‘The Panentheist God and A Human Jesus’

Posted: May 9, 2023 in Uncategorized

A God that Lives and Comes to Wonderful Expression in Us.

Mother’s Day, or Mothering Sunday comes around once a year and amidst the wrestle with inclusive language and the need to avoid inferring that Mother’s, are only the functions they perform in the procreative imperative, or assigning being to doing when we know that ones being is more than the sum of ones parts or of ones actions, and in the current environment of a search for a gender neutral designation many clergy avoid the day or pay lip service to the commercial worlds use of it. A harsh and simplistic critique that may be but it touches on issues of justice, harmony wisdom and learning.

Last week I spoke about the words put into the mouth of Jesus by the storyteller John:
‘I am the way and the truth and the life’, and the interpretation I offered, may have been challenging to some of you. One parishioner at a Sunday service I was at was adamant that it was a waste of time talking about such issues that had no interest in most people’s world. However, it is often the subject of debate in the wider world that speaks against religion and Christianity.

For those of you who didn’t read my words of last week I should probably recap a little. The question was: ‘how can we make sense of the claim: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life’.

Traditionally, these words have often been used, and come across, as exceedingly exclusive.
As if Jesus, in the guise of a benevolent but first century ‘Terminator’, is making an ambit claim against other religions. Or is some kind of heavenly bouncer, keeping people away from God.
Especially those without faith. Those with not enough faith. And those who express their faith differently.

My sermon was about the opposite of this. Jesus is not the way in the sense of a dogmatic guide or a model of leadership.  I suggested that he was and is the path-way into the depths of the God/self/neighbour relationship… This is in keeping also with the central theme to all the gospels and that is a concern for the Kingdom of God or the realm or God which is different from the realm of human power and control. Simply it is a reigning of loving. The serendipitous, so-called weak theological power process is the realm of God, not the dogma driven one we belong to then and still now. The Jesus Way is a way of being and doing that is the discovery of the ever-present mystery of our common existence. It makes sense because it is real, it reflects our relational being, it affirms our experience and it invites us into a hope and a peace beyond understanding. As Jack Spong suggests I think, we are encouraged to love wastefully.

Jesus is the truth about that common existence. Uncovering what is hidden, and bringing to light another dimension of human existence. He is speaking into a culture where the Greek and Roman philosophical thinking is grounded in reason and human control of certainties. Ceasars’ are Gods. Sadly, as the Gospel engaged the Gentile World its need for distinctiveness and difference led to the assumption of ideas of supernaturalism and deism that claimed superiority for the Jesus Way distorting process into the power of certainty over difference.

Jesus is life because he is the way and truth by which God, self, and neighbour, break their isolation and flow into each other. So, the challenge for those of us who live comfortably with the title ‘progressive’, and that’s not everyone who attends progressive churches, is not the existence of other faiths claims. For the most part, most of us happily embrace religious pluralism and spiritual diversity as part of our reality as human people who think. The challenge, it seems to me, is our surrendering of the Christian story to exclusive cults and preaching gurus, to fundamentalists and members of the ‘religious right’, and to the new neo-conservative evangelicals. They are not religiously different. They are driven by the dogmatic obsession with certainty and power and control. In my view they deny the cross and thus the humanity of Jesus. But that was last week.

One way into this week is to wrestle with the differences between the religion of Jesus, and
the religion about Jesus. The sometimes-subtle difference is that the religion of Jesus is found in the echoes of the sayings he spoke and the stories he told, not as law, but about how to live, how to treat one another, how to re-imagine the world. In another sense to seek to value being human and to establish values as the basis of being human. An engagement in the process of becoming rather than ticking of the boxes achieved to become. The religion about Jesus has often been the religion of literalism and fundamentalism. And when the story is about Jesus it becomes the believing a certain story about an interventionist God, with the promise that if you do believe, you’ll be saved some day after you die.

The religion of Jesus is not a ‘supernatural’ story. It is not a story that has to wrestle with magic and superstition. It is about how you can be made more whole, here and now, and how you can help make the world more whole, here and now. From our very best guesses (thanks to the work of amateur sleuths and scholarly critics), we can say the message of the religion of Jesus was one of liberation and empowerment and compassion. Of providing new or different pathways to experiencing and serving God or the Sacred in daily life, Participating in the process of sacredness in this life. And from all we have puzzled over and learned, we can also say that the message from the religion about Jesus was one too often aimed at
frightening or controlling people, hating gays or assertive women, or supporting a war against people who disagreed.

The religion about Jesus emphasizes the ‘noun’ locking it into the world of grasping, controlling, owning, and having, whereas the religion of Jesus emphasizes the ‘verb’, inviting us to walk the Way, to celebrate the differences as part of the whole, as contributions to harmony and human flourishing. As a web site colleague has said: The religion about Jesus is ‘Easter’.  The religion of Jesus is ‘eastering’. “It’s about the miracle of new life coming from old, life out of death, right here and now.  Nothing supernatural, though it feels so magical when it happens…  Life is about honouring that spirit of life that comes and goes as it likes, but when it comes our way, it can make all the difference between feeling dead and feeling alive…”. (Davidson Loehr UUAustin Web site, 2008). 

The story we heard this morning from John, I want to suggest, are more about ‘eastering’ than ‘easter’. It is not about bigger miracles or stricter commandments or watertight creeds. They are about a dynamic, creative, evolving, as Rex Hunt would say a ‘present-ness’ in our midst.

It is our experience that stories are conditioned and shaped by the language of their day: The earth is flat, sin causes sickness, God is all powerful and distant are just some of these experience shaped doctrines that have become dogma and thus limited and conditional truths.

But so are our stories conditioned and shaped by the language and imagination of our day. So, with the so-called Luke’s version of Paul, (the Paul taking the Jewish Gospel into the gentile world) we can claim: God is ‘not far from each one of us.’ Present and active everywhere on earth… – in the slow development of human cultures and societies, – in the growth of knowledge, – in the constant search for meaning as women and men tell stories and sharing their connectedness, and in the urging of us to love graciously and generously, to break down barriers between people, and to put an end to religious elitism and religious wars.

The gospel of Jesus invites an imagining of a better and more creative and vulnerable humanity. A greater acceptance of an ambiguous truth as opposed to a certain truth and a rejoicing in the knowledge that that which we name God is a process of becoming a living wonderful expression in all things. (Panentheism). In us!  Missing pieces, incomplete pieces and all because it’s not about certainty because biological death is the wonderful reality whereas eastering is about being born again and living, So, long live living.  Beyond belief, beyond certainty and with a peace that passes understanding. Amen.



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