God? That Which Comes to Expression in Us. Living?

Posted: May 16, 2020 in Uncategorized

God? That Which Comes to Expression in Us. Living?

I am aware that my sermon last week about the words put into the mouth of Jesus by the storyteller John: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life’, and the interpretation I offered, may have been a bit technical and maybe even challenging to some of you. I am told that this phrase is often the subject of much debate in the pages of somechurch magazines.

If what I said, was a bit technical last week it was in perhaps the reliance on interpretation of language and not what some of you have read or heard others say before. And, it would be ok to say that this might have caught some of you unawares, but then it may have perhaps stimulated your imaginations.

For those of you who missed last week I wrote a little about how can we make sense of the claim: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life’. Traditionally, these words have often been used, and come across, as exceedingly exclusive. As if Jesus, in the guise of a benevolent but first century ‘Terminator’, is making an ambit claim against other religions. Or is some kind of heavenly bouncer, keeping people away from God. Especially those without faith. Those with not enough faith. And those who express their faith differently.

The sermon was an attempt to say that Jesus is not the ‘way’ in the sense of a moral guide or a model of leadership. He was and could be the path-way the ‘Way’ into the depths of the God-self-neighbour relationship… Into the mystery of our common existence. Jesus is the ‘Truth’ about that common existence. It is what makes sense given what we know about human life. Uncovering what is hidden, and bringing to light another dimension of human existence is the true living. Jesus is ‘Life’ because he is the way and truth by which God, self, and neighbour, break their isolation and flow into each other. The collective, interdependent reality of being human. The plural ‘you’. The non-isolated and living individual.

So, the challenge for those of us who live comfortably with the title ‘progressive’, and let’s face it, that is not everyone, is not the existence of other faiths claims. For the most part, most of us happily embrace religious pluralism and spiritual diversity, so long as we don’t have to explain it too deeply but the extreme of diversity is a distortion.

The challenge, it seems, is our surrendering of the Christian story to exclusive cults and preaching gurus, to fundamentalists and members of the ‘religious right’, and to the new neo-conservative evangelicals. And that is not relivatism or surrendering to the moderate but rather acknowledging and celebrating the dynamic living evolving peace-based pathway. But that was last week.  What about this week?

Maybe I need to apologize beforehand because today’s gospel story – John’s prelude to Pentecost might be just as complicated as it is about the continuing present-ness of God.

One possible way into this story is to sense the differences between the religion of Jesus, and the religion about Jesus.

The religion of Jesus is without much text available to us and so it is found in the echoes of the sayings he spoke and the stories he told, not as law, but about how to live,  and by that I mean how to treat one another, how to re-imagine the world. Some might say living the golden rule ‘Do unto others etc.….’ is enough to understand the way Jesus lived, but his humanity suggests that there is more to it than that and it is this that we seek.

The religion about Jesus has often been the religion of literalism and fundamentalism. In this path we find ourselves leaping forward in the history of the Christian movement and the institutionalisation of Christianity and then its politicizing as the state religion. And when this path has been followed it is believing a certain story about an interventionist God, with the promise that if you do believe, you’ll be saved some day after you die.

The religion of Jesus however, is not a ‘supernatural’ story.  It is a real and applicable story. It is about how you can be made more whole, here and now, as a human being, and how you can help make the world more whole, here and now. From our very best guesses (thanks to the work of amateur sleuths and scholarly critics), we can say the message of the religion of Jesus was one of liberation and empowerment and compassion. It was about seeing the alternative way of living, the other opportunity of life freed from cultural prisons and seeing the economic, social, religious and political options within human systems of life. The religion of Jesus was about providing new or different pathways to experiencing and serving God in daily life, this life.

And from all we have puzzled over and learned, we can also say the message from the religion about Jesus was one too often aimed at implanting and maintaining fear as a motivator and thus frightening or controlling people, hating those who are different, skeptics who asked questions about the ethics or the benefits to whom. Look out is you were a zealot of any kind or an assertive woman.

The religion about Jesus emphasizes the ‘noun’ and sanctifies belief as concrete and immovable whereas the religion of Jesus emphasizes the ‘verb’ and celebrates the dynamic, living, moving, evolutionary nature of life itself. As some have said: The religion about Jesus is ‘Easter’. The once only moment of new life and the religion of Jesus is ‘easter-ing’. Crucifixions are real and happen whenever we trap something in its context never allowing it to evolve and be interpretive. “It’s about the miracle of new life coming from old, life out of death, right here and now.  There is nothing supernatural about this understanding of the relationship with the divine even though it feels so magical when it happens…  Life is about honouring that spirit of life that comes and goes as it likes, but when it comes our way it can make all the difference between feeling dead and feeling alive…” (Davidson Loehr UUAustin Web site, 2008). 

The stories we heard this morning from Philip and from John, are more about ‘easter-ing’ than ‘easter’. They are not about bigger miracles or stricter commandments or watertight creeds. They are about a dynamic, creative, evolving ‘present-ness’ in our midst. The truth is that the stories are conditioned and shaped by the language of their day: the earth is flat for them, bad things that happen are coined as sin and sin causes sickness, God as all powerful and distant. The three- tier universe supports this because Nature is part of the mystery but so are our stories conditioned and shaped by the language and imagination of our day.

What we have in common with the so-called Luke’s version of Paul, is that we too can claim: God is ‘not far from each one of us.’ Our God is present and active everywhere on earth… As Progressives our God is closer to that which is human. The incarnation is more intimate than theirs perhaps, or humanity and divine are less objective and more subjective than they were. Things in common are found in the slow development of human cultures and societies, the growth of knowledge, and the constant search for meaning as women and men tell stories and share their connectedness, and in the urging of us to love graciously and generously, to break down barriers between people, and to put an end to religious elitism and religious wars.

A progressive imagining may be for a more creative, compassionate, loving and vulnerable humanity. And rather than an attempt to control, extend and condition happiness and human achievement, we might embrace and rejoice in the knowledge that our God lives and comes to wonderful expression – in us, as us. Missing pieces we might have, vulnerable we might be, at the whim of serendipitous reality we might be and as ‘at risk’ that we are. In this might be a theology of illness that enables us to engage with the Covid-19 virus and take responsibility for our effect on the climate of our world and on its future as a planet where human life evolves. So, we might say, long may this species we know as human live, long live human living as we know it. If living can be a living of Jesus rather than about Jesus then so may it be! Amen.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.