Find the Spaces

Posted: July 16, 2018 in Uncategorized

Pentecost 9B, 2018
Mark 6:30-34

Find the Spaces

In 1st Corinthians we read; “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrong-doing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

In another writing we read; “Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music”.

I am sure you have heard Kahlil Gibran’s meditation called ‘Speak to us of marriage’, from his popular book, The Prophet, as it is much loved by folk wishing to be married, and who are looking for a reflection or reading that is not biblical. In fact, it may be that this particular meditation is as well known, if not more so, than some biblical passages.

Further on in this meditation Gibran writes: “Sing and dance together and be joyous,
but let each one of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute are alone
though they quiver with the same music”.

Then towards the end: “And stand together yet not too near together:
for the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not
in each other’s shadow.

All of this seems to speak very clearly to what we experience in a sound marriage. Each one valued greatly as an individual within a covenantal relationship that enables individuals to contribute complimentary to, with and for the relationship. But one of the things we might miss is the call to stand apart to renew oneself. This is not an opting out of the togetherness but an insertion of spaces as Gibran says, to “let the winds of the heavens dance between you”. All of us need ‘spaces’ – physically, emotionally, spirituality – in our busy lives. And getting married is not a bad time to be reminded of this.

It is also salutary for us to recognize that, according to storyteller Mark, Jesus was encouraging of the disciples/others to desist, to care for themselves, to reflect, and not to feel they must respond to every ‘squeaky door’ or appeal for assistance.

They were not God. They were not the saviour of the world. They were limited human beings who needed space. Like we heard from Giraud last week, “We are only fragmentarily human, fleetingly human, brokenly human. We see glimpses of our humanness, we can only dream of what a more human existence and political order would be like, but we have not yet arrived at true humanness”. Like the disciples we need time to be able to sort out what is important.

New Zealander Ian Cairns’ comment is another good reminder of this need: He says “This brief passage… gives us a fleeting but appealing insight into the natural rhythm of the lifestyle of Jesus and the circle around him: times of intense effort are succeeded by moments of unwinding, and of quiet relaxation.  The fact that the intention on this occasion was frustrated, detracts nothing from the attractiveness of the ideal” (Cairns 2004:87).

Ian Cairns asked; Do you have a ‘space’ – a place of peace and rest in the “natural rhythm” of your life, where you retreat for silence and re-creation? So, asks Bruce Epperly, co-author of The Call of the Spirit. Our so-called ‘space’ or ‘quiet place’ can be anywhere. Doesn’t this sound familiar and hasn’t it been said hundreds of times? It has and I wonder of that is because we find it so hard to do. To insert spaces into our lives? And then I wonder why it is so hard when it seems so easy?

We often hear people say of retirement that they have rediscovered the joy and peace of walking along the beach, on the sand, at water’s edge. Feeling the texture of both against the soles of my feet. Even on a cool and cloudy, winter’s day this time out, this space insertion seems to have some value so why is that we don’t take it often enough? Maybe we need to revisit what we mean by space or time out?

Epperly says ‘space’ places could include: a favourite chair or study, a meditation room in your home, a park, or the bush, and yes, the seashore. “The divine center is everywhere. That deals with the idea of space and place but we know that wherever our adventure of ideas or geography take is, God is our adventurous companion” and in his web site article Epperly says: “Your quiet place can also be a rejuvenating activity – gardening, walking, stargazing, journaling, meditating, praying, writing poetry, or driving in your car by yourself.  He says that health of body, mind, spirit, and relationships requires stillness as well as action, space as well as intimacy.  Even the most intimate friends and couples require time alone” (Epperly P&F web site, 2006).

Many advisors call this ability to create ‘spaces’ in our lives, ‘boundary setting’.
Indeed Epperly suggests today’s gospel story is just about that. “Jesus took time apart with his followers.  His ‘no’ to work, even the good work of healing and teaching, said ‘yes’ to spiritual growth and self-care.  His ‘yes’ to compassion was grounded in inter-connectedness with God and his followers” (Epperly P&F web site, 2006).

All this suggests there is an art and a discipline to finding ‘spaces’. It also takes practice. So Epperly offers some suggestions how we can create these ‘spaces’.

  • Sabbath time. Take a few hours a week, a day, a month, for silence, for retreat, for prayer. This might be a conversation with the mystery or the more.
  • Breathing prayers.  Breathing in.  Breathing out.  Remembering God’s present-ness, and centering in God’s companionship. Getting in touch with the wonderful mechanics of life.
  • Keeping meals sacred.  Install and use an answer phone. Feeding the body is an act of valuing community. Family and togetherness.
  • Cultivate intimate relationships.  Relationships take time and require leisure. The primary act of intimacy is to listen.
  • Distinguish the important from the trivial. Ask the question to discern the valuable.
  • Learn to say ‘no’. The no is not a negative when it makes a space for what’s valuable.

The storyteller Mark was clearly impressed with what he was told about the beginnings of the Jesus movement. Part of his story this morning describes in summary what he saw was the impact of Jesus’ ministry. For Mark, it seems the nature of the Jesus’ ministry was to offer leadership in teaching, and in acts of compassion that brings healing and sets people free from what oppresses them. The storyteller depicts Jesus as having spent a surprising amount of time healing people. Although, like the author of Job before him, he specifically rejected the theory that sickness was God’s way of getting even with sinners (John 9:1-3), he nonetheless seems to have suggested a connection between sickness and sin, almost to have seen sin as a kind of sickness. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick;” he said. “I came not to call the righteous but sinners.” (Mark 2:17).

This is entirely compatible, of course, with the Hebrew view of the human being as a psychosomatic unity, an indivisible amalgam of body and soul in which if either goes wrong, the other is affected. It is significant also that the Greek verb sо̄zо̄ was used in Jesus’ day to mean both “to save” and “to heal” and sо̄tēr could signify either “saviour” or “physician.” Jesus’ ministry was, it seems one of being there for others and the need for spaces is a recognition that such an orientation is intense, self-draining and energy sapping. It is demanding work. People who give of themselves get tired. They need time out. They are not God. They are not the only saviour of the world. They are ordinary human beings who need ‘space’ to continue on.

There needs to be spaces in our togetherness, our living, our busyness. Even our ‘good and helpful’ busyness. My own reflection on this is that the type of spaces required are often linked to one’s own personality and impacted by one’s chosen path or journey. The type of spaces for some are within one’s business and don’t always require physical extraction from tasks while for others only a physical separation works. So, this morning Mark’s story is not about the so-called ‘biggies’… such as feeding the 5,000, or walking on water, or grain that produces at the rate of 100 times, for example. It’s not about the sensational miracle but rather the everyday life integrated one. What we get from this story is an ‘OK’ for the very human need for ‘space’ in our lives. And the task is to learn how to create ‘spaces that work’ and to learn to use them well.

Kahlil Gibran when talking about self-knowledge says that our hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights, but our ears thirst for the sound of our heart’s knowledge. I think he is saying that we need to take time to find the spaces where our conscious activity is silent enough for our heart to speak and then as he says; our words will reflect what we know deep down and we will be able to touch with our fingers the naked body of our dreams.

 

In terms of Rene Giraud and our acceptance of the incompleteness of our humanity and our hope-filled engagement in this journey toward being fully human is a journey we are called to engage in with enthusiasm, with hope and a confidence that comes with taking spaces to reflect, re-engage with nature, with our spirit and as Gibran says: It is well you should. The hidden well-spring of your soul must needs rise and run murmuring to the sea; And the treasure of your infinite depths would be revealed to your eyes. But let there be no scales to weigh your unknown treasure; And seek not the depths of your knowledge with staff or sounding line. For self is a sea boundless and measureless. Say not, “I have found the truth,” but rather, “I have found a truth.” Say not, “I have found the path of the soul.” Say rather, “I have met the soul walking upon my path.” For the soul walks upon all paths. The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed. The soul unfolds itself like a lotus of countless petals.

 

Mark wrote that Jesus said to them “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” Gibran wrote “…for the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow” (Gibran 1969). I think, healing takes place when we find the spaces. Amen.

Notes:
Cairns, I. J. 2004.  Mark of a Non-realist. A Contemporary Reading of the Second Gospel. NZ: Masterton. Fraser Books.
Gibran, K. 1926/1969.  The Prophet. GtB: London. Heinemann.
Cobb, Jr, J. B.; B. G. Epperly, P. S. Nancarrow. 2005. The Call of the Spirit. Process Spirituality in a Relational World. CA: Claremont. P&F Press.

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Who Does God Say We Are?

Posted: July 11, 2018 in Uncategorized

2 Samuel 6:1-19

Ephesians 1:3-14

Who Does God Say We Are?

Paul is writing to the little struggling church in Ephesus. This is nothing new and we can empathize with Paul because we have plenty of evidence that in every age and in every place at some tome or other churches struggle, and their issues and challenges are often very similar, even in very different times and very different circumstances. The commentators make this clear: empire, in one form or another; the surrounding culture, with its many and powerful messages; our drive to divide and be divided; and the questioning human spirit, longing to understand our lives, both individually and communally tells us that struggles are not just personal they are communal, tribal, national and in every form of human gathering.

I recall meeting with two presbytery people a couple of weeks ago, who wanted to know what I thought about establishing a network of parishes in the inner city and when I had finished one of them said to me; and what hopeful thing do you have to say? I was surprised that I had sounded so negative and I think it was because he only saw the struggle as a problem without hope, whereas for me it was more about realism and openness and honesty when facing questions of change in a human environment. No point in going into a task with one’s blinkers on. Perhaps this was not unlike the little church in Ephesus, note it’s a little church in the bustling metropolis of Ephesus. Paul’s letter to this struggling church would have raised the reality of their struggle and yet in this case the heady mix of reality lead them to experience Paul’s exuberant poetry as an uplifting message of both meaning and hope because it fixed them firmly on the sure foundation of God’s own purposes and love.

One of the challenges when confronting this text is to avoid seeing it as solely a catechism or a systematic statement of beliefs. It is not this because it is heart language as much as head language, as poetry and praise ought to be. Like all of our talk about God, it is partial, too, for our human comprehension is limited. Lewis Donelson says that Paul’s “propositions are flashes of insights into the being of God. They might be true as far as language is true, but God is still transcendent”

I am reminded here of a quote from Rene Giraud when he wrote; “It is the great error of humanity to believe that it is human. We are only fragmentarily human, fleetingly human, brokenly human. We see glimpses of our humanness, we can only dream of what a more human existence and political order would be like, but we have not yet arrived at true humanness. Only God is human, and we are made in God’s image and likeness — which is to say, we are capable of becoming human”. Paul’s, propositions are flashes of insights into the being of God. They might be true as far as language is true, but God is still transcendent”

This approach invites us think about context and even do a little exegesis in approaching this text. Who wrote it? Paul probably might be the nearest we get so to whom was it written? Again, the best choice is that may have either been a letter written specifically to the church in Ephesus or as a circular letter written for many churches eager to receive further teaching and guidance. The latter reason suggests it might be speaking to a common theme among struggling churches. And this might also suggest that it has something to say to us.

So, if this passage is poetic, it’s task is first and foremost inspirational, motivational and heart moving. It’s like our school vision that is both inspirational, motivational and seemingly so logical that one wonder why others can’t see its worth. Our text is a burst of exuberance from Paul where he gets wound up and launches into his writing. His sense of gratitude and wonder at everything God has done, is doing, and has promised yet to do, leads him to soaring heights of praise in which he acknowledges God as both blessed and blessing. How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! In fact, this text is so beautiful, especially in Eugene Peterson’s version in ‘The Message’ which makes the passage much more accessible and moving as well. He puts the text like this. He says “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone”. Again, it is less about an argument for a divine Jesus and more about a poetic rendition of the timeless presence of the Mystery we call Creativity God. Long before us. Long before our involvement, human life was part of the mysterious purpose.

This then leads us into todays poetic rendition of truth, life Creativity God. In recent years, for example, we keep learning more and more amazing things about the way the universe works. Something called “the God particle,” that is, the Higgs-Boson particle, has been discovered, but it seems to provoke both wonder and questioning more than clear and firm answers about “the meaning of it all.”

VIDEO- Higgs Boson

It might be a bit of a leap but Paul seems to be in a sense, exploring a similar question when he sings out his praise for “the big picture” of God’s purposes. He’s certainly not taking a scientific approach, or even a philosophical one, to his work. Instead, he sings from deep faith, from intuition that sometimes whispers and suggests, and sometimes bursts out in assured conviction of God’s goodness and mercy, of God’s amazing grace. That’s what this first part of the Letter to the Ephesians is about: God’s amazing grace. It’s about how things are put together in God.

While I might want to question the idea of objectifying human brokenness, Eugene Peterson writes evocatively about the brokenness of our lives and the way God puts things back together, as they should be: Paul “begins with an exuberant exploration of what Christians believe about God, and then, like a surgeon skillfully setting a compound fracture, ‘sets’ this belief in God into our behavior before God so that the bones–belief and behaviour–knit together and heal” (The Message).

In an evolutionary, creativity approach this is what continues to unfold right before our eyes, if we take the time to notice, the great evolutionary reality is about bringing everything together in one marvelous unity, in Paul’s words this is unity in Christ. In every age, in every day, in each of us and all of us, together this great wonder is unfolding. And it is when we seek to understand our God and how our God works, we get a sense of who we are as creatures formed, lovingly, in God’s own image. Again, as Giraud wrote; We are only fragmentarily human, fleetingly human, brokenly human. We see glimpses of our humanness, we can only dream of what a more human existence and political order would be like, but we have not yet arrived at true humanness. Only God is human, and we are made in God’s image and likeness — which is to say, we are capable of becoming human”.

The timeless nature of this view is that while it may be an ancient one, rooted long before the earth was created, it also stretches forward, too, far into the future, and we have our own place within it, in this moment of history. In honouring the mind, we recognize the human construction of this, in living the questions we live meaningfully in this moment, and in exploring the adventure of humanity we see ourselves not only as heirs, as those who receive these blessings, but as ancestors as well, for the mystery we call creativity God is part of all that will come after us, and with a grace-filled purpose for it all.

Returning again to our text we find Paul singing God’s goodness and it reminds us of our own human response to goodness, of which Paul also sings. We hear often today people describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” yet they also speak of their deep longing to find a place and a community of worship where they feel both deeply moved and a sense of belonging. Interestingly, these are people who lead lives that have many marks of discipleship: healing the sick and broken, working for justice, sharing generously, forgiving and seeking reconciliation and peace. But they long for a spiritual community where they can sense, with others, the presence of this motivational, aspirational, comforting, purpose-filled existence in quiet moments in community, in ritual, in music, in worship. They seek a sense of connection with this Creative, evolutionary energy we call God.

What never ceases to surprise me is how many Spiritual but Not Religious folks are actually hungry for traditional ritual and liturgy. Barbara Brown Taylor is one of many writers who draw our attention to our worship life and to our spiritual hunger: in her sermon, “He Who Fills All in All” she wonders if we are offering the spiritually hungry “a place where they may sense the presence of God, among people who show some sign of having been changed by that presence.” And here we have the challenge of evangelism, proselytization, bums on seats, church growth and ultimately community. What is a faith community as opposed to a book club, a classroom or a rugby or netball club?

One Anthony Robinson has written that “People want to experience the divine, the sacred, the holy. They are dying for want of grace, wonder, mystery, and not for want of by-laws, committees, and sign-up lists. At least they don’t want those things instead of God”

What I like to think I do every Sunday is bring these two threads of worship and the unfolding of Creativity God’s great living plan for all things, together, I try to blend the sermon with images of the universe, photographs returned to us by our long-distance spacecraft of the heavens, the stars and the earth, which may inspire awe at times as effectively as our words and music and sanctuaries. And then we can picture our cities and countryside in many different settings, our neighborhoods and the people they hold, nature, including images of the very smallest things, even drawings of particles and other such incomprehensible objects. Such use of the visual and the imagination during our service along with the text, and the music, might make it a bit easier to ponder God’s grand living plan for all things, or in non-religious language, we might find an understanding of evolution and the scientific unfolding of creation.

And finally, and again returning to the text it is clear that Paul is making a case for those who follow the Jesus Way or he is introducing the ethics of discipleship in this letter to the church in Ephesus. Sadly, we Christians today seem to spend far more time talking about the rules than raising the quality of our time in connection with the mystery we name Creativity God. This might be especially true as we follow our passionate commitment to justice and healing for a broken world. It’s a good thing that we work hard on the issues, but we also need to be able to return to a base camp where we can renew our spirits, where we can tap into the deep roots of our tradition, ask questions of the ancient songs of praise and lament, the text and the blessings that we have received and will share with those who come after us.

We have, after all, been brought together not only to work but to pray and praise, to remember and remind, to celebrate and to hope as well. We can draw on that time together and find the courage to hope, as the Letter to the Ephesians will say in two more chapters, for “far more than all we can ask or imagine” (3:20). Amen.

 

Mark 6:1-13

We, The Least Likely Yet Called Out’

Today’s journey in scripture is made up of two quite distinct parts. The first part is Jesus’ visit to his hometown, Nazareth and the second part is Jesus sending his disciples out two by two. These two parts are distinct not only because each is a story unto itself, capable of standing alone, but also because they stand together held is a sort of logical challenge in their vivid contrast to one another. The first is a story of failure. After initial enthusiasm, the people of Jesus’ hometown, turned against him. He was, Mark tells us in verse 5, “unable to do any miracles there.” But the second scene is a story of success. The disciples, again Mark tells us, “cast out many demons, and they anointed many sick people and healed them.”

The odd part about the two stories held together is that Jesus, who up to this point in Mark, had been teaching with power, healing, and casting out demons, could do nothing, while the disciples who are so often missing the point, even missing in action, are powerful and effective. The two parts are so different and their difference so unexpected that it will come as no surprise that many commentators urge the preacher to pick but one of the two stories or parts to preach on — and not both . . . Still, in the text they stand together and maybe the author, Mark was onto something?

Maybe together these two scenes have something to tell us, not only about God and God’s agency, but about our agency in God’s. Together these stories tell us about the efficacy of trusting the Jesus Way and also something about the struggle to understand and make good decisions. Together they tell us something about what happens when ego and pride get in the way–when we get in the way–and what happens when hope, faith and expectation clear the way, in traditional language ‘when God takes central place’.

Two stories, two distinct stories, set cheek by jowl. In one it could be said they thought too small and in the other they saw the big picture. Looking at the first story we find Jesus visiting his hometown where new assume things should go well, the homecoming of a hero, the place where he is known among the wider family, he knows his way around and we imagine that things would go well. We might even assume that here Jesus would be received with joy and affirmation by those who knew him well. And this was probably so, initially he was. The people of Nazareth, those who had known Jesus as a boy and young man were surprised–astonished–by his wisdom and power. But quickly their surprise turned to offense. The tall poppy syndrome kicked in, Hey ‘the know it all’ has returned, and “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son? And they took offense at him.”

Why do you think this happened? What happened to turn them? He was one of them–at least he had recently been one of them. Maybe that was the problem: that one who had so recently been just one of them should suddenly now be so far above them. Did that feel like a slight? Remember we are not talking about a huge city of millions of people. Its Jesus home town. “Who does he think he is? Why him and not me?” Just yesterday, it seemed, they had looked down upon him as a boy. But today his words and demeanor asked that they look up to him. Was that hard on their pride?

Maybe there’s a warning here to us all: don’t let an earlier companionship or an earlier understanding or belief get in the road. Don’t let a different relationship blind you, or at a later time you might miss the new message, the new point of view. The new approach.

Maybe the matter at hand goes even deeper than this all-too-human tendency to envy another or to feel slighted by the success of someone whom we knew, or thought we knew, back in the day. Maybe its our understanding of being church, or congregation. Maybe as last week we heard that the Christian Church didn’t exist until the 4th Century and if that’s the case then who was Jesus before then? What was the understanding of the Jesus Way before the church existed? Why did people want to keep the story of him alive and keep gathering to talk about their understanding?

Who do we today think of when we talk about Jesus’ hometown crowd? Who do we think of as his own people today? Maybe, that would be us, the church of today? And does it ever happen that at least sometimes we are those who are blind to God’s presence, indifferent to God’s power? Is it even remotely possible that we who think we know Jesus best may at times honour him least? In his spiritual autobiography “Now and Then,” Frederick Buechner writes of his off-the-beaten-path (at least for a seminary-trained, ordained Presbyterian minister) encounter with Agnes Sanford, a Christian healer.

“The most vivid image she presented,” writes Buechner, “was of Jesus standing in church services all over Christendom with his hands tied behind his back, unable to do any mighty works because the ministers who led the services either didn’t expect him to do them or didn’t dare ask him to do them . . .” Last week we heard of how clergy, me included were not brave enough to share the doubt we had been taught existed, how we had opted for the comfortable easy way and stood Jesus in the corner, untouchable by creative doubt, unassailable by creative questioning, and locked in permanent absolutes of truth.

That’s quite an image: Jesus standing in the church, his hands tied behind his back. Then Buechner like some of us today add their recognition of their kinship with the Jesus in the corner. Is it possible that we in the church, Jesus’ latter-day hometown crowd, are sometimes the least likely to call upon him, the last to turn to him, less likely than many others to be open to his message and promise, his mystery and his grace?

Often today we in the church seem more focused on ourselves–whether our proud accomplishments, our current projects, or our persistent problems–more on these things than on God’s power and truth.  Just think about the energy we here have spent in the last few years on our buildings and our survival rather than the growing need around us.

I want to tell you a story. It’s not about me or you but it could resonate. It’s not about what was done right or wrong, it is just a story that can be applied to many places today.

The story begins when a well-known preacher visited an old once prominent church a church that had for decades been known far and wide as the home of great preachers and a center of great social causes. Like many, however, this church had declined in recent decades as people had moved away and community demographics had changed. When he arrived to give a lecture there, the preacher was met by an officer of the church. And as he was early, the church officer asked if I would like a tour of the grand facility. As they walked the officer told the preacher that twenty years ago he had feared for the future of his church. In fact, he said, “I was pretty sure that by now they would have closed their doors. You see, he said, we were just fifty elderly people left in this great sanctuary.” Then he brightened. “But something happened. Something changed. They were experiencing a kind of renewal, a revival.”

“Really,” the preacher said, “that’s wonderful.” “Yes, said the officer; these days we have four or five hundred people in church. We have new ministries in the community. We are seeing new people, young and old, rich and poor, gay and straight.” “How do you explain this?” the Preacher asked. The officer thought for a moment, then he said, “Well, it wasn’t all our new minister, but he has made a difference.” “What’s he done?”

“Well, he got us studying the Bible . . . yes, our minister gives a wonderful Bible Study. In fact, he can give you the entire message of the Bible in just six words.” The preacher inwardly groaned and though Oh dear “Another fast operator?” “And what might those six words be?” he asked skeptically. His host, an older man grinned broadly. “The six words that summarize the entire message of the Bible of course? ‘I am God and you’re not.'” They both laughed. But what was it they were laughing about and why?

“I am God and you’re not.” Sounds very clear and simple at a social or cultural level. It also sounds clear in a sort of fundamentalist theistic level. It speaks of a supernatural God up above in charge yet it rings true in that it speaks of our propensity to bring everything back to ourselves, to make ourselves central to everything that exists. It’s not about you, not about us. It’s about God. I remember Graeme Ferguson often speaking of Mission as God’s Mission and not the churches Mission. One of the sad things about our Church is its obsession with its own mission as opposed to the mission of the gospel. We get so consumed with our survival in a world that seems to no longer need us. The figures scream this at us but we seem to hide behind the idea that the world must be wrong and isn’t listening to us. Maybe we are in our hometown with blinkers on? Maybe our once great church has become so focused on its past glories and singular prominence that we have forgotten, the church officer said; the real source of the church’s power and of its life . . . the power of the living God. Had been given over to their collective pride and ego.

But be careful; listen again to the story. Humbled by their decline yet blessed with the insight that it wasn’t really about them, they had turned to God afresh, calling upon their God who is known in and through the everyday, known in and through the great picture of the universe alive they had acknowledged their own need for healing and for change. They had come to know this divine energy and power in a new way, in a new time. They had taken risks in faith. They had taken the risk of change, the risk of oblivion and they had stepped out two by two.

When Jesus was rejected in Nazareth, he did not–though it must have been painful for him–reject them in turn. He did not take offense. He only sadly shook his head and then moved on. He moved on, sending his disciples out, two by two, to preach, to heal and to teach. He said something interesting to them: they were to travel light, to “take nothing for the journey” but the clothes on their backs. In these times of change and challenge for the church or in times of challenge in our personal lives,

The message might be to “lighten the load,” Let go of some weighty assumptions about how we have always done things. Leave behind those big, bulky suitcases stuffed full of tradition and outdated interpretations. Note I said interpretations and not outdated stories. Maybe we are being asked to surrender some truly heavy stuff. Not only the old conflicts we’ve been bearing or the grudges we’ve been nursing but also the very truths we have not tested before, the very values that have become intrenched in culture so much so that we are afraid of losing our culture.? Maybe we are being asked to strip these things away so that we might travel light again, maybe like going back beyond the 4th Century and looking at what motivated Jesus and his earliest followers, the men and women who heard him not only with their minds but also with their hearts.

Having said all the above I need to say that I do not think you are hometown people. You are two by two sent people on the verge of oblivion. You have bought the lotto ticket and the price has been your faith, a wild, risky faith, bold and trusting faith not is a belief system, not in an institution grounded on creed or doctrine but in a real and incarnate power of God in a Jesus of Nazareth who made all things new. Yours is a transformative world changing faith, Amen.

Jairus’ Daughter

Posted: June 28, 2018 in Uncategorized

Jairus’ Daughter

Mark 5:21-43

The story Mark tells takes place on the western shores of the Sea of Galilee; a large freshwater lake some thirteen miles long and eight miles across, surrounded by high mountains. After leaving Nazareth Jesus seems to have spent most of what was left: of his short life in the city of Capernaum, which was on the northern shore of the lake and the center of its fishing industry. A number of his best friends lived there including Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, together with Peter and his brother Andrew, who were all of them partners in some sort of fishing enterprise that employed other people whose names we don’t know and that seems to have owned at least two boats.

When Mark gives his account of what happened by the lake on this particular day, he puts in so many details that Matthew leaves out that it seems possible Mark was actually there at the time or at least had talked to somebody who was. The kind of story that Mark is telling us here is a quiet, low-key little story and in some ways so unclear and ambiguous that it’s hard to know just why Mark is telling it or just what he expects us to make out of it or made out of it himself. It’s a story not about stained-glass people with some sort of special role but about people who lived and breathed and sweated and made love and used bad language when they tripped over stuff in the dark and sometimes had more troubles than they knew what to do with and sometimes laughed themselves silly over nothing in particular and were thus in many ways very much like the rest of us.

Jesus had just crossed over in a boat from the other side of the lake, Mark writes, when he found himself surrounded by some of them right there at the water’s edge where there were nets hanging up to dry and fish being gutted and scaled and stray cats looking around for anything they could get their paws on. He doesn’t say there was any particular reason for the crowd, so it’s probably just that they had heard about Jesus — probably even some knew him and were there to gawk at him. There may have been a lot of wild stories about who people said he was and what he was going around doing and saying. They might have been there to see what wild things he might say or do next.

Part of what all these stories about Jesus in the Gospels are trying to tell us is who he was and what it was it like to be with him. They’re trying to tell us what there was about him that made at least some of the people there by the lake that day decide to give up everything they had or ever hoped to have, in some cases even their own lives, maybe just for the sake of being near him.

Video Part 1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbkvQcf6kJg

Matthew’s account doesn’t give us the name Jairus, but Mark’s does. A man named Jairus had somehow made his way to Jesus and threw himself at his feet, or fell to his knees perhaps, or touched his forehead to the ground in front of him. The man was a synagogue official of some kind, important enough to have the crowd give way enough to let him through. But he doesn’t behave like an important man. He behaves like a desperate man, a man close to hysteria with fear, grief, horror that his daughter is on the point of death. Jairus doesn’t say “my daughter,” he says “my little daughter.” She is twelve years old, going on thirteen, we’re told, so she wasn’t all that little really, but to Jairus she would presumably always be his little daughter the way even when they’ve grown up and moved away long since, we keep on speaking of our sons and daughters as children because that is what they were when we knew them first and loved them first. Remember here the place we are told women have in his culture.

His child is dying is what Jairus is there to get through somehow to this man who some say is like no other man. She is dying—he says it repeatedly, Mark tells us, dying, dying—and then he says, “Come and lay your hands on her,” because he’s seen it done that way before and has possibly even tried doing it that way himself, except that it did absolutely no good at all when he tried it, as for all he knows it will do absolutely no good now either. But this is the only card he has left to play, and he plays it. “Lay your hands on her, so she may be made well, and live,” he says—live, he says, live, not die, before she’s hardly had more than a glimpse of what living is.

It’s a wonder Jesus even hears him what with all the other things people are clamoring to him for, but somehow he does, and so does a lot of the crowd that follows along as Jairus leads the way to where his house stands.

They follow presumably because for the moment Jesus is the hottest ticket in town and because they don’t have anything better to do and because they’re eager to see if the man is all he’s been cracked up to be. But before they get very far, they run into some people coming the other way who with the devastating tactlessness of the simple souls they are come right out and say it. “Your daughter is dead,” they tell Jairus. They have just come from his house, where she died. They saw it with their own eyes. There is nothing anybody can do about it now. They have come too late. “Why trouble the teacher any further?” they ask her father, and it is Jesus who finally breaks the silence by speaking, only it’s just Jairus he speaks to. “Do not fear, “he says. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid. And then, “Only believe.” And what is he to believe? “The child is not dead,” he said, “but sleeping.”

Video Part 2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbkvQcf6kJg

Back to our text. The question is what kind of a story is this? If the little girl had actually died the way the people who were there in the house believed she had, then it is the story of a miracle that bears witness to the power Jesus had over nature. If she was only sleeping as Jesus said—in a coma or whatever he may have meant – then it is a story about a healing, about the power of Jesus’s touch to make the blind see and the deaf hear and the lame walk. Either way it is a story about a miracle, but about a miracle that doesn’t end with an exclamation point the way you would expect, but with a question mark or at most with the little row of dots that means unresolved, to be continued, to figure out somehow for ourselves.

Who cares any more than her mother and father can have cared. They had their child back. She was alive again. She was well again. That was all that mattered

It is that life-giving power that is at the heart of this shadowy story about Jairus and the daughter he loved, and that I think is at the heart of all our stories-the power of new life, new hope, new being, that whether we know it or not, keeps us coming to places like this year after year in search of it. It is the power to seek the adventure of being human even when that journey isn’t all that easy for us anymore and to keep going on and on toward whatever it is, whoever Jesus is, that all our lives long for reaches out to take us by the hand. Amen.

‘When Storms Matter’

Posted: June 28, 2018 in Uncategorized

Pentecost 5B June 24, 2018
I Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49        Mark 4:35-41

‘When Storms Matter’

Goliath stood huge in his stocking feet, wore a massive collar, big enough to go around several dog’s necks, a great helmet and a waist belt big enough to saddle a horse with. When he put his full armour on, he looked like a Transformer of skyscraper size. Built like a Sherman tank when stripped to the bare essentials, he had plenty to carry around, and flesh and bones were the least of it. There was a sense of the great burden of having to defend his title against all comers. He was the great defender, the mighty warrior and there was a sense of the mangled remains of the runners-up. The burden was expressed when he tried to think something out, because it was like struggling through a bog up to his hips, and when he tried to explain something, it was like pushing a truck uphill. His dark moods were leaden and his light moods like carrying an elephant on his shoulders. He would have considered underarm deodorants a sign of effeminacy.

The stone from David’s slingshot caught him between the eyes, and when he hit the dirt, windows rattled in their frames as far away as Ashkelon. The mighty had fallen to the ground, the world was ending. The ringing in his ears drowned out the catcalls of the onlooking armies, and his vision was all but shot, but he could still see enough to make out the naked figure of a boy running toward him through the scrub. The boy’s hair streamed out behind him like copper, and he was as swift and light-footed as a deer. As David straddled Goliath with Goliath’s sword in his hand, the giant believed that what he was seeing was his own soul stripped of the unwieldy flesh at last for its journey to paradise, and when David presented the severed head to Saul later, there was an unmistakable smile on its great lips.

In the storms of life, regardless of what we name the mystery our God is with us. Facing impossible odds, we receive divine guidance and energy. Trusting in our God, we can do greater things than we can imagine. The impossible becomes possible as we tap the deeper energies of the universe be it seeking to name them or give them anthropomorphic shape and concept to explain our human agency. Miracles that don’t violate the nature’s law; nature’s power and the powers residing in us are often more than we can imagine. Faith, Hope and Trust open us to quantum leaps of power, inspiration, and energy. What we name as God’s grace is sufficient for us to respond to every crisis. Even though we appear weak, we are strong in Creative love.

What child doesn’t love the story of David and Goliath, described in I Samuel 17. It accommodates instinct in that there is violence in the victory, and this story is an inspiration for the “Bully and the bullied” within each of us. The underdog defeats the villain, the bully gets what’s coming to him, the weak defeat the strong. Yet, beyond the real violence of the story – the Goliath who is vanquished and beheaded – a deeper message may be found. Beyond the violence, beyond the destructive instinctive purely humanistic response there is more. When we trust in this mystery we name God, and I might name Creativity itself, we can respond with courage and strength to the forces that threaten to defeat us. We do not need to accept violence as a natural human activity. Power belongs to the creativity we find in serendipity, ambiguity and the unexpected and dare I say it the satirical, and this suggests that our alignment is not with bullies, oppressors, and those who would plan evil. There is a way when there is no way and we progressives know this as ‘The Jesus Way’. In Creativity God we are inspired to be agents in our own destiny and co-creators with the divine.

The challenge for us in our story is that we are called to be compassionate toward Goliath. He was a tool of the opponent. Perhaps, gigantic as a result of a genetic abnormality, the adversarial mode, the instinctive primitive brain, the military response gave him status and income, and delivered him from social ostracism as a result of his size. He became a victim of culture and of evil. Fighting was all he knew, and bluster and bloviation were his meal ticket. Perhaps, Goliath hoped for a quiet life, far away from the battlefield. But, his destiny was to fight and sadly to die. In the end he is more a victim than a villain in this story.

In Psalm 9 which we did not read today God’s preferential option is for the poor and vulnerable. The oppressor’s days are numbered. Prayers will be answered. We will be liberated from those who unfairly treat us. God will deliver the weak from the snare, and the impoverished from the unjust. We will rise. The catch in this, or the moment of awareness, is that God’s timetable differs from our own. Patience will be required and we have it. The patience to let the moral arc of history emerge in its patient and persistent way? Here is our understanding of the nature of evolution which is in its free serendipitous uncertain and random being our very certainty. Our finiteness in infinity as the science of the quantum might say.

And then we come to our epistle. Again, the dichotomy as Paul proclaims that now is the day of salvation. Today is the day of healing and transformation, confirming that healing and transformation often appear under their opposites. Paul and his companions are described as externally powerless and the objects of scorn. They are of no account and subject to the whims of the powerful. They have nothing. Yet, beneath the persecution and contempt, they are empowered by God’s presence. They possess an inner joy that flows from their trust in God. Their joy is not the result of external circumstances but their relationship with the Living God, revealed in the suffering and resurrected Christ. Salvation and healing are real, and contemporary, regardless of the circumstances of life. We are encouraged in reading this, to look with imagination and confidence for the presence of mystery – to seek the peace that calms and empowers – despite what we are currently enduring. We have everything we need to experience this and our sustenance our way through and beyond adverse circumstances.

Finally, we find Mark describing Jesus’ ability to still the storms of life as well as the storms of nature. The disciples panic when a sudden windstorm rocks their boat, filling their craft with water. In their fear, they call upon Jesus, whose calm voice stills the storm. There are two storms described in this story – the first is the storm at sea, our relationship with that which is beyond our immediate control, the external realities that might put us at risk. The passage proclaims God’s ability to work within the forces of nature to bring health and peace to the planet. The cosmic purpose is about the reality of creativity and change, there is always the movement from what was to what might be, yet, stilling the storm seems a fantasy for those in the path of hurricanes and tidal waves. In an interdependent universe, we have some effect on the forces of nature, we acknowledge this in our acceptance of some responsibility for climate change. and perhaps in the tradition of rainmakers and shaman, Jesus’ own spiritual power and synchronicity with nature could have influenced the course of a storm. Still, we know it is best – during severe storms – to pray for sunshine and find a place of safety!

For many of us as congregations in the western world and in countries where the secular has been strong, the storm at sea is more existential than meteorological. The storms we face involve budget and membership. We fear what will happen to us; we wander if our congregation will survive the changes in the spiritual landscape and our own aging demographics. We wonder what will happen to St David’s Community of Faith because of the need to save old buildings, what will happen to the value of St David’s in a post secular world. The second storm Jesus addresses is the inner tumult, the fear and anxiety within each of us and our institutions. A fishing prayer goes, “The sea is so wide and my boat is so small.” Dwarfed by the grandeur of the universe and the challenges that confront us, we appear to be powerless. We are uncertain if our lives matter or if the universe cares for us. An alternative version of the saying gives us another perspective, the sea is God’s sea, not an indifferent force, the sea may be huge but it is dependent on each one of us. God’s sea ultimately will bring us homeward with waves of healing.

As we read this story, we can see two miracles described. The first is the inner miracle. When the disciples remember Jesus is in the boat, they are still fearful, but they are no longer hopeless. They sense that Jesus’ love and power is greater than their fear. Their attitude toward the storm begins to change: yes, this is a difficult situation and we are in trouble, but God is with us and we’re going to make it. The second miracle is the pacifying of the storm. According to Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is so in synch with the energies of the universe that by his energetic word he can calm the storm. Here we have the synergy with the very creation story of old, Jesus seems to set up another type of vibration, strong enough to neutralize the destructive impact of the storm. In summary then, today’s readings remind us that despite our apparent weakness, we can experience newfound courage and strength when we trust Creativity God’s loving power. The storms of life will not cease, bullies may continue to threaten us, and external factors may put us at risk, but nothing in all creation can separate us from the love or the power of love that has its roots in Creativity itself. That which we see as the Jesus Way and that which we might name Creativity God. Amen.

Pentecost 4B

June 17th 2018

Mischievous Mustard Seed Satire

 If we start with all the stuff we have previously heard about this parable, there is a good chance many of us have heard it said this is a story about contrast. About a tiny mustard seed that grows into the greatest of all shrubs. The trouble is that botanically speaking “mustard does not grow to be the greatest of all shrubs, nor is it the smallest of all seeds. Which says that; hyperbole is used to drive home a contrast. On the other hand, wild mustard, an annoying weed, is almost impossible to eradicate once it has infested a paddock or vegetable garden. When you get it in your paddock, like ‘ring fern’ or Scotch thistle’, your paddock is ‘unclean’. So what might the storyteller be suggesting?

Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar suggest: “Jesus’ audience would probably have expected God’s domain to be compared to something great, not something small.” (Funk 1993:59) And then this interesting point: “As the tradition was passed on, it fell under the influence… of the mighty cedar of Lebanon as a metaphor for a towering empire… In his use of this mustard seed metaphor, Jesus is understanding the image for comic effect.” (Funk 1993: 484)

Having said that let’s take a moment to reflect on what the satire might be alluding to given that all the parables are thought to be comments on the realm of God that Jesus is hailing as present and unfolding. The kingdom come perhaps. Lets also take a moment to reflect on how satire is used today.

John Bennison in a sermon on this invites us to start by remembering that radical religious extremists with a distorted view of Islam committed a horrific act of terror a few years ago, executing the staff of a small satirical French publication. The satirists had dared to depict the Prophet Mohammed in cartoon caricature; all the while lampooning those misbegotten adherents who in turn regard such irreverent acts as blasphemous. The Western world reacted with outrage and defiance to such an affront. World leaders joined a million, person protest and unity marched through the streets of Paris, chanting “Je Suis Charlie,” in defense of freedom of speech, and on behalf of the publication’s name. When the modest magazine ran its next issue a week later, the printing presses couldn’t keep pace with consumer demand.

We note that anti-blasphemy laws are common in countries where there are a majority of Muslims. At the same time, it is notable that nearly ninety countries in the world, including France, have laws against the defamation of religion and public expression of hate against religious groups. In the U.S. there are laws that prohibit “hate speech,” where it pertains to words that “offend, threaten, or insult groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.” We have recently debated the Australian rugby player, Israel Filau’s comments about homosexuality in the context of hate speech and rights to religious freedom.

While a clear distinction might be drawn between the use of words and the vehement reactions they may incite, more profound underlying questions remain. Once the dust settles and more thoughtful discussion ensues, we are left with what constitutes the differences between hate speech and freedom of expression? What one might consider merely irreverent, others might regard as not only offensive, but blasphemous and in violation of established law, whether religious or secular. In an attempt to take it out of the legal domain we begin to talk about what is PC and what is not. We talk about false news and political truth as descriptions that almost legitimize dishonesty. When should freedom of expression be curtailed if, and when, it leads to deliberate or even unnecessary provocation? What meaningful purpose might blasphemous satire serve, justifying its use as being of greater importance than the negative consequences that may result? We need strong leaders, or benevolent dictators is the cry. Was it a slip of the tongue or deliberate satire when Fox news announced the meeting of Trump and Kim Jong Un, as the meeting of two dictators?

Again, we are left with a question; While a clear distinction might be drawn between the use of words and the vehement reactions they may incite, … what constitutes the differences between hate speech and freedom of expression?

In the faith that was the faith of Jesus, the religiously observant person was forbidden from even pronouncing the name of their god, let alone seeing the face of the divine; hence they had the tetragrammaton YHWH commonly pronounced ‘Yahweh’ in English as an acknowledgment that even the utterance of the name was forbidden, and thus the word Adonai (“Lord”) is often substituted. To do otherwise could be considered blasphemous. In the Torah, it states that he that blasphemes the name of the LORD “shall surely be put to death.” (Lev. 24:16)

In the canonical gospels of the Christian scriptures, Jesus’ antagonists are continually portrayed condemning the Galilean peasant preacher’s words and actions as blasphemy. The gospel author’s construct their stories to include the gradual, but cumulative, effect of tension and controversy surrounding Jesus. Moreover, they show Jesus as continuously breaking the rules, healing on the Sabbath, usurping God’s exclusive right to pronounce absolution, and making use of political satire in his depictions of the reign of god; until the mounting evidence is sufficient to condemn the offender as deserving death. Here is the collaboration of the Roman empire politically afraid of the Jesus movements political aspirations and the religious afraid of his corruption of their orthodoxy.

Whether it is the religious institution or the Empire of Rome, both the question and consequences may be the same. What useful and greater purpose might “blasphemous” satire serve, to make it worth the risk? When thinking about a ‘Purposeful Satire’ we might acknowledge that at Harvard University each autumn, the Ig Nobel Prizes are apparently awarded for the most esoteric, trivial or simply off-the-wall kinds of scientific research imaginable. As a parody of the prestigious Nobel Prizes, winners of the ignoble (hence the name of the awards) achievements of the last year might include researchers who study how reindeer react to seeing humans who are disguised as polar bears; as well as others who investigate whether it is mentally hazardous for a human being to own a cat; and still others seeking to understand what happens in the brains of people who see the face of Jesus in a piece of toast. And this is serious stuff, not unlike the debate about the Proctor’s right to ban and remove the Otago University Student publication from circulation.

The award ceremony at Harvard is organized by a science publication that goes by the name of Annals of Improbable Research. It considers itself a humorous, even satirical, magazine. It’s all meant to be good-hearted fun by those who take scientific inquiry very seriously.

Since the Enlightenment and Age of Reason it has long been suggested that scientific theory and empirical evidence is the religion of choice for those moderns, or now post-moderns, who have left primitive cosmologies and mythic theologies behind. We as progressive Christians might be considered as such people but why do we treat serious matters with the use of satire?

Well I don’t think we have time for a full answer to that question but we can offer an observation about the purposeful use of satire, regardless of its possible consequences. Religiously motivated types we might call fundamentalists, or radical extremists, or fanatical adherents of a warped interpretation of their religious convictions for their own purposes, all have a common response it seems. They all consider satire, lampooning, or mocking their deepest held beliefs to be intolerable blasphemy. And, since many religious traditions have a satire component to their text, it asks where does one draw the line, or cross it?

Was Jesus a Satirist and Blasphemer? Well at Harvard the stated purpose of the Ig Nobel prizes has always been to “honour achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.” While the awards are sometimes thinly veiled criticism and gentle satire, they are also used to point out that even the most seemingly absurd can result in new and useful ways of seeing things.

So too, there may be no better way to describe Jesus’ use of satire in what are considered some of the most authentic sayings attributed to him in what we know as the parables. The idea of a good Samaritan, or a foolhardy shepherd who’d forsake an entire flock for one, dumb sheep, or a woman who’d turn her house upside down in search of a single coin are all examples of the kinds of absurd little stories with a bite sufficient to make one first laugh, then think more deeply. This brings us to today’s text of the parable of the mustard seed as another example.

All three synoptic gospels include their own variation on a somewhat briefer and probably earlier version found in the “sayings” of the Thomas gospel: The disciples said to Jesus, “Tell us what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.” He said to them, “It is like a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds. But when it falls on tilled soil, it produces a great plant and becomes a shelter for birds of the sky.” (Thomas 20:2)

When Jesus tells the parable of the mustard seed — how from the tiniest planted seed such tremendous and specular growth is possible — any motivational speaker or campaigning politician could adapt such a hopeful message out of context to suit their own agenda. Jesus’ original listeners, however, would have thought it was a joke; as in, “Did you hear the one about the mustard seed that thought it was a mighty tree? …” In fact, the mustard bush was a fast-growing weed that – once it took hold – could become so large it was almost impossible to eradicate. With echoes of the Ezekiel text from the Jewish prophetic tradition about the mighty cedar tree providing shelter and shade, Jesus’ image of the reign of God being compared to a mustard bush that could be equated with — or replace – the mighty cedar might well have made his listeners both laugh and cringe.

Perhaps when the evangelists chose to include and adapt this parable for their own purposes in what later became the New Testament canon, they wanted to encourage their fledgling congregations to put their shoulder to the gospel plow and assure them that everything was possible with God. Just plant the seeds and watch the good news spread. But those who first heard the parable may have first gasped, then chuckled uncomfortably and nervously shifted in their seats when they were invited to imagine the divine as an irascible weed. With a little biting humour, Jesus was poking fun of their traditional image of the reign of God; while prompting them to think differently about it.

As already mentioned, the parable of the mustard seed is only one of a number of such challenging little stories. Almost a folk tale, set in ordinary, every-day secular settings, typically irreligious, they also often portrayed the religious authorities in a less than favourable light and they had a challenging twist about them. Jesus had to be deliberately poking people in the posterior with a sharp stick. Is it any wonder he paid the price when his satirical critiques hit too close to home for the institutional hierarchy.

When the gospel story depicts him “setting his face to Jerusalem,” along with everything that would await him there (Matt. 19:1; Mark 9:30-32; Luke9:51-56), Jesus may well have known his satirical jabs would not only be considered irreverent but judged to be blasphemous.

To his credit, however, it seems clear his use of satire was always used to serve a deeper purpose than a quick laugh. Namely, to think more deeply about the nature about what he called the reign of God. With the stakes so high, he did not seem interested in simply exercising his right to mock, ridicule or castigate those whom he regarded as having lost their way. Amen.

Notes:
Cairns, I. J. Mark of a Non-realist. A Contemporary Reading of the Second Gospel. Masterton. Fraser Books, 2004.
Crossan, J. D. The Historical Jesus. The life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. North Blackburn. CollinsDove, 1991.
Funk, R. W. & R. W. Hoover. The Five Gospels. The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus. New York. MacMillan Press, 1993.
Geering, L. G. Christianity Without God. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2002.
Reid, B. Parables for Preachers. The Gospel of Mark. Year B. Collegeville. The Liturgical Press, 1999.
Scott, B. B. Re-imagine the World. An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2001.
Sanguin, B. The Way of the Wind: The Path and Practice of Evolutionary Christian Mysticism. Toronto. Evans & Sanguin, 2015.

John William Bennison http://www.wordsnways.com/

A New Way of Being Human

Posted: June 8, 2018 in Uncategorized

Pentecost 3B

Genesis 3: 8-15         Mark 3: 20-35

A New Way of Being Human

Along with the age-old way of being human based on the personalized and anthropocentric approach to God, so too is the idea of God casting out Satan, no longer the way of working toward being human. Up until now, such ideas of God and evil have been essential to our species survival. These ideas have, at the very least given us a relative peace within our own groups in geographical and cultural distinctiveness but now we have a new world and a new opportunity to travel that path towards being more human. For us as followers of the Jesus Way this is the path that Jesus offers us. He said or is recorded as having said; “And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.” Jesus seems to be saying that we have, in fact, been a house divided. Our recent review of human history suggests that human beings have always found ways to divide ourselves based on what was called the satanic way of accusation. Tradition has also said that, that way of being human has come to end in the cross, and Jesus’ new way of forgiveness is the only true way forward.

But what does that mean in terms of our understanding of God. This is important it seems because you and I are called to be part of this new order, this new alternative This new humanity. The old alternative is that older way of seeing salvation as an escape from a world that will forever remain divided and subject to violence and the primary question has been; which way of salvation do you want to be part of? One suggestion is that in order to see the choice more clearly, we have to raise our level of discourse to that of anthropology: that Jesus comes to invite us into a whole new way of being human. But again; what does that mean?

I think it means doing more of what we’ve been doing which is calling our community to treat each other as interdependent, be it family, village, town or community, especially when it comes to the least of us, “we shall always have the poor with us” and those different from us, ‘we are neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor master, gay nor straight, or different in skin colour. I think it means doing more as children of God, good citizens, faithful people etc. The task we are called to is to engage in the bridging of the gaps of this partisan polarity. We are called to be part of the solution in a world that is captured by violence in all its forms, from physical abuse of another to the sustaining of systems seeking to avoid the critique of its influence on the human path to flourishing.

In our Genesis reading there are a number of tantalizing phrases in this familiar passage from the Creation story. One could emerge from this text, taking a number of different directions: God searching for us, the nakedness of shame, the pervasive nature of blame, or the relational impact of curse. The theme that seems to be most harmonious with the themes presented in our Gospel passage are the resolution of the relational curses in the person and work of Jesus, “their sins will be forgiven them,” and also the pervasive nature of blame, “a house divided against itself shall not stand.”

It is also hard to resist dwelling on the beauty of the passage about God searching for Adam and Eve “at the time of the evening breeze but,” why that narrative elaboration? Well maybe; the evening breeze on a beautiful evening is an invitation to discern what could be the purpose in this text telling us that God was heard walking in the garden “at the time of the evening breeze.” Often the sounds on that occasion are magnificently alive because we’ve grown accustomed to the alternative sounds perhaps. In the sounds of the rain and storms of winter we miss the sound of the insects that can only be heard in the stillness. We miss the sound of silence and the sound of nature breathing and moving. I think these are the sounds of creativity that arise out of the silence of imagination that we miss when consumed with the business of the now.

The worldview of a Creativity God, with its strong affirmation of God’s immanence in the world, is not as threatened by the picture of God walking around in the garden “in the evening breeze” as our classical theistic forebears might claim. They took issue with such a passage of scripture because their theological concept of God was one of an utterly transcendent and impassible Gods.

Process Theology, proclaims the immanent God who is concerned about the whereabouts of a couple who were created free — free enough to hide from God even in the Garden of Eden. And thus, any mention of “breeze” in the scriptures invites us to clue into this translation as connoting the same Spirit that is involved in the Creation narrative in the first creation story, as well as elsewhere throughout the Bible. The Ruach, (wind, breeze, breath, Spirit) is one way that we might be able to translate the meaning of what is happening in this text to hearers who might be unwilling to let go of the idea of an omniscient God walking around searching for Adam and Eve.

The alternative claim to an omniscient God is that the Breeze blowing might just be one and the same of “God walking” and “God speaking” to Adam and Eve, who know they have trespassed upon God’s commandments. As Sally McFague has stated in Models of God, this Pneuma/Ruach/Spirit might be a good way of conceptualizing God in a way that connects humans to non-human creation and to a Creativity God, as was outlined in the Trinity Sunday sermon a couple of weeks ago. I called it Serendipitous Creativity but the serendipity can be assumed as the acknowledgement of the evolutionary component in creativity. Furthermore, the fact that God is portrayed as searching for Adam and Eve is a description of a divine relationship with humanity in which it could be said that God is actively involved in the pursuit of a humanity fulfilled. Creativity God is concerned with our well- being, our location in life, and this offers us the best possible outcome of relationship.

In this week’s Mark reading Jesus has been gleaning some wheat for a snack and then healing a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. After that, he is then pictured healing a multitude of people, such that he had to escape for fear of being crushed (3: 9-10), hushing up some impure spirits (3:11), then deciding to delegate the power of exorcism to twelve apostles (3:13-19). After this whirlwind of activity, Jesus returns home (3:20), where he is met with suspicion. His family seems somewhat embarrassed, since the word around town is that Jesus has lost his mind, and the scribes have an even more scandalous charge. He’s filled with the Beelzebub, Lord of the Flies, since according to their logic, only the ruler of demons can cast out demons.

Jesus has the decency to entertain the charges of the scribes, and counters their logic with his own, woven into parables. “If a kingdom is divided against itself, it cannot stand, and if a house is divided against itself, it cannot stand, and if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. Note here that “his end has come”. No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.” Process theology speak says we can take this phrase as a lure to speak about our prevalent divisive cultural and adversarial political climate though the comparison here between a “kingdom” and “Satan’s kingdom” as implied by Jesus.

Jesus’ parable puts him and his followers on the side of the plunderers, making their way into the house of the “Strong man,” and binding him, so that he and his followers can plunder the property. We look at our world today and we see examples of the resurgence of the “strong man” story around the world. Look at United States, Russia, The Philippines and many other places and we see political electorates which seem enamored with the possibility that such a “strong man” might provide salvation for a group of people politically engineered to feel victimized and hunkered down in a bunker mentality. Perhaps it is of interest to us that Jesus quite clearly positions himself on the side of the plunderers in this parable. How might an exorcist with a plan to “bind the strong man and plunder the property” be the torchbearer of followers of Christ in this political climate?

My summary to date is that the creation story and the gospel or the Jesus Way challenges us to see ourselves as part of the creativity, part of the culture building, part of the meaning development and one might say, part of the problem, and that when we see and understand this we are able to understand what forgiveness, freedom and the alternative Jesus Way, looks and feels like, and discover a new way of being human.

And on that note, I want to suggest that after service today we will engage in that very challenge. We will be asked to think about a name for our school; not our umbrella name because I think there is adequate justification being voiced that says St David’s Centre is where the location, heritage, legend and traditional, is valued and expressed. In other words that name says where we have come from and what we value as we step into the future, and now we are ready to engage in providing a name for our school. This will express what we think is distinctive, forward thinking and invites those who have no understanding of our spirituality, our aspirations as a sacred community of faith and how we think we might go about encouraging the development of young human beings to be spiritually aware, authentically driven and leaders of our world in a future which is beyond our imagination. In short what sort of world do we think the future might be, should be and how do we prepare others for it, even if we are not sure of what it might look and feel like.

What we do know is that it will be a world where our children will benefit from being multi-lingual, technologically astute, self-aware, and innovatively driven. A world where fear as a driver of violence, uncertainty, ambiguity is no longer valid and where society is based on an understanding of the efficacy of love and compassion. A new way of being human.

Genesis portrays the emergence of fear and sin in the human story. The Gospel portrays Jesus as declaring that all sins are forgiven and that love is the vehicle that replaces fear. Jesus is here, relating the sin to his own experience of feeling debased by the scribes who are describing his work and words and ministry as arising out of an unholy Spirit. If God is searching for us and comes walking in the evening breeze, which way the wind blows is important for our living as human beings, in other words what we say about ourselves to those who do not know us or what we believe is important. So, what are the words in naming our school that say who we are and what we believe we are aspiring to? Amen.