Pentecost 6C. 2013
A Liturgy is also available
EMBRACING A CYNIC-LIKE, HUMAN JESUS…
On my return from a recent short holiday, where I was away
from both my mobile phone and eMails,
I found myself immediately thrust into catch-up planning mode
for the Common Dreams 3 Conference to be held in Canberra in September.
Matters still needed to be settled on the program.
So I canvassed my colleagues for ideas and opinions
as to what ‘theme’ one of our featured presenters should pursue.
After offering an opinion, one wrote as an aside:
I am currently in something of a debate with a colleague who sees the Uniting Church’s Basis of Union as an anchor, holding us firm to the received traditions. I disagree strongly, but want to call stumps on the conversation because it’s not one that will change anything in a meaningful way. I want to move on and help the exciting discoveries of progressive theology take us further into renewed faith communities of expression and practice.
Two theological worldviews in conflict, where it could be said the
task of contemplating church doctrine has outranked
the task of contemplating life itself (Vosper 2012:197).
Over the past couple of weeks (if it is your tradition to follow the Lectionary),
you may have noticed that the anonymous storyteller whom we call Luke,
has been laying out his program, via a collection of short Jesus sayings.
Foxes have holes, but have no where to lay your head…
Leave the dead to bury the dead…
Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals….
Salute no one on the road…
Take what food and drink is offered you…
For what it’s worth, I reckon these short, sharp sayings are important.
Both then and now.
Contemporary biblical scholarship suggests they are either from,
or have been strongly influenced by, the code of the Q Movement…
That important collection or memory of Jesus’ sayings,
which in their earliest state, echoes
the Cynic’s style of making social critique.
Subsequently, we can now also speculate that those same Q people
were not only part of a very lively Jesus movement in Galilee,
but that their ‘voice’ is probably the best record we have
of the first 40 years of the Jesus movements.
So here’s the first reason why I say these sayings are important.
(i) They shed some light on a credible human Jesus.
After all the study and all the talk and all the sermons
we have shared or participated in, or listened to, what ever conclusion
one might come to about Yeshua/Jesus,
that conclusion must offer a possible Jesus and not an incredible one.
And a possible Jesus is a Jesus situated in his historical circumstances
of Galilee, Palestine, in the first century under oppressive Roman imperial rule,
and who said or did things that a real person
could have reasonably believed or done, at that time.
I admit there are still some—maybe many—unresolved issues
associated with all this. As one overseas colleague has said:
"It is never possible to reach absolute conclusions about antiquity because the sources are fragmentary, varied, and come from a world no modern person has or ever can visit" (Galston 2012:51).
Still, we can be certain that whatever happened was possible, not incredible.
So once this credible ‘authentic Jesus tradition’ is identified,
the point for us will be to carry forward
"into the contemporary world, the momentum of the Jesus movement: grasping the style of the teacher, capturing the spirit of his words, and living out the implications of these words in our own time with our own creativity" (Galston 2012).
Foxes have holes…
Leave the dead to bury the dead…
Sayings which go against the conventional common sense wisdom
of the everyday world of Galilee, under Roman rule, in the time of Jesus.
So what was the everyday common sense stuff?
• a home was necessary; the streets were unsafe,
• a son must honour the family above all else, especially in death,
• money and clothes and provisions are about living - and status,
• respect given and received was what made the world go around,
• only clean or organic food is what one should always eat.
Recent progressive biblical scholarship says Jesus always challenged his listeners
with his sayings… sayings which invited those listeners
to re-imagine the world away from everyday common sense.
Especially those formed by fear and rumor and innuendo.
Let me put all that into the modern idiom via a question:
Can you imagine acting differently towards those outside the circle of your people? Not only to re-imagine your response but also
to offer the other a chance for a more humane reply?
So here’s the second reason why I say these sayings are important.
(ii) They invite us to re-imagine the world differently
by considering the human condition of all, not just the condition
of our own race, family, nationality, or football team.
Not to be in a different world, but being in this world differently.
When you take account of that kind of in-depth values thinking,
something different can be accomplished.
A change of attitude or behaviour.
A new vision of what it means to be human on equal terms.
Being alive to the present moment
in all of its possibilities—positive and negative.
Jesus didn’t give us, or anyone else, a formal moral code.
Neither did he give us a list of things we needed to do to be good,
or to avoid so we won’t be bad.
He was an observer of people and of life. He saw the things that people valued. He poked (Shuck: 2011).
It seems Jesus wanted to point out a truth or three:
• Life is short. What are you going to do about it?
• Those people you have around you won’t be there forever. What are you going to do about them?
• Is your goal to make a good living or to make a good life? Do you know the difference?
He challenged authoritative structures and conventional wisdom.
He exposed the hypocrisy of the religious leaders and the cruelty of those in power.
He criticised the economic ideas for the frauds they were.
He poked and prodded (Shuck 2011).
Now 20 centuries later, he pokes and prods us today.
Insightful people who poke and prod us are hard to take.
Our human tendency is to react to them out of extremes.
In the case of Jesus, he was crucified and we turned him into a god.
To support and control that decision, we invented doctrines and creeds
which all are expected to believe and not question…
‘Orthodoxy’ or ‘right thinking’ has outranked the task of contemplating life itself.
But for an increasing number of Australians
according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics,
they don't need or look for biblical or doctrinal persuasion.
The human condition is enough to move them to compassion and inclusion.
And for that they wouldn’t be seen dead in a church!
Living out the implications of embracing the human Jesus vision in our own time,
with our own creativity, is still before us.
The thoroughly ‘human’ Jesus of much progressive biblical scholarship
provides us with a Jesus of profound appeal and authority
by which we can measure our humanness and humaneness.
One thing’s for sure.
The world in these early years of the twenty-first century
requires that we think differently about the questions of:
what it means to be Christian;
about what Christianity is,
and who decides.
If we decide to order our lives in terms of the human Jesus and human values
it will be we who do the deciding, and we who take,
or fail to take, the steps to carry out that decision.
Not some supernatural extra-human power, or a set of prescriptive regulations.
Any attempt by dogmatists to impose fourth century creeds
on today’s twenty-first century living,
(as is still happening in places who train people to be Uniting Church ministers)
is an act of abusive power!
Galston, D. Embracing the Human Jesus. A Wisdom Path for Contemporary Christianity. Salem: Polebridge Press, 2012.
Shuck, J. “A Sermon”. 2011. Blog site: ReligionForLife.
Vosper, G. Amen. What Prayer can Mean in a World Beyond Belief. Canada: Toronto. HarperCollins, 2012.