A Little Knowledge Is A Dangerous Thing: Jesus embodies a way that contradicts everything we know to be true! a sermon for Pentecost 3B

Genesis 3:8:15 and Mark 3:20-35

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We have all heard the axiom: “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” An axiom is a premise or a starting point of reasoning so evident as to be accepted as true without controversy. “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”  or this old chestnut: “You should not mix religion and politics” Failure to adhere to the logic of accepted axioms is unsettling.

A long time ago, when I was but a teenager – back in the by gone days of yore—I remember believing beyond a doubt that all I needed to do in order to be successful in life was to learn. I figured any problem in life could be solved merely by studying the problem, figuring out the possible solutions, eliminating incorrect ideas, reviewing past solutions, anticipating possible outcomes and factoring in the various laws which apply to the subject, and arriving at the correct answer. Studying, the facts in a reasonable way, analyzing the various emotions that might arise, and determining what was best possible outcome for the largest number of people; this rational approach was the key to success in life. I resolved to learn all that I could about how people had done things in the past in order that I might succeed in the future.

It helped that I was a history buff. History and English were my favorite subjects in high school and I excelled in both. Math and science, I struggled with; biology and geography I could manage, but algebra, physics and chemistry just about did me in. But I wanted to go on learning and it was made clear to me that if I could not master high school math and science, I wouldn’t be able to go on to university to study anything. So, I worked hard not to learn math and science but rather to pass all the math and science tests.

It wasn’t easy! Physics was just about the end of me. Not only was I incompetent when it came to learning the lessons of physics, the teacher couldn’t teach his way out of a wet paper bag; and besides he was just about the meanest marker in all the world, so I figured I was doomed. So, you can forgive me if I took a little pride in the fact that I actually got around to going to university as what they call a mature student. I didn’t actually go to university until I was 32 years old. I wasn’t entirely sure that I was going to make it through my first year, because in addition to all the subjects that I was wildly interested in, I was required to take a science class…but that’s another story. I was enrolled in a general arts program, majoring in religions of the world, with a minor in psychology. The subject matter in most of my classes was absolutely fascinating and I even remember being grateful to my high school physics teacher for drumming Newtonian physics into my non-scientific brain. You see little Isaac Newton went a long way in the study of theology. It turns out that when you are studying theodicy which is a fancy word for the reason behind the fact that God appears to let bad things happen and evil prosper; well when it comes to theologians trying to explain why God acts the way God does, there’s a whole branch of theology that figures God out using the rules of Newtonian physics. Although I didn’t learn much science in high school, I certainly did learn Newton’s laws of motion. So, I could understand how Newton’s explanation of how the physical world worked, was applied by theologians to explain why God let bad things happen in the world; even to good people. God wasn’t causing bad things to happen we were, because as everyone knows Newton’s third law of motion is an axiom, which is absolutely true; a fact beyond challenge, and I knew because not only did I memorize it to pass the test, but I actually thought I understood it. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Zippiddy do da! there you have it. When two objects interact, the size of the force on the first object equals the size of the force on the second object.

A little knowledge of Newton and you can solve the problem of evil in theology. The bad stuff isn’t God’s fault. The bad stuff happens to good people, not because God is testing them, or because God is capricious, or because God is powerless to act. Bad stuff happens because people who are not good do bad stuff and their action creates more bad stuff. The theology proof asked us to imagine Newton’s mechanized view of reality, by thinking of a pool table. One ball is bad, very bad, that one ball’s badness hits a good ball with force, and that good ball is compelled to move, hitting another good or bad ball it doesn’t matter, one ball hitting another ball with force, has a ripple effect, the ripple effect isn’t chaos, it’s the nature of reality, the way things were originally created, and what is necessary is for enough good balls to use good force as apposed to bad force in order for justice to prevail.

Now it’s been a while, so I’m making a bit of a hash of this, but I hope you get the idea that I thought I was figuring it all out, wrapping my brain around theology; beginning to understand how a good God can let bad things happen to good people. It was the nature of creation itself that was getting in the way. God could still be considered good even though bad stuff happened, because God was not responsible for the bad stuff, we were with all our bashing about on that pool table. It sounds ridiculous now. But at the time it was like being hit with a blinding light; an epiphany of sorts. God didn’t cause bad things to happen, but because of God’s commitment to our free will God would not intervene, but God’s goodness compelled God to be there with us as the bad forces were hitting us. I even figured out that Jesus was thrown into the mix because all those crashing balls were causing so much pain that God was compelled not to intervene directly but to set an example of goodness in the midst of evil; an example that we could look to and follow, so that with enough good people exerting enough good force we could create an equal and opposite reaction of goodness. It was all slotting into place. Here was a theory about God which used reason and logic to arrive at the goodness of God, while demonstrating the need for Christ, and a way forward out of the pain of bad forces and onto a table where the force of goodness was matched with more goodness. Do onto others as you would have them do onto you. Stop all the bad forces with goodness. Everybody get together try to love one another right now. Love, love, love, all we need is love. Love is all you need.

I was delighted with my new understanding and they way in which the God I was learning about fit so nicely into the Newtonian world view as I understood it. But remember the axiom I began with: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. One day, during a second-year course in which we were studying the patristic explanations of the cross, we were arguing about the relative merit of a God who would demand human sacrifice when my carefully constructed vision of God was blown sky high. My defense of the goodness of God was challenged by a kid who had more than a little knowledge and whose broader knowledge of science just about robbed me of my sanity as I watched my carefully constructed vision of the goodness of God fall into the abyss. “Sadly,” this kid said, “Sadly your argument for the nature of divinity is constructed on a false premise.”

The arrogant little sod, “What false premise?”

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God Is Dead! Long Live God! – a sermon for Homecoming Sunday

Readings: Genesis 15:1-6; Acts 17:27-28; John 10:22-31  

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John 10:22-31
The time came for Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication, in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the Temple area, in Solomon’s Porch, when the Temple authorities surrounded him and said, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you really are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
Jesus replied, “I did tell you, but you don’t believe. The work I do in my Abba’s name gives witness in my favour, but you don’t believe because you’re not my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never be lost. No one will ever snatch them from my hand. Abba God, who gave them to me, is greater than anyone, and no one can steal them from Abba God. For Abba and I are One.” With that, the Temple authorities reached again for rocks to stone him.

time-is-god-deadWith that, the Temple authorities reached again for rocks to stone Jesus. Welcome home. On this Homecoming Sunday, we are reminded that home is not always a safe place. The buffalo have ceased their roaming, the deer and the antelope no longer play, and all too often is heard a discouraging word. Welcome home. As many of us know all too well, home may be where the heart is, but home is also a place where the most cutting of family arguments can wound even those of us who’s strength of character has lead us far from home.
Jesus never faired well at home. Whether it was his home in Nazareth where his neighbours wanted to toss him off a cliff, or his spiritual home in Jerusalem, where the Temple authorities reached again for rocks to stone him, Jesus words, his teaching, his way of being in the world made the people at home so angry they could kill him. There was something about this fellow Jesus that got on people’s nerves. I mean the nerve of the fella, imagine insisting that he, Jesus, and Abba are ONE. Bad enough that Jesus had the audacity to call God Abba, “daddy” as if he and the Creator are on intimate terms, but then to suggest that God, the Creator of all that IS, and all that ever shall be, to insist that he and God are ONE, well is it any wonder that the Temple authorities reached again for rocks to stone him. After all the Temple authorities are charged with the solemn responsibility of preserving good order.
Every home needs rules and when it comes to the rules the Temple authorities know the rules backwards and forwards, and this guy Jesus seems incapable of sticking to the rules. Everyone knows that according to the rules God is up there and out there, beyond us and from time to time God comes down here and the best place to find God is in God’s house, and in God’s house we have rules about who, how, and when people can approach the ONE who IS the source of all life. God’s house has rules for a reason. Without rules there is chaos and chaos is the very thing that the Creator established creation for. In our earliest myths we imagined that in the beginning there was chaos and God’s Spirit hovered over the chaos and said, “Let there be light!” and so began the slow and steady evolution out of the muck and the mire of chaos and into the natural order of things, with God up there in the heavens and we earth creatures down here, going about our business, and remembering to pay homage from time to time to the ONE who makes it possible for us all to feel at home here in creation. Then along comes Jesus, suggesting that God is not safely out of reach but that indeed God is ONE with him, why the next thing you know people will be imagining all sorts of things, and some one will suggest that we are all ONE with God. Quick find some rocks so we can stone this guy before things get out of control. After all our home is our castle, and we need to stay in control of the castle lest our carefully held ways of doing things devolves into chaos. We’ve got to keep God safe from such ideas.Ideas are far too dangerous to be allowed to infect the masses, pardon the pun. If ideas are allowed to fester, the next thing you know we won’t recognize our homes anymore and we’ll have to find new ways of living together.Get me a rock, will you? I can’t stand it when my home is threatened by an idea; especially an idea that is so dangerous that it threatens my image of who I am by suggesting that the god I worship and adore might be something other than who or how I want god to be. If you don’t believe me, just look at our neighbours in the United Church of Canada. If only they’d reached for their stones a little sooner, then that Greta Vosper woman would never have gotten all the attention she’s getting now and she’d never have been able to infect their house with ideas about God being dead.
JEEZUS H CHRIST! Just imagine what might happen if people are allowed to suggest that God is dead!
Ok, I know, I am grossly over-simplifying things here.But we are at home here aren’t we. We’re family and we don’t have to spell everything out do we.We know who we are and whose we are. Whether we say it out loud in here, where we all know what we mean, our whisper it out there where people might not understand, we know that God being dead is precisely the foundation upon which many of our homes have been built for generations. Jesus said, “I and Abba are ONE.” and we all know how that worked out. Jesus was executed by the state, aided and abetted by the Temple authorities, Jesus died at the hands of those who firmly believed that he was a troublemaker capable of creating chaos. Jesus died believing that he was ONE with God.
We have been taught to believe that JESUS and God are ONE, so dear friends and family, here in this house we can safely say that God did indeed die. God died and was buried. The good news is that we also believe that death does not have the final word. God is dead. Long live God! For we in this house know the sweet beauty of resurrection. We know that God dies over and over again, precisely because we know that when Jesus said, “I and Abba are ONE.” Jesus pulled God out of the heavens and the faraway God of our ancestors was reborn as the Abba whose intimacy with us is so palpable that we can say that Abba and I are ONE. We are ONE with God.
The community of people who followed Jesus after his death understood this. The Apostle Paul understood that God was no longer up, there, far away, distant, beyond our reach, or tucked away in the Holy of Holies. The Apostle Paul, knew that that particular God died upon the cross with Jesus, but death did not have the final word. The power of the resurrection empowers us to know that God is the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being. We are ONE with God and this dear family means chaos. For if we are ONE with God, then those people out there, those other humans, indeed all those other beings, in fact creation itself, is ONE with God. That means that every life is precious, including the life of this planet. That means that all the walls in the world won’t be able to separate us from the ONE in whom live and move and have our being. It means that even the biggest, baddest, most scary ones out there, are ONE with God. How will we know how to be in the world when each and everyone we meet is kin?
God is Dead! Our lovely, God, the one we created in our image, the one who we safely tucked away up in heaven, the one we allowed to come into our sanctuaries only if he behaved and followed our rules, that god, the image formed by the art and thought of mortals, is dead. Long live God. Long live the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being. Long live the ONE with whom we are ONE. We can throw all the stones we want at the Gretas of this world, who dare to point out that our images of the ONE are for all intents and purposes dead, but our rocks won’t help us preserve the order that we are counting on to save us from chaos.
Life is chaotic. Our rules, regulations, and houses can offer us sanctuary from time to time from the chaos, but the rules and regulations, the carefully held beliefs, the doctrines and the dogma, even the images we hold dear cannot save us. We can toss all the rocks we want, but alas, the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, lives and dies over and over and over again, in, with, through, and beyond us, that’s the beauty of the chaos that the light brings into view.
The ONE in whom we live and move and have our being is more than we can idea-of-the-holybegin to imagine. The “Idea of the Holy” is in and of ITSELF, “Mysterium, Tremendum, et Facinans” (Rudolf Otto) Mysterious, Tremendous, and Fascinating. Take and eat. Taste and see for LIFE in the ONE is Mysterious, Tremendous and Fascinating.
Chaotic, always transforming, ever changing, awe-inspiring, terrifying, delicious, pungent, devastating, jaw-droopingly real, compelling, exhausting, dangerous, sublime, enchanting, revolting, magnificent, challenging, refreshing, frightening, unimaginable, surprising, beyond our ability to express, and yet this Chaos of which we are ONE, is home.
So, welcome home. Take and eat. Taste and see. For it is, in the words of our ancestors, good, very good. And be prepared, because the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, lives and dies, over and over again. For we dear family are the people of the resurrection. We are the ones who proclaim, “God has died. God is risen. God will come again and again, and again.” Welcome home: Taste and see. For God is God. Can I get an Amen?

A Little Knowledge Is A Dangerous Thing: a sermon for Pentecost 2B

Schrodinger's Cat

Readings: Genesis 3:8:15 and Mark 3:20-35

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Pentecost: A Human Phenomenon

flaming tonguesIn the Spirit of Pentecost, I preached without a manuscript and conscripted the congregation into helping me to describe mystical experiences. The cacophony of voices you will hear captures what happened. If you fast forward past the congregational uproar you will hear a recap using Rudolph Otto’s description of the experience o the Numinous which he describes as “Mysterium, Tremendum et Facinans – Mysterious, Tremendous and Fascinating. 

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