Becoming the Holy OnePosted: January 12, 2014
Becoming the Holy One
BAPTISMAL CAVE OF JOHN’S FOLLOWERS
The early church retold and reworked the story of the baptism of Jesus. We can assume that John’s protest in our scripture over baptizing Jesus was an insert of the early church, because they found themselves in competition with the followers of John. We have found archaeological evidence that John’s followers continued to meet and baptize people long after John had been executed, and so the early church made the claim that John had deferred to Jesus, even though in the eleventh chapter of Matthew, John from prison sent a couple of his disciples to ask Jesus, “are you the one we are looking for, or should we look for another?”
Despite the beauty of the nativity stories the baby Jesus wasn’t lying in the manger working miracles and congratulating himself on how cool it was to be the Messiah. We have little if any information about Jesus’ early life. We can guess that his baptism was a turning point in his life. In a God moment he realized he was being called to a special ministry – perhaps to even become the one for whom John was preparing the way. In classical Greek mythology the goddess Athena leaped full grown dressed in armor from the head of Zeus (No wonder he had a headache). And some narratives about Jesus present him as if he was the Christ from the moment of his birth. But if we read carefully we can find in the scriptures evidence of his process of becoming the Holy One.
HE BECAME PERFECT THROUGH WHAT HE SUFFERED
After his baptism Jesus spent a period of time in the wilderness – forty days and forty nights paralleling Israel’s time of wandering in the wilderness. During his time in the wilderness Jesus reportedly wrestled with temptations that related to how he might conduct his ministry. This time of struggle was part of the process of becoming the Holy One. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews goes even further in describing the passion of Jesus as part of his “becoming.” In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered and having been made perfect became the source of eternal salvation. . .
ALL CREATION IS IN A PROCESS OF BECOMING
Jesus like all the rest of us was in a process of becoming. We are indeed born with our own particular DNA. At birth we are blessed with gifts and potentials, and some of us are born with distressing disabilities and handicaps. But the circumstances of our birth our families growing up are not the final answer for any of us, for, like Jesus, we are all people who are in the process of becoming. Some philosophers and theologians have suggested that the universe, even God, is in a process of becoming. From the moment of creation in the Big Bang the universe has been unfolding, changing, transforming, driven by novelty reaching toward ever new possibilities.
EVOLUTIONARY KIND OF THEOLOGY
Our United Church of Christ “God is still speaking initiative” reflects this kind of evolutionary theology. Our faith can be informed by the scriptures but not limited by past understandings of the divine. We’re not stuck trying to believe that God created the rocks with the fossils already in them to make it look as if evolution is true. Rather we are able to embrace the scientific account of the unfolding creation of the universe. Revelation is not a once and done event, rather we remain open to the possibility as preached by Pastor John Robinson of the Pilgrim Congregation that God has yet more light and truth to break forth from God’s Word.
DIVERSITY – WE SEEK THE TRUTH AS GOD HAS GIVEN US THE ABILITY TO PERCEIVE THE TRUTH
Each of us seeks the truth as God has given us the ability to perceive the truth, and then marvel at the incredible diversity of creation — the incredible diversity of our community of faith. Diversity, however, isn’t easy. Wherever there are two or three members of United Church there are at least five or six opinions. And since we are so diverse and so distressingly human, it means that sometimes we disagree.
SUNDAY ASSEMBLY – CHURCH FOR PEOPLE WHO DON’T BELIEVE IN GOD
On Tuesday of this week I was listening to Morning Edition on NPR. They were reporting on a new movement called “Sunday Assembly.” Sunday Assembly is a church for people who don’t believe in God. The brainchild of two British comedians, the movement has since spread across the globe, and there are now about 30 chapters from Dublin to Sydney to New York.
Sunday Assembly appeals to more optimistic atheists — those hoping to re-create what they felt was good about religion. But demonstrating how difficult it is to maintain diversity in human community one of the founders of Sunday Assembly does acknowledge that the movement is not without its factional schisms. He says the newly formed chapter in New York has already split over how much to emphasize atheism.
We are all in a process of becoming. God isn’t finished with us yet. And that means we believe that every once in while the Holy Spirit shows up in the form of grace. Grace is when we are pulled up short by something ordinary that in that moment becomes extraordinary – bubbles, fire flies in a field of wheat in the evening light, butterflies dancing in the sunlight, the brilliance of the stars on a cold clear winter night. Grace can be experienced as awe and wonder. Occasionally grace leaps out at us from the scriptures, opening our eyes to experience truth in a new way. Sometimes grace comes in a blinding insight, or at other times like John Wesley grace is experienced as a feeling, when even against our wills we find our hearts are strangely warmed. Sometimes grace comes to us in quiet God moments. But we are all different, and so grace comes to each of us in a way peculiar to our personality and our experience.
GRACE MEDIATED THROUGH RELATIONSHIPS
Grace can be mediated to us through relationships. The experience of acceptance from others is powerful. No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here that is grace. Life in community without the need to pass judgment upon others is grace – powerful grace – God’s grace. God’s grace is most beautiful when that grace is experienced in diversity and tolerance.
Donna Schaper, the Pastor of Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village, a dually aligned congregation with the United Church of Christ and the American Baptist Church with several Jewish members, writes about trying to say grace in a diverse gathering.
PLURALISM AND GRACE
At about half the dinner parties I attend, there is an awkward beginning. The glorious food is presented and plattered, tickled and drizzled. It is meant to dazzle and often does. A high percentage of my friends are foodies (sounds like United Church). In addition to their identity as foodies, they are a great mixture. Jews, Catholics, Protestants join anti-Catholics, former Jews, puzzled Protestants, all drizzled by a good dose of skepticism, garnished with a respect for pluralism. You also never know when a genuine atheist will show up, either.
OPEN OUR HEARTS TO WHAT WE DON’T KNOW AND CAN’T SEE
Enter the awkward moment. If we are lucky, the hosts will offer a word of welcome. Even better, the hosts will offer a toast and glasses will click in a pagan form of prayer. We will drink to our health or each other or to life or to the chef. Optimally, someone will offer a prayer, a gesture of appreciation to something larger than the host or each other or the farmer who made the food. Most optimal of all, the Source who is thanked will have a name that is the private property of none at the table, not the agnostic, atheist, Catholic, Jew, Muslim or Protestant. If asked to pray, I will use my favorite public prayer: “Holy Spirit, you who are beyond the captivity of any name, even Jesus, even Christ, even Allah, even Ruach, even Force, even energy, even Spirit, draw near. Open our hearts to what we don’t know and can’t see. Extend our gratitude from first seed to last seed, shore to shore, in a vast appreciation of what has been given us. And may everyone on the planet eat as well as we will tonight. Amen.”
We are in a deep shift in this magnificent 21st century. We can no longer trick ourselves into thinking that there is one cuisine or one God. Thus we must learn to pray again, if for no other reason than to banish the awkwardness of table graces.
GRACE EXPERIENCED AS FORGIVENESS
Grace is something more than a pro forma prayer to offer up before eating. Grace in its deepest moments is experienced as forgiveness. United Church of Christ Pastor Amy Jo Jones shares a story about communion, forgiveness and grace.
He had two warrants out for his arrest in two different states before it was discovered that he had an inoperable tumor and was admitted to hospice.
He had never even heard of communion, let alone received it. A communion table was created in his home, using a broken-back chair and a white bar towel. Each time I said the words of consecration, he was nervous, interrupting, asking for a cigarette. His wife responded, “No, honey, you can’t smoke in front of God.” Communion with cigarette breaks. How can we not smile?
Grace arrives, unannounced, and intervenes where it is needed most. All that his wife wanted was that he would receive Jesus before he died. He did. He made peace with everyone in his life. He experienced the mystery of the sacrament. He understood the life-giving words.
A BROKEN SOUL BEING MADE WHOLE
What became important to him was that his family knew his sorrow, his awareness of mistakes, and his love for them — a broken soul being made whole with the grace of Christ. He experienced the mystery and smiled. He asked for a second helping.
ASK FOR A SECOND HELPING
All of us, like Jesus, like the dying man, are in the process of becoming. If we are open to grace, we can be healed and forgiven too. And if we ask for a second helping of grace, like Jesus, we can even become one of God’s holy ones.