[Oe List ...] 6/02/16, Spong: Charting a New Reformation, Part XXIV – The Seventh Thesis, The Resurrection (continued)

Ellie Stock via OE oe at lists.wedgeblade.net
Thu Jun 2 09:18:07 PDT 2016




Charting a New Reformation
Part XXIV – The Seventh Thesis, The Resurrection (continued)
Last week, we explored the Pauline corpus of the New Testament in order to learn what Paul meant when he wrote that “God raised Jesus” to the “right hand of God.” This was the concept for which Paul used the word “resurrection.” It is quite a different concept from what this word has come to mean in Christian history. Before we leave Paul we have to take seriously a list he included in I Corinthians, which he wrote around the years 54-56 CE. Here Paul states that the Christ, who was raised into God at his death not into a life of flesh and blood in this world, nonetheless “appeared” to the people on this list. To what kind of experience was Paul referring in this part of his work?
The first thing we note is that the Greek word translated “appeared” was “ophthe” (ωϕθn). It is the same word used by the Septuagint translators to refer to the God who “appeared” to Moses in the burning bush in Exodus (3:2). It is also the word from which we get our term “ophthalmology,” the science or study of seeing. We are so used to reading the Bible literally that we may need to pause and ask what kind of appearing or seeing is this. Was the appearance of God to Moses in the burning bush an objective seeing? If others had been present would they have seen what Moses saw? If Moses had possessed a smart phone equipped with a camera, could he have photographed the God who appeared during this experience? Is there a difference between sight and insight, between sight and second sight? What did Paul mean when he posted his list of those to whom the raised Christ “appeared?” For clues we examine his list.
“He appeared first to Cephas,” Paul said. In the mind of Paul, it had been Cephas-Peter, who was the first to see. Then Peter appears to have opened the eyes of the other members of the apostolic band so that they too could see. How did that happen? This language seems to me to speak of a different kind of seeing from simply having a scene become visible before our eyes. It speaks of a breakthrough, a new understanding of the act of putting together things that had never been put together before and thus of assuming that the new combination formed a new insight. Was the resurrection of Jesus something like this? Did the tragedy that embraced the life of Jesus and led to his crucifixion get reinterpreted or understood in such a new way that it opened doors to life never before imagined? Can evil be transformed and be made good simply by ending its consequences?
There is a powerful story in the book of Genesis (chapters 37-50) that suggests this possibility. The brothers of Joseph, angry at what they perceived as their father’s favoritism toward Joseph, resolved to remove him from their lives. First, they placed him in a hole from which he could not escape. They would leave him there to his fate, which was surely death. Then they saw a caravan passing by and decided to profit from their evil by selling their brother as a slave to this traveling band of people, who were Midianites in one version of the story, Ishmaelites in another. Twenty pieces of silver was the agreed upon price. As Joseph was carried off in chains, presumably never to be seen by his brothers again, they planned a way to explain his loss to his and their father by suggesting that he had been eaten by wild animals. This was what they told their grief-stricken father, Jacob, when they presented him with Joseph’s multicolored coat, the sign of his special status to his father, but now drenched in an animal’s blood, which they themselves had applied. In the course of history, however, sometimes overt evil is but the prelude to life-giving insight. Joseph, the slave, ultimately gained the respect of his owners and the opportunities he received from them opened door after door to him until he had risen to become a ruler in Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh. In that capacity he oversaw the storage of grain to prepare for a famine that he was sure was coming. When it came, starvation became rampant throughout the region and even included Joseph’s brothers. Hearing that grain was available in Egypt, they took their money and grain sacks and traveled to Egypt in the hope of buying sufficient food to survive the famine.
Here they confronted Joseph in his position of authority, holding in his hands, as he did, the power of life and death over them. They did not recognize him, but the story says that he recognized them. He now held full authority over those who once had sold him into slavery and who had meant to destroy him. Would he finally gain his revenge? Or would he absorb this pain and return it to his brothers as love? This was Joseph’s choice. In this story love won out and because it did, life was enhanced — Joseph’s life and the lives of his brothers as well.
In another part of the Hebrew Scriptures a portrait was painted by an unknown prophet that we call II Isaiah. This portrait was called “the servant,” sometimes “the suffering servant.” The servant was created to be a symbol of the people of Israel. II Isaiah drew this portrait when he returned from exile in Babylon in the 6th century BCE, filled with the hope of re-establishing his defeated nation, raising up their destroyed city of Jerusalem and rebuilding their demolished Temple in order to reclaim their messianic calling to be the nation through which the nations of the world would be blessed. When this prophet arrived back at what he called his homeland, however, the devastation that greeted him was all encompassing. He sank into depression as he came to believe that there was no future, no resurrection for his defeated and now destroyed people. How long he remained in depression I do not know, but when he emerged, he sketched a new vocation for Israel that was rooted, not in victory, but in defeat; not in power, but in weakness. It forms perhaps the holiest writing in the Hebrew Scriptures. The vocation of the Jewish people, he suggested, was not to win, not to achieve power or even nationhood again, but rather to live in such a way as to absorb willingly the world’s hostility, to drain from people their anger, accepting it and returning it to them as love. The servant, a symbol for the nation, was to be a willing victim, one who would be “rejected, despised, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” He was to make the people whole by accepting their abuse, never returning it in kind, but responding to it only with love. That ancient portrait, drawn by this unknown prophet, became the one which the followers of Jesus saw lived out in him.
Was Peter the first to see this? Was he the one who saw in Jesus a life not driven by survival, but by the love that enabled him to give his life away? Did this vision enable him to see God in a new way, not as the almighty one, the heavenly father or the judge of the world, but as the Source of Life, expanding their understanding of what it means to live; the Source of Love, freeing them to love beyond their boundaries and their fears without the expectation of gaining love in return, and as the Ground of Being giving them the courage to be all that they could be and, in the process, freeing others to be all that they could be? Was this the vision of God that they saw in Jesus, who called people beyond the barriers of tribe, race, ethnicity or gender? When he was victimized by those to whom he only offered love, when he died forgiving, loving, freeing, is that when they saw that God was in him? Was resurrection the ability to see that Jesus had taken his humanity to a new dimension and had now stepped into the being of that which they called divine? Was it a step from self-consciousness into a universal consciousness, into an awareness of the oneness of all things?
Is that how Peter’s eyes were opened? Is that the vision to which he then opened the disciples’ eyes and then the “500 brethren” at once? Was not the next step to open the eyes of James, the Lord’s brother, and then the apostles — that is those sent out to all the people of the world? Finally is that the resurrection message that embraced the self-loathing Paul, who believed that “sin dwells in my members” causing me to “do the things I do not want to do and fail to do the things that I want to do?” Was the resurrection the power that transformed Paul from the one who said of himself: “O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?” When Paul’s eyes were opened to see what Jesus meant, then we hear him say: “Nothing in all creation can separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, my Lord.” Is that not the transforming experience of resurrection?
Resurrection, I now believe, was not a physical act. No formerly deceased body ever walked out of any tomb leaving it empty. Resurrection was, rather, a moment of new revelation that occurred when our survival-driven humanity could transcend that limit and give itself away in love to others, including even to those who wish and do us evil. This was a new “seeing” of both God and of life. How great was this experience? God and human life can flow together. Every limit on our humanity can be broken. Jesus lives. We have seen the Lord! That is what changes lives. That is what changed the way we understood God and even the way that we understood and understand worship. That is what resurrection means. It is an ongoing, life re-ordering process, not an event that happened once in history a long time ago.
The Lord is risen – He is risen indeed. This ancient salute that greeted Easter day did not mean that Jesus had been raised back into our limitations, but that he opened to us access into the meaning of God, as the power to free us to live, to love and to be. How badly have we misunderstood the message of Easter. How limited has been our vision of resurrection. The last enemy to be destroyed is death and with its destruction, we learn that God is one and all of us are part of that oneness.
John Shelby Spong
Read the essay online here.
Question & Answer
Diane McBain via the Internet, writes:
Having read the question and your spot-on answer of December 31, 2015, I find the questioner evoked a question for me.
Homo sapiens may not be the highest form of physical life in the universe, therefore, could the divine be as intimately a part of a space alien as a human?
In my own thinking, I would have to say “yes,” it is possible and even likely. Perhaps the question is unanswerable at this point in time, but humans most often consider themselves to be the highest form of evolution in the universe, yet we do not know if there might be higher forms of physical and divine life possible.
Dear Diane,
You raise a possibility beyond the scope of present human knowledge to answer, yet I think you are moving in the right direction and I would walk the path you are walking for the only way to move into a living future is to be open to new truth, which always challenges the way things are or seem to us to be. The motto of the seminary I attended was: “Seek the truth, come whence it may, cost what it will.” There is also a possibility that a discovery of tomorrow will illumine a possibility unheard of today.
The problem with historic Christianity is that in the 4th century, the church decided to adopt creeds. Creeds assume that the truth has been and can be captured in words. Once that decision is made, the world is divided into true believers and heretics. The fight between the two is never edifying. It is the heretics who always counter the orthodoxy of the past and open believers to new possibilities in the future. The church needs more heretics and we need to listen to them with openness rather than with fear and negativity. The fact is that yesterday’s heresy has a way of becoming tomorrow’s orthodoxy, and the pattern has been repeated time and again. Reformation never comes from the institutional center; it always rises from the fringes. Heresy is like the hammer, orthodoxy is like the anvil. Without the pounding of the hammer, the anvil will become dead, set and unchanging. Without the anvil of tradition on which to pound, the hammer would ultimately become destructive.
No one can be both hammer and anvil, but every hammer needs an anvil and every anvil needs a hammer. It is the relationship between the two that is essential to the truth, and the search for truth is, I believe, the essence of Christianity. It is too bad that rarely in the life of the church do hammers and anvils appreciate each other.
John Shelby Spong

Read and Share Online Here
Irvine United Congregational Church Celebrating 25 Years as Open & Affirming

Irvine United Congregational Church is radically inclusive, declaring to neighbors and strangers alike,  "No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here."  We celebrate the Creator’s diversity as we worship God and grow in our faith.

On Sunday June 12th there is a celebration of the 25th anniversary of becoming an Open and Affirming church. Special guest preacher will be Fred C. Plumer, there will be an open conversation with questions and answers at the gathering in Plumer Hall after the service.



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