‘The Need for Love in a Post Christian World’

Posted: December 14, 2021 in Uncategorized

Luke 1:39-45

‘The Need for Love in a Post Christian World’

At long last we have arrived at the end of Advent. The season of preparation where we have been invited to ‘stay awake’ to the unexpected present-ness of a Serendipitous Creativity that we call God in our ordinary living. I would add here that this awareness is not just about naming that which we call God but also about making authentic language about how we might perceive this that we call God and ultimately if we are to be true to our heritage that God is Love then Love needs to have a context that is authentic, embodied and not just an idea. I have a whole lot of questions in mind but we will not have time today to do more than allude to them. My hope is that we might leave today in the days before we celebrate the birth of the guy Jesus as being significant for humanity and thus culturally applicable and explainable in common language. A tall order but I think you will make sense of it even if at first it seems too complex.

There are some basic issues we need to be able to talk about what love is in our context. Love will need to be understood in today’s context if it is to have the worth we need it to. So despite the many ways of talking about our context Alvin and Heidi Toffler in their book War and Anti-War said “we are witnessing the sudden eruption of a new civilization on the planet, carrying with it a knowledge-intensive way of creating wealth that is trisecting and transforming the entire global system today. Everything in that system is now mutating, from its basic components … to the way we interrelate … to the speed of their interaction …. To the interests over which countries contend … to the kinds of wars that may result and which need to be prevented.?

The second thing we need to hold on to is what Moltmann wisely points out some years back. He says: “we cannot know whether modern society has any future and we must not know. If we knew that humanity is not going to survive we should not do anything more for our children but would say, ‘after us; the deluge;. If we knew that humanity is going to survive, we should not do anything either ….. Because we cannot know whether humanity is going to survive or not, we have to act today as if the future of the whole of humanity were dependent on us. This suggests we need to make a difference between the idea of accepting t retaining the idea that God, Religion and Spirituality don’t exist and an objective Creator that is in charge of everything. Jack Caputo helped me here when he introduced the idea of God that does not exist but rather insists and that only exists when we human beings make it exist. That idea appeals in that it addresses the idea that

 David Galston talks about as the Future of God being in Human hands.

Another comment Moltmann makes that speaks to this issue is as follows. I like it because it gives a clear place for love as a dynamic divine creativity that is anthropomorphically grounded. Moltmann says: “ the most exciting breakthoughs if the 21st Century will occur not because of technology, but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human. Humanity will probably not be rescued by a deus ex machina either in the form of a literal Second Coming or by friendly spaceships. Though we will be guided by a revived spirituality, the answers will have to come from us. Apocalypse or Golden Age, The choice is ours” I like this because it suggests that the future in in the hands of human love, purely because is it always in the positive mode of human functions/ As that song goes, ‘Love Changes Everything’.

So when seeking the context we might hold in our minds when we think of love, what it is, what it does and how important it is in the future of human life. What is love in this world we find ourselves in? Why? Because without context love is destroyed because the data without context needs to return to the whole picture if it is to have human meaning beyond just idea.

The world is just a pile of dissonant bits of information when it is not put into the context of the whole big picture. The why questions are not asked without this return of the data to the big picture. Essentially the primary question is who are we, what is the we as a human being, what is the self we talk about so easily? And the hard part about this is being able to step outside oneself because when we do we find that there is something missing. Without stepping outside of our selves and wrestling with the importance of the other then Love and non-love are the same, caught in the battle between good and bad rather than applied in the whole. Love does not deal with the dichotomy of the general and the particular, the in and the out. Dr Ian McGilchrist calls this rationalization important but it should not be the dominant position, rather it is the resistance that makes available the opposite. About now I sense we are departing our focus on the theme of Love and becoming enamored with the whole.

So, what is this thing we talk of as love? One approach is to say that Love might be the strengths and virtues of being human such as Creativity, Curiosity, Open-mindedness, Love of Learning, Perspective, Bravery, Persistence, Integrity, Vitality, Kindness, Social Intelligence, Citizenship, Fairness, Leadership, Forgiveness, Humility, Prudence, Self-control, Appreciation, Gratitude, Hope, Humour and Spirituality. Another way of putting all tis into a context is in the following story.

Greg Manning could see from the terrace of his apartment that the jet had struck near the offices of Cantor Fitzgerald where his wife worked as a senior vice president and partner. For  the next half hour he paced frantically, stopping only to pound the wall and cry out her name. He was certain that his vibrant and beautiful Lauren was dead, but he was wrong. That morning she had lingered saying goodbye to their 10-month-old son, Tyler, and as a result arrived at the World Trade Centre a few moments later than usual. She had just entered the lobby of tower one when a fireball descending through an elevator shaft propelled her back into the street, totslly engulfed in flames. A bond salesman who witnessed this raced over, put out the fire that was consuming her, and remained at her side until an ambulance arrived. At the hospital, her face swollen beyond recognition, she told Greg the pain was so excruciating she had been praying to die but then out of love fore him and Tyler made the decision to fight for her life. Within a few minutes she slipped into a drug-induced coma that would last many weeks. Her parents came immediately from their home in Georgia to alternate bedside and babysitting duties with Greg. During his hospital shafts, Greg ignored Lauren’s unconscious state, reading poetry to her and playing her favourite CDs, all the while reassuring her that she was loved, that he would take care of her, that everything would be ok. During his home shifts he took Tyler to birthday parties and play dates, read and sang to him, and documented his development on videotape for Lauren’s future viewing. Remarkably, he also found time each day to send e-mail updates on her condition to friends and family. Saving Lauren meant replacing more than 80% of her skin, often multiple times. Some f the grafts used synthetic or donor skin, and from the outset were considered temporary, whereas others that were hoped to be permanent simply did not take. To compound the horror, part of her left ear was destroyed, and several fingers of her left hand required partial amputation. Although Greg would sob in the arms of friends, he never wavered in his devotion to Lauren or hos confidence that she would pull through. Exactly 3 months after admission to the hospital Lauren saw her new, scarred face for the first time. The predictable shock and sadness were tempered by the fact that her husband had prepared her through repeated reminders that she always had been and always would be his soul mate, and in his eyes was a beautiful as ever. Six months after that terrifying morning against the slimmest of odds, Greg Manning took his wife home. Those closest to the case agree that Lauren survived through a combination of grit and Love. Again, Love Changes things.

Our Gospel stories for today might be seen to be talking about Love but in this case the love that is rooted in loving one’s enemies, the challenge of love.

Two pregnant women meet.  Cousins, tradition tells us later. Two named pregnant women, with speaking parts, meet. Mary. Elizabeth. Like all the other stories told by Luke, and this one is no different, the teller has a ‘theological’ reason for the story: The first is to confirm the miracle promised by the angel, and the second, to establish the superiority of Jesus to John even before they are born. Most scholars also agree Luke is not telling a realistic story. While the trip itself is the first of two unrealistic trips to be undertaken by Mary while she is pregnant. Causing one female scholar to suggest: these stories could only have been told by a male! Yet this fictional story of this meeting of the two women has shaped Christian imagination and inspired Christian art through the centuries. Artistically, their meeting is often depicted “with these two women in a wordless embrace, sharing, like all mothers-to-be, the mystery of new life within themselves, and with a sense of mutual awe over what God has done.” (JDonahue. America web site, 2006).

On the other hand, perhaps the most famous artistic Mary presentation is in the great Pieta, where Mary as mother, is cradling the broken body of her son. (A love not unlike that of our earlier story perhaps)  People who are oppressed and cannot speak out because they’ll be imprisoned, or shot, or retribution will be made against their families, say they understand this Mary.

While for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in our society, Mary “an unwed mother in an extremely traditional society.” (MBrown. ‘Out in scripture’ web site, 2009). understands what it feels like to carry the awful burden of ‘otherness’. But unlike many LGBT people, however, tradition suggests Mary does not see her otherness as a reason for despair.
“She sees through the identification, this stigma, and recognizes that God is working through her otherness to transform the social structures that dominate the world.”  (MBrown. ‘Out in scripture’ web site, 2009). A courageous, protesting love as a love that battles exclusion perhaps.

Perhaps the most contemporary artistic rendering of the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth occurs in Michele Zackheim’s 1985 art work called The Tent of Meeting.

It is a 400 square meter art work in the form of a Bedouin style tent whose canvas walls are  covered with historic imagery from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Describing this work, the late professor of Christianity and the Arts, Doug Adams, said: “An appropriate surprise appears at the top… where the hand of God appears above the pregnant figures of Mary and Elizabeth meeting. The surprise is that we see God’s left hand instead of God’s right hand.”  (DAdams. PSR web site, 2003).

Adams explained: “Michele Zackheim has presented God’s left hand to include and affirm what has often been excluded or viewed negatively.  Traditionally, God’s right hand has been featured in art but not God’s left hand.  In social as well as religious rituals and stories, the right hand has been associated with the clean or the saved while the left hand has been associated with the dirty or the damned.  Such associations have been based on social customs arising from use of the left hand to wipe ones rear end in the days before toilet paper…” (DAdams. PSR web site, 2003)

In another comment Adams indicates that the artist’s intention is to say God reverses all our assumptions. Love Changes Things. God includes those whom we often exclude. And then this short but telling comment: “We need to develop eyes to see the unexpected in Advent.” (DAdams, PSR web site, 2003). Yet it is not the artistic depictions which have grabbed me so much this year. What has stayed with us perhaps is the way our storyteller has chosen to play
with a whole series of parallels or contrasts. We don’t hear them all in the Mary and Elizabeth story. But they are there when you read great slabs of Luke’s story. Such as these contrasting emphases:

• the play between light and darkness,

• the supernatural with the ordinary,

• the role of women – and that spirituality is not men’s business alone,

• the plight of the powerless rather than the position of the powerful,

• Jesus and John,

• and between Caesar’s empire and God’s empire.

All of these things come full front-stage this year. In the drama of the unexpected present-ness of Serendipitous Creativity ‘G-o-d’ introduced by the storyteller, they have leading roles. So… today is Advent 4, the last day in the Season of Advent. The season of preparation where we have been invited to ‘stay awake’ to the unexpected present-ness of Creativity ‘G-o-d’, in the ordinary human business of living, and specifically in the living out of love. The human divine act of loving. Why?
Because human business is holy business. Frequently a messy business. But holy business none-the-less. (WLoader web site, 2009).

There is no indication in Luke’s story that Mary should be seen as less than human or more than human, less than woman or more than woman. What she is, is ‘blessed… among women’. And that’s the provocative challenge and the promise of Advent. Engage meaningfully in life.
Love wastefully. Be all that we can be. Because Advent and the sacred are rooted in our everyday experiences of love. Amen.


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