‘A New Perspective’

Posted: August 8, 2017 in Uncategorized

‘A New Perspective’

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28       Matthew 14:22-33

Last week’s readings were about the blessing found beyond personal suffering. The claim that even the most disastrous person circumstances are overcome by God’s blessing. This week’s readings take this a further step in that they are about God’s safekeeping of fallible, wayward, and mortal humanity. Here is the presence of God’s grace for the collective, the community and the nation, in fact for humanity in the big picture. At the individual level God responds to all who call upon God. God in fact desires to save persons in distress; in this we can trust or have faith. This week however we need to ponder the circuitous routes of salvation or wholeness and the reality that not all prayers for deliverance appear to be answered – violence still takes the lives of innocents, often through the machinations of religious zealots; young children still die of cancer; homes are still foreclosed forcing families to depend on the mercy of strangers; and pleas for rescue from domestic violence still go unnoticed. In the bigger picture these can be discarded as just a biological reality or a human animalistic reality but I want to explore this bigger picture, seeking a third way that is in the collective, in the humanity picture because I think this trust or faith takes on a new dimension there.

We are again reminded of Jacob and his family in this week’s Hebraic scripture reading. We are again reminded of this dysfunctional family, headed by a narcissistic parent. Perhaps, Jacob can’t help it; but the child of his later years is his favourite. He treats him with greater affection and gives him more opportunities to shine and grow than his brothers, and they are rightfully angry. Perhaps, Jacob sees himself in his youngest son; and Joseph has an intuitive sense that mirrors his father’s experiences of the Holy and a cocky attitude that mirrors his own youthful self-confidence. Some of Josephs later arrogance highlights this. To make matters worse, Joseph knows he is the favourite, and lacks the maturity to filter his dream-sharing as they relate to his brothers.

The brothers conspire to kill the favoured son. But, they don’t go through with it, instead selling him into slavery which appears preferable to killing him. The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once said that God’s aim in any given situation is the “best for that impasse” and this “best” may not always be very good. Contextually, sometimes our level of previous choices, spiritual maturity and ethical understanding limits our possible courses of action. Sometimes no truly ‘good’ decision is possible; simply the least damaging one. This again highlights the application of individualism to all things. Sometimes it doesn’t fit, and we need another dimension. Justice for the individual is sometimes in conflict with justice for the collective.

Jacob survives and eventually saves his family. He grows through his experiences and overcomes his alienation. “In all things God works for good,” as Paul notes in Romans 8. God was moving through this less than optimal decision to bring forth future decisions and actions by Jacob, such that what his brothers aimed for as revenge or an act of evil evil, God turned to good. (Genesis 50:20) While not agreeing to the interventionist God assumptions we can recognize the evolutional reality here.

When we go to Psalm 105 from our lectionary readings we find it is a hymn to God’s deliverance of Israel. God is at work in the details of lives, large and small, to secure people’s well-being. God’s rescue and ongoing inspiration of Joseph enabled the Israelites to flourish in the centuries ahead. Simplistically we can say God chooses all, but works in each person’s life to realize God’s Shalom in our world. Here again we have the inference that the part of the individual has a collective element to it. We are never alone even when we think we are. Our revenge has consequences that are not simply a solely focused outcome. The act is always consequentially far reaching. God’s Shalom is not just ours.

To add to this from our Romans readings we recall the saying that; “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” We know that this passage has led to a variety of interpretations, some of which implied that God only loved some of God’s children, predestined others to damnation, or that those who don’t explicitly believe are left out of God’s plan and will suffer the consequences of divine abandonment. The passage raises many possible interpretations, inclusive and exclusive in nature. It can and has been viewed primarily as a doctrinal litmus test, defining those who are in or out, but it can be viewed more inclusively, if taken in its fullest context, the salvation of both Jew and Gentile. It can be interpreted holistically to embrace the confession of our lives as well as our words and this lifts it from just a reasoned basis.

While we can’t fully ascertain Paul’s exact intention, the passage seems to say that salvation and wholeness are for all people and all nations and not exclusive to religious and ethnic Jews. This is a radical statement that challenges any parochial images of God or divine favoritism because it claims that God favours all people. Moreover, all who call upon God will be saved. Any who ask for divine help, even if they lack words or theology, will be welcomed into God’s realm. This again is an expansion of the individual call and the promise.

Again, this is also the claim like that which Paul makes; that faith and action go together. As the Quakers say, “let your life speak.” Our lives are our testimonies to our faith. Apart from love, doctrine is lifeless; faith without works is dead; doctrine without welcome is destructive. We might also say yes and when we confess our faith in our daily living we change the world. When we do good, wonders happen that are not personal or limited to just who we are but rather they change nations directions, they transform communities and it doesn’t even stop there.

This week’s gospel begins with Jesus at prayer. Here we have action leading to contemplation in the rhythm of faith and personal well-being. After transforming – by what means we don’t know – after transforming, which appears as an act of the individual’s effort, something new emerges, something huge takes place, a few loaves and fish become a banquet and a day of preaching and teaching, Jesus then retires to a quiet place to commune with God. It is important and true that our worship involves the private aspects of faith but it also requires the public connection. We need to gather as a community and to reach out to the world; we also need to be still and listen for God’s voice in stillness, in the still small voice, as well as maelstrom of daily events.

From silence Jesus goes into action, riding the waves to meet his followers. Once again, they are afraid of the storm. Jesus reassures them that all will be well, inspiring Peter to jump out of the boat. As long as Peter looks to Jesus, he can walk on water. The moment he is overcome by fear, he sinks. When he cries out, seeking salvation, Jesus rescues him, without judgment or recrimination. “Help” or “Save me” are sometimes triggers to the all-important vulnerability that keeps us true and faith-filled. Today’s readings invite us to look to God for our salvation, deliverance, and wholeness. Here again this is more than belief. more than a therapy of comfort. It is not about blindly accepting an idea and moving on. When we keep our eyes on the human Jesus, we gain perspective on life and see the storms and trials of life in terms of the collective and communal movements in our lives and not expect the impossible infallibility of our individualistic efforts. We are never alone. In traditional language, our prayers touch the heart of God, and receive God’s response in the midst of life’s often challenging and difficult moments. Opening to our God gives us an understanding of the nature of reality and a way of approaching that reality especially in situations we cannot change.

I want to summarize what I think I am arguing for by getting a bit technical because as always, I want to try to place my argument in the realm of philosophy and science as well as the biblical story. I try this because I am convinced that all things must gel for us to be on the right path. Or in other words all thinking needs to be inclusive of the whole or at least critiqued by it. I want to quote something from Peter Todd’s book The Individuation of God because I think it helps with a picture of the cosmic, complete co-creative relationship between God and Man. And it provides I think the argument that consciousness in a collective form is as Todd puts it the organizing principle. To help with this it might be seen that Teilhard de Chardin saw this clearly when he saw that evolution has become both conscious of itself and directed, manifesting the very self-organizing mechanisms that sustain its upward and forward movement.

An example of this perhaps is that when someone like a friend of St David’s loves the old brick building so much as to pour copious amounts of energy or dollars into saving it, it is not just about the building. It is not just limited to the way in which each brick clings to another. There is a symbolic meaning that is encoded in the structure as a whole that transcends any understanding of the composition of the bricks and mortar. Thats why the ‘must be saved’ becomes the ‘will be saved’. It is a historical and theological belief encoded as information in its structure. A friend of St David’s might be deluded when it comes to their theological justification but they are not unconscious. As Pribam puts it ‘Through consciousness we become related to each other and to the biological and physical universe and just as gravity relates material bodies so consciousness relates sentient bodies.

Just to leap off again, this suggests to me that the whole seemingly frightening world of artificial intelligence, of robots that think and play like humans is not knew. It is merely another manifestation of this God, human relationship, even if perhaps there is still some way to go to understand what our being human really is. And to go back to an earlier sermon and my suggestion about the so-called demise of the church and of religion as just a further evolution of this God man relationship, engaging in a more collective realm like that of the collective consciousness.

To suggest another example to hopefully explain what I mean we might suggest that this more than the individual, this sense of a collective consciousness is sadly challenged by the heritage people who just want to save a building because it has aesthetic merit, not because that is bad but rather because it is a limited approach. It is an attempt to cling to classic physics and ideas that are no longer adequate treatment of the phenomena of what we understand life and consciousness to be today. In fact to do this in a post quantum mechanical era such indulgences are both scientifically slothful and deceitful, because quantum laws demand an internalist understanding of matter and in particular life and Biosystems. In other words what we know about the place of buildings in human life is distorted when we only see bricks and mortar.

Like the blessing Jacob receives beyond all his behaviour and his view of life there is a collective dimension, a collective consciousness, where no one is alone, no one is abandoned, no one is isolated but rather interdependent, interrelated and this is a place of co-creation, a place where science and religion are one, and as Todd might say a place where there is the individuation of God and I would argue a place where we are at one with our God. Amen.

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