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s093g11  Advent 2  4/12/2011

‘I am not worthy ..’  Mark 1.7

This used to be THE statement of faith for some traditional Anglicans.   Mercifully the ‘wee donut’ – the prayer of preparation – is less and less used these days.

I have been thinking recently more about ‘the powers of heaven’ being shaken and perhaps this is one of those subtle powers that needs shaking, this idea that to be religious we need to put ourselves down (eternally?).   Religious people are those who know their own sinfulness.   And I wonder where these perceptions have come from.

It seems a characteristic of ‘christianity’ that others have to measure up to a particular experience.   Perhaps the most ‘orthodox’ is that we have to acknowledge our sinfulness and know that through the Cross we have been forgiven.   The classic evangelical will be able to tell others the day, time and circumstances of his or her conversion – à la St Paul – who frequently related his Damascus Road experience.   And of course they usually do – it is often their only topic of conversation.   The classic ‘charismatic’ or ‘pentecostal’ is able to state the day and time of his or her receiving the Holy Spirit – when they spoke in tongues for the first time or were slain in the spirit.  And of course they usually do – it is often their only topic of conversation.   The varieties are indeed endless, but all point to the perception that somehow we are not good enough as we are, and that we need to have some experience, often, but not always emotional, to be acceptable.   Just recently I was talking to a 'christian' about a person who had died.   He related how she had come to a conscious faith in Jesus just before she died.   While I didn't bother to challenge the person telling me this, I confess to be skeptical and I wonder whose needs were being met?   Whose fears were being relieved?   I have heard it said that those most fearful of death are clergy and monastics.   Why should this be?

How many others are put off because, for all their wanting, such experiences have not come to them?   How many people are left disappointed and feeling eternally inadequate because they haven’t measured up?   Where is the good news for them?  

Somehow the gospel has become a program for conformity – who is in and who is out.   Who Jesus died for, and those for whom Jesus didn’t ..

‘No one comes to the Father but by my interpretation of who Jesus is ..’??

And the demands placed on people are legion – like accepting the literal truth of the bible – like believing that ‘christians’ believe in creation and dismiss evolution.   Or that the controversies of the 4th century CE about the nature of Jesus determine people’s eternal salvation.   After the invention of printing the professionally religious peoples’ monopoly on truth was shattered and various factions in the church tried to rein in people thinking for themselves.   And even in this day and age sexuality continues to be used to attempt to control others – sexuality fraught with anxiety and fear.   What ought to be joyful and affirming is turned into a minefield for fear.   ‘I am not worthy ..’ because I enjoy intimacy?   I am reminded of the words in Revelation about the 144,000 ‘who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins .. they are blameless.’   Rev 14.4,5  What does this say to real people?

There seem to be lots of powers of heaven that need to be shaken.   And I think of those words of Jesus: ‘Fear him who can cast your soul into hell’ – the devout and the orthodox who make others' lives a misery in the name of the idol they have made in their own image.   I think of the orthodox and the devout who would rob people of the joy of intimacy, even when at a time and with a person of whom they approve.

The good news of Advent is that the Lord’s path has been made straight, and straight for ordinary folk.  The repentance that John called for was directed towards the devout and the orthodox, that they would turn from making the lives of others a misery, that they would forgive others their not being religious like them, so that they in turn would be forgiven.   As Jesus commanded us, we too pray, ‘Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin (even) against us.’   The call to repentance was not directed towards those with no pretensions to devotion or orthodoxy as church people so often assume.

What makes ‘christianity’ focus on our deficiencies, our anxieties and fears?  

And what was the reaction of the orthodox and the devout to this demonstration that God loves people as they and others are?   They had Jesus crucified!   The Cross is the ultimate repudiation of heavenly power.   And the question is not why others want to clutch onto such a joyless existence but why don’t I have enough faith to say no to my demons dressed up as religion?   Why is it that I am so timid?   How has my self-confidence been sapped over the years? 

I have observed before, that when I grew up it was the case that ‘children were to be seen and not heard’.   Modern youth make an absolute mockery of this with their loud music.   I recall going to a ‘Moby’ concert one Saturday night and marvelling at the energy and participation of the audience.   They were made up of all ages other than the very young.   The following morning I did the traditional first said communion service, where the participation was limited to the dozen elderly joining in a prayer or two and ‘Amens’ at appropriate places.   The church is still complicit in the same form of abuse, where the ideal parishioner is one who is seen and not heard.   The ideal parishioner is one who listens to the pearls of wisdom from the pulpit, then goes home to impart those pearls to his wife???   Often what masquerades as lay ministry in the Anglican Church is merely extending this monopoly of power to those who are licensed rather than ordained.   For me, while I have no difficulty with either of them, I suspect that ‘Fresh Expressions’ and ‘Messy Church’ are modern ways of avoiding having other folk interrupt the pure Eucharistic Sunday morning worship. 

In contrast, many ordinary folk have recognised the demons that they see embraced by the orthodox and the devout, and have rightly chosen a more healthy life, working to provide for themselves and those they love, and working for the good of society at large.   They embrace the world as it is, and not uncritically.   They rightly perceive that this embrace of life is it is and working for its betterment is likely to be useful to others and therefore more likely to be something that God would will, whether there is a God or not.   So the question of the existence of God, of creation or evolution, the relationship of Jesus to God, the existence of a heaven or hell, or when and with whom people express their intimate affections actually pale into insignificance.   One of my 'Facebook' friends put the saying on his page: 'Make awkward sexual advances, not war.'   And I have to ask, if we don't embrace society and those around us because of fear who is the poorer?  

This Advent we prepare ourselves for the incarnation, when God in Jesus embraced the world and those who were around him.   And the God I worship wants me and all people to live rich and fulfilled lives, not bound by fear, isolation and self-depreciation and this for me is what the incarnation, the ministry of Jesus, the Cross and the resurrection, is all about.   Now all I have to do is to live like this :-)

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