Archive for December, 2018

Luke 2:40-52

‘An Infatuation With The Possible’

Here we are at another end of a year. Another end of a decade. All the events of 2018 have passed by and people gave been born and others have died. Our little community has lost loved ones and others have been born. Hundreds perhaps thousand of surveys have been held, some more scientific than others, some only simple small samples others hundreds of thousands of participants but all hailing some sort of knowledge or claim.

Given all of the above I want to use one of these for todays journey towards the possible. This one was an Australian survey some years back but I think it could be applied here in New Zealand. It was a survey that looked at belief and it said that “Belief for most is about values far more than devotion.  It could be said that it’s belief without belonging” (Marr 2009:1).

In general terms some of the results from this survey said that: 68% of people believed in God, 53% believed in life after death, 56% believed in Heaven, 38$ believed in Hell 37$ believed in the devil 51% believed in angels 22% believed in witches 34% believed in UFOs 41% believed in astrology 49% believed in psychic powers such as ESP 63% believed in miracles – 63%;  34% believed that the Bible is the Word of God 27% Believed that the Bible is literally true 21% believed that the teachings of their religion had only one interpretation 42% Believed in Evolution and 30% of people believed that there is – or seems to be – no God.

All of the above regardless of the exact numbers seems to suggest that “Belief is shrinking and disbelief is growing.  Ok if that is the case then we need to say that it is a very slow process. We also need to remind ourselves that we are only talking about belief and not all aspects of what it means to be human. It is argued that belief is a rational intention governed by perception. In short, a belief is dependent upon a whole lot of other beliefs. This suggests that there may be other beliefs that are falling away before we get to the falling away of belief, such as whether or not we believe that God exists depends on a belief that there is such a thing as God. Or more correctly, our belief that God exists depends upon a more complex presupposition that there is some sort of external reality.

There are sceptics who suggest that time will, of its own accord, wipe Christianity out and this might be so but can we be sure? Remember we are talking about belief and not all of our complex systems of making meaning. And here we are on the cusp of a new year and we ask ourselves ‘What happened to Christmas? no sooner here than gone, “and even though the commercial world has sales to elongate the season, we barely had the chance to celebrate Christmas, in the church!”

This brings us to one of the great mysteries of life, the mystery of time. Everything that happens to us, happens to us in and through time. Time, called a day, can weigh us down or raise us up. Yet this day… this time, vanishes. This is an incredible fact. When we look behind us, we do not see our past standing there in a series of day shapes. We cannot wander back through the gallery of our past. Our days have disappeared. Our future time has not yet arrived. This suggests that to see time as past present and future is no more than an illusion. The only ground of time is the present moment.

The time or years of childhood through youth to adulthood seem implied by this morning’s storyteller’s words: The child Jesus grew into a mature adult, filled with wisdom, and God regarded him favourably… That’s it!  Not much content. No clues by which to judge how he progressed from saying ‘mum’ and ‘dad-da’ to pronouncing ‘messianic’ and anthropomorphic’! Or how many learned responses lead from his first cry to the singing of a country music classic! Just plenty of gaps. We are left to wonder or speculate. And some of that contemporary speculation includes the suggestion that “between the ages of twelve and thirty Jesus traveled into Asia and mastered the techniques of Buddhist meditation” (PNancarrow. P&F Lectionary web site, 2009).

But lets just stop a moment and reflect. Here we have a moment in time… a temple experience that can serve as a model for growing up and growing in wisdom. Just like the moment we talked about last week. The moment of two pregnant mothers meeting through the unborn children unfettered by the time of their birth as we have a moment in time to learn of humanity. One overseas colleague puts it like this: “On the verge of adulthood, Jesus retreats to the temple for theological reflection and questioning…  (His) three days in the temple were a pivotal point in his spiritual evolution.  Jesus grew in spiritual stature by claiming his faith tradition faithfully and then extending its experiential and theological boundaries to new horizons” (BEpperly. P&F Lectionary web site, 2006).

When we play with that comment in our imaginations for a moment. It comes clear that the child Jesus grew into a mature adult, filled with wisdom, and God regarded him favourably… and the nature of this moment is that he ‘Grew in Wisdom.

The first examination is of what is meant by grew. The biblical storytellers tell us very little
other than implying that Jesus managed to complete the complex, intricate, mostly mysterious process of growing up. He grew up. He progressed from being a helpless baby to reach adulthood, where he was capable of holding down a job, making and keeping friends, theorizing about the origins of things, separating fancy from fact, getting angry without having to hurt others, caring for others without needing to possess them (Purdy 1993). In him both nature and nurture did their necessary work. “The child Jesus grew into a mature adult, filled with wisdom, and God regarded him favourably…”

The second examination is of Wisdom, and Jesus discovered that a fool and his money are soon parted, the love of money is the root of many evils, you cannot tell a book by its cover. He learned that power corrupts, that an army marches on its stomach, and if you would teach a hungry man, first you had better feed him (Purdy 1993).

He learned that sin and sickness are not necessarily the two sides of the same coin,
that the devil can quote scripture, and a smile sometimes is a mask for hate. Through all this “The child Jesus grew into a mature adult, filled with wisdom, and God regarded him favourably…”

The truth is that our storyteller Luke is very sketchy on the detail. Indeed, we have only the barest of fragments or outline. We have to fill in that outline with what we know about childhood. Because the only childhood truly accessible to us is our own. And even then, it is from that time that does not exist today. To live life to the full. To love wastefully. To be all that we can be… paraphrasing Bishop Jack Spong, can be challenging and risky business. Yet we are reminded of what could be some more wise words, by British theologian and (another) retired bishop, John Tinsley, when he wrote in one of his pastoral letters about 20 odd years ago: “A lot of our endeavour (as church) has gone into taking the risk out of faith… We try to create a hideout for faith where we can be un-perturbed” (Tinsley 1990:438-39).

Our congregations can become hideouts for some of us. For we can forget that we always live on the edge of something new. That’s the risk. To live on the edge of something new. How we meet that ‘risk’ or that ‘new’ is an important moment in time in fact it is the now.

Brian Epperley said some years ago”: “Growing in wisdom and stature calls us to take our faith seriously enough to study scripture, wrestle with traditional theological doctrines, explore new images of God, Christ, and salvation, and spend time in prayer, meditation, and service.  A growing faith is not accidental, but requires going to our own spiritual ‘temple’ regularly to listen, ask, and share. Even Jesus was unfinished and incomplete” (B Epperly. P&F Lectionary web site, 2006).

Given our understanding of time and the importance of the present I think as our title suggests, we are being encouraged here to greet the new horizons in this coming year and in our own particular situations, not with fear, nor with a desire to contain them but rather with an “infatuation with the possible” (E Bloch, quoted in H Cox 1964:10) without which our congregational and personal life is just unthinkable.

And then maybe it can be said of us all. These people… the congregation of St David’s, grew into a mature adulthood, filled with wisdom, and God regarded them favourably… Amen.

Cox H. 1964.  On Not Leaving it to the Snake. New York. Macmillan
Purdy J C. 1993.  God with a Human Face. Louisville. Westminster/John Knox.
Tinsley J. 1990. Tell it slant. The Christian Gospel and its Communication. Bristol. Wyndham Hall Press.

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Peace: Experiencing the Unexpected: God.

Here we are at the end of Advent again and on the cusp of the arrival of Christmas day.
The season of preparation where we have been invited to ‘stay awake’ to the unexpected awareness of the presence and present-ness, of ‘Serendipity Creativity’ God; in our ordinary living. In the ordinary… like the song of the Tui in the morning, like the creaking of the branches knocking together in the hot Summer wind… In the ordinary… like the realization that rain is not a singular thing but made up of billions of individual drops of water, each with its own destination and timing… In the ordinary… like the flares of a friend’s passion to shape justice, and move the world toward peace. And in the ordinary… like the landscape, in all its diversity. In the ordinary… like the lovemaking songs of the cicadas. In the ordinary… like the red orange glaze of a setting sun.

We begin this story of peace being found in the experience of the unexpected. And by unexpected I want to suggest it is justice that we seek because contrary to the Roman Western and increasingly eastern world peace is not found through victory. Victory only legitimizes violence and peace is not sustainable, whereas the peace that follows justice is sustainable, and I do not mean justice as legitimate revenge, I mean it as the achievement of a relational responsibility beyond compromise. A dynamic peace that sustains itself through shared responsibility. Micah speaks of a coming ruler who will restore peace to the world. Emerging from unlikely Bethlehem, this leader will walk in the ways of peace and bring true security to the people. There is a global as well as local feel to this passage. As followers of Jesus we are people in search of peace and even in relatively tranquil New Zealand, there is anxiety and tentativeness as we look at both the global scene and the local scene. The prevalence of domestic violence, the rate of suicide, the murder of tourists, the hit and run of motorists, all point to a global dilemma. We ask of Micah; can the prophetic dream calm our spirits and mobilize us to move from fearful reaction to hopeful action in facing the moral, social and political dilemmas of our time? We have been touching on the impact of a fear driven world over the last few weeks. It is clear, that guns can’t save us, banning refugees can’t save us, and closing the door to religious immigrants can’t save us. Only a heart open to God and our brothers and sisters can bring healing to us and our world. So where do we start?

Well, as usual I think we need to start with the big picture as a way of beginning with that which unites us all as a global community. We might start with the first creation story and with God as that which breathes life into the universe, not as a being but as the serendipitous creativity at the core of what we understand as living galaxies. I resonate here with the scientific imagination of Richard Dawkins, when he says: “The world and the universe is an extremely beautiful place, and the more we understand about it the more beautiful it appears.  It is an immensely exciting experience to be born in the world, born in the universe, and look around you and realize that before you die you have the opportunity of understanding an immense amount about that world and about that universe and about life and about why we’re here.  The added excitement that comes with what we know is that we have the opportunity of understanding far, far more than any of our predecessors ever did.  That is such an exciting possibility, it would be such a shame to blow it and end our lives not having understood what there is to understand.” (Radio interview/book release).

When we engage with the Luke text we find that the prenatal encounter of the fetal Jesus and John the Baptist invites an energetic harmony that joins John and Jesus from the very beginning. At one reading they are spiritual soul friends, bound by God’s vision, from the very beginning and at another they have strongly differing world views of how to transform the world they know. Both are conceived remarkably and today, we know that fetuses are aware of their environment, and are shaped by the emotional and environmental lives of their parents. Fetuses can “know” each other and are heartened by loving parents and communities. This passage reminds us to love the children in our midst – regardless of ethnicity, religion, nation of origin, or economic-family background. And I would suggest here that peace is to be found not in the diminishing of difference but in seeking the complementarity of it. Suppression of difference does not bring about peace, seeking justice for all does.

There is an implicit political vision in this passage. First, the passage affirms the reality of prenatal experience. The lives of fetuses cannot be objectified but even amid difficult maternal decisions must not be relegated to the status of non-entities. Second, the lives of prospective parents must be affirmed to insure, that prenatally fetuses have as positive a beginning as possible. The quest for justice must attend every season of life from conception to death.

Mary’s Magnificat, described in Luke’s gospel, provides an image of hope for the vulnerable and oppressed. Mary’s hymn speaks of a world turned upside down. The poor will become affluent and the affluent will lose their fortunes, the powerful will be dethroned and ordinary people will take the reins of power. This is an impossible dream, as the wealthy gain more and more power and largesse even in today’s world. Yet, it is a dream that tells us that our current situation fails the test of divine affirmation. It fails the test of a just world. Homelessness due to self-serving economic systems, underemployment, due to the speed of technological change, and economic instability due to individualism and competitive victory-oriented processes must provoke an uneasy conscience, especially among the powerful, whose largesse is built upon the poverty of others. And note here I am not arguing against capitalism or socialism because they are both failing us. I am suggesting that we are not asking the prior questions that are rendering what we do as insufficient for justice and thus a lasting peace.

The days are growing shorter for the ancients and for us. Is there hope of illumination? Can we dream of a new era for humankind? These are the hopes of Advent and Christmas, something is being born that will mobilize our hopes and hands to change the world that God loves.

Two pregnant women meet.  Cousins, tradition tells us later. Two named pregnant women, with speaking parts, meet. Mary. Elizabeth. Like all the other stories told by Luke, and this one is no different, the teller has a ‘theological’ reason for the story. To confirm the miracle promised by the angel, and to establish the superiority of Jesus to John even before they are born.

Most scholars also agree Luke is not telling a realistic story. The trip they embark on is the first of two unrealistic trips to be undertaken by Mary while she is pregnant. This has caused at least one female scholar to suggest: these stories could only have been told by a male!

Yet we are challenged to consider this fictional story of this meeting of the two women as having shaped Christian imagination and inspired Christian art through the centuries. Artistically, their meeting is often depicted “with these two women in a wordless embrace, sharing, like all mothers-to-be, the mystery of new life within themselves, and with a sense of mutual awe over what God has done.” (JDonahue. America web site, 2006). On the other hand perhaps the most famous artistic Mary presentation is in the great Pieta, where Mary as mother, is cradling the broken body of her son. The challenge is to hold these two stories together to balance the fear with the hopefulness, the negative with the positive. The claim is that people who are oppressed and cannot speak out because they’ll be imprisoned, or shot, or retribution will be made against their families, say they understand this Mary who cradles her son.

While for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in our society, Mary “an unwed mother in an extremely traditional society.” understands what it feels like to carry the awful burden of ‘otherness’. But unlike many of us who live in fear and hopelessness, tradition suggests Mary does not see her otherness as a reason for despair. “She sees through the identification, this stigma, and recognizes that God is working through her otherness to transform the social structures that dominate the world.”  (MBrown. ‘Out in scripture’ web site, 2009).

Perhaps the most contemporary artistic rendering of the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth occurs in Michele Zackheim’s 1985 art work called The Tent of Meeting. It is a 400 square meter art work in the form of a Bedouin style tent whose canvas walls are covered with historic imagery from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Describing this work, the late professor of Christianity and the Arts, Doug Adams, said: “An appropriate surprise appears at the top… where the hand of God appears above the pregnant figures of Mary and Elizabeth meeting. The surprise is that we see God’s left hand instead of God’s right hand.”  (DAdams. PSR web site, 2003).

Adams explained: “Michele Zackheim has presented God’s left hand to include and affirm what has often been excluded or viewed negatively.  Traditionally, God’s right hand has been featured in art but not God’s left hand.  In social as well as religious rituals and stories, the right hand has been associated with the clean or the saved while the left hand has been associated with the dirty or the damned.  Such associations have been based on social customs arising from use of the left hand to wipe ones rear end in the days before toilet paper…” (DAdams. PSR web site, 2003).

In another comment Adams indicates that the artist’s intention is to say God reverses all our assumptions. God includes those whom we often exclude. And then this short but telling comment: “We need to develop eyes to see the unexpected in Advent.” (DAdams, PSR web site, 2003). Yet it is not the artistic depictions which have grabbed me so much this year. What has stayed with me more than anything else is the way our storyteller has chosen to play
with a whole series of parallels or contrasts. We don’t hear them all in the Mary and Elizabeth story. But they are there when we read great slabs of Luke’s story. Such as these contrasting emphases: the play between light and darkness, the supernatural with the ordinary, the role of women – and that spirituality is not men’s business alone, the plight of the powerless rather than the position of the powerful, Jesus and John, and between Caesar’s empire and God’s empire.

For me, all of these things come full front-stage in the drama of the unexpected presence and present-ness of serendipitous creativity ‘God’ as the leading role. Today is Advent 4, the last day in the Season of Advent. The season of preparation where we have been invited to ‘stay awake’ to the unexpected arrival God in the ordinary human business of living. Why? Because human business is holy business. Frequently a messy business. But holy business none-the-less. (W Loader web site, 2009).

And to finish; there is no indication in Luke’s story that Mary should be seen as less than human or more than human, less than woman or more than woman. What she is, is ‘blessed… among women’. And that’s the provocative challenge and the promise of Advent. Engage meaningfully in the ambiguities and uncertainties of life. It is the unexpected that is promised. Be hope-filled, joyfully, embracing the possibilities of the unknown and live lives of wastefully loving because that is about and making real and everlasting peace by being all that we can be. Amen.

What is Joy?

Posted: December 15, 2018 in Uncategorized

What is Joy?

One of the long-term debates within biblical scholarship is between scholars who argue ‘for’ or ‘against’ Jesus of Nazareth shared a similar vision of the expected ‘kingdom of God’ with that of John the Baptiser.

Generally speaking, when we ask what was John’s vision or worldview? Tradition has it, that it was a vision shaped by the themes of personal crisis, judgment, and renewal, coupled with the belief of an imminent divine intervention. A worldview that could be said to have generated the charismatic, spirit focused faith response and maybe even the prosperity gospel movement where the marker between faith and non-faith is the prosperous result. Be a good Christian and you will prosper in every way. God gives out Harley Davidsons to good Christians. Going back to the Tradition we find that this is not new because it rings bells in line with the thinking of Israel’s prophets,
such as Zechariah, Daniel, but especially Elijah. Not as the charismatic or prosperity gospel sort of response but in terms of the world in crisis, based on judgment and thus an imperative need for renewal.

On the other side of this debate are those like me who claim that this was the difference between John and Jesus. Whereas John’s worldview begins with doom and gloom and the evidence of the past to shape the future, Jesus’ worldview concentrated not on the past nor the future, whether near or distant, but on “God’s present and collaborative kingdom” here and now. (Crossan 2010:93).

And, let’s be clear here; opinion continues to be divided. Sometimes even heatedly divided! At the everyday level we approach each moment with blind acceptance of what is without critique or with total disbelief that what we have just seen or heard is true, or we approach it with a healthy dose of both ends and everything in between.

So, is this comparison between John and Jesus possible, helpful or justifiable? Our practice would say it is so long as we don’t get caught by an extreme stand.

When we apply this thinking to who Jesus was because, in the end, the comparison attempt is an attempt to discover who Jesus was so that we can understand who he is for us. When we go to the theological colleges we find that the ‘orthodox’ view, taught in those colleges and from most pulpits, is the apocalyptic or ‘end times’ Jesus as the real Jesus. In the end, all we need to do is to believe and Jesus will sort it out. It will be all right in the end. Under this process lies the return of Jesus, the life after death question and ultimately the apocalyptic Jesus is the logical answer to a John worldview. The difficulty of difference between John and Jesus is removed in the interests of common thinking.

Rex Hunt and John Smith of Australian note put together a handbook on progressive Christianity some years back called “Why Weren’t We Told?” and in it, Rex wrote a short cameo on ‘John and Jesus’. He stated that he does not accept that the apocalyptic Jesus is the real Jesus and asked who John the Baptiser or ‘dipper’ was.

Smith responded with a suggestion that from all that we know and do not know, scholars suggest John was a highly visible and influential Jewish folk hero “whose charismatic reputation almost certainly preceded and overshadowed the public career of Jesus.” (Smith 2002:109). From John Dominic Crossan we learn that John seems to have spent most of his youth living in the desert wilderness, along the Jordan River. He offered baptism as a cleansing from sin in that river location, which, according to Crossan, “baptism and message went together as the only way to obtain forgiveness of one’s sins before God’s firestorm came.” (Crossan 1991:235). Note the negative approach; Be saved by baptism from the fallen state you are in and do it before the end arrives.

But is this a concern for extremes anyway? Am I painting the difference between John and Jesus? Maybe we could put it another way? Maybe this radical preacher from a conservative priestly family was very upfront by claiming in both word and deed, that the temple’s costly monopoly on the forgiveness trade had come to an end. The thing in common with Jesus may have been the shared understanding that sociologically, religiously and politically the temple, the religious institution has seen its days and was in need of renewal, revolution and redirection.

One of the affirming arguments for this view is the stories and the poems, both modern and biblical, that have always presented John in colourful terms. The poet and theologian John Shea who captures this ‘colour’ well in his poem ‘The Man Who Was a Lamp’:

“John expected an ax[e] to the root of the tree
and instead, he found a gardener hoeing around it.

He dreamt of a man with a winnowing fan and a fire
and along came a singing seed scatterer.

He welcomed wrathful verdicts,
then found a bridegroom on the bench.” (Shea 1993:177).

So we are left with two different worldviews and maybe the similarities between John and Jesus as well as the differences between them, suggest that its less about a different world and more about seeing the world differently?

Maybe joy is when someone discovers they have experienced renewal.

Today is the third Sunday of Advent and advent comes before the celebration we call Christmas. Indeed, Advent has become “a month-long dress rehearsal for Christmas.” (Gomes 2007:214). In traditional Christian language, Christmas is about the birth of a baby we call Jesus or Yeshua. Historian Clement Miles observed more than 50 years ago that: “The God of Christmas is no ethereal form, no mere spiritual essence, but a very human child, feeling the cold and the roughness of the straw, needing to be warmed and fed and cherished…” (Miles 1912/76:157). This is less about claiming a supernatural Jesus or arguing that tradition has it right and authentic but more about the claim that Christmas is about the birth of a human child which is already special, sacred and divine in its human-ness.

As such Christmas is the most human, and easily the most popular festival of the year, involving nearly all the population. And the baby is the most loveable! There is no need to worry about the secular, commercialization taking over Christmas because it can’t take away from being human whereas it can question, challenge and take over from a supernatural or non-natural deistic claim.

And this brings us back to the fact that much of the thought that eventually shaped Christianity did not come from the human Jesus. Or as I might say, the pre-Easter Jesus. It came from Greek thinking centered on a divine Christ as defined by the emperor and various church councils.

And what happens when the human Jesus meets Christianity? According to many of those who call themselves ‘progressive’— and they don’t mince their words—there is a crisis! We have experienced this in the life of our congregation when the Presbytery asked us what we were going to teach in our proposed school? As if there was something they might not agree with or like too much. This human Jesus is seen as a challenge to the growth of the orthodoxy, faith communities that grow from a human Jesus might be a challenge to the institutional status quo.

For those of us who consider ourselves progressive, even if we are not sure of that word. We feel the crisis as having identified several barriers that prevent an honest understanding of Jesus.  These barriers appear as ignorance and as popular images of Jesus. They appear as fear of the gospels losing their authenticity as inerrant and infallible. And sadly as Bob Funk said; they appear as a self-serving church and clergy. They promote spirituality as self-indulgence. (Funk 1996:47).

So, what does our story of John and Jesus have to say? Perhaps as Rex Hunt suggests there are two signposts and they are highlighted in the human Jesus/divine Christ collision that we find in the comparison between the worldview of ‘John’ and ‘Jesus’.

The first signpost is credibility. As David Galston writes; Whatever conclusion one might come to about Jesus, “ it must be a possible Jesus and not an incredible one.” (Galston 2012). Jesus was human like anyone. He was a homeland Jew not a Christian. He never rejected his Jewish roots.

So a possible Jesus “is a Jesus situated in his historical circumstances and who did things and said things that a real person could have reasonably believed or done at that time.” (Galston 2012). And let’s be careful here as there are still some unresolved issues associated with all this.  As David Galston, says: “It is never possible to reach absolute conclusions about antiquity because the sources are fragmentary, varied, and come from a world no modern person has or ever can visit.” (Galston 2012).

This should not be seen as a barrier to faith or to an understanding of being a follower of the Jesus Way because we can be certain that whatever happened was possible, not incredible. As David Galston says; “This simple foundation is the honesty involved in the search for the historical Jesus” (Galston 2012).

Maybe joy is when someone discovers the possibility of renewal.

The second signpost is methodology That is, what makes the best sense of the available data. And those of us who have been engaging in progressive Christianity discussions and seminars and conferences and maybe those of you hearing many of my sermons will know we use various ’tools’ in our search for the historical or human Jesus. Tools such as Source Criticism, Redaction Criticism, Literary Criticism, Rhetorical Criticism and latterly what is termed seeking the Voiceprint of Jesus.

Such tools enable us to realize, for instance, that the gospel writers were a few generations removed from the human Jesus. They inhabited a different cultural setting and worldview. So put simply, an honest progressive methodology is: “check out things for yourself, make sure you interpret things correctly and learn for yourself.  Instead of jumping to conclusions about a subject or about other people, first, ensure you are reading the situation correctly.” (Galston 2012).

Attuning oneself to the question of this human or historical Jesus means developing a mature, critical mind that no longer employs the methodology of believing “the biblical narratives literally—narratives that… were not intended ‘literally’ in the first place.” (Galston 2012).

And be clear this is not only a challenge to old traditions. It is a challenge to recent institutional claims such as that of former Pope Benedict xvi in his book, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives.

Maybe joy is when someone discovers renewal is in being skeptical.

Let’s also be clear that all the study and all the talk such study usually invokes, is so that we can live in our contemporary situation with integrity and truthfully? And what will this look like? Well again, David Galston’s comments might be helpful. He says; “Once this credible ‘authentic Jesus tradition’ is identified, the point will be to carry forward into the contemporary world the momentum of the Jesus movement: grasping the style of the teacher, capturing the spirit of his words, and living out the implications of these words in our own time with our own creativity.” (Galston 2012). Walking the Jesus Way is possible, by carrying forward into the contemporary world the momentum of the Jesus movement… Or as Walter Wink has said: “…go on the journey that Jesus charted rather than to worship the journey of Jesus.” (Wink 2000:177).

So taking the anonymous storyteller we call Luke, seriously, we ask; how might we capture the spirit of both his particular interpretation of John and by comparison, his take on Jesus?

In the case of John’s thinking: It will require a truly creative change or transformation,
in both our thinking as well as in our doing. And hearing his voice as one of hope rather than fear. In the case of Jesus’ thinking: While he originally accepted and even defended John’s vision “of awaiting the apocalyptic God… as a repentant sinner.” (Crossan 1991: 237) that vision was deemed inadequate. For Jesus his thinking changed from waiting for the kingdom to being in the kingdom. Not to be in a different world, but being in this world differently.

Maybe joy is when someone discovers renewal is a choice

Living out the implications of the Jesus vision in our own time, with our own creativity, is still before us. It is still our challenge despite 2 000 years. I like Rex Hunt and a growing number of Jesus freaks am firmly of the belief that the old-religion story, shaped by the ‘divine’ Jesus or Christ, has lost its appeal or authority to shape present-day human lives.

The thoroughly ‘human’ Jesus of much contemporary scholarship, provides us with a Jesus of profound appeal and authority by which we can measure our humanness and humaneness. One thing’s for sure. The world in these early years of the twenty-first century requires that we think differently about the questions of what it means to be Christian, about what Christianity is, and who decides.

If we decide to order our lives in terms of the human Jesus it will be we who do the deciding, and we who take, or fail to take, the steps to carry out that decision. Not some supernatural authority or extra-human power.

Maybe joy is when someone discovers hay it is ours to make.

Crossan, J. D. The Greatest Prayer. Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of The Lord’s Prayer. New York: HarperOne, 2010.
—————- The Historical Jesus. The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. North Blackburn: CollinsDove, 1991.
Funk, R. W. Honest to Jesus. Jesus for the New Millennium. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996.
Galston, D. Embracing the Human Jesus. A Wisdom Path for Contemporary Christianity. Kindle Edition. Salem: Polebridge Press, 2012.
Gomes, P. J. The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s So Good About the Good News? New York: HarperOne, 2007.
Horsley, R. A. & N. A Silberman. The Message and the Kingdom. How Jesus and Paul Ignited a Revolution and Transformed the Ancient World. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997.
Miles, C. A. Christmas Customs and Traditions. Their History and Significance. New York: Dover Publications, 1912/76..
Shea, J. Starlight. Beholding the Christmas Miracles All Year Long. New York: Crossroads, 1993.
Smith, M. H. “Israel’s Prodigal Son. Reflections on Re-imagining Jesus” in Hoover, R. W. ed., Profiles of Jesus. Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 2002.
Wink, W. “The Son of Man. The Stone that Builders rejected” in The Jesus Seminar (ed) The Once and Future Jesus. Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 2000.

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Posted: December 4, 2018 in Uncategorized

Advent 2 9.12.2018

Malachi 3:1–4 Luke 3:1–6


Last week I tried to argue for advent as a time of waiting for the opportunity of welcoming Jesus into our hearts at Christmas and that this is about abounding in love. I also suggested that this is a metaphor for acknowledging the humanity of Jesus and that in the recognition we encounter the possibility that God is human and that in our living we share in the journey towards true humanness. I also think I was suggesting that in the journey there is a hope that is manifest in the promise of abounding in love. That despite all the struggles of being human and in the face of the evidence of what we as humans get up to there is a hope that defies belief.

Today I want to explore the nature of love as the second Sunday in Advent and here I want to suggest that this love we are Talking about; this love we call God’s love is beyond all the definitions, in fact the definitions in the distinctiveness and in the common thread demand that there is more to the love than we think. But that is the big picture so lets just go back to our texts for today. And let’s start with Malachi.

When we put ourselves in the time of Malachi we note as Theodore Hiebert says that the author of Malachi was “concerned about a lack of devotion and seriousness in Judah’s Temple” (“Malachi: Introduction,” The Access Bible, 1300). Indeed, the author states that “I [God] am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his [sic] temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he [sic] is coming, says the LORD of hosts” (Mal. 3:1). This reading is apropos of the Christmas season for which Christians are pining during the Advent season. Still, the following verse offers us a warning, asking “who can endure the day of [the messenger’s] coming, and who can stand when [the messenger] appears” (3:2), because this messenger will be more than a light but a “refiner” and a “purifier” of those who seek after God (see 3:2, 3). The author, only then, believes that the offering unto God will be pure (3:4).

The message here is that a spiritual harvest may require a refining fire. Get rid of everything inessential. Throw out the clutter in your life. Malachi reminds us that Advent is a time of refining and simplifying. Faithfulness involves focusing on the deeper meaning of Christmas. The invitation is to see that the metaphor of God’s incarnation in our lives and the coming of the Christ is about turning the world of oppressed people upside down. As a side note I am using the words ‘The Christ’ to acknowledge the distorted use of Christ as a surname for Jesus and claim continuity with the Hebrew concept of Messiah which I would argue is much richer than the way we have come to use it,

Advent one was about letting God be human in order to engage in our fullest human way and advent two is about what that means in practice. It is about abounding in love, about transforming and liberating what is best in us and our communities. It involves a new heart and a generous spirit. Here we have the idea of turning around, born again, New Jerusalem and being transformed and loving God as God loves us. All hunting at something beyond, something more.

Christmas at one level is about appropriately choosing to give generously to our friends and family, and at another our generosity must extend beyond ourselves. It is more than about our generosity. The unconditional invites us to see beyond ourselves and our assumptions. The selfless giving is more than our generosity. And to see this with a global perspective the joy of familial relationship unites us with the larger human family and with the evolutionary creation. Christmas is more than about us, more perhaps than just our acknowledging our human response. Here is the advent of love. In traditional terms; by our own spiritual values and practices, we can midwife the birth of The Christ in our families and communities. Not as a supernatural intervention but by abounding in love and transforming and liberating the slave, the culturally bound and the ideologically trapped.

Another aspect of the anatomy of love is the challenge that lies in the understanding that love changes everything. We see this is the traditional engagement in the Christmas Myth. John the Baptist’s message challenges us to turn around – to forsake the ways of death – so that we might be prepared for The Christ’s coming. When we think about death we acknowledge that we have experienced too much death in recent times. Religious extremists wreak havoc around the world and try to create a theocratic state in the Middle East. In some countries, youth fear the law enforcement intended to protect and serve. Addiction is epidemic in many places and in some we are ambivalent or fearful about welcoming refugees, and in some threats to deport people despite their strong work ethic abound. We debate our own addiction to non-renewable resources despite the knowledge that we put the Earth in jeopardy. John’s message then and now, as Mary’s works in Luke 1:68-79 assert, is to bring light to darkness and help the lost find their way. To help people to realize that their destiny is to become love in human form. To be in the image of God that is love.

Brian Swimme, in his book ‘The Universe Is A Green Dragon’ suggests that in order to approach love we must start with our common context, the emerging universe in which we find ourselves. He claims that love begins as allurement, as attraction. I thought about the current theory around human development, that of attachment theory and how this is so important for new born children who are emerging from the womb into a world of light and language and the human journey of physical and mental evolution. Rooted in this attachment seems to be this attraction, child to mother, child to others, child to family and so on. In this way we can call it love that gives life, love that enhances life, love that endures life, and love that is always present, always intimate and always evolving as we become more fully human. Swimme also challenges us when he suggests that over the last few century’s we have trapped love in anthropomorphic boundaries. We have crippled many of our concepts as limited by human love whereas we should start with love as the attraction we find in the cosmic dimension, the attraction that permeates the entire macrostructure, or the basic binding energy found everywhere in reality

Bringing this down to our present. We are to ordain and induct two people into Eldership within our midst. And I want to suggest that love begins here today because love begins wherever we discover interest. To be interested in Eldership is to the fall in love. To become fascinated about the role of eldership in all its responsibilities and it’s personal challenge and satisfactions is to step into a wild and unknown yet attracting level of life.

Today we are to ordain and induct two of our number to the role of eldership. They have been chosen as special people in our community not just because we like them a lot but also because they have thought hard and long about the role as elder in the light of the challenge John the Baptist brings. The task of liberation is not one to be taken lightly because it is not only about one’s own contribution. The task of transformation is a relational task, it is about making connections with people, about transforming with them their own lives. This is never an easy task and these two people in their living have lived out the abundant love, trusted in the unconditional challenge of loving another. They are worthy people and our celebration of that is to invite them to take the role of a wise one within our community, to take the risk and put love into action. And this is a lifechanging and far from simple task because it is about loving abundantly within God who is love.

John the Baptist’s message, as recorded in Luke’s Gospel, is harsh, but it is ultimately liberating. Despite our participation in the ways of death, we can turn around. Love changes everything, We, can use the freedom we have to change our ways, to transform our value systems, and create new structures of life. The author of Malachi recognizes such transformation may be painful, not unlike a refiner’s fire. The military and political forces of evil must be neutralized and transformed and this will require sacrifice. Cultural values need to change and “downward mobility” may, at first, be painful. Spiritual surgery is always painful but the new creation that emerges brings wholeness and joy, and the promise of a harvest of righteousness. This is the message of Advent: prepare for the coming of The Christ by changing your life and giving birth to Christ within and among us. Amen.