships are made, and
relationships strengthened. And the work of the prophet, as Jesus was identified by John’s version of this story, is to encourage folk to see that and live by that.

In simple terms, the stories told about Jesus and in the words attributed to him, Jesus presents the realm of God as a new or alternate possible reality, to the world in which many found themselves trapped in. It contradicted the normal notions of who belonged and who did not, of who was worthy and who was not. It’s contradiction was given expression by the way people lived – that is, open to being changed by the ‘worth’ of the other, rather than the perceived ‘worthlessness’ of the other. So as in this morning’s story, we see and hear Jesus inviting ordinary folk to join him in the struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege. To imagine and experience a different kind of world.

And one of the first steps in re-imagining a different kind of world to the existing dominant social order, was to overturn the ‘world’ of the disciples. This is the point I want to spend a bit of time on today. The world of the disciples and I want to equate it with what we understand as the church of today. Over the last few months I have been challenged to think more about this need than ever. We have embarked on the task of imagining the future for St David’s and we have spent huge amounts of time and energy on grasping a school as a means or a vehicle for our mission focus. We have done this because we are convinced that education is the best way in which we can affect change in culture be it political, economic or religious. Asking questions about what something means, how it has been applied and how it might be applied differently into the future seems consistent with the message Jesus gave us. There is an alternative and it needs to be liberating, transformative and love and compassion based.
When the disciples said tell the hungry to go and buy some food for themselves, Jesus said no, tell them to sit down and let’s share what we already have. When bread is shared and eaten, it becomes body. Our body. When bread is shared and eaten, it becomes compassionate deeds. Our compassionate deeds. When bread is shared and eaten, compassionate deeds become as God in our neighbour. Or put another way, what we believe about God and neighbour and relationships, can make a huge difference to how we care for each other interpersonally. Especially if our local communities can be developed positively around respect and care and worth for each other, rather than around fear of a so-called ‘enemy’.

I want to suggest today that our focus on a school is our response to the call to overturn our religious world or in other wards to change the way we think about church, about how we do church and what the church might look like in the future. The world of the disciples needs to be overturned. Stop avoiding the hard questions and share what we have.

Rex hunt tells a story that says something about what that might look like. He tells of a family that went out for dinner one evening. Menus were passed to all including Kathy, the eight-year old daughter. The conversation started up around the table and it was an ‘adult’ one, so much so that Kathy sat ignored. And when the waiter took orders, he came to Kathy last. “And what do you want?” he asked. “A hamburger and a coke,” she said.
“No,” said her grandmother, “she’ll have the roast chicken, carrots, and mashed potatoes.” “And milk to drink,” chimed in her father. “And what kind of sauce would you like on your hamburger?” asked the waiter. As he walked away, taking the parents aback.
Kathy called out “Tomato,”. She then turned to her family and added, “You know what? He thinks I’m real!”

This self-examination, self-challenge to share what we have, is about being real as opposed to just going along with what seems confident and logical and expected. It’s what sets Mission and faith apart from ordered, logical and rational. It’s what says that “people who trust one another, care for one another, and are deeply connected to one another, have shared food as a sign of and a reaffirmation of their relationship…

“Every time we share the peace by welcoming another to our table, hold hands and say a blessing before a meal, every time we lift a glass and say fine words to one another, every time we eat in peace and grace together, we have celebrated the covenants that bind us together” (Fulghum 1995:81-82). The gospel storytellers know we become what we eat! So what does this mean for us today in our school project? What is the challenge to re-imagine and to celebrate. And in so doing, to be blessed, as we seek to go on the journey first chartered by the Galilean sage we call Jesus.

I want to start with a few assumptions that I think have authenticity in the bigger picture.
1. The first is that the church in New Zealand is in decline and that decline could be seen to be exponential in nature. In other words, the decline is getting faster with every year that passes.
2. The second is that certain doctrines, interpretations and teachings that we no longer subscribe to as followers of the Jesus Way. In other words, we think that what we believe, think and value needs to be real, applicable to today’s living.
3. The third is that we have been brought up in a church that has hidden the human Jesus behind a façade of supernaturalism, fear management and intellectual simplicity. In other words, We have been hoodwinked by a faith rooted in a story of a Jesus with the surname Christ as opposed to a Jesus who’s life depicted a Messiah, a liberator, a transformer of lives, culture and an understanding of what it means to be a child of God and a good human being.
4. The fourth is that Spirituality is not dead but just being serviced outside the church, in other words, where and what is the purpose of the church? Does it still have one? Can it again be the nurture of spirituality? Does it need to think differently about what it is, who it is, and how it is what it is?
5. The fifth and last assumption for today is that very little of what the church is doing, saying and offering has any value, in other words people are no longer joining the church to follow the Way of Jesus because what is being said about that Way cannot be sustained in today’s world. People no longer see the need for what is being offered despite our strong conviction that all they have to do is understand what we understand and make the decisions we have made.

Maybe its time we the disciples need to sit down and share what we have amongst ourselves? Look at it, ask questions about it, find out what it is saying to those outside the church. Maybe we need to discover what Spirituality is still alive without the church.
Do we need to think differently about the nature of God, of course we do, God is no longer seen in our image and we have lost sight of what it means to be made in God’s image.

Maybe we need to tell the Jesus story as it was before the church arrived? Maybe we need to become the moral compass of society, not as a keeper of the truth or an owner of the only story but rather as those concerned about human flourishing. Maybe we need to see that in the past the church, built hospitals, schools and universities. Maybe we need to celebrate that many of these functions have been taken over by the state or business and we might need to avoid being in competition with what has been created. Maybe the church has been so successful that it has lost sight of its purpose and become complacent in a role that just focuses on personal salvation without critiquing the existing culture? Maybe church has become just a place where people can go for an our to opt out of life, or be entertained, or feel good.

If this is the case then maybe the church has outlived its usefulness? And on top of that what I personally think is the crucial issue is that many of us who are disciples of Jesus accept uncritically many church teachings because we don’t want to have to reconcile them with our experience outside our religious life. We compartmentalize our faith so that we don’t have to live it. This either works or we leave the church.

And just in case you think I am being negative about this, I think that the church has an ethical, empowering and healing role to play in the 21st century and beyond but to do so it has to focus on the character of the message. It has to be intellectually satisfying, authentic as well as a place of comfort, fellowship and service. It has to be a table for 5 thousand where empathy and compassion are actions consistent with the Jesus Way. In other words, it is about salvation within this life, about a story that we can enthusiastically support and a welcoming of doubt as a means of sharing the nurturing meal. What do you think? Amen.

Alves, R. A. 1990. The Poet, The Warrior, The Prophet. PA: Philadelphia. Trinity Press International.
Fulghum, R. 1995. From Beginning to End. The Rituals of Our Lives. NSW: Moorebank. Bantam Books.
Lucien Alperstein. “Dumster Diver” in Sunday Life, 17 June 2012, 12-13.
Gould, Sam. 2017. Being Christian in the Twenty-First Century. WIPF & STOCK Eugene, Oregon