Monday, March 11, 2019

Sunday Message - We’re So Predictable

            Though we have many influences, I wouldn’t exactly say we take Christianity lightly in this congregation. It is treated with respect, of course, but many of us look at any organized religion with a wary eye. We know better than to take religion lightly when there are so many in the world with such strong, even violent ideas about it. But I find myself occasionally compelled to take some of what Christianity says about itself in one area to debate things it says about itself in others.
None of this message is intended to sway or convince anyone, either toward or away, from any of the claims made within Christianity. Those are matters of personal faith. But there is still wisdom to be found in the Bible, as in all sacred texts. If we strip away what we’ve been told, if we simply look at the text for ourselves, and ignore the centuries of commentary and propaganda we’ve been told about it, we’d realize a number of things. Such as that Mary Magdalene wasn’t actually a prostitute, we’d realize that the book of Genesis also says nothing about either an apple or Satan in the Garden of Eden, and we’d read for ourselves that we are all equally powerful as Jesus was himself. At least according to him. For organized power structures, these and many other surprising facts are dangerous recognitions to be playing around with.
That’s why it was over a thousand years before the Bible was translated into common languages so people could actually read it for themselves. It’s only been in English for less than 500 years. Yet conveniently we have been continually persuaded not to consider the implications of what is on the actual page. But then, that is our biggest beef with mainstream Christianity. It doesn’t always follow its own rules.
So I’ll ask us to now consider that we are taught by tradition that God is all-loving, but it highlights even more that God is all-forgiving. Yet that seems a rather strange leap for an all-loving deity to take who supposedly already knows what’s in our hearts and why we do the things we do. When a toddler is throwing a temper tantrum at a certain time of day we generally know it’s probably because he needs a nap. We might be frustrated, but we know what’s going on. It doesn’t change our love for them. We are not insulted by it. We know that the child’s behavior is being influenced by factors that are understandable. We don’t really need to go to the length of forgiving them, really, because we already know why they do what they do before they even do it. Forgiveness is not an action taken after the fact, it is a state of being the whole time. Which eradicates the whole notion of God’s all-forgiving nature because what God really is, when you put it all together, is all-accepting.
And why might God be so easy-going? Because, according to tradition, God already gets us. When we are told to ‘ask God for forgiveness’ it can’t be because God won’t do it unless we ask nicely first. It’s because if we don’t ask, we never complete the circuit. Without going through the motion, the ritual, of asking, we don’t feel the forgiveness—meaning the total and unconditional acceptance of who we really are—which is already there for us. At least that’s according to the logic of a God who already knows us better than we know ourselves and loves us anyway. Universalism believes that we are all loved equally. Is it so hard to imagine?
People act in predictable ways. Perhaps we can’t predict all human behavior in advance, but an all-knowing God would, right?. So I say to traditional mainstream Christianity: Put your money where your mouth is. If that’s what you really believe, then start acting like it. Start teaching like it.
If we take the time to look deeply, and with a critical but forgiving eye, we may very well find out that behind the distracting feelings we have about the very anti-Christian behavior some so-called Christians commit, there are ideas here to be considered. Ideas which may even may help us glimpse a bit of the Ultimate Reality and Its purpose.
    So let’s look at scripture head-on, and turn it upside down a little to see what lines we can read between.
There is a story told about Jesus in the Bible. It’s a story about healing the deaf and mute. It is first told in the book of Mark, which scholars believe was the source material for Matthew’s slightly different version of the same story written later. Both Mark’s and Matthew’s versions have one thing in common, however. After performing a miracle, Jesus tells them to keep quiet about what they have seen, don’t tell anybody. Yet no one can keep their mouth shut, thus spreading his fame far and wide.
Here is how Mark tells it in the story of the deaf and mute man (Mark 7:31-36):
Then Jesus left the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. Some people brought to him a man who was deaf and hardly able to speak, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.
    So Jesus took the man aside privately, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed deeply and said to him, “Ephphatha!” which means, “Be opened!” Immediately, the man’s ears were opened and his tongue was released, and he began to speak plainly.
    Jesus ordered the others not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them, the more widely they proclaimed it.

There are a number of instances in the gospels of his life where Jesus performs a miracle and then tells people not to say anything about it. Why?
There’s arguments about this in the theological world. It is largely assumed that he didn’t want too many people to know about him so that a) his reputation wouldn’t precede him in a town preventing him from teaching there; or that b) he might be used as a weapon by those Jews who wanted to overthrow Rome. A Messiah would be the perfect emblem of the New Jerusalem to galvanize the people to revolt. But neither of those makes very much sense to be concerned about. At least not from the perspective of Jesus. He didn’t appear all that interested in hiding for his own sake, even though he did occasionally hide to protect his disciples and followers. His stated mission was to bring change. Disruptive, dramatic change. That certainly doesn’t happen without at least a little public awareness. And I can’t imagine he would find himself beholden to lead a revolution in the conventional sense. He certainly wasn’t quiet about his presence in Jerusalem the week he was killed. His behavior suggests he knew exactly what he was doing, whom he was angering, and that it would take an enormous social catapult to propel his message throughout human civilization. Jesus didn’t invent the concept of martyrdom, but he undoubtedly knew of its effectiveness in launching a movement. Does thinking of Jesus in these terms make him less special? Is he any less precious a spiritual teacher if he wasn’t God? Since we shall never know the answer, must we disregard everything else? These are important questions to consider if we wish to truly learn from what we read rather than just accept the common programming.
Now, let’s go back again to think about what many Christians say about God. God is all knowing, all loving, all forgiving. God knows what’s in your heart before you do. God knows why you do the things you do. For the purpose of this journey this morning, let’s conclude for the time being that all of these ideas are correct.
It appears that Jesus was quite strategic in the development of his ministry. One could conclude it had a purpose he considered to be bigger than himself. That there would be far reaching consequences of his public teaching which may ultimately better humanity over time if he played all his cards right.
Let’s ponder, for a moment here, the trinitarian view of Christianity. As opposed to the unitarian idea that God is not three, but one, ergo the term uni-tarian, trinitarians hold that God is a trinity, a threesome of consubstantial reality. Consubstantial is a term that means, of the same substance. Trinitarians believe that Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit are not similar to each other, or three different parts of the same thing, they actually are each other. And that’s important to consider when trying to understand the stakes involved for trinitarians and their view of Christianity. To say that Jesus was human is to say that he wasn’t God. To say that he wasn’t God is to undermine the particular way they have held up the being of Christ as the deity Itself for centuries. If God is not three, to them it would be a demoralizing recognition. It would be a great loss.
There is no need to challenge that belief anymore, because no one actually knows or can prove the truth anyway. Who cares if God is really three or one? It’s all one in the end anyway. But it’s helpful to understand the differences in perspective. Especially if we wish to be in relationship with people who think differently, or perhaps more strongly, than we do.
Getting back to point...So, that means Jesus, according to the traditional trinitarian description, is actually God Itself, walking the earth. Okay. It’s kind of academic anyway, so let’s go with that for a bit.
If we’re looking at it through the Jesus-is-God paradigm, Jesus’ strategy is actually God’s strategy. The tradition also holds that God is infallible. It implies that God understands how to get humanity from point a to point b and has the benefit of a huge amount of information, allowing a strategy created on the basis of having literally all the data. If God is all knowing, then God would know exactly what the correct strategy should be. And God would know exactly what seed to plant when, and where, and how long it would take to germinate. And what the necessary fertilizer should be.
Part of what God would understand about us is our love for sharing provocative, juicy information. If Jesus is God, as they say, and God has a strategy then that strategy might very well be to recognize that the surest way to get the widest information spread as far as possible would be to tell everybody not to say anything about it. And then to hold up the notion that It’s miffed.
Are they saying that God didn’t know exactly what people would do with information so amazing and juicy they couldn't possibly be able to keep it to themselves? Do they think their version of God couldn’t predict that? The traditional view claims that God would be angry at us for being disobedient, when we are behaving exactly as It always knew we would. If that were the type of God running the universe, it would probably be run more like the government. It’s not logical that an all knowing God wouldn’t base Its strategy for moving us forward on a recognition that we are, in fact, Human. The problem with most traditional views of Christianity is that they don’t give God nearly enough credit. They make God far too human, flawed, judgmental, envious and vindictive. While at the same time saying that God loves us all. If only those two opposing thoughts went together as easily as they’d hope.
The God traditional Christianity describes would know full well what we would do in the Garden of Eden. It would know exactly what we would do with the temptation of forbidding our consumption of the nameless fruit from the tree of knowledge. Forbidding it would all but INSURE our eating from it. How do we know that God didn’t want them to eat the fruit all along? Wouldn’t the serpent who nudged them into eating it have been one of God's creations, too? Read between the lines for yourself. Since when is knowledge bad?
The concept of disobedience is more about human control than insulting God.  As we have said, Jesus told people not to say anything about him. Yet he couldn't have failed to know that it would be a secret too impossible to keep; more so for the fact that they were being commanded to silence. Yes, I am suggesting that God and Jesus both used reverse psychology, but it’s the difference between the information finding its way around on foot or by catapult. It's as if Jesus knew all along what would happen if he added the extra impetus of a bit of forbidden fruit to the act so as to insure its rapid spread.
This is a very loving act on both God's as well as Jesus's part. They both would have to know that humanity would do what it would do. And leveraged that fact, without judgment, to our own betterment.  Do not eat the fruit. And it becomes more delicious (tov). Do not tell the tale. And it spreads that much farther.
In the end this gives us a platform to question the definition of things we have been told are evil or wrong. Was Judas part of the plan? Was it part of the plan all along to have him blow the whistle? Did Jesus ask Judas to do it? There are documents which says he did. Whether they are true or not is immaterial. Because they point to an idea not to judge a book by its cover. To ponder events like the crucifixion. Where on one hand it is said that all of it was brought to bear by God on purpose and for the point of reconciling humanity with Itself, and on the other hand vilifying everything as evil which on earth made it happen. How can both be true? How can Judas have been evil if he was bringing about what God always wanted in the first place? Christianity cannot be correct about both.
Which means the likely answer is that according to a more considered view of the old traditions, God is neither offended by us nor has any need of forgiving us. It gets us. And uses how we behave to nudge us in better directions by way of the divine spark within us all.

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