‘Events of Grace’

Posted: October 20, 2020 in Uncategorized

‘Events of Grace’

Matthew 22: 34-46

It matters if someone loves us. It matters that we love ourselves. No human experience is more fundamental than the transforming ‘event of grace’ of being loved. Indeed, there is a considerable body of theological opinion which claims the very heart of the Christian message is that Jesus of Nazareth shows the unconditional and gracious love of God.

Before I go on, I want to explain if I can what I think an event is and make the claim that when we name something as grace or grace-filled we are in fact naming an event that is dynamic, moving and complex. In other words, we are naming that which is our living God as the loving action. A key thing to remember here also is that an event is uncontainable. It is free to transform all that it encounters. This understanding of grace and event for me is what enables a hermeneutical opportunity within which to explore what grace is and how it works. In naming something ‘grace’ we limit it by what we know and restrict it by its relationship to history, circumstance, and setting.

Careless thoughts

conceived only to fuel

my deranged ramblings

incessant mutterings of a shattering mind

bending backwards, almost breaking,

risking the chance of ever fully mending

hoping and praying

for a sentence that’s pending approval

Whereas the freedom of event enables unfettered, unlimited, unconditional opportunity. Whether the grace of God enjoys a merely passing historical privilege is relative to the event it harbours. It can remain a name if it fails to become an event which brings everything together in meaning, description and practical manifestation.

Allowing the rising of the sun

Paving ways for thriving wishes,

unbarr­ing gates for soaring dreams,

unlocking latches for poetic engagement

relieving the heightening of language

dulling anxieties of grieving hearts.

constantly seeking unshakable utterances,

promising goodness, happiness

and titillating sanity.

Anyway, having I hope given some depth to an event of grace I want to go back to our Matthew text especially to the second commandment “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”, section, and I want to draw on a sermon Rex Hunt gave some 40 odd years ago. He notes that his sermon was influenced greatly by Eric Fromm. It was centred on the theme of love, especially the value of self- love and self-acceptance as part of the traditional text expressed in the biblical: ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’.

The first claim Rex made was that it is OK to love others as well as OK, and not a problem or ‘sin’, to love yourself”. The second was that: “love of others and self-love are not mutually exclusive of each other. 

If it is a virtue to love one’s neighbour as a human being of worth, then it must be a virtue, and not a vice, to love oneself, since one is also a human being of worth”. He then went on to suggest that a clue to understanding what love is, is expressed in the saying of Matthew’s Jesus: ‘love your neighbour as yourself’.

Rex notes here that a better translation might be: ‘love your neighbour, just as you are to love yourself’. And that: “respect and acceptance of our own integrity and uniqueness, love for and understanding of our own self first, cannot be separated from respect and love and understanding for another person”.

One of the challenges here is to move away from an evangelical/fundamentalist position which claims that self-love is selfish love, whereas the radicalness of Jesus’ statement is that self-love is not the same as selfishness. A selfish person is interested only in her or himself and wants everything for him or herself and we have a merging of individuality and narcissism where one needs to be at the centre of everything. A selfish person does not love herself too much, but too little. For selfish persons are incapable of loving others as well as incapable of loving themselves and this confirms what we know about community. No human alone can create community. “Interactions among humans and between humans and the natural world creates communities.” (Peters i2002:36)

Rex notes that he concluded his sermon with these words: “Self-love, the love referred to by Jesus when he said ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ – requires the affirmation of one’s own life, happiness, growth and freedom, because all are rooted in our capacity to love.  Then, and only then, can we go on to love our neighbour”.

Having briefly affirmed that need for self-love in the process of creating community and of enabling love of one’s neighbour my hope is that one might see that an event of grace or a grace-filled event contains more than just what one does and includes who one is.

I now want to tackle the other stream in the text; that of the image of God.

The first engagement with this task is to ask a question. What is your image of the god you understand as God?  What is the god ‘God’ like for you? Or what picture, if any, do you have when you hear “one of the most complex and difficult [words] in the English language, a word rich with many layers and dimensions of meaning” (Kaufman 2004:1. Here perhaps is God as event as opposed to name, In naming we restrict God to the limits of history and culture, whereas God as event enables the unconditional, the timelessness and I would claim ‘the Almost’.

This is not to say that culture has no part to play in it but it does restrict it to the naming as opposed to the event. This is also not new as traditionally we have always had at least three different strands to the way the word god has been used in English-speaking societies: (i) the biblical strand (ii) the philosophical strand (iii) the popular strand. So, the question we asked at the beginning of this section is a language and cultural question. How do we speak about the god we name God in a way that communicates in our culture?

Rex Hunt says that for him the journey has been changing as his experiences have changed and I think that is the same for me also. Rex suggests that for him he used to think of God as ‘anam cara’ or soul friend as modern Celtic spirituality says.  (O’Donohue 1997) Or as ‘Caring Friend’, as some Process theologians suggest, who nudges, calls, lures, pokes us onward.  I have to admit that process theology has been important for my own journey in this regard. The traditional church or biblical language for ‘anam cara’ is the word ‘love’. And a loving God has always been balanced by a fearsome, in control, all-seeing, God.

In more recent years, I have intentionally, like Rex, added to my thinking and moved away from using human-like metaphors in addressing God, to using more neutral language, such as energy, force, Spirit. Rex has used ‘creativity’. Creativity in cosmic evolution. Creativity in biological evolution. Creativity in cultural/symbolic evolution, and I have in finding that limited have begun to use Serendipitous Creating to designate both the randomness of evolution and the dynamic, event-like process. I have also wrestled with the name of God being ‘Almost’ which combines both name and event. In the end these are attempts to find an understanding and language which can enable us to explore what it means to be religious using insights from Darwinian thought as well as being more appropriate to our newer worldviews and ecological and scientific thinking. As Gordon Kaufman suggested “our God language and God thinking, our ‘theology’ must take into account what we have learned about the evolutionary character of our world and ourselves…”. (Kaufman 2004:123)

Most scholars would I think agree that, both ‘process’ and ‘creativity’ are the metaphors we most often use today when we want to speak about or address, God. And with that change in language has come a host of other changes, all of them away from the traditional g-o-d language of much of our upbringing. But both life and religious issues are not only answered intellectually. They are also answered “with our whole being, with the way we live our lives”.  (Peters 2002:92)

Karl Peters says many people today are asking: What kind of person do I want to be? Reflecting on this question, he says he wants to be friendly, loving, caring, compassionate, curious, open to new possibilities, intelligent, and, in so far as is possible, wise.  What has now become good for me he says, is not so much what I can acquire.  It has become what I can be”.  (Peters 2002:92)

What I think he is suggesting is, that we can become ‘events of grace’ when things come together in unexpected ways “and give rise to new relations of mutual support.” (Peters 2007.) And, that, I think, is pretty close to the self-love and love of others – that we are called to be as ‘events of grace’ as expressed in the saying: ‘love your neighbour, just as you are to love yourself’. It matters if someone loves us.  It matters that we love ourselves. It matters that we live in a web of relationships with others and with nature.

Almost is about something that is not yet

It is about to be but not yet

Its promise is in it’s all but

And its approximately

An event of grace is something that is not yet but insists that it is about to be. Its promise is in its serendipitous creating and not in its naming, in its dynamic living process as opposed to its identifiable result. Or as John D Caputo might say, it does not exist but rather insists. Its efficacy is in its transforming as grace-filled event. Amen.

Notes:
Fromm, E. The Art of Loving. London. George Allen & Unwin, 1957.
Kaufman, G. In The Beginning… Creativity. Minneapolis. Fortress Press, 2004.
O’Donohue, J. Anam Cara. London. Bantam Books, 1997.
Peters, K. E. Dancing With The Sacred. Evolution, Ecology, and God. Harrisburg. Trinity Press, 2005.

rexae74@gmail.com

‘Two Empires or One Kingdom?’ 

Once again, we have another story of a challenge and confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders and elites. In this case, the Pharisees and those who supported Herod as King (that is, as vassal King of the real rulers – the Romans), or is it more than that?

The scene is set. Here we are gathering in a space where differing views can be expressed in a degree of safety. Probably on a mound outside of town where people can gather and listen as well as escape if it becomes boring or too radical. It has to be pretty safe because we have a few Chief Priests and a bunch of Pharisees and Jesus and his followers. We are told that the reason the Chief Priests are there is because they have heard about the parables attributed to Jesus and being the scholars and church-men they are they have realised he is speaking about them in somewhat challenging ways. They obviously discuss this and decide that action is required and they see in the Herodians an ally in their task of defending themselves in the face of what is being said about them.

The interesting thing about this alliance is that these two groups were not natural allies.  The Herodians are people who supported the rule of Herod and who cooperated with the Roman rulers and because of that cooperation were given authority by Romans.  The Pharisees on the other were the legalists among the Jewish leaders who believed that their interpretation of the Law was the one to be obeyed.  When they spoke of the law of course they specifically meant Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. They were the protectors of the faith, the boundary keepers and of course the bunch that held the power of clergy within the community. This was a creative yet fragile alliance pulled together to address a common enemy. In this case Jesus who was obviously being listened too, maybe even at the expense of the regular attendance at the synagogue and politically challenging those who were leading a comfortable life in the lap of the Romans.

Then this alliance discussed their common enemy and devised a way to entrap Jesus in what he was saying. Not the Pharisees didn’t go themselves but rather sent their disciples. Maybe Jesus would get too much status if they themselves fronted up. It might look like they were afraid of him and they might get their hands dirty if they were seen in their robes and elaborate dress to be giving Jesus too much kudos?

And when the opportunity to engage arrives they unfold their trap.

‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one, for a person’s rank means nothing to you. ‘Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’

What does Jesus do? He doesn’t lie down or respond passively. He; being aware of their malice, of their political alliance in the interests of power and he says:

‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?

He then addresses their weapon, the paying of taxes to Rome;

Show me a coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. Then Jesus said to them: ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’

They answered: ‘The emperors.’

Then Jesus said to them: ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.’

We remind ourselves that the aim of the question is not to get an answer but to trap Jesus.  So, what does it mean to give to Caesar a Roman coin? The Pharisees in defense of their faith would have regarded these Roman coins as idolatrous.  The contained an image of Tiberius, Caesar, who would have been considered as divine by the Romans.  The point Jesus makes about them being hypocrites can be made by the group of Pharisees simply producing the coin in the temple as they had shown themselves up as hypocrites in their stance. Whereas it is more than likely that the Herodians had no problem with the Roman coin, after all they have allied themselves with Rome.

So, we are left with the question, should they pay tax?  I wonder if you can see the trap.  If Jesus says yes what will the Pharisees say?  If he says no what will the Herodians say?  Jesus who is known to always speak the truth to that simple question will be caught out. He will be backed into a corner so that whatever his answer Jesus would get in strife with the authorities. This was the clever question devised by both Pharisee and Herodian.

But they have underestimated Jesus as he cleverly avoids the trap yet at the same time confronts his adversaries with a conundrum in terms of their loyalties. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

As this weekend is general election weekend and our society is at risk of change both for the better and for ill, it is pertinent to ask the question about the relationship between religion and politics. We can see in some reports from the United States of America the mess that an ignorance of this relationship can result in when the desire for power is underestimated or manipulated for partisan influence. The question they needed to ask was “did you give to Caesar what is Caesar’s or to God what is God’s?” The questions we might ask ourselves are; Did you separate religion from politics? Did you agree that we should pay our tax but not let our spirituality impact our political decisions?  For you did religion and politics mix or not?  Did your views on abortion and the sanctity of life wrestle with the euthanasia referendum. Did your care for others influence your vote on the cannabis referendum? And finally do you sense that those questions are about to trap you in some way?

It is pretty much agreed that in the scriptures the intermingling of religion and politics is constant.  In the Old Testament again and again we read of how God ascribed political power to even the foreign rulers and enemies.  They ruled because God made it so. 

Jesus himself was incredibly immersed in challenging the political powers and the social structure of his day. This understanding has become more and more narrowed down with the paucity of original text and recent discoveries. The New Testament scholar N.T.Wright says of Jesus whatever else he wasn’t, Jesus was a politician. 

All this strongly suggests that this passage can be wrongly interpreted to mean that politics and religion don’t mix. Keep what is Caesars away from what is God’s. What is evident is that this assumption that is made by many in our post-enlightenment world has arisen out of teachings and understandings that have emerged since the time of at least the Reformation. 

It is true that this phrase, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and God what is God’s” is one of the better-known quotes of Jesus and very possibly one of the worst understood.  In trying to see behind Jesus words what should be patently clear very quickly is that Jesus believed everything belonged to God, all things were derived from God, even political power. There was no such thing as a difference or a division between faith and politics.

Around 500 years ago Martin Luther argued for a distinct line to be drawn between the spiritual and political realms. One could suggest that the ascendancy of the left hemisphere of the brain became more evident. In this development it seems that the distinction between spiritual and political has been wrongly understood as saying the two don’t mix.  Without going into too much of the history of the situation the issue for Luther was who and how that power was being exercised.

Another factor to consider is that alongside the rejection of the spiritual in favour of a secular understanding the enlightenment has served to deceive us into thinking that our faith somehow should not have a political edge. The American experience and the rise in political Christian parties in NZ can be seen as an attempt to restore this relationship but the problem is that the differential mindset is still strong. It is more of a takeover bid for the political sphere rather than an integrated relationship.

If we consider that all things belong to God, including the way in which we structure our society then as people of the Jesus Way we need to live as though life is a spiritually inclusive life. Then who we vote for, what issues we choose to fight for, are both the political and religious outworking of our faith. And dare I say it this means that we need to live at though life is a living journey of co-creation made real and meaningful by loving one another and especially those who disagree with us.

Even what we choose to pray for, or even more importantly not pray for, in our prayers for the world indicates both a political and religious stance!  The words we use, the phrases indicate our alliances to that which we name God.  After all, when we seek as Jesus sought, a society of peace and love, it was for a new realm where political, social, economic and religious change had been achieved.

So, on this weekend of election of our next government the issue is not whether or not your particular party wins, It is not whether or not Christian values win through. Its rather that whatever one’s political allegiance might be, and I know some of you are card carrying members of various parties, one’s first allegiance is to Gospel that Jesus of Nazareth gave his energy and life to which is an alternative society of non-violence, non-discriminatory, acceptance and inclusion of the different and the establishment of a dynamic and integrated process of co-creation.

My own recent experience of this failure of integration of politics and faith has been a Presbytery caught up in the legal world of the book of order and has been unable to find the spirit of grace, compassion, and truth because it has lost the ability to hold together politics and faith and thus like the Pharisees and the Herodians become thrown into a defensive mindset that reflects inability to hold together politics and faith. In this case the law being included has been the law of the land and not the Torah. Even the conscience vote was nullified by the process.

Not unlike the Presbyterian Church and its support for commissioners as opposed to delegates sometimes in parliament they have what is called a conscience vote.  This is a time when politicians are allowed by their parties to vote based on their personal moral, philosophical or religious stance on an issue because of its moral content.  In a sense this misses the point that every single decision made by any parliament is a decision that has moral content and has religious or faith implications. It almost seems that all decisions in parliament should be made in this way but then maybe that’s not enough?

Sometimes the Presbyterian Church makes decisions and advocates in the community for particular issues.  Sometimes you may agree, sometimes not, sometimes you may get the impression that the Church is taking sides in politics.  Whilst this may appear to be the case I believe that in these situations men and women of faith like yourselves are seeking to discern what it might mean to proclaim support or ‘the kingdom come’ in terms of specific issues confronting our community. Here in this community just a few weeks ago I heard it said that the demise of the public questions committee was a result of our church’s ability to bridge the growing gap between politics and faith.

As individuals and as a local community of faith it could be said that the challenge of being Jesus followers is to seek to discern how we might live out every aspect of our lives and the separation of concerns is not the way to achieve this. Objectification without a responsive interconnection is destructive and maybe even violent towards a loving community.

Living the Jesus Way heralds a new realm. When we pray ‘your kingdom come’ we are making a political statement as much as a religious one.  As we walk the Jesus Way and witness to a transformative love the challenge is to not deceive ourselves: the political decisions that we make are faith decisions, our lifestyle choices are faith decisions; in fact. all of our decisions are faith decisions.  So whatever or whomever we vote for we need to take a moment to consider the decisions we have made or are making. Ask ourselves, what does it mean for me and for others ‘do my choices contribute to a Jesus Way of living or just to a better political outcome? Are they both and spiritual and political? Amen.

Matthew 22:1-14

A Feast Where Only Strangers Come?

Here he goes again; speaking to his followers in parable form about the shape, nature and content of the so-called Kingdom of God or the realm of God or the nature of the new world that is just around the corner, yet to come while at the same time already arriving. He supposedly chooses to tell the story by way of a reasonable common social event, a wedding feast. This time it is a Royal Wedding which seems to suggest that it will have considerable pomp and ceremony and maybe even hold the status of being a divine event if we bring in the Roman and Greek theology whereby great men are also Gods.

The story goes on to suggest that the king may not be one who engenders much loyalty for the invited guests find excuses not to come and even after a follow up invitation some send their servants along and others commit acts of violence in response to the invite. The king gets angry and I guess in response invites anyone off the streets to come so shaming the invited in return.

And then there is another twist to this tale. We have all the people off the street as guests and the King picks on one who didn’t find a wedding robe to wear and tosses him into the outer darkness. We are not sure what that is except that maybe the king is getting all theological at this point. But we are not sure why some poor soul who was on for a free dinner but couldn’t find the right clothes to wear should become the means by which the king can make his philosophical statement about many being called and few chosen.

About now we are wondering what Matthew was on about in telling the story this way let alone what he is trying to say about Jesus. The story of the ‘Rich Ruler’s Feast’, as told by Matthew, is full of twists and turns and at times almost totally incomprehensible. So much so that it might be easier to just pass by and fond another one.

But just before we do maybe we can try to see a bit more of it. Firstly, this story is told in our broad biblical tradition in three different versions. We can say that the voice and different layers of Matthew is very evident! But the original story appears lost. Secondly, we might see that it really is a secular story about the use and misuse of power that is reshaped by Matthew, into something ‘religious’ that he can use against the Jewish leaders. Matthew seems to be saying that they had their chance and blew it. He seems to say that God has looked elsewhere for a righteous community – hence his church community. And thirdly as you may have already formed an opinion, this story is not a ‘pleasant Sunday afternoon’ story. While some don’t include it in their “terrible texts” listing, it does seem to be a terror story with all its violence and revenge motivated action. It recalls the most savage of Hebrew and Gentile rulers in a frightening, and at times terrifying, world where old scores can be settled by savage, destructive means.

So, we are faced with Matthew’s story and traditionally most commentators seem to accept that he has reworked another story or stories where the important bit is in the end statement… The story of salvation: The first will be last and the last first; and Be alert! Be prepared!

The way Matthew seems to tell his story… The Rich Ruler = God. The son = Jesus.
Those who are ‘out’ = the Jews/Israel. The killed slaves = the Prophets. The guest without the wedding garment = God’s divine judgement. This, method or style of storytelling come interpretation, is called Allegory. But is it?


According to the British scholar, C H Dodd: “In the traditional teaching of the Church for centuries (parables) were treated as allegories, in which each term stood as a cryptogram for an idea, so that the whole had to be decoded term by term.” (Dodd 1961:13) For many years we have been this ‘decoding’ style of interpretation. We have received this in our Sunday Schools and churches for years and years: in pictures and in words and in stained glass windows. As Rex Hunt notes; the history of interpretation of parables has been a long and winding gravel road!

But much of that has now changed. With the development of literary criticism and other lines of enquiry we ask again “So what can we make of this parable?” With a broader understanding of what a parable might be rather than looking for a story that supports the traditional theistic, religious theme we have been taught, are we now asking of the text; what is there in this parable that is a story which turns our experienced world upside down? Rather than an allegory that gives a story that fits what is there about this that demands and alternative? What is the twist in the tail of this account?

We can as Rex says ask with the view that Jesus never offered any ‘in principle’ statements. That it just wasn’t his style. He told stories to people about people in real, live, contexts. And most of his stories were told to those who lived in the back streets of a village or city… The tanners, the toll collectors, the prostitutes, the beggars, the homeless, the day labourers. Those who lived on the edges, rather than at the centre of the village or city. And in narrow, unpaved streets which were “chocked with refuse and frequented by scavenging dogs, pigs, birds and other animals.  (And where) shallow depressions in the streets allowed some drainage, but also acted as open sewers.” (Reid 2001:183)

So, despite all the moralising and spiritualising that has taken place with this story over the years we might try to maintain the original one, or the ‘voice’ of Jesus, if it could be heard, through what was a very secular story. Quoting from a sermon on this story, ‘A parable for today, if not tomorrow…’ it tells of the “domestic misbehavior of the powerful and the victimizing of the powerless, of war and retaliation.” (www/Berrigan 2001)

And let’s remember it is set within the then culture of shame and honour. Whatever the Rich Ruler’s strategy, the feast he ends up with “is very different from the one he planned.  It is now a (feast) of the dishonorable, and he is shamed” (Scott 2001:116).

So, if we reimagine this Jesus’ story, we might see that the reign of God is not about a feast where only the rich and the powerful are invited, it is not a feast that is about the host or his heir being ‘honoured’… It might be seen that the reign of God will strike us as being as nonsensical as a feast thrown by a powerful ruler, but where all his powerful 
“friends [are] absent and only strangers are present.” (Crossan 1975:119)

And what might have been the response of the hearers of Jesus. “Come on! you’ve got to be joking? The real world of power and politics and global warming and terrorists and law and order, is not like that at all! How is it that there is a place where those who are in, are out, and those who are out, are in! That’s not possible. The challenge her is to work out whether one is being ‘threatened’ or ‘saved’ by those who suggest our life should be turned upside down!   

And now for a postlude. What is Jesus did not teach to make anyone religious, righteous, morally correct or even moral, or orthodox. What if he didn’t say anything about protecting that which is religious or sacred or spiritual? What if church affiliation is destined to be a thing of the past? Maybe it has served its purpose well and outlived its usefulness? What if the secular is the new religious? We might ask how many of us can see a spirituality beyond that which has been taught and perhaps even one that is inclusive of all faith stories? What if what we currently believe or think is no longer useful to human life as we know it?

Do you sense if? That desire in you to save things? To protect a divine Jesus or a supernatural God or a wonderful kingdom? Or even a Christendom existence? Jesus’ story is that he interacted and told stories to offer a re-imagined view of the world, this world. Where every person can live life to the full. Where every person can love wastefully. Where every person can be all they can possibly be. And as Jack Spong said: to be the God-bearers of the world.


“The only way that God can be with us now and through the ages is for each of us to allow God to live and love through us, through our humanity” (Spong 2005:298). But in a world where many of the world’s politicians can expect “overwhelming support” to anti-terrorism measures “with scarcely a glance in the direction of civil liberties, and little recognition of the irony involved in abandoning some of the legal safeguards that define the very way of life we are supposed to be defending…”  (Mackay SMH/1/10/05, 31) In a world where more and more oversight and control of our world is acceptable what is the parable to be heard? Where is the twist in the tail of this logic? Driven by the need to control the minority under the myth of safety? Where is the surprise of a (divine) feast where only powerless strangers rather than the rich and powerful ‘movers and shakers’ are present? According to the Jesus story this is not out of the equation! Amen.

Notes:
Crossan, J. D. The Dark Interval. Towards a Theology of Story. Niles. Argus Communications, 1975.
Dodd, C. H.  The Parables of Jesus. London. Fontana, 1961.
Reid, B. E. Parables for Preachers. The Gospel of Matthew. Year A. Collegeville. The Liturgical Press, 2001.
Scott, B. B. Re-imagine the World. An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2001.
Spong, J. S. The Sins of Scripture. Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love. New York. HarperCollins, 2005.

rexae74@gmail.com

Violence… and the Shuffling of Boots

Matthew 21:33-46

What an unholy mess this parable is from Matthew! The story line is full of violence carried out under extreme provocation: people beating and killing and stoning servants, then killing the land owner’s son. And to top it off we read what other dissatisfied storytellers felt they had to add to make it even worse when we read the bit where the owner wrecks vengeance on the tenants.

All in all, there is plenty of murder, revenge, and blood in this so-called parable of the wicket tenants. Many scholars do not believe was a parable of Jesus and that it was very likely reflecting a local issue faced by Matthew’s community.

So, on that basis we look at the parable and we ask questions of its purpose and the first thing we say is that the parable can be interpreted on many levels. Matthew, for instance, has already offered an interpretation: that of an allegory. That is, the parable was immediately relevant for Matthew and his community because (we think) they were having problems with the synagogue across the road!

Like many Presbyterian Sessions and or Parish Councils, and I hasten to add some Body Corporates an ‘in-house’ conflict was present and, in their case getting out of hand. They had as Jews who say the Jesus Way as a desperately needed reinterpretation of Judaism and or a new and vibrant response to God had been struggling, without success, to position themselves as the new leaders of Israel’s faith and were being increasingly driven to the margins by resurgent Pharisaic intent. So, Matthew took some of the key elements of this story and applied them: Vineyard = Israel, God = the land owner, Messengers/servants = the prophets, Son = Jesus, Son’s death = Jesus’ crucifixion. What we might call today, ‘Creative Writing’.

Or we could even bring it closer to home and spend some time reflecting on our much more subtle ways of ‘beating up’ God’s messengers who call us to become involved in the issues of the day.

We all know that ‘Loving’ is a challenge we very often savage or sabotage, whether at a personal or a community level. Somehow love seems to awaken our fear of becoming a scapegoat, or being seen to be weak and ineffectual so we respond defensively.

So, in dealing with the text today I want to take the advice of a certain William Bausch and focus on the violence contained in the story. For this is, as we all sadly know, a timely topic. Given the race riots, fear driven street battles, Blaming and scapegoating that the Covid 19 has fostered in many communities around the world. It is as if Violence forms a subtext of our daily lives.
as Nations. Peoples and Individuals of all ages – even youngsters in primary school. All are routinely hurting, maiming, threatening and killing one another. This intolerance, and violence has become so common place in a hurting world. Social commentators have said that the fear of violence and the concern for personal safety has become a major preoccupation among the people over recent years…Especially for those in the oldest and youngest age groups.

So, we might ask what is it that is behind this proliferation of violence in our world? Rex Hunt of whom I quote on accession said that part of the problem and only part of it is a shocking lack of empathy for other people, for victims. And an inability to feel what those who are hurt are feeling. An inability to understand and share the feelings of another. I want to share a poem I wrote about  our human need for empathy in recognising the importance of other people, even those we don’t get along with.

The truth is that I need you as the other

I need you to ask me why I care for you this way.

I need you to wonder how I could smile every day.

The truth is that I need you as the other

The truth is that you make my life worthy

Having you around makes my day smooth and easy.

Without you it is hard for me to end a day fulfilled.

The truth is that you make my life worthy

The truth is that you give me reason to love

Without you I cannot say “I’ve loved you since the day I met you.”

I cannot stare at you from afar and know the deep feelings that rend me silent.

The truth is that you give me reason to love

The truth is that without you I cannot love

In you I see the stories of the one you meet

You share the love you have known that stops my heart from beating.

You speak of happiness with a smile that makes me weep with joy

The truth is that without you I cannot love.


The truth is that I need you as the other

I need to be able to say, “I could be the one that loves you like you love me.

There’s nothing I would do better than to be able to keep it this way,

Wishing that you would know all the secrets I’ve kept,

Especially those that have kept our friendship sure and true.

The truth is that I need you as the other.

Doug Lendrum

The claim is that many lack this ‘empathy’ because many have divided the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’… in our excess we have turned individuality into alienation an us and then distinction that was high on Jesus’ list of what was horribly and terribly evil in the world. No Samaritan and Jew. No northern and southern Irish. No Israeli or Palestinian. No black or white. No straight or gay. No Aucklander and the rest. No ‘them’ and ‘us’. Its what loving is all about. Its what loving one’s enemy is about, its what democracy is about. Its what makes the corporate, the collective, the committee and the community work. Yet more and more, a sense of empathy is evaporating. We saw in the beginning a glimpse of this when we became united with the victims of the Christchurch massacre and with the response to Covid 19. But now we are back to the verbal violence of partisan politics as the desire to win becomes a them or us. And sadly, with this loss comes an inability to be compassionate. And when there is no empathy and no compassion, there is easy violence.

And dare I say it. Matthew’s treatment of this parable with his allegorical overlay, has produced tragic consequences for Jewish-Christian relationships over the centuries.

So, like many I agree with the Jesus Seminar when they say that this overlay did not originate with Jesus. But is rather the work of the storyteller, Matthew. However, its inclusion in the text is an opportunity for us to contextualize it for ourselves.

To do this I want to tell you a story Rex Hunt has used when addressing this text. A story this time which comes out of the Second World War.

The war was still in progress but it seemed the nation was in need of a morale boost, and to rally the country, the leaders in Russia decided to stage a march of 20,000 German prisoners through the streets of Moscow.

The footpaths swarmed with onlookers, cordoned off by soldiers and police. The crowd was mostly women – Russian women. Every one of them must have had a father or a husband, a brother or a son, killed by the Germans.

They gazed with hatred in the direction from which the parade was to come. At last they saw it.

The generals marched at the head of the column. Proud, their chins stuck out, lips folded.
An air of superiority about them.

The women clenched their fists. They shouted their hate. Then all at once something happened to the women. They saw German soldiers thin, unshaven, wearing dirty bloodstained bandages,
hobbling on crutches or leaning on the shoulders of their comrades. The soldiers walked with their heads down. The street became dead silent. The only sound was the shuffling of boots, the thumping of crutches.

Then an elderly woman in broken-down boots pushed herself forward, past the soldiers and police. She went up to the column, took from inside her coat something wrapped in a coloured handkerchief, and unfolded it. It was a crust of black bread.

She pushed it awkwardly into the pocket of a German soldier, so exhausted that he was tottering on his feet. And then suddenly, from every side, women were running towards the soldiers. They pushed into their hands bread, cigarettes, whatever they had. The soldiers were no longer enemies. They were people.

William Bausch, who shared this story, goes on to suggest: “When the women saw the men hobbling through the streets, they were no longer the enemy; they were no longer those who killed their relatives. They were just victims, and the women felt for them. There was an outpouring of empathy and compassion. The violence they intended was no longer in their hearts.” (Bausch 2000:205) Its very likely that Jesus the storyteller would approve!

I want to conclude today with a verse of a poem I wrote which I think is about the nature of the compassion we seek from empathy. I think it talks about the importance of the ‘other’ in our lives and of the unconditional love that emits form a loving heart of cosmic proportion.

My love is for you as the ‘other’ is not anybody for anything,

which is how deconstruction defined a literal grace

my love is the purist of gifts, gratuity beyond and description offering,

 and pure grace is the transport of love apace

my love, freely and astronomically proffering

from a heart of almost cosmic scope here in this place.

Doug Lendrum

Amen.

Notes:
Bausch, W. J. The Word In and Out of Season. Homilies for Preachers. Reflections for Seekers. Mystic. Twenty-third Publications, 2000.

rexae74@gmail.com

The Living Earth!

Posted: September 23, 2020 in Uncategorized

The Living Earth!

Exodus 17: 1-7

Water from the Rock

From the wilderness of Sin, the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’ So, Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’

How often do we take for granted the significance of rivers in our lives? How often do we as New Zealanders stand at the riverbank, be it in the bush or in the city and almost feel the gentle or the awesome power and the wonder of the river. There is something about a river that seems to offer a connection to all the emotions, hope, fear, comfort and alienation. The river is beautiful, even those that seem to go by with the bottom on the top in their colour and density. The debri and the loose land that travels to the ocean and the life-giving fruit of the precipitation cycle. Rivers reflect our very own life cycle as a living event in the time and space world.

Most of us as New Zealanders live within a few kms of a river, on a group of islands in the Southern Ocean. We take for granted the living moving source of dynamic, creativity that we live within and we are slowly awakening to the fact that everything we do for ourselves has an effect on that creativity and on the outcome of that creativity. We are also slowly growing aware that every thing we as individuals do contributes to that change. We are beginning to understand that what is sacred is less about what we have and more about what we do. That to live life with a living planet we need to see the depth of the relationship we have with it rather than how we live on it.

One of the reasons New Zealanders enjoy rivers is that we find there a beauty that seems primal and life-enhancing.

To stand in a bush stream with the sun’s light

dancing through the overhanging leaves.

To feel the gentle cold trickle of life

as it passes by one’s ankle shimmering in sunlit movement

as it welcomes and leaves one’s legs,

the sound of its intent flickering bright

In sound it becomes intimate

in its promise of life

and in its leaving for bigger things.

Our ears moved by its beautiful cadence

at once to hear its beauty and lose it contrite

to the life of its purpose, beyond, downhill and ocean bound,

a promised return in its song.

Suppose it dried up tomorrow?

Why should I care as I cannot swim?

Its here today and gone tomorrow and will come again aright.

Who needs the river they say

Can they be serious?

dry up the rivers

and there wouldn’t be anybody around to miss them

for without the river, there would be no life – alright!

It doesn’t matter where on Earth we live because everyone is utterly dependent on the existence of that lovely, living water be it saltwater or fresh water.
And here’s the important rub. There may be plenty of water in the universe without life,
but nowhere is there life without water…’ ‘No blue, no green.’ So, in line with today’s Season of Creation theme of ‘Rivers’ we might reflect that we are living in a scientific, pluralistic age.

And unless we have been living with heads in the sand, we will also be aware of the current universal debates about how our modern life-style is harming other creatures, diminishing the functioning of ecosystems, and altering our global climate patterns. It could be claimed that the very planet is in peril, at least of the extinction of the species that inhabit it. If all of creation is suffering then it would be fair to say that rivers are in danger within their cycle.  The oceans that rivers depend upon are drowning in plastic pollution and that must affect the cycle. The deforestation of the land that is in huge swathes in places taking place, invade the cycle to deposit additional soil into the cycle that changes the constitution of the water and again affects the cycle of renewal and refreshment of the land mass.

While rivers pale into insignificance when faced with the global volume of the aceans and science informs us that approximately 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by ocean. As a continuous body of water, the ocean is a mass that is required through a smaller mass of rivers to feed the land and all the species that depend on their relationship with the land. Rivers are crucial lifeline in the cycle of life.

Rivers are a part of the oceans effect on the biosphere. In that oceanic evaporation is a phase of the water cycle, and thus they are part of the source of most rainfall and along with ocean temperatures they determine both climate and wind patterns that affect life on land. Rivers are primary distributors of life in that they are a crucial part of the life cycle.

Rex Hunt tells an indigenous Australian story from the Yuin Nation from the South Coast of New South Wales, that goes like this:

“Grandmother Moon, she comes up and shines down her light upon us.  She pulls the tides of the sea. She has that much strength she can pull water up into the sky and hold it, until it’s time to water her garden, Mother Earth. Mother Earth, Father Sky, Grandmother Moon and Grandfather Sun have the major roles to play in all life. “Water is connected to Mother Earth and to Father Sky. Water is also connected to Grandmother Moon, as she can lift the water and drop it down through Father Sky. Mother Earth then takes the water and she distributes it through rivers, streams and lakes. Father Sky holds many stories; through time he has led the way water for us to navigate over water and land. He’s there for us, he helps us find our way.”

For the people of the Yuin Nation the ocean is called Gadu – “the source of all waters that bring life to Mother Earth.” (Morgan & Garrett 2018:70-71,74)

Rex Hunt quotes a Bill McKibben author and founder of the environmental organizations Step It Up and 350.Organd was considered one of the first to warn of the dangers of global warming. He raises some interesting and challenging points that I think are pertinent to our theme today. They are as follows; “The oceans… are distinctly more acid and their level is rising; they are also warmer, which means the greatest storms of our planet, hurricanes and cyclones, have become more powerful” (McKibben 2010:45).

At the same time research is showing the earth’s ice caps and glaciers are melting with “disconcerting and unexpected speed.” (McKibben 2010:45) We have already raised the temperature nearly a degree Celsius. “…the ocean is more acid than anytime in the last eight hundred thousand years, and at current rates by 2050 it will be more corrosive than anytime in the past 20 million years.” (McKibben 2010:10)

And again. Name a major feature of the earth’s surface and you’ll find massive change.” (McKibben 2010:5) And perhaps the most challenging quote “The earth that we knew – the only earth that we ever knew – is gone.”  (McKibben 2010:27)

It is fair to say that what all this means is that we can be numbed by all the figures and percentages. We can say the scientists are probably overstating our woes. And we can accept that the anticipated future can be paralysed by our fears. Indeed, it’s hard to brace ourselves “for the jump to a new world when we still, kind of, live in the old one… We’re so used to living with a philosophy of growth and linear progress that we can’t imagine alternatives; at best we embrace the squishy sustainable, with its implied claim that we can keep on as before.” (McKibben 2010:102)

But is it all doom and gloom? Does the fact that we have permanently lost ground in our relationship with the planet mean that there is no hope, that extinction of the species is immanent and not changeable. McKibben himself is not all negative and alarmist about this He does offer some suggestions – some words or metaphors – for change. And those five words are: Durable, Sturdy, Stable, Hardy, Robust. He suggests that for of us it means reshaping our society:

• from big to smaller,

• from growth to maintenance,

• from expansion to scale down,

• from global to neighbourhood.

But will we do this when it seems we will lose something we think we have gained? Human beings, especially in the so-called ‘West’, have historically been reluctant to consider themselves as part of the web of nature. Even as a web within a web has been difficult to grasp. And when it comes to countries even clean green New Zealand has been found wanting. Look at our waste. Look at our land development.

Governments since the early 1990s have all adopted a strategy of more-or-less do little to nothing at home and work hard to prevent others from taking major action.

So there has been an encouragement of community apathy. Time will tell whether or not as a result of Covid-19 governments will take the opportunity to change direction enough to halt the destructive process.

If our biblical tradition in its historical expression suggests anything, human beings are part of nature. The problems come when Christians – usually fundamentalists – claim that the mythical stories of Genesis 1 and 2, are more ‘true’ or more ‘factual’ than science and evolution. So in many quarters there is a raging attack on ‘progressive’ religion:

• from fundamentalists who don’t believe one can accept evolution and be religious, and

• from the ‘new atheists’ who caricature all people of religion as fundamentalists. (Michael Zimmerman The Clergy Letter Project, 22/5/2010).

But modern science is saying and has been saying, again and again: the universe must be regarded as a whole; It is of intrinsic value, and each part, galaxy, organism, individual atom, participates in that intrinsic value as each part participates in this wonderful web of life. Each part… rather than one species or organism separating itself out as more important than the rest. It is time for radical change.  It is urgent. To recall the words of a long-haired, locust eating desert sage: ‘The axe is at the root of the tree.’

As we face this election the demand needs to be that we live differently. And that demand is for a paradigm shift in who we think we are.  (McFague 2008:44)

And to finish with another quote; Let us see ourselves and rivers as part of the “whole complex, interrelated and interacting unitary universe of matter-energy in space-time, a universe of which humans are an integral part…” (Gillette 2006:1) Amen.

Bibliography:
Gillett, P. R. “Theology of, by, and for Religious Naturalism” in Journal of Liberal Religion 6, 1, 1-6. (An online journal), 2006
Hamilton, C. Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change. Melbourne. Black Inc, 2007
Morgan, J.  & G. Garrett.  On The Edge: A-Way with the Ocean. Reservoir. Morning Star Publishing, 2018
McFague, S. A New Climate for Theology. God, the World, and Global Warming. Minneapolis. Fortress Press, 2008.
McKibben, Bill. Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. Melbourne. Black Inc., 2010
Peters, K. E. Dancing with the Sacred. Evolution, Ecology, and God. Harrisburg. Trinity Press International, 2002

rexae74@gmail.com

Celebrating Earth in Spring.

Posted: September 16, 2020 in Uncategorized

Celebrating Earth in Spring.

In his book, On the Origin of Species…, published in November 1859. Darwin wrote:
“It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.” (Darwin 2008:362)

And so it began. The debate it ignited not only led to the denial of the creation stories of the western religious tradition, it gave us the beginnings of an immensely richer, longer, more complex ‘story’, rooted not in “the history of a single tribe or a particular people”, but one “rooted in the sum of our knowledge of the universe itself”.

A scientific ‘doctrine of incarnation’ as one person has described it, which suggests “that the universe itself is continually incarnating itself in microbes and maples, in humming birds and human beings, constantly inviting us to tease out the revelation contained in stars and atoms and every living thing.”  (Bumbaugh 2003)

It is a religious story because it invites us to awe and wonder; and that in turn demands a vocabulary of reverence. We might note that as religion has declined in the lives of many so to has the destruction of our planet expanded. This is not to say that that which we have named religion needs saving because one might also say that it has failed us in its inability to evolve, Stuck in doctrine and creed and myth that has become concretized.

Prior to the rise of modern science most people followed a literal interpretation of the biblical Genesis stories, believing a flat earth was created about 4,000 years before the Middle Eastern itinerant peasant sage, Yeshu’a. Or, if they followed some it all started at 9.00am on 3 October 4004 BCE.

Today, as most of you know very well, the most widely accepted modern estimate of the Earth’s age is approximately 4.5+ billion years. While the observable universe – that whole “complex, interrelated and interacting… matter-energy in space-time… of which humans are an integral part…”  (Gillette 2006:1) is approximately 14 billion years old, all let loose during an event called the Big Bang.

On that note we might need to catch up with evolution is that Bid Bang might be a misleading term really, in that it is posited that there wasn’t really an explosion, but rather an expansion. Noun to verb maybe? Or as John D Caputo writes God doesn’t exist but rather insists.

While careful not to over-estimate the reach and power of the natural sciences, it is modern science that provides the foundation for this ‘other’ story. It has been called ‘the epic of evolution’, ‘the odyssey of life’, ‘the immense journey’ and most recently,Thomas Berry named it, the ‘Great Story’.

Sure, there was an initial outcry that scientific cold reason was killing wonder, but for the most part those days are long past. Now science has become the source rather than the nemesis of wonder. Modern science is now saying “the history of the Universe is in every one of us. Every particle in our bodies has a multibillion-year past, every cell and every bodily organ has a multimillion-year past, and many of our ways of thinking have multi-thousand-year pasts.”  (Primack & Abrams 2007)

Each of us is a collection of unfinished stories, within other stories. We are fully linked with our surroundings in time, space, matter/energy, and causality. We do not live in straight lines. We truly do exist in a web, a network, a maze… Everything in the universe is genetically cousin to everything else. Which is why a growing number of people around the world are beginning to recognise that our modern life-style and poll-driven politicians are harming other creatures, diminishing the functioning of ecosystems, and altering global climate patterns.

Biology 101 teaches us that if amoebas are inserted into a drop of water, their numbers will expand, until they become so densely populated they deplete their essential nutrients, and die en masse. The drop of water again becomes uninhabited and sterile We humans are doing the same thing on planet Earth.

We are yet to learn from basic biology. We are yet to learn that humans must cooperate with nature’s processes, and if we can do that, then we can develop purposes less likely to be frustrated by nature. We are yet to learn that a debate between people who actually know stuff
and people who just don’t like what the experts have to say, is not a ‘balanced’ debate. It’s a waste of time.

One of the biggest challenges that faces us is to come to a place in our thinking where there is no good reason to believe that taking nature to heart leaves a person with any fewer spiritual benefits than taking to heart the teachings of supernaturalist traditions. When we let go of the does God exist debate and the theism vs atheism dualism we might discover that living with ambiguity, uncertainty and the insistence of God might mean a more authentic relationship with nature, the planet and the universe.

W do not need to think the sacred is a separate ‘supernatural’ sphere of life, driven by blinding-light revelations. “Positing an incomprehensible, invisible, ‘Other’ does nothing to explain the incomprehensible ‘other’ that is palpably present, and that we actually encounter every second within and round us”.  (Fleischman 2013:188)

There is a hymn in the Unitarian Universalist hymn book Singing the Living Tradition, called “Seek Not Afar for Beauty”.  It’s first verse claims this ‘other’: Seek not afar for beauty; lo! it glows in dew-wet grasses all about your feet; in birds, in sunshine, childish faces sweet, in stars and mountain summits topped with snows. If we can go to special places, built by humans, which are designated as sacred, surely we can go to special places, shaped naturally, which are recognised as sacred…

It seems that what we need is to realise that to have a sense of sacred place is not tree worship  but worship with the trees. An acknowledgement of the awesome, and the overriding and the overwhelming.  (Jerome Stone)

There is also a need for all religious traditions to appreciate that the primary sacred community is the universe itself, and that every other community becomes sacred by participation in this primary community.

Lets be sure here that we are not saying that all is rosy and sorted. Nature is a violent and dangerous place, extinction is possible and ‘Almost probable. In moments of wonder we simultaneously contain a search for truth, an openness to reawakening, and a delight in what is. When we lose our sense of awe and wonder, we objectivise the Earth as a thing that can be used and abused at our consumeristic whim. Wonder has within it an acknowledgement that existence is always serendipitous.

When Spring arrives and washes away the clouds of Winter fear, do we also see the Earth and “worms crawling…” and “new living things”, as we begin to start again to ‘grow’ and ‘bloom’.

Spring shows us that nature-kind and humankind are continually in relationship. Spring reminds us and calls us forward to a ‘new’ religious sensitivity. To transcend the isolated self. To reconnect.  

To know ourselves to be at home.

So, it is incumbent upon us to challenge the parochial and limited claims of traditional religions
with the enlarging and enriching and reverent story that is our story and their story: the Universe Story.

From an attitude of reverence, we can then act with a morality that nurtures rather than destroys creation. Religious naturalist and cell biologist Ursula in her evocative book The Sacred Depths of Nature, writes: “Once we have our feelings about Nature in place, then I believe that we can also find important ways to call ourselves Jews, or Muslims, or Taoists, or Hopi, or Hindus, or Christians, or Buddhists. Or some of each…”  (Goodenough 1998:173)

Today a woman is planting flowers in her garden. Her activity is more than a hobby, even more than a pleasure. She is digging, dirtying, straining, mulching and lugging, under the power of plants which do not yet even exist, but whose images have taken up residence in the atoms and cells within her imagination. Weeks or months will elapse before her labour is fulfilled. Patience and faith will sustain her until, under the majesty of Earth’s dominion, the unprepossessing little bulbs and seeds will explode into daffodils, tulips, irises, freesias, geraniums, pansies, daises and sunflowers. A war will have been won by soft and coloured things. The yellow eyes of asters, the purple tongues of irises, and the crayola pansies have raised their banners above the turrets of Earth’s soil to defy the dark cold space that pervades almost all of everything else. It is Spring. If there were a heaven, the gods would abandon it just for the chance to see this woman in her garden.

The gospel of the natural present moment. Amen.

Bibliography/Resources:
Bumbaugh, D. “Toward a Humanist Vocabulary of Reverence”. Boulder International Humanist Institute, 22 February 2003.
Darwin, C. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. London. Arcturus Publishing, 2008.
Fleischman, P. R. Wonder: When and Why the World Appears Radiant. Amherst. Small Batch Books, 2013.
Gillett, P. R. “Theology of, by, and for Religious Naturalism” in Journal of Liberal Religion 6, 1, 1-6. 2004.
Goodenough, U. The Sacred Depths of Nature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. 
Primack, J. R. & N. E. Abrams. The View from the Center of the Universe: Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos. New York: Riverhead Books, 2007
Singing the Living Tradition. Boston: The Unitarian Universalist Association, 1993/2000.
Stone, J. A. “On Listening to Indigenous Peoples and Neo-pagans: Obstacles to Appropriating the Old Ways” in (Ed). C. D. Hardwick & D. A. Crosby. Pragmatism, Neo-Pragmatism, and Religion: Conversations with Richard Rorty. New York. Peter Lang, 1997.
Tucker, M. E. & J. Grim (Ed). Thomas Berry: Selected Writings on the Earth Community. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2014.

rexae74@gmail.com

Living with the Land.

Posted: September 9, 2020 in Uncategorized

Matthew 18: 23-34

Living with the Land.

In recent times we have been repeatedly informed and awakened to the state of the land on a global scale. There have been numerous articles published about the state of the global environment.

In part and in many forms the articles have said: “Human activity is putting such strain on the natural functions of the earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted.  They have gone on to say that the provision of food, fresh water, energy and materials to meet the needs of a growing population has come at considerable cost to the complex system of plants, animals and biological processes that make the planet habitable” 

Such warnings were and are not new. And, they continue to be debated, and challenged by scientist, politician and by nearly every government on earth. They have risked the advent of the tall poppy syndrome, the bury the head response, and the lets get real challenge and they have prevailed. They are now supported by the pandemics ability to travel the globe at an alarming rate despite being challenged by the not as bad as or little worse than brigade. Rationalist and statistician have been empowered. But do we really see and heed the warnings? Or do we dismiss them because we don’t believe the science. Or do they just massage us, washing over us, because we feel too powerless to go beyond simple acts? Do we really have faith in the individual action?

Today we continue our journey into the Season of Creation. The Season of Creation is an addition to the Lectionary. Traditionally the church calendar or Lectionary is shaped around three years. Each year has seven main seasons: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, Lent. And the rather long general time, called After Pentecost or Ordinary Time.

Having said that I am aware that not all that many people bother with the lectionary or see it as just the tool of preachers who use it to be careful not to get caught up on pone’s own hoppy horse and end up preaching one’s own bias or prejudice. I want to spend a little time justifying a lectionary approach, both as a helpful discipline and as a concern for a collective liturgy or teaching structure to each week. One could say that a lectionary approach to the global dilemma re environment might be helpful as a way of keeping the debate resourced and the collective responsibility for action alive.

This additional season of Creation to the liturgical year claims some of that After Pentecost time by designating the Sundays in September (the southern hemisphere Spring) as the Season of Creation.

I wonder if the following might help. The main seasons are as said above and including Creation, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, Creation and Lent. In thinking about the lectionary approach I have explored the possibility of naming the seasons with a less traditional and more contemporary way. Advent being Looking for the possibility of the new, Christmas being establishing the basis for Cocreation, Epiphany being Awareness of the challenges, Easter being taking Responsibility, Pentecost being Inspiration and the call to be inspiring, Creation being the physical dimension and Lent being the human dimension and Economy.

The year would look like a call to reflect on the seasons of Enlightening, Collaborating, Awakening, Responding, Inspiring, Creating and Distributing.

To add to this is the idea that Each season could have a number of designations as subjects for use such as the four Sundays of Creation being given a theme. This year’s themes are: Forest, Land, Outback and River and in St Andrews case Outback has become Rainbow Sunday.

Today is Land Sunday.  A time to reflect on the land on which we walk, live, grow things,
plough and mine, are usually buried in, and unfortunately, often pollute.

For some time now we in New Zealand have been made aware of a different understanding of land. It is an awareness which comes from the Maori people and it and has been deep religious links with the land. In a very deep and real sense land belongs to the people and the people to the land. One can see the very communal and collective understanding of the relationship with the land and its subsequently very difference from individual ownership of the land.

As an explanation of their myths and historical stories tell us: “The great ancestral creative beings, who journeyed across the great oceans, established the land boundaries between different groups and the sacred and tribal sites.  Carrying out ritual obligations at these sites and performing religious ceremonies are the way by which Maori feel bound to their land and protective towards it. Like the Aboriginal people of Australia Maori people do not live on the land. They live with the land. They are bound to it by spiritual as well as practical links. The Whare Nui (The big or main home)is the place of the tribal relationship with the land the tribal womb, the place of the Tangata Whenua (created people) and the Marae is the place when the relationship is cherished, taught, heard and maintained by rituals that reflect the culture of the tribe and its relationship with the land.

And we also know that behind the so-called Maori wars the policy of terra nullius, or ‘empty land belonging to no one’, was in effect and precipitated the Treaties that were an attempt to marry the two essentially different understandings of ownership and collective responsibility that existed.

There is still much we should know and do and work towards. justice, fairness and equality of people in New Zealand as more and more people are disenfranchised by prevailing attitudes and the exercise of power. Value systems that are based on exchange value and the maximization of individual profit need to be debated, Politics caught up in the partisan at all costs dilemma and the equality verses equity discussion is vital in the interests of harmony cooperation and collaboration in a rapidly contracting social era. The fluctuations in the housing debate mirror those of that – governments and people – have over ownership of land’ and our history of state verses private.

On a Sunday when the theme is ‘Land’ thoughts on reconciliation between peoples need to be pondered some more, and continuing dialogue and such things as truth and reconciliation and compensation, encouraged recognizing that the presenting issues are reflections of a deeper understanding.

Perhaps there is an echo of all this in Matthew’s Lectionary story we heard this morning In the difficult story/parable of the ‘Unforgiving slave’. But we will not hear this echo if we spiritualise it, or fail to hear it as a story about power! Rex Hunt’s reflection on this text  suggests that the ‘slave’ or high-ranking bureaucrat has power over other subordinates. He is responsible for collecting tribute from them, as they are from others. And he has done this very well, using calculating and cunning tactics.

Like-wise the bureaucrat’s ‘ruler’ or master, in a pure display of unfettered power, threatens to totally destroy him because he has overreached himself and can’t pay what is immediately due the master. This scenario is then played out a second time. But between the bureaucrat and one of his subordinates.

Having been shamed before the master he must gain some prestige by exerting power over a subordinate. That’s our story. There are several ‘twists’ or surprises in this story. The first ‘twist’ comes when the master, in quite an extraordinary act for any agrarian ruler,
waves a debt of unimaginable proportions.

A second ‘twist’ comes when the bureaucrat, in a similar situation, does not act as his master does and therefore brings shame on his master who now must act to save face. For all the strength shown in the master’s earlier decision, the ‘system’ which supports all of them, is unable to show mercy. So, the ‘system’, says the parable, is not the place to look for a hopeful solution. Which I guess, is a different interpretation than that usually offered this parable!

However, another ‘twist’ reflected in the story is the storyteller himself and the story’s openness.  Loyal Rue, professor of philosophy and religion at Luther College, Iowa, in his book Religion is not about God, suggests that religion is not about God but about us.

He argues that successful religions are narrative or myth traditions that influence human nature so we might think, feel, and act in ways that are good for us, both individually and collectively.

Rue writes: “Religious traditions work like the bow of a violin, playing upon the strings of human nature to produce harmonious relations between individuals and their social and physical environments.  Religions have always been about this business of adaptation, and they will always remain so” (Rue 2006:1).or

In this day and age when religion is not considered as a helpful approach one has to ask where this work be done now? But back to our story and we don’t find it much different. The third ‘twist’ is the storyteller doesn’t invite the hearer (then or now) to take sides.  To blame someone. Instead that storyteller seems to have Jesus drawing his hearers (and us?) into wrestling with the larger social and economic inequalities that embrace us all.

We may be willing to ‘bash’ the Banks and business for their aggressive push for profits. But are we also able to recognise how we so often live off the poverty of ‘sweatshops’ and cheap labour?

Here is I think the reminder that we are to act in ways that are good for us both individually and collectively. So, maybe we just need to ponder this story a bit more.

Most oppressed or disadvantaged people feel the ‘system’ does not fill them with hope in the matter of ‘land rights’. Eve after extensive and often divisive legislation change in New Zealand communities and some individuals have had neither the resources nor access to the judicial process, to assert their claims in the courts. I personally found this in a claim for natural justice within the church recently when then church system and its legislation failed and the high court system was caught up in protecting law as opposed to providing justice.

Because, as we heard echoed in Matthew’s story, justice questions come from below, not from above. They are raised by communities and individuals who do not have
social power or a voice within the social system.

If the matter of ‘land’ is to be resolved it seems clear that solutions will not come from a legal decision, but from a political one, initiated by the people and collectively.

I can remember when saying ‘Sorry’ was certainly the hardest word of all to say for many who were reluctant to agree to the moving of their  perceptions of power – both political and economic. I remember the changes in the churches, where one addressed the justice issues by distributing the power over resources on an ethnic basis, another gave power of veto to a minority and another establish a committee with autonomy within the conciliar system. All differing ways of maintaining primary power in the dominant system.

But fortunately for the church these approaches to justice were made so as to reflect as best as was able that grace is the only basis for reconciliation as we saw and experienced a helpful response. It is only dad that due to the significant decline of the church concern for survival dominates issues of justice.

Justice, honesty and genuine reconciliation is the result when we have respect and honour for one another and for the land. Amen.

Notes:
Gondarra, D. 1988.  Father, You Gave Us The Dreaming. Darwin: Published privately.
Hill, M. 1993. Australian Aboriginal Culture. Canberra: AGPS.
Rue, L. 2005.  Religion Is Not About God. How Spiritual Traditions Nurture our Biological Nature. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

rexae74@gmail.com

Matthew 18:15-20

Theopoetics and the search for a Community of Grace.

Some scholars are suggesting that the time of theology as a primary approach to the search for an understanding of God is over and that a theopoetic approach offers a way forward. But what is theopoetics? Well we can start with a simple one that says theo equals God and Poetics equals the fine arts of poetry, song and metaphorical prose. Or we can grapple with a poem I compiled to help me.

Before you do it might be helpful to say that I am no brilliant English language scholar but I think this approach puts things like rationality, belief, creed and doctrine into a back seat and seeks to find the cadence and the flow and meter of the text in what I think is a different form or structure.

God as Art

A theopoetic definition

An expanded understanding of primary text

it goes beyond what is written

it embraces music, visual art, poetry, once bitten

 sculpture, film, dance as lived experience next

the natural world takes life a-smitten

 its primary goal is both art and written

many ways of knowing its primary text.

be it verbal, mathematical, or musical,

kinesthetic, empathic, bodily, introspective, 

imaginative, contemplative

no privilege it gives to verbal knowing alone as primary analytical.

socially engaged it seeks its own transformation imperative

the creation of creative, compassionate, communities to live

to be participatory, humane to animals, and ecological.

Some thirty years ago, the first in a series of movies was released. It is entitled “The Gods Must Be Crazy.” It is a clever comedy yet with profound messages. One of the stories in the film is about an African tribe that lives in the Kalahari Desert in the southern part of the continent. This tribe is a community in collaboration and cooperation with one another. The tribe lives well in its work, play, and prosperity. This life is attributed to the favour from the gods from above. Favour from God is both undeserved and unearned and called Grace. From a traditional Christian and Western viewpoint, one may describe this tribe as having attributes of a community of grace.

inclusive of diversity, and spiritually satisfying

it leaves no one behind. 

It partakes of the prophetic imagination as kind

saying “no” to injustice and “yes” to compassion edifying

 an ultimate hope of ecological civilization to find

a beloved community with ecology an added bind.

multiple forms of spirituality and emotional wisdom a-plying. 

It affirms the subjective worlds of emotion and feeling

They being at the heart of lived experience. 

It understands “spirituality” and is the activity of becoming beyond expedience

fully alive and awake, in the immediacy of ordinary life appearing

it recognizes many different spiritual modes of appearance

attention, beauty, and being present adherence

compassion, connection, devotion, enthusiasm, faith and meaning.

However, one day a glass bottle is thrown from an airplane and falls unbroken to the ground. In the movie, the bottle is found among the tribe. Initially, the bottle is seen as a gift from the gods, albeit a strange artifact. However, it quickly becomes a tool in the tribe. The bottle is used in cooking, working, and even play. Nonetheless, this tool becomes a temptation. Since there is only one bottle to go around, there begins competition for use of this tool. This leads to difficult experiences for the tribe. They succumb to moments of envy, jealousy, anger, enmity, and even violence. The tool becomes an evil thing. Their community of grace is threatened with turmoil and trouble.

forgiveness, grace, gratitude, hope, hospitality and imagination,

joy, justice, kindness, listening, love and nurturing,

openness, peace, play, questing, reverence, occurring

welcoming of shadow, silence and transformation,

unity, vision, wonder, mysterious X-factor and yearning,

self-affirmation and zest for life burning

materiality and physicality in affirmation.

Affirming of the material and physical side of life

the bodies of people and animals, hills and rivers, trees and stars 

interfaith theopoetics no distinction between body and spirit as pars

but instead sees body in spirit and spirit in body in unity rife. 

open to the possibility of life in a multi-dimensional universe of avatars

in which “spirits” and “ancestors” are more than pillars

 a continuing journey after death becomes possible as fife.

we understand “body” very widely as respectfully confessional

yet beyond it can be uniquely Christian, or uniquely Jewish,

or uniquely Muslim, or uniquely Buddhist, or uniquely Hindu-ish

or uniquely “Spiritual but not Religious positional

an interfaith theopoetics understands that we live in a world awash

with multiple wisdom traditions no trash

all included in beloved community processional

our wisdom traditions include humanism, secularism,

and spiritual independence as well

as traditional forms of religious affiliation do tell

its reflective side, experimental and exploratory prism

imaginative and sometimes playful, not didactic an argumentative sell

it welcomes and explores different ways of thinking about God and hell

personal and transpersonal it includes all forms of ism.

  open to the horizontal sacred of felt relationships

as well as the vertical sacred of something more

​it is practiced by academics and non-academics who implore

and by many different people from many walks of life and kinships

of various ages, genders, races, religions, and sexualities explore

a definition and a poem to adore

theopoetics as the art of craftsmanship.

The protagonist in the movie, Xi, offers to take the evil thing and throw it off the edge of the earth. Xi sets off on a quest. With bottle in hand, he is exposed to more of Western culture than just a glass container. One sees his experiences and observations from his viewpoint. Xi learns a number of lessons about the outside world, himself and his tribe. 

Jesus offered teachings as lessons to the disciples and the crowds. Jesus teaches that discipleship is to build a community of grace. What does it take to build a community of grace? Matthew 18:15-20 addresses difficult circumstances that confront the life of a community and calls those who follow Jesus to respond when there appears a strange artifact, such as a bottle, which threatens to harm the community.

forgiveness, grace, gratitude, hope, hospitality and imagination,

joy, justice, kindness, listening, love and nurturing,

openness, peace, play, questing, reverence, occurring

welcoming of shadow, silence and transformation,

unity, vision, wonder, mysterious X-factor and yearning,

self-affirmation and zest for life burning

materiality and physicality in affirmation.

Affirming of the material and physical side of life

the bodies of people and animals, hills and rivers, trees and stars 

interfaith theopoetics no distinction between body and spirit as pars

but instead sees body in spirit and spirit in body in unity rife. 

open to the possibility of life in a multi-dimensional universe of avatars

in which “spirits” and “ancestors” are more than pillars

 a continuing journey after death becomes possible as fife.

we understand “body” very widely as respectfully confessional

yet beyond it can be uniquely Christian, or uniquely Jewish,

or uniquely Muslim, or uniquely Buddhist, or uniquely Hindu-ish

or uniquely “Spiritual but not Religious positional

an interfaith theopoetics understands that we live in a world awash

with multiple wisdom traditions no trash

all included in beloved community processional

There were plenty of bottles in first century Palestine. Jesus the Teacher names the misused bottles in order to break their power over the people.

“If another member of the church (i.e. if someone in your community) sins against you…,” follow these instructions. Jesus refers to a previous source of education known as the Old Testament, the Torah, and specifically the books of Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. Jesus confirms and fulfills the teachings of the Hebrew Testament for those who follow his words.

“Sins against you…” The word sin is transliterated in the New Testament Greek that describes sin as that which Judas does when he betrays, A translation of the Greek word for sin in this case is ‘Miss the mark’ and it is a mission of the mark that leads to difficult circumstances in the life of a community. Miss the mark is a translation for that which threatens a community of grace. Here sin may manifest itself as misguided beliefs and misdirected behaviour. A miss in life! Miss the boat. Miss the bus. Miss the Appointment. Miss the ball. Miss the shot. Misunderstand. Miscommunicate. Miss you! Missing! Miss!

Matthew 18:15-20 encourages us to ask the question, “What have I missed?” What is my bottle? What quest do I take? The quest or journey is usually walked one step at a time.

It is said that there are five R’s to address missing the mark in a community of grace. They are Repentance, Resolution, Redemption, Reconciliation and Restoration. These five R’s are a spiritual path to build a community of grace. We might note here that they are not actions to be taken systematically to do away with anything, they are tools to build community, in this case a community of grace and not one of right belief. I might even go as far as to say that they can be tools toward forgiveness which in its nature highlights the simplicity of grace.

Everyone one of us has missed something. The teaching of Matthew 18 is to look inward and examine our conscience in order to build community of grace.

our wisdom traditions include humanism, secularism,

and spiritual independence as well

as traditional forms of religious affiliation do tell

its reflective side, experimental and exploratory prism

imaginative and sometimes playful, not didactic an argumentative sell

it welcomes and explores different ways of thinking about God and hell

personal and transpersonal it includes all forms of ism.

Then take the residue in a bottle and throw it off the edge of the earth and let Heaven reign. Lift up your hands, Lift High the Cross, Lift up the Name of Jesus, Lift up the Community of Grace.

In conclusion I want to go to another story or two and to our African one.

Dietrick Bonhoeffer of whom many of us have heard taught at an underground seminary during the rise of Nazi Germany. In 1939 he wrote a book entitled Life Together. Life Together is a way to describe Community of Grace. Life Together in the early Christian church was named Koinonia in the Greek language. In his book, Life Together, Bonhoeffer wrote: “Nothing could be more-cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to sin. Nothing could be more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a sister/brother from the path of sin.” Consigning one to sin as a sinner destroys a community of grace. Being compassionate toward one who misses the mark is through accountability to the community of Grace.

The next story is of a mother in her 80th decade of life and who had had, little formal education was very wise. In her wisdom she always took care of anything that could hurt her family. Whenever one of her eight children had a bottle issue she would employ some of the principles of Matthew 18. When two had a tussle, she would admonish them to deal with it themselves. If needed, the bottle was brought to her for resolution. If necessary, it was to be taken that when their father came home from work then everyone in the family would know about this. The spiritual motivation for the two warring children was to find resolution and restoration before Dad came home! In this way Mom kept bottles of a very large family from missing the mark!

In the movie “The Gods Must Be Crazy,” Xi returns from his quest. He comes back illumined about the Western world. He learns some difficult lessons about dress, trucks, property, law, and what he sees as dependence upon “strange magic.”  Xi returns to his tribe with gratitude and celebration for he knows a Community of Grace.

We who are disciples in Jesus have a labour for our lives. Our life and labour is to build Community of Grace that we have called the church but know as the Kingdom Kindom or Realm. This Community of Grace is not founded on strange magic but on the bountiful mystery of God.

To build a Community of Grace may be trying, yet ultimately rewarding; it may be challenging to understand, yet finally satisfying; it may be difficult, yet in the end joyful.

open to the horizontal sacred of felt relationships

as well as the vertical sacred of something more

​it is practiced by academics and non-academics who implore

and by many different people from many walks of life and kinships

of various ages, genders, races, religions, and sexualities explore

a definition and a poem to adore

theopoetics as the art of craftsmanship.

Amen.

Matthew 16: 21-28

Is the search for an explanation of consciousness dependent upon self-denial and a taking up of the cross? Can we escape the limitations of being human or at least perhaps expand the boundaries of limitation? Is self-denial required to take up the one’s cross and is one’s cross the limits of understanding?

I was attending a service recently when the preacher suggested that imagination was the product of a cognitive process; that if we did not think about something it could not be imagined and while I thought this was reductionist of imagination it got me to thinking about the current debate about what consciousness is and how it relates to us as living human beings.

What consciousness is and where it emanates from has stymied great minds in societies across the globe since the dawn of speculation. In today’s world, it’s a realm tackled more and more by physicists, cognitive scientists, and neuroscientists than it is by theologians. I am reading Karen Kings book about the Gospel of Mary Magdalene and am fascinated by the Gnostics of that time. I rightly or wrongly think that the Gnostics were an example of an exploration of consciousness in that time in human history.  Self-denial as part of taking up one’s cross.

There are a few prevailing theories today about consciousness; one of which is that consciousness emanates from matter, in our case, by the firing of neurons inside the brain. But the question remains; what if this is a limited view?

A view more often chosen by traditional theologians is the theory of mind-body dualism. This is perhaps more often recognized in religion or spirituality. In this case consciousness is separate from matter. It is a part of another aspect of the individual, which in religious terms we might call the soul. It might also be claimed that this approach might be the Western approach to life that errs on the side of the left hemisphere obsession that Iain McGilchrist speaks about at the expense of the bigger picture or a more balanced approach, might take. A question here is; Is this dualism view too anthropocentric? Is this not self-denial enough?

I am going to suggest that another way to approach this question might be to see the option of what is called panpsychism as a way the theologians and scientists might debate together. Start with the bigger picture perhaps? The key connection in this approach is that the entire universe is inhabited by consciousness and a handful of scientists are starting to warm to this theory, but it’s still a matter of great debate. Truth be told, panpsychism sounds very much like what the Hindus and Buddhists call the Brahman, the tremendous universal Godhead of which we are all a part. In Buddhism for instance, consciousness is the only thing that exists. But what if this is the ‘More’ that Marcus Borg spoke of or the ‘Mystery’ that Gordon Kaufmann wrote about? It might also be the Serendipitous Creativity of Kaufmann. What I would rather call the more verb-like ‘Serendipitous Creating’, or maybe consciousness is the ‘perhaps’ that Caputo writes of and I would call the ‘Almost in my own bumbling exploration of an evolutionary life that is both noun and verb. This seems more like self-denial and taking up one’s cross to me.

Another approach to this question might be through the famous Zen koan, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” This reminds us as Lloyd Geering has been reminding us for some time, that one must come to the realization that everything we experience is filtered through and interpreted by our mind. Without it, the universe doesn’t exist at all or at least, not without some sort of consciousness observing it. In some physics circles, the prevailing theory is some kind of proto-consciousness field. Some sort of original source of consciousness? I am currently wrestling with the possibility that a shift from theology to theopoetics might be a way of ‘de-westernizing’ this approach. If there is such a word? Some sort of way of entering or exploring the nature of consciousness. The question is I think; Is consciousness derived from an invisible field that inhabits our universe? Or not? Is this really picking up one’s cross?

I am no scientist but I read that in quantum mechanics, particles don’t have a definite shape or specific location, until they are observed or measured. Is this a form of proto-consciousness at play? According to the late scientist and philosopher, John Archibald Wheeler, it might. He’s famous for coining the term, “black hole.” In his view, every piece of matter contains a bit of consciousness, which it absorbs from this proto-consciousness field. He called his theory the “participatory anthropic principle,” which posits that a human observer is key to the process. Of this Wheeler said, “We are participators in bringing into being not only the near and here but the far away and long ago.” In his view, much like the Buddhist one, nothing exists unless there is a consciousness to apprehend it.

Neuroscientist Christof Koch of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, is another supporter of panpsychism. Koch says that the only theory we have to date about consciousness is, it’s a level of awareness about one’s self and the world. Biological organisms are conscious because when they approach a new situation, they can change their behaviour in order to navigate it, in this view.

Dr. Koch is if he has not already, attempting to see if he can measure the level of consciousness an organism contains. He planned to run some animal experiments. In one, he planned to wire the brains of two mice together. Will information eventually flow between the two was his question? Will their consciousness at some point become one fused, integrated system? If these experiments are successful, he could plan to wire up the brains of two humans.

U.K. physicist Sir Roger Penrose is yet another supporter of panpsychism. Penrose in the 80’s proposed that consciousness is present at the quantum level and resides in the synapses of the brain. He is famous for linking consciousness with some of the goings on in quantum mechanics. He doesn’t go so far as to call himself a panpsychist. In his view, “The laws of physics produce complex systems, and these complex systems lead to consciousness, which then produces mathematics, which can then encode in a succinct and inspiring way the very underlying laws of physics that gave rise to it.”

Veteran physicist Gregory Matloff of the New York City College of Technology, says he has some preliminary evidence showing that, at the very least, panpsychism isn’t impossible. Dr. Matloff told NBC News, “It’s all very speculative, but it’s something we can check and either validate or falsify.”

Theoretical physicist Bernard Haisch, in 2006, suggested that consciousness is produced and transmitted through the quantum vacuum, or empty space. Any system that has sufficient complexity and creates a certain level of energy, could generate or broadcast consciousness.

Dr. Matloff got in touch with the unorthodox, German physicist and proposed an observational study, to test it. What they examined was Parenago’s Discontinuity. This is the observation that cooler stars, like our own sun, revolve around the center of the Milky Way faster than hotter ones. Some scientists attribute this to interactions with gas clouds. Matloff took a different view. He elaborated in a recently published piece, in the Journal of Consciousness Exploration and Research.

Unlike their hotter sisters, cooler stars may move faster due to “the emission of a uni-directional jet.” Such stars emit a jet early on in their creation. Matloff suggests that this could be an instance of the star consciously manipulating itself, in order to gain speed. This has to be taking up one’s cross, or at least for a struggling mind like mine.

Observational data shows a reliable pattern anywhere Parenago’s Discontinuity is witnessed. If it were a matter of interacting with gas clouds, as is the current theory, each cloud should have a different chemical makeup, and so cause the star to operate differently. So why do all of them act in exactly the same way? Dr. Matloff went on to posit that the presence of a proto-consciousness field could serve as a replacement for dark matter, but that is probably another sermon.

Neuroscientist and psychiatrist Giulio Tononi, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, proposes a slightly different take on panpsychism, called integrated information theory. Here, consciousness is a manifestation with a real, physical location, somewhere in the universe. We just haven’t found it yet. Perhaps this heavenly body radiates out consciousness as our sun radiates light and heat. Dr. Tononi has actually put forth a metric for measuring how much consciousness a thing has. The unit is called phi. This translates into how much control a being can enact over itself or objects around it.

The theory separates intelligence from consciousness, which some people assume are one in the same. Take AI or artificial intelligence, for example. It can already beat humans in all kinds of tasks. But it has no will of its own. A supercomputer which can enact change in the world outside of a programmer’s commands, would therefore be conscious. Many futurists from Ray Kurzweil to Elon Musk believe that day is coming, perhaps in the next decade or so, and that we should prepare. I think our text today might apply here too. Deny self and take up the cross. Amen.

Website – BigThink.com. Article by Phillip Berry

You might want to watch the video linked below to here Sir Roger Penrose speak of the above.

Matthew 15:21-28

Living Boldly, to Live a Normal Productive Life

The Election campaigning has begun again. The three-year cycle is here again, The party politic is gearing up into competitive mode and the potential partisan mud-slinging is poised waiting its opportunity. Vote securing is the purpose of the rhetoric. And low and behold we might have Matthew’s story indulging us too.

We might want to deny that politics is not a gospel concern but truth be told one cannot extract politics from text just as one cannot extract context from text. This time we have the politics of some of the early Christianity movements, as heard in Matthew’s story, be it a risky one, which at some points has no other parallel in the rest of the New Testament.

We might back up just a little to put this story in context.

The world we know now is but the walls of limitation

Of you and me and those who love to team

There is no other scheme left to be

But universal love, from timeless dream

Waking to you and I where we be

There is our joy’s invitation.

Change was happening all around Matthew and his small Syrian ‘Jesus Movement’ community. The Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. Judaism was beginning to be reshaped. A bloke called Paul was gaining both Jewish and ‘god-fearers’ converts to his personal “mystical experience” (Wilson 2008:126) Christ Movement.

The Movement as Matthew saw it, expressed in Peter’s then James’ leadership, was having battles on all fronts. And so with an early copy of what we call the Gospel of Mark in front of him, along with some other writings we now call The ‘Q’ Gospel, and maybe
even some comments out of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Matthew sets out to tell his version of the story, some 50 years after the ‘new Moses’, called Jesus, and some 20+ years after Paul.

We walk around on carpets in conference

Of love at large with tree and flower and stream,

Of love within at risk of madness usurper

And list the Tui descant upon our theme,

Heaven’s musical accepted worshipper.

There is our peace in ponderance.


Internal political maneuverings were beginning to take shape. “One branch… aimed its evangelistic efforts at the Judean community in Palestine.  This branch was led by Peter, then later by [the other] James, the brother of Jesus.  Paul, on the other hand, understood his missionary work to be focused on pagans and gentiles” (Funk & Hoover 1993:204).

In the ‘fair dinkum’ department, Paul and Peter did not get on together! For instance, in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, the mob of whom Paul says was “perverting the gospel of Christ” (Gal.1:7b), some scholars now suggest, was the Jewish Jesus Movement in Jerusalem. Secondly, Paul’s mission strategy was to visit Roman provincial capital cities
and approach the so-called in-between group, known as “god fearers”, who were pagans, not Jews, but who were attracted to some of the teachings of Judaism.

For Matthew as for his Syrian community in Antioch, this action by Paul was definitely seen as ‘poaching’.  And they resented it. On the other hand, there is also an underside to Matthew.

Matthew wasn’t too fussed about the ‘continuing’ Jews either, and that gets expressed in “undistilled anger and hostility” (Wilson 2008:194) towards Judaism, the Torah, and the Jewish leaders. So, the gospel we call Matthew is, simultaneously “the most ‘pro-Jewish’ gospel we have, as well as the most ‘anti-Jewish’ one.  The former aspect was evident in Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus as the new Moses…  The anti-Jewish side, however, comes out in his sustained attack on the Jewish leaders of his time” (Wilson 2008:182).

Perhaps theologian Bill Loader’s comments will help: “A sense that there is an enemy, marks many societies, religious and otherwise.  It is almost as though we need an enemy, another, against whom to define ourselves.  This need will sometimes sustain images of enemies, even create enemies for survival…  There’s ‘them’ and there’s ‘us’.  This is the stuff of prejudice.  Religion is (often) exploited to hold the prejudices in place” (Loader website)

The St David’s Khyber Pass Rd people experienced this first hand need for an enemy during the struggle for control of its decision making in regard to its old buildings. Those who wanted to memorialize the building needed an enemy against whom to mount a campaign and so they created an enemy by painting the congregation as demolitionists seeking to destroy heritage so as to gain sympathy and monetary support for their cause. A ‘them and us’ creation to define themselves against as saviour, protectors and worthy of support.

Our smile outfaces all illness and banishes the old feud

To things beyond and squashed in our truce;

With nature now dearly within us endued

And shame beyond the pondering excuse,

Frowns forgotten and antics subdued,

We kindly grow to be renewed.

Now to this morning’s ‘them’ and ‘us’ story.

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.

Matthew’s story puts Jesus right in the middle of a very tense scene, which portrays Jesus expressing a racist stance, only to abandon it when put under pressure. To add complexity to the risks Matthew is taking, he does what we heard of last week and repeats the designation of ‘Canaanite’, it being a people not heard of for centuries, maybe to safeguard himself or Jesus or as a safe example for what is a them and us, racist story. Canaanites have been a race long ago in history and in fact a defeated race.

The ‘Gentile’ ‘Canaanite’ labeled, woman who was doing all the pestering, was from a group of despised, diminished and dispirited people, much evident in the society of the times. Unfortunately, in our day we too might have used disparaging words… like ‘weirdo’ or foreigner’ or ‘savage’ to describe her. When Matthew’s Jesus does make a response, he uses the word, ‘dogs’.

Again, Bill Loader offers a comment here: “It is hard not to draw the conclusion that [Matthew’s] Jesus… had to make a transition, had to learn” (Loader/web site, 2008). He too is part of the culture, his too are the concepts used to describe difference and he too needs to be aware of what he is saying and doing. So, lets look again at this story, this time as Rex Hunt suggests we might look at it around three issues.

First, this story doesn’t show Jesus in too gracious a light.

Traditionally we have been encouraged to think of Jesus as caring, compassionate, responding and sensitive. And there is not much of that here. We might ask Bill Loader’s question: “Is it embarrassing that Jesus was human, too?  Does it make the gospel any less valid if the historical Jesus also had to struggle to come to terms with the negative in his upbringing? (Loader/web site, 2008). Does he have to be perfect in order to bring hope, understanding and a new way of being?

Secondly, perhaps we can sympathise with Jesus.

The woman was determined to be heard – persisting, pestering, hanging in, bugging. All of us know or have persons like that we would like to avoid, evade. Sometimes we too will try anything not to have to be in their company. When people are desperate to improve or change their lot and get right into your face persistently they cab be hard to take. Does, this make us less human?

Thirdly, the heroine of this story is not Jesus, but the woman.

The persisting, pestering, hanging in, bugging, woman. As one commentator puts it: “The story reminds us that members of despised or oppressed groups must be bold in seeking relief of their misery.  The woman is not content to be ignored, because she is convinced her daughter deserves to be given a chance at living a normal, productive life.  Her persistence, based on her faith in a God who can change things for the better, is rewarded” (D Hare. Commentary on Matthew. Pg: 179. Quoted on B Stoffregen’s CrossMarks web site, 2008).

Perhaps this is why people seeking what we have will risk everything, and continue to try to find a better life, a more just way of living, a more just society? Even if it costs them everything. A student in training for ministry complained because she had to read Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus at Chapel, – all that ‘someone-begat-someone-else’ stuff. ‘What good is all this’, she moaned. Her New Testament professor responded: ‘This is a great story.  Because it shows the best can come out of the worst.  And the worst can come out of the best’. There is another way of looking at this.

Think about it! Perhaps this is also part of how we should ponder this story and our relationships with others, especially those who, are convinced their children, like ours, deserve to be given a chance, any chance, at living a normal, productive life. Maybe this is the tolerance needed for party politics, for competitive party-political campaigning? Listen for the voice seeking justice. Listen for the needs of people with no voice, or the voice that is marginalized, oppressed, hidden by the rhetoric. Amen.

Notes:
Funk, R. W.; R. Hoover. 1993.  The Five Gospels. The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus. NY: New York. Macmillan.
Wilson, B. 2008.  How Jesus Became Christian. Canada: Toronto. Random House.

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