Peter Rollins will wind up his visit to Holy Cross in Newmarket with a Pub Night on April 14th. For details check out the brochure here.
Speaking at ikonNYC Peter Rollins looks back to the classic movie A Brief Encounter to explore the relationship between belief and unbelief as well as the nature of scapegoating as a means of avoiding inner conflict.
This year our Lenten Evening Prayer services draw on Peter Rollins collection of Parables found in “The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales”. Prayers are drawn from the writings of the Christian Mystics. Each week an audio recording of the service will be posted as well as a copy of our worship bulletin.
Evening Prayer – February 27, 2013 – Translating the Word
So many of our Lenten practices revolve around theories of atonement that cast the HOLY ONE as a participant in a grand bargain that saw Jesus of Nazareth die as a sacrifice for sin. For those of us who have left behind theories of atonement that set Jesus up as payment for our sin, Lent can seem a very lonely place. While many churches busy themselves with rituals that encourage repentance from the perspective of confessing our unworthiness to a grand-inquistor deity, it is tempting to give up the season of Lent all together. But with the explosion of information about the nature, beauty and complexity of the cosmos, perhaps we can achieve the humility that the ritual of confession offers in ways that do not require us to adopt the attitude that human’s are unworthy creatures in need of a god who would demand satisfaction at the expense of a blood sacrifice.
Each time I look up into a starlit sky I am overcome with a sense of awe and wonder that is in and of itself a prayer that inspires humility in me. A sense of awe and wonder at that which is beyond ourselves is the beginning of a prayer that always leads me to a sense of ONENESS with all that IS.
This morning, my Lenten devotion came to me in the form of this splendid video The Overview, which describes the awe and wonder of those who have had the privilege of looking at the earth from the perspective of space. They describe their awe and wonder, their prayer if you will, as the “overview effect”. The overview effect serves to connect these space travellers to the earth itself and moves them to the kind of humility that helps me to realize that awe and wonder can serve as nourishment for my own Lenten journey.
As we gaze in awe at our marvellous planet perhaps we can be moved to tread more lightly upon her. Perhaps awestruck by the beauty and wonder of creation, we can look to all the inhabitants of the earth and see that they too are fearfully and wonderfully made. I trust that a humility based not on a belief that we are wicked, unworthy creatures, but rather on a experience of awe and wonder, will lead us on a Lenten journey to a place where we will have the courage to gaze upon the cross and see beyond the violence to the hope of resurrection.
Far too many preachers stumble into the celebration of Easter without doing our homework. Resurrection is a central tenant of the Christian faith and Easter is the primary celebration of resurrection and yet, too many of us fail to open ourselves to current scholarship surrounding the doctrine of resurrection. Questions about the nature of the resurrection ought to send us back to the words of the Apostle Paul. Bernard Brandon Scott is a charter member of the Jesus Seminar. His book “The Trouble with Resurrection” is a must read for those who preach during the Easter Season.
If you are planning to write a sermon or listen to a sermon this Easter, this video provides essential background information about the words of the Apostle Paul on the nature of the resurrection which may surprise you. Scott’s treatment of 1 Cor. 15 provides a new understanding of resurrection which is compelling as well as liberating.
Our adult education class discussed the importance of play as a dynamic of evolution. Our conversation about the purpose of education having been subverted to one of preparing students for the workforce reminded me of Alan Watts (1915-1973) comments on the subject. Here is the video I mentioned in the class: “What if money were no object?” I first heard this recording on an old reel to reel tape recorder. I remember being blown away by it. It gave me the courage to quite community college, pack a backpack and head for Europe. I spent the next three years following my wanderlust.
As I prepare to preach tomorrow, the prescribed scripture readings have me wondering when and how we shall be able to move beyond the tribal god we created and have worshipped for far too long. Amy-Jill Levine is a Jewish New Testament scholar who continues to help me understand christianity’s jewish past and look toward a time when our various religious tribes can join in a new narrative that empowers us to worship the God our tribal idols belittle by their narrow portrayal of the Creator-of-All-that-IS-and-Ever-Shall-Be.
Holy Cross’ Re-Thinking Christianity Speaker Series welcomes Peter Rollins April 12-14. Last’s month publication of Peter’s new book The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addictions to Certainty and Satisfaction has challenged us to a more Radical Christianity and we are looking forward to learning more from Peter who continues to turn theology upside down. For all the details about what promises to be a marvellous weekend you can download a brochure here.
Genesis 15:1-12,17-18 –Musing About Genesis Bloody Carcasses
From time to time, the prescribed readings from the Common Lectionary fill me with dread and despair.Something about those bloodied, split, rotting carcasses that sealed the deal between God and Abraham makes me wonder about the nature of the god we have projected into the heavens and ask: Have we evolved or has God? The story of God’s promises to the “Chosen People” portrays God as a churlish player in humanity’s game of tribal rivalry. While I’d rather not preach on the text from Genesis this Sunday, I know full well that simply reading this text during worship without elaboration, will if folk are paying attention, leave a distasteful oder in the sanctuary that will surely spoil our appetite for our common meal of body and blood disguised as bread and wine.
The readings for this coming Sunday have me thinking about tribalism. There’s always more than one way to look at things. Tribalism has served us well. New people to meet can be exciting or it can be frightening. Taking comfort with your own people is wonderful, but taking too much pride in your own kind is dangerous. One minute you’re cheering for your team the next minute you’re hurling insults at the other guy and one too many insults and the next thing you know you’re at war. A little tribalism is a good thing, but how much tribalism is too much? Tribalism is a basic human survival instinct. Tribalism is lodged deep within our psyches and has been from the very beginning of time. Tribal is part of our primordial selves. Tapping into this basic human instinct can mean the difference between survival and death.
Tribal thinking exists on almost every level of human life, from the international to the local. Attack a human on any level and that human will resort to instinctive behaviour. When threatened humans have two basic instincts, fight or flight and the choice between the two often comes down to tribalism. If you have enough people to back you, you’ll probably choose to fight. Not enough people and you’ll probably choose flight.
Human kind has evolved a great deal over the centuries but we haven’t evolved very far from our basic instincts. You don’t have to scratch a fan too deeply to find the primitive tribal mentality. Tribalism is seen in the way we portray our rivals. I once heard a Kiwi say, “I root for two teams, New Zealand and whoever is playing Australia.” Sporting competition is all well and good, but when tribalism is carried to its worst possible conclusion, wars beak out. Tribal feeling is then exacerbated in times of war, and tribal propaganda is used to dehumanize our enemies to make it easier to hate or kill without any qualms of conscience. We don’t kill human beings in war; our victims are not someone’s child, spouse, or parent. NO, one kills either, the Huns, the Krauts, the Japs, the Nips, the VC, the insurgents, the fanatics or the terrorists.
There is within us all a basic, dominant, intrinsic fear of those tribes different from our own, a predisposition to be on guard against them, to reject them, to attack and even to kill them. This tribal tradition arises out of our deep-seated survival mentality and it feeds something at the heart of our insecure humanity. We are tribal people to our core. Far more than we will consciously admit, the religions of the world including Christianity rise out of and undergird our tribal thinking.
Religions are all too often, very deep expressions of a tribal mentality that worships a tribal god. Take for example this Sunday’s reading from the book of Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18. Here we have the story of Abram a wandering Aremeian, who is about to become the father of many nations. Abram has a vision; a vision in which his god promises to give him descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky if Abram only promises to worship YAHWEH as his only god.
To seal the promise YAHWEH enacts an ancient tribal custom, common in Mesopotamia. YAHWEH said to Abram, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. Abram brought God all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Most High God made a covenant with Abram.”
Centuries ago, in the days of our ancestors, Abraham and Sarah, custom dictated the appropriate manner in which a bargain was to be sealed. When two parties entered into an agreement, a covenant, they would take a bunch of good-sized animals, slaughter them, sever them into halves, clear a path between the pieces, and require that each partner to the agreement walk between them as a sort of self-curse. Kind of like: “cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” By passing through the severed bodies of the animals, each partner says, in effect, “May the same thing happen to me if I do not keep my word.”
The whole thing sounds so very barbaric to our modern ears. But this story is part of the foundation of the narrative that begins the narrative of YAHWEH’s covenant with the chosen people.
The last two verses of this story are not usually read in church. The crafters of the lectionary leave them out; perhaps because they are so very offensive. But I would argue that we include them because it is important for us to remember that tribalism permeates our foundation myths.
“When the sun had set and it was dark, a smoking brazier and a flaming torch appeared, which passed between the halves of the sacrifices. On that day YAHWEH made this covenant with Abram: To your descendants I give this land, from the River of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates: the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanite, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”
The Promised Land, the land God promised to the chosen people was not some vacant lot somewhere, waiting for inhabitants to come and enjoy the bounty of milk and honey that flowed there. The Promised Land was inhabited by many tribes; tribes who worshipped other gods. And there have been wars and rumors of wars in the Promised Land from that day to this.
The image of YAHWEH painted by this story is not a particularly glorious one if you are anything other than the Chosen People. The Kenizzites the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, Rephiam, the Amorites, the Canaanite, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites, rue the day YAHWEH chose the descendants of Abram over them.
This image of a tribal god is offensive to our modern ears. We much prefer the more evolved image of God that Jesus paints in the gospel text for this Sunday. “Jerusalem, O, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often have I wanted to gather your children together as a mother bird collects her babies under her wings—yet you refuse me! “ This mother hen god is a far cry from the YAHWEH of Genesis.
So, I ask you, did God evolve, or did human perception of God evolve? Think of the stars in the heavens, too numerous to count, and yet we dare to describe the Creator of all that is and all that ever shall be as if our images of God are complete. John Shelby Spong has written a great deal about the dangers of worshipping a tribal God. He reminds us that our knowledge of God is ever-evolving and cautions us to remain open to new possibilities when it comes to speculating on the nature of our Creator.
So much of our Christian doctrine relies on deep expressions of a tribal mentality that worships a god who is little more than a tribal protector. The reality of worshiping such an image of God is that all too often it causes us to sink into tribal attitudes. The more we sink into tribal attitudes, the more our lives are consumed with hatred; and as a direct result the less human we become.
In times of tribal conflict the natural survival instincts within us take over and are hurled at our enemies. This tribal mentality may well have been an asset in the human struggle to survive during the evolutionary process, but unless it is transcended, a deeper humanity ceases to be a possibility.
We cannot be fully human so long as we are consumed with hatred against those who threaten our survival. If the purpose of Jesus was and is to bring life abundantly, then we need to realize that this goal will never be possible until both our tribal mentalities and our tribal fears have been addressed.
Tribal hatreds diminish the humanity of the victims and tribal hatreds also diminish the humanity of those who are the haters. The image of the tribal God of Israel was still alive and well in the first-century Jewish world in which Jesus of Nazareth lived. It was inevitable for Jesus, the fully human one to have to confront this tribal mentality.
Jesus ministry was about empowering his followers to step beyond all tribal boundaries into the fullness of humanity that his life so clearly exhibited.
Remember that we live in the 21st and not the first century. Remember Charles Darwin and all that we have learned about humanity since Darwin first proposed his theory of evolution. Humanity is a work in progress. We have evolved over the centuries and as our understanding of our purpose and meaning in the world continues to evolve so to will our images of our Creator. As we evolve we begin to understand that evil does not come from some external force, but rather comes as a result of our incompleteness. What we call evil rises from the incompleteness of the evolutionary process. We are not so much fallen sinners who need to be rescued as we are incomplete creatures who need to be empowered to step into the new possibilities of an expanding life.
When we understand that the evil things we do to one another are the result of our incomplete humanity we begin to see how inappropriate it is to portray our Creator as an avenging God bent on punishing us for our sinfulness. Evil cannot be controlled by threats or by discipline, parental or divine. Security can never finally be built on violence. To be saved does not mean to be rescued. To be saved means to be empowered to be something we have not yet been able to be.
In Jesus we see humanity that is not defined as fallen or sinful. Jesus’ humanity is so whole and so complete that Jesus is experienced by those he encounters as one who is filled with God. We see in Jesus one so radically human and free, so whole and complete that the power of life, the force of the universe—that which we call God—becomes visible and operative in Christ and through Christ.Somehow, in some way, though some means, God was and is in Christ and this God presence can still be met in the depths of our humanity. Our task, here and now, is to move beyond tribalism in order to trace in the gospel tradition the echoes of the transforming power that Jesus made visible and public. Those echoes that we discover, paint a consistent portrait that points to the power present in Jesus’ life, a power that people began to identify with God.
Even though the earthly life of Jesus came to an end around the year 30 CE, the power of Jesus was such that Paul, writing in the early fifties, could still make a claim that was so astonishing in his time that it must have hit his readers like a message from outer space. To the Galatians Paul wrote that inside the Christ experience people had with Jesus, all of their tribal barriers melted away! In Christ there is “neither Jew nor Greek,” neither Jew nor Gentile.
To the Romans, a few years later, Paul still had this sense of the Jesus experience when he wrote that salvation has come from God in the person of Jesus and is available “to the Jew first and also to the Greek”. Paul insisted that “God shows no partiality”. These were astonishing claims.
The power of Jesus had expanded Paul’s tribal boundaries and, through these writings the followers of the way were enabled to embrace the world. In the letter to the Colossians, a disciple of Paul proclaims the same transcending message that shrinks tribal identity to nothingness: “If you have been raised with Christ, there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, or free…, but Christ is all and in all.”
Something about this Jesus is sufficiently unique and life-changing that it has the power to enable us to set aside the million-year-old human survival game of tribal identity and to feel Christ’s call to a new level of humanity. Christ empowers us to be so deeply and fully human that we can actually escape the security lines built to serve our primitive survival needs. In Christ we are called to lay down our survival barriers, to sep beyond tribe, beyond language, beyond the fear-imposed levels of our security. We are called to step into a vision of humanity that opens to all people the meaning of life and in doing so opens us to the meaning of God.
When we put away our tribal fears we can begin to see in the fullness of Jesus’ humanity the very face of God. To be followers of Christ in the 21st century is exciting! There’s a new reformation afoot as we open our hearts and minds to the wonders of our God and begin to explore the abundant life that Christ calls us too. Is it frightening? You bet! Encounters beyond the confines of our tribe are scary. But I am convinced that abundant life lies beyond our tribal boundaries. So, do not be afraid! There is much more for us to learn and know for the wonders of our God are as numerous as the stars in the sky, and the blessings that lie ahead are beyond our ability to count.
This year our Lenten Evening Prayer services draw on Peter Rollins collection of Parables found in “The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales”. Prayers are drawn from the writings of the Christian Mystics. Each week an audio recording of the service will be posted as well as a copy of our worship bulletin.
Evening Prayer-Feb. 20 2013 NO CONVICTION
A Copy of the worship bulletin can be found here – it is designed to be printed double-sided and folded into a booklet.
Listen to the worship service here(service begins at the 48 sec. mark)
It’s February. It’s cold outside. I have places to go, people to see, and by the time the driveway is shovelled, the ice is scraped, the windshield juice is topped up in my car and all the extra time it takes to navigate the roads in this weather, I can barely complete the regular tasks this busy modern life of ours demands, let alone feel guilty because I’m not adopting some contemplative spiritual exercise! I heard someone say, “If you are currently not experiencing any stress in your life, you should immediately lie down because it appears that you may be dead.” So, please don’t ask me to take on any Lenten disciplines!
I have also heard it said, that in Canada the most common response to the question “How are you doing?” is the word “Busy!”. Canadians and I suspect Americans, Europeans, and most inhabitants of the so-called First World, seem to feel the need to justify our existance by assuring others that we are leading busy lives. While I am absolutely convinced that lives lived in the twenty-first century are busier than the lives of our ancestors, I’m not so sure that being busy is something we ought to be proud of.
Growing up, I remember all sorts of predictions about how life in our immediate future would be filled with so much leisure time as a direct result of the technology that would be at our fingertips. But as technology advances, our ability to work wherever and whenever the need arises has severely curtailed our leisure time. Our lives are busy and we have forgotten what it means to be human beings because most of us have become human doers. We have forgotten how to simply be.
I find it reassuring, comforting even, that our ancestors understood that our Creator as YAHWEH, which translated can be understood as “I AM WHO I AM or I SHALL BE WHO I SHALL BE. That the name of God should be understood as the verb “to be” helps me to understand myself as one who is created in the image of the great I AM and not the I DO. I am a human being not a human doer! What I need from a season like Lent is not a prescription for more things to do. But rather, the encouragement to simply be.
Might I suggest that we can begin this encouragement to simply be by simply greeting people with a simple word of peace. If such a greeting seems awkward to you then perhaps simply asking people how they “are” rather than how they are “doing” will suffice. Such a subtle change may not be enough for some people to refrain from telling you what or how they are “doing” and you may find them insisting that they are indeed “busy”. But a little gentle persistence may enable some to respond about their very being. Reminding one another that we are beings and not just doers might lead us toward some peace. Shalom, As-salam alaykum, Peace dear beings, Peace…..
Below are the three video clips we used in class this morning as we continued our conversation about myth and making meaning.
Brian Swimme is a mathematical cosmologist with an uncanny ability to articulate the new story of our origins in ways that those of us unfamiliar with the breakthroughs in science can begin to understand. As science continues to revolutionize our understanding of who we are and where we are, the stories we tell to make meaning of life will also begin to change.
Ashana’s rendering of the prayer that Jesus is said to have taught to his followers. I have always thought that if this prayer was indeed taught by Jesus it was done so out of frustration. The followers of Jesus are said to have insisted that Jesus teach them to pray just as John the Baptist taught his followers to pray. Weary of their constant demands, I imagine Jesus offering this prayer as a kind of “Oh well if you need words, use these…” Much ink has already been spent in search of a definition of Abba, I think it is best to simply leave the word untranslated so as to capture some of the mystery of the ONE to who we pray, who is so more than language can capture. Abba of the Cosmos perhaps?
A beloved legend insists that Martin Luther brought popular music or drinking songs into the church. While the veracity of this legend is questionable, the truth of the sacred nature of music’s power to move us beyond ourselves toward communion with all that is continues to call forth new forms of worship.
This particular cosmic Canadian collaboration between astronaut Chris Hadfield, the Barenaked Ladies’ Ed Robertson and Toronto’s Wexford Gleeks preforming I.S.S. (Is Someone Singing), positively exudes the sacred beauty of music’s power to open us to infinite possibility. I can’t help but wonder what new songs of praise might find their ways into our sanctuaries?
A Eucharistic Prayer of the Cosmos for the 21st Century
For those of us who love liturgy, the reality that liturgical practices shape and form us in the faith is no surprise. So, is it any wonder that practices crafted by words and images offered by humans who understood creation as a three-tiered universe often fail those of us who are seeking to be shaped and formed for faith in the 21st century? In the past few decades our knowledge about creation has expanded at a staggering rate. With new understandings comes the need for offerings of new words and images to transform ancient practices from the confines of limited imaginations into practices that can nourish, ground and sustain us in faith.
In this video, Father Sean O’Laorie Ph.D. offers a Eucharistic Prayer based not on sin and redemption-through-crucifixion but on the reality that all creatures are the Word-of-God-made-flesh.
Traditionally the season of Lent is a mournful time filled with calls to repentance and self-examination as we follow Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted and then on that long march to Jerusalem where the powers that be will have their wicked way with him. Our liturgies take a mournful tone as we lament our woeful human existence, confess our sinfulness, and hear exultations to take up our crosses so that we too can follow Jesus to the bitter end. Over and over again we are asked to remember that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves, as we gaze upon the cross remembering that Jesus our savior bled and died as a result of our wicked sinfulness.
Lent is a strange season that harkens back to a forgotten era. Unlike so many of the seasons of the church year it’s not exactly a season that attracts people to church. Not many of you got out of bed this morning and said, “Yippy it’s the first day of Lent. Oh goodie! We get to be reminded that we are sinful, that life is miserable and unless I’m willing to take up my cross and follow Jesus all the way to Golgotha, there’s precious little hope cause we’re all going to die and when the time comes we want Jesus to remember us.”
Now I know that there are some people who just love Lent and I must confess that I like the quieter, more somber tone that our liturgies take. I actually enjoy the opportunity to slow things done and be more reflective in our worship together. I savor the silences and the opportunities to be more contemplative. I love the colour purple with all its vibrant hues and the best part of all is that the beginning of Lent means that spring is just around the corner. What I don’t like about Lent are the signs, symbols, hymns and stories that make it so easy for us to fall back into the 11th century.
It is so easy for us to lean not on the ever-lasting arms of Jesus but on the scales of St. Anslem and find ourselves not looking forward to the promise of resurrection and the gifts of eternal life, but rather dreading judgment day knowing that the scales of justice must be balanced and fearing the moment of truth when our sins are piled onto the scale and knowing that our only hope for reconciliation with our Maker is that Jesus is sitting on the other end of the scale.
“Woe is me. Woe is me for I am sinful. My sins are too numerous to count. There are all the things I have done and all the things I have left undone. Thank God Jesus died for me. Somebody had to pay the price for my sinfulness. Jesus died for a reason, and you and I dear sisters and brothers are that reason. A blood sacrifice had to be paid. God’s justice demanded it and Jesus paid the price with his very own blood. Jesus took our place up there on that cross and the least you and I can do to say thank-you is to spend some time shouldering our own crosses as we retrace Jesus steps to Jerusalem.”
The season of Lent with all of its liturgical trappings makes it so easy to fall back upon St. Anslem’s theory of atonement. St Anslem the 11th century English monk, a legal scholar who came up with the theory about why Jesus died on the cross known as substitutionary satisfaction. Jesus stood in on our behalf to satisfy the debt that had to be paid.
St Anslem’s theory may have satisfied the minds of worshippers in the 11th century but a lot has changed in the last ten centuries. Take for example the sixteenth century — Martin Luther a name near and dear to the hearts of Lutherans everywhere. Good old Martin Luther was so obsessed with his own sinfulness that he spent many a long night agonizing over those things that he had done and left undone that he often found himself flagellating of an evening. You don’t hear much about flagellation these days; at least not in church. But flagellation was all the rage among the religious of Martin’s day.
Why Marty would whip himself into a positive frenzy just thinking about his sinfulness; and I do mean whip himself. Flagellation is the fine art of punishing oneself for ones’ sins by stripping down to the waist and whipping one’s back to the point of drawing blood so that you could bleed just like your Saviour bleed for you before he was led through the streets of Jerusalem on his way to Golgotha. Martin became so obsessed with his own sinful nature that his own priest feared for his life. Father Staupitz, the priest to whom Martin was constantly confessing his sins to is said to have become so frustrated with Martin’s obsession with trivial sin. I mean how much can a faith monk, living in a monetary have to confess. Legend has it that Staupitz grew weary of Martin’s confession of every trivial sin, that in desperation he once told Luther to go and sin boldly, perhaps hoping that Luther would at least have something to actually flagellate for.
Happily for Christendom, Martin Luther eventually came to the realization that far from being a harsh judge of our sinfulness, God is actually a gracious God and thus the Luther’s theology of Grace gave birth to the Reformation. No longer did the faithful have to worry about balancing the scales with acts of piety because God’s grace is sufficient. God in Christ freely forgives us all our sins, not because of any merit we might gain from acts of piety but simply because in Christ, God took on human form and travelled to the cross and paid the ultimate price. Thanks to Luther we all know that we are justified by faith through grace. We are made righteous in the eyes of God through Christ and there is nothing that we can say or do about it.
Now that’s all worked very well for about 500 years. Just a few years ago, even the Roman Catholic Church agreed that when it comes to the doctrine of grace, Martin Luther was correct. We humans it can be and is said, are simul justus et peccator; we are both sinners and saints all at the same time. Yes we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves, but by God’s grace we are also forgiven, and set free to live in joyful response to God’s amazing grace. So, for about 500 years we’ve been chugging alone, delighted that we are all forgiven sinners and then along comes Darwin.
Oops. You mean Adam and Eve weren’t actually the very first people on earth? And then along comes archeology. Oh, I see there’s actually a whole lot of bones that tell us that we humans didn’t arrive ready made, that actually over millions and millions of years we actually evolved into the creatures that we are and indeed there’s lots of medical evidence that insists that we are still evolving. Okay, so you mean to tell me that Eve didn’t actually cause us to fall from grace. There is no garden to which we can return to?
Now how are we going to explain who we humans are? If we are no longer understand the human condition according to the theological concept of “The Fall”, then why did Jesus have to die? The idea that we were once perfect creatures who committed some outrageous sin, and fell from grace and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden, just doesn’t jive with the facts on the ground.
So, here we are at the beginning of Lent in the full throws of another Reformation and we are struggling to understand our place in the grand scheme of things. When you reject the theory of “The Fall” and you begin to understand yourselves not as broken people, but as incomplete people, people who are still evolving into whatever it is that we were created to be, well you can’t but help to look at Jesus differently. Couple that with the explosion of historical knowledge that has brought us all sorts of new insights into the first century in which Jesus of Nazareth actually walked the earth, and you begin to ask yourself, what are we too do when we get together to worship the creator of all that is and ever shall be.
So, that was my dilemma as I was trying to figure out how we should set off on our Lenten journey. I was busy contemplating the theory of original sin. Which dates back not to Jesus day, but rather to St. Augustine of Hippo who lived during the fifth century. The theory of original sin is one way of understanding the Creation story from the book of Genesis. You see as a result of our fall from the garden, humans, who were originally created to live in a perfect relationship with God, were somehow tempted when evil came to the garden in the form of a snake. Because Eve and then Adam, succumbed to the temptation of evil, God got annoyed and kicked them out of the garden and took away the gift of immortality. This fall from grace meant that from that day to this every human is born sinful by nature.
So there I was in my office contemplating the notion of original sin, when I was distracted by the tone on my computer that indicated that a new email had arrived. Tired of thinking about original sin, substitutionary satisfaction and the doctrine of grace, I gleefully succumbed to temptation long enough to open the email. It was from my daughter in-law. The subject line read: Happy Addison followed by an exclamation mark. The body of the email included one of those viewing screens above which was this message: “There is no video, just wonderful sound!” I eagerly clicked play: and to my delight came the sounds of our nine-month-old grand-daughter. She was laughing and laughing and laughing. Her mommy was playing peek-a-boo with her and her laughter was infections.
There is nothing in heaven or on earth quite like the sound of a baby laughing out loud with such great gusto, that all you can do is laugh right along. I laughed and I laughed, until tears of joy rolled down my cheeks. And I knew once and for all that the theory of original sin is nothing but a crock of ….Well you get the picture. Babies are not born sinful. Sinful babies are not being born all over the world as a result of an apple being eaten by some mythical creature. Now, I know full well that the doctrine of original sin is nothing more than a theory used to describe the human condition. I know the dangers of taking theories literally.
If we are indeed in the midst of a new reformation and I really do believe that we are. Then we really do have to begin to examine the theories and metaphors that we’ve been using for centuries to see if they are still life-giving ways of helping us to live in relationship to our Creator. When we no longer see ourselves as creatures born defined by original sin, we are set free to begin to explore human evolution in ways that will help us to evolve into the humans that we were created to be.
Lenten celebrations that flagellate us with words that reinforce a definition of ourselves as wicked sinners who can only be redeemed by a blood sacrifice simply won’t do in the 21st century. Not if we want to equip ourselves to live in communion with our Creator and our fellow creatures. Evolving Christians know that despite our weak and deliberate offences we are not the sum total of our weaknesses for we are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of our creator; albeit an incomplete image. While we still look to our relationship with our Creator longing for the development of a clean heart with in us, we do so trusting that the Ground of All Our Being works in with and through us to ensure that we evolve into all that our Creator dreams that we can become.
So during the season of Lent we can look to the stories of Jesus of Nazareth who in his time and place revealed to his contemporaries a view of our Creator that challenged their notions of reality. We look to the life and witness of Jesus of Nazareth to see what we can learn about who we are and whose we are. And thanks to the struggles of all those who evolved before us, we can also look to the one we know as the Christ to seek understand of how God works in with and through us to achieve the evolution of humanity into creatures that live in ways that reflect the life of Jesus.
This is an exciting time to be alive. These are exciting days for the church. Excitement can be a wonderful thing, but it can also be frightening. So, sometimes we cling to the things of former days, and we hold on to the familiar. Those familiar comforts are all well and good if they provide us with some sense of security in these exciting times. But those familiar comforts can also be vain comforts if we begin to worship them.
So, during this Lenten season, I invite you to wander off into the wilderness. Now don’t be afraid, because we are after all Canadians and Canadians know how to handle a journey into the wilderness. Take heart for we are not going out into the wilderness alone. Jesus goes on before us. And we will follow his story to see what we can learn from his life and witness. And we’ll take the Mystics along with us to help us see the wisdom of the centuries in new ways.
Imagine if you will a baby in your own life. A baby from your past perhaps, you baby brother or sister, maybe your own babies when they were just new and discovering the joys of creation. Such a beautiful little child. So much ahead of her. So much to explore. But for now a simple game of peek-a-boo. Ah, such laughter. You can’t help but laugh along and as you laugh, the tears of joy stream down your cheeks as you begin to imagine the wonders of the beautiful human being this child will grow into. And as you are over-come with joy, you won’t be able to help yourself as you are compelled to thank the Creator of such a beautiful little creature. And as you give thanks, listen to the words of St Teresa of Avila whose joy echoes down through the centuries to help us evolve into the vision of our Creator: Teresa writes: “Just these two words God spoke changed my life, “Enjoy Me.” What a burden I thought I was to carry— a crucifix, as did Christ. Love once said to me, “I know a song, would you like to hear it?” And laughter came from every brick in the street and from every pore in the sky. After a night of prayer, God changed my life when God sang, “Enjoy Me.”
A Benediction: Listen, listen closely,
can you hear the memory of a baby’s laughter?
Such beauty, such potential, such joy.
Now listen again,
can you hear the voice of God?
listen beyond the laughter and you will hear God say: