Sunday, March 14, 2010

Celtic Sunday

Central United Church – 14 March 2010 – Michael Kooiman

Matthew 28
16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

I fear we will never present worship in 3D. Sure you could describe what we do as “live action,” or perhaps theatrical: and if I ran about or leaned in an out repeatedly you might even say “it seems 3D to me.”

And it’s all the rage. 3D television has arrived, and for a mere $4,000 you can sit in the comfort of your living room and watch 10’s of hours of available programming in 3D. You will need the glasses, of course, and I can tell you they have evolved from the early paper format of yesteryear. I’m not suggesting you can wear them while walking the dog, but you could answer the door in them and no one will laugh.

A quick glance at the history of 3D cinema begins in the “golden age,” the period in the 50’s when Vincent Price made “House of Wax” and became the undisputed “King of 3D.” There was a bit of a revival in the eighties, with the aptly named film “Comin’ at Ya!” And the modern rebirth, began most famously with “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf,” both by Robert Zemeckis. Then “Avatar.” That’s my history of 3D cinema in four sentences.

The sale of those $4,000 televisions, of course, will come in the next few months when the kids discover that their DVD version of “Avatar” looks a little flat. Little Johnny or little Suzy will say “this sucks, mom” and off to mall they will go. I’m hoping that as they drive to the mall, mom will say: “you know, back in my day, ‘Avatar’ was called ‘Dances with Wolves.’ And a nice man named Kevin Costner won a mitt full of Oscars for telling exactly the same story set in American West.” At this point Johnny will say, “what are you talking about, mom? Drive faster.”

It appears that many of the billions generated by “Avatar” has come from the children. They are mad for it, they are intrigued, it moves them as few films have. And the puzzle is how? How did this film capture the imagination of the wee ones amid all the other choices inside and outside the theatre?

The answer is spiritual. Avatar presents a world infused with the spirit. Sacred seeds float around the protagonist, indicating some sort of portent. The will of the earth mother is interpreted by the clan’s leader and allows the story to continue. Unity in the natural world is such that the most fearsome beasts come to defend the planet from those who would create an open-pit mine.

In other words, Avatar creates a quasi-religion and a story that fits the only politics young people have, which is the environment. We think about the environment, they live it. We understand the issues, they don’t consider them “issues” at all. We see the need to balance a fragile ecosystem with a fragile economy, they don’t. Even evangelical Christians, notorious for ignoring this world for the sake of the next, have started to allow their young people to express a desire to save the planet. Call Avatar “The Big Chill” of the millennial generation. I predict it will define them the same way “Ferris Bueller's Day Off” defined my generation. Ouch.

I can see all the Celts are getting impatient, wondering when we’re gonna get to the good stuff, and I can say we’re here.

Every generation reaches for a common theme or a common way to express a longing that may or may not be obvious at the time. Every generation will create or recreate powerful myths or legends that remain true to the people who experience them. Enter St. Patrick. Patrick was a real person, who took up the missionary impulse four centuries after St. Paul, and brought faith to a foreign land. He reached the people by understanding indigenous customs and values, and by allowing the strength of the culture he found to remain. He transformed a society as few have, and on the way became legendary in the full sense of the word.

He may not have driven the snakes from Ireland. It’s unlikely that he used a three-leaf clover to teach the mystery of the Holy Trinity. It may not to be true that his walking stick took root in some places because it took so long to convince some people about the truth of our faith.

But it is very likely that he was the driving force behind the end to human sacrifice. He found a culture when the ritual murder of an unblemished young person was considered essential to satisfying the demands of various gods, and knew a good segue when he saw one. ‘You no longer need to end the life of one for the sake of many,’ Patrick said, ‘because the One True God has already witnessed his perfect son die for the sake of others, indeed for the sake of whole world.’

And so ended ritual sacrifice, exchanged for the breaking of bread and the pouring of wine. Patrick adapted the strength of one belief for another, and then he did it again, creating Christian communities, not along gender lines or some other division, but clans together, men and women, and all ages too. He took the strength of local tradition and added it to the tradition of the church, ensuring the name Patrick remains synonymous with Celtic Christianity and the Irish Church.

But Celtic is larger than Patrick, and Ninian and "the Venerable Bede, ” the first writer who tried to sort all this stuff out. Celtic become a touchstone, that through history has reemerged as needed and as the faith of a people required renewal. Ian Bradley, most famous for his book “The Celtic Way” also wrote a book called “Celtic Christianity: Making Myths and Chasing Dreams.” In it, he almost apologizes for deconstructing the various ways “Celtic” has returned to popular consciousness when needed, or when the conditions were right.

Bradley counts six distinct moments of “Celtic Christian revivalism” beginning with Bede, who created a contrast between fifth century purity in the church and eighth century corruption. Next, in the twelfth century it returned, in the same era that gave us Arthur and Camelot; then the Reformation, with Celtic Christianity set as a nascent version of British Protestantism; then an eighteenth century romantic view, tied to the rise of nationalism; then an early twentieth century revival through ecumenism and the Iona Movement; and finally, the revival we’re experiencing today.

Bradley points to several recurrent themes: Beginning with Bede, an ongoing attraction among non-Celtic people who see it as a purer version of Christianity than their own. It is prized for a simpler, more primitive mode, with a deeper spirituality. There is an element of tracing one’s spiritual roots, cutting through history and dogma to an earlier form. And there is a link to the natural world, with the sense that Celtic Christianity is closer to a pre-Christian regard for the earth, and finds a spiritual centre in creation. Having summarized what Celtic Christianity is and is not, he makes this wonderful summary:

Celtic Christianity has been a vehicle through which people have chased their dreams. In medieval times these were often dreams of fantastic voyages and epic quests. In more recent times they have been dreams of deeper spirituality, a gentler and ‘greener’ Christianity and simpler and more open church structures.*

At another important moment in the history of our faith, the days that followed the death of resurrection of Jesus, the Lord came to his disciples and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” It was not a complex message. Jesus didn’t say ‘go and set a good example in the vain hope that people will notice and decide to come to church.” He said “make disciples of all nations.”

And for Patrick, Ninian, Columba, David, and all the other Celtic saints this meant leaving the comfort and security of home and entering the world of the stranger, going to the nations that desperately needed the love of God and the grace of Jesus and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. It meant following the voice of God that said, “speak to the Irish” and “get up, your ship is ready.” It meant danger on land and on sea, and it meant an uncertain future for all the ones we don’t remember and cannot name.

If Patrick were here this morning, he would say “I was walking by the way, and saw that the nations are here, now. No longer,” he would say, “do you need to face a long sea voyage or walking miles of trail when the world has come to you, the very nations you need to reach are here in Weston, ready to meet Christ.” Wise one, that Patrick. The world has come to our doorstep, and where appropriate, and in the absence of another great religion, we have a duty to share the life-giving message of Jesus Christ, a message of compassion and love, of justice and mercy, the message of a world made new through the sacrifice of one for the many.

And he would say to all those 3D kids: “Jesus loved the environment too, he talked about the natural world every day.”

Patrick would love Weston, he would drive the snakes into Etobicoke, he would find clover on an untreated lawn, and he would see human need: the need for meaning, the need for understanding, and the need for God’s redeeming love. Amen.

*Ian Bradley, "Celtic Christianity: making myths and chasing dreams," Edinburgh University Press, 1999.


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