Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Second Sunday of Advent (Matt 3:1-12)

MATTHEW 3: 1-12 
(The Second Sunday of Advent)

I once saw a Rodin bronze of John the Baptist. He had a wildness about him, but I thought I also detected a disappointment, a pathos, an agonising. The bust focussed me on John, reminding me John’s purpose is to focus us on Jesus. John & then Jesus emerge from their wilderness experiences as the nation eventually does long before. True wilderness can be a powerful symbol of our inner-space, our inner geography. And it calls us, too, outside establishments and centres of power, as it calls John, then Jesus. John Dominic Crossan [Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, Harper Collins 1994, p.43] suggests John calls people across Jordan and outside Israel, the ‘Promised Land’, so that when they turn to God and are baptised, they must cross back over again to return home and invade the Promised Land anew for God. By changed lives this time, rather than force of arms. Would our land benefit if we were to make some similar kind of ‘re-entrance’, a humbler one this time, wherever we live? Taking and sharing new spiritual insights that lead us to baptism, or, more likely, to grow into and let a baptism of long ago really happen to us! Change like this will threaten control systems, even church ones. Note it’s only LK who reports John's stress on the social & political outcomes of true religion [3: 10-14] that will cost us, too, if we challenge systems. 

Broadly, Pharisees are the pious and orthodox, and Sadducees those who run with the establishment. John lashes both. We're not made right with God by observance of minutiae, or piety. Bogging down on our ancestry.somethingorother won’t help us enter into the fulness of God's Rule of love. It’s being a child of God that counts.

Jesus take us way beyond the kind of God John’s imagery conjures up. Jesus leaves all that kind of stuff way behind. Hopefully we don’t sing 'Gentle Jesus meek and mild' anymore, but imagine, ‘Redneck Jesus, victims piled, slash and burn each wicked child'! Would anyone notice if we slipped it in?

Only LK - again - spells out what we're to turn to when we turn from being snakes, etc. [3:10+]. Turning from something without as a consequence turning to something is an invitation to a vacuum to possess us. Jesus himself warns against this, strongly [MT 12:43-45]. We need not so much to turn from something, as turn to Somebody!

As Spirit and Fire are One, so are  humility & genuine discipleship one. Chaff pretending to be wheat is shown up for what it is when Jesus can't make Bread of Life from it. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

First Sunday in Advent (Matt 24:36-44)

MATTHEW 24 : 36 - 44 
(First Sunday in Advent)

If it's any comfort, that some texts omit "nor the Son" suggests our forbears in faith were groping with the implications of Trinitarianism even back then. We are not alone!

I take ‘Heaven and earth will pass away’ as referring to the destruction of Jerusalem & its Temple, when earth and sky collapse on its inhabitants & all their hopes. Astro-physicists & the like hold to theories of a universe continuing to expand forever rather than one that collapses into itself when some pre-determined (by what, or by Whom?) point is reached. We need to explore such exciting ideas in the light of Faith rather than be scared off them by fundamentalism or personal insecurity. What kinds of things have happened / are happening to us & ours that make our personal heaven & earth teeter on the brink? How are we to respond?

Early disciples under persecution quite understandably opt for an Intervening Supernatural Figure over a ‘Son of Humanity’, a fellow Suffering Servant. You can take just so much of this suffering business, can't you? But can we escape it any more than our earlier sisters & brothers managed to do? Ever walked the beam of a see-saw, or watched children doing so? Go too far towards either end & we come down to earth with a shuddering jar! A coming glorified Son of Humanity is not to be played off against the already glorified Crucified One. Both ‘sides', all ‘sides’ of God need to be balanced lest we end up as incomplete humans with a less than complete God. OK, says Jesus (or a later follower?): some kind of cosmic intervention's going to happen. Are we letting the Spirit keep our theological see-saw well balanced?

The flood story from pre-history grasps me as a myth or parable. Not nearly so much about God’s anger or water as our failure to read the signs of the times & respond as YHWH God intends us to. Without Law or Prophet yet, let alone Saviour to guide them, their earth is drowned under their failure to be the best they can be. After all, who wants to ship out from the high life? But Noah represents those who have the wisdom, the discernment, to read the truth in what's happening round them, on earth & in the skies, better than anyone else. When we feel sodden to the eyeballs & the flood is still rising, wringing ourself out is no help. Better build a new ark to God’s plan. Not out of timbers this time. There's no mileage for us or for God in our watching for some Cosmic Christ to drop from heaven in a last desperate aerial rescue attempt to snatch us from the jaws of death. What we really need to do is take up whatever sail or oars God provides to keep our heads & the rest of us above water. Don’t let’s go looking in any sense for an ark that never existed except in story on Mt. Ararat or anywhere else!

The Noah tale is a great and valuable religious myth or parable, but, as Ian Plimer (Professor of Geology, University of Melbourne) puts it in his Telling Lies For God [Random House, Australia, '94, p.73] 'Despite ingenious efforts by creationists to salvage a credible ark & flood story, the story just doesn't hold water.' Yet the truth of the story still does until we nonsensify it.

We tend to read into the next bit that it's bad news for the one from the field, & one of the grain grinders to be chosen or taken. But if our God's making the choice, doing the taking, & these folk are ready, isn't this an or maybe the experience of Good News for them? OK, as long as it's them and not us, we're still thinking! Staying awake, being prepared is key imagery in Jesus' teaching, & preparing for his coming - however & whenever - includes coming to terms with our own mortality.

When Jesus talks of a thief in the night, rather than countering with cries for more law & order, or putting another gun under our pillow, His idea of preparedness isn't having an alarm that rings in the nearest police station or security firm, but find safety in being constantly faithful to God.