2019 July 28th - Life on the Canvas

Last week I finished my address with the question: ?Is our religion ripe like a beautiful basket of summer fruit, or is it rotten? Does it reflect the compassion of Jesus in our engagement with the world, or are we caught up in hypocrisy, self-centredness and double standards.

Today?s question is this: is our religion, or if you prefer, life in the spirit, static or dynamic; passive or active; staid or energetic?

To illustrate what I mean, I have asked an artist, Jill Campbell, (a member of this congregation, who has painting displayed in the church), to comment on the idea that paintings are not necessarily static productions, but dynamic works in progress. Thank you Jill?

This is of course also true of other forms of artistic expression, including writing. This idea occurred to when I was reading the Hosea passage, and the WLTW commentary. Like Amos, from whom we heard last week about the rotten fruit of Israel?s religion, Hosea does not pull any punches in depicting Israel and Judah. In the very first few verses, these communities are depicted as whores. And yet after 9 verses of tirade ending with "?you are not my people and I am not your God we suddenly hear this in verse 10 "Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sands of the sea, which can be neither measured or numbered, and in the place where it was said to them ?You are not my people? it shall be said to them "Children of the Living God.? The tirade then picks up where it left off. The WLTW commentator says of this ?These hopeless threats are checked in verse 10 where hope reasserts itself. This probably reflects a revision as subsequent editors of the book reshaped it to its final form?!

We are so used, are we not, to thinking of the bible as static, finished product- to be all taken as read and applied without critical consideration. And so, for example, someone can take a verse from Deuteronomy calling for the death penalty for women who commit adultery, and give it equal weight and inspiration with Jesus? teaching about compassion and forgiveness- because, you know, "it?s in the Bible.? This is just not how the scriptures evolved. One can find literally dozens of examples in the gospels alone that illustrate development of thinking ?on the run? as it were. For example, the best and earliest manuscripts attest to the short ending of Mark, with the words "For they were afraid? " Later editors obviously did not think this a suitable conclusion to the resurrection story, so there are now also two longer endings, giving a more positive and triumphant conclusion.

The bible is active, dynamic, energised; not only in its development over the early centuries, but also in its dramatic content. It is a story of change and progress. So, when Abram and Sarai, are called by God, they become Abraham and Sarah. After he wrestles with God, Jacob becomes Israel. Simon the fisher becomes Peter the Rock, and Saul of Tarsus becomes the Apostle Paul. A new name for a new day.

The scriptures are also active, energetic and dynamic even as we read them. I find that I can come back to a passage I studied a few years ago, and with a fresh reading, find new meaning and inspiration. Our scriptures are indeed a living word. They did not become static, frozen in time, frozen in time, when an early Christian council decided on the Canon we now have. We can rather expect some refreshing of the work of art to make it speak to our day.

Don?t get me wrong. I am not suggesting we try and rewrite the Bible. What we do need to do though is look at it as dynamic rather than static. We can look at it again and again and expect to find new things- that is, if our response to it is open to new inspiration.

Or we can be like the church in Sydney that opened its new theological school campus. The principal, giving the inaugural address, commented that the floorboards upon which he was standing were originals from the previous building. His triumphant comment was "We stand where we always stood?. My visceral response was "how sad?, especially as this denomination still will not allow women to be ministers or elders, or ever teach adult males.

If we stand where we always stood, we will get left behind, because a static and passive faith cannot hope to relate to a world that is always moving on, and a Spirit that blows where it wills. In fact, I believe it is part of the special calling of the Uniting Church to have the courage to make the changes that keep Christ relevant to our society. For our trouble, we cop a hammering on social media, and from other religious individuals who cannot cope with the fact that we do not stand where they always stood. That is to be expected, because change can be a very frightening thing for some, especially when someone threatens to remove the props of static tradition and dogmatism that has not stood the test of time.

Good religion, like good art, art is active, dynamic and energised. I have heard Jill say that she can start putting paint on a canvas without knowing what will eventuate. It is only as she develops the artwork that something emerges, and it can be a revelation. When we put our feet on the road, or when we haul ourselves up from the canvas and move forward, we find paths that lead to new things, paths less travelled, dynamic, active creative paths. This is not an easy way to live. Staying the same, drawing tight boundary lines is safe and comfortable, but there is no new life there.

Take the redevelopment for example. You are invited to take a walk around the building after the service and see it as it is now. You will then be able to measure the difference when the work is complete. My expectation is that the Wesleyan tradition will be honoured both in the naming of the large downstairs hall, but also in the social conscience of the mission which draws inspiration from its founder. And while we have a fair idea of what we would like to happen there in years to come, I am sure there will be some surprises in store- hopefully mainly good ones. This will happen if as approach the project with an open spirit, see it as a fresh canvas, and let the artwork emerge.

And how about you and I? Do we see ourselves as finished products? Are the walls up? Are the lines drawn? Have we said to life "So far and no further?? Are we down on the canvas waiting for the count of 9? Or, are we willing, open and ready for the active dynamic and energetic Spirit of God to blow our life where it will?

site managed by freesites