Turning Probability into Possibility

Posted: November 16, 2019 in Uncategorized

Pentecost 23 C, 2019
Isaiah 65:17-25

Turning Probability into Possibility

At the risk of repeating myself I want to suggest that what I was claiming last week was that I believe our church is making it more difficult to honour and accept the different, Different in social standing, different in world view and different in theological development. It seems that in order to be responsible with money and property we must all think the same and have the same view of what the church is and how it engages in mission. I may be paranoid and limited in my thinking also but it seems that in its concentration on survival and efficiency it is closing doors and excluding people. It seems that it is no longer appropriate for one to hold, or live by, a theological position or vision in our church. Unless of course, it is the neo-evangelical middle of the road position. By neo-evangelical I mean that which seeks to wipe out any sense of ecumenism, and any sense of liberal thought as being anti-gospel.

I admit that in saying that I am being simplistic, and generalizing but that is the message I think is being given by a church that says worship can only take place in one form and that is the gathering of a certain amount of people on a Sunday who give enough to sustain the model. Yes, there are groups beyond the model but they are not authenticated as equal opportunities as that of the traditional parish, congregational model. Yes, there is an accommodating of some alternatives but even those are bound by a fiscal model. What I am trying not to do is to say the way we do church is wrong but rather that is seriously flawed if it is the only way. Nor am I saying that attempts to change the direction have not been made in the past. What I am saying though is that that there is a qualified support for what I am suggesting but that it falls into the too hard basket in a world that is driven by fear and by an authenticity based in economic compliance. It is in my view rather sad that the church has become afraid to risk being confronted by its very own gospel.

The neo-evangelical approach is not only frightened of extinction, it has flattened out its proclamation of orthodoxy and made one-dimensional, the role of both theologian and prophet, in the life of the church. The only authentic prophet listened to is that one who espouses the party line, the traditional and the comfortable. The only theologians acceptable to read are those that don’t rock the boat.

However, if we take a look at this morning’s story from the prophet Isaiah, we see that he will have none of that. Instead, through the use of vivid picture language, Isaiah offers a vision, or states a position, which reminds us “of the ideals for which we hope and for which we believe God strives.  The ‘new heavens’ and ‘new earth’ the prophet foresees signify the possibilities for human society when we open ourselves to God’s transforming power” (RPregeant, P&F web site, 2007). The task of becoming more fully human in the image of God is always radical, new and holistic. New heavens.  New earth.  New possibilities for human society, now. There are some commentators who would suggest this is a most appropriate passage as we move towards the end of the Christian year, and national elections.

Rex Hunt suggests there is one group of Australian biblical scholars comment that might be useful reflect on this passage. They have interpreted this as saying “All that has prevented creation from being what God intended will be removed.  The disasters we see in the world about us every day are not what will determine the future of God’s creation.  Neither terrorist activity nor the exercise of military power will hold sway in God’s order of things. I would like to add that neither the church’s decline or extinction of current form will succeed. They go on to say that political deception will have no place, nor will abuse within the family or workplace.  The selfish exploitation and neglect of nature will be recognised… This is what the writer(s) of Isaiah 65 looks toward.  They look not just to the making new of the physical world, as to the renewing of the relationships and interconnections within the world which maintain life in its physical, spiritual, social and other dimensions.  That is the Christian hope” (HWallace et al. web site, 2007).

New heavens.  New earth.  Possibilities for human society, now.

Those of you who were here last Sunday may remember we touched on some so-called ‘apocalyptic’ talk as a basis for human transformation rather than ‘end-of-the-world’ stuff.

I also suggested something was required of us when we encounter this sort of end times talk. It is to read and study the biblical stories seriously, not literally, and know that we, even if only in a small way, are called upon to participate in the transformation of the world.

So, what is the apocalyptic talk in today’s text? I and others suggest that there is an echo to be heard in this week’s passage. And again, it is about re-imagining rather than end-of-world stuff.

So, how do we re-imagine the church?  Well! I am not sure my imagination is good enough but I want to make some suggestions. The first is that we might examine one, or two ways others have sought to re-imagine the world, through human transformation.

The first is an example of a very small way that we might participate in re-imagining the world. The topic is about British supermarket practices, from a few years back that in all intent and purpose could be applicable here too.

A Church of England bishop warned that the big supermarket chains in Britain were putting farming livelihoods at risk by forcing down prices through their buying power. His report said that: “The business practices of the major food retailers have placed considerable stress on the farming community through the use of methods which we believe to be unfair and of which consumers seem to be unaware,” said Bishop Michael Langrish of Exeter.

He was speaking at the launch of a report, ‘Fair trade begins at home: Supermarkets and the effect on British farming livelihoods’ written by two members of the church’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group. A small way, are called upon to participate in the transformation – re-imagining – of the world.

Secondly, Michael Lerner, a progressive Jewish Rabbi in America, wrote a powerful book called The Left Hand of God. In the book Lerner challenges both the political ‘right’ and the political ‘left’ to re-imagine the way society is organised by presenting what he calls a new “spiritual vision… a whole different level of discourse, not something narrowly instrumental that is basically about winning an election” (Lerner 2006:5, 18).

So, he sets out what he calls a ‘Spiritual Covenant with America’. “We invite our fellow Americans”, he writes, “to join us in building a society based on (a) new bottom line” (Lerner 2006:229). He suggests there are eight areas or issues are covered by the Covenant, and they include: 1. families, 2. personal responsibility, 3. social responsibility, 4. values-based education, 5. health care, 6. environmental stewardship, 7. building a safer world, and finally. 8. the separation of church and state and science.

We don’t have time to go into details of Lerner’s Covenant other than to offer some words from his Conclusion, because they could ring bells in our context as well: One of the things that evangelicals liberals and progressives can agree on is that; “There is an enormous spiritual hunger in the world at this time. From the sprouting up of new traditionally framed congregations to untitled groups of interest it seems that there is a yearning for a new way to think and a new way to live.  The challenge is to see that we have been trapped into thinking that fulfillment comes from achieving material success.  Bigger buildings with more people thinking and doing the same thing. I think our church has been caught up in this too and I think it is because we have stopped our theological questioning for too long.

This yearning could be because as the globalized economy makes accessible more and more material goods at prices that can be afforded, and more people have more commodities – more computers, cell phones, DVDs, cars, boats, televisions, and other gadgets – we find ourselves reaching for something else, something that cannot be satisfied by a new purchase.  We want meaning to our lives…”

Learner puts the two images of Right Hand and Left Hand of God, into context:
“The Right Hand of God is embraced by the powerful… [and] used to provide legitimacy to an empire and a competitive and unjust economic marketplace…  The Left Hand of God emphasizes the need to build a world based on love, kindness, compassion, generosity, mutual cooperation, recognition of the spirit of God in every other human being and an awareness of our interdependence with others…  (Lerner 2006:358). I might want to say as I have said earlier that the concentration of the left hemisphere of the brain where function and outcomes are sourced as opposed to the right hemisphere where purpose and meaning are developed is a reason. Remembering here that the right hand of logic and function power is influenced by the right brain and vice versa and this seems to support this proposal.

Throughout history, as well as within each of us, we can find elements in our life experiences that identify with the vision of the Right Hand of God. And similarly, there are also signs in both our individual and society lives that come under the influence of the vision of the Left Hand of God. It has been suggested that when social energy flows more toward hope, and promise we find ourselves supporting policies that are more generous, more oriented toward establishing peace and justice.

On the other hand, when social energy flows more toward fear, we find ourselves supporting policies that seek to dominate others, and to build institutions based on the assumption there is not enough in the way of material goods to go around. (Lerner 2006:358-59. I watched a move recently about the work of Bishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa that showed just how hard it is to bridge this gap between world views.  Practicing reconciliation and peace is harder after a regime of segregation, where difference and fear have been the mainstays of society.

The good news from Isaiah and from Jesus is: the world can be re-imagined; can be transformed. And what is our role in all this?  It is to challenge the powerful voice of fear.
Be it in the church or in society in general. If we believe that the church has anything to say anymore. we must engage in apocalyptic work. Not about a second coming, or a pie in the sky idealism but rather to bear witness to the reality and the ramifications of the vision of Isaiah and Michael Langrish and Michael Lerner and others. The followers of the Jesus Way must free themselves from the fear that holds them back from re-imagining the New Heavens and the New Earth. Amen.

Lerner, M. 2006.  The Left Hand of God. Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right.  New York. HarperCollins.



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