‘An Infatuation With The Possible’

Posted: December 30, 2018 in Uncategorized

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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