Discovering the Possibilities…

Posted: November 3, 2021 in Uncategorized

Discovering the Possibilities…

This coming Sunday we celebrate in the church lectionary year a day which is supposed to be seen as the culmination of the whole year’s stories and sermons… We are of course invited to focus on the reign of Christ, or, as Christ the King, or in John Shuck’s words: Jesus the Nobody. Yet the so-called ‘real’ world is not listening.  Neither does it seem to care anymore. I was at an interesting meeting this week where a group of people from various social organizations and interested church people discussed how best to be church? How best to use a particular piece of plant and how to make an impact on bettering people lives as well as giving the church a sense of purpose and dare I use that word, ‘Mission’. We talked at length about what We are even asking thought the community needed and were challenged to ask whether or not the community wanted that. Maybe the Beatles were right. They (and other entertainers) are more popular than Christ! But even they have had to suffer the time passing and like that group of people this week we too have to say we don’t know what to do to serve the world. We are even asking. “What can religion do? And maybe that is a $64million question, isn’t it! (Where did that saying come from? I think its older that the 64million dollar man movie?)

The truth is that while we were wrestling with what to do in terms of mission and management of resource, we were exploring that big question. And we were not the first nor will we be the last. One major issue is the major shift in thinking that needs to take place if we are to succeed in turning this huge ocean liner of myth and practice onto another course. It is already true that many have tried over the last 100 years and it is also true that many have been resisted. And some of them have been replaced by new names and fellow explorers in contemporary thinking.

Just one of those who recently died, Bishop John Shelby Spong has said we need a new God-definition that resonates with the humanity of Jesus. “What I see is a new portrait of Jesus… I see him pointing to something he calls the realm (or kingdom) of God, where new possibilities demand to be considered…  I see him inviting his followers to join with him, to walk without fear beyond those security boundaries that always prohibit, block, or deny our access to a deeper humanity” (Spong 2001:131).

Biblical scholar Marcus Borg observed: “Our preoccupation with believing is because many of the central teachings of Christianity have come into question in the modern world.  Thinking of the Christian life as being primarily about believing in God, the Bible, and Jesus is thus a modern mistake, with profound consequences” (Borg 1999:240).

On the other hand, David Tacey, an Australian university lecturer who provided courses on Spirituality, says; with the collapse of belief in the traditional image of God “we have to find God in a new place, and the most convincing place of all will be our own human hearts.” He continues with this suggestion: “This does not mean that God will be a merely personal experience, locked away in the closet of introspection, but rather the discovery of God in our interiority will be the basis for a new appreciation of God in the world” (Tacey 2003:193).

What is also significant here is that neither Spong, Borg or Tacey claim to have ‘the’ answer to my $64million dollar question. But they are a few of the torch lights seeking out a new pathway. Seeking, that is, as traditional church structures and those who control them, debate whether to even allow the search to continue. Little regard is given to the institutional survival energy that arises when one’s belief system is questioned and it is easier to build walls than to allow the gospel to speak of new possibilities.

Many who do raise questions face vitriol, discrimination and in many cases expulsion from their tradition. Rex Hunt tells the story where one family’s ‘seeking’ was seen as too much of a threat for a representative of conservative religion. The Ordained cleric informed them they are no longer welcome to receive communion because of their so-called ‘radical’ beliefs.  His theology was not able to embrace either their questioning or their vision. Instead, his God must be protected and defended by his possession of the infinite truth. And their continued nurturing as people ‘on the way’ must be retarded or denied. The challenge to this fundamentalism has to be said is a denial of the Reign of Christ! A reign dependent upon absolutes doesn’t look like the one Jesus was espousing. One where, inclusion, acceptance, loving one’s adversaries, non-violence etc. were virtues central to this new realm.

One of the hopeful things happening in this transitional movement of thinking is that it is becoming a bit clearer as to what celebrating the Reign of Christ is all about. Both at a social and religious level the values of this new realm are developing. Some of these came out in our collective discussion on how to be church and how to uses assets in the interests of this new realm. Things like recapturing and revitalizing in the common mind the idea of ‘the commons’, a place not dependent upon a monetarist system but rather on the vale of usage for and by people. A very high level of shared space, or efforts in common, or practical equity.

Rex also suggests some preliminary comments that are not about, accepting a number of basic required beliefs and sub-beliefs, as claimed by conservative and fundamentalist religion… otherwise God will punish you, or you could be kicked out of the church, or be ostracized if you stay. Neither is it about being ‘converted’ or becoming all ‘holy’. Nor is it about demanding the status quo be maintained so as to preserve the last remnants of an outmoded supernatural religion. Rather he suggests; it is about our need to continue to revise our appreciation of the role of religion in everyday life. And to continue to revise what we believe. To continue to revise what form ‘church’ will take to be a meaningful, helpful presence in people’s lives. This needs to be the Sunday sermon and we need to continue to revise what it means to be a congregation… Why isn’t this a vigorous gathering of people, demonstrating care and compassion, healing and justice, integrity and intellectual honesty. And not a group of people defending a story that no one wants or needs. One of the things that came up in our conversation was that the primary task of a group of Jesus following people was to provide hope and especially in the realm where young people will be making the decisions about the planet, the lifestyles the wellbeing and the nurturing of the future. Where is their hope in this time of transition and seemingly hopelessness in regard to the future of our planet and our species?

So, I guess I am suggesting that the celebration of the Reign of Christ is about recognising a credible Jesus and a credible religion and a credible church in this the early years of the 21st century. And like Rex I suggest that some of the words and images which may help shape this credibility, are:

Acceptance –                                       a marvelous non-judgmental humanitarian compassion.

Relationship –                                      an evolving new way of being.

Loving wastefully –                             being freed from hang-ups and hostilities that cripple and conflict our existence.

Spiritual presence or creativity –         discovering something new about ourselves, about life.

Behaving ethically –                            learning what is appropriate behaviour in our changing environments.

The task is to rediscover these possibilities on this day, when the Lectionary invites us to celebrate and reflect on the season of the Reign of Christ.

Borg, M. J. & N. T. Wright. The Meaning of Jesus. Two Visions. New York. HarperSanFrancisco, 1999.
Spong, J. S. A New Christianity for a New World. Why Traditional Faith is Dying and How a New Faith is Being Born. New York. HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.
Tacey, D. The Spirituality Revolution. The Emergence of Contemporary Spirituality. Pymble. HarperCollins Publishers, 2003.

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