The Always, Almost Present-ness of Serendipitous Creativity God

Posted: November 30, 2021 in Uncategorized

Luke 3:1-6

The Always, Almost Present-ness of Serendipitous Creativity God

We have begun the advent season and arrive at week two, that of the theme of ‘Peace’. We have participated in the lighting of an Advent candle. The second Advent candle.
The ‘peace’ candle. And in the spirit of ‘Advent’ we are, once again, invited to ‘keep awake!’… or ‘stay alert!’ Ears tuned. Eyes open. Why? Because the God we seek is not that obvious, not that in your face, not that clear. It is as if that God is ‘perhaps’, or ‘almost; here but not quite clear or here but not quite yet. What advent seems to be saying is ‘stay alert’ so that you might together rediscover the God-given “incognito” (John Bell) moments in our ordinary daily living.

This is the heart of the Progressive, down-to-earth theme that continues today as the challenge to our reflection. This morning’s gospel story is built around a bloke we call John. He is only introduced today. And in the lectionary a fuller development is the subject of the story. But we already know that story from all the tradition which has been built up around him. We combine everything we know or remember about John, whenever we hear his name mentioned. Some give him the nickname: ‘dipper’ in recognition of his practice. We think of him and his way-out dress and alternative diet. We assume his particular call for change in universal to faith as we do his call for repentance. Tradition seems to suggest that this assumption became synonymous with the message of Jesus despite his alternative approach to fear and his claims for a peace without violence. We remember John’s gruesome end but pass it by as not significant as message about his theology or his approach to faith.

One commentator, John Meier, describes ‘dipper’ John as one of two historical figures who stands at either end of Jesus’ life, like bookends. The other is Pontius Pilate. Both only as support for claims made of Jesus rather than harbingers of important utterings and views. And none of that is what interests the storyteller we call Luke right now. What interests Luke is setting the scene, appropriately. And it’s a political setting to boot! Its more akin to Pilate than John in that sense. All those characters named in the Gospel reading this morning, are ‘reported’ to be people of power, both political and religious. Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod, and his brother Philip
Lysanias, Annas and his son-in-law, Caiaphas. As to whether they all belong to the same historical time frame, is debatable. But for Luke they are representative. Representative of the use, but more often, the abuse, of power. And here is the alternative challenge that Jesus brings upon the political scene. For Roman imperialism, the ruling over people was achieved through the deeds and the mantra of, ‘war, then victory, then peace’. This time in Roman history, the time of John and Jesus and Pontius Pilate, was the time of Pax Romana the time considered by Rome as the time of peace. The so-called positive effects of the Pax Romana (“the time of Roman peace”), which lasted from around 27 BC until AD 180? Were essentially about Roman control and influence when slavery was abolished, the Colosseum was built, and the empire expanded. A time also when Christianity was banned, the society became classless, and the Colosseum was built. Jewish historian Philo however paints a dark picture of Pontius Pilate: ‘a ruthless despot, by nature rigid and stubbornly harsh… of spiteful disposition and an exceeding wrathful man… the bribes, the acts of violence, the outrages, the cases of spiteful treatment, the constant murders without trial, the ceaseless and most grievous brutality’.

And out of this repressive situation comes a voice of protest.  The voice of John. And he begins to offer the people “who lived under the shadow of Rome and under the burden of Herodian control and taxation a new way to end the pain and uncertainty that plagued their daily lives” (Horsley & Silberman 1997:34).

In the public mind, John was a major religious figure in the time of Jesus and we know that Jesus was moved by John’s approach and offered something more and alternative. So, what does Luke’s initial story of John invite us to remember: It invites us to consider that something new is needed. We like Jesus need to think outside the square. Go beyond the understandings, the answers, we have been given or have acquired. And that’s where all this fits into the general lectionary theme of Advent. We are encouraged to discover the God-given “incognito” moments in our ordinary living, especially in those moments which push the boundaries.

Or, to put it another way. Preparing for the coming of God’s realm means washing and evaluating the lenses through which we read the Bible or understand God or church or neighbour, as well as the transformation of life, individually, politically, and as a society, here and now. The challenges of climate change, Covid 19, economic theories, sociological assumptions all need our attention.

We can see past the exclusiveness of sex when we read From Mother Teresa’s  ‘Longing for God’: When she says: ‘We all long for heaven where God is, but we have it in our power to be in heaven with Him at this very moment. ‘But being happy with Him now means Loving as He loves,
Helping as He helps, Giving as He gives, Serving as He serves, Rescuing as He rescues, Being with Him twenty-four hours, Touching Him in his distressing disguise’ (Harvey 1996:214.).

Although as religious progressives we do not expect a literal return of Jesus, it is essential to our progressive spirituality that we do expect “continual intimate encounters with (Serendipitous Creativity) God in our personal, social, and political lives” (RPregeant/P&F web site 2006).

So both the liturgical function and spirituality of Advent is to focus on this aspect of life, the always-to-be-expected present-ness of Creativity – ‘God’ in our ordinary living or as I would put it the God that is the “Almost” of our reality. The serendipitous, almost but not yet the sure and potential, the doubt birthed certainty, the finite within the infinity. The “I Am’ of the Hebrew and the hear and the yet to come of the NT Kingdom. And in the flowering Kowhai, the blossoming Pohutukawa.
In the ‘creaking of the tree branches rubbing together in the hot Summer wind. In the scientific imagination of Cosmologists and the single soul looking up at the night sky. “The world and the universe is an extremely beautiful place, and the more we understand about it the more beautiful it appears.  It is an immensely exciting experience to be born in the world, born in the universe, and look around you and realise that before you die you have the opportunity of understanding an immense amount about that world and about that universe and about life and about why we’re here. 

Here is the certain hope, and the peace that passes all understanding we seek. We have the opportunity of understanding far, far more than any of our predecessors ever did. We know more than Jesus ever did but I think he knew that we could. That is such an exciting possibility, both for our understanding Of Jesus ad ourselves and it would be such a shame to blow it and end our life not having understood what there is to understand”.

In the birth of one’s first child. In those moments when we choose to live together loving and caring for each other (the Christmas metaphor). Once again, we encounter the Serendipitous Creativity – ‘God’ acting in us and in others, who receive our actions. In the loving, helping, giving, and serving we create the peace that passes all understanding. Amen.

Horsley, R. A. & N. A. Silberman. The Message and the Kingdom: How Jesus and Paul ignited a Revolution and Transformed the Ancient World. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997.
Harvey, A. (ed). The Essential Mystics. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996.

Doug Lendrum with David W. Williams & Emma McGeorge :Almost: A Otherwise

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