Archive for February, 2018

Discipleship

Posted: February 21, 2018 in Uncategorized

Lent 2B, 25.02.2017
Mark 8:31-38

Discipleship

This morning’s story by the one we call Mark, is a call to discipleship and it follows on to our last week’s attempt to find an alternative theology of Sin and evil. Last week I think I tried to suggest that self-deprecation and sacrifice and the doctrine of original sin were unhelpful when seeking a definition of sin for today and that acknowledging human limitation might be a better approach. Today we search the idea of suffering and we begin by saying that a call to follow Jesus is no easy thing. A response to the call requires intention, courage, determination and commitment, all those traditional things, and one of the things that makes this no easy matter is that over time and personal circumstance our understanding of what is easy or difficult has been to either a greater or a lesser degree part of our daily living. This says that mixed in with the call are several fragments on other issues. Renouncing of one’s family, one’s kin. Suffering and persecution. The cross, and ultimately, death. The summary of what we hear in the call and in the stories of the calling can be heard in the words: ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’

One of the outcomes of a tradition based on sacrifice and atonement is that with our post-modern western ears we read things out of context, and in, this particular invitation to discipleship we hear it as a glorification of suffering, and a docility of character. Without an accurate critique of the patriarchal setting of the text we slide into assigning blame to women, and an encouragement of the role of victim. Discipleship becomes a life of perpetual suffering especially for women and that’s ok because that’s how it is for followers of Jesus. Indeed, this is the way many people in the not too distant past, were encouraged to interpret this story. Because such a way of life is or was considered an imitation of ‘Christ’.

Now any thinking person has to see that such a reading or hearing is a distortion of the story.  Period. And this demands of us a teasing out of the text in an alternative way. Taking just two key themes in our text from Mark we find two issues. One is Suffering and the second is ‘The Cross’ but when we look carefully we see that Mark does not glorify either subservient behaviour or suffering. Neither is he issuing a general call to embrace suffering per se. What he does indicate is that one particular cause of suffering,
is persecution by the powers-that-be if you become a challenge to their authority, suffering is a very real possibility when one challenges the status quo and for those who have chosen to follow in the way of the humble Galilean, Mark’s call is to remain faithful to that way, and to the reign of God, in the face of persecution.

We need to remember here that the first century folk viewed suffering quite differently than we do. We reject suffering as a normal, everyday part of life. We should not suffer at all is our expectation. It is something to be changed or overcome as soon as possible. Even down to the Panadol-a-day to keep the headache away! But ancients viewed suffering as a normal, if unpleasant, part of life. It was part of the human lot, of everyday existence. And why wouldn’t it be! With at least 80% of the population living at subsistence level or below, with hunger and disease or being sold off into slavery, common experiences, high taxation a daily occurrence, and families in constant danger of losing their land to cover rising debt…

“That is how Rome managed it”, comments Stephen Patterson, New Testament scholar, and Fellow of the Jesus Seminar. “Rome’s purpose, especially in the provinces, was to suck up as many of the province’s resources as it could without provoking it into revolt or killing it off altogether.  It slowly siphoned the life out of places like Palestine.” (Patterson 2002:201)

It is no wonder that the ‘expendables’ (poor parents), then and now, train their children to be able to endure suffering, even to sacrifice it for a cause, for it becomes an important survival skill! To be able to die in the cause of living with it. So, Mark’s message that the in-breaking of God’s reign on earth, painting Jesus and his followers as having the power to end suffering and bring health, life and safety for all, was certainly very attractive. What story do we need to deal with suffering today? What is it anyway?

A brief look at the cross or crucifixion, is a look at a cruel, shameful, and legal means of execution. Anyone questioning Roman authority was, from the empire’s perspective, a potential and unnecessary troublemaker. And political authorities then, as many still do today, believed in pre-emptive action against all possible threats. The Iraq invasion could be claimed to be a good example of a preemptive strike poorly justified.

And let’s be clear the people of Jesus time would never have sung: “When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of glory died…” That is 17th/18th century middle-class piety. Neither would they have said: “It is her cross to bear”. Or that “God has given him a heavy cross”. Or that “You just have to accept it: it’s your cross”.

The reality was to take up your cross was specifically to pick up the cross beam and carry it out to the place of your execution, where you would be nailed or tied to it, and then hoisted up on to the upright pole or on to an olive tree stump. As Joanna Dewey has said on her website; “No ancient audience could miss the reference to execution, or think of the cross as a general reference to all human suffering…  Following Jesus (was) both blessing – the ending of much human suffering – and incurring new suffering at the hands of those who will do their best to destroy Jesus’ followers.”

So… the cross is not an exhortation to suffering in general. Why not? Because all forms of violence destroy life. Suffering and the cross as symbol was not even considered until much later for ‘Christian’ congregations. That didn’t happen until early in the 5th century and then thanks to Constantine, not Mark. And neither is it about sacrificial atonement or supernatural rescue. That is, when the cross is seen as the preordained means by which humankind is redeemed, In Marks time God is implicated in the death of Jesus not as fellow sufferer but as executioner. (Shea 1975:179)

What this claim is that the meaning of suffering and the cross are a general exhortation to remain faithful to the way of Jesus, in the face of persecution and even execution, by political authorities.  (Joanne Dewey) And that is Ian Cairns says is “the all-absorbing commitment par excellence!” (Cairns 2004:123)

The call to discipleship that Mark is talking about was a tough call because one’s life could depend on it. It is still a tough call but today it is more a cerebral call to participate in a journey that is composed of questions rather than with answers. Application of an educated mind is vital. A call to live with questions that demands integrity, honesty and candour. It’s a call to recognise ‘right behaviour’ (orthopraxis) or how one acts, rather than ‘right doctrine’ (orthodoxy). This is a call where what one believes but its demand is that what one believes is vitally important as it leads to practice. When one extrapolates that, it is a call to make forgiveness reciprocal without exacting penalties or promises. And it is a call to accept an invitation to be engaged in radical inclusive love of one’s neighbour.

Let’s be clear here; Mark’s 1st century story may have offered us some indicators – even resources for our 21st century struggle to be disciples, to be the church, in our time. But in reality, we will have to work it out for ourselves, and we have to do it together.

The challenges of discipleship for us today are tough not because we could face execution or banishment, it is tough because the human environment we live within is one where the answers are so complex and demand of us a more flexible understanding of order in what is now a collective systemic complexity. Our choices are greater than ever before in terms of what we do and how we do it, so much so that we cannot even contemplate including everything, if we ever could anyway, and this complexity and choice is going to become even more complex in the future. The challenge for us is that there is harmony, hope, peace and human enrichment in this scene if we want to look. The challenge and the blessing of discipleship is real and we cannot but find the sacred in this if we are to walk the Jesus Way.

One example of this complexity facing discipleship is what John Spong challenges the church with. He argues that religion is a business and it is used as a control mechanism We might see this happening in some places as the rise of Islamophobia. Islam has been turned into a scapegoat, a target at which we can direct all our fears and anger, and an excuse to invade other countries and create a more intense global national security state. But the truth is, just as Christianity can claim of itself, Islam has nothing to do with violence or terrorism. These manufactured fears are all part and parcel of a faithless response or as it is now called ‘false flag’ terrorism, which we can read more about on Facebook, in newspapers and many debates about the future if we are unfamiliar with the concept.

Spong affirms that “religion is always in the control business, and that’s something people don’t really understand. It’s in the guilt producing control business.” You will remember we spoke about that last week with that story about Mission in South America years ago when discovering a people who knew no fear about their living meant that fear had to be manufactured for the Christian mission of evangelization to even begin.

Spong also describes the problem with organization. Many churches still claim that there is something such as the true church, and along with that goes some ultimate authority. Many of us would accept that the idea that the truth of God can be bound in any human system by any human creed by any human book, is almost beyond imagination for us. For us God is not a Christian, God is not a Jew or a Muslim or a Hindu a Buddhist; all of those are human systems which human beings have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God. Most of us would also say that using fear to coax people into a certain way of life or belief system, has been part of our tradition and we are not comfortable with that.

Spong’s understanding of discipleship is that people need to accept responsibility for the world. If we simply leave global change in the hands of God, we remove our own responsibility and agency in this world. If we want to change the world, we have to do it. The Dalai Lama expressed this as well, arguing that it’s not enough to just pray. We must take responsibility for our planet.

One of the challenges we face is how we use the bible because we know we are dealing with texts that are very old, and when we consider what we do know about them and that there are multiple versions of various texts, all of which have likely been manipulated, changed, and distorted over the years, it becomes difficult to accept any one without question. Hence the challenge to live the questions as opposed to searching for answers.

Another point that is important for discipleship is hypocrisy. Many people claim ties to their faith yet know very little about its tenets, choosing rather to accept a popular leave it to God approach that denies critique and thus questions. This makes it easy to ignore the hard bits and choose the easy, not thinking approach, under the guise of an authentic supernatural faith. This is commonly seen within many so-called ‘spiritual’ movements as well, which can be seen as another form of religion in itself.

When it comes to religion, it is clear that we have to do your own research; we have to read the books and examine the teachings for ourselves. Use our own head and find what resonates with us instead of allowing ourselves to be indoctrinated and letting someone else do our thinking for us. The texts are open to interpretation and it’s up to us to find meaning in them and apply it to our life. I don’t think this is about whether there is a God or not because we can still believe in God and not be religious. What we are doing however is recognizing that Religion is a man-made construct. And, that has to be good!

We are also recognizing that Religions as organizations are going to have to change. New discoveries are constantly being made that are challenging long-held belief systems. We cannot grow if we refuse to have an open mind and accept new possibilities about the nature of reality, and it’s childish to hold on to old belief systems just because they are familiar. I want to leave it here with a quote that says; “It’s a mark of an educated person to be able to entertain an idea without accepting it.” And my adaption which is; that, it is the mark of a disciple to be seen to be humble, determined and committed to the building of a more complete humanity. Amen.

Notes:
Cairns, I. J. Mark of a Non-realist. A Contemporary Reading of the Second Gospel. Masterton. Fraser Books, 2004.

Patterson, S. J. “Dirt, Shame, and Sin in the Expendable Company of Jesus” in R. W. Hoover (Ed) Profiles of Jesus. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2002.

Shea, J. The Challenge of Jesus. Chicago. Thomas More Association, 1975.

rexae74@gmail.com

Article by Arjun Walia ‘Collective Evolution American Bishop Explains How Religion is Made-Up & Used to Control People

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‘A Journey Inwards’

Posted: February 13, 2018 in Uncategorized

Lent 1

‘A Journey Inwards’ 

William Blake wrote;

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand,
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an Hour…”
(William Blake)

On Wednesday 14 February we began the Lenten period in the Church calendar. On Wednesday the 14th we noted that it was also St Valentine’s Day and it is said that in 18th-century England, St Valentine’s Day evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards. For us as Christians since about the year 1000CE Ash Wednesday has been a day when people were marked with ashes of palm trees burnt the previous year. Ash Wednesday has been a day when worshippers gathered and were reminded of their sinfulness and mortality. The practice was not part of the protestant church practice for many years being swallowed up in the rejection of anything depicting iconography symbolic or not sustainable in reasoning.

The challenge we have this year is the timing. As Rex Hunt puts it; we have Love and sin all on the same day!! One might say ‘That’s life”. Life is all about choice, about discernment and decision, about the richness and beauty always at risk of the choices we make in our attempts to understand and live within the randomness of existence. Lent for the Christian church is associated with the story of the Jewish Galilean sage called Jesus, and his 40-day stay or testing in the desert wilderness. The location of this event upon which the tradition is based happened at the beginning of his brief public activity in the north-west corner of the Galilee, in the early Roman Empire, sometime between the years 26-36CE.

Today we are challenged to reflect on what we are symbolically alluding to in the period we call lent and we as Progressive Contemporary followers of Jesus do this by not accepting a simple call to public self-abasement, as the means of acknowledging our struggle with the paradoxical juxtaposition of love and sin. We do not see that an act of sacrifice is a loving act because we struggle with the idea that that sort of exchange is what Jesus lived for. We want to acknowledge our limitedness as a human being but we also want to find a way of unfolding what that means without having to accept that we are now all bad and in need of outside intervention to make us good. That idea might be a means of projecting away what we have traditionally called our sinfulness, or the result of original sin but it does not give priority to the belief that a human being is essentially good and the task is to live that goodness as opposed to spending all our efforts on dealing with our sinfulness. Note that original sin comes after the creation of goodness so perhaps someone couldn’t deal with the fact that humans are essentially good so we have to explain the things we do wrong. It has to be said however that we progressives are still trying to get our heads around the same question. We all accept that we are biological animals and that we have a finite life span, but we don’t really like it, so having original sin as a panacea we can blame our death on our behaviour.

Leaping back to our story of Jesus and his response which was to go into the desert for 40 days, I think, maybe his trip was to get his head around this question of human purpose and human response, to think about his world where Roman world view was dominant and his people’s response was consumed with its ability to deal with this oppressive living existence. Reconcile with what it means to be human, reflect on what responses were manifesting and repentance or more correctly turn around the juggernaut of the popular responsive mode of being might have been his need. He is faced with a Culture that is not based in love but rather fear, nor in a responsible confidence but rather a fear driven responsibility. And what does this action that he took look like? He is said to have gone into the desert. What does that mean? His location is very easily imaged as being all desert with some small pockets of vegetation. What was the difference between their town and the desert? There must have been some distinction between desert and non-desert that was significant. But having accepted that our image might not be completely accurate we can for the sake of some idea look at our contemporary understanding of a desert and what better than just next door in Australia.

They have ten named deserts, the largest being the Great Victoria Desert which crosses the border into both Western Australia and South Australia. It is over 800 kilometers wide and covers an area of 348,750 square kilometers. In total the ten deserts cover nearly 1.4 million square kilometers or 18% of the Australian mainland and approximately 35% of the Australian continent receives so little rain it is effectively desert.

So, taking that image and exploring the experience of Jesus in the wilderness we look for the evidence of utter isolation and uninhabitable place and our image of a parched earth with its cracks and its groaning under the blazing sun across the wide land. And we find the desert in its colours and in Australia’s case its redness, we find it in its fickle dust that permeates everything we touch. We breathe it, taste it and it enters every personal space including our eyes. It takes over our lives.

However, there is another picture here as well. The perception of what a desert wilderness area is, varies greatly. It depends on the different exposures people have to nature and the ‘great outdoors’. To a person living on the coast, the desert is often dry and arid and dusty. A place without life. But for desert dwellers in Australia’s ‘outback’, it has a compelling fascination, as a place vibrant with life.

The spinifex which we have sung about in some hymns out of Australia, are blue grey with amber glints. They look soft but they are prickly and hard. They survive tenaciously because no grazing animal can eat them out or destroy their roots. Here is the seed of a picture that says that it may look as if nothing can live in the desert, but underneath the spinifex, the desert creatures leave their tracks in the red sand. Life may not stir all day, but come night… lizards, mice, and the rare animals of the desert live their delicate but vastly tough lives in this harsh habitat.

One of the learnings is that a desert is what one sees at first glance but at another look it is transformed. What seems barren, uninhabited, desolate – even hostile because it lacked the visible plants and animals of our experience can be seen differently. Seen differently the wilderness environment can be ‘very romantic, beautifully formed by nature’
as well as ‘the worst country in the world’: “… an ‘alien landscape’, where nature was ‘upside down’ and flora and fauna were so unnervingly weird”.

This raises the contradiction of perspective, first glance, and of time for reflection. So, when it comes to lent there is the suggestion that it is a very real time where we can once again, in an intentional way, seek out the present-ness of the sacred lurking in the most unlikely of places, the sacred is waiting to be uncovered, found, and embraced. If we only see the desert as a place of harsh, relentless isolation and a place where people face despair and animals die of thirst, then the desert experience will always be an alien danger. So too our expectations of lent and of any intentional reflection and of any intentional cleaning out of the cupboard of our past.

A Zen teacher said to his students: ‘If you raise a speck of dust, the nation flourishes, but the elders furrow their brows. If you don’t raise a speck of dust, the nation perishes, but the elders relax their brows.’

If we listen to cosmologists they say we are made from dust—essentially stardust. We are all connected—biologically and spiritually—with planet Earth and with all its ‘other than human’ beings.

And echoing the words of William Blake, a former professor of biology at the University of Washington, John Palka, suggests: “To see a world in a grain of sand—to peer so deeply into the nature of any one thing that the riches of the Universe begin to be revealed—that to me is the essence of science as a quest. Not as a profession or a career, not as a niche in complex modern society, but as a quest for understanding one’s deepest nature.”  (John Palka. 15/11/2015. Nature’s Depths)

Rex Hunt suggests that our Zen teacher probably had a different thought in mind. To raise a speck of dust is to stir up goodness, struggle for justice, speak up for those who stutter or do not speak the languages of power, band together to stand resolutely and non-violently before evil and refuse to be absorbed into it or intimidated by it. For progressive Christians lent is not a time of sorry self-deprecation. We are not helped by that perspective. For us lent can be a time when, in positive and intentional ways, our focused actions can enable others to flourish. When our selfless actions seep into the world
‘like the scent of perfume distilled in the air’… encouraging and giving fresh heart to those around us, and strengthening the bonds of community.

Judging from what we know of Jesus, he is remembered as undermining popular religious wisdom, strongly encouraging his hearers to take a second look at the traditions that helped them make their way in the world. And with a storyteller’s imagination,
he set people free from images and ideas and religious practices that bound them into fear, and a false sense of separation from the spirit of all life. Wilderness and thus reality are not what they seem, take time and look again. Amen.

Notes:
Alves, R. A. The Poet The Warrior The Prophet. Edward Cadbury Lectures. London. SCM Press/Trinity Press International, 1990.
Galston, D. Embracing the Human Jesus. A Wisdom Path for Contemporary Christianity. Salem. Polebridge Press, 2012.
Hedrick, C. W. The Wisdom of Jesus. Between the Sages of Israel and the Apostles of the Church. Eugene. Cascade Books, 2014.
McRae-McMahon, D. Rituals for Life, Love and Loss. Paddington. Jane Curry Publishing, 2003.
rexae74@gmail.com

 

Transfiguration B, 2018
Mark 9: 2-9

‘Unsettled into the fulness of Life!’

Meister Eckhart, the 12th century mystic proclaimed, ……We are all meant to be mothers of God……… for God is always needing to be born. For those of us nurtured in the patriarchal phase of Christian history that is an unsettling comment. Some of us have moved on to be able to be comfortable with the feminine images and metaphor for God but many of us are still unsettled by it. A few of you noted we had a hymn with the line mothers of God recently. But when you think about where we have been since Christmas the unsettling challenges haven’t stopped. We have not long celebrated Christmas where Holy innocence has led to Jesus being born and 12 days later, on Epiphany, we celebrated his physical arrival, a much-awaited incarnation called forth by ages of invocation and prophecy. Christmas carols lift the refrain, “Christ was born to save!” And then, Eckhart comes along with, “God is always needing to be born.” As 2018 unfolds, this teaching is a prompt for us. What role will we play as mothers of God? The other question I think that lies here is what do we understand as the transfiguration?

The English poet and song writer Sydney Carter in his poem Friday Morning in the mid-1960s wrote, “you can blame it on Adam, you can blame it on Eve, you can blame it on the apple, but that I can’t believe”. This was a very typical reaction to much Christian thinking in the 1960s. This was when people such as Bishop John A T Robinson wrote many popular books on theology in the hope some would see that there was a constant need for fresh formulations of the reality of God. Then, from the late 1980s through to now, this work is being carried on by others like John Shelby Spong, another Anglican bishop.

I want to wrestle with the transfiguration idea today because I think that today’s gospel story by Mark is about one of those ‘but that I can’t believe’ incidents, full of myth and pre-modern images. I suggest wrestling because the idea of transfiguration is one idea for which there are very few postmodern images. All the searches I made this week for images to use on the power point ended up with traditional images of Jesus with some sort of halo or burst of light around him. There were a few new age type images but they were all either centered on the human form or on the cosmos. None seemed to speak to me of a postmodern transfiguration whatever that is.

Our story from Mark is a so-called incident in the life of Jesus called the Transfiguration or Shining. As a story it is very imaginative. Storyteller Mark says Jesus and some of his closest friends climb to the top of a mountain. Immediately we hear a connecting link to other existing ‘hero’ stories. Going to the top of a mountain is a common thing in Israel’s stories. Because mountains are regarded as ‘thin places’- when God, the Divine, the Sacred – can be experienced. I happen to like that idea of thin places because it speaks to me of some place that is neither here nor there. It is a least a portal between idea and event. They climb to the top of a mountain. They enjoy the magnificent views. They breathe deeply the fresh air. This experience recharges their flagging spirits and re-sensitizes their imaginations. They are refreshed by Creativity God. Then out of the blue, pious Peter attempts to secure this experience in some tangible way: ‘Let’s build our own chapel, he says and you, Jesus, can be our private chaplain’. But as our storyteller says, a booming voice puts paid to that bad idea. Says something about preserving buildings doesn’t it.

Ched Myers, has an interesting comment: he says “After all, in Mark the true impediments to discipleship have nothing to do with physical impairment, but with spiritual and ideological disorders…”. Or, as another on the Process and Faith website has said: “Because of their relationship with Jesus, Peter, James, and John experience a walk up a mountainside in an exciting and enlivening way.  Because they have allowed themselves to see life through Jesus’ eyes, however fleetingly and partially, they have come to know God in new ways and to see Jesus as the vehicle for that new knowing. Once again, the hand or pen of the storyteller is there. After coming to know God in new ways and of seeing Jesus as the vehicle for that new knowing, the storyteller reminds them and us they are to climb down from the top of the mountain. They are to refresh others as they have been refreshed by God. Or in other words, they are to move from a private refuge (chapel) to a public presence (community).

So, how can we approach this mythical, supernatural story from Mark today? Rex Hunt suggests we can do it two ways. One with a historical question… like ‘How/where did this happen?’ or we can approach it with a theological question… such as ‘What connections can we make to this story?’ For me I think I would want to start close to the second question, but before we do I want to bring in another thought. This time about a transfigured community.

Soong-Chan Rah, a theologian and seminary professor who is committed to freeing spiritual communities from what he calls, “Western Cultural Captivity.” writes, “Lament is honesty before God and each other”. He asks, “should we not be concerned over a church that lives in denial over the reality of death in our midst?”  As readers of “Progressing Spirit,” and earlier posts by Bishop Spong”, he says, “we are not blind to the death around us – the extinction of species, government’s termination of life-affirming policies, and the archetypal display of patriarchy in its last gasps. While so much of labouring to birth God begins inwardly, as individuals, it is what we do together that makes our beliefs visibly alive in the world. This is tough when the dominant system rewards us for our ability to do things without needing any help – some people thrive on this, and some give up entirely, hoping that others will find a magical way forward. But these, “Independence Teachings,” are written nowhere in the sacred texts that we know. Moreover, Earth’s teachings repeatedly show us the brilliant interdependency that sustains us all – trees needing CO2, and mammals needing oxygen – as the most obvious example.

After winter’s snow and ice, rivers of water and muddy, sloppy mush precede the return of firm earth, gardens and leaves. Our communities are only as strong as the transparency and vulnerability we entrust to them. So, we are left with the question: How will our spiritual community resolve, this year, to acknowledge the mess? How will we create a very intentional time and space for lament…and then to mindfully respond? Our knowledge of ourselves says that when our anguish is fully met, we see our passions and convictions more clearly; more love becomes possible. Love = God being born. Mothers of God we become. Unsettled we might be with this and rightly so because as Lauren Van Ham suggests, none of us knows how our story with Earth is to evolve or find its end for that matter; but it is in this paradoxical space of wrestling and finding blessing that our spiritual paths are formed. Somehow, we know the Love that comes from this wrestling with unsettling — the divine Love that is in us, and for us, wants us to be in Love.

As 2018 evolves, we might ask ourselves how we perceive God needing to be born? When we’re clear about what isn’t working, we are asked to imagine what we do want and Van Ham asks us to consider three practices: The first is stopping for Stillness, the second is daring to feel and sharing our Laments in Community, and then the third is Wrestling – not for the perceived reward of winning – but rather to receive the unimaginable flow of Earth’s Love that is in us, for us and beyond us, calling us to God who is always needing to be born!

So What connections can we make to this story. Well I hope we have already made some but let’s go deeper, so to speak. It seems that at least one of things being suggested in this story by the one we call Mark, is that it is saying something important about God. And we have acknowledged that, that something is not about any so-called supernatural power or event. That’ is the 1st century mythical and cultural encompassed story for Marks hearers. The key however is I think, that God is to be ‘experienced’ as a creative transforming presence in ordinary people’s lives. Not by coercion and power over, but rather by lure and suggestion and imagination. As Jesus was transfigured or ‘changed’ before Peter, James, and John, God’s so-called ‘will’ (to use tradition language) is to transform us in the everyday moments of our lives.

So, how does this happen?  In very personal-sounding traditional language one colleague of Rex Hunt suggests: If our deepest experience is loneliness, it is the will of God to transform us from loneliness to human connectedness. If our deepest feeling is fear and anxiety, then God wishes to move us creatively past that, to love and to trust. What he is suggesting is that God wants to move us beyond the meaninglessness of life to the intensity of living, characterized by joy and by vitality. To a new level of depth in our existence that will provide joy and zest and empowerment.

There is good news in this story for 21st century ‘even for post-moderns’ like us,
despite all the mythical baggage. And the good news is, our God or Divine energy is not aloof and detached, but rather works like the new metaphor of an expert weaver. Continuing the metaphor, God uses the fibers of our lives, weaving them into beautiful, powerful garments of love and creativity. And as it is with us, individually, so too is it with us, as church or faith community. It is the creative transformation of God that wants to move congregations beyond being a cozy club with ‘feel good’ attitudes, to being people at mission who meet and serve others where they are. So, if we are to continue to be the inclusive people of faith we say we are, we might need to be people who are continually and radically open to the creative, transforming present-ness of God…

The Jesus Way is inviting us to a better way of being the church. Not because it has been wrong in the past but because the divine invitation is about our refreshment and it will unsettle us. Once again John Shelby Spong sums this up well: “God, the source of life, calls us to live fully.  God, the source of love, calls us to love wastefully.  God, the Ground of Being, calls us to have the courage to be ourselves.  So, when we live, love, and have the courage to be, we are… expanding our humanity”. What God refreshes, unsettles, and changes, God or The Divine Spirit or Energy does so with and through us.

So, leaving the last word to Jack Spong. “The mission of the Christian Church is not to convert the world, but to call all who are also part of the creation into the fullness of life”

Amen.

Notes:
Myers, C. 2008. Binding the Strong Man. A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus. Special edition. New York. Maryknoll. Orbis Books.
Spong, J. S. 1999. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. A Bishop Speaks to Believers in Exile. New York. HarperSanFrancisco.
Spong, J. S. 2001. A New Christianity for a New World. Why Traditional Faith is Dying and How a New Faith is Being Born. New York. HarperSanFrancisco.

rexae74@gmail.com