Yes! To Life…

Posted: April 3, 2018 in Uncategorized

Easter2B, 2018
John 20:19-23

Yes! To Life…

It is the evening of the first day of the week, and the doors are closed.
Locked. The anxious and fearful disciples are shut tightly inside. The suspicious world is shut tightly outside. Then, all of a sudden, defying locked doors, locked hearts,
locked vision… A dead faith is re-created.  A dead hope is born again. Is it all over? Is he dead? What of his message now that he is gone? What next?

We can recognize these questions as questions born out of fear and we know that fear is a very powerful thing in our lives. It prompts us to seek protection in times of very real danger. It saves us from harm and it motivates us into needed changes and surprising adventures. It serves as a constant reminder that we are fragile, limited, human beings.

On the other side of these impulses, we also know fear also prompts us to ‘close the doors of our lives’ to hide from the mystery and wonder of the unknown and to run into places of isolated hiding. Here is the challenge to see that doubt and questioning is motivated by fear, fear of the unknown and fear of the mysterious and the different. Fear if the stranger who challenges the status quo or the comfortable. There are very few emotions that are stronger than fear. And we know that the response is not to banish fear itself because we can’t but it is about what we do next. It is how we handle fear that matters.

We are in the period of Easter, the period in our Christian year when we confront the tragedy of the cross, not as a wonderful gift of sacrifice by one who died for our sin but as a wonderful person of insight, understanding and compassion and then we come to the empty tomb, the horrible truth of execution, of cultural extermination, of social and corporate power is replaced by utter fear for the future. The grave clothes prove he is forever gone. What next? Voices from beyond arrive and the doors are closed for fear of the unknown. We are left wondering whether Jesus’ followers, were afraid of death
he is gone, or terrified of life, what next? Is this resurrection both a wonderful and a terrifying thing?

Leonardo Boff, a liberation theologian from Brazil, in one of his articles says:
‘Wherever, in mortal life, goodness triumphs over the instincts of hatred, wherever one heart opens to another, wherever a righteous attitude is built and room is created for God, there the Resurrection has begun’. And retired Melbourne Uniting Church minister, Dr Francis Macnab, offers this Easter prayer: “God, on this Easter morning, help us to say
Yes to life, Yes to a new beginning, Yes to the presence that gives us courage
for whatever is ahead of us.” (Macnab 1996: 75)

And as if responding to Macnab’s prayer, English philosopher and founder of Sea of Faith, Don Cupitt, writes: “We should say ‘Yes’ to life in all its contingency because it is the accidentalness of life that makes happy accidents possible, and that makes innovation and creativity possible.  We wouldn’t wish the self-replication of DNA always to proceed with precise accuracy, because without all the slippage and the accidents there would not have occurred the favourable mutations on which evolution depends – and so it is also in the realm of… personal life.” (Cupitt 2003: 16-17) Watch out for fear in case it closes the doors of life, remains trapped in tragedy and in the language of bitterness and hopelessness. Find the fear of not embracing the doubt, the opportunity, the resurrection and be motivated for goodness. Be afraid of death but not to the detriment of life. Resurrection begins when we accept the call to open closed doors
and leave our places of hiding. Put fear behind us and risk exposure as a human being.

In fact I want to go a step further by suggesting that the Easter story with its cross and empty tomb is a call to acknowledge the limitedness of the human species not as a means of acknowledging its sinfulness but rather the limitedness of its grasp of reality, its situation in life, politically culturally psychologically and physically. We are an evolutionary species subject to serendipitous creativity and this means letting go of our fear of ambiguity, and the comfort of concrete-ness and absolute truth.

To get a bit of a handle on this struggle to come to grips with reality I found Gordon D. Kaufman helpful where he writes of God as creativity rather than creator (more recently he has refined this as God being serendipitous creativity). He suggests that it is impossible-in this age of cosmological and evolutionary thinking, which emphasizes an understanding of our universe as having come into being in and through a Big Bang some 14 or 15 billion years ago- to make sense of the traditional defining idea of God as `creator of the heavens and the earth:’ By 1975, he says he had come to the conclusion that all theological ideas-including the idea of God- could best be understood stood as products of the human imagination, when employed by men and women seeking to orient themselves in life. This he says freed him to experiment with a variety of ways of thinking of God, humanity, and the world more congenial to modern/postmodern consciousness about these matters than were the more traditional formulations. I know I too have been on about God as serendipitous creativity, and it is because of its exciting possibilities. Creativity God as Creativity itself, source, existence and purpose of all life and this also suggests that Creativity may have existed in the beginning. That through Creativity the planet earth might have emerged through various random events (the serendipitous nature of creativity) that left us with a moon, oceans of water, and a gradual process of shifting landmasses to form the continents as we know them.

It might also be said that through serendipitous creativity the conditions for life on the planet fell into place, and evolution entered the story bringing with it the dynamic interchange between law and random occurrence, between finitude and infinity, the generation of novelty, and from that the emergence of life and the human. It might also be said that through serendipitous creativity this thing called reality emerged as the outcome. Process or becoming is thus revealed as the description for the essential quality of reality that exists from the beginning. The process of evolution defines this dynamism and among others, three important principles can be observed interacting in the evolutionary process.

At first, contingency and randomness elicit development. The yet to be, the almost here and the serendipitous give birth to an outcome. The universe cannot be fully rationalized; and because of its complexity the interactivity of events cannot be predicted. Meteorological events offer a good example of this randomness. Then, unexpected random events operate within a set of relatively stable chemical and physical laws and systems. Systems always exist in larger environments that interact with them. Thus, system and isolated events do not negate each other; they coexist and interact with each other. Then, this interactive process extends over the long period of time that was indicated earlier. It is difficult to adopt a neutral or object framework of time outside a human point of reference. But to imagine the age of the universe is to notice that cosmic development and evolution have had an enormous framework of time and space to work their way.

That’s the big picture with a touch of science but there is a small picture as well that we might explore a little. By small picture I mean the human existence within the cosmos. Within the constitutive dimensions of human existence there is the serendipitous reality that we create and are a part of. One might suggest that there is a basic level of the response of human freedom or human spirit to the world in which it exists and it may be characterized as sheer openness to it and dependence upon it. Some neuroscientists suggest this is a world of what is called mirror neurons. Rene Gerard I think spoke of this as the mimic factor of human behavior. A reflective human consciousness always understands the self in the here and now, as in this world and differentiated from it. There is no need to build a subject– object dualism to recognize that we are always selves in the world, open to the world and influenced by the world. However, to be a person here and now implicitly entails an open subjectivity that stands in relation to the world.

A person gains a sense of self-possession both by being defined by the space-time world in which one is, and by standing over against the world as something other than the self. Here lie the grounds by which one is able to “enter into oneself,” reflect on oneself, take stock of one’s self, and speak of “self-possession.” Such self-possession is actually enabled by one’s being in relation to the world, the other, the non-self. At this elemental level of human freedom, one can think of self in metaphors like a “clear space,” or an “expanding self,” or a “transparency.” There is of course the element of choice in this as well and this is necessary to avoid the pitfalls of narcissism when we elevate the self too far.

Self-consciousness, self-knowledge, and self-control all presume and rest on being in an open relation to non-self and world. Another level of freedom consists in what is ordinarily called choice, or free choice. In much of the debates about the nature of freedom the focus rests on choice. This was especially so in the historical debates about the role of human freedom in the process of salvation from God mediated by Jesus Christ. The question we have today is; without the supernatural interventionist God what is freedom? Here, freedom refers to the ability to choose among options. Everyday life teems with choices; the human person who lives an active life constantly makes choices; to be free is to be able to choose. At this point one measures the degree of freedom precisely by a lack of either internal or external constraint. Culture, environment serendipitous circumstance all intervene as doubt and can turn into fear if not challenged by that which is socially constituted, and seemingly challenged by the radical question of meaning. This question, about what is freedom, is implicit in the human phenomenon.

When talking about the self and the individual, the most serious challenge to any idea of personal autonomy comes from a recognition of the psychic and intellectual solidarity of human existence. From the very beginning of conscious life, the human person is given language and, with it, a social code of meaning and value. Each individual is thus socially constituted as an individual being in his or her actual consciousness. An individual becomes his or her autonomous self by socialization in a community’s set of meanings. The worldview and the set of values of any particular individual and at any given time are always constituted by the common meanings and the ideals that are carried by and channeled through the community.

But particularity does not necessarily entail idiosyncrasy. Particularity and individuality do not have to be a trap; this or that language creates a social platform and provides leverage for creativity. Thus, the social creates, supports, and complements individual initiative. And the longer-term effectiveness of individual creativity depends on its social effects, on bringing others into a common strategy of meaning and value. Marx wrote that “Consciousness, is, therefore, from the very beginning a social product, and remains so as long as men exist at all.”

Today the insights of the sociology of knowledge are presupposed in the academy and more generally in public discourse: people are well aware that anyone who seeks to persuade always has a background and an agenda that largely account for their views. You can always be assured that when I preach it is because it is where my thinking is at and while it may be made up of others thinking it is no one else’s thoughts.

It is true that the relatedness of thought to temporal particularities raises the question of relativism, but most people appreciate that the partiality of particular points of view can be reconciled with some elementary contact with reality that can be known and shared. Some of the things I say make sense. In fact, this represents the general condition of human knowledge, and it is not relativistic. But once again, the feigned autonomy of individualism surrenders all hope of getting at the truth, because important truths can be approached only gradually through conversation. That’s why we have our discussion time, because without that they would remain more subjective and further from the truth than they need be. The phrase “spiritual solidarity” might be used to describe the way individuals can choose their communities and create bonds of community across the lines of material, psychic, or intellectual boundaries.

Now having said all that technical stuff we return to our text and to what we think is the central focus of all of John’s writings:  Life! Hopeful life! Abundant life! John’s celebration of the Easter message points to life as its message. Before and after Easter it is still life. Indeed, in John’s story, Easter it seems, coincides with Pentecost. The post-Easter Jesus appears, breathes, sends and commissions – all in one burst of ‘holy energy’. The change is, now there are new bearers of that life. The Spirit given without measure to Jesus (to use traditional language), now operates without measure among the disciples
and makes Jesus’ presence real to them. So they came to reaffirm their own commitment
to the values and vision stamped into his life by his words and deeds.

The good news of Easter according to storyteller John, is not just the final scene as it is in fairy tales that say everyone ‘lives happily ever after’.For John, Easter is the beginning of an open-ended future. Or as Michael Benedikt says in another of his meditations: “God is practiced, like dance, like music, like kindness, like love… theopraxy.” (Benedikt 2007:4) Resurrection begins when we accept the call to open closed doors and leave our places of hiding. Amen.

Notes:
Alves, R. The Poet, the Warrior, the Prophet. London. SCM Press/Trinity Press, 1990.
Benedikt, M. God is the Good We Do. Theology of Theopraxy. New York. Bottino Books, 2007.
Cupitt, D. Life, Life. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2003.
Macnab, F.  Hope: The Deeper Longings of the Mind and Heart. Richmond. Spectrum Publications, 1996.

 

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