Sunday, January 05, 2014

Epiphany/Christmas 2

Ephesians 1
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he[a] predestined us for adoption to sonship[b] through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he[c] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

The ninth grade was a confusing time.

First, we were introduced to a certain Scottish play I shall not name, and a prophecy, that I am reluctant to describe, delivered by three characters, I hesitate to list. Their role is to guide or deceive a certain general in the army of King Duncan: to ensure he embrace his destiny and become king himself.

“Fair is foul, and foul is fair,” they say, “Hover through the fog and filthy air.” The three, it is said, are describing the moral confusion that reigns throughout the play, as would be the case in any drama that describes regicide and the result.

And just when I had come to terms with “double, double toil and trouble,” my teachers decided to introduce the fates of ancient Greece: One that spins, one that measures, and one that cuts your thread at the appointed length. It was no wonder that I hesitated to get on the bus in the morning, uncertain what otherworldly suggestion would be fed my fourteen year-old mind next.

Did I mention Prometheus (made into liver pate), Sisyphus (big rock means big trouble) and Narcissus (mirrors that kill)? Maybe it was a Newmarket thing, trying to make us simple rural folk more sophisticated, or maybe it was a province-wide effort to help us find our inner pagan. Either way, it didn’t work: it seems the fates led to me Weston, to this pulpit, to preach.

St. Paul had some thoughts in this whole question of our destiny, and he shared them in Ephesians 1:

For God chose us—before the creation of the world—to be holy and blameless in God’s sight. In love, God predestined us for adoption as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ, in accordance with God’s pleasure and will.

And while we were chosen holy and blameless, we know what happened instead: We found our inner Macbeth and followed the wrong path to disobedience. But Paul has an answer for this too, an answer that follows our adoption as children of God:

In Jesus, we have redemption through his blood—the forgiveness of sins—in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that God lavished on us.

We were made, adopted and redeemed. It was meant to be: we were predestined to live as God’s grateful children, made and remade in God’s image, adopted to be brothers and sisters to Christ who redeems us and sets us free. Seems almost self-evident, but we continually push back as hard as we can.

First, we seem to love those three fates, and the idea that there is something or someone external to ourselves that is ultimately in control of what happens to us. We hear it from the non-religious side (“it was fate that we met”) or from the religious side (“it was God’s will”). The result from either side is to reduce or deny our involvement in the unfolding of events, or the essential randomness that marks much of human living.

If we focus (appropriately) on the religious side, we need to back up a bit and look at some divine legislation that limits to the extent to which God can act. I know it seems counter-intuitive when we like to think we worship an all-powerful God, but God has placed some important limits on God’s own power. With these limits in mind, it is impossible to speak with any conviction that God wills the things we would like to think God wills.

The first important bit of legislation is recorded when God says to Adam “you are free to eat any fruit of the garden except that one over there.” Well, that was a mistake, since free is free and as soon as you say free it generally means completely free as the story ultimately records. So the first limit on God is our free will, something that seems to reinforce our godlike attributes, being made on God’s image.

The second, and the most difficult piece of legislation is our mortality, something that comes as a direct result of the freedom we were just given in the garden. The first humans are disobedient, and that disobedience results in hard work, painful childbirth, something about snakes, and the pronouncement that “you are dust, and to the dust you shall return.” We have come to learn that we can pray for an end to suffering, but we cannot ask to avoid death, since our mortality is governed by this second rule.

The third, again in Genesis, comes with the rainbow promise in chapter nine. ‘Never again,’ God says, ‘shall I destroy the earth.’ Full stop. Assuming the maker of Heaven and Earth has the power to undo creation, we live with the certainty that God is now governed by God’s own rule to never again destroy the earth.

So there are three examples of limits to God’s power, and I am sure there are more. But the one that remains the powerful counter-argument to everything I learned about fate in grade nine is free will. But before I say more, I think it might be time to quote Agent Smith:

“Did you know [Morpheus] that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world, where none suffered, where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster. No one would accept the program, entire crops were lost.”

The authors of this bit of wisdom are the Wachowski’s and the film, of course, is The Matrix. And other than revealing my inner geek, it also reveals the idea that even if God intended to create a perfect and perfectly ordered world, it wasn’t going to work so long as we had free will. Even if God intended to create a perfect and perfectly ordered world, as soon as you add humans the whole thing goes off the rails.

Jonathan Haidt, author of the book we looked at back in the fall, argues that we have evolved into people who can overcome much of our own nature, but not all. He says “we humans have a dual nature—we are selfish primates who long to be a part of something larger and nobler than ourselves. We are 90 percent chimp and 10 percent bee.”

During my chimp times, grooming and self-grooming, trying to get a little more banana than the lady chimp I share my cage with, I am governed by my need and the desire to get what I want. During my bee times, I am governed by the needs of the whole, the hive-mind that thinks higher thoughts and only seeks what’s best for the other bees. But it’s about 90-10. I like bananas.

But God made me this way: a clever chimp, mostly evolved into a human, and trying to be a bee at the same time: so that all of us can be more than cautionary tales that follow a continuous dose of free will. Luckily we are made, adopted and redeemed, and it’s the last part that will carry the day.

Rather than blame the fates, or Flip Wilson (“The devil made me do it”) we are only left with ourselves. We had a great start, we had everything we needed to live and live well, but we could choose. And in choosing, we rejected the perfection set before us (it was a disaster, no one would accept the program) and went our own way.

Our inner chimp ruled the day, and still does, except that God gave us some bee nature and adopted us and named us ‘children of God,’ sisters and brothers of Jesus, and even a little less than angels according to the psalmist.

In the end, we were saved by grace, not on a whim, but by Jesus’ death on the cross:

In Jesus we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that God lavished on us.

It could have ended badly for us. Maybe there is a heavenly notwithstanding clause that allows God to overturn laws that don’t work anymore, laws that limit God’s power to seek vengeance for the death of God’s own son. But this didn’t happen, and if there is a notwithstanding clause, God didn’t use it: instead the very act of seeking God’s destruction was the means by which we are redeemed, forgiven, and lavished with grace.

May God help us understand this grace, to take it’s measure, and to share the Good News of this grace with everyone we meet. Amen.


Post a Comment

<< Home