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Archive for January, 2010

Yule: Epiphany +3

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.  Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.    (1 Corinthians 12:12-14)

In this famous passage from his first letter to the Corinthians, brother Paul constructs an elaborate illustration of the value of diversity within the church, and the importance of each member respecting and honouring the other.  A while ago, a friend of mine, Ursula Wiig (campus chaplain at the U of S) sent me a reflection of hers on this particular reading.  As a Sophian, I proclaim that “God is Love, and Her Body is All Creation.”  Ursula’s reflection, building on the work of eco-theologian Sallie McFague, applies Paul’s wisdom to a cosmic context.  Here it is:

The Universe as the Body of God:  A Model for the 21st Century

A Paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 12:12-31

 

[This paraphrase is inspired and informed by Sallie McFague’s book, The Body of God: An Ecological Theology, in which she proposes a model of the universe as God’s body to speak to our current environmental crisis.  This model resacralizes the world.  It presents all of creation as the embodiment of God, but the author does not suggest that God is fully contained by the world.  For McFague, who has argued in earlier books that all models and metaphors inevitably have their limitations, this model is “a way of thinking of God’s transcendence in an immanental way – that ‘the world is our meeting place with God.’”*]

 

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts;

      and though all its parts are many, they form one body.                          

So it is with the Body of God.

For everything was created by God from a single unity

and everything is made up of matter and energy;                                         

whether earth, air or sea,                                        

      sun, moon or stars,

      rocks, plants, animals or humans.                                             

The whole universe is the Body of God.                             

Now the Body of God is not made up of one part but of many.

And if humanity says,

      “Because the plants cannot reason, they do not belong to the Body,”

      the plants would not for that reason cease to be part of the Body.

If the whole Body was human, from where would come its food?                                  

And if humanity then says,                                                                          

      “Because the rocks are inanimate, they do not belong to the Body,”                  

      the rocks would not for that reason cease to be part of the Body.         

Humanity is just one tiny part of the whole Body,

      and of that the Body of Christ is a smaller part.

So if members of the Body of Christ say,

      “Because Buddhists or followers of Mohammed are not Christians

      they do not belong to the Body,”                      

      Buddhists or Muslims would not cease to be in the Body of God.         

All creation,                                                                       

      including peoples of every race and creed,

      make up the Body of God.       

In fact, God has arranged the various and diverse parts of the Body,

      each one of them,                                

      just as God wanted them to be.                                    

If there was only a single part,                                            

      where would the whole Body be?

As it is, there many different parts but one Body of God.

Furthermore,

      our earth, this planet, cannot say to the sun and stars, “I do not need you!”        

Nor the water say to the plants, “I do not need you!”

Indeed, those elements pertaining to life cannot say to the inanimate elements,

      “We do not need you!”

Nor humans say to rest of creation, “You are not important.”          

On the contrary,                            

      those parts of the Body we take for granted or deem lesser are indispensable.

All living things – mammals, fish, plants and even bacteria –

      are dependent on the non living, physical elements – 

      light, gases and chemical components.

And the parts we think are repugnant should be treated with respect,          

for the organisms of decay –                                                           

      the bacteria and fungi –                                     

      convert dead organisms into nutrients so that the cycle of life can continue.

And the parts that have been deemed “lower” life forms

      should be treated with special honour.

The so called “higher” mammals – humanity included –

            cannot live a day without plants.

We “higher” life forms are but consumers,                          

      and humans the highest consumers of all.

Whereas plants are the great producers of the world                                               

      and are worthy of high esteem.                                                                         

All parts of the Body are interdependent,

but the most vulnerable and dependent of all

is the so called crowning glory of creation – humanity.

God has combined the members of the Body                                  

      and has given greater honour to the parts that lack it,

      so that there should be no division in the body                          

      but its parts have equal concern for each other.

If one part of the Body of God suffers,

      every part suffers with it;                                              

if one part is honoured,

      every part rejoices with it.

Now you, with all of creation, are the Body of God,

      and to each part God has given different gifts. 

 

*      McFague, Body of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993) p.1.                                                       

Ursula Wiig, April 2008         

(Thanks Ursula!)                      

 

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Yule: Epiphany +2

Your steadfast love, O God, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O God.
How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.
O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart!
   (Psalm 36:5-10)

Several years ago, I preached a sermon at the Cathedral for our annual celebration of St. Francis and the “blessing of the beasts”.  It is a service where folks bring their animal companions to be celebrated and blessed, and it is a joyful and playful occasion for all involved.  That year, I preached on the small child’s question: “when our dog dies, will she go to heaven?”

Some people thought I was preaching with tongue in cheek, but in reality this might be one of the most important questions of our age.  “Heaven”, whatever else we might believe about it, has to do with the category of ultimate value.  Value not just from our perspective, but in the eyes of God.  So the question of the dead beloved pet has to do with whether or not we believe that God has an ultimate concern for beings other than humans and (presumably) angels.  In other words, does God value the extra-human creation to the point of redemption in the age to come?  If not, then it is hard to see why creation might be of value even in this age!  And we have surely seen the rotten fruit of this way of looking at things, in the massive disregard of creation (apart from the human bit) by even the church throughout history.

But our lectionary psalm appointed for this Sunday takes a different view.  The psalmist declares, without hesitation, that “you save humans and animals alike, O God”.  As Sophians, as Christians, it is important to re-train our imaginations to see that God’s love is much wider than the human world alone.  Truly, the dogs and cats and birds and dinosaurs and trees and plants and mountains and seas and stars and planets in their courses, will indeed experience the salvation of LOVE.  They are each of ultimate concern to their Creator, as are we.   Thanks be to God!

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Yule: Baptism of Love

Ascribe to LOVE, O heavenly beings, ascribe to LOVE glory and strength.
Ascribe to LOVE the glory of her name; worship LOVE in holy splendor.
The voice of LOVE is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, LOVE, over mighty waters.
The voice of LOVE is powerful; the voice of LOVE is full of majesty.
The voice of LOVE breaks the cedars; LOVE breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of LOVE flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of LOVE shakes the wilderness; LOVE shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of LOVE causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in her temple all say, “Glory!”
LOVE sits enthroned over the flood; LOVE sits enthroned as sovereign forever.                                                            
May LOVE give strength to his people! May LOVE bless her people with peace!                (Psalm 29)

As you may have noticed, I have taken a fair degree of liberty in adapting this psalm from the NRSV translation of the bible.  Actually, I didn’t do too much to it, but what I did do shifted layers of meaning quite significantly.  Secondarily, I changed the exclusively masculine third person indicators to a mix of masculine and feminine.  But the primary change, of course, is the use of the word “LOVE” in place of the phrase “the LORD”.

As odd (?) as it seems at first though, this new paraphrase of the psalm is quite orthodox.  As English readers (and hearers) of the scriptures, we are very used to hearing the phrase “the LORD”.  But most places in the bible don’t actually say “the LORD”; instead, they read “YHWH”.  In Hebrew, these four letters are the sacred Name of God, and they are not pronounced due to piety.  Instead, wherever a Jewish reader of the scripture sees YHWH, she or he will simply say “ha Shem” or “the Name”.  In English, we Christians have decided to say “the LORD” instead.  You may have wondered in the past why the word LORD was so often in capital letters in the Elder Testament … it is because it is a substitution for YHWH.

Now, I am not one to say we should throw out the phrase “the Lord”.  Personally, calling God “Lord” is something that comes out quite often in my own praying and thinking.  (Perhaps I was unduly influenced by the stories of King Arthur and the knights of the round table when I was young … who knows!)  But on the other hand, the phrase probably gets overused in the church … and it leads to a heavily patriarchal and hierarchical view of God. 

So, from a Sophian perspective, my belief is that God’s very essence, Her “ousia” as they would say in Greek, is Love.  Love is not just something that God does; Love is who God IS.  So why not say LOVE, rather than the LORD, when we see the unpronounceable Divine Name of YHWH in the Scripture?  It is a good reminder of who God is for us, and who God is in the very depths of Her own being.

And so, “may LOVE give strength to his people! May LOVE bless her people with peace!”     Amen.

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Yule: Epiphany

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, magi from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”  When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:  ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”  Then Herod secretly called for the wise ones and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”  When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.  On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.   And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.    (Matthew 2:1-12)
 

A few brief thoughts on Epiphany, as we draw near the end of the Christmas cycle.  In my opinion, this is truly a feast of Holy Sophia, Lady Wisdom, the Spirit of the Living God.  Epiphany means “manifestation”, or “showing forth”.  It refers to the process by which Jesus becomes known to the world as the Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of Israel and the nations.  And as usual, if you are accustomed to the inbuilt irony of the gospel, the epiphany of Christ occurs where it is least expected.

Think about that famous scene at the manger, which is completed at the Feast of Epiphany.  Who is there, gathered in the presence of the Christ Child and his vulnerable family, in the presence of the angels, under the light of the guiding star?  There are the shepherds, and the wise ones (the magi), and the animals.  So far, so good; we are all used to seeing that scene on Christmas cards and Nativity creches.  But the familiarity hides the radical reality of this Epiphany scene.  For the shepherds are the poorest of the poor among the people of Israel.  Their way of life also marks them as ritually unclean, for because of their poverty, and their work, they cannot observe the proper ritual observances set out under the Law of Israel.  They are people of the margins, barely acceptable.  As for the wise ones, they are gentile wizards … astrologers and magicians … certainly not “acceptable” according to the standards of Israel.  And finally, there are the animals, the beasts of the manger, sharing the hospitality of their home with the tiny family in exile.  These animals are the representatives of the non-human creation, and the stable itself is most likely a cave, a recess in the flesh of Mother Earth. 

The rejected poor, foreign pagan wizards, and the creatures of the Earth … these are the first witnesses to the coming of Christ in our midst.  From a Sophian perspective, this makes perfect sense!

A blessed Epiphany to you and yours.  And may the bright Star of Sophia continue to guide you as you follow the Way of the Christlight in our midst.  So be it, amen.

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