Archive for February, 2019

Transfiguration of Jesus

Posted: February 26, 2019 in Uncategorized

Transfiguration of Jesus

Luke 9:28-36

Thick and Thin Places

William Loader from Western Australia says this. He says; ‘Let’s go up the mountain. Let’s go up to the place where the land meets the sky where the earth touches the heavens, to the place of meeting, to the place of mists, to the place of voices and conversations, to the place of listening’… When we read those words many of us will immediately think of Iona and all things ‘celtic’. And one of the things about Iona is that it is a place where one can each day come face to face with the elements: rain, wind, sunshine, thunderstorms and rainbows and beautiful morning mists. Iona… the Hebridean isle to which Columba and his monks travelled over 1400 years ago. And turning their backs on Ireland, commenced a religious community. Iona… regarded by many as a ‘thin place’ between the material and spiritual dimensions of life. What William Loader is doing is picturing a ‘thin place’ in his prayer poem.

With the memory of the Moses story resonating in his mind, and a similar Jesus story as told by Mark some 20 odd years before, Luke weaves his words into a picture-story ‘where the earth touches the heavens, to the place of meeting, to the place of mists, to the place of voices and conversations, to the place of listening’. Lets remember here that none of these stories are recording an historical fact and yet they are saying something true.

I have been reading Elain Pagels autobiography and she writes about her work on the Nag Hammadi documents, especially the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Truth. She touches on her work on Revelation as well but what fascinated me was her work on the Gospel of Thomas which of course we know to contain a lot of sayings attributed to Jesus.

Video Beyond Belief https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCpXoFPmRFY

Some of the key points she makes are that unlike the Gospel of Mark, Thomas suggests that Jesus was speaking in metaphor when he says “If those who lead you say to you, the kingdom is in the sky, then the birds will get there first. If they say, It is in the sea, then the fish will get there first. Rather the kingdom of God is within you, and outside of you. When you come to know yourselves then you will know that you are the chi9ldren of God”. Here we have Jesus revealing that the kingdom of God is not an actual place in the sky, or anywhere else, or an event expected in human time. Instead, it’s a state of being that we may enter when we come to know who we are, and come to know God as the source of our being. The significant change here is that the ‘good news’ is not only about Jesus, its also about every one of us. This is a direct challenge to our current global obsession with difference and identity. While it may be right and proper to specify how we differ in terms of gender, race. Ethnicity, background and family this saying from Thomas suggests that recognizing that we are children of God requires us to recognize how we are the same. Members of the same family so to speak.

Taking this another step Pagels introduces the poem from the Nag Hammmadi documents entitled ‘Thunder that she worked on and here the unifying thing is the divine energy that links us all. The poem explores the complete mind by not seeing it only in the positive attributes like wisdom, holiness and power but also in terms of negative experiences like foolishness, shame and fear. The following is a short excerpt that gives us a picture of life not as one of sinner in need of redemption, not one of suffering as a result of sinfulness in need of absolution but rather as a holistic one where suffering and struggle are the requirement of life because they empower and affirm that a life of joy and peace is equally available. The poem also reintroduces for the patriarchally driven Jews the required feminine balance…..

I am the first and the last

I am the one who is honoured and the one scorned;

I am the whore and the holy one..

I am the incomprehensible silence and …

the voice of many sounds.

The word in many forms

I am the utterance of my name..

Do not cast anyone out. Or turn anyone away…

I am the one who remains, and the one who dissolves;

I am she who exists in all fear\and strength in trembling

I am she who cries out….

I am cast forth on the face of the earth..

I am the sister of my husband,

And he is my offspring..

But he is the one who gave birth to me

I am the incomprehensible silence

And the thought often remembered

I am the one who has been hated everywhere,

And who has been loved everywhere

I am the one they call Life, and you have called Death

I am the one whose image is great in Egypt

And the one who has no image among the barbarians.

I prepare the bread and my mind within;

I am the knowing of my name..

If our storyteller Luke is one thing, it is that he or she is consistent. Luke has been saying that this Jesus bloke is different, is better, than all the heroes of the past. Luke seems to understand Jesus as a new Moses, who mediates the new ‘law’ to his people and will deliver them out of bondage in a new exodus. It also seems that another of the things being suggested in this ‘thin’ story is, it is saying something important about an experience of God or The Sacred. And that something, is not about any so-called supernatural power or being. The important bit for me, I think, is that when we experience God or The Sacred something like a creative transforming power is released into our lives. We have encountered the thin place in the thick complex environment of life. And this encounter is not brought about by coercion and power over, but rather by lure and suggestion and imagination.

As Jesus was transformed before Peter, James, and John, (as the story goes), God’s so-called ‘will’ is to transform us in the everyday moments of our lives. As another scholar suggests:

  • If your deepest experience is loneliness, it is the will of God to transform you from loneliness to human connectedness.
  • If your deepest feeling is fear and anxiety, then God wishes to move you creatively past that, to love and to trust.

That is, the Source and Creativity of Life we call God, wants to move us beyond the meaninglessness of life to the intensity of living, characterized by joy and by vitality. It is precisely this creative, transforming power of God that moves us from the triviality of our existence to a new level of depth in our existence that will provide joy and zest and empowerment.

Pagels reading of the poem Thunder continues affirming the feminine as the primordial, life-giving energy that brings forth all things and I have taken the liberty of introducing the idea of God as serendipitous creativity. By that I mean that God is the unexpected, uncontainable, ambiguous uncontainable, John D Caputo’s perhaps and my almost. Creativity itself. The involved participatory vitality of possibility, unfolding of the cosmos. The adapted poem continues….

I am

Serendipitous creativity is the thought that lives in the light

It lives in everyone and delves into them all…

Serendipitous creativity moves in every creature..

It is the invisible one in all beings

Serendipitous creativity is a voice speaking softly

A real voice… a voice from the invisible thought It is a mystery….

Serendipitous creativity cries out in everyone

It hides itself in everyone and reveals itself within them,

and every mind seeking it longs for it.

Serendipitous creativity gradually brings forth everything

It is the image of the invisible spirit

The mother, the light, the virgin, the womb, and the voice

Serendipitous creativity puts breath within all things.

The suggestion here I think is that the thin places are to be found in amongst the thick places, in the everyday as well as the time out places. I think this is what the Gospel of Thomas is suggesting as the good news. It is important to take the walks in natural surrounding such as the beach at sunset or the deep lush bush because few of us feel we have ever been in a ‘thin place’ without that because much of our everyday living is done in ‘thick’ places. In the city within concrete and steel landscapes. In the city with its noise and traffic and flashing neon signs. And in ‘thick’ places such as the city we tend not to see paved malls and lawn areas as ‘sacred’ or ‘thin’ space, let alone high-rise buildings or glitzy shopping centers. And amid the mind-blowing achievements “and certainties of technology, it is not difficult to lose our sense of mystery. The challenge of Thomas is that the thin places exist within the everyday life as well. David Tacey, in his book, ‘The spirituality revolution’, cites the 1960s theologian Harvey Cox at a couple of points. “The secular world is the principal arena of God’s work today.  Those who are religious will have to enter more vitally into the secular world if they are to be agents of God’s reconciliation”. And again: “The church… must run to catch up with what God is already doing in the world”. So while it might be a bit hard to hear among all the mythology and storytelling hype, there is more good news in this story of Luke’s.

  • God is not aloof and detached.
  • God’s present-ness is like that of an expert weaver, using the fibers of our lives, weaving them into beautiful, powerful garments of love, empowering us for living and our continuing theological journeys.
  • God is present in both ‘thick’ and ‘thin’ places: in the beauty around us, in the close encounters with death, in a special way during a period of suffering, in cities of concrete and sandstone, in rain forests and church liturgies.

Don’t ignore or throw away these imaginative and mysterious experiences. Don’t let go of those things you don’t understand or cannot explain. Rather, meditate on them. Delight in them. Become a public voice for them. Use them as imaginative power that vitalizes your faith… And as a source of strength for living in both the valley and on the mountain top. In both ‘thin’ and ‘thick’ places. For Serendipitous Creativity God is up to something larger more complex and more refined than we seem able to imagine. Amen.

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Radical Social Reversal

Posted: February 26, 2019 in Uncategorized

Radical Social Reversal

Genesis 45: 3-15       Luke 6: 27-38

Joseph suggests that his brothers who committed the most heinous deed of selling him off to their enemies should not wallow in their guilt but rather reconcile and combine energies for the future. Joseph’s task in life was to forgive his brothers restore the familial relations and combine together for the sake of the people. His task is to redeem the bigger picture and their horrific deed pales into insignificance before the needs of the people.

Luke’s Jesus calls us to look at thigs a different way too. He says “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” “Bless those who curse you” and here we remember the meaning of bless as ‘to kneel’ God blesses, God kneels, to bless is to kneel. Here we have blessing as a forgiveness of the horrific act’. And then it gets into harder territory. Jesus is asking us to be passive toward those who strike you, allow those who steal from you to have what they have stolen. Give it away, allow bad to happen to you and do it without expectation of revenge or recognition. Sounds not only impossible but also wrong to do this. We note here that many preachers avoid this text because if they do try to preach on it they feel as though they are walking on eggshells.

 

Why? Because in every congregation there are people who are fragile at various points in their lives, and this story can come like a vicious stomp. A revisiting of the trauma, a dragging it all up again. There are people who hear this story as “Love your rapist.” Or bless those who screwed up your life so badly that every relationship you have ever had has been a painful struggle. “There are women, some men and children who have fled from their homes to escape the drunken rampages of a perpetually violent person, mostly it seems, who have been told by their churches, for God’s sake, they need to turn the other cheek and go back and love him or her.  And some of those partners and children are now dead because of a callous and gutless misuse of this story”.

The first big misuse of this story is to see it as being addressed to the individual. These words of Luke’s Jesus, such as: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
present the other cheek… are not addressed to individual people who have been
the victims of cruel abuse.  Period. They are addressed to those who have power. The power to take effective action for good or harm over another person. They are meaningless if directed to those who don’t have any power in a situation. They link the acts of the perpetrator to culture, social accepted-ness, systemic corruption. Kneel before those alienated by the power of others, collective others as well as individual others. Those with the real power to change things. What follows is a Yes Minister skit that makes fun out of the power game at the level of international politics. Under the script is the question of where the real power lies.

Yes Minister Video

‘Love your enemies’ John Donahue, a Catholic New Testament scholar says this of them; “A true meaning of the love command is not acquiescence to evil and violence, but imitation of God’s love by freeing enemies of their hatred and violent destructiveness…”  (Donahue, 2001, America, online weekly Catholic magazine). 

Jesus’ vision of a radical social reversal was both ‘good news’ and a call to people to do that good in actual practice. Robinson says it is a “call to people to do that good in actual practice… “not [be] seen as human virtues, but rather as God acting through those who [trusted God]” (Robinson 2002:16).

Rex Hunt tells the story of Martin Luther King whom he cites as having done this well.

Martin Luther King Jr’s home was burned down one night by a group of white men
who did not like his message about the equality of the races. The situation after the fire was extremely dangerous. African Americans, under the leadership of King were becoming more confident of themselves, and less willing to be oppressed and neglected by society. And they were angry… Angry about how they had been treated for years by white society. Angry in particular that night that their leader’s home had been destroyed.

A crowd of King’s friends and supporters gathered outside the shell of the burnt-out house. Some talked of getting guns. Others talked about getting petrol and setting fire to the homes of all the white people in the area so they could suffer as the black people had suffered. The crowd wanted to hurt those who had hurt them. They wanted to hurt those who had burned Dr King’s home. They wanted to hurt their enemies. Indeed they wanted to destroy them. That night however did not end up that way. Instead the crowd left their enemies in peace and they went home determined to win the victory with votes instead of with guns, with politics instead of with fire, with love instead of hate.

One of the things Martin Luther King Jr told the crowd that night was this: When you live by the rule ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’, you end up with a nation of blind and toothless people. Martin Luther King Jr was a person who tried to live the gospel of radical social reversal.

Bishop Desmond Tutu, twice Nobel Peace Prize and recipient and chairperson of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, when asked why his country chose to set up the Commission and work the way it did, replied: ‘To be human, we have to live in community, we have to restore community and in the end, only forgiveness will achieve that.  A person is a person through other persons.  Your humanity is caught up in my humanity. If you are de-humanized, then inexorably I am de-humanized. For me to be whole, you have to be whole. If you are a perpetrator, a torn and broken human being who has lost your humanity, then I too am less than whole.’ Desmond Tutu is a person who tries to live the gospel of radical social reversal.

We may not be able to match a King or a Tutu, but we can, and must, give it a go. The current environment in South Africa might be indicating that there is a renewal of turning the other cheek needed because maintaining such a love requires an ongoing commitment. Radical Social reversal is always needed. While we are not likely to be held accountable ‘if there was a reckoning ahead of us’, to why we were not a Martin Luther King or a Desmond Tutu it is more likely that we asked why we didn’t take the modest risks in our situation and push ourselves to our limit, to give life to the stranger, to our neighbour? So, what might be Jesus’ word to us today, as we work our way through thr current world social scene?

https://youtu.be/AoR2lWyngFk

At the root of this day’s challenge is the call to live our lives out of an alternative vision of reality that reverses the values of the dominant culture, especially the ‘values’ of the ruling Empire. The invitation is to nourish our entire life with integrity. Be empowered with compassion, so that we might live a new kind of life in this world.

Notes:
Robinson, J. M. 2002. “What Jesus had to say” in R. W. Hoover, (ed) Profiles of Jesus. CA: Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.

rexae74@gmail.com