‘Being Christian Today’

Posted: September 26, 2017 in Uncategorized

‘Being Christian Today’

Micah: 6: 6-8            Matthew 21: 23-32

Over the last few weeks we have been engaged in a liturgical season known as the Creation Season and most of the season has been focused on the creation of what we know as Christianity. We have look at the scriptures as a whole and we have conformed our understanding of them as a library or a collection of writings developed from an oral culture and that the topic of these writing has been a search for the historical Jesus. We have looked at the earliest known writings and asked of them questions about what Jesus might have said and done that set in motion what we now know as Christianity. In that brief journey, we have discovered that we do not know a lot about Jesus and what he said and did but we have also discovered again that what he said and did resonated so strongly with the people of his time that they shaped their lives on his sayings and actions. We have also discovered that in doing this they set in place amazing opportunities for people to take his story and make it their own, sometimes they read too much into the story and at other times not enough but what has been enduring is that they gleaned motivation, were encouraged to engage in life and were convinced that change was possible with confidence, conviction and dignity.

Our reading from Micah is interesting in that Micah was one of the minor Prophets of Ancient Judaism whose stories fluctuated between prophesies of doom and gloom and prophesies of restoration. Our reading is one of those where Micah questions the efficacy of making a sacrifice. He asks whether or not the offering of a new born calf or thousands of rams and lots of oil are enough when what he understands as important is to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. There is something in there about what is important, tradition, doing it right, being a strong church organization as opposed to doing justice, loving kindness as a primary value and living life with humility.

Our reading from Matthew seems to be saying also that it is more important to get on with living the values as opposed to arguing which are right and wrong. We could say that its more important to live as though goodness and kindness and love are the way of living as opposed to defining who is good or bad and who is kind and loving. The new reformation is that ‘being a Christian’ is the outcome of a liberating, transforming community and not because one is identifiable as a member of an organization.

Last week we watch a short clip where Richard Rohr, a Catholic Franciscan invited us to see that this reformation is a reformation in understanding and it is already taking place. I think he was saying that this new understanding of spirituality is underway and what was needed was a new organizational and social construct of community and that this community was to be non-denominational, non-traditional and functional as opposed to structural. Perhaps a way of saying this better would be to say that new models of ministry anchored in and born out of a liberating, transformative faith community are what will bring about a reformed Jesus Way.

What he said was what we have been saying for some time but perhaps without wanting to prescribe the new as much. We have said that we need a new understanding of what might be termed the ‘Eternal Reality we call God’, a new meaning of community that is not simply the gathering of people but the gathering of ideas, the idea of what gathering means that includes the social media gatherings in the ether, and valuing the cohesion of ideas in new ways. This will include the reconstruction of language and symbols used in communication. Perhaps the idea of a language that differentiates between what is fake and what has been verified and how it has been verified?

All of the above sounds far too complex to get one’s head around so I have borrowed from an article by Les Switzer a journalist, academic clergyperson who has written books, articles and essays on expressions of faith community. He suggests 9 things that might be helpful in defining what it means to be Christian today. These nine things are not definitions but rather approaches to their use. Approaches or actions of humility, storytelling, meaning, forgiving and healing, speaking. discipling. empowering praying and simplifying. I will try to fill these out a little so that we can talk about them more.

Religious humility – No one person has all the answers and no one religious system can encompass the Eternal. In other words, humility is about living the questions, about living with uncertainty, knowing that the difference we find in our reality are not to be feared because all is of the divine, the each of us is a reflection of the divine. If our understanding is that to be human is to be the universe seeing itself, then as followers of the Jesus Way is to emulate the divinely human Jesus in the idioms of today’s culture. Or in other words, love oneself, love one’s enemies and emulate God who is love. Walk humbly with God.

Religious narrative – The important narratives in life are not the biggest ones nor the smallest ones, they are not the ones about faith or belief, they are about being the good shepherd, being the manifestation of loving, and this narrative or story is not about being literally true or untrue but rather about enhancing, unfolding and displaying the complexity of living. And at the core of the purpose of these narratives is being good for family, friendship, community and good for those who don’t seem to fit our preferences. In other words, the literal is a tool of narrative as opposed to the authority of it. The more important aspect of the narrative may be the metaphorical, poetic, and the imaginative.

Scripture – Scripture or the holy bible is the invitation to meaning and not about historical fact or literal truth. Our interpretation of scripture like our reading of church doctrine and tradition, our personal religious experiences and our rational understanding of these experiences are part of an ongoing, unfinished, incomplete conversation. Just as we have discovered with the bible that began with oral sayings and ended up in a canon all scripture is far from permanent, and infallible. It is a living and in our case a collection of experience.

Forgiveness and healing – First of all we need to forgive for our own sake. True forgiveness is a selfish act. Why? Because it sets us free from the bondage of our past and allows us to get on with our living. It is primarily for us, created by us and serves us in our living. Not as some sort of pretense that nothing is wrong, nor that it provides a new platform from which to begin again but rather because it only becomes real when we discover that we have already absolved our offender, we discover that there is no sufficient reason to hold the other accountable and in that discovery, we see that we have already begun the healing process by letting go of our hurt. We have changed and the transformation of the community has begun. People begin to wonder how, why and their amazement challenges it. This reminds us that one of the components of forgiveness is the intent within it. It its service of the self it engages with the community. Our actions in transforming ourselves transform our community.

Speaking or Language – A crucial part of the co-creative partnership with the divine is what comes out of our mouth. If we believe that human beings are made in the image of God and that God is more than an anthropomorphic creation then we are bound to explore the relationship with the divine and our language becomes a crucial part of creativity. In brief, the divine image resides in part in our ability to speak. How we choose to use this divine power or energy is of ultimate experience. What we say matters and spreading destructive gossip, lies and unsubstantiated rumour, or even false praise, is to belittle conversation as a creative act. The ninth commandment of the Jewish tradition reminds us that this is not new, ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour’.

Discipling – It is probably risky to use this traditional word because of the traditional baggage it comes with but there is a need to maintain a word or a concept of walking the Jesus Way or following Jesus that is more than just our human action Walking the Jesus Way is more than doing something. It is also being someone, a new being, an alternative expression of what it means to be human. Les Switzer talks about the essence of discipling as letting go of the familiar and walking away, be careful with what you are comfortable with, get outside your zone, read the book that is not where you are at, live in the present but always look for ways to serve others and to help make the world a better place.

Empowering – Here we have perhaps the most difficult response. Difficult because it is perhaps the manifestation of all of the above, the rubber meeting the road, the situation in life. It is also hard because it begins with assumptions. The assumptions that empowering is required because there are powerless who need empowering. There are suffering who need empowering to free themselves. Here is the need for humility to avoid the assumption of knowing it all, the need to listen to empathise, the need to draw together the information that informs the strategy needed, the need to ask who it is that benefits from the empowering, is it the suffering or is it oneself and where is the balance in that? Here is the need for the conversation to put into action all the above and to begin to raise liberating and empowering options. In simple terms, one has to avoid living with a can-do attitude and a can fix it culture because that in itself creates a negative for the powerless and a helpless victim. It re-stigmatises and re-victimizes the suffering. The empowering approach requires the valuing of compassion, not as giving money and time to causes, there is an imbalance in favour of oneself in the benefit of this sort of compassion. We end up with the power rather than the suffering one. We need to go to the root of the word compassion and to begin with the idea that compassion means to suffer with, to embrace the powerlessness of the victim. It is less about doing anything and more about being with and feeling with the one who is suffering.

Two more to go.

Praying – Prayer is a conversation with ourselves, a non-verbal act that is about being open to the God within in silence, in love, in the natural world, and in the sense that we should pray without ceasing. In this way prayer is a contemplative, meditative, engagement not with anything but in oneself, a state of awareness of self, and of one’s engagement with the world.

The last is simplifying – This is more about attitude to life than making it easier or dumbing down. A simple life is that which arises out of living intentionally as if the Kingdom of God, to use traditional words is already here and now. When Micah asks; what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? He is reminding the reader that all of the above can be summed up in that sentence. Justice, kindness and humility and we might say that they are the attributes of a liberating, transforming community that walks the Jesus Way. Amen.

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