Which Procession are we in?

Posted: April 9, 2019 in Uncategorized

Luke 19:28-40

Which Procession are we in?

Our title is where Palm Sunday begins and ends. Which procession are we in? Is it one of empire or one of sacred realm? Which procession will we choose? The one of power, control, correctness, and certainty or one of humility, ambiguity, mystery and novel? One of right or one of love?

We need to acknowledge here that the conflict that brought about the crucifixion of Jesus was not a conflict between Jews, Christian Jews and other Jews, nor was it a conflict between Jesus and Judaism, Jesus was a devout Jew and this conflict was a conflict between Jesus and a dominant system that was in conflict with what the dream of God was and could be.

It takes place at the beginning of the most sacred week in the Jewish calendar, the week of Passover and it is the event of two processions, one peasant and one imperial, Both processions about the kingdom of God but one a God of the poor, of compassion and love and one a kingdom of power over, control of and empire. These two processions do more than demonstrate the difference, they embody it.

Another significant thing to note is the place of Jerusalem in this conflict. It begins with the fact that on almost every occasion of a Jewish festival Roman imperialism was present and participated, not out of reverence for Judaism but as a threat of imposition. Make trouble and we will crush you. We are in control here. Why was this important? Well it was important because Passover was a festival that Celebrated the Jewish people’s liberation from an earlier empire.

The Roman garrison was permanently stationed overlooking the Jewish Temple and its courts and it was seen as a chore to be stationed there. So much so that it was always a stationing that needed adding to at festival times. Pilate and the main cohorts were stationed at Caearea on the Sea, a far better stationing some sixty miles to the West. It was a new and splendid city and far more pleasant that Jerusalem which had become insular, provincial and partisan and often hostile. It was somewhat of a chore to go to Jerusalem and this inevitably led to the imperial nature being flaunted with a very visual panoply of power, cavalry with war horses, soldiers, armour, weapons along with banners and eagles mounted on poles glinting in the sun. One can imagine the sounds of leather, clinking of bridles and the beating of drums all in the face of people with dust swirling around their eyes some awed and others resentful. Silenced by the show of power.

But this was not only a display of imperial power. It was also a show of imperial theology. The emperor was not simply the ruler of Rome but the Son of God. This idea had begin in 31BCE with Augustus whose Father was the god Apollo and Augustus was the saviour, the one who had brought peace on earth. The continuance of this was that was seen ascending into heaven to take his permanent place among the gods. His successors continued to bear divine titles including Tiberius who was emperor during Jesus time. Palm Sunday then is a political, military and theological confrontation of epic proportion. It was not only a time of rival social order abut also a rival theology.

We note here that the gospels differ a bit. Mark tells it as a prearranged ‘counter-procession’ Jesus planned it in advance. The colt story makes this look like a planned political demonstration and this is reinforced with the link to Zechariah story where the king riding a donkey will banish war from the land, The king will be a king of peace. Implicit almost is the importance of Jerusalem as the place of the sacred temple. We remember here that Jerusalem has been central to the sacred imagination for a millennium. It is the City of God and the faithless city, a city of hope and a city of oppression, a city of joy ad a city of pain. It began its journey around 1000bce when under David all twelve tribes were under one king. We recall also that under David Jerusalem was not only a time of power and glory but also of justice and righteousness. He was associated with goodness, power, protection and justice. This is why the hoped-for deliverer was expected to be the Son of David, a new David indeed a greater David.

We remember here also that Jerusalem was not new to the domination matrix. In the half century after David Jerusalem become the center of a domination system, in this case the organization of a society marked by three features. By Political oppression, the many ruled by the few, the powerful and wealthy elites. Ordinary people had no voice in the shaping of society. By economic exploitation where the greatest percentage of a societies wealth came from agricultural production, in this case in a pre-industrial society where the wealth went to the Roman economy to feed Rime and the elites within Palestinian society in support of that. The gospel’s highlighting of tax collectors and collaborators indicated their influence within the society structures of ownership and commerce. The third aspect was the religious legitimation. These systems were legitimated or justified with religious language. The king or emperor ruled by divine right, the king or emperor was the Son of God the social order reflected the will of God and the powers that be were ordained by God. Of course religion can also become the source of protests against these claims but in most cases religion has been used to legitimate the place of the wealthy and powerful in the social order over which they preside.

We remind ourselves about now that none of this is unusual. Most human civilizations operate this way in the case of a non religious society is the way things are and the religious society is one where God has set it is that way. For our story then of Jesus last week Jerusalem is a very significant setting that had come about through the centralization and the building of the single Southern Kingdom of Judah with Jerusalem at its core. We are also aware of its persistence in that for several centuries Jerusalem had been ruled by foreign empires and under them Jerusalem was the center of local government falling in 63BCE under the control of Rome. Here the significant change was that Rome abolished the Jewish monarchy and installed the high priest, in other words the temple as the primary place of collaboration. The primary qualification was wealth. Rome trusted the wealthy families as local collaborators with a free hand except for the collecting and paying of the annual tribute owed to Rome.

Of course we can guess how this went as we are aware of what greed and power over do to us and so we hear of Herod executing his own class in the interests of power and control. His goal was to centralize power and control and he made Jerusalem the most magnificent in the Roman Empire. The trouble was that when he too overstepped the mark and spent too much money he was forced to put pressure on his own sources losing their support to the point that when he died revolts erupted throughout the kingdom. Again this mean a change for the Temple as Rome having burnt its bridges with local politicians e.g. Herod, it transferred control to the temple. It was of course very likely that the elite families created by Herod had provided the Priests and so the domination system continued this time under the umbrella of the Temple. Here the economics of society became intertwined with the economics of religion and local taxes became tithes paid to the priesthood amounting to over 20% of production. Another plus was the festivals when the 40 thousand Jerusalem inhabitants would become hundreds of thousands during festivals. All this meant that the temple authorities had a balancing act on their hands. How to make sure the annual tribute to Rome was paid while maintaining the domestic peace and order. Rome did not want rebellions. It was better that one man die than the whole nation be destroyed.

This was the Jerusalem that Jesus entered on Palm Sunday. His message was deeply critical of the temple and its role in the domination system. Alongside this is the Essenes who rejected the legitimacy of the present temple and priesthood and who looked forward to the day when they would be restored to power. Here we have the environment for the 66CE revolt that was directed as much against the temple collaborators as it was against Rome itself.

Again this is the Jerusalem that the two processions enter into on Palm Sunday. The City of God is in trouble and we know it did not survive the first century. One of those processions was about the empire of Rome and the other was about the empire of God.

Borg and Crossan write: “Jesus’ procession deliberately countered what was happening on the other side of the city.  Pilate’s procession embodied the power, glory, and violence of the empire that rules the world.  Jesus’ procession embodied an alternative vision, the [empire] of God…  The confrontation between these two kingdoms [or empires] continues through the last week of Jesus’ life” (Borg & Crossan 2006:4-5).

Well, all that is about way back then.  What about now? What can we resonate with in 2019? There continues to be two visions of how we are to be human, religiously. Sometimes the vision from both the empire and the church seem very similar. As in the prosperity theology of such places as Destiny Church and the like.- the mega-church models that we hear have got it right and from such people as those of the “hysterically religious” (Spong 2007:9), such as those who preach a violent God. They say that “Some day we may blow ourselves up with the bombs… But God’s going to be in control… If God chooses to use nuclear war, then who are we to argue with that” (Jones, Quoted in Crossan 2007:199).

Sometimes the church has just got it wrong about Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, which has resulted in a racist theology and overt racism. Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem was not against Judaism, not against the Temple as such, not against the priesthood or Temple leaders. It was, suggests biblical scholar Dom Crossan, a protest by one within Jewish society “against Jewish religious co-operation with Roman imperial control” (Crossan 2007:132).

As has there been many within the Global society who have protested against imperial control which has led nations to detain refugees in prison-like conditions. To wage war on countries through the spectacles of terrorism, but really through the hip pocket of ‘oil’
and to abandon citizens overseas, for political expediency. Most times the church has misunderstood Jesus’ journey, calling it ‘the triumphal entry into Jerusalem’. It was not.  Actually it was an anti-triumphal entry. But regardless, sections of the church decide to take to the city streets to ‘march… demonstrating the power of Easter’ in gatherings of piety and triumphalism! But… and you will probably suggest I often have a ‘but’. But this is all very serious.

I want to finish with a flourish by asking what if there is just a touch of humour in all this.

Jesus’ stories – we call them parables – often had a humorous side to them.
So, what if his ‘Palm Sunday’ procession also had a touch of humour to it? Was the peasant procession taking the mickey’ out of the other, pompous procession? Maybe the emperor is not wearing any clothes after all!

What if Palm Sunday, if it is anything, draws us into the reality of this world. It is an invitation to continue to view the world differently. Barbara Brown Taylor in an article in The Christian Century, wrote: “When I listen to the most devoted followers of Jesus, they tell me what it costs to love unconditionally, to forgive 70-times-seven, to offer hospitality to strangers, and to show compassion for the poor.  These are essential hallmarks of Jesus’ ministry, which no followers of his can ignore…  What I hear less about from Jesus’ followers is what it costs to oppose the traditions of the elders, to upset pious expectations of what a child of God should say or do, to subvert religious certainty, and to make people responsible for their own lives. Yet all of these are present in his example too” (Taylor 2007).And sometimes that can take some real doing! Amen.

Notes:
Borg, M; J. D. Crossan. 2006. The Last Week: A day-by-day account of Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem. New York. HarperSanFrancisco.
Cox, H. 1969. The Feast of Fools. A Theological Essay on Festivity and Fantasy. Cambridge. Harvard University Press.
Crossan, J. D. 2007. God and Empire. Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now. New York. HarperSanFrancisco.
Patterson, S. J. 2004. Beyond the Passion: Rethinking the Death and Life of Jesus. Minneapolis. Fortress Press.
Spong, J. S. 2007. Jesus for the Non-religious. New York. HarperSanFrancisco.
Taylor, B. B. 2007. “Something about Jesus” in The Christian Century, 3 April. Web site.

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‘Gospel Extravagance’

Posted: April 4, 2019 in Uncategorized

5C, 2019
John 12:1-8

‘Gospel Extravagance’

This morning’s theological storyteller we call John, has told a very old story and this story seems to have been reworked several times as it appears in various guises in at least three other gospels. In John, it is a good woman. In Luke, a sinful woman. In Mark, the woman anoints Jesus’ head. In Luke and John, she anoints his feet. Later generations wrongly imagined the woman was Mary Magdalene. And the differences go on.

In John, Judas objects. In Matthew, the disciples object. In Mark, it was some of those present who objected. In Luke, it was Simon, the pharisee who objects. In Matthew and Mark, all this took place in the house of Simon, the leper. In Luke, it happened in the house of Simon, the pharisee. In John, it took place in the home of Lazarus. About now one might be excused for being confused. This is quite a story!

So, amid all the changes to this story, where do we go? Where is the story’s focus? Maybe it’s on the response of the woman. But we need to be careful if we go down that road because we know the woman’s response is not always welcomed. Looking at the wider context of the story we see that the protests in many of the stories surrounding this one seem to focus on the waste of resources, with those resources going to assist the poor. So as a guide, Uniting Church theologian Bill Loader offers this comment: He says: “It is not that we should see [her response] as stroking the ego of Jesus, but rather as indicative of her response…  A person is responding to love and acceptance.  It is not the time to talk budgets, but to value the person” (WLoader Web site 2004).

A Girardian note on this story suggests that we find ourselves in Lent and the cross looms large ahead of us, bringing us closer to the revelation of God’s extravagant love – reflected in Mary’s scandalous generosity – juxtaposed against humanity’s imposition of blame and cruelty. This passage contains layers upon layers of scapegoating and misappropriated blame, but cutting through it is truth, beauty and compassion.

A frequent misinterpretation of this passage is that Jesus is acquiescing to the inevitability of impoverishment, as if poverty is a natural phenomenon to which some are necessarily doomed. But if God is Love – if Love fashioned the universe and all that is in it and formed humanity to reflect Love – then the suffering that comes with destitution is not divine design. No, there is abundance for all, so why does Jesus say, “You always have the poor with you?”

What if poverty is a way that the consequences of negative mimesis have become entrenched over time? As people live over and against one another and exclude and marginalize or exploit and manipulate others for their own benefit, the abundance of creation is horded by some and denied to others?

Furthermore, the escalation of human conflict, as desires for wealth, power, and influence clash against each other, erupts into war that further impoverishes those who already have little. The poor are often those conscripted into battle or sent to the front lines to fight for profits claimed by others under the guise of patriotism. Spilled blood poisons the soil, and today tools of modern warfare destroy homes and livelihoods and wreak havoc on the land and water, rendering them unable to provide for the people as intended. I don’t think Jesus foresaw bombs and missiles, per se, but I do think he understood the escalation of violence and the advancement of weaponry over time which would be put to use in the service of fear and greed and deepen the poverty of the people.

Jesus has seen how God’s commands to welcome and love strangers and foreigners have been neglected. He has seen instructions on forgiveness of debts ignored and the further entrenchment of poverty through the generations. He has seen how people and nations have defined themselves over and against others and how claiming the exclusive This extravagant focus raises the question of an exclusive God who has pushed out scapegoats within communities and fostered enmities between them. Thus the Poverty that results and metastasizes from these patterns of human behaviour is something Jesus intimately understands precisely because he has placed himself at the center of it. The same forces that impoverish ultimately kill Jesus.

So, when Jesus says, “You always have the poor with you,” he is lamenting, not acquiescing to, human sinfulness – which can be summed up as the brokenness of human relationships that compels us to find our identities over and against, rather than with and for, one another. We become unbalanced, left brain prioritized and adversarial responsive. And then Jesus says, “You do not always have me.” He is affirming that his challenge is to see the need to challenge our assumptions that are not balanced.

Yes, he is very likely foreshadowing his death. But he is not contrasting himself with the poor but rather standing in solidarity with them. He is not seeking any focus on himself but rather highlighting the need for constant vigilance in the face of responses that are not tested against reality as we know it. And he is saying, “Unless you can see the unique and beautiful face of each person right in front of you, you will never truly care for the poor.” Poverty comes from dehumanization and exclusion, from casting people aside from the human community, from violence that violates and destroys bodies and souls. If you want to help those who are poor, see them! Welcome and befriend them, Jesus tells us. “And do not begrudge an act of extraordinary kindness and generosity toward them, as Mary is doing for me.” The issue of debate between The Friends and ourselves about what is the better way to deal with homeless who use our doorways as shelter is a perfect example of this challenge. Ban and police them or work with them in the needs. The poor, disaffected, unable to work with the system are always with us.

Yes, there is so much more in this action, in this anointing for burial as both preparation for death and the beginning of death’s undoing itself – the undoing of the victimization and ritualization that grafts sacrifice into the lifecycle of communities and destroys them from the inside out is another half dozen sermon.

What I think is important here is the idea that poverty as a consequence of the dehumanization that is pinpointed against a single individual or group in the scapegoating mechanism, as the widespread result of scapegoating from the foundation of the world. Because in an age and a society where the poor are still scapegoated, and violence – in the form of destruction of social programs and the diversion of funding to wars that further entrench poverty – violence that harms the poor is whitewashed and cloaked in pseudo-righteousness.

The Girardian approach to this suggests that we must see the social and political dimension of Jesus’s words, as well as the personal. At the core of it all, to say “You always have the poor with you,” is to say that the fullness of humanity is always denied.  I would prefer to say unfinished. In our story Jesus draws the focus back to himself; ultimately to affirm the dignity of everyone and to show us that dignity that we may see it in ourselves and others, and not to offer us a supernatural escape clause.

If we follow the Girardian approach and see poverty itself through the lens of scapegoating, we can see how this passage presents further layers of scapegoating as well. These are layers that can lead to marginalization and poverty. Judas scapegoats Mary. He chastises her for her extravagant generosity as she spreads the perfume over Jesus’s feet. The evangelist scapegoats Judas. He says that Judas has no concern for the poor, but wanted to steal from the treasury.

Commentaries say other scholars are more sympathetic to Judas. And, yes, the story has Judas betraying Jesus, but so do we all. To give in to and turn to the ways of violence for self-protection or enrichment is to betray Jesus. To build ourselves up over and against others is to betray Jesus. Entrenched biases and prejudices are betrayals of Jesus that permeate our world and infect our souls.

For the evangelist to hone in on Judas’s faults and judge his motives is to detract from the deeper truth that everyone witnessing such extravagance on Mary’s part was very likely scandalized by it. And today, while giving to the poor is considered a virtue, programs that uplift the poor and attempt to restructure society so that poverty is reduced are often maligned as “hand-outs.” “Do away with foodbanks because all they do is perpetuate people who cheat the system”. Ban the homeless from our CBD because we are damaging out tourism potential. We must ask, to what extent are we scandalized by our extravagant abundance, and how much more must we open our own hearts to acts of extraordinary generosity and kindness?” As I implied the other night to our leadership team. Maybe we should build rooms in the old church and give them to the homeless.

The chief priests scapegoat not only Jesus, but Lazarus as well, “since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting their Judaism and were believing in Jesus.” And let’s remember that this was Jews moving between their own faith expressions. They were not becoming pagan or any other form of religion but rather within a world of diverse practice. Fearing loss of authority and power, and fearing destruction of their particular community by Rome, they conspire to put Lazarus to death… again.

The challenge to us in this text is to acknowledge that generations of Christians have scapegoated Jews because of an anti-Semitic reading of this text. We have scapegoated many who can’t keep up or fit in to our norms of society and we have set Jesus apart from every other victim by making him carry the burden of being supernatural and we see his execution as something unique and more offensive than that of anyone else, we miss his solidarity with the victims of violence in all times and places, and we mistake the violence done against him as worse than our own. We push to the background the fact that many in his world were crucified.

But what do we do about this?  Well maybe look again at Mary who, being herself, marginalized, models the generosity and vulnerability that Jesus later displays when he washes the feet of his disciples. In our Hebrew Scripture for today God declares “I am about to do a new thing,” foreshadowing perhaps the forgiveness and undoing of the ways of blame and violence that lead to death that spring from the cross and resurrection…

So, what do we do about this? What is our response to this reality? How do we interpret Jesus’ words about the poor, Mary’s extravagant generosity, or Judas’s chastisement, or the reaction of the chief priests? And if “we always have poor among us,” what does that mean? What does Jesus have to say to today’s social and political and economic systems? What does he have to say to the ways we see, or don’t see, those who are poor among us? What hope does he offer the poor themselves, who comprise the majority of the world?

Well, lets go back to the story again, in fact lets see if we can put this story into context.

Stories such as: The man who had two sons; A man with a hundred sheep, and
A woman with ten coins. In the parable of the man who had two sons we meet the younger son who, after collecting his share of the family’s estate, leaves home and spends it all on extravagant living. When he returns home, broke, he is welcomed back by his father, who bankrolls, out of the other brother’s inheritance, an extravagant homecoming party. In the parable of the one sheep missing from a flock of 100, the fellow goes off searching for the lost one until it is found. And when he finds that one sheep, throws a party in an act of extravagance and maybe even offering the sheep as part of the party food!

Likewise, in the parable of the woman who loses a coin. With a sense of urgency, she lights a lamp, sweeps the house, and goes searching. She is in charge of the household finances.  Indeed: “her power and status derive from maintaining orderly household management” (Reid 2000:187) So she doesn’t give up until she has found that coin. Then she throws an extravagant party, probably spending that coin and several others,
in honour of the recovered coin and her selfhood.

Extravagance and joy characterize these Lukan stories. As it does, I suggest, in this morning’s story by John. But what of John’s added comment: ‘There will always be poor around, but I won’t always be around.’ Well, again if we go back and ‘hear’ that again, checking the passage from Deuteronomy which many scholars feel John has been inspired by. this is what we hear: Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land’ (NRSV). Open your hand…  Be compassionate to others! Com- passion.  Feeling with. From the very depths of your person.

So, with the broader Deuteronomy text ringing in my ears, I think along with others that this story from John implies that it was: Mary – with the lotion and the touch, and not
Judas – with the speech and the pious-sounding advice, whose response was genuinely compassionate. The speech by Judas sets up a competitive situation and a closed hand. The action of Mary sets up common likenesses and an open hand. Matthew Fox of ‘creation spirituality’ fame, and who is to be our Ferguson Lecturer this year has some interesting comments on compassion which I think could be helpful: “Competition isolates, separates and estranges.  Compassion unites, makes one and embraces…  If we can move from competition to compassion we will have moved from dull and moralistic and ungrateful and legalistic (thinking)… to celebrative thanking… Celebration leads the work with The Friends on the restoration of our building.

Extravagance and celebration and joy! For of such are the images of the ‘glimpsed alternative’, and ‘revelation of potential’ called the realm of God. It seems here that Jack Spong got it right when he said: love wastefully!

Notes:
Fox, M 1979.  A spirituality named compassion and the healing of the global village, Humpty Dumpty and us. NM: Santa Fe. Bear & Company.
Reid, B. E. 2000.  Parables for preachers. Year C. MN: Collegeville. Liturgical Press.
Scott, B. B. 2001.  Re-Imagine the world. An introduction to the parables of Jesus. CA: Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.
Scott, B. B. 1989.  Hear then the parable. A commentary on the parables of Jesus. MN: Minneapolis. Fortress Press.

rexae74@gmail.com

 

Luke 15:1, 11-32

It’s Dangerous to Leave Home

How lone is it since you left home? Did you leave home, and if you did what did you feel about it?  What is sure is, as is said; “a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then”.

Today’s story about the so-called Prodigal Son has been called a ‘leaving home’ story.
‘Give me my inheritance now instead of when you drop dead. Because I can’t wait that long. I need to move on. I need to leave home, now’.

Rex Hunt tells another ‘leaving home’ Prodigal Son story, that might be familiar to some parents in our day.  A mother relates this story.

He tells me he is leaving on Monday. Today is Wednesday. Not enough time to prepare my heart, to even let this sink in. The reality that my son, who is barely 16, is leaving home for parts unknown. Well no, not totally unknown. I know the kid he is heading off with is a street-corner drug dealer.

I know the town they say they are going to is a place where youth go. A place where there are flophouses, drug parties, and lost children. I picture him there, getting high, crashing on someone’s couch, scrounging for bread in the morning.

We hold a family dinner, a farewell of sorts. We gather in the kitchen, his sisters,
his father, me, a family friend.

His seven-year-old sister makes a farewell card. There is a picture of her, kneeling with her head in her hands, black pencil tears streaming from her eyes. I feel a rush of anger.

We baste the turkey, make mashed potatoes (his favourite), and set out the best china.
He shows up stoned.

We try to concentrate on saying what needs to be said in this present moment. There may not be another time, so what is to be said must be said now. We love you. We will miss you. The door will always be open. We will be waiting for you to come home. We will be praying, always praying. I try to imagine what the next few months will be like. I cannot say goodbye forever, since I know my heart will not let me do that. Whatever I tell myself about getting on with life, I know I will be waiting. Holding my breath every time the phone rings. Listening for his steps upon the porch.

The Jesus Seminar voted the Prodigal Son parable, ‘pink’: and pink means that Jesus may have said something like this. So we can probably say that this story is an important story. The story of the so-called Prodigal Son… so-called because it really is a story about three characters: the father, the elder son, and the younger son, is one of the best known of all the biblical stories.

We have heard it… maybe a zillion times! But have we really heard it?  Really listened to it?

A younger son wants to leave home.  He insultingly asks his father for his share of what may become his inheritance. Knowing there was no point in trying to hold on, the father agrees, and shares out his livelihood to both sons. The younger son leaves home and lives a life of extravagance. We know his story.

We also know how the father, always watching and waiting and loving, sees his son coming home. And. Ignoring the teachings of the Hebrew scriptures, he runs out to meet him and protect him, in case any member of the village should recognise him as someone who has dishonoured both his family and his village, and attempt to kill him. So the father welcomes the son back with an extravagant homecoming party.

Likewise, we know the story around the elder son. When he arrives home he notices a party is in progress, and is told it is for the younger son, who has also come home.

In true sibling rivalry he takes offence, yells abuse about his father, and refuses to ‘go in’ to the party. We also know how the father, lovingly, goes out to meet him.

What’s the hermeneutic response for us now? How can we hear this story anew?  We go back to the story. First, this is a story about a father who had two sons.  Indeed, not only had two sons but loved two sons, went out to two sons, and was generous to two sons.

Second, the father does not reject either son, under any circumstance.  His love is given to both, not to one at the expense of the other.  Yet this same love does not resolve the conflict. It accepts conflicts as the arena in which the work of love is to be done.

Third, there is a missing third act in this parable (Scott 2001). The conflict between the brothers is left unresolved.  So a real question: what happens next?

New Testament scholar Brandon Scott is helpful, perhaps with a suggestion: “Soon the father will die.  Then what?  If the sons continue on with their established scripts, they are headed for a collision.  One will kill the other. Or they can follow the father’s script and surrender their male honour and keep on welcoming, accepting, and being with the other.  They have a choice between being lost or found, dead or alive” (Scott 2001:82-83).

In this parable the storyteller has Jesus offering a simple suggestion: but gosh it doesn’t seem that simple. It is a re-imagined world, the hoped-for world Jesus continually talks about, and it pictures co-operation, not contest, as the basis for the realm of God. Loving one’s enemies, turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, collaboration not contest. The message is that one is loved not according to pre-set conditions.  Making love, living love, depending upon love is the massage and it’s that simple.  But do we have ears to hear that?

Jesus told parables so that, as with any good story, they could weave their way into the fabric of our lives in different ways. Stories invite us to listen, to hear, and to draw our own conclusions. But be careful.  Stories can also be dangerous. Especially stories told by a certain Jesus of Nazareth.

Let me show you another story. As you watch it think about the last weeks in NZ with the learnings about ourselves that has taken place. Think about the need to lost differently to the story, to look behind it and see the message differently. Is the message about a reimagined world, is it about collaboration as opposed to contest. How do we look at difference? How do we respond to difference?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg&t=700s

Discussion

Notes:
“He is leaving”.  Author unknown. From Whole people of GodLent, 25 March 2001.
Scott, B. B. 2001. Reimagine the world. An introduction to the parables of Jesus. CA: Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.

rexae74@gmail.com

 

Lent 3C, 2019
Luke 13:1-9

An Affirming Faith in The Face of Evil

Many of the Jews in Jesus’ day, it seems, believed in a God who punished the bad people and rewarded the good. They went so far as to say:

  • if you live in poverty or have a bad accident or disease, you are revealed by God as a sinner;
  • if you are healthy and prosper you are revealed by God as a righteous person.

There is a story that gives us a bit of a modern version of that thinking; it goes like this….

A minister… let’s call her Diana, rushed around to the home of friends where a small child has suddenly died. She was met at the door by the distraught father, a senior lecturer in mathematics at the local university, who usually was most composed. “O Diana, thanks for coming.  It’s a nightmare. You know, I have not been reading my Bible much these days.” At first Diana was confused by her friend’s opening remark. What had reading the Bible to do with a little child’s death? Later, after she had thought the issue through, Diana was able to help untangle the poor father’s anguish.

The father’s first reaction had been to feel guilty. Years before, when he had been confirmed, he had promised to ‘diligently study the scriptures.’ In the anguish of the new grief, the ancient fear that the death was a punishment from God, had broken loose. Some one was at fault. It must be him. His mind came up with a broken vow. Normally, that man would have logically dismissed the idea of a child’s death as divine retribution, as rubbish. But in the grief crisis, the ancient superstition had got the jump on him. In all of us, primitive stuff like that lies semi-hidden. It’s like the ghosts of old gods that refuse to completely go away.

In all of us, hidden away in the murkier parts of our psyche, are irrational fears and superstitions. These are a hangover from the not so ancient, primitive past of homo sapiens. One of these superstitions is that we may be the guilty cause of accidents and disease to ourselves or those whom we love dearly. There are of course some religious people in New Zealand today who are still committed to that concept of God. Their God is one of anger and retribution for the unrighteous, and of the reward of good health and prosperity for the righteous.

Rex Hunt quotes from a sermon delivered by Bruce Prewer, a retired Uniting Church minister and author of many books which help shape an Australian spirituality, and he says that; “One of the most recent statements of this unhappy dogma, was exhibited recently by an evangelist (so called!).  It was offering time at a big gathering and the announcement was made before the offering: ‘We all know bad economic times are coming.  There will be a great collapse of the markets and people will lose everything they own. But those who give well to God this day will be among the few who will do well and prosper in the bad times that must come.’” Bruce Prewer response was: “Yuk!” (Prewer web site 2004)

Others, such as John Shelby Spong and John Dominic Crossan and Sallie McFague,
are also at the forefront of putting old theological superstitions to bed. The challenge is for us to do the same. Happiness or misery cannot be simply equated with goodness and badness. That old superstition is a lie. The old gods of retribution and reward who lurk in the dark corners of our minds, are false gods. Dismiss the superstition.  We have Jesus’ word on it. But… and sometimes there always seems to be a ‘but’, doesn’t there! We also have the claim that Jesus’ word says: ‘Do not pretend that the good or evil that we do does not matter’. Of course, many of us believe that accidents, massacres, disease, are not God’s punishments. But if we don’t watch our step, if we don’t hedge our bets on this, we can all end up with another kind of disaster…we will likewise perish. Not as bodies that die, but as persons who can decay and perish while living. This is the loss of hope issue, the sense that with the liberalization of theology and faith we might lose control and end up with a horrible life. Better the current belief than the more complex one.

This is also part of the current ‘climate change’ debate. Whatever side you might choose to be as to its authenticity you will have to deal with it. Theologian, Sallie McFague, writes:
“Global warming is not just another important issue that human beings need to deal with; rather, it is the demand that we live differently.  While I prefer to understand that global warming is a slightly different approach than climate change, I agree that we cannot solve it, deal with it, given our current anthropology.  It is not simply an issue of management; sure, it does require us to take seriously the amount of plastic in our oceans and the amount of waste that our economic system produces but that is a management issue and it is not enough, rather, it demands a paradigm shift in who we think we are.  The challenge is that without a shift in paradigm we cannot expect ourselves or others to undertake the radical behavioural change that is necessary to address our planetary crisis.” (McFague 2008:44). As individuals, as a world, we are all capable of perishing… not as a species limited by biology but rather disintegrating as persons. And none of us is exempt.

It is also not unlike the impact and response to the shooting in Christchurch last week. The ignorance of or naivety around the fact that we are surprised and shamed by what took place in our lovely country will not be addressed by management of behaviour. New rules and regulations will not change the environment. We have discovered that we have less rules than other countries but their experience is that even more rules does not stop such atrocities. We have also discovered that we have ignored our own history in that atrocities of a greater nature have taken place in our nation’s past. Hundreds of people have been slaughtered in our own internal racial wars. For those of us who are of Jewish and Christian heritage violent atrocities are part of our heritage.

Rex Hunt suggests that this Lent might be a good time for us to do a couple of ‘life-affirming’ things. Maybe we can update the thinking which shapes our faith and beliefs.

Maybe we can change our minds and hearts by looking for the life-affirming clues all around us – the tender care rather than the axe! This requires us to accept that as a species we have instinctive and psychological traits that have generated social, political and religious paradigms that need challenging. The acceptance of an original sin, The obsession with self-depricating repentance as the sole means of change, the rising acceptance of revenge as closure all need to be challenged if we are to rid ourselves of violence as a means of change. Our history as a species is riddled with it and we know it does not solve things. Maybe we can be the special people we are, but it requires more than just a cognitive awareness and a management process by which we prevent ourselves from continuing to act out in a simple fight or flight response to difference and challenge. But before we do this, I want to show a video that I think might help us think before we act. It is a video about the human brain that asks us to think differently about how we come to our decisions and it challenges old assumptions about how we do this. My hope is that if we are better informed about our own processing of life we might ask ourselves the important questions before we respond to the unknown or the challenging.

Video   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kunVEneaGNg

Question time

 Notes:
McFague, S. A New Climate for Theology. God, the world, and global warming. Minneapolis. Fortress Press, 2008.

rexae74@gmail.com

 

‘Living Stones’

Posted: March 13, 2019 in Uncategorized

Lent 2C, 2019
Luke 13: 31-35

‘Living Stones’

There was a while back a program run by the Middle East Council of Churches, and there is reported a comment made by a Palestinian Christian who said to participating churches. “Thank you for coming to visit the ‘living stones’, and not just the dead stones, the holy places, the archaeological sites. Most Christian pilgrims bypass us he said; we are invisible. We are at best dirty, dangerous Arabs. “They say ‘how wonderful it is to walk where Jesus walked’. I say it is more wonderful to walk with the people with whom Jesus walked. I have been walking where Jesus walked for the last 50 years. It’s a big deal!  But the purpose is not to walk where he walked, but to walk how he walked. Here is a challenge to those of us who live our comfortable complicated lives in the shadow of an institutional Christianity with all its security blankets of doctrine, belief systems and creeds that produce screeds of liturgies and words of great literary value. It’s a big deal but there is an even bigger deal and it is to be living stones, to walk the Jesus Way or as Perry Gianzer says we are to be citizens of another Kingdom, we are to be living stones or stones that do not conform to what stones are. They our outsiders, different, noticeable and valued for it. They might have been called prophets in the past. But they are valued We are to be stones that live and thus living stones. Gainzer says that if faithful disciples experience life as “aliens and exiles,” then a good Christian education must include helping kids understand as well as practice what it means to be an alien. To be an outsider and different and unique. Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, suggest that Christians are “resident aliens.” Of course, what it means to be a “resident alien” can be subject to some misunderstanding. I want to suggest that the term might better be living stones, Stones that are about solidity sure faith, stability, integrity, honesty and courage, and about vitality, innovation, creative and vibrant.

Gainzer gives the example of when talking about the paperwork for renewing his wife’s resident alien card, their youngest son exclaimed, “Mommy, you can’t be an alien. If you’re an alien you have to be from outer space.” Gainzer chimed in that during his first Christmas in Canada (his wife’s country of citizenship), it actually felt as cold as outer space (minus twenty-five degrees Celsius for five straight days to be exact), but he did not think that his son or wife thought that comment was helpful. His wife then patiently explained that being a resident alien means you are a citizen of another country. The Apostle Paul reminds Christians “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). Thus, good Christian education, at the very least, involves helping kids understand as well as practice what it means to be resident aliens. You might like to explore what this means in relation to the Milky Way, what does it mean to be a resident alien for those children? You might also ask some of our Chinese folk. What about me of value as a living stone?

As with most Christian parents, we are not always sure in our culture that we know what it means to raise resident aliens or as I suggest, living stones. We enter the world as strangers not knowing who we are. According to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile, we should allow children to learn about themselves naturally. In fact, the best kind of education, according to Rousseau’s philosophy, involves protecting children from society’s corruption by taking them out to nature. This seems to resonate with what Darius and Chrysalis is trying to do in their early learning centers.

One of the interesting things I thought when hearing Darius talk about their vision and aspiration was that spending time in nature may do many things, but neither educated human beings nor living stones are cultivated naturally. Children need help and guidance to discover who they are. In this endeavour, living stones realize they cannot depend solely on the majority political community for help. Since Gainzer’s wife remained a Canadian, their children were dual citizens (members of two kingdoms as Augustine would describe it). Gainzer does not believe his son has learned more than a few facts about Canada in the three years he attended an American public school. His Canadian identity has simply not been addressed or nurtured. Of course, this is not surprising given that American public schools seek to create productive Americans and are not designed to produce good Canadians.

The Gainzers recognized that the cultivation of their Canadian identity will take a special effort. Living Stone Christians face a similar challenge. We should also not downplay the challenge or shrug it off. Education can inform children of their identity but it can also warp their self-understanding. Without some educating from members of one’s family, children would know nothing of their previous identity, their history, or their special rituals, practices, heroes, and particular cultural achievements.

Christian living stones face a similar danger. One American study of high school texts books found, unsurprisingly that; “The underlying worldview of modern education divorces humankind from its dependence on God; it replaces religious answers to many of the ultimate questions of human existence with secular answers; and, most striking, public education conveys its secular understanding of reality essentially as a matter of faith.

While I would affirm the need to question and even to move away from some of these traditional assumptions about God and the interpretation that has grown up over the years there is a clear challenge in the change that takes place. We may not view the secular intrusion as negatively anymore but we do lament the loss of the Christian myth upon which our faith has been sustained. It seems we have successfully demythologized Christianity but what have we put in its place? Our lament suggests not enough!

Young living stones may lose their identity unless parents and the Christian community, the Church, carefully cultivate it. One of the primary ways that children develop an understanding of themselves and their world is through narratives or stories and as Alasdair MacIntyre notes, “Deprive children of stories and you leave them unscripted, anxious stutterers in their actions as in their words.

Gainzer notes that his son will learn what it means to be a Canadian by learning Canadian history and literature. Christians have been graced with a similar kind of orientating narrative through Scripture. Thus, just as Israelite parents were instructed to pass on God’s law, they were also told to tell the stories of God’s saving works to their children in order to orient their lives and provide context for rules. There are two key points here and the first is that the charge is to pass on by way of story, the understanding of how those that came before made sense of life and how to live it and what is perhaps more important is the use these stories are to be put. They are not to indoctrinate or impose belief but rather to enable the children to orient their own lives in their own time and place so as to provide a basis for their own law. And here the sense is not a book of rules for life but rather a way of being that is fulfilling. Not stones, but living stones. There is space for interpretation and in fact it is encouraged, and there is acknowledgement that societies need common sense. There is a purpose for this storytelling and it is to keep alive the quest for common sense. Working it out together and doing it together are what it’s about.

For those who want to rely upon legislation and rule of law I would suggest that rules and regulations can provide a degree of guidance for children, but children will always need to know the reasons for the rules. Its more than about consequences and rather what these consequences say about human life and how to be a living stone. These reasons are rooted in identity stories.

Before giving the Ten Commandments, God reminded Israel of their redemptive story, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, the land of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). Similarly, Christian parents and educators need to help children to understand the moral life as well as all of knowledge education in light of the overarching story of creation, including humanity. These stories provide a holistic understanding of identity and who we are that our children will never receive through politically controlled forms of education that tend to downplay or avoid competing identities and allegiances and become PC driven. I am not advocating a non-thinking competitive society but rather one of living stones, one where active participating human being are rooted in a confident, hope-filled world and this is a world beyond climate change, beyond political mess and beyond rampant individualism and a world beyond the need for fear as a motivator.

It is easy for schools to help children understand their true national identity, but they struggle to contribute to an understanding of their wider human identity and worth although they may try. For example, educators have often attempted to bolster students’ self-esteem using positive affirmation techniques such as “think happy thoughts” while some traditionalists have argued for grounding a child’s self-worth on academic competence. Be good at doing and the being good at being will take care of itself. Neo liberalism perhaps. The market will provide. Either approach I think, neglects a Christian understanding that all humans have worth and dignity because they are a sacred creation.

The mentally or physically handicapped child and the cognitively or athletically gifted student have worth, value, and dignity apart from what they can either accomplish or not accomplish. It’s about being rather than just about doing. It’s about Theopraxis, an applied theology. The child’s dignity and worth does not depend on whether they “think happy thoughts.” If we fail to impart this identity story to our children, we have neglected to tell them the truth about who they and others really are as human beings. Identity-shaping stories do more than provide a sense of human worth; they also shape our affections and desires. In one’s own school experience as with Gainzer, we know one can be trained to think and desire like a citizen of this world but sadly not always as a living stone.

For example, while pondering the overwhelming array of occupational options during his senior year in high school, Gainzer eliminated the alternatives with a simple question: What career will fit my interests, and provide long-term job security. This suggests that Children need help and guidance to discover what a school is in as a culture. Gainzer decided upon engineering for the simple reason that there were numerous job openings promising plentiful pay. In retrospect, he now cringes at the thought of his earlier reasoning. Why did longings about salary and security guide his decision about a college major? Fundamentally, he forgot who he was and how his Christian identity story might guide his life purpose and desires.

Instead, he let himself be shaped by a different story. Neil Postman in his book, The End of Education, labels it the narrative of Economic Utility: “The story tells us that we are first and foremost economic creatures and that our sense of worth and purpose is to be found in our capacity to secure material benefits. Gainzer longed for financial success and security in this kingdom and not treasures of more we traditionally have known as the kingdom of God. Our New Zealand experience in recent years has been akin to that in that both the commercialization of state and the trickle down, leave it to the market approach has left us asking what about human wellbeing?

Educators help students cultivate and prize certain identities through their school’s curriculum and overall ethos. In fact, the integration of what we understand as democracy and learning is effective in our schools. Not surprisingly, resident aliens take different subjects and imbibe a different ethos. This is evidenced by the desire to preserve one’s language and culture. Who is Jesus for me and what words do I use to communicate his value and his example in my life’s decisions? I can’t ask these questions without being a living stone. As Christian living stones, we must recognize the need to teach our children an alternative curriculum and help them live in another ethos. One that is confident and robust to engage in the pluralistic debate, one that is intellectually authentic and understandable at all levels of engagement.

What is difficult for us is to recognize that we do not want to be elitist as a living stone but rather to be clear that our different citizenship should alter our curriculum. For Christians, the importance of this point goes even deeper if we see being in the image of God important and if Jesus’ impact in society is a value then by imitating his understanding of life, love, humility, servanthood, forgiveness of enemies, and acceptance of difference, we will learn how to be more fully human.

Stories of Christian history are important in that when students hear these stories people like Augustine, Polycarp, and John Chrysostom, as well as many others of more recent ilk have an impact, not in terms of passing on a doctrine or a particular thought but as legitimization of thinking and alternative viewpoint and a contemporary understanding takes place. For Christians these characters in the Christian story of the church are just as important as a president might be in the story of the American nation-state. Much of what it means to be a citizen gets transmitted through a school’s ethos and not its formal curriculum. Living stone homes and communities need to embody a distinct ethos with different symbols, icons, and calendars. Living stone homes and communities have a whole different ethos with different symbols, icons, and calendars.

Jon Amos Comenius (1592-1670). Provided an example of many of the qualities we have suggested as those of a living stone and if anyone knew what it meant to be a living stone in both the political and theological sense—Comenius knew. Brought up in present-day Czech Republic during times of political and religious strife, Comenius was forced to flee from his homeland, to which he was never able to return. He lived in seven different countries, and near the end of his life he wrote, “My life was a continuous wandering. I never had a home. Without pause I was constantly tossed about. Nowhere did I ever find a secure place to live. Comenius became one of Europe’s most well-known educational reformers. His educational ideas were deemed revolutionary from the simple fact that he conceived that all education—in its purpose, structure, curriculum, and methods—should be influenced by the Christian story. For instance, with regard to the structure of education, he became one of the first educators to suggest the radical idea of “providing education to the entire human race regardless of age, class, sex, and nationality” including “young and old, rich and poor, noble and ignoble, men and women—in a word, of every human being born on earth. The basis for this amazingly progressive and humanizing vision sprang from Comenius’s view of humanity as made in God’s image. “All men are born for the same main purpose; they are to be human beings, i.e., rational creatures, masters over the other creatures and images of the Creator,” Comenius wrote. “God himself often testifies that before Him all things are equal. Therefore, if we educate only a few and exclude the rest, we act unjustly not only against our fellow men but also against God who wishes to be known, loved and praised by all. In many other ways, Comenius gave himself to developing a whole vision of Christian education from which we can learn today. In his magnum opus, The Great Didactic, it is noteworthy to observe the fundamental basis for this vision. Comenius believed “the ultimate end of man is beyond this life. He understood that Christian education begins with remembering that we are living stones, rocks upon which life can flourish. Amen.

Lent 1C, 2019
Luke 4:1-13

A ‘Self Affirming’ Lent…

Wednesday 6th February 2019. The date Lent began this year. Did you eat pancakes on Tuesday as the last day of plenty? And did you note Ash Wednesday on the 6th? Its perhaps significant given the fires that are ravaging many countries in the world in these high temperature experiences. There is a lot of ash about as a result of destructive and regenerative fires. Destructive in the fact that they have destroyed many homes and taken too many lives and regenerative in that they have cleared debris and opened the earth to the regenerative elements. A clear and sure understanding of Lent is required at this time when we face the despair and loss and grief that has been raised by the Ash and the understanding must address the regenerative nature of the production of ash.

At our Ash Wednesday services, we produce ash from burnt palm leaves and other flammable branches and that ash is a symbolic invitation to come down to earth. And to wonder at the gift of life, our life with the earth, the shared body of our existence. And which reminds us of our humanity. Today is the first Sunday in Lent when we reflect on the wilderness experience of the one, we call Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed, this story of Jesus’ testing ordeal in the desert, is legendary. However, scholars – at least the ones who influence me – claim this story comes from one of the early traditions of the Jesus movement, which the storytellers, including Luke, adopts. They are not considered to be an eyewitness, historical account.

Traditionally, Lent has been the season of abstinence or self-denial. A time of doing without. A time of fasting. Or heaven forbid a time of sacrifice. That unfortunately has been the way according to much of our broad, church tradition. And it appears to have been a strong motivation over the centuries. But I and many others are not so sure about that any more. The regenerative aspect of fire and the production of ash needs to be considered in liturgies and understandings of Lent. We need to rekindle our faith and be blessed, acknowledge our abundance and our blessedness during this period of Lent… Otherwise it remains a ritual or a practice without credibility. We no longer see the fire as only destructive because we know its warmth, we know its comfort and we know it regenerative power. How many of us actually believe that ‘abstinence’ or ‘self-denial’ is anything other than a self-inflicted attempt to satisfy or assuage guilt and inadequacy. Surely our hope is that Lent might become a time of doing with, a doing more, rather than a doing without. Surely it is a time of self-discovery and self-affirmation, as well as a time to claim our connectedness with the whole of the cosmos, rather than a time of self-denial.

A colleague’s personal observation asks; If you have ever gone on a walk with a bird watcher, perhaps you will know what is being suggested here. The bird watcher’s sense of sight and of hearing seems so acute that nothing is missed. It is seemingly in sync with the birds themselves, yet this sight and hearing are acute amid the very ordinary… the sticks, shrubs, grass, trees. What appears to be a jumble of sticks and noises and flashes of colour, to a trained bird watcher can be a small bird, a blending in parrot or a darting fantail. Walking with a bird watcher one discovers how much there is to be noticed. And one’s walks in the park or paddock become so much richer. The ordinary is seen in a new light. What was there all along, is noticed for the first time. Just because something is there does not mean we automatically see it and understand it. Sometimes perception takes practice. So, the suggestion is for Lent to become ‘forty days’ when we can uncover and discover once again our own worth-fulness, our own potential our own connectedness to the earth and the universe. The task of Lent is Self-discovery and connectedness rather than self-denial and isolation. Lent, is to seen as a life affirming discovery rather than life denying, and this says we are not judged by our past, but by the way in which we relate to our past.

This is not a let off nor and easy option because even a gentle review of our own lives
will uncover moments when we have been faced with decision making. Decisions which have shown our neglect of an inner life. Decisions which have required us to shed emotional garbage. And sometimes these decisions can be called a ‘crisis’. Other times the word used may be ‘testing’. All of them are about how we respond, or our ‘being’ in the world. And in Jesus’ case it was to break the culture of violence characterized by a ‘tit-for-tat’ mentality. So, this Lent, let us dare to accept the invitation of a self-affirming ‘forty days’.

To help do this I want to suggest we take a leaf out of the of the ancient Celts. The first is to see God in the ordinary. Every aspect of Celtic life accepted that the mundane is filled with divine presence. The Celts sensed Spirit’s permeating embrace throughout their daily activities, no matter how ordinary. The Book of Kells and other documents are evidence of the vast collection of prayers, hymns, blessings, and folklore infusing Celtic culture with praises of the regular human experience. They sang and prayed while working, fishing, kneading bread, weaving cloth, milking cows, and kindling the hearth. Dawn ‘til dusk, birth ‘til death, they blessed their existence. We can do this too! Just like them we are immersed in mundane daily routines, and our God is in our midst. Our prayers today can revolve around activities like sitting at computers, driving the car, helping the children with homework, preparing dinner, or watching sports.

Our practice might be to do one ordinary thing each day for six weeks be it rising from our bed, brushing our teeth or turning on the computer if we do this with a liturgical intent, a practice of connection will happen. When we do this action our intent will tune us into some questions like what does my body feel right now? How do I let go of that feeling? How do I acknowledge and move on? How do I note the aches and pains and turn to love?

The next practice might be to observe the unfolding of the particular season we are entering next. The Celts were madly in love with the natural world. Love poems were written to the moon, songs to the seals, prayer rituals performed in rivers. They experienced unity with God in green hills, dark caves, deep wells, cheerful birdsong, and countless other parts of creation. Similar to the Hebrew psalms, cosmic images such as stars, the sun, and planets are woven throughout Celtic literature. They celebrate the “musician of bird call”; they wonder at the “awakener of soil,” and they call out to “the hope-bringer in the night.” Most of us today live inside buildings, rarely venturing into nature unless on a special occasion of hiking, beach walk or park. Even people who work outdoors rarely take the time to recognize the sacredness that surrounds us. It takes a deliberate softening of the heart and a desire to notice the wonder intrinsic in creation.

Our practice might be to intentionally spend one moment each day listening to nature. Be attentive to the buds on a branch in Spring, the leaf fall in Autumn the colour change of the leaves. Watch a cloud drifting by or listen to the wind. Nature is always speaking and we might be open to receive the hidden messages. As we note our senses growing in sensitivity, we will know a deeper experience of being safe and at home.

The next practice might be to explore your love of learning. This is rooted in the understanding that life has as its root the desire to know and thus to learn. The practice will seek to express a love of learning based in the idea that Celtic culture was essentially non-cloistered monasticism. Common folk, pagans and Christian alike were absorbed in a regular schedule of spiritual growth. In pre-Christian times the Druids were the first to foster studying by learning about morality through myths and developing wisdom through prayerful daily routines.

What this suggests is that continual learning and open-minded curiosity fuels spiritual growth. It is too easy to neglect feeding our spirits the nourishing soul food it needs to thrive. Many of us abandon poetry, song and storytelling in the face of hectic schedules and deadlines. Many of us don’t understand what music or poetry do for our wellbeing because we get swept up in the temporal, work as the whole of life’s experience. It is easy to starve our souls when life feels full. The Celts’ love of learning reminds us of our inquisitive heart, and welcomes a yearning to grow wiser.

Our practice might be to actively seek to become more tolerant and more loving, it might also be to establish a process whereby we commit to ongoing self-inquiry. In the next six weeks we might read a book about spirituality or find a workshop where we can attend and experience the search for spirituality. If we do this with all the above intent it will not matter what spiritual bent you participate in because you will be critiquing it for yourself. Even your favourite mindfulness practices can contribute when you see lent as an opportunity to make these alternative explorations of yourself.

Many beautiful people gather for hope, inspiration and self-care. When you share your story, other people get great ideas. The message is that we can all thrive together! Share our story and cultivate a supportive community together. We can see lent as a time and place to love.

Rex Hunt tells of a book he read that said “We are human beings with all the strengths and weaknesses of our species.  Occasionally we reach the heights of heroic self-sacrifice and at other times we sink down into villainous self-serving.  Being aware of the extremes to which we can be drawn is, one of the most important pieces of self-knowledge we will ever possess” (Alsford 2006:140).

As Luke’s Jesus of Nazareth gained an important piece of self-knowledge, we too can face the wilderness experiences of life, often not in any special or heroic way, but simply
as we choose to get up in the morning “and go out into the world to encounter what it has to offer” (Alsford 2006:138).

And in the process, notice the present-ness of the divine or God if you like, right here. In the ordinary. In the everyday. Amen.

Notes:

Alsford, M. 2006.  Heroes and Villains. London: Darton, Longman & Todd.

rexae74@gmail.com

 

Transfiguration of Jesus

Posted: February 26, 2019 in Uncategorized

Transfiguration of Jesus

Luke 9:28-36

Thick and Thin Places

William Loader from Western Australia says this. He says; ‘Let’s go up the mountain. Let’s go up to the place where the land meets the sky where the earth touches the heavens, to the place of meeting, to the place of mists, to the place of voices and conversations, to the place of listening’… When we read those words many of us will immediately think of Iona and all things ‘celtic’. And one of the things about Iona is that it is a place where one can each day come face to face with the elements: rain, wind, sunshine, thunderstorms and rainbows and beautiful morning mists. Iona… the Hebridean isle to which Columba and his monks travelled over 1400 years ago. And turning their backs on Ireland, commenced a religious community. Iona… regarded by many as a ‘thin place’ between the material and spiritual dimensions of life. What William Loader is doing is picturing a ‘thin place’ in his prayer poem.

With the memory of the Moses story resonating in his mind, and a similar Jesus story as told by Mark some 20 odd years before, Luke weaves his words into a picture-story ‘where the earth touches the heavens, to the place of meeting, to the place of mists, to the place of voices and conversations, to the place of listening’. Lets remember here that none of these stories are recording an historical fact and yet they are saying something true.

I have been reading Elain Pagels autobiography and she writes about her work on the Nag Hammadi documents, especially the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Truth. She touches on her work on Revelation as well but what fascinated me was her work on the Gospel of Thomas which of course we know to contain a lot of sayings attributed to Jesus.

Video Beyond Belief https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCpXoFPmRFY

Some of the key points she makes are that unlike the Gospel of Mark, Thomas suggests that Jesus was speaking in metaphor when he says “If those who lead you say to you, the kingdom is in the sky, then the birds will get there first. If they say, It is in the sea, then the fish will get there first. Rather the kingdom of God is within you, and outside of you. When you come to know yourselves then you will know that you are the chi9ldren of God”. Here we have Jesus revealing that the kingdom of God is not an actual place in the sky, or anywhere else, or an event expected in human time. Instead, it’s a state of being that we may enter when we come to know who we are, and come to know God as the source of our being. The significant change here is that the ‘good news’ is not only about Jesus, its also about every one of us. This is a direct challenge to our current global obsession with difference and identity. While it may be right and proper to specify how we differ in terms of gender, race. Ethnicity, background and family this saying from Thomas suggests that recognizing that we are children of God requires us to recognize how we are the same. Members of the same family so to speak.

Taking this another step Pagels introduces the poem from the Nag Hammmadi documents entitled ‘Thunder that she worked on and here the unifying thing is the divine energy that links us all. The poem explores the complete mind by not seeing it only in the positive attributes like wisdom, holiness and power but also in terms of negative experiences like foolishness, shame and fear. The following is a short excerpt that gives us a picture of life not as one of sinner in need of redemption, not one of suffering as a result of sinfulness in need of absolution but rather as a holistic one where suffering and struggle are the requirement of life because they empower and affirm that a life of joy and peace is equally available. The poem also reintroduces for the patriarchally driven Jews the required feminine balance…..

I am the first and the last

I am the one who is honoured and the one scorned;

I am the whore and the holy one..

I am the incomprehensible silence and …

the voice of many sounds.

The word in many forms

I am the utterance of my name..

Do not cast anyone out. Or turn anyone away…

I am the one who remains, and the one who dissolves;

I am she who exists in all fear\and strength in trembling

I am she who cries out….

I am cast forth on the face of the earth..

I am the sister of my husband,

And he is my offspring..

But he is the one who gave birth to me

I am the incomprehensible silence

And the thought often remembered

I am the one who has been hated everywhere,

And who has been loved everywhere

I am the one they call Life, and you have called Death

I am the one whose image is great in Egypt

And the one who has no image among the barbarians.

I prepare the bread and my mind within;

I am the knowing of my name..

If our storyteller Luke is one thing, it is that he or she is consistent. Luke has been saying that this Jesus bloke is different, is better, than all the heroes of the past. Luke seems to understand Jesus as a new Moses, who mediates the new ‘law’ to his people and will deliver them out of bondage in a new exodus. It also seems that another of the things being suggested in this ‘thin’ story is, it is saying something important about an experience of God or The Sacred. And that something, is not about any so-called supernatural power or being. The important bit for me, I think, is that when we experience God or The Sacred something like a creative transforming power is released into our lives. We have encountered the thin place in the thick complex environment of life. And this encounter is not brought about by coercion and power over, but rather by lure and suggestion and imagination.

As Jesus was transformed before Peter, James, and John, (as the story goes), God’s so-called ‘will’ is to transform us in the everyday moments of our lives. As another scholar suggests:

  • If your deepest experience is loneliness, it is the will of God to transform you from loneliness to human connectedness.
  • If your deepest feeling is fear and anxiety, then God wishes to move you creatively past that, to love and to trust.

That is, the Source and Creativity of Life we call God, wants to move us beyond the meaninglessness of life to the intensity of living, characterized by joy and by vitality. It is precisely this creative, transforming power of God that moves us from the triviality of our existence to a new level of depth in our existence that will provide joy and zest and empowerment.

Pagels reading of the poem Thunder continues affirming the feminine as the primordial, life-giving energy that brings forth all things and I have taken the liberty of introducing the idea of God as serendipitous creativity. By that I mean that God is the unexpected, uncontainable, ambiguous uncontainable, John D Caputo’s perhaps and my almost. Creativity itself. The involved participatory vitality of possibility, unfolding of the cosmos. The adapted poem continues….

I am

Serendipitous creativity is the thought that lives in the light

It lives in everyone and delves into them all…

Serendipitous creativity moves in every creature..

It is the invisible one in all beings

Serendipitous creativity is a voice speaking softly

A real voice… a voice from the invisible thought It is a mystery….

Serendipitous creativity cries out in everyone

It hides itself in everyone and reveals itself within them,

and every mind seeking it longs for it.

Serendipitous creativity gradually brings forth everything

It is the image of the invisible spirit

The mother, the light, the virgin, the womb, and the voice

Serendipitous creativity puts breath within all things.

The suggestion here I think is that the thin places are to be found in amongst the thick places, in the everyday as well as the time out places. I think this is what the Gospel of Thomas is suggesting as the good news. It is important to take the walks in natural surrounding such as the beach at sunset or the deep lush bush because few of us feel we have ever been in a ‘thin place’ without that because much of our everyday living is done in ‘thick’ places. In the city within concrete and steel landscapes. In the city with its noise and traffic and flashing neon signs. And in ‘thick’ places such as the city we tend not to see paved malls and lawn areas as ‘sacred’ or ‘thin’ space, let alone high-rise buildings or glitzy shopping centers. And amid the mind-blowing achievements “and certainties of technology, it is not difficult to lose our sense of mystery. The challenge of Thomas is that the thin places exist within the everyday life as well. David Tacey, in his book, ‘The spirituality revolution’, cites the 1960s theologian Harvey Cox at a couple of points. “The secular world is the principal arena of God’s work today.  Those who are religious will have to enter more vitally into the secular world if they are to be agents of God’s reconciliation”. And again: “The church… must run to catch up with what God is already doing in the world”. So while it might be a bit hard to hear among all the mythology and storytelling hype, there is more good news in this story of Luke’s.

  • God is not aloof and detached.
  • God’s present-ness is like that of an expert weaver, using the fibers of our lives, weaving them into beautiful, powerful garments of love, empowering us for living and our continuing theological journeys.
  • God is present in both ‘thick’ and ‘thin’ places: in the beauty around us, in the close encounters with death, in a special way during a period of suffering, in cities of concrete and sandstone, in rain forests and church liturgies.

Don’t ignore or throw away these imaginative and mysterious experiences. Don’t let go of those things you don’t understand or cannot explain. Rather, meditate on them. Delight in them. Become a public voice for them. Use them as imaginative power that vitalizes your faith… And as a source of strength for living in both the valley and on the mountain top. In both ‘thin’ and ‘thick’ places. For Serendipitous Creativity God is up to something larger more complex and more refined than we seem able to imagine. Amen.