These reflections are part of our Lenten journey in which we are Giving Up God for Lent. They are set up as a dialogue between the preacher and the songs. The work of Bishop John Shelby Spong, most particularly his latest book: Unbelievable, permeates my thought process. I hear Jack pushing me farther and farther. What followers are the reflections and copies of the songs:
We worship as we live
in the midst of the MYSTERY we call God,
a MYSTERY that IS LOVE.
May the Spirit of LOVE
breathe wisdom and passion
into this gathering.
Traditionally, the season of Lent is a time of repentance.
So, let us repent.
Repent from the Greek word metanoia
“to think new thoughts”
Let us metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.
A reading from 1st Corinthians chapter 13: “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child. But when I became an adult, I put childish ways aside. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
I remember the first so-called “Christian” event I ever went to I must have been five or six years old. It wasn’t church or Sunday School. No, the first “Christian” thing I ever went to was a funeral. It was amazing. I’d never been inside a church before. And the first time I saw that guy hanging up there in his underwear, I had absolutely no idea who he was or how he got there. So, I asked my Dad and I simply couldn’t believe it when he told me it was Jesus. “How did Jesus get up there?” I asked.
“He was nailed up there, a long time ago?” Dad answered.
“Why Daddy, why did they nail him up there?”
“So, he would die?”
“You mean they killed the baby Jesus? Why did they kill the baby Jesus Daddy?”
At this point my mother had had enough! So, she tried to baffle me with the facts of the matter. “Jesus died for you, for all of us, because we’ve been bad. Jesus died so that we could all get into heaven?”
“Why Mommy? Why can’t we all just go to heaven? Why doesn’t God just let us in?”
“Because we’ve done bad things. Bad things must be punished. So. Jesus died on the cross so that we wouldn’t have to?”
By this point all I wanted to do was to get out of there. I mean, the murdering so-and-so’s killed the baby Jesus. Nailed him up there on the cross so that he would die. And all because of something I’d done? It was awful?
I remember watching the guy up at the front. I didn’t even want to ask why he was wearing a dress. And he kept doing this X (crossing himself). And when he did this X he kept mumbling something but I couldn’t figure out what he was saying. So, I spent the rest of the service waiting and watching for him to do this X and trying to figure out what he was saying when he did this X.
Well, it wasn’t until we got out to the grave-side where I could get closer to the action that I finally figured out what the guy in the frock was saying when he did this X. “In the name of the father and of the son and into the hole he goes!!!” For months after that funeral I would do this X, cross myself and repeat the magic words: “In the name of the father and of the son and into the hole he goes!!!”
Now for those of you who don’t recognize it, I stole that routine from the great Irish comedian Dave Allen. I hoped it would make you laugh. But I also hoped that it would help you to think how ridiculous Christianity can be. Most of us have been hanging around Christianity for so long that we can’t or won’t see the humour in it.
“When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child. But when I became an adult, I put childish ways aside. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
- Opening Song God Within Our Deepest Thought – Shirley Erena Murray Words © 2004 Hope Publishing Company; LiscenSing 1975
REPENT God Loses His Home
Repent: Metanoia: “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.
The Bible was written by men who believed that they lived in a three-tiered universe. The Earth was flat. The flat Earth was surrounded by the waters. The flat earth was supported over the waters on pillars. Above the sky were the Heavens. One of the authors of the Book of Genesis described creation like this : “And God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.’ And God made the firmament and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven.”
The Earth, the Heavens, and the seas.Now even though the ancient Greek mathematician Pythagoras proposed that the Earth was round in the 6th century before the common era. It wasn’t until the 15th century that the flatness of the Earth was seriously challenged by the likes of Columbus.
I don’t know about you but for most of my life I have been taught that the place to learn about God is the Bible. Certainly, in the church the Bible is considered to be the supreme authority of the nature of God. For the most part, the Bible points to the Heavens above the firmament as the home of God.
In his new book, Unbelievable, our friend, Jack Spong writes: “The laws by which the world operates have not changed since the dawn of time, but the way human beings explain and understand those laws has changed dramatically over the centuries of human history.” Jack has a way of reminding us of the obvious. None of us believe that we live in a three-tiered universe. Unlike our ancestors who succeeded the writers of the bible and went on to develop the theology of the church, we don’t believe that the round earth is the center of the universe. The writers of our creeds firmly established that God lived in heaven. “For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven…”
Most of us have travelled far above the Earth, we have sailed through the clouds and we know that there is no heaven up there. As far back as the sixteenth century, a Polish monk named Nicolaus Copernicus calculated that the Earth is not the center of a three-tiered universe. In the 17th century, Galileo Galilei a personal friend of the Pope, published a paper demonstrating that the sun could not possible revolve around the earth. This despite the fact that the biblical author of the book of Joshua wrote that God stopped the rotation of the sun around the earth in order to provide Joshua with an extended period of daylight in which to kill his enemies. It took the Church until 1991 to concede that Galileo and not the writer of Joshua was right and that the Earth did indeed revolve around the Sun.
You and I have seen the photographs sent back by the Hubble telescope, we know the vastness of the cosmos is beyond our ability to comprehend. Science has evicted God from the Heavens. Our God it seems is homeless. So, where is our homeless God? Our friend Jack Spong writes: “A deity who cannot be located somewhere soon tends to be located nowhere.”
“Our Father, who art in heaven.” Let me ask a good Lutheran question. “What does this mean?”
REPENT God loses His Job
Repent: Metanoia: Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.
Science has evicted our God from the Heavens above the Earth. But what of matters here on the Earth? The many writers of the Bible believed that it was God’s supernatural powers that caused sickness. These ancestors of ours knew nothing of germs, viruses, cholesterol, blood clots, cell malfunctions, cancers, or birth defects. Divine punishment inflicted upon sinners by the record-keeping God who looked down from the heavens and occasionally responded to prayers for healing. Medical discoveries like antibiotics, chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, blood thinners, and psycho-therapy have put this elsewhere sky-god out of a job. The writers of the bible believed that God controlled the weather and sent droughts and floods to punish the wicked. Meteorologists have put this elsewhere sky-god out of work. Oh, there are a few, who like the insurance companies still insist that an “act of God,” is capable of changing our reality. But since the 17th century, when Isaac Newton, established that the laws of the universe are fixed, unchanging, immutable and predictable, there hasn’t been much work for the else-where sky-god of ours to do.
What little opportunity the sky-god had for employment were kyboshed when in the 19th century Charles Darwin seriously challenged God’s CV. Darwin’s theories of evolution challenged the writers of the bibles claim that God created the first humans. “What is more, after Darwin there appeared to be no such thing as a perfect creation on which the God who lived above the sky could look with approval and pronounce it not only good but finished… For Darwin, creation was an ongoing, never-to-be finished, evolutionary process. Human beings were thus forced to draw some radically new conclusions. There never were perfect humans living in a garden. We did not fall from God’s grace. There is no original sin. If we did not fall into sin by an act of willful disobedience, there was and is no need to be baptized for the remission of sin.”
Indeed, not only is God out of a job, but the saviour, the Son of God, is made redundant for without the fall there is precious little need for a sacrifice, let alone a blood sacrifice. Not only is the else-where-sky-god homeless, and out of a job, this Father-god’s only begotten Son is in need of a career change!
Repent: Metanoia: “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.
Let us look beyond the bible, beyond the creeds, beyond the beyond and beyond that also, so that perhaps we can catch a glimpse of that which lies at the very heart of our reality, this MYSTERY that we call God.
Repent: Metanoia: “think new thoughts”
Words & Music by Brian Wren, LiscenSing 1971
GOD IS DEAD
Repent: Metanoia: “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts. Please rise for the reading of the Gospel:
After years and years of trials and tribulations that our ancestors attributed to God, the mythical character Job gathers up his frustrations and climbs atop a dung-heap to shout his protests to the heavens. Job dares to interrogate God. The Gospel this morning comes to us from the book of Job:
A reading from the Book of Job:38
God Most High answered Job out of the whirlwind: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a warrior; I will question you and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together, and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?—when I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped’?”
And God went on, and on, and on, and on…
Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.
The story of Job’s experience of the Divine has always intrigued me. Written sometime between the 7th and 4th centuries Before the Common Era, this ancient myth brings together the frustrations of our ancestors who desired to know the ways in which the nature of the Divine One related to their own lives. Lately, I’ve been wondering if the frustrating response of Job’s wife to the perils experienced by her family, might enlighten our own response to our image of the elsewhere, sky-god’s homelessness, and joblessness. Where Job’s wife insisted that Job should just, “Curse God and die!”, perhaps we have been afraid to curse our own images of the sky-god, lest that idol die. For surely, our fear of the loss of our precious images of God, have prevented us from embracing the very God that is revealed to Job in the ancient biblical narrative. After Job is done with his interrogation of the Ultimate Reality that is the source of his and all being, the God of the mythmaker’s imagination, responds, with such indignity, for where was Job when the Source of All, the laid down the very foundations of Creation?
As verse after verse, spell out the chasms of reality that separate the magnitude of being that exist between Job and the Ultimate Reality that is the Source of All, we begin to see the sheer unknowability of the Mystery of our God. Perhaps Job’s wife plea for Job to “Curse God and die!” might be transformed by our knowledge that the images we have created of this MYSTERY are now homeless and jobless, into a plea to us that is just as explosive. For in cursing our image of the MYSTERY aren’t we afraid that it is our image that will die? Curse God, and God dies!
Just as surely as Job’s comforters saw their images of God die one by one, we too must bear witness to the death of our idols. The images designed to point beyond themselves to the ONE who lies Beyond our abilities to comprehend, have hardened into the idol that we worship. It is this idol that is homeless and jobless. It is this idol that is being shattered by all that we are learning about the cosmos. It is that idol that is shattered by the evolving nature of our humanity. It is this idol who still wanders around in our imaginations demanding our loyalty and clouding our vision.
But it is also this idol, this Father-god, born out of our greatest fears, this personification of our deepest desires, this distant sky-god whose all-powerful ability to interfere on our behalf who brings comfort to us in the darkness of our unknowing. We are afraid to let this idol shatter, lest the God of our making dies, and we are left alone in the vastness of creation to face the reality of our own impending death.
So, we cling to the idols of our own making. Forsaking the very ONE who is MYSTERY. This MYSTERY may no longer live in the sky. This MYSTERY may no longer be employed in the ways that we desire. This MYSTERY is not open to being manipulated by the likes of us.
The death of God may have been declared over and over again by those whose revelations about the nature of reality evicted that God from the heavens and put that God out of work. But the God who is dead is the God of our design, the idol of our making, the personification of our desires generated in the darkness of our fears. The idol god, the distant, interfering, elsewhere, sky-god, that god is indeed dead.
But have no fear dear ones, for we are the people of the resurrection. Out of the pile of rubble that has been amassed up over the centuries that have seen the shattering of our idol-god, rises the ONE who is MYSTERY. Over and over again, our experiences of the very MYSTERY that lies at the heart of reality have shattered the idols we insist upon worshipping. Over and over again, we have been touched by the MYSTERY that IS the Source of our Reality, and over and over again we have born witness to the resurrection of the LOVE that we call God.
God is dead! Long live God!
Curse the idols we worship and see the god of our creation die.
As Job crawled up upon his dung heap to shout his protests to the ONE who is, was, and evermore shall be the Source of All Being, let us crawl up upon the shattered heap of rubble that our idols have become, let us declare that the god of our design is dead and be just as confounded by the MYSTERY’s response as our ancestor Job was confounded by the unknowable Reality that IS the MYSTERY we call God.
Have no fear, that god is dead!
For out of the rubble there rises the Reality that IS so far beyond our wildest dreams, the Realty that IS the MYSTERY we call God.
There is so much more meaning to the Reality that we call God, than the little word god can possibly contain. So, let the words about God, be the symbols that they are, symbols that point beyond themselves, beyond the beyond, and beyond that also.
God is dead! Long live God!
The richness of our tradition is packed full of such symbols, words and images that unlike idols do not demand to be worshipped, but symbols, words, and images, that point beyond themselves to the Reality of the ONE who is the MYSTERY, the LOVE that we call God. Let the promise of resurrection empower us all to see beyond our carefully created images, beyond our deepest desires, beyond our darkest fears, beyond the death of the idol god of our design, beyond the beyond, to the RISEN ONE, the MYSTERY, the LOVE that IS, our LOVER, BELOVED, AND LOVE ITSELF.
Thank you Pastor Dawn Hutchings for a creative and excellent presentation for meditation and public discussion! Once again you are leading the way by modeling a progressive way to “do Lent”!
Pastor Jon Fogleman