Archive for September, 2022

What Time Is It?

Posted: September 27, 2022 in Uncategorized

Pentecost 17C, 2022
Luke 17: 5-10

What Time Is It?

Is the Christian Faith going to disappear or not? Is any form of religion going to survive into the future? All these are big questions that currently seem to be driven by a level of fear uncovered by the examples all around the world. One might suggest that our obsession with self and the importance of individualism and personal place in the human psyche is in need of examination. It is beginning to seem as though the age of reason is over and the age of personalization is becoming stretched by the need for collaboration and collective approaches to life.  Control of the masses seems to be too complex to understand and the expending of competitive energy seems to be struggling as; out of synch with the rising anxiety within the populace and there is an increasing resorting to winning at all costs and to the closure through some sort of violence over dominance of expectation. Is protest allowed to include a justifiable violent act? Is Rugby allowed to equal physical assault upon another? Is the game about exterminating the other by any means. The administrators and the referees seem to be the targets in the face of their attempts to protect individuals. Is this a reaction to the futility of violence? Is it an attempt to sanitize the direction  society is moving?

When the apostles ask Jesus to adjudicate on the assault on faith, they perceive his answer is to say ‘Increase your faith’ because your questions are born out of a lacking of it. Its not about expecting your faith to remain strong and comforting, you have to go the extra mile, you have to live as though it is beyond question and then you will know.

Three years ago I quoted an Australian social commentator named Hugh Mackay who was writing for various newspapers, around 2004, and in one of his columns he wrote about the Australian experience of this paradox between sport and anxiety. This suggests that it might be a Western problem as opposed to just a NZ one. He quoted from a survey published… by Edith Cowan University that said; See how chirpy, sports mad and easy going we all are?  Well, yes, but see how anxious and insecure we are, too”.  I suggested back then that there is this paradox at work that is clouding our thinking or making it harder to really know what is going on.

We are in the throws of local body elections and politicians wanting to be re-elected (or elected), tend to play on that sense of anxiety. Reading all their desired contributions and what they intend to do. What they promise. One would have to say that in many cases they are caught up in this game of paradox. How do they win your vote as an ideal person to maintain the ideals of democratic leadership, collective interests as well as frighten us into thinking that they will control all the ills of sector interests, profiteering corporations and runaway institutional greed and corruptible power? They count on us wanting to seek out security and comfort, rather than risking the so-called stresses and challenges of change and they do this by promising to alleviate perceived burdens of high rates, high pollution, traffic congestion, proper ecological policies, accurate measurement and strong audit principles etc. I am not saying this is wrong or not to be expected but rather calling for an awareness of the nature of fear-based change. We read of the like in our Hebrew Scripture from Lamentations, The city the nation, the faith are under pressure for change and they feel it.

Similarly, Luke the storyteller has the disciples of Jesus in the first part of today’s reading, making a ‘comfort’ or ‘security’ request of him: ‘make our faith greater’ they ask. But, the storyteller says, Jesus’ replies: unleash, expend, use… the faith you already have. Faith is a style by which life and work are done. It’s not a fossil fuel, that must be hoarded and marketed. Faith is the eradication of probabilities says Johnathon Sacks, and the championing of possibilities. I would add that it is time to dare to imagine, dare to imagine a new world, anew way and of course this means a way of live as opposed to a way of fear. It is not about escapism in sport or a redirection of concern. It is not about legalizing marijuana and providing another mind-altering drug. It is about increasing faith, increasing trust, increasing a realistic engagement with the truth. It’s a way of seeing and a way of being.

Reflecting on my own religious journey, and re-iterating what I said then, I have to admit that there were times when I understood ‘faith’ as a collection of knowledge, beliefs, affirmations, and memorized Bible verses. That was my biggest fear in fact because I have never been able to rote learn much at all so quoting bible verses draws a blank from me. Looking back, I think I probably understood ‘faith’ as something that could be measured by volume. If I studied hard or worked diligently or impressed my bible class teacher, I could increase my faith. Trouble was I could never study hard enough. I am an experiential learner so book study or any sort of induced study was hard work.

I have to say again that I was relieved somewhat when I heard that faith is not dependent upon a certain belief but rather a way of life. Andrew Greeley, poet, priest and sociologist said: “There is no such thing as a little faith any-more than there is a little pregnancy. Faith is an overwhelming power no matter how weak it may seem”. Nothing was said by Andrew and others, about faith being about a set of beliefs or affirmations… even though honest theological thinking is important. Nothing was said about faith being the provision of answers to a set of questions… even though an intelligent religion is more-healthy than an unbelievable one. Nothing was said about shooting God into the hearts of others with some sort of wonderful life changing set of words called a sermon. Proclamation has become an active political tool that expects something that mirrors someone else’s idea of ecstatic revelation. We are all supposed to know what evangelism feels like and looks like. Rather, the comments of those who invite us to question this need to have faith are inviting us to recognise and acknowledge the present-ness of God already here or there! I thing this faith that Jesus was talking about is like the faith revealed by the devastating emptiness of outrage or utter despair that comes when someone breaks the trust one has in them. There is nothing worse than the loss of trust and as we know trust is a closer word to faith than is belief.

From a study of the ‘historical’ Jesus it seems he recognised the presence of faith in the most unlikely of places. Why? Because faith is an action rather than a commodity. You can’t have it but you can do it. And in most cases, it is an action, a launching out, a moving on against what appears to be overwhelming odds. Is the church in decline? What is the decline in attendance telling us? Is it about the demise of the church or is it about seeing it through faith-filled eyes? Is it already here in another form and calling upon our imagination? Is it rather that our questions are missing the mark? I like New Testament scholar Brandon Scott’s comment when he says: “Theology can never begin by assuming that it already has the answer. Any theology that does not begin with radical doubt is basically dishonest” he says. (Scott 2003). I like that!

For where there is radical doubt, there is also the possibility of new beginnings, of imagination, of hope. Probabilities become possibilities. Of change.  Because as philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said: Life refuses to be embalmed alive!

But this is only the first part of today’s story. An important part to be sure because it gives us the challenge to our assumptions about faith and truth and it provides us with another way of seeing. The second part – the bit about slaves or servants is a little different. It jars our 21st century sensibilities in that Luke reflects the social assumption of Christianity around the end of the first century and the beginning of the second. We might call them conservative but it could also be the rise of literalism and the influence of Greek and Roman thinking. For us it is also from this same period that we get the pseudo-Pauline Pastoral Epistles – Timothy and Titus – with their household codes that exhort Christians to reflect proper respect to those above them in the social order: wives to husbands, children to fathers, slaves to masters. I say pseudo because the social, political and religious assumptions are seeking to legitimize Christianity within the culture making it more palatable with Greek and Roman thinking, not unlike what we do when we export the gospel. Think like me because it is better. We take with us the basic myth and we manipulate the contextualization of it in order to win votes or increase attendance.

In these collections as in this Lukan saying the radical vision of Jesus has given way to the collective instinct that traditional values should not be challenged (Jenks. Faith Futures web site, 2010). And once again the link between the story and the saying can be found in the contemporary call of politicians wanting to be elected or re-elected, with their claims for “family values” and faith-based engagement in party politics. Greg Jenks, Australian progressive biblical scholar, asks: Are Gospel values to be found in historical expressions of human society, or in a prophetic critique of any and every human institution
that claims ultimate value?  (Jenks. Faith Futures web site, 2010)

He writes: “Conservatives opposed to homosexuality appeal to the Bible as if it provided timeless truths free of the cultural conditioning of its authors and original audiences. I would tend to agree but condition it by saying that the term conservative is no longer able to be so clearly defined. Some conservatives value context above concrete creed. To their chagrin, progressives also appeal to the counter-cultural instinct of the faith tradition that birthed the Bible in the first place…” We wouldn’t have the bible if some didn’t want to preserve the truth as they saw it. But he goes on to make what I reckon is this important comment: “The Bible does not serve either side well in such disputes.  It is a flawed text insofar as it assumes and promotes such things as slavery, demon possession, ethnic cleansing, racial superiority, a three-tiered universe, and the subordination of women. In its defense it is poetry and story used in a literal and artificial way, It is experiential in metaphorical in nature and thus always living.

Such realities should be an embarrassment to traditionalists and progressive alike.  The Bible does not fit neatly with our cultural assumptions…  The immense spiritual value of the Bible may lie more in its capacity to empower our human quest than its ability to solve or resolve our immediate challenges” says Jenks. (Jenks. Faith Futures web site, 2010).

And here’s the link with part one of our text. We find out what life is all about through the living of it. It is always the new that matters, time is a measurement we don’t need right now but rather later because we are always becoming. To be alive is to be becoming. And this is what faith is all about: a way of living, an attitude, a vision, that creates us daily. Like good cheese or good wine, a matured faith is a gradually maturing process. So even if your faith is like a small seed particle you have within your grasp a potent life force. So just do it, get on with it. Love, love and love again/ Unleash your faith now. Its time. Amen.

Scott, B. B. 2003.  “Father knows best! Where is fundamentalism taking us? In private circulation from the author.

‘Storm as Precursor to Life and the Call of Imagination’

Honour the Mind, Live the questions and Explore the Human adventure

Was Jesus of Nazareth the Storm that brought about change?

A poem to start our thinking.

‘Amidst the discordant noises of the day we hear the Spirit calling;
We stumble as we tread Earth’s way; asking that we be kept from falling.

Our eyes are open but often they cannot see for the gloom of night:
We can no more than lift our hearts but for an inward light.

The wild and fiery passion of our youth consumes our soul; 
In agony we turn to God for truth and self-control.

For Passion and all the pleasure it can give will die the death;
But this of us eternally must live, it is for sure God’s borrowed breath.

‘Amidst the discordant noises of the day we hear the Spirit calling;
We stumble as we tread Earth’s way; asking that we be kept from falling.

One of the stark warnings we seem to be hearing today as science warns us of the Anthropocene and the ending of the sixth civilization, we are currently experiencing is that if we don’t risk hoping, if we don’t change directions we are going to end up where we are headed. When John Steinbeck wrote. ”The dawn came, but no day” and of dusk slipping “back toward darkness,” he was bearing witness to the cruel reality that hope is hard work and delayed hope is risky ground. He was highlighting that more tragic than the loss of security that comes with the loss of hope is in fact the loss of the capability to imagine the totality as something that could be completely different. My proposal today under the title of Storm as the precursor to imagination or as the catalyst for imagination is a claim that the violence of some storms is an awakening of the crucial importance of an awareness of the crucial part imagination platys in the life of the planet, our life on it and our relationship with it. We can no longer imagine human life as superior to or independent of all other life forms that constitute a living planet. And why do I think imagination of so important? It is because imagination is required to bring order to, to remember, to orientate, to re-construct, to make one aware of, to story, to appraise both our past and our present. To imagine is to engage in shaping the future, the possibilities yet unmade, to make real what is otherwise absent. To engage in imagining is about a hope as yet unrealized it is always marked with risk, with self-deception and even the possibility of self-destruction. We know this because of where we are in our relationship with the universe now. Charles Peguy writes;

“it is she (Hope), this little one, who carries everything,

For faith only sees what is,

But hope, she sees what will be.

Charity only loves what is

But hope, she loves what will be.

Faith sees that which is.

In time and in Eternity.

Hope see that which will be.

In time and for all Eternity.

And Victor Havel reminds us that Hope is a dimension of the soul and not dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation. It is an orientation of the spirit, of the heart. My claim today is that imagination is no longer mere imitation of imitations. It is no longer a part of the world of fiction or fantasy. It is rather akin to that of Hannah Arendt’s claim in that imagination is ‘The prerequisite of understanding”. It is the coupling between thinking and judging. She also goes on to claim that commitment to human community calls forth a responsibility to attend to the important relationship between understanding and imagination and that imagination is indispensable for achieving the possibility of any shared meaning at all. One must be able to imagine the world from the other’s perspective or community remains impossible.

The truth is that I need you as the other

I need you to ask me why I care for you this way.

I need you to wonder how I could smile every day.

The truth is that I need you as the other ………

……… The truth is that I need you as the other

I need to be able to say, “I could be the one that loves you like you love me.

There’s nothing I would do better than to be able to keep it this way,

Wishing that you would know all the secrets I’ve kept,

Especially those that have kept our friendship sure and true.

The truth is that I need you as the other.

In a world faced with the matter of things, such as the ending of the sixth extinction or the Anthropocene, escatology and the hermeneutics of imagination are important for understanding. The art of religion, the art of Imagining, the art of poetry are no longer alternatives to reality they are intrinsic to it. One way of thinking about imagination is to see it as a way of thinking, responding and acting shot through the whole array of our human engagement with reality. This means we need to challenge any distinction between ‘being imaginative’ and deploying ‘reason’ because to do so is unhelpful. To further support this is the recent studies of McGilchrist and Johnson who claim that this relationship between imagining and reasoning is far deeper than we ever thought is interesting in that the most basic conceptual and linguistic units that we use to think or speak about anything at all are not produced by reason but are rather products of acts of imagination. They require right hemisphere activity as well as Left and maybe even a right hemisphere priority.

Such is the storm upon our sensibilities and upon truth in this age of post covid, impending extinction increasing interdependence politically and socially and the heightened awareness of our part in the change to our climate, that it is imperative that we employ our whole human capabilities in response. As Dr Lowe reminded Wellingtonians recently, this world is almost over, almost about to be different, almost new and we must imagine a new Jerusalem.

Imagine if you will that the word God is a verb not a noun, an action not a thing perhaps loving rather than love itself. Imagine this dynamic action of loving is called ….

The Almost Moment

The ‘Almost Moment is always meditating

until the fingertips of work touch,

embracing the possibility of the impossible,

and living the poetics of the possible,

The ‘Almost” moment is the hyphen,

The hyphen in the im-possible

The hyphen is the proximity of our distance,

and the distance in our proximity.

The ‘Almost’ moment is the moment

The moment of reconciliation,

the deeper, richer, more mature

concretization of moments

The ‘Almost’ moment, taken by itself

is one-sided and abstract.

theism–atheism and anatheism;

losing the ‘Almost’ to simplicity.

The ‘Almost’ moment, taken by itself

As faith–doubt–second faith;

position, opposition, composition.

Is lost in the different

The ‘Almost’ moment, when taken by itself

Loses the other to the question

Both become limited by error 

and the ‘Almost’ moment becomes a negative one

The ‘Almost’ moment held together with others

displaces positions before they arrive

not as higher or better, but decomposed

each one in its place of health-filled ambiguity but not of need

The ‘Almost’ moment when before and beneath

as opposed to after or above

enables deconstruction without destruction

undecidability and the weak become truth with authenticity

The ‘Almost’ moment is more than positive

Affirmation displaces the dividing distinction

Not as arbitrary relativism

But in the name of authentic affirmation

In the Almost’ moment the divine becomes victim

The divine, crucified, humiliated and weak

Become the ‘Almost’ and the moment becomes truth

a weak force, weak strength, of uncompromising forgiveness.

The ‘Almost’ moment is when its empty yet power-filled’

An empty power more sovereign than might

A potent weakness that acquires actuality

The ‘Almost’ moment humanized and real.

Unconditional loving.

And just in case your imagining is being tested and teased by reasoning about now and some materialisation might help? Another poem….

A Serendipitous Presence

Words are without completion

too small for the task that eludes all.
How can we speak of a gentleness within,
the warmth of heart in response to call?

How can we name you ‘Storm’ and understand?

How can we know you, ocean of love,
Words fail to be enough, this we know true,

strong as forever, soft as a dove.
living within and without is our clue.

We know times of spiritual blindness,
when excess and pain distort our sight.
Something within and without us,
shows us how darkness can turn into light.

Nothing we know will be wasted in derision,
yet all of our living is grounded in grace.
Gently taken down are the walls of division,
leading us on to a larger place.

Words are creative completion

small and yet enough, for the task of call.
They speak of the gentleness within,
and warm the heart in response to the call.

Being confused is ok because as Iris Murdoch said: ‘The world is not given to us on a plate, it is given to us as a creative task. We work and make something of it” So let us “Honour the Mind, Live the questions and Explore the Human adventure” Amen.

What does Lost mean?

Posted: September 8, 2022 in Uncategorized

What does Lost mean?

Oh, dear here we go again! A sermon on the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin? Isn’t the story so clear that there is no need to preach on it? Doesn’t everyone already know the message here? Isn’t the message clear that the love of God is amazing? It is inclusive of all, aware of the persecuted, the outcast, the lost one among millions?

I remember when one of my daughters went missing at the shopping mall. I was devastated thinking that I had lost her. Where had she got to? How could I have lost her? Would I find her again? What would I say to her when I found her? Why had she wondered off? Was it her intention? What would her mom say to me?

Maybe that would be my introduction to the sermon about the two parables we have this morning as text. The story highlights how serious the lostness is and so gives rise to the emotions one might find in the text of how important to lost one is be it a sheep or a coin in our monetarist society of today. Maybe the rest would be about how I tie the story to the text? Maybe I could tie the parable of the lost sheep to the idea that people are truly saved from eternal torment, or separation from God for time-everlasting. Maybe the lost one sets the value of the stories for us? Maybe the lost sheep is the daughter from my story and maybe Jesus is the searching father, but the trouble is then who is God the Father, is God the abductor? And yes, I could be literalizing the text but how else am I supposed to understand the story? It is for sure not an analogy, so much because it is a parable. It is a distinct literary creation and is always contextual. The trouble is I don’t know enough about the context let alone the culture, the mores, the situation?

And, after all what other interpretation can I have if I want to affirm a substitutionary atonement theory? The trouble is I have to believe that Jesus is God but because he is man also the God bit has to step aside for a while so that we can see how the God bit sacrifices his human bit to save the human bits. Oh Well!!!!! Moving on . . .

Now, if you thought that part was difficult wait for the next part. As one story goes there are many reasons when one can agree that eternal hell exists. One of those is to say that it doesn’t make logical sense Not to believe in eternal hell and here is the gist of that one: if there is north/south, and west/east, then there must be heaven/hell (hell as eternal torment). Make sense?  Well, it might help if we believe heaven is “up there” and hell is “down there,” then perhaps a north/south analogy would be a decent one. But who believes that today? It also means we would be dealing with like things, locales or directions in this instance. When discussing any notion of heaven and hell though, north and south analogies don’t seem to work, as heaven and hell are not simply different and opposite locales, or something remotely similar even, but are so weighted, that they carry with them ethical, theological, philosophical, Christological, soteriological, eschatological, anthropological, and psychological ramifications. So, this subject simply cannot be properly analogized by opposite directions. And even if we wanted to, in this model, it seems to be a glaring non-sequitur or illogical response, to suggest that because the opposite direction of north is south, then the opposite of everlasting life in heaven is everlasting life in spiritual and/or physical torment. That is to say, we would be making an illogical jump from one thing to the other, and thus our analogy falls apart. Why is the opposite of everlasting life in heaven not simply death? It seems that would be a closer and more fitting comparison to make. The other problem I have with that particular worldview that it’s a highly dualistic way of thinking about things! And again, this ads complexity because life is not black and white, it is not just certainty and uncertainty, it is rather shades of grey or more complex than just being dualistic. Sure, we know that a crucial way of measuring and authenticating and discussing and in fact making sense of reality is to reduce things to their parts and having two clear parts is required it is always only among many other parts, here’s what I mean by this. First concede and say that we indeed use our dualistic mind to traverse the world around us. For example, in order to make it safely to my friend’s house for our Thursday night chats, I need to make the correct combination of left and right turns, and in order for my child to understand what tall is she needs to conceptualize what short is. But when we start getting dualistic about our ultimate destinations, things start making very little sense because we know that that is an illogical reduction of options.

First, how does this even work? If God is One and holds the universe together, uni meaning one? How can one be eternally separated from God in the way most Christians contend? We are talking about God as that which holds all of creation together, aren’t we? And not God as a deity like Zeus or Odin even. So how does the true God, in order for people to live in perpetual torment, separate God’s self from them? What, then, holds this space together if not the One God? Could this not be considered, then, polytheism, as hell would either have to hold itself together, and thus be in and of itself a god, or be held together by yet another god. I suppose that God himself could hold hell together but aren’t we then at a different definition for hell, since it is no longer eternal separation from God?

Second, where does this belief in hell as eternal separation come from? Certainly not Judaism! We read of the psalmist of Psalm 139:7–12, who writes: Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, ‘surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

It seems that for the psalmist there is no “eternal separation from God.” Not even Sheol, or, the “abode of the dead,” could separate a person from God. Now, Sheolcould be thought of as a place where people do in fact receive punishment, but to suggest one can either remove himself or be removed by God from God’s presence, doesn’t seem to be an option according to this passage. And if we take a look at when Jesus talks about “hell,” or Gehenna, we would be hard pressed to make the case that he even hints at the fact that all those who are there are metaphysically removed from God’s presence, yet still continue to exist. But this seems to be what many of us followers of Jesus believe about hell.

Now, the last thing that I’ll say about this particular response to the meaning of the parables of the lost is about how this “justification by contract,” if you will I will approach attributed to God or even barter is in fact “good news.” Frankly, I’m not sure how the news that Jesus saves us from a place God designed—or, didn’t design since it exists apart from him? — can be called “good news/gospel.” The first problem is that it doesn’t actually sound like good news. The better news is that Jesus the Christ supernatural or not saved us by example, not that we have to enter into an economy of exchange model of soteriology so that we don’t go to a place of metaphysical separation from an “omnipresent” God. That sounds a bit absurd!

Anyway, this has already raised too many questions for one sermon and it is very short on answers to even consider it as a sermon. It makes no claim to be other than a beginning of the challenge to a literalism that has taken years to develop and will not change overnight, in fact some suggest that only with the death of a Christianity based on such a developed myth will there be change. The primary failure of this treatise is not a call to go out and preach a Gospel that encourages people to become lost so that they can be saved. Sorry, but again, that doesn’t seem Christocentric enough for my liking. I think I am suggesting we go preach the Gospel that Jesus the Christ saved us and that we are free from ourselves and our death-dealing self-created power systems.

Have peace!

Or better still

Shalom and Salaam.