When Life Matters

Posted: April 11, 2018 in Uncategorized

Easter 3B, 2018. Luke 24: 36b-48

When Life Matters

The first thing I want to say today is that while this year in the lectionary year is the year of Mark we are yet to get into Mark properly. In the case of Lent there was only four of Mark’s stories selected and there will not be any more until we move into Pentecost. While this may not seem to be too important we need to remember that we think Marks gospel came first and the others followed. This is an argument that Mark’s is more likely to be unembellished than the others because of human propensity to add rather than detract. If that is so then what Mark has to say or not say has significance. First as the earliest story in the new testament and as such more likely to be a surprising story. The first surprise is that Mark’s story is so brief.  Eight verses to be exact. The second surprise is: that Mark does not have any so-called ‘appearance’ stories. All the appearance stories are found in the other, much later, gospel accounts. What Mark does have is the indication that the disciples will see/experience/be aware of, Jesus in Galilee. And the third surprise is that Mark’s Easter story ends very abruptly. The women fled from the tomb. “They didn’t breathe a word of it to anyone: talk about terrified…” (Mark 16:8 Scholars Version).

Just how surprising the story was, is borne out when it was considered as early as the second century, when a longer ending was added to Mark (16:9-20)” (Borg & Crossan 2006:196). Then we note that it is on to this story, Mark’s story, that the other storytellers – Matthew and John and Luke – expanded and changed. Our reading from Luke is centered on Jerusalem combined with a commissioning. It is here that Borg and Crossan remind us that the Gospels are the product of the experience and reflection of Jesus’ followers in the days, months, years, and decades after his death.

And bringing us back to today we could say with Rick Marshall from his web site that we are “still in the shadow, or afterglow, of the resurrection at Easter” We have wrestled with an understanding of doubt as a positive catalyst for re-examination, of good healthy skepticism, of the need for a healthy critique and we have seen the empty tomb as the invitation to explore meaning, to seek a culturally authentic resurrection understanding rooted in all the realities of human living.

What I think we have been doing is what Richard Kearney would say is, reimagining the sacred, finding God after God. Manley Hopkins calls this finding poetic epiphany, meaning that certain deep experiences can be followed by periods of disenchantment, after which one returns to a primal experience in a new light; one returns over and over. As a religious poet Hopkins is speaking of what could be said to be sacred reimagining.

Here we are now at the aftermath of Easter and we are seeking the sacred reimagining and when speaking of serendipitous creativity last week, I think we began this task. I and others have suggested that it is no longer helpful to think of God as Creator of the heavens and the earth because we are now in receipt of knowledge that challenges that.

Just the widespread serendipitous creativity manifest in the cosmos as conceived today challenges the Creator, Created approach. The very notion of cosmic, evolutionary, and historical trajectories or directional movements have shown us activity we have not known before. These phenomena have emerged spontaneously in the universe at large and on planet Earth in particular and through the consequences we have seen a divine creative activity in the world that has newly become visible to us humans. Climate change for instance, not in its normal cycles but in its evolutionary vulnerability to human interaction. and then there is genetic modification that has been around for a while but the results of its implementation have shown us another perspective on God.

Kaufmann suggest we might use the term serendipitous creativity as a means to thinking about God in this new environment. Why should we consider this way of thinking? Maybe its because some scholars in the past have suggested that in a pluralist universe the divine is finite not as of the whole of things but only of the ideal tendency of things. In this view of the universe God signifies a reality that is finite in both knowledge and power but calls forth an active human response. Humans can co-operate with God in effecting changes in the world. The problem with this view is that Quantum theory brought an end to the mechanistic worldview of Newtonian physics and thus encouraged the development of notions of God as in process. In contrast to the emphasis of traditional theism on the divine simplicity that entails immutability and infinity, the process theisms of Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) and Charles Hartshorne (1897-2000) distinguish between the abstract essence of God (as absolute, eternal, unchangeable) and God’s concrete actuality, which is temporal, relative, changing, and dependent on decisions made by finite actualities. Humans are creators not just the created creatures.

Hartshorne, moreover, claims his language about God is more biblical and personal than that, evoking the God of classical theism. In Whitehead’s understanding, God offers to each “actual occasion” that possibility which would be best but does not control or determine the finite occasion’s self-actualizing; God works by persuasion and is not in total control of the events of the world. Again; humans are co-creators not just created creatures.

In these and other similar developments as you can hear, there is a continual crisscrossing of popular and reflective images and conceptions nurturing and fertilizing each other, giving birth to widely different ways of speaking and thinking of God. So the meaning(s) of the word “God” have expanded in many directions, producing rich new possibilities for its employment but also much disagreement about how it is to be used, and many have begun to wonder whether it can any longer be usefully employed.

The challenge for us here and now is that the power of this symbol still remains great in our popular culture, despite the complexity of meanings and theologians and philosophers of quite diverse commitments will continue to struggle with its meaning for human life in today’s world. I would want to say that this is a healthy sign that reimagining of the sacred is possible and that seeing God as serendipitous creativity is a good place to start.

So, given all the above what can we say of all this?  Can we say that Jesus lives? Maybe we can say that he is among the living. Just as for the early followers, His spirit “was still coursing through their veins” (Patterson 2004:4). Can we say that serendipitous creativity has said ‘yes’ to Jesus and ‘no’ to the powers who executed him. Stephen Patterson suggests that “The followers of Jesus did not believe in him because of the resurrection.  They believed in the resurrection because they first believed in him and in the spiritual life he unleashed among them” (Patterson 2004:121). It is true, that his death mattered to them.  But only because his life mattered more… So they began to speak of his death in ways that affirmed his life. And they came to see he stood for something so important he was willing to give his life for it (Patterson 2004:127). And every indication is that that something was his passion or vision of life called the empire of God.

And we can say that slowly they came to reaffirm their own commitment to the values and vision stamped into his life by his words and deeds. They believed that “in his words were God’s words” (Patterson 2004:127). And that his vision of a new empire, cultivated by him among them long before he died, no executioner or cross could kill.

Likewise, when we believe in this vision of a possible new empire, we too can reaffirm our commitment to the values and vision, and a ‘resurrection’ invitation, to live life deeply and generously. And we do this by reimagining the sacred beginning by seeing God as serendipitous creativity. What makes this important is not just a philosophical exercise or a head trip but rather a practical application of understanding. To be embraced by life, and not scared of it is the challenge. In all its particularity life is participation in the serendipitous reality. Life cannot remain visionary! It must be concretely practiced.

And for our gospel storyteller this morning, Luke, “to fulfil the hope of the resurrection is to tell the story of Jesus.  That means telling what he did, how he was rejected and then vindicated; and it is at the same time to live it by the power of the same Spirit, by doing good and bringing liberation for all” (WLoader web site, 2003). The ‘truth’ of the resurrection stories are not about their historical factuality. Their ‘truth’ is rooted in the Source of Life we name as Serendipitous Creativity, and which lives on as such for us and through us and among us, today. Our God is the free randomness that makes things happen in ways we do not expect, cannot fully contain yet things that only happen when we live our lives.

After this service today we will be asked to make a decision about our future as a Congregation, and if what I have suggested today is correct it will be a decision about what we believe about God or who or what God is for us. Will God be the omnipotent God of recent tradition who intervenes and makes things bad or good dependent upon our behaviour? This means that if we get it wrong that God might either bless our work as a pleased God or cause all sorts of problems that suggest its too big a risk, or its too grand an ideal for us. This sort of God’s actions will be proven by what happens. And it will be a hindsight revelation for us.

Or will God be a Serendipitous Creativity rooted deep in the bio-history of this planet, as the source of the dynamism of the human intellect, which in its striving to unify experience is taken to be the source of our ideas of God? How does the proposed project reflect our participation in the serendipitous evolutionary reality of our lives?

In taking the leap now to St David’s today we might ask how did I come to the conclusion that a decision about our mission direction and our school project was actually a decision about our understanding of God? Well I think it came about because I think that the distinctive image of Christianity is that it is a faith, or a way of living that is always relevant, always a theological application, always a faith in action. What we believe dictates what we do. The challenge for us is to recognize that for some 400 years we Christians have become comfortable with our stories. We have tied them up all nice and neat so that we can say this is the truth only to find that today, truth no longer makes that sort of exclusive claim about itself. The line between truth and non-truth is blurred now, Fake news is one way we talk about this blurring.

What is crucial for us as we look to our future is to look into the unknown and on the basis of what we understand today, prepare our children for all eventualities. Has a world based on truths shown itself in the rise in mental illness and depression, has a world based on fear shown itself in a growing disparity between the intellectual and the practical, between the poor and the rich. Has preaching the gospel replaced living the gospel? This modern development in the idea of God as serendipitous creativity has opened the door for historical studies and the sociology of knowledge to call attention to the sacred – in connection with their exploration of the social and linguistic character of all human knowing. Gordon Kaufmann says that he has no memory of a specific moment when “God;’ became an issue for him but he notes a perpetual perplexity from his home and childhood community that has been with him as far back as he can remember, sometimes becoming quite strong, sometimes receding, but always there. He says that the “God is dead” theological movement of the 1960s sharply focused this question for him, and from that point on he felt increasingly driven to address it directly. It became clear to him in the mid-sixties that the so-called neo-orthodox theology that had been dominant in his country needed to change.

His proposal is that the traditional metaphors of creator, lord, and father- on the basis of which the Western image/concept of God has been largely constructed- be replaced by the metaphor of serendipitous creativity, as we seek to construct a conception of God more appropriate to today’s understandings of the world and of our human existence in it. Later today we will make decisions to continue to make an investment in this congregation. To make an investment of energy. An investment of financial support, and most importantly, an investment of personal spirit. You see; to really be a member of St David’s is to participate, rather than watch and wait or stop for a while because it is too big a risk. In fact, the too-big a risk, is to be a spectator remaining on the sidelines. And let’s be clear that St David’s is a rare place in the religious community of today. I am not just saying this because it’s what people say of us. St David’s is a place that provides a challenge, a valuable counterpoint to current and prevailing points of view. So, in the spirit of what Jesus was passionate about, and in the spirit of the wider Easter stories by several storytellers, let us again be captivated by the vision of a new empire. Let us be an invitation into a way of life which was reflected in Jesus’ own life – in his words and deeds. Our God is within reach, our God is at hand, as Jesus said the Kingdom always was. And just in case anyone thinks we are too progressive or non-traditional we might say with Benedikt that “Perhaps this is why God prefers a good atheist to a wicked believer” (Benedikt 2007:13). Amen.

Benedikt, M. 2007. God is the Good we Do. Theology of Theopraxy. New York. Bottino Books.
Borg, M. J. & J. D. Crossan. 2006. The Last Week. A day-by-day account of Jesus’s final week in Jerusalem. New York. HarperSanFrancisco.
Funk, R. W. & R. W. Hoover. 1993. The Five Gospels. The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus. New York. MacMillan Press.
Patterson, S. J. 2004. Beyond the Passion: Rethinking the Death and Life of Jesus. Minniapolis. Fortress Press.

Gordon D. Kaufman. In the Beginning Hardcover (Kindle Locations 19-21). Kindle Edition.


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