Archive for November, 2022

Who We Are To Be’            

Last week, when the season of Advent commenced in our Lectionary readings I suggested, that we were starting with a problem in that the set readings had little or nothing to do with Advent or the coming season called Christmas. Well! We could say the same for todays readings also. This time we start with the tradition that for some time we Christians have understood today’s stories from Isaiah and Matthew, as prophecies of Jesus. But… the question is; is this really the case?

Process theologian John Cobb, says: ‘Not really’. When he suggests: “Jesus did not fulfil the prophecies of Isaiah in the way Isaiah expected….  For Isaiah the main point was about kingly succession… And whatever Jesus’ ancestry was, he was not what Isaiah expected.  He did not engage in royal judgement, administering justice to the poor.  Neither did he kill the wicked.”  (John Cobb, P&F Web site, 2007)

But, does this mean Christians have been wrong in seeing the Isaiah passage as an anticipation of Jesus? Well! Again, John Cobb continues: He says “In part, of course, they have erred.  But it is not wrong to view Jesus as a partial fulfilment of, the hopes that Isaiah expressed.” (Cobb, P&F Web site, 2007)

So, the best, or maybe the more honest things we can do or say, is: we can affirm that we can see in Jesus some of what Isaiah hoped for, and we can assert that Jesus was also different from what Isaiah considered ideal.

So here we are now…. into the Second Sunday in Advent. And Matthew, jumping 30 years or so in time in a matter of only a couple of short story chapters, introduces John the Baptiser, the so-called final prophet of Jesus’ coming, and places him centre stage for a moment. In John the Baptiser then, what have we got? Well referring back to what I have said of John earlier we see that in John’s preaching the nearness of the kingdom or realm or empire of God was a judgement to inspire fear in the disobedient – the insider. Whereas, in Jesus’ preaching the nearness of the kingdom or realm or empire of God was an invitation to inspire hope in the ‘common ones’ – the outsider.

Here we have two very different visions by which to reimagine a nation. A judgement to inspire fear. And an invitation to inspire hope. I am sure this sounds very familiar to those who have been following my recent sermons and their link to my and others recent experience. But let’s be clear here. Both visions have been used in the past (and the not-so past), by Christians. I would also suggest or perhaps even claim that only one of those visions has the capacity to re-imagine new possibilities for the world. Only the one which does not bombard people with issues of personal morality and sanctions called ‘sin’, has the capacity to re-imagine new possibilities for the world.

Having said all that I want to tell a parallel story that gives another context for the very same challenge of fear or hope. It is a story from Ukraine/s past, and it highlights a long history of international and ethnicity being used as fodder for conflict.

Ukraine was in the middle of an election. And, trouble was erupting out on the streets, as the result was being disputed. Not unlike the more recent Hong Kong situation perhaps but with different political motivation. The regular evening TV news was on air, coming from the government, controlled TV station.

A presenter was reading the script. Another was ‘signing’ so the deaf could also ‘hear’ the news. But the news was what those in power wanted to say, rather than it being an account of what was actually happening. Again what happens in political conflicts where one want to put their own spin in aid of their success. There was no mention of the protests or challenges to the validity of the voting system, being mentioned. In a moment of madness, some say, the signer stopped translating the set script. And instead, started to give her account of all the other events that were also happening.

She said she knew she would be sacked because of her actions, but felt she could no longer put up with the government’s lies and propaganda. Immediately following the broadcast all the members of the news room came to her, not only to support her actions, but also to join the struggle against the government and its lies.

Stopping there we have to ask what has this story to do with advent? Why tell this story as an ‘advent’ story? Well! Because it sought to re-imagine new possibilities for the country. And it began when the deaf – the outsiders – when they were given the opportunity and the respect to ‘overhear’ what was going on! Like-wise today, we could suggest, Matthew is inviting his small Jewish community to ‘overhear’ some things, through the ‘signage’ called John the Baptiser.

Developing along-side of and often in conflict with developing Jewish communities,
it can’t have been easy for this small community. All groups were trying to form or reshape
their own identities and allegiances among the people. As I and others have suggested before the social, political and economic environment is one of disparate groups seeking identity, and place in a diverse and often intolerant society. Empire is making itself felt at all levels of society and the religious are feeling threatened and entering survival modes.

Remembering that Matthew is a storyteller, he lets the community ‘overhear’ John talking,
hoping they might see and hear themselves in these conversations. In the hearing, they (and we) might sense something new and different is afoot. As one of Shirley Erena Murray’s hymns suggest: “Now the star of Christmas shines into our day. This points a new direction: change is on the way -there’s another landscape to be travelled through, there’s a new-born spirit broadening our view” (Shirley Erena Murray/hos)

In returning to the lectionary we still have a problem, especially the purpose or theology behind the shaping of it. And I want to suggest that it is with the underlying purpose which is based on presenting a mythical ‘Christ of faith’ – often called the “Easter barrier” – which has overpowered the ‘historical Jesus’. I have often suggested that we need to stay with the pre-Easter Jesus as opposed to the post Easter Jesus. The perhaps greater challenge is to see the post-Easter Jesus as one who has been distorted by a culture of political, economic and social distortion. This is not a new claim in that it has been around for hundreds of years and it lies beneath much of traditional theology today. And for some of us that’s a shame.  A crying shame. Because what we are often left with is a mere shell called the God/man Jesus.

Personally, I support those scholars who call for a demotion of Jesus. Not because I don’t think he challenges us with the divine, but because a fully-fleshed demoted Jesus
“becomes available as the real founder of the Christian movement… Along with Bob Funk I can say that “He is no longer… its mythical icon, embedded in the myth of the descending/ascending, dying/rising lord of the pagan mystery cults, but one of substance with us all.”  (Funk 1996:306)

So, this Advent journey I invite you to go beyond the Lectionary parameters and consider a few things…

  1. Consider the need for a fresh awareness of your creative capacity. For inside each one of us is a marvelous creature with multi-coloured wings.
  2. Consider the option of becoming a person infected or inspired by hope rather than fear for it is ‘creativity God’ who acts in us for the sake of peace.  And God in other people, who receive our actions participate in the peace-making.
  3. Thirdly, consider what sort of God or Jesus might be more God-like. A God or Jesus who is the essence of a society unafraid to be vulnerable, to go the extra mile, to turn the other cheek and to lead others into a new and impossible future. Is it a God who reminds us to watch out or one that invites us to be awake?

Finally, maybe we might consider the invitation to re-tune our senses to a watchful present-ness of the sacred in the ordinary in the every-day in the outsider in the new. Let us enjoy and be blessed by our Advent journey this year. Amen.

Notes:
Funk, R. W. Honest to Jesus. Jesus for a New Millennium. New York. HaprerCollins, 1996.
(HoS) Hope is Our Song. New hymns and songs from Aotearoa New Zealand. Palmerston North. New Zealand Hymnbook Trust, 2009.

rexae74@gmail.com

‘Step Into the Mystery of Life,’

Marcus Borg back in 2013 wrote that, “Seeing Advent as a penitential season strikes me as unfortunate. It is the product of a seriously distorted and yet widespread understanding of Christianity: namely, that the central issue in our lives with God is our sinfulness (commonly understood as disobedience and/or failing to measure up to what God requires from us) and thus our need for repentance and forgiveness. “Within this framework, that’s the reason Jesus was born. As the divinely-conceived Son of God, he was sent by God to be the perfect sacrifice, the payment for our sins, so that we can be forgiven. Provided, of course, that we believe in him. “That is a serious impoverishment of Christianity and Advent”

The Pohutukawa blooms into our New Zealand lives. The rich red flower creeps its way into our vision sometimes in burst and others like a slow and sure event. It signals a New Zealand Advent!

Here it is once again; the first Sunday in Advent. The season of waiting. The season of anticipation. The season for recognising the incarnate nature of the sacred in nature and in the one called Jesus of Nazareth – the human face of the one we name as God. But unlike most of the northern hemisphere of our world, where the church liturgical calendar was first shaped, today for us is the recognition of the arrival of Summer. And Summer in New Zealand Australia is a natural time for celebration. It is the time of balancing the place work and industry has in our lives with the freedom and joy of holidaying and letting go and of doing all the things that speak of joy and freedom. It is the time when we reflect on the value of being human and sacred and connected. It is a time when we wallow in the idea and phenomenon of new life and new growth to be seen, ripeness and richness, as plant and bush and tree display their many colours against the green of this collection of Islands perched on the edge of earth crust plates. It is a time when we recognize that nature is a gift in early Summer in New Zealand and we anticipate its arrival eagerly.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent.  And immediately we confront readings set down in the Lectionary for today that little to do with our perceptions of either Advent or the coming season called Christmas. For instance, if we approach Matthew as a narrative, today’s reading comes about 9/10th of the way through the book… Closer to the end of the complete story than to the beginning. So, it comes to us totally out of context. Second, all the readings offered paint diverse pictures of a world quite different from ours today. And not only that, these stories or readings are not directed to a time thousands of years later – into our time, as seems to be assumed by those who shaped the Lectionary.

With Rex Hunt and other Progressives, I think a far better place to start would be the beginning of Matthew, where we find the genealogy of Jesus. It seems a better place in that there is a place where the best can come out of the worst. And the worst can come out of the best!

Process theologian John Cobb’s suggestions might help here? He says that those who have selected these passages “understand Advent to be the season of anticipation, of expectancy, and hope generally… [And] in all the texts the hope is grounded in faith in God.” (Cobb. P&F Web site, 2004)

So continuing to listen to process theologian John Cobb for a few more moments, we can acknowledge that we human beings are not good at predicting the future. We can appreciate that the actual course of history is far more ambiguous than are the visions that lure us forward.
We can realise that even the one we name God does not control the future or know just what will happen. Our God is within the big picture not outside it making it run. Our God is within it with us participating in the running. And we can hear also that the hope which keeps us going is far deeper and more fundamental to our faith than we realise. “Hope has survived repeated disappointments in the past.  It will survive many more in the future.  It will do so as long as we believe in the biblical God.” (Cobb, P&F Web site, 2004)

Of course, such a statement still needs clarification. Because such a statement presupposes that God’s working in history does not displace the working of human beings. And that is immediately a bit of a shock to those who believe God is all-powerful! Either justified by stepping back and watching the created run like a machine and could ‘do something’ in various situations but chooses not to in some. John Cobb explains his comment a bit more. The quote is a bit detailed so I invite you to listen/read carefully. “God works in hope for peace and justice, but the world turns to violence and oppression.  Still God’s work is not futile.  Here and
there it succeeds, encouraging the hope for wider and more inclusive success.  That success depends on our response to God’s invitation to share in the achievement of God’s purposes.  And our hope depends on the assurance that God does not give up on us” (Cobb, P&F Web site, 2004). This still tends to assume a supernatural God over and above all but it does recognize to a degree humanities part in the care of the planet which sadly has been shown to be inadequate.

What one gleans is however that despite frustration and disappointment, we are still called to be a people of hope. For hope is what is handed down from mother to daughter to son,
not merely as a package passed from one generation to another. But as hope which is alive in mother and daughter and which now lives in the child of the third generation. Hope is always tentative yet never just wishful thinking. It is always a certainty yes never an assumption. Today is the first Sunday in Advent. A time of waiting… a time of change… a time of hope, and the story of Jesus is the understanding of the incarnate nature of the human relationship with the sacred. Gods chosen partner in the care of creation, for it , and with it.

Indeed, during the season of Advent, the stories “of babies or shepherds or stars or lullabies are saying the world, as we know it, is about to change, it is evolving.  Their message is ‘wake up, pay attention, get ready… Strange words they might be, but maybe we need something jarring to lift us out of our complacency and wake up to something new”.

One story of the manifestation of this hope might be the story from Dresden, the German city that was devastated by the fire-bombing at the end of the World War 2. They found in the ruins a musical score that had survived the fire and devastation. It was the score to Albinoni’s ‘Adagio for Strings and Orchestra in B Minor’. In the midst of this devastation of war – the very worst that we do to each other – there survived something of the most beautiful
that we create for each other. So the Albinoni piece became a sign of hope.
And it has been used that way.

Another story is the one in the time of the siege of Sarajevo during the Balkans War, the city was shelled month after month, every single night. On one of those nights a group of people
standing in line in front of a bakery were waiting to buy bread. A mortar shell fell right in the middle of them. Twenty-two people were killed. Innocent people. Hungry people.  Wanting to buy bread. A few days later, at the same spot, in front of the burned out bakery, a man named Vedian Smailovic placed a chair, and began to play his cello. For 22 days he played his cello, one day in memory for each one of the people who had been killed at that spot.

The gesture itself was wonderful, playing music. But what gave it deeper significance is 
the music he played each day was ‘Adagio for Strings and Orchestra in B Minor’.

Hope is not being afraid of doubt, not wallowing in the negative, not getting bogged down in the realities of human existence but rather seeing them in their rightful place as signs that bring an awareness of the positive, the hope-filled moment, the deep huge picture of a certain hope. We have it. Without it, we cannot live. A Pohutukawa advent hope calls to us, lures us, to breathe, to pause, and to shake off the doldrums – and most importantly fear.

For this Advent hope, first announced by angels to shepherds, “means that despite appearances men and women of violence are no longer in control of history… that those who would seek to determine history’s outcome through violence will never succeed… When the angels announced the coming of the Christ to the shepherds their first words are ‘fear not'” (Northcott 2010:17).

Advent then is Fear not, and step into the mystery of life, the whole of life. Note I said fear not, ‘and’ and not ‘but’.

Bibliography:
Muir, J. J. Heretics’ Faith. Vocabulary for Religious liberals. Annapolis: F. J. Muir, 2001.
Northcott, M. S. Cuttlefish, Clones and Cluster Bombs. Preaching, Politics and Ecology. London: DL&T, 2010.          

‘The Galilean Nobody’

Posted: November 20, 2022 in Uncategorized

‘The Galilean Nobody’

In recent times today in the lectionary has been traditionally called ‘The Feast of Christ the King’ Sunday. And by recent, I mean every year since it was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925. Originally, it was celebrated on the last Sunday in October, but it was moved to the last Sunday of After Pentecost Time immediately preceding Advent, making it a fitting end to the liturgical year. In recent years it underwent a name change: to the ‘Reign of Christ’. Its original introduction was in response to the perceived rise of secularism throughout Europe, and when dangerous dictatorships were emerging in Europe and beyond. In reality: the political power of one challenging the political power of another. In justification for its inclusion in the Lectionary, it is claimed there are ‘countless passages throughout the New Testament’ where Jesus is referred to as “King.” But those referrals are by others. Not by the historical Jesus.

The earliest sources known to biblical scholars suggest a plausible Jesus is an impoverished Palestinian situated in his historical circumstances… That is, in the north-west corner of the Galilee, in the early Roman Empire sometime between the years 26–36 CE. We have referred to the subversive assumptions placed upon Galileans by the Roman Governors. It is a place well known for the provision of rebels against the state.

Jesus was one who did things and said things that a real person could have reasonably believed or done at that time “and were remembered by his earliest companions, and repeated to others after the crucifixion”. Galileans were peasants, were poor, were nobodies. And considered political rabble-rousers. The mere speaking with a Galilean accent could mean immediate arrest.

We are the heirs of several ways of interpreting this Galilean Jesus. One leads to Supernatural understanding: the fully God and fully human ‘God-Man’ mediator between human beings and God. Called ‘the Christ’. Often Jesus Christ as if ‘Christ’ is his surname! The other leads to a natural humanistic understanding which supports his radical emphasis on love “as the overarching posture within which humans should live out their lives.”

In the interests of transparency, And the choice of serious scholarship over tradition Rex Hunt comes down on the naturalistic side of Jesus in biblical scholarship. This is also at the core of much Progressive scholarship led by the Westar Institute/Jesus Seminar.

Hunt comments of the way Catholic theologian Elizabeth Johnson— a woman not afraid of upsetting the church hierarchy—described this ‘natural’ Jesus. “Born of a woman… and the Hebrew gene pool, [he] was a creature of earth, a complex unit of minerals and fluids, an item in the carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen cycles, a moment in the biological evolution of this planet. Like all human beings, he carried within himself the signature of the supernovas and the geology and life history of the Earth…”

Most Progressive theologians could agree. Rex says that with a scenario spinner’s imagination this ‘natural’ Jesus invited others to re-imagine the world with him. His ‘tools-of-trade’ were parables, short stories, and aphorisms. Most of his provocative and permissive secular stories feature characters from the peasant class in an agrarian village society. All were part and parcel of first century Judaism.

But that is also thought not quite enough and a claim is that Jesus was not your traditional Judean sage or teacher… A first step in finding wisdom in his sayings is to recognise that: He does not appeal to Torah; He does not invoked God as authority for statements; Some things later attributed to him did not originate with him. And most important… He was Jewish, not Christian, and not even the first Christian; As one of the Jesus Seminar scholars, Charles Hedrick, proposes: “…I tend to think of Jesus as a lower class unschooled popular sage, a shrewd critic of his own culture and its values, who expressed himself in brief memorable language…” Domonic Crossan gas written of Jesus as a mystic also.

But turning to alternative Matthew text for today we might say that in addition to the first three ‘blessed’ in this morning’s Lukan text there is one saying, called an aphorism, as example of his teaching style… “Be as sly as snakes and simple as pigeons” (Matt 10:16)

That has to be a bit of a problem or at least a perplexing saying! Two contrasting personality traits. Where it is impossible to be both ‘sly’ and ‘simple’ at the same time. What did Jesus mean by that? We are left groping for some way to relate this to life. Again Charles Hedrick:
“The saying ridicules community wisdom by contrasting different character traits valued in community: shrewdness and prudence, cantor and purity. But when associated with snakes and pigeons… community morals are turned on their ear. Like certain other sayings of Jesus, this oxymoron perplexes and teases but offers no clue how to apply it to life.”

Then there is another teaching style—a parable this time… “An Injured Traveller” (Luke 10:30-35, otherwise known as ‘The Good Samaritan’). Perhaps the most famous of all parables,
generally speaking this is a story about some ‘bad’ blokes, another of their Judean tribe beaten half to death, and at least one ‘good, compassionate’ bloke. And that good bloke is a mortal ‘enemy’ called Samaritan! Here again it is simplistic to avoid the complexity. There is the claim that Samaritans are in fact Jews from the remnants of the Northern Jewish Kingdom of Israel as opposed to Judah.

Everyone knows, so it is reckoned, what it means, including our anonymous storyteller who adds an answer: Who is my neighbour? But this turns the parable into an example story. And forfeits the parable’s challenge to re-imagine the world anew. Progressive scholars say this is the wrong question/answer mix. A parable challenges neat and common garden-variety answers. Turns our world and answers upside down. The real question/answer is: Whom will I allow to be my neighbour? And an honest answer to that question, just might really surprise us.

What we do know is how others used his oral saying and stories. They are called Gospels.
But perhaps surprisingly, we do not know how Jesus used them. Oral storytellers don’t leave books or TV documentaries! And then they are only fragments spiced with humour.

On reflection then, it seems reasonably clear he dealt generally “in sweeping unrealistic challenges to daily life … His sayings would have provoked questions with no definitive answers and his stories would have raised issues with no stated solutions.”

Rex Hunt tells of a time when he and a couple of his colleagues appeared on the ABC TV religion program ‘Compass’. His opposing colleagues were very strong on a Christianity based on creeds, doctrine, and tradition. And where the Bible is a rule book for life. A so-called ‘confessional’ theology. And where Jesus is important because he died.

Rex, on the other hand, tried to suggest, equally as strong, that the way we are ‘Christian’ is in having trust with Jesus, not trust in Jesus. Not ‘belief’, even though what we believe is important, but as ‘way’, as ‘trust’, walking without fear, daring to engage in and be surprised by, life. If we can rescue Jesus he says; from the cloying baggage of heavy Christological beliefs then “we are freed to go on the journey that Jesus chartered rather than to worship the journey of Jesus”.

A so-called ‘progressive’ theology. And where Jesus is important because he lived. The difference is profound. “It is finished” is less about the transition from human to supernatural and more about the completion of the story and the subsequent release from a violent empirical Reign or Way and the discovery of a New Reign or way of being and doing life. So this day, Christ the King Day in traditional language, or the Reign of Christ Day in a bit of a modern edit, really is a call for an ongoing conversation about how we see Jesus and how we see Christianity. I would like to suggest that we are yet to fully grasp what The Messiah meant in ancient Hebrew culture and thus what the root of Christ is. It brings with it a far more complex and rich meaning that the surname of Jesus and I dare to suggest the Greek translation from Messiah to become ‘Christ: Contrary to the impression fundamentalists and others might make, Christianity has never stood still. It is not a museum. It has always been capable of revision and restatement. Evolution. The Big Bang. Quantum Mechanics. Relativity. Also, in biblical criticism and social action. theology and language. In liturgical renewal.

And we just now need to realise, be it ever so slowly, that Jesus is no longer embalmed in doctrinal winding sheets, that he has slipped ecclesial control and continues his walkabout on this fragile planet. Nature, humanity, the cosmos, family, friendships, politics. There is but one world and we will be drawn together by our common purpose. In our multi-cultural, multi-faith community, such knowledge, such conversations, and such revisions are really important. Ours is to be brave enough to participate in this dynamic living world of serendipitous life as well. Amen.

Bibliography.
Galston, D. Embracing the Human Jesus. A Wisdom Path for Contemporary Christianity. Salem. Polebridge Press, 2012
Hedrick, C. W. The Wisdom of Jesus. Between the Sages of Israel and the Apostles of the Church. Eugene. Cascade Books, 2014
Hedrick, C. W. Many Things in Parables. Jesus and his Modern Critics. Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2004
Johnson, E. “Deep Incarnation: Prepare to be Astonished”, UNIFAS Conference, Rio de Janeiro, (7-14 July 2010). <https://sgfp.wordpress.com/2011/02/15/deep-incarnation-prepare-to-be-astonished/&gt; (Accessed 4 October 2016)
Kaufman, G. D. Jesus and Creativity. Minneapolis. Fortress, 2006
Scott, B. B. Re-imagine the World. An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2001
Wink, W. “The Son of Man the Stone that Builders Rejected” in (ed). Jesus Seminar. The Once and Future Jesus. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 20

“Hope in a Weak God”

Posted: November 8, 2022 in Uncategorized

“Hope in a Weak God”

There comes a time to break the silence created by liberal thought. A time to move beyond fear. A time to speak one’s truth, even if it will not be welcome. There comes a time
for all to call into question what has gone before. There is a time for the singing of a new song, for the claiming a new understanding of power, where we find courage, and dare to know who we are. There is a time when out of the cosmos, out of earth, out of ourselves, there rises an irresistible Spirit from within us.  This is our calling as followers of the man named Yeshua.

To no longer seek the might of God on our side but rather to acknowledge that that God does not exist because that God is too small and seek the God that insists the God that empowers us and the God that we find in the event of loving.

The Dalai Lama reminded us that “We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us, and make us kinder. You always have this choice”

The many years of relying on might to illumine who we are and how God is in relation with us have ended, they no longer satisfy us as a species within a cosmic evolutionary reality. The lack of hope, the decline of the church the rising inequity situation and the loss of absolutes and the level of intolerance all suggest that what we believe and how we understand reality need our courage and our compassion to become our mode of being.

If we believe that the Jesus way is about living a radical love with a lavish generosity. If we believe that an extravagant forgiveness and an inclusive hospitality are the compassionate actions required as an image of the sacred life then we need to support a selfless service along with a passion for justice within a creative nonviolent society as to provide the event of a simple safe living for everyone.

The idealism, the foolishness, the alternative that the Yeshua story gives us is not the success of the mighty, the sorted ones, the clever an but where is the d in-control ones and here I would read the most efficient, effective evidence based successful. Yes, they are needed for today’s economically prioritized world but there is a need for a better balance. How to do things is crucially important but we need to know why we do things also. We have become very good at making things happen efficiently, we have become manipulators of our cosmic reality but we are destroying ourselves because we have not asked ourselves why we need to do this. In our Christian tradition we have been saying that God is in control as we have been destroying ourselves, we have been saying Yeshua has saved us from destruction yet now we know this has not happened. We have been saying our hope lies in a God who exists and is in charge and yet fewer of us believe this than ever before. So, something is not right and we have spent years trying to figure out how to be followers of the guy Yeshua and all we have left it seems is that we care for ourselves better. Sing the right hymns, say the right prayers, make sure our members know we care for them.

All credible so -called Christian acts but where is the radical love defined, where is the inspiration for lavish generosity resourced and inspired? What does forgiveness look like? Who receives the hospitality in other words who is the stranger? Who is the other? Is service just doing things for people or is it about changing their world. What does Sacred Justice look like and how do we make the paradigm shift required for a nonviolent simple life?

As John D Caputo puts it; The weakness of God is that God does not exist, the folly of God is that God leaves existence up to us, and we have the choice to either make God exist or not. So, does God exist? The answer is we don’t know yet because history is not over yet. We are still making it and that has to mean that what we name as God is insisting and calling us to participate in the making of the New Jerusalem that the old Judaic prophets called for and the Kingdom of God that Yeshua called for. Our call might be to participate in the caring for the planet and thus the creation of the cosmos. Our hope is in the shared writing of the poem of human existence, the writing of the song of the universe not as a task to be done but as an event to be lived now and forever. Read the symbols, interpret the depths and breadths of human existence and write the story we find in the poor the disadvantaged and the outcast for there we understand the weak power of God.

I like the challenge of the history that claims that under Constantine the Empire did not convert to Christianity but that Christianity converted to the Empire. We still live with the results of a Christianity that feigns supremacy, that is antagonistic to the poor and the outcast. We hang on to the charitable kudos as justification while being soft on its sustenance of the status quo and we hide behind strategic theories and feel-good politics in a delusion that might is right and that the only options are the instinctive and primitive fight or flight options. They have got us again and again to the brink of nuclear annihilation and an industry of diplomacy that is self-sustaining rather than shifting the paradigm. Yes, I am being harsh and dismissive in my comments but when addressing systemic abuse and complacency one needs to be. If the church is to survive as a human organization it must change or die and I am far from the first to say that. The truth is that any form of fundamentalism is not theology. On theoretical grounds it has nothing to stand on philosophically or theologically and is a pathology, a profound fear that the ground is shaky and it is. It can only exist in literalism and denies that “Christianity” is a process, a movement or the Spirit in time. Like Joshua they are asking that their God stops the course of the sun across the sky. A quote I read is that it’s like Donald Trump screaming, “Stop Counting, if you keep counting, I’m going to lose” We might say “If God exists, he is just resting at the moment”. As Caputo suggests, when Jesus departed and Left his Spirit behind its s as if he were saying “I have done my part, the rest is up to you.”

Last week I wrote a little about the effect of the theory of Humanism, which in its modern sense, arose in the seventeenth century and consists of placing value on autonomy, reason, and science. And I suggested that since God is not a conclusion of evidence-based reason, Today I would claim that while we might be in a time of the rise of posthumanism it too relies on the tradition of humanism and on humanist values like evidence-based reason, the importance of education, and the autonomy of the individual. Posthumanism, though, seeks to break the boundary that traditional humanism assumes between the human and natural worlds. Humanism, in its classic expression, casts nature, through the use of science, as an object of human manipulation. Posthumanism blurs the boundaries between human beings and nature. This makes evolution a value in posthumanism because to affirm evolution means to affirm that human beings are a natural process of the earth. The fundamentalist religious reaction to posthumanism is creationism. Not only is creationism bad science, it is also a reading of posthumanism as a threat which is bound by almighty, supernatural priori for God.

As I have argued earlier this claim is no longer tenable and should be discarded in favour of a Weak God and a God of insistence as opposed to existent. This enables us as Christians to talk into the climate change, global warming care for creation debates as genuine participants in the hope we all seek rather than as holders of irrelevant beliefs and outdated intellectual and scientific contributions. Even the Dalai Lama has said that spirituality and quantum physics are companion searches, not rivals. One has to say that we live in the most hope-filled of times, so long as we stay in the discussions. Amen.

Valuing the power of the mind, the use of controversy and the influence of perception.

This sermon is an attempt to stand outside the story, acknowledge the context of the reader and the creative use of context and the hermeneutics of the authors.

Humanism as the intro to today’s context.

Humanism, in its modern sense, arose in the seventeenth century and consists of placing value on autonomy, reason, and science.

‍Humanism is not anti-religion, but it is portrayed this way because, when compared to traditional religious beliefs, it appears radically atheist. Autonomy means that human beings are responsible for their own actions. No god has placed us in our station for a purpose. Life is an individual gift, and what we make of it is the action of our autonomy.

‍Reason is the guide for life. In humanism, a good life is a life that corresponds to the best judgements possible about the real world, and this judgement rests on the use of reason. Reason makes education a humanist value.

‍Science is the method of humanism. Reason cannot flourish if its content holds little or no corresponding truth. Corresponding truth means that a truth claim holds a consistent relationship to reality, and the vehicle of such a relationship is evidence. The age of science is the age of evidence-based reason.

Since God is not a conclusion of evidence-based reason, and since evidence-based reason is a humanist value, it is often concluded that humanism is atheism. This, however, is not true. Humanism can appreciate mystery and can value mysticism. Mystery and mysticism in humanism, though, are not religious confessions; rather, they identify the edges of human knowledge and open up the religious experience of wonder.

Posthumanism as today’s context

Posthumanism relies on the tradition of humanism and on humanist values like evidence-based reason, the importance of education, and the autonomy of the individual. Posthumanism, though, seeks to break the boundary that traditional humanism assumes between the human and natural worlds. Humanism, in its classic expression, casts nature, through the use of science, as an object of human manipulation. Posthumanism blurs the boundaries between human beings and nature. This makes evolution a value in posthumanism because to affirm evolution means to affirm that human beings are a natural process of the earth. The fundamentalist religious reaction to posthumanism is creationism. Not only is creationism bad science, it is also a reading of posthumanism as a threat.

The Power of the mind;

The text  as Translation of Luke 20: 27-38

Some of the Sadducees, the ones saying there is no resurrection, came to question him, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that, if a man’s brother dies, having a woman and he without children, that his brother might take the woman and raise up seed to his brother.  There were, therefore, seven brothers, and the first took a woman; he died without children–and the second and the third took her, and, in like manner, the seven also; and they left no children and they died, and afterward, the woman died.  Therefore, in the resurrection, whose woman of them is she?  For the seven had her a wife.

The Context/Differences

Background and situation:  This event happens during the early part of passion week.  Jesus has entered the city of Jerusalem on a wave of public support, and, at the same time, tweaked the nose of the Roman authorities by mocking their own triumphal (military) procession. Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey as the crowds wave palm branches and shout “hosanna.”  This is in stark contrast to the Roman triumphal procession of soldiers, horses, military standards, the clank of metal swords, and the silence of a cowed and resentful people. After entering Jerusalem, Jesus drives the moneychangers out of the temple.  Some of Jerusalem’s wealthy families had franchise agreements with their cronies in the Temple to provide money changing “services” for people who had to change their Roman money into Temple coin, a “service” they performed at exorbitant rates.  Jesus’ attack on the moneychangers was revolutionary.  It struck at the economic power of the Temple elite and their wealthy supporters.

Controversy stories follow.  First, the chief priests raise the issue of authority.  Who are you to challenge us?  In response, Jesus invokes John the Baptist, reminding his interrogators that they had opposed John, who continued to be a popular figure among the people.  Then, he tells the parable of the tenants in the vineyard, a particularly violent story, and one of particular poignance in light of John the Baptist’s death.

Jesus does two important things here:  (1)  He “allies” himself with the popular John in the public mind, and (2) he accuses the chief priests of having a hand in imperial violence.  Jesus is ratcheting up the pressure. The Temple elite has not been able to do much about any of this because of Jesus’ overwhelming support among the people.  They were helpless when he drove out the moneychangers because “all the people were spellbound by what they heard.”  They couldn’t stop Jesus because “they feared the people.”  (20:19)  Next, they try to get him on taxes.  “Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?”  If he says “yes,” he loses public support.  (People paid up to 50% of their meager income in taxes of one kind or another.)  If he says “no, don’t pay taxes” he could be arrested for treason.

Jesus dodges the question by asking for a coin, a coin with Caesar’s picture plastered on it, along with designations such as “divi et rex”–“god and king.”  Jesus says, basically, “If Caesar is so insecure he needs to go around plastering his picture on things, then let him have the dumb coin,” or words to that effect.

Enter the sadducees–the concentrated power, you might say, of the Temple elite.  The sadducees represented both the heart of Temple power and Temple corruption.  They lived high on the hog in the Temple complex.  The Romans made sure this Temple elite had access to the “finer things of life” in exchange for their help in facilitating Roman power and control. The sadducees were staunchly conservative in their theology.  For the sadducees, the Torah consisted of only the written text of the pentateuch.  The pharisees–the “liberals” of their day, in a certain manner of speaking–took a broader view of Torah.  For them, Torah included the oral interpretation of the written text.  Even though the pharisees and sadducees were both opponents of Jesus, they were also opponents of each other.   The sadducees would naturally have reacted against any idea which threatened the status quo, particularly a new-fangled idea like resurrection, a concept which had probably originally filtered into northern Israel from Persia in the period 200-300 BC, and one which, moreover, was associated with justice and righteousness.  (During the Maccabean revolt, c. 160 BC, the question arose as to how God could allow good and righteous people who stood for God and God’s law to die violent and horrible deaths.  What would God do about such a clear case of injustice.  Answer?  God would raise them.)

Perception

In order to undermine the idea of resurrection, the sadducees pose the question of levirate marriage, the whole idea of which was to continue the name and lineage of a man who died childless.  He could still have children after he was dead if his widow married his brother.  Their children would be considered the legal and religious heirs of their mother’s first husband. Another “what if?” question:  “What if,” ask the sadducees, “a man dies and his widow marries his brother, but then he dies, then another, then another, and the woman never has children by any of them, who would she be married to in your supposed resurrection?”  The issue is framed around children, with its relationship to lineage, and the woman as property–“whose woman will the woman be?”  In effect, the sadducees played the “family values” card.  If we listen to you, they say, the whole structure of society would become absurd.  You are undermining the traditional family!  

Ironic aside:  In this, the Temple was following the “family values” policy of the previous Roman government headed by Caesar Augustus, who was married three times, each one of them for political reasons.  Augustus made adultery a public crime, although he himself had committed adultery with Livia, his third wife, during her previous marriage, and he continued to commit adultery with numerous other women after they were married.  Hypocrisy on the question is not a new thing. Jesus said to them, ‘Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die any more, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.

Translation: 

Jesus said to them, “The children of this age marry and are given to marry, but the ones considered worthy to obtain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage;  for they cannot die any more, for they are equal to angels and they are children of God, being the children of the resurrection. Marriage is an institution of “this age.”  Marriage was instituted to deal with the problem of death.  It was a way of providing offspring who would continue a man’s name and lineage into the future.

In the resurrection from the dead, Jesus says, people will be “like angels,” who do not die.  There will be no need to try to extend one’s self beyond their death because there will be no death.  (Notice Jesus does not say that people will be angels.  Rather, they will be equal to angels (isangeloi) in the sense that, like angels, we will no longer die.) The important thing is not becoming parents, but rather children–“children of God” and therefore “children of the resurrection,” which obviates the need for both offspring and marriage.  Furthermore, in the resurrection, relationships will no longer need to be guarded by exclusive bonds.

Jesus includes both men and women in this–“those who marry and are given in marriage”–which was unusual in a time where marriage had to do with male property rights.  Neither men nor women will need to marry to have an identity because their fundamental identity, which supercedes all others and casts all others into irrelevance, is the designation of “children of God, children of the resurrection.”  The owning of people will be over.  All relationships will be transfigured and equalized.

And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’

Translation:

Now that the dead are raised, and Moses showed at the bush, as he called the Lord God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob, and he is God not of the dead, but of the living, for to him all of them are living.”  Jesus invokes the story of Moses at the burning bush where God identifies himself to Moses as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”  By the time of Moses, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had all been dead for a long time, yet the Lord God refers to these patriarchs as if they were alive.  Therefore, Jesus reasons from the Torah, they are alive.  If they were still dead, God would be God of the dead, which would mean he is the God of nothing at all. But God is a God of life, “for to him all of them are alive.”  The NRSV inserts “of them,” but this is missing in the Greek text, and, in my view, should not be included.  “For to him, all are alive”–a striking note of universality.

The sadducees, however, couldn’t really quibble since Jesus had made his argument on the basis of a creative use of sadducee-acknowledged Torah, Exodus 3.  This is why “they no longer dared to ask him another question.” (v. 40)

The embodiment of the Image of God

The “image of God” as a metaphor offers some guidance. In traditional Christian philosophy, the “image” is the purpose (the aim of the form) of human creatures. Remember, a “form,” from Plato, is the perfect image of a material thing. Everything that exists in the world is imperfect, but everything that exists, that is seen, participates in its form, its unseen perfection. In Christian philosophy, traditionally stated, the image of God is the form God created for human beings. The image of God is what we are meant to be perfectly in our everyday imperfections. In the Bible, of course, the philosophical understanding of the image is not present. For biblical writers, the image of God is more active than passive. It is the way God forms human beings. It is the life or breath that God gave human beings to make them human. All human beings are brothers and sisters because all alike are the image of God, the life of God’s creative act. All human beings, we could say, are divine soul-bearers or energy-bearers, according to the Bible.

https://www.progressiveinvolvement.com/progressive_involvement/2011/01/lectionary-blogging-john-1-29-42.html

https://www.westarinstitute.org/blog/humanism-posthumanism-transhumanism-issues-of-the-human-future-by-david-galston

Posted by John Petty on November 04, 2019 at 10:53 AM in Bible, History, Lectionary, Liturgy, Religion, Theology | Permalink