Archive for April, 2017

Identity!

Posted: April 25, 2017 in Uncategorized

Identity!

Matthew 3: 13-17

January 8th 2017

 

Someone once said that “Sermons are like biscuits. They could all do with a little shortening.” So it is with introductions, they need to be short and briefly identify the speaker and the topic. Then the introducer beckons the speaker to the podium and sits down. I apologize in advance for the length of this sermon and my justification is that without the length introduction the latter will not make sense..

The task that faces Matthew as he begins his account and specifically in our test today is to answer the question of who this Jeshua of Nazareth is. This is when Jesus’ identity is made known publicly and explicitly. It is when others begin to recognize accurately who Jesus is.

As we said a couple of weeks ago now, Matthew seeks to place Jesus in the Hebrew History. We remember this Jesus is a Nazarene from the old northern kingdom and his ministry is within the Judah region. His lineage needs cleaning up. Matthew has his opening genealogy place Jesus squarely in the Moses tradition and the in the Davidic line. We also suggested that he was expansive in that he was not above reinterpreting the ancient texts to make his point. Keeping his intro short perhaps. But with today’s text Matthew is expanding even more as he begins to shape the identity of Jesus within the theological story of Judaism. His story of the Baptism of Jesus is rooted deeply in the tradition and even though the leaps are considerable the audience will hear the connections and get the message of just who this Jesus is. The first story undergirding the Baptism is from Exodus where we hear of the story of the children of Israel crossing what was called the Red Sea. I say called the Red Sea because the words Red Sea do not occur in the text. That was a King James mistranslation that has been carried on over the years. If the children had crossed the Red Sea they would have had to go in the opposite direction than towards the promised land. The Hebrew words actually used were Yam Suph. Yam meaning sea and surph meaning reeds. This was a place north of their starting point and on a direct root towards their destination The Red Sea noted was a mass of swampy land between Africa and the Arabian Peninsular.

 

Slave people, traveling with little more than clothes on their backs, would have been able to navigate this swampy land even if with some difficulty whereas an Egyptian army with horse drawn chariots and soldiers clad in armour with heavy weapons would sink into the mire this allowing the slave people to get beyond their reach. As the story is told and retold over 250 to 300 years orally it is no wonder that it would grow in grandiosity and even super-naturalness, becoming a favourite tale of the Hebrew people. The message was that God was present in the life of the people and delivered them from peril. And just to firm this claim of building national identity we are aware that this story is retold on three other ocassions. Joshua, Moses successor repeated the Moses water crossing miracle when he was said to have been able to cross over the flooded waters of the Jordan river on dry land with all the people who travelled from Egypt. Here again the message is that God has not abandoned them even though Moses is now dead. Red Sea story number two.

 

The next story is where Elijah who was called the father of the prophets, is said to have journeyed into the wilderness with Elisha, his chosen successor to have a rendezvous with God and on the way they had to cross the Jordan River. At the river’s edge and in the presence of “fifty men of the sons of the prophets” Elijah took his mantle rolled it up and struck the waters of the Jordan river with it. In this action Elijah is seen as the one who was endowed with Moses power. The waters of the river were parted and Elijah and Elisha crossed on dry land. Red Sea Three.

 

We then see a repeat by Elisha indicating the transition of power has been successful. God is clearly with Elisha. Red Sea Four.

 

What is clearly shaping up is the Baptism story in that theological context. The author of Matthew would have known about their parting of the waters traditions in the sacred stories and most of the audience of the gospel will have understood the background to Matthew’s story of Jesus baptism. The others less schooled would have understood the story a a remembered even in history. In his first adult story of Jesus Matthew brought this central figure to the edge of the waters of the Jordan River convinced that Jesus was the one to who Moses had pointed. He was also convinced that this Jesus was even greater than Moses and his story includes this thinking.

 

When Jesus steps into the waters of the Jordan River it is not the waters that are parted. That would be too mundane for Matthew’s Jesus as that had been done on three different occasions in the old stories. Four if one counts the parting of the Red Sea. For Matthew it is not the waters but rather the heavens that are parted. Here we have Matthew referring to the Genesis story of creation. The waters are separated and the firmament from the waters and God called the firmament heaven. For Matthew when Jesus was baptized God opened the firmament that separated the waters above from the waters below and thus the heavenly waters were parted. Moses parted the waters of the Red Sea, Joshua, Elijah and Elisha parted the waters of the Jordan River whereas this new and greater Moses parts heavenly waters which then poured down on him as Holy Spirit. Here we have the Living Water which is the symbol of the Holy Spirit in Jewish thought identifying Jesus as the one who has been God-infused.. The message of the earlier birth story has now been completed when God enters him anew and publically at his baptism. Here we also have the one up man-ship of Matthew where Mark who began with the baptism experience of divine infusion is trumped by Matthew who claims that baptism simply conforms what his miraculous birth had already proclaimed. God is the source of this life. God is present in this life, God will be encountered through this life. He confirms this with his closing remark where after having incorporated all the Hebrew themes in his story he has the voice say, “this is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased”. In doing this he echo’s the prophet we call Isaiah 2 who when his mythical figure who will be known as “the Servant” or ‘the suffering servant’ emerges on the stage of history.

 

So, by including the story of Jesus baptism, Matthew is solidifying Jesus’ Mosaic identity. This new Moses can also split waters, but the waters he splits are the heavenly waters beyond the firmament. The voice of God has validated Jesus just as the voices of the sons of the prophets had validated Elisha, the Messiah is now ready to begin his career.

Having argued that Matthew is following a very strict agenda in his building of Jesus Identity we cannot be surprised that what comes next is the forty days in the wilderness. We note here that it is forty days and not forty years as in the tradition but more importantly is that there is a need for the chosen people to discover what that meant. For Jesus it meant that he must walk through the world–including during a trip home to Nazareth on the streets of his own neighbourhood–knowing that who he is linked to want he is called to do but unable to cry out his identity, unable to share this understanding.  Throughout all that time, he is a stranger to those who purport to love him.  In what must be a cruel irony, only the demons he encounters recognize him for who he truly is.

Here we have a common literary motif: the character who supposedly knows his identity but cannot declare it, who must walk through the world hidden in plain sight.  It is a painful thing, difficult to read or watch.  Strider is secretly Aragorn, the heir to the throne of men in Lord of the Rings.  He lives in shadows, conflicted about the discovery of his true name.  Clark Kent is really Superman.  His alternating urges to reveal himself and to remain in disguise so conflict that he removes and replaces his eyeglasses as a nervous tic.

The question posed is, “What would it be like to walk through the world in this way, hidden in plain sight, unrecognized even by those who love us?”  But then it occurs to us that we already know the answer.  Writers return again and again to this notion not because it is tantalizing fiction, but because it is agonizing reality.  We, each of us, travel the streets of our hometowns, the hallways of our workplaces, even the rooms of our very homes, with our true identities unknown to any but ourselves. Think about it!

Think how often both the accolades and the criticisms we receive seem to be spoken about someone else, about some stranger who only vaguely reminds us of ourselves.  Consider when your most beloved gazes upon your face, and you know full well that he or she is really looking at an opaque mask. Body language theory says a very important part but still not all. A good marriage is said to be one where these masks come off.

Remember those times when you believe if the world just knew the real you it would love you and rejoice in you, along with those times when you feel quite sure if the world knew the real you it would recoil in fear and disgust. Think of the times you want to cry out your identity, to rip Clark Kent’s glasses from your nose, to emerge from the shadows and claim your true name.

And one has to admit it is easy to admit the irony that the only ones who truly seem to know you–the real you–are your own demons: your own self-doubts, your anxieties, your weaknesses toward vice.  The demons know your identity, even when no one else does.

However, today, above all other days, we are reminded that there is more than this, a greater awareness.  On this day of the Baptism of our Lord, we are called to remember into whom we are baptized.  At his own baptism, God spoke to Jesus, and half a Gospel later God spoke to the disciples, saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We progressives would say that the story makes sense not in its literal sense but rather in that deep within when we engage fully with our God, however we speak of it, we remember our connection with the whole human race, with the earth on which we live and in the vast cosmos that is our existence.

Here we have the identity of Jesus.  And in baptism, in this sacrament that rehearses the action to which Jesus consented at the hands of John the Baptist, Jesus’ identity becomes our own true selves.  We emerge from the water reborn into him so to speak.  The challenge is for us to remember that baptism is not primarily about the opportunity to unpack granddad’s traditional christening gown or take family photos or eat good cake.  Baptism is the sacramental moment in which we declare–in which it is declared that we no longer need Clark Kent’s glasses.  We no longer need to mute our tongues from declaring who we are.  We no longer need to duck into the shadows for fear of exposure to the world.  Because who we are–who you and I only and truly are–are the sons and daughters of God. Or in our language we are followers of the Jesus Way. That is our identity. That is what makes us unique, not in the sense that we are any different from anyone else but in the sense of that is what identifies us. That identity is etched upon us more deeply than any mask.  Its beauty smoothes all ugliness.  Its truth silences the mocking laughter of the demons.

It turns out that even we did not truly know ourselves.  What we secretly thought we were, in both our best and our worst moments, was wrong.  We are neither the expert nor the fraud, the angel nor the monster, the beauty nor the beast.  The truth of us is far simpler and far more glorious.  We are the baptized, bearing the seal of the Holy Spirit on our brows just as the dove alighted on Jesus.  We can walk the streets of our neighbourhoods, the hallways of our workplaces, the rooms of our homes–indeed, we can look in the mirror–and say, “Look at me, the real me.  Yes I am a child of God like all of you. Yes I am beloved like all of you and like you God is well pleased with me. Amen.

‘Remember the Children’

Posted: April 25, 2017 in Uncategorized

Matthew 2:13-23

 

‘Remember the Children’

 

The Christian movement was born in the synagogue among observant Jews. They were Jews who regularly attended on the Sabbath. At worship they would read. Listen and become conversant with the sacred scriptures as the Jews understood them. By that I mean there were three main repositories of the sacred literature. The Torah or ‘The Book of Moses’ as it was called. Some synagogues would expect the whole Torah to be read in a year and this meant 10 to 15 minutes of reading each Sabbath. In more liberal synagogues a three year time span was allowed. The second lesson would come from ‘The Former Prophets’ which is the Jewish History after Moses and up to 1200BCE and the defeat of the nation of Judah at the hands of the Babylonians. The third lesson would be from ‘The Latter Prophets’ of ‘The Book of The Twelve’. Christians later would call these ‘The Minor Prophets’. The point of this introduction is to place what comes next into the context of a long story and an interrelated story.

 

We might recap a little and remember the story of the wicked king or Pharaoh, who tried to put to death the infant Moses as God’s promised deliverer and we might remember that Matthew has repackaged the story as the Jesus story. A wicked king named Herod tries to put to death God’s promised deliverer named Jesus. We see here a simple yet profound statement that states that the Jewish people are being relived through Jesus. In other words the very sacred words of the ancient scriptures are finding their fulfilment in this man Jesus. We note here just how important this is to Matthew because Matthew borrows texts willy nilly to convey this point. He even misquotes the text to make it flow better with his argument. He has Isaiah say “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and his name shall be called Emmanuel, which means God with us.” When the Hebrew text actually says, “Behold a young woman is with child.” There is no way a virgin can be expecting a baby, in fact the word virgin appears nowhere in the text from Isaiah.

 

Further to this we revisit the Isaiah context and we find Two Kings, Pekah from the Northern Kingdom called Israel, and Rezin, the king of Syria and they are in siege positions outside the walls of Jerusalem. They had made war on Judah and its king Ahaz because he refused to join their alliance against Assyria. Their goal was to topple Ahaz and put in a puppet king adding strength to their alliance to hold of the Assyrians.

 

Ahaz is on top of his walls inspecting his defenses when he is met by the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah assures Ahaz that Jerusalem will not fall but Ahaz is not convinced. Isaiah then suggests Ahaz should ask for a sign from God but Ahaz refuses. Irritated Isaiah tells Ahaz that he will receive a sign whether he likes it or not. ‘Behold a woman is with child.” This baby soon to be born into a royal household will be the heir to the throne, a sign of endurance of the kingdom. In fact the Kings Ahaz fears will be long gone before this child is old enough to choose between good and evil.

 

The facts of history are that Judah was destined to work out a treaty with Assyria making Judah a vassal state and both Israel and Syria were destroyed by Assyria. This clearly shows that the text in Isaiah had nothing to do with predicting the birth of the messiah some 800 years later. It also shows that Matthew was stretching his interpretive powers wildly by using the text the way he did. Let me say here that he was not wrong in doing this because it was just how it was done. It was how the sacred scriptures were kept alive over hundreds of years.

 

The second text Matthew weaves into his story comes from Micah. The wise men stop to ask directions at the palace of King Herod. Herod consults his chief priests and scribes to find out where this messiah is to be born. Here we have Matthew weaving the story to ensure the lineage of Jesus to the line of King David. The heir to the throne must be a descendant of David because a major task of the messiah is to restore the throne of David. The problem here for Matthew is that Micah has Bethlehem as the town from which David emerged to rule and the messiah must follow the pattern. The problem Matthew faces is that Jesus is from Nazareth and so he moves the birth of Jesus to Bethlehem and proceeds to tell the story of King Herod slaughtering the boy babies in Bethlehem in his effort to destroy the promised deliverer. Mathew makes another outrageous leap when he links this to another tragic moment in Jewish history when the Assyrians destroyed the Northern Kingdom. Tradition has it that the Northern Kingdom was made up of the descendants of Joseph, the son of Rachel, who was said to have been Jacob’s favourite wife. Thus Jeremiah portrays Rachel, the tribal mother of the Northern Kingdom, as weeping for her children who are now lost forever. Matthew sees in that story a prediction of the deaths of the children at Herod’s hand. One has to say that this is a very long stretch and yet it is also arguing for the texts to be seen as living in their adaptability to the new context and interpretable in that new context. They are not history but rather experiential. They are living stories.

 

And on that note I want to offer a reflection that I hope will make sense of my title. The challenge is to be aware that many of us might have a far too romantic and idealistic notion that Christmas has to be perfect. Some of us have the tendency to dwell on the sentimental aspects of Christmas as an escape from the harsh, cold realities of life in this world. Only to be let down after all the parties are over. The truth of the matter is that life is never that idealistic. Even at Christmas time, there are countless, untold stories of child abuse, torture and even murder—many of these stories don’t make it into the news. One of the challenges of our gospel would have us focus on the stories of such children, just as we focus on the Christ-Child. So, we remember the far too many children around the globe who have suffered and continue to suffer from the actions of others.

The truth is that far too many parents are wailing and lamenting today for their children and they refuse to be consoled because they’ve lost their children to abuse of all kinds. From lack of knowledge about the pitfalls of parenting to experiences of forced child labour projects where the children are treated like slaves. Parents have lost their children to terrorist militias who force young children to kill their own people or themselves be killed if they refuse; they’ve lost their children to the makers of pornography and child prostitution and sometimes the pimps kidnap and market these children to another country so that the parents never see them again. Such are the harsh, cold realities of the world today. In this sense, nothing much has changed under the sun. Far too often it seems that life seems too hard.

The move from Nazareth to Bethlehem story suggests that if they had lived in another place, they might have been safe. But they lived in the outlying villages, and the guerrilla war raged in the communities around them and often in their own.

If they had lived in another place, they might have been safe. But they were not safe, not even in their own homes. They were Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and Christians, and their mom and dad had religious symbols on the wall and these made their home suspect.

If they had lived in another place, they might have been safe but in their country mothers, fathers, teens, children, even babies were murdered. All were suspected of being subversives, and the killing of innocent children was a powerful signal to other groups in the area that their lives were also in danger. The death of the innocent ones was used as a threat against their elders. Martyrs. Innocent, young martyrs. All because……

In today’s gospel, we learn that the celebration of Christmas in not so pretty, romantic or idealistic. Rather, we learn through this divine drama in three acts that life in this world can be very dangerous. Life in this world can be cruel. Life in this world can be subject to evil plots, schemes and acts orchestrated by power hungry people who themselves are possessed by greed and power and who rely on fear to protect their power and status.

In the first act of this divine drama that Matthew is making, God speaks to Joseph in a dream through an angel, a messenger of God, commanding him to: “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” WOW! What a message! No romantic or idealistic picture of Christmas here! Rather, we have the harsh, cold reality of a tyrant ruler, Herod, who is determined to shed innocent blood. He’s doing everything possible to kill the Christ-Child. According to Jewish historian, Josephus, Herod was an extremely cruel man, who seems too had had no problems ruling by fear. …Herod ordered the execution of three of his sons (even Caesar in Rome is reported to have said it was safer to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son); and at his burial, one member of every family was to be slain so that the nation might really mourn. However, Herod did not manage to kill Jesus. Joseph, Mary and Jesus fled to Egypt and lived there as refugees until after it was safe to return back to the Promised Land, after Herod had died, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

Matthew’s second act in the drama, is where Herod was infuriated when he learned that he had been tricked by the wise men. So “he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under.” According to Matthew, this fulfilled the nightmare, told by the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:15, which warned: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

Matthew’s third act of the divine drama reminds us that the Herod’s of this world do not prevail. Sooner or later they lose their power. Sooner or later they die. Today, as we remember the Christ-Child and the danger he was in, and his flight into Egypt as a refugee; we also pause and remember today all of the children in this world who have been or who are right now being abused, tortured, murdered or living somewhere as refugees can find a new birthplace, can be restored in their living, can find a new life.. We remember them not as perpetual victims but rather as children who can be first in the kingdom. They can be healed and restored from their sufferings and their grief when their stories are told as living stories and not hidden by romantic, idealistic escapism. When the birth stories are not about the birth of a hero but rather about the birth of the adult to come. They can be healed and restored when they take on a new wonder, a new meaning and a new power each and every time they are told. Amen.

The Nature of Hope found in Hospitality,

Advent 4 18th December 2016

Last week I spoke about the weak God, the suffering God, the God who is radically different from the almighty interventionist fix anything God and I hailed J D Caputo’s argument that it is the weak God, the vulnerable child, born into homelessness with nothing but a animal food trough for a bed, and the God who is the Messiah come to save all, sort of God who is executed as a criminal, where we find the most profound hope. United in despair and struggle God and humankind know only one response, that of certain hope. Together as one is the only way out. Today I want to ask you to hold on to that idea of the weak God while we explore the nature of the vulnerability a little.

Hospitality, is perhaps the most iconic of Christian values and one of the easiest to go on attributing to the historical Jesus, in spite of how much else has been stripped away from his biography. We need to discuss this because of the scary things people have been saying about refugees, about those who are different ethnically, economically and socially. Let alone what is being said about sex equality and about the contribution of women to our society. We need to discuss this because of the people who are bleeding in the streets. We need to discuss this because sometimes the bias can make us afraid to be hospitable.

How many of you were hospitable and been hurt, or hospitable and someone else got hurt. How many of you were hospitable and then, as a result of your hospitality, you became responsible for something or someone so precious that you could no longer afford to let just anyone through your door. Maybe you were hospitable night after night, until you became too weary to get up and answer the door. Being there wore you out and you found suddenly that you were the one knocking.

And to add to this dilemma you found that the decision to open the door can’t be dictated in advance. To paraphrase Bishop Spong’s ninth thesis on ethics: Once we give up ancient codes and creeds like the Ten Commandments, we discover that our morality is no longer decided for us. It must be forged in the space between rules-of-thumb and real life. We have to work out our morality for ourselves in that space between nothing and rules. In The Folly of God, John D. Caputo describes this space as that which “calls” to us or that which we “are called” to do, without a clear subject:

If we could identify the caller, assess the credentials of the source, evaluate its authority, we would get on top of it, make it our own. If we could just say that God will look after it, that the call would come from an ontological caller ID. … If I could say this is God or biology or culture, there would be an end to it. My mind would be put at ease. … [But] that would deprive the call of its uncanniness, of its riskiness, of its madness and folly. (91) Like the interventionist God It would become strong and distant as opposed to weak and intimate. The call of hospitality is a call to risk it all.

Caputo warns us that the risk of hospitality is irreducible. He says the person on the other side of the door really could be the person we most fear and it really could also be the person most dreadfully in need of our help. Each time, we have to decide whether we’re going to take the risk. And it doesn’t get easier, because the risk is renewed with each new knock at the door.

Namsoon Kang of Brite Divinity School complicated this to yet another level at the Spring 2016 session of the Seminar on God and the Human Future (a recent successor of the Jesus Seminar). In recounting the story of Lot, who offered hospitality to angels, Kang observed that sometimes hospitality to the other requires the sacrifice of the familiar. In Lot’s case, he handed over his daughters to his neighbours to be raped in the angels’ stead. We must not forget this liability as well. The ultimate weakness, the vulnerable child becomes the one on the cross.

I think that Caputo and Kang have got it right and these risks are real, and yet at the same time I find myself wanting to find at least a modicum of relief. Habits and other rules-of-thumb exist for a reason. Habit is not always a sign of moral weakness; it can simply be common sense. It does not have to become creed or rule. What I think I am trying to say is: Don’t feel guilty for pre-programming 1-1-1 into your phone and handing it to your sister before you open the door. Don’t let fear condition your hospitality, open the door, as often as you can bear to because avoiding that weakness of encounter is to push God away and miss out on the impossible becoming possible. Hospitality can lead to love but it needs to be offered.

This leaves us with another question about the nature of vulnerability or that which creates the opportunity for hospitality. One’s ability to be hospitable relies on a discernment of the vulnerability.

Rex Hunt offers us the haunting poem “In the Sanatorium” (2014) by Anya Silver that opens in an Austrian sanatorium with one dying German confessing his sins to another:

Under orders, the German had taken enemies of the state, shoved them between two stopped trains, and burned them to death. Then swept away the remains. Could he ever be forgiven for such a sin?

Unbeknownst to the confessor, the man in the bed beside him (the narrator’s father) was the son of one of the men the German had killed.

But this is not a tale of hospitality, for when the father might have spoken, he turned his head away. Forget forgiveness; he doesn’t even breach the pain. The narrator, having inherited this unresolved moment, concludes:

Riven, six more decades, between two ghosts: one wasted from coughing, pale; one burning. Both beyond any word he might have spoken.

Now it is the narrator’s turn to decide her next move: How will this memory haunt her? Will it push her toward hospitality in her encounters with others, or will she also turn away (out of a natural fear, and who can blame her)?

The poet then leaves the reader with that question, but also with a lovely, non-apocalyptic image. Rather than imagining our world apocalyptically like a phoenix that dies in a burst of flames but comes back perfectly out of the ashes, like some sort of supernatural healing, we might imagine it instead like the salamander, who may lose his limbs and retain scars, yet regrows the limbs, lives with the scars, and keep on going.

Hospitality is like that. We end up with the scars, but we also receive gifts we could never have counted on in advance. Jean Valjean in Les Misérables (the book, not the musical) who, after robbing the bishop who had first showed him hospitality, was dragged back by the police only to be given back all that he stole and more.

“Don’t forget, don’t ever forget,” the bishop said, although Valjean remembered promising no such thing, “don’t forget that you promised me to use this silver to make an honest man of yourself.”

What is often forgotten about this story is that in the very next scene Jean Valjean steals a coin from a little boy by slamming his foot on top of it when the boy drops it. Only after the little boy leaves does his petty theft fold together with the bishop’s pardon, leading him, for the first time in nineteen years, to cry and shout, “I am a miserable bastard!” The rest of Les Misérables is the story of a very honest and good man who time and time again outdoes himself in showing hospitality, resulting in much discomfort and yet also much love. The one who did not understand how to offer hospitality, when confronted by his own inhospitable action hears the call and is transformed. Here we have in the nature of vulnerability, the nature of a certain hope that is revealed in the weakness unveiling the possible. Amen.

Cassandra Farrin is the Marketing Director of the Westar Institute and the Editor of Polebridge Press. A US-UK Fulbright Scholar, she has an M.A. in Religious Studies

Advent 3A, 2016 Matthew 11: 2-11

‘Finding Hope When All Around Is The Sin Of The World’

It is Advent three already. We are well into serious Advent-come-Christmas stuff now?

John the Baptizer is featured yet again. The Christmas music and advertisements are ramping up towards Christmas but still, our readings have a tinge of challenge in them. Last week we talked about the different approach to communication that John and Jesus gave us, John was change through fear and Jesus change through invitation to love.

I guess one of the responses after last week is yes that sounds good but won’t all our best loving intentions just get swallowed up in the reality we live with. Fear is so ingrained into our way of being that it’s hard to have hope about real change without it. We look at the world scene and we see examples on a huge scale where political will, social encouragement and real systemic change all seem to be in the too hard basket. Britain’s people go against all poles into uncharted restructuring territory, The US goes against even the majority vote and elects a radical President who talked about building walls, immigration preferences and isolationist patriotism. Just rhetoric perhaps so wait and see. I am not anti or pro Trump here, just raising the expectations that were confused. And just this week a stable government loses its popular leader against all expectations. Sure we rushed to explain why and that in itself suggests surprise. The outcome scramble for leadership could be seen to be further example of this unexpected event. My suggestion is that these are all examples of a public perception proven wrong or shown to be wrong. What is going on in the world? What will happen next? Where is the hope of a better future? Or is this just a great pool of media and socially created fear? Am I in fact supporting this fear by just asking the questions?

 

Before I go any further I want to suggest that some people might complain that our New Testament reading is an unwelcome intrusion into the heart-warming story of the baby in the manger. And shouldn’t the church be a refuge from geopolitics? My response is that that complaint misconstrues the Incarnation at a basic level. John and Jesus are speaking to Jews and thus the salvation they are talking about is of the Jews, and the Jews were a subject people within the Roman Empire. If salvation were to come at all, it had to come there, to the Jew first, then also to the Greek. It had to intrude into the dynamics of first-century politics, had to include Augustus Caesar and the Herod’s and Pilate, if it was going to be salvation at all.

This is a clear message that advent isn’t supposed to soothe us. It doesn’t suggest that we should be stoic in the face of the irreparable damage of the world but rather take responsibility for it and engage with it. It doesn’t teach us to be piously hopeless. Leave it to God, or all we can do is pray about it. Advent celebrates the possibility of making things new. Advent does comfort us and it is because it promises final restoration, justice, and peace and not escape from. Advent encourages us to persevere positively in the face of trials and injustice.

Now let’s get to our theme for today which is a question that arises in response to this message. Where can we find hope when all around us things appear to be crumbling? On the surface this doesn’t sound very ‘Christmas’ does it? Then again, it could be said to be exactly what Christmas is about. People looking for a cosmic sign of hope of a better future. The story of the birth of divine insight to offer a way forward. The great theological challenge is the child born with nothing, into nothing bringing the greatest of hope.

 

And here is the big twist to this parable of purpose. Undergirding this suggestion is John D Caputo’s argument for the weakness of God. The child with nothing born into nothing is the expression of God’s vulnerable love and faithful justice in contrast to an almighty warrior or king who massacres all enemies. This seemingly hopeless engagement with the reality of life is symbolized by the child’s entry into the world not as a sorry, spineless response but rather a robust non-foundational, non- fundamentalist approach, bearing testimony to God as a coming event of justice. Like the cross the vulnerable child’s birthing exposes divine weakness and critiques the so-called ‘strong’ proposal’ based on Greek metaphysics. The message of Christmas is that weak theology provides a new basis for us to embrace the paradoxes of life. Or in traditional language; the suffering God is the God we understand intimately. ‘Emmanuel’ God with us.

 

We know that life is a risky business and our world in the last few months has confirmed this. We have been reminded that a globalized world is not just about multinational global companies and global economic interdependence it is also about global social, political and ethical interdependence. We are responsible for each other and to each other on a global scale. Racism, bigotry, exclusive policy affect us all no matter who perpetrates it.

After our service last week some of us were talking and we got around to that inevitable discussion about human sin and what it is and how we talk about it. I have also indicated before that I am not so sure there is any such thing as sin anyway but that has also seemed to be a statement I have yet to do a lot of thinking about. I am not sure I have it sorted within all the rest of the markers in my theological thinking so here goes another exploration.

In an article by Peter Heltzel on J D Caputo’s idea of The Weakness of God he suggests that one of the benefits of Caputo’s theory of God’s weak power is that a weak God is able to respond to the problem of natural and human evil. Caputo’s claim is that God is simply not in a position to intervene in human affairs. Thus God does not prevent evil in advance, nor can God retroactively remove evil after the fact. This means that in his view the human community must take responsibility for gratuitous suffering in the world. This also is an argument that the weakness of God is a more compelling basis for an ethic of hospitality and forgiveness. Where there is a weak God, hospitality and forgiveness can make a difference because they are equally born out of that weakness, whereas with a strong God, the God of our experience allows at best gratuitous evil to continue and even escalate. Here I think is the argument for an invitation method for change rather than a fear driven one, or a Jesus message rather than a John one. It is also the position that helps us move on from the dualistic battle between a liberal post-modern dismissal of tradition approach, and a conservative doctrinal, salvation of the church approach. This weak God enables and provides for a third way or a more comprehensive non-partisan positive process into the future.

This also means that like the question ‘does God exist or not’, the question ‘is there such a thing as sin or not’, are both questions no longer needing to be asked. God however we want to identify or describe God, exists as a necessary entry into what it means to be human and that is perhaps the real question to ask. What does it mean to be human? The questions about sin are also swallowed up in the new question. Caputo suggests that the kingdom of God is a field of weak forces for justice and that this field of reversals and displacements challenges traditional hierarchies of the church and the world. One cannot project away responsibilities. The weak forces all seeking justice create an environment of dismay, they raise the question ‘why? Or why not? And through the resultant disarray the high and mighty are displaced by the least among us. The reality we know is that the potential for getting it wrong, mucking it up are part of being a conscious human being. Naming it sin is putting on it a category we can dismiss rather than find an alternative to. The alternative or the seemingly impossible the new world, the peace filled world, is made possible by the weakness of God that empowers loving change.

This I know is all very deep stuff so let me approach this question of sin from an historic perspective. But first of all let’s leave the sin question in that place of yet to be defined and with the context of the text.

We know that John and Jesus were Jews who followed and valued Judaism. And Rabbi David Blumenthal, in an article published in ‘Cross Currents’ reminds us that: “Judaism does not recognize confession of personal sin to a religious figure as part of the process of sin and repentance.  There is no designated authority to whom one can confess sins; sins are confessed privately, in prayer, before God.  This suggests that there is no public sin, no definable, identifiable thing called sin. Nor does Judaism recognize penance as a necessary part of the process of sin and repentance. Again if there is no such thing as personal sin then one does not need to do penance for anything on a public scale. The inner self knows sin in its human responsibility to be human. It is true that the practice of penances did exist in Jewish life for part of the middle ages, largely under Christian influence, but this was never formalized into classic rabbinic theology and practice” (DBlumenthal, 2010). 

This reminds us also that there is every likelihood the early Christian communities made-up the story dialogue between John and Jesus, (including the stories about John!), their efforts seemed to be designed to show that Jesus, and not John, was the more important.

As we said last week from all we know (and do not know) about his preaching style, John strongly claimed that the nearness of the kingdom or realm or empire of God was a judgement to inspire fear in the ‘disobedient’ – the so-called insider. While Jesus preached about the nearness of the kingdom or realm or empire of God being an invitation to inspire hope in the ‘ordinary’ – the so-called outsider.

Here we have the basis for hope. Two different visions or dreams by which to renew a hurting nation. So we should not be too surprised when the storyteller we call Matthew has John asking the question of Jesus: Who the heck are you – really? Even to Matthew’s John (and by implication, Matthew’s small community), Jesus did not fit stereotypical ‘messianic’ expectations.

With things constantly getting more difficult between the various developing Jewish communities, not to mention some downright ‘rivalry’ between them, it was proving difficult to maintain everyone’s enthusiasm.

One way Matthew’s community decided to respond to their situation was to look back to some of their earlier experiences to see if they could name something from there. And they remembered the prophet Isaiah and his vision… So remembering their past, they hoped it would open a way ahead. Once again some words from process theologian John Cobb, might be helpful: “Those who are wise do not cling to the old forms of hope in a new situation.  They learn from both the fulfilments and the disappointments…  They formulate their hope in new ways” (P&F Web site, 2007).

But then these telling and hopeful words: “From Jesus we learn that God is to be found in all that makes for life and healing, and for peace and justice…  people were moved by Jesus’ transformation of the way God and the world were understood…  the opposite of the order established by the Roman Empire”.

And here’s the rub: if one is to advocate ‘the opposite of the order established by the Roman Empire’, one’s vision or dream is going to encourage political participation.

And so in summary; what if the advent and Christmas stories are really about seeing the weak God, the vulnerable child born into nothing with nothing as the ground of a hope-filled future. A hope born out of despair and dismay as a hope where unconditional gift and forgiveness are vehicles of grace and transformation.

If there is a restlessness and a longing about Advent and if life is bleak and seemingly without hope. Then be aware, be alert, be awake for there is an opportunity for love and to address the impossible. While both John and Jesus chose to follow different dreams, both were seeking to transform their world, and bring an end to war and violence, injustice and oppression. My argument is that Jesus got it right.

And on the matter of sin we might need to revisit one of the gospels that didn’t make it into our Bible, the Gospel of Mary, where, Peter asks Jesus: what is the sin of the world? Jesus is said to reply: There is no sin.  It is you who make sin exist, when you act according to the habits of your corrupted nature; this is where sin lies.

John Shuck from First Presbyterian USA says about this text there is no sin and while most of us familiar with [traditional] church have heard a lot about sin.  For the community of early Christians who appreciated Mary’s Gospel, sin is lack of awareness.  Sin is a fogging over.  Sin is becoming lost in the thoughts, anxieties and desires of our material existence that we live as though we are asleep…” (John Shuck, First Presbyterian Elizabethton, 2007, Shuck&Jive blog).

So! Let us be aware, be alert,  be open, and may the themes of advent continue as hope, peace, joy, and love and may they become concrete, and real, in our lives. Amen.

Notes: Hart, P.; N. Habel. 1990.  Outback Christmas. SA: Adelaide. Lutheran Publishing House. Shea, J. 1993.  Starlight. Beholding the Christmas Miracle All Year Long. Third edition. NY: New York. Crossroad Publishing.

Heltzel Peter Goodwin Article Review of John D Caputo The Weakness of God. University Press 2006

 

Advent 2A, 2016

Matthew 3:1-12

Wrestling With Who We Are To Be

Here we are at the second week in the advent season and like last week the lectionary readings add complexity. Once again we are confronted with the possibility of recent tradition being wrong about the interpretation. Traditionally Christians have understood today’s stories from Isaiah and Matthew, as prophecies of Jesus. But… is this really the case?

Like last week we heard that Process theologian John Cobb, says: ‘Not really’. Then he goes on to suggest starting with Isaiah: “Jesus did not fulfil the prophecies of Isaiah in the way Isaiah expected….  for Isaiah the main point was about kingly succession… Whatever Jesus’ ancestry was, he was not what Isaiah expected.  He did not engage in royal judgement, administering justice to the poor.  Neither did he kill the wicked”  The question we are left with here is; Does this mean Christians have been wrong in seeing the Isaiah passage as an anticipation of Jesus?

Well! John Cobb continues: and he says; “In part, of course, they have erred.  But it is not wrong to view Jesus as a partial fulfilment of the hopes that Isaiah expressed” (Cobb, P&F Web site, 2007). So the best, or maybe the more honest things we can do or say, is: that we can affirm we can see in Jesus some of what Isaiah hoped for, and we can assert that Jesus was also different from what Isaiah considered ideal.

So here we are now…. into the Second Sunday in Advent, 2016 an we find Matthew, jumping 30 years or so in time in a matter of only a couple of short story chapters, introduces John the Baptizer, the so-called final prophet of Jesus’ coming, and places him centre stage for a moment.

In John the Baptizer then, we ask what have we got? Briefly and yet huge in meaning we see that in John’s preaching the nearness of the kingdom or realm or empire of God was a judgement that was designed to inspire fear in the disobedient – the insider. A top down change management plan inspiring change by making folk afraid, whereas what seems at one moment to be a subtle shift and yet takes the motivation for change in a totally new direction. We see in Jesus’ preaching the nearness of the kingdom or realm or empire of God was actually an invitation designed to inspire hope in the ‘common ones’ – the outsider. A different method and a different audience.

Here we have in a nutshell two different visions by which to reimagine a nation. Make a better nation by means of separating the wheat from the chaff, by empowering the economically elite or by empowering the poor. The challenge here is not to get caught in the partisan, and to see that ideologies and extreme positions can be taken over by the idea that when people are afraid good change happens. A judgement to inspire fear or an invitation to inspire hope is the choice.

And let’s be honest about this. Both visions have been used in the past (and still are used today), by Christians. The claim I am making here is that only one vision is a Jesus inspired vision, and it is the one which does not bombard people with issues of personal morality and sanctions called ‘sin’. I might even go as far as to say that I think personal morality is more culturally driven than individual choice but as a Jesus follower I would claim that only a vision based of change by invitation to be hope-filled has the capacity to re-imagine new possibilities for the world.

Like last week a couple of stories…… The first one highlights the complexity surrounding the options we have been talking about, fear verses hope as the means of change.

Some years back now Ukraine was in the middle of an election. And what was important about this election was that trouble was out on the streets. The result of the election was being disputed. The regular evening TV news was on air, coming from the government controlled TV station. A presenter was reading the script. Another was ‘signing’ so the deaf could also ‘hear’ the news.

But the news was what those in power wanted to say, rather than it being an account of what was actually happening. No mention of the protests or challenges to the validity of the voting system, was being mentioned.

In a moment of madness, some say, the signer stopped translating the set script. And instead, started to give her account of all the other events that were also happening.

She said she knew she would be sacked because of her actions, but felt she could no longer put up with the government’s lies and propaganda.

Immediately following the broadcast all the members of the news room came to her, not only to support her actions, but also to join the struggle against the government and it’s lies.

So began a new and different story. Fear was overcome by hope.

Now why tell this story?  What makes this an advent story? Well, for me and for others it is an advent story because it tells of how some sought to re-imagine new possibilities for their country. It is an advent story also because it began when the deaf – the outsiders when they were given the opportunity and the respect to ‘overhear’ what was going on!

Now back to the second story. Matthew is inviting his small Jewish community to ‘overhear’ some things, through the ‘signage’ called John the Baptizer. Developing alongside of and often in conflict with developing Jewish communities, it can’t have been easy for this small community. All groups were trying to form or reshape their own identities and allegiances among the people. And remembering that Matthew is a storyteller, he lets the community ‘overhear’ John talking, hoping they might see and hear themselves in these conversations.

In the hearing, they (and we) might sense something new and different is afoot. As one of Shirley Murray’s Christmas hymns suggests: “Now the star of Christmas shines into our day, 
points a new direction: change is on the way -
there’s another landscape
to be travelled through, there’s a new-born spirit broadening our view” (SEMurray/hos)

We still have a problem with the Advent Lectionary, and that problem is not in the stories but rather in their placement in the lectionary. They are placed there with purpose and their purpose is to present a mythical ‘Christ of faith’ back into the text, to justify a theological interpretation rather than to allow them to speak for themselves. This is often called the “Easter barrier” which has overpowered the ‘historical Jesus’.

And leave us with a mere shell called the God/man Jesus.

 

Like the challenge of Jesus verses John, the task is to see beyond the elevated, separated and mystified Jesus and find the demoted Jesus because then we will have a fully-fleshed demoted Jesus who is “available as the real founder of the Christian movement… A Jesus who is no longer its mythical icon, embedded in the untouchable place of the descending/ascending, dying/rising lord of the pagan mystery cults, but rather one of substance with us all”  (Funk 1996:306).

So this Advent two Sunday is an invitation to go beyond the Lectionary parameters and consider a couple of things…

First is a challenge to hear differently the kingdom, realm or empire that Jesus would see changed. From one driven by fear to one driven by hope. Keri Wehlander in her reflection called ‘Circles of Grace” invites us to see the invitation to choose hope over fear as a choice to see the little things of life as the most earthshattering changes we can participate in. Fear is a tapping into the power of violence whereas hope is the tapping into the power of the simple, everyday potential and the fragile in order that the change be sustainable and Jesus like.

Holy One: We live at mystery’s edge, Watching for a startling luminescence Or a word to guide us. In fragile occurrences You present yourself And we must pause to meet you.

Daily, there are glimmers, Reflections of a seamless mercy Revealed in common intricacies.

These circles of grace Spill out around us And announce that we are a part of you.

So! The first call this Advent Sunday is to consider the need for a fresh awareness of our creative capacity because inside each one of us is a marvelous creature with unlimited potential for good. Think perhaps of yourself as the avatar I spoke of a couple of weeks ago. The Christ-like earthling co-creating the world. In the words of our motto, Honour the Mind.

The second call is to consider the option of becoming a person infected or inspired by hope because it is the Creativity God who acts in and through us. And in that becoming we are one with the God in other people, who in their receiving our actions participate with us. In the words of our motto, Live the Questions.

And finally the call is to consider the invitation to re-tune our senses to a watchful present-ness of God in the ordinary, in the every-day, in the outsider, in the new. In the words of our motto, Explore the adventure of Humanity. Amen.

Notes: Funk, R. W. 1996.  Honest to Jesus. Jesus for a New Millennium. New York. HaprerCollins. Hope is Our Song. New hymns and songs from Aotearoa New Zealand. 2009. Palmerston North. New Zealand Hymnbook Trust.

Advent 1A, 27.11.2016 Matthew 24:36-44

God Has Not Given Up On Us, We Can Have Hope!

Given what I suggest is a more helpful approach to liturgy, world view and life engagement it behooves me to argue that ‘seeing Advent as a penitential season is at best unfortunate and at worst a corruption of the gospel. Seeing it as a penitential season is the product of a seriously distorted and yet widespread understanding of Christianity: namely, that the central issue in our lives with God is our sinfulness (commonly understood as disobedience and/or failing to measure up to what God requires from us) and thus our need for repentance and forgiveness.

“Within this framework, that’s the reason Jesus was born. As the divinely-conceived Son of God, he was sent by God to be the perfect sacrifice, the payment for our sins, so that we can be forgiven. Provided, of course that we believe in him. Marcus Borg says that “That is a serious impoverishment of Christianity and Advent” (Marcus Borg, November 2013)

I want to suggest that our entry point to the idea of advent might be our own cultural exposure to advent and that we might start with the wonderful crimson bloom of the Pohutukawa. A pictorial start with the rich red flower dominating the NZ landscape heralding Advent in NZ. It is an already an established part of the New Zealand Christmas tradition. The iconic Kiwi Christmas tree, which often features on greeting cards and in poems and songs, has become an important symbol for New Zealanders at home and abroad, so why not our liturgical entry to Advent. I am not sure why or where it comes from but I can remember that some years the bloom was better than others and there was a tale that the early appearance or the reduced appearance of the rich red bloom signaled what sort of summer we would have. Maybe here we have the anticipation, the waiting of the traditional advent.

Another New Zealand story locates our advent in that the Pohutukawa and its cousin rata hold a prominent place in Maori tradition. Legends tell of Tawhaki, a young Maori warrior, who attempted to find heaven to seek help in avenging the death of his father. He fell to earth and the crimson flowers are said to represent his blood.

 

A gnarled, twisted Pohutukawa on the windswept cliff top at Cape Reinga, the northern tip of New Zealand, has become of great significance to many New Zealanders. For Maori this small, venerated Pohutukawa is known as ‘the place of leaping’. It is from here that the spirits of the dead begin their journey to their traditional homeland of Hawaiki. From this point the spirits leap off the headland and climb down the roots of the 800-year-old tree, descending into the underworld on their return journey. Maybe we have here the awareness of God in nature, an incarnational story that aligns with the story of the one called Jesus of Nazareth who is the human face of God for us. A place of leaping into the mystery, a place of connection, and a place where the human and the divine meet.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent. But unlike most of the northern hemisphere of our world, where the church liturgical calendar was first shaped, today is the first official day of summer. And summer in New Zealand is a natural time for celebration. Even in times of drought or flood. Even in the face of these there is new life and new growth to be seen, ripeness and richness, as plant and bush and tree display their many colours against the browning of the grasses. Nature is a gift in summer in New Zealand and we anticipate its arrival eagerly.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent.  And immediately we have another problem. Because the readings set down in the Lectionary for today have nothing whatsoever to do with our perceptions of either Advent or the coming season called Christmas. For instance, if we approach Matthew as a narrative, today’s reading comes about 9/10th of the way through the book… Closer to the end of the complete story than to the beginning. So it comes to us totally out of context.

Second, all the readings offered paint diverse pictures of a world quite different from ours today. And not only that, these stories or readings are not directed to a time thousands of years later – into our time, as seems to be assumed by those who shaped the Lectionary.

A far better place to start would be the beginning of Matthew, with the genealogy of Jesus. Where the best can come out of the worst. And the worst can come out of the best!

So what if anything are we to make of these stories? Perhaps process theologian John Cobb’s suggestions of a few years back can help. He says that those who have selected these passages “understand Advent to be the season of anticipation, of expectancy, and hope generally… [And] in all the texts the hope is grounded in faith in God” (Cobb. P&F Web site, 2004).

When we continue listening to John Cobb can we learn from and hear in these stories a number of things. We can acknowledge that we human beings are not good at predicting the future. We can appreciate that the actual course of history is far more ambiguous than are the visions that lure us forward. We can realize that even God does not control the future or know just what will happen. And we can hear also that the hope which keeps us going is far deeper and more fundamental to our faith than we realize. “Hope has survived repeated disappointments in the past.  It will survive many more in the future.  It will do so as long as we believe in the biblical God” (Cobb, P&F Web site, 2004).

But such a statement still needs clarification because it is radical to suggest that God is not in sole charge of everything. It is radical because as a statement it presupposes that God’s working in history does not displace the working of human beings, and this can be a bit of a shock to those who believe God is all-powerful! Or could ‘do something’ in various situations.

John Cobb explains his comment a bit more. And here the quote is a bit detailed so we need to listen carefully. “God works in hope for peace and justice, but the world turns to violence and oppression.  Still God’s work is not futile. Here and there it succeeds, encouraging the hope for wider and more inclusive success.

That success depends on our response to God’s invitation to share in the achievement of God’s purposes.  I have called this a co-creative engagement. And our hope depends on the assurance that God does not give up on us” (Cobb, P&F Web site, 2004).

Despite frustration and disappointment, we are still called to be a people of hope. For hope is what is handed down from mother to daughter to son, not merely as a package passed from one generation to another. But as hope which is alive in mother and daughter and which now lives in the child of the third generation.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent. A time of waiting… a time of change… a time of hope. Indeed, as I have already suggested, in none of the Three Year Lectionary stories set for the first Sunday during the season of Advent, are there stories “of babies or shepherds or stars or lullabies…

These [stories] are not literal accounts of real events but they are deep and rich stories that link civilizations in their archetypes and in their retelling. Their primary message is that the world, as we know it, is about to change.  Their message is ‘wake up, pay attention, and get ready… Strange words, but maybe we need something jarring to lift us out of our complacency and wake up to something new” (ETigner. “Twilight time. A sermon” First Cong. Church web site, 2009). So, in the face of waiting, of change, yet in the continuation of hope itself, we can tell other stories of a ‘continuing hope’. I want to tell you a couple that many of you have heard before, but like the Christmas biblical stories it bears retelling.

Our first story begins in Dresden, the German city that was devastated by the fire-bombing at the end of the World War 2, and then there was a wonderful discovery. They found in the ruins a musical score that had survived the fire and devastation.  It was the score to Albinoni’s ‘Adagio for Strings and Orchestra in B Minor’. In the midst of this devastation of war – the very worst that we do to each other – there survived something of the most beautiful that we create for each other. So the Albinoni piece became a sign of hope. And it has been used that way. But the story goes on……

During the siege of Sarajevo during the Balkans War, the city was shelled month after month, every single night. On one of those nights a group of people standing in line in front of a bakery were waiting to buy bread. A mortar shell fell right in the middle of them. Twenty-two people were killed. Innocent people. Hungry people.  Wanting to buy bread. A few days later, at the same spot, in front of the burned out bakery, a man named Vedian Smailovic placed a chair, and began to play his cello.

For 22 days he played his cello, one day in memory for each one of the people who had been killed at that spot. Just the gesture of playing music was wonderful, but what gave it deeper significance is that the music he played each day was ‘Adagio for Strings and Orchestra in B Minor’. Hope takes the story across the events that make up our lives and it lives on, ready for anything.

Our second story begins when God finished with Creation, It is said that God had a desire to leave something behind, just a small piece of divinity and wholeness so humans could experience this delight. But God was a bit of a trickster too, so this gift wasn’t to be too easy for human beings. God wasn’t sure, at first, where to put this special something, so God asked the other living things in creation.

Someone suggested in the stars and God replied, No, I have this feeling that one day humankind will explore space and they’ll find it. Someone else suggested hiding it in the depths of the ocean. God thought about it for a moment and answered, No, I also have a feeling that some-day humankind would explore the deepest places in the seas – that will also be too easy.

Then suddenly, God had it “I know where I’ll put this special something, a place where they will never look. I’ll hide it in them, they’ll never look there.” And so it was. And so it has been (FJMuir 2001:114).

Hope!  We have it.  Without it, we cannot live. Advent hope calls to us, lures us, to breathe, to pause, and to shake off the doldrums – and what seems to be our hardest task to live out of love rather than fear.

So in summary then, this Advent hope, first announced by angels to shepherds, “means that despite appearances violence and fear no longer need to control our history… those who would seek to determine history’s outcome through violence and war and even just the fear of it Our history tells us this, No-one wins a war so violence will never succeed… When the angels announced the coming of Christ to the shepherds their first words are ‘fear not'” (Northcott 2010:17).

So today in the baptism of little Sangita we have the opportunity to say to her ‘fear not and step into the mystery of life, the whole of life. We have the opportunity to say with her I fear not for love changes everything and so walk with us into a future filled with hope that transcends time and place and permeates the whole of life. Amen..

Notes: Muir, J. J. Heretics’ Faith. Vocabulary for Religious liberals. Annapolis: F. J. Muir, 2001. Northcott, M. S. Cuttlefish, Clones and Cluster Bombs. Preaching, Politics and Ecology. London: DL&T, 2010.