As we looked at a 'recasting of God' through the resurrection last week. So today will we have James Alison do something like that with a 'recasting of sin." Yesterday was his 'step one' and today we take the next step.
The second step shows that death is not merely something which has nothing to do with God and which need not be, but that as a human reality it is opposed to God. it is not only that our representation of God is inaccurate, needing refocusing, but our representation of God is actively contrary tot he understanding of god which god wishes to make known. That is to say that the death of this man Jesus showed that death is not merely a biological reality, but is also a sinful reality. To put it another way: it is not just that death is a human reality and not a divine one, but as a human reality it is a sinful reality. God, in raising Jesus, was not merely showing that death has no power over him, but also revealing that the putting to death of Jesus showed humans as actively involved in death. In human reality, death and sin are intertwined: the necessity of human death is itself a necessity born of sin. In us, death is not merely a passive reality but an active one, not something we merely receive but one we deal out.
As soon as I was done typing this excerpt, I sang this line from a piece a small group sang in high school: "from whence come wars and fighting among us." Interesting connection. Yes, we all die -duh. But yes, we also all participate in the death that goes on all around us. This piece reminded me of the four-hour documentary by Spike Lee (If God is Willing and the Creek Don't Rise) and the many stories of how our humanity let so many people die brutal deaths. Or do we say it this way how our humanity put to death so many people in and around New Orleans. We are that actively involved. There is no distance that can separate us from our part in the destruction of others. We can laugh about the six degrees of separation between us and Kevin Bacon, but the connection between each of us and the power of death or sin is too close for us to even contemplate what it means. And yet, this is where we begin being truly human. We admit our part and we step into what we so often call promise.
Connection: Death is not out there - it is here. In too many ways, we are shaped by this power that our God says is no power at all.
Lord of the Resurrection, you have already broken the power of death and now you continue to bid us to follow in the way of life - life for all and in all times and places as we follow our Lord, Jesus. Move us on, O God. Amen.
As we looked at a 'recasting of God' through the resurrection last week. So today will we have James Alison do something like that with a 'recasting of sin."
In the first step it is exactly in the degree to which the understanding of God is separated from death that the fullness of the human nature of death becomes apparent. This is so because there is no longer any divine necessity or fatality about death: whatever death, is, God has nothing to do with it. That is to say, it become apparent not only that death is simply present as something which just is, but, precisely because of the resurrection of Jesus, it becomes present as something which need not be.
How many times have you heard people make reasons for why someone died and they are tied to comments about God. In ancient times, even the 'bad' stuff that happened to folks would be tied to what they did or didn't do - and how this was what God had done. Well, Alison is once again telling us - no. Death happens. And yet, it is not something that must control all that we do. We live through the resurrection as a people who now know that death - its threat and its claim to power - is not at all in line with any thinking that ties God to the cause and reality of death. I still like his remark: God has nothing to do with it (death). When I hear that, some of the 'sting' is gone and I do not at all feel the need to develop stories about what goes on with death. Rather, I am more easily influenced by what can go on through resurrection.
Connection: Imagine all the storytelling that would be let go if we let our God be the God of the Resurrection - just as the gospels encourage us to do and be.!
Lord of the Resurrection, present us once again with your life that will not be manipulated by death. Amen.
The next full week looks like it will be a 'carry-over' kind of devotion. Alison's material is important as he begins commenting on death, resurrection and sin. So that means I may be simply adding to quotes noted here.
So we have a first step in the recasting of God by the demonstration of the impossibility of perceiving God within the frame of reference structured by death. This, if you like, is a step made by the "fact" of the resurrection: that is, in the midst of history, this man who was dead is now alive. The second step is made by the "content" of the resurrection: that this man who was dead is now alive. God loved this man, who was killed in such and such a way as a result of such and such human motivations, thus confirming his teaching and revealing the iniquity of what put him to death.
We could come up with a list of reasons why Jesus was put to death. Within those reasons, we would have a whole list of good reasons according to the rules and laws of the day that have a way of letting us know who is good and who is not. Such rules - are good within their limited space. So here is this man who is put to death because according to the rules of empire and the wink-wink, nod-nod of religious authorities, he is not good for the rest of the people. And yet, in the midst of what what is deemed good in the empire and holy in the religious community turns out to be that which is not a part of the love that God sees exemplified in Jesus - God in the flesh. Resurrection is the upfront and bold acclamation that Jesus is beloved - even when the world cannot and will not take his life to be one that is beloved of God. The resurrection is a statement of approval of Jesus' life ("Yes") and an in-your-face "no" to the powers that attempted to put an end to this love in life.
Connection: Resurrection brings a life back to life - among us. We are not people who simply listen to a story, we are people who, like this man, become the story of God's love.
Lord of the Resurrection, transform us by your loving and eternal embrace. Amen.
Today we will continue on with Alison's next comments in "The Joy of Being Wrong".
This (for God, death is as if it were not) marks a decisive change in the understanding of God, one which had been a long time in the making, since if God has nothing to do with death, if God is indifferent to death, then our representations of God, all of which are marked by a human culture in which death appears as, at the very least, inevitable, are wrong, as Jesus remarked to the Sadducees: "You are greatly mistaken." The resurrection of Jesus, at the same time as it showed the unimagined strength of divine love for a particular human being that therefore revealed the loving proximity of God, also marked a final and definitive sundering of God from any human representational capacity. Whereas before it could be understood than God did not die, nor change, nor have an end, this was always within a dialectical understanding of what does happen to humans. With the resurrection of Jesus from the dead there is suddenly no dialectical understanding of God available, because God has chosen his own terms on which to make himself known quite outside the possibility of human knowledge marked by death. The complete freedom and gratuity of God is learned only from the resurrection, not because it did not exist before, but because we could not know about or understand it while our understanding was shaped by the inevitability of death.
I know it is a long piece. I also sense that it is quite important for us to see how the resurrection is the end of our way of controlling the story about God - a story that is so tied up to the power of death. We are about life because we are told in the Jesus story -right through the resurrection - that death has no power. Therefore, life can be shaped differently. Just within the last few days I heard someone joking about "not lying and not wanting to lie because God sees and hears all of our lies - and I don't want that around my neck when I die..." You may hear and say things like that all the time. It is stuff that simply spews from us because the culture is saturated with such impressions of God - that are not really the God we know through Jesus. For example, we do not lie because the life within God's Reign doesn't need it. We need not fear truthfulness - in fact truthfulness is the character of God's Reign. Jesus is truthful because he need not doubt the ever-present love of God that has no end. In our storytelling, the resurrection is a banner that reads "yes" - in the face of all our fears of death.
Connection: Again, we go back to the simple storytelling of the life of Jesus. Even though it is not a action-by-action video and it is told through the eyes and times of members of the early church, there is a consistent word about the life that is Jesus.
Lord of the Resurrection, pull us into the life you have ready for us. Help us to take the steps into your Reign of freedom and all hopefulness Amen.
Already I'm finding Alison's work to be a bit more intense - but some wonderful pieces with which to wrestle.
There is a first step to this recasting of God through the resurrection of the crucified Jesus, and this is the demonstration that death itself is a matter of indifference to God. Jesus has already taught exactly this in his answer to the Sadducees in Mark 12:18-27, a teaching which must have seemed mysterious at the time because it showed that in Jesus' perception of God, as opposed to that of his interlocutors, there was already, before the Jesus' death, a clear awareness that an understanding structured by death cannot begin to speak adequately about God. The content of the teaching was made available when Jesus himself was raised, and it became possible to see that God's love for this man was such that that love was unaffected by death, and that for that love death was no necessary separation, for love could carry on being reciprocated even through death. For God, death is as if it were not, which is why Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob live in God.
From what Alison seems to be saying, we are beginning to take a look at the real meaning of eternity. Death is a matter of indifference to God. We are beloved from beginning through what we would call end because the 'end' - death - does not bring the love of God to an end. In the resurrection of Jesus, we are given that view of life that carries on through the power of death. In terms of everyday life, I suspect, we are also being reminded that death's power is not able to have the last word among us - because it is not and never will be the last word. Therefore, the resurrection is the power to shape a life among us that is not ruled by fear and death - the same fear and death that lead us to live lives in ways that are contrary to the love of God from the beginning of time. So, maybe original sin -separation from God and one another - is not the ruling power over us. God's inseparable love is.
Connection: We are left with life - not fear. We are offered freedom - not slavery. We are beloved - and not under the threat of being left out.
Lord of the Resurrection, within the power of your life, we again come to this day. Continue to shape us within the light of new life that you hold before us as a gift. Amen.
Onward into James Alison's look at resurrection and original sin.
The New Testament is concerned in the first place with an announcement about God. This is made absolutely clear in 1 John 1:5: "This is the message we (ie., "John" representing the apostolic witness) have heard from him (ie., Jesus) and proclaim to you (ie., the Church, actual or yet to be), that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all."
The resurrection was not a miraculous event within a preexisting framework of understanding of God, but the event by which God recast the possibility of human understanding of God. For this to happen God simultaneously made use of and blew apart the understanding of God that had developed over the centuries among the Jewish people. God did this in the person of Jesus, through his life and teaching, leading up to and including his death.
As we so often say, we know about our God when we look to the life of Jesus. So as we ask what is the love of God - we look to Jesus wide-open attention to any and all people. We see how life is redefined as though it is something beyond us and yet - it is exactly us. No longer is God to be distant and a question for us to figure out. Now, we look to Jesus. Even when Jesus doesn't 'teach' about this or that, we can look at his life and consider what is revealed about our God for our times through what God in the flesh - back then - did in the faithful storytelling we have inherited and the power that comes within the retelling of this God-with-us fabric of hope and love. From the 1 John passage quoted above, I thought of the fact that within our storytelling - even though we know of darkness and light - we are handed a light that transforms darkness. In some way, the divide between darkness and light is no longer a reality that shapes us. We are shaped by a living light.
Connection: It is not always easy to remember how our God does change all things through the person of Jesus. The change is that we are now able to see the power of God as it become something as common as the flesh we all share.
Lord of the Resurrection, come among us again from day to day that we will take on the character of life that burst open into the day at hand through the resurrection. Amen.
Today I will begin with a new source for devotions: The Joy of Being Wrong - Original Sin Through Easter Eyes, by James Alison. As with many books I read, I am drawn to chapters even if it means I skip some. So today starts a run in the chapter "The Resurrection and Original Sin. If we get too tired of this - we'll move on.
I have argued - that the epistemological starting point for any understanding of Christianity is the presence to the disciples of the crucified and risen Lord. That is to say: the only reason there is any Christianity at all is because of the resurrection. Any doctrine that does not, therefore, ultimately flow from the resurrection, as a development of its content and consequences, must properly be questioned as to its starting point and as to its validity. If such a doctrine cannot be show to ultimately flow from the resurrection, then, heeding Paul's monition in Galatians 1:8, it should be discarded.
Too often, people say that we cannot 'prove' the resurrection and therefore, the Christian story is fabricated. It is easy to take issue with that comment. Then again, the story is fabricated. The story that continues to abound with life has been whipped up because of this event for which there are no photos and no 'neutral' witnesses. Instead we have human lives being transformed. We have a movement of nonviolence that takes its lead from the life that blossoms for everyone from this resurrection into new life. Is my witness today a fabrication. I guess it is. It is pulled together by stories I have heard and people I have known and life that I have seen take on a substance that is contrary to the patterns of life cut out of the fabric of the powers of the world. Is the life of resurrection fabricated? If this means that the shape of the life of the followers of Jesus count on the new reality of resurrection to be the way in which the day at hand will be entered, then yes. Some folks enter the day fabricating lives around their wealth or national politics. The followers of Jesus take all the things of our faithful living and we make sure that the resurrection to new life helps make sense of it all. I'm looking forward to what Alison will say to us.
Connection: What are you using as you fabricate the life you are in right now? What is the primary fabric that keeps things together and defines the look of your life?
Lord of the Resurrection, as you bid us to enter into life knowing of you power to make all things new, we are given a vision of life that is held together by hope. In hope, we take on a shape that appears like something more than what is. We long for that shaping power. Amen.
Connection: So how does the congregation in the power of the Holy Spirit come alive when that power is to be manifest throughout the whole body - all responsible?
Come, Holy Spirit! We are not the best at 'being church' and must always ask for your coming to be now in the midst of us. Come, Holy Spirit. Amen.
Moltmann continues to write about our place in the Community of the Church in the power of the Holy Spirit.
With this development into the freely chosen participatory church and a personal life in faith, the overtaxed clergy both men and women, will be relieved of some of their load - without losing authority, as many of them fear. For they, too, are first of all Christians like other people, and like the rest they have a right to their own lifestyle and their own personal convictions before they take on the special charges and ministries of a congregation. they are members of the community of Christ together with the others, before they stand in front of the congregation and act for the congregation. Unless they are there with others, they cannot be there for others. Without solidarity there is no representation. To have overlooked this was the error of the earlier programme 'church for others'. The community of Christ is a community of free and equal people (Galatians 3:28f), who in the charismatic diversity of their gifts and vocations live with one another and for one another, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit together serve the kingdom of God in the world.
We are first of all - baptized in Christ, Jesus. We are first of all a people who are moved by the power of the Holy Spirit and shaped within the gathering of the saints. It is then that our various gifts are held up in order that the whole body will be a part of the presence of the Spirit of our Lord wherever we gather and live. I find this to be a helpful view of our participation in the church.
Connection: So how does the congregation in the power of the Holy Spirit come alive when that power is to be manifest throughout the whole body - all responsible?
Come, Holy Spirit! We are not the best at 'being church' and must always ask for your coming to be now in the midst of us. Come, Holy Spirit. Amen.
Here's the rest of Moltmann's comments that I started yesterday.
If Christianity is to become aware of what it is, we must abandon the pastoral church which takes care of people, which is the usual form of the Western church. Instead, we have to call to life a Christian community church. Either we set about this church reform by ourselves, or it will be forced on us by the loss of church members. The factors that kept non-voluntary membership of the church going - tradition or milieu - are ceasing to cut any ice. They have already become ineffective in the older Christian churches. Personal and voluntary commitment is going to come to the fore. We can see a sign of this when we note that while traditional Sunday church attendance is dropping, participation in the Lord's Supper or Eucharist is on the increase. More and more Christians are coming to think it important to take over their own lives, to act on their own responsibility and to experience life in God's Spirit for themselves. The Catholic 'faithful' are now getting up and saying 'We are the church', so that they can play a part in determining the for the church takes, and no longer simply say Amen to priestly services and ministrations.
First of all, I don't know the context of his comments (1997 copyright, possibly German church). Having said that, the tradition for the sake of tradition or church for the sake of church really doesn't have the pull as it once did. I'm not saying that is bad. Could it be that we were so sold on the place of 'institution' and the 'saving power' of religious words and actions that church was given power without providing real life in the Spirit of Jesus. Just yesterday someone commented about he drop in attendance at church camps. One suggestion was that young people are preferring mission trips - faith in action - faith that can spring forth from one person or a group and they act! One of the things I love about the congregation where I serve as pastor is that individuals seem to find it important for their faith to be real - active - in conversation with the world - defiant even. That is inspiring because is make us all look again at who we are and how do we come to being the church in the world.
Connection: What is it that brings you faith alive - gives it some sense of being lead by the Spirit?
Come, Holy Spirit! Come and open our lives to your breath of life that is able to move us out into the world in the way of Jesus. Amen.
Today I will simply share a piece by Moltmann and comment on it Wednesday.
If Christianity is to become aware of what it is, we must abandon the pastoral church which takes care of people, which is the usual form of the Western church. Instead, we have to call to life a Christian community church. Either we set about this church reform by ourselves, or it will be forced on us by the loss of church members. The factors that kept non-voluntary membership of the church going - tradition or milieu - are ceasing to cut any ice. (to be continued)
I think you will find Moltmann's comments - that I will add to tomorrow's devotion - something to really think about.
Come, Holy Spirit! Awaken our hearts and the lives of the followers of your Beloved, Jesus. Amen.
Another good reminder of what the church is to be - again, Jurgen Moltmann.
The division into clergy and laity and the ghettoization of Christianity in the church must give way to the two vital movements of Christian life: the gathering of Christians in the congregation and their sending out into their different vocations in society. We experience gathering and sending like the breathing in and breathing out of the Spirit, Christian life in the everyday world is just as important as the gathering of the congregation for worship. We should be forgetting our own calling in the jobs we do and the gifts we have were we to identify being Christian with going to church. On the contrary, the gathering of Christians for worship serves to build up Christian existence in the different social relationships of life and to give it bearings. The gathering for worship serves the sending into the world, and it is this sending which leads into the full life of the Spirit. Our sending or mission acquires practical form in the needs and distresses of a society whose mark is injustice and violence, oppression and indifference. Every act of Christian worship begins with a greeting in the name of the triune God, and ends by sending the congregation out into the world: 'Go in the peace of God."
We are, in a sense, made ready for our lives when we leave from worship and enter into the everyday life that is shaped by word and sacrament. Being sent from that Sunday event has a character that goes with it. The peace of God is how we go. We conspire about what that means when are in worship and carry out its living implications as we each go off to be engaged by the work we do and the lives we live. We go out to be something contrary to the ways that are so common in the world. We put on Christ and that revives and renews and redefines our humanity so that the ways of the powers of this world do not have the opportunity to take hold or take control of us. And yet as we are send out, it is also essential to gather - that wonderful breathing in and breathing out of the Spirit as Moltmann says it. This is such a powerful and basic image. We are given life by our God who in Christ, Jesus, makes sure that this coming of the Reign of God is really present and really alive through all of us and - now.
Connection: I so often go back to the breathing - so essential - so vital.
Come, Holy Spirit! When you gather us in let you power of life enter us and then take us out beyond ourselves to be a witness to the promises of our God that are meant for all. Amen.
Good words for the church of today to keep in mind - again, Jurgen Moltmann.
The mediaeval and Catholic distinction between clergy and laity deprives Christians in the world of their own chairsma, and is wrong. The Protestant distinction between 'spiritual pastors' and congregational members is 'uninspired' and just as wrong. In the fellowship of the Holy Spirit there are only 'spiritual' men and women. The long-standing clericalization of Christianity has deprived people in the church of their maturity and responsibility, and ever since the beginning of the modern world it has led to the emigration of 'Christianity in the world' from the official, mainline churches.
So is he saying we need to dismantle what is? Possibly. Then again, it is my bet that Moltmann is trying to move us beyond how we have let the church become something other than a Spirit-led movement that keeps the Word alive in its radical and forever life-giving way. We must remember that this movement of the Spirit that blows the church through time and place cannot be limited by the structures and the hierarchy that we so often think is necessary. Instead, the Spirit is always attempting to blow us off track and into another way of seeing how God's Reign can and does come alive and blossom within the lives of all of us. The witness of Christianity in the world may just become an amazing gift of grace to the world.
Connection: There are spiritual men and women and that is all of us.
Come, Holy Spirit! Transform us and move us. Amen.
I find this to be an interesting take on "church" language.
For people who experience themselves in the presence of God's Spirit, two different movements follow, movements which are related but alternate:
1. The gathering of Christians in the church,
2. The sending out of the church to Christianity in the world.
By the church we understand 'the gathered congregation', which comes together for worship and in mutual trust; and by Christianity in the world we mean the church as it is dispersed in families, vocation, jobs and social groups. The meaning and scope of the church is not exhausted when people become 'churchgoers'. It is also present in Christianity in the world. What takes place in the gathered congregation 'religiously' takes place in Christianity in the world in families, and in social and political relationships. Here the church is not represented by theologians. It is represented by Christians in different jobs. Even if these people are called the laity in the context of the church's worship (though that is wrong in itself), where Christianity in the world is concerned they are the experts in their professions, not the theologians.
What an odd consideration. Christianity in the world is concerned that people are experts in their professions - not theologians out there. In other words, people out in the world take what they go together in worship and in the congregation and that shapes the way they operate in the world. They are Christianity. When you think about it, that is a moving statement. When each of us is 'out there' we are there as a part of Christianity. It is no wonder that Christianity leave such a bad taste in people's mouths. For what goes on out in the world does not leave a witness to the Reign of God that is blowing around us by the Spirit everyday. Usually Christianity comes to mean the folks who want to make the rest of the world Christian as they are Christian. They then become converting machines - not pretty and never will be. I suppose this piece hits me because of the conversations we can hear around the Islamic Center that may go in near the twin towers work. Muslims are being characterized as pushy, trying to take over people who will do anything to get their way as the way for all. I hear this from Christian voices that seem to be describing themselves. Rather than be a living witness to the life of Christ in and through the things that we do 'expertly' too many parts of Christianity find the need to be "fundamentalist Christian jihadists" (a borrowed term) to make everyone a part of this empire with a cross.
Connection: Be an expert in what you do and love as ones who expertly follow Christ right out into the everyday world around us. Let's see what that creates.
Come, Holy Spirit - make us bold and wise and loving and ready to meet all people as though we were your Christ. Amen.
It is not always easy to speak about the Holy Spirit. Moltmann makes it all sound so essential.
So what do we experience in the Holy Spirit? In the Spirit we perceive Christ, and the redeeming fellowship of Christ takes hold of us. In this respect the Spirit is quite selfless, and points away from itself to God's Son. But in knowing Christ and believing in him we come under the influence of the Holy Spirit and feel its energies as the powers of the future world (Hebrews 6:5); for Christ is selfless, too, and points away from himself to the Holy Spirit. In the charismatic enlivening of our own lives we experience the coming springtime of the new creation, and we ourselves become a 'living hope.'
We must never let this 'living hope' become a mere idea. It is to be who we are. The Spirit that pulls us into what is not yet helps to give shape to that 'not yet' by using us to be the instruments of its coming. We already take on the life of Jesus and we walk around as though that is our life and the world will come to take part in the life of Jesus today as we embody that life by the power of the Holy Spirit. In and through all of this, what will always emerge among us is the image of God. Picking up on that springtime image, it is coming - this life as our life. That is what is promised and that is what the Spirit brings about among us as the followers of Jesus - the church. All of this hopefulness springs forth as we - like the Spirit and the Christ - selflessly give of ourselves and begin to break apart of the rule of exclusion and hatred - fear and anxiety - threat and violence. In such a way, the future - that living hope - shines through us for all to see.
Connection: I was wondering if we can each pinpoint a bit of that living hope as we see it alive around us. It would be good to be on the look out to see how it comes alive to inform us of the way to follow.
Come, Holy Spirit - without delay. We are not brave enough to be the future so we call upon your saving power to let the future rain down upon us. Amen.