Pentecost 5C, 2010
A Liturgy is available
BEING OPEN TO THE INFLUENCE OF ‘A WIDER HORIZON’
The film/DVD The Dead Poet’s Society,
tells the story of a remarkable teacher’s influence on his students
in a prestigious boarding school.
The teacher, Mr Keating, played by Robin Williams, invites the boys
“to jump up and stand on his desk as he has done in his teaching, so they can see things from a different perspective, a wider view...
a different horizon - then seize it” (Bausch 1999:239).
A film about a teacher who invited his students to view the world differently.
That film theme resonates with the theme of our story from Luke today.
About embodying and following in the way and style of Jesus of Nazareth.
Or as the late biologist and theologian Charles Birch, suggested:
“The way Jesus offered was one of being open to surprise and new perceptions, not clinging to established guidelines and inherited patterns” (Birch 1993: 79).
So let me offer a couple of comments on adopting a ‘different horizon’.
Today’s church finds itself in a whole new world.
And despite all those who nostalgically seem to long for church
to be like it was in 1944 or 1954 or 1964, that can never be.
For one thing, church is now only one of several institutions or organisations
offering a view of the world and a purpose for living.
It is, if you like, in a supermarket situation
in which many people feel no need to buy its products at all.
So the major challenge for the church,
according to those who do the research on these matters,
is in being able to identify and name
the presence of God or the sacred
in our often fragmented life-worlds.
Because others beyond the church are attempting just that.
And they are often coming up with different and competing answers.
Which can cause some of us to be a bit shocked
because church no longer has, if it ever did,
a monopoly on things spiritual or sacred or God stuff.
One who has written on this subject, Australian David Tacey, says:
"What has been brewing inside the Australian soul is a new spirituality that will surprise both the secular establishment and the official religious tradition... The miracle is that the secular keeps giving birth to the sacred, often against its will and in spite of its own judgement" (Tacey 2000: 252,253).
Now from past comments you have probably picked up
I happen to have a view on all this, which I know often challenges some of you.
Because my comments are usually not the traditional ones some want to hear.
And because I have what might be called a ‘high’ view, about the place of change,
and being open to new perceptions,
and not clinging to established or inherited ways of thinking about things.
Especially not clinging to a theology that does not fit our 21st century understanding.
For my money, church now needs to ensure it frees folk
to go on the journey that Jesus chartered,
rather than to worship the journey of Jesus (WWink).
And that’s as radical a change as the one Jesus advocated in his time!
So back to the biblical storyteller we call Luke...
In this particular story the tradition is not clear concerning Jesus' intentions,
as he approached the Samaritan village.
Whatever they were, he was not able to carry them out.
The village folk denied him and his friends, hospitality.
Many scholars have speculated on why they acted this way.
But maybe it was just that they had heard about this Cynic-like bloke.
Willie Marxsen, one of the (German) New Testament theologians I studied as a student,
seemed to be always pointing out that not everyone
who met or heard Jesus had positive reactions!
Some said: ‘This bloke’s a nut!’
Others said: ‘This is good teaching. Admirable. Interesting.’
Still others said: ‘In this person’s words and deeds I have experienced God’s very own presence in my life.’
According to the various biblical storytellers, Jesus encountered opposition
to his perception of reality from the authorities of the day,
but just how hostile this opposition was, is a matter of speculation.
On the other hand, so those same storytellers say,
many ordinary people were attached to him and his re-imagined worldview.
But the people didn't go to the synagogue to meet with, or listen to, him.
They met him on the hills and by the lake.
While they were hanging about in the marketplace.
Or while they were mending their fishing nets.
They ate with him and held parties for him.
They invited him into their homes.
There's no indication whatsoever in the gospel stories
that the synagogues ever had any more worshippers because of Jesus.
And while not wanting to fall into the Mel Gibson ‘literalist’ trap,
nevertheless those who chose to listen and take on board his comments,
experienced what he said as ‘good news’.
“What they learned from Jesus and experienced in his presence was not just a good teaching or way of life - an ethic... Rather, it was an expression of who they would claim God to be” (Patterson 2002:222).
It was then up to them whether or not they felt free enough
to go on the journey he was chartering.
Perhaps a little out of character, this morning I want to invite you to do two things this year.
First, I want you to take with radical seriousness the implication of Charles Birch’s suggestion:
“The way Jesus offered was one of being open to surprise and new perceptions, not clinging to established guidelines and inherited patterns" (Birch 1993: 79).
It is important to live in this day and time rather than being caught in the past.
That’s my first invitation to you all.
Let go where you have to.
The second is, to follow me up onto the desks and chairs… in true Keating/Robin Williams style:
to jump up and stand on desks and chairs and table tops and ladders,
so we all can see things from a different perspective,
a wider view, a different horizon.
And then seize that opportunity to be different.
If we can do that together, I reckon we can be in for an exciting and different journey!
Bausch, W. J. 1999. The Yellow Brick Road. A Storyteller’s Approach to the Spiritual Journey. Mystic. Twenty-Third Publications.
Birch, L. C. 1993. Regaining Compassion for Humanity and Nature. Kensington. University of NSW Press.
Patterson, S. J. 2002. “Dirt, shame, and sin in the expendable company of Jesus” in R. W. Hoover (ed) Profiles of Jesus. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.
Tacey, D. 2000. Reenchantment. The New Australian Spirituality. Sydney. HarperCollins.