My faith system, Overriding Storyline, Election & Following Ones Heart
A sermon given by Andre de Groot at Cityside 25 March 07
Everything I'm about to say, you'll already know. If you don't already know it, it must be something useless anyway. So my challenge is to keep your attention for the next fifty minutes.
I started reading the bible before I started going to church, . This was when I was little. I was little.... a long long time ago. Why I started reading the bible, I don't really know.
Then during my teenage years I started going to church. There were two basic Christian schemes I was taught:
The “thanks to Jesus I get to go to heaven instead of hell” scheme.
The personal relationship with Jesus scheme. Jesus can be our best friend. Alas I am a male. “Jesus as my best friend” doesn't make sense to males.
Then in my final year of high school I got introduced to another scheme. In this scheme Jesus cares about the hurting people in society. In this scheme, Jesus true followers lead lives of costly love for the social outcasts of society.
With these three different schemes rolling about in the big void that is within my head, I was able to start seeing manifold different ways that the same bible passages could be interpreted. So in my mind I was confused. And I didn't have any super-spiritual ways of hearing from God, the kind that pastors have. This added to my lostness. Confusion. Shear discombobulation.
The way forward for me has been learning more about the storyline of the bible and the culture of Jesus's day and what his message would have meant to his listeners. This is freely debateable. Alas super-spiritual means aren't necessary for this way. Instead all I have needed is to find one or two good authers and be seduced by their such great sounding arguments.
This has helped me regain coherency in what I beleive. I see the major storyline of the bible as thus: God makes the world. Tis good. Then things go wrong. Very wrong. So God hatches a plan to save the Universe. He will have a special people to be a blessing to the world. These special people of his don't so much volunteer but are rather volunteered by God.
Then his special people, Israel, go wrong. So then God does something to fix Israel and the whole big bad world. His plan is to send Jesus. Jesus defeats sin, death and Satan and makes a new special people of God. After Jesus dies, Jesus is proclaimed as ruler of the entire world. He is proclaimed this in Rome, where there is already a ruler of the entire world. Jesus new special people of God can have their hearts transformed by God's holy spirit so that what they want is what God wants them to want, so that their desires are what God wants them to desire and they can now be God's solution to the world through following their now good desires.
As to what is so different this time round, with Jesus' followers being a new people of God, compared to Israel of old, three things come to my mind-
1.Jesus re-schemes what is wrong with this world as being the problem of sin within oneself and the way forward is through living out love rather than attacking the 'other'
2.The victory that occurs in Jesus death and ressurection. There is victory over sin, death, Satan. This victory is beyond the scope of my oration this morning.
3.That the holy spirit comes to transform hearts and minds, so that the law is written on hearts. Being God's special people then becomes about listening to one's own renewed heart.
In the storyline, Abraham and his descendants were to be God's special people to fix the world. While you can argue that Abraham chose to be one of God's 'Special People', his sons Isaac and Ishmael were born into it. They didn't have any choice. The same with every other one of their descendants. They were God's special people, who were meant to be God's people to fix this place, not because they wanted to, but because they were born into it.
In my reading of the bible, God chooses people to fix things whether they like it or not. This idea of chosen people seems totally unfair if the point of being one of God's special people is that you get to be blessed and live nice upper middle class Jewish lifestyles, driving 3.7 litre SUVs and flying business class. But if the point of being God's specially chosen people is for the benefit of “other” shock horror people, then it becomes a bit more okay. Aren't “Other” people scarry.
To illustrate the total unfairness of someone being special, lets just imagine the hypothetical situation that one of our congregation had talent – only one person, because we don't want our hypothetical situation to get too implausible. If this person used their amazing talents just to get themselves a handsome husband, flash jewellery and a flash house, then it would be time to lynch them. But if they used their talents for the good of others, then their existence would be tolerated –but only just - and we wouldn't get to lynch them. I actually believe that in the real world some people are better at some things than others. Wow. What a bold statement.
This idea of special people who have a responsibility for others seems to me so obviously true in the field of work, sport and even other realms of life. You all know people who think they are the world's greatest gift to humankind. In my reading special talented chosen people is a key theme of the bible. What is ironic is that in the storyline of the bible the Jewish people that do the best at being a blessing to the world' do so after being forced to live in exile. There is the arrogrant brat Joseph, who becomes a thoroghly nice guy after his brothers sell him as a slave. He becomes a chief bureaucrat, as does Daniel in Babylon and Esther's uncle Mordecai.
This sense of duty to save the world can become septic. Saving the world can become septic if one is trying to find out how to save the world by hearing from God detailed instructions on how to go about doing this. Listening to God for everyone little decsion. Your a faithless ignorantee if you don't try living this way.
And how do we know that you're meant to hear from God for every little decision? Think of the most perfect God ever. God must be like this. God just must. Great reasoning isn't it. This God will tell us everything we ever want to know. Because that is how our bestest God is. It comes across as that we should stop listening to ourselves and try to find a voice that one can't recognize.
One point I remember from Mark Strom, the Principal of the Bible College of New Zealand, whose point I shall now make a mongrel of, is that many people in the Graeco Roman world would consult oracles and fortune tellers for every decision big and small. What Mark then said was that part of the freedom that Jesus brought was the freedom to not need to consult oracles and fortune tellers for every decision in life. That this was the superstition that Jesus was freeing us from. But it has crept back into contemporary christianity in the form of 'listening to God'.
It makes people lose confidence in themselves and wrecks their psyches. Then as confused wrecks, these people burn themselves out doing what other people tell them they should be doing, but doing so in a tired manner.
One idea that I have been playing with over the last couple years is the idea of learning to listen to ones own heart. That as followers of Jesus, God's Spirit is able to change our hearts and minds so that what we desire is that which God wants us to desire. Then we need to learn to listen to our hearts. Passages backing me up here are Psalm 40, Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 11, Ezek 36 & Hebrews 8. If the Christian walk becomes about listening to oneself, then being God's special chosen people is no longer a crushing responsibility.
That is where I am in my thinking at the moment. I have found ways of understanding the Bible, Jesus and God that are coherent, engaging and that I can trust, through learning about the storyline of the bible and its context. My following Jesus requires learning to follow my heart and mind.
With emotions being the feeling one feels at a particular time, emotions can mislead, because emotions are shortsighted, wanting what the heart wants but often either not knowing how to get what the heart wants, trying to get what the heart wants the wrong way, or unable to see far enough ahead. Emotions want what the heart wants, but are often blind and stupid. But if you can learn to follow the heart, with your emotions alive, that is the only way to harness the passion and lifefullness that emotions bring.
The heart can know when something is not right even if the conscious mind won't admit it. And as such ignoring the heart leads to chronic problems.
One possible criticism of what I have outlined is that: if my spirituality I have just expressed consists of just learning to listen to mself, then it becomes something where God is not necessary and its just a humanistic guide, effectively selling out to a self-help obsessed society.
Hmmmm. Maybe I should have tried to think up a response to this accusation.
My scheme I have outlined relies upon the holy spirit that dwells within, that transforms our hearts.
Spiritual displines such as prayer, fasting and meditation are potent catalysts for the transformation of our hearts.
My most cherished difference is that our renewed hearts then want us to do things that are for the benefit of other people without being of any benefit to ourselves, with motives than can no longer be traced back to selfishness.
That we need to learn to follow our hearts, I had to spend three years in Hamilton to realise this. The friends that I made there all ended up leaving for better places, like Gisbourne. I was in a job where I was going nowhere, that didn't suit me, and where I was wasting my talents. I needed to take control of my life. Take ownership of my life. I now no longer try to justify my own lack of initiative as some kind of pious waiting for God to do things for me.
I am learning to trust myself more and use my own intuition, and search for areas where I can do the things that I am good at doing.
Anything that I want to be able to do, I am able to find places where I can learn how to do it.
I am still doing things that most people do not have the patience for, such as living with people that are socially excluded. I can do so out of who I am and who I know God to be, with God's spirit working on my heart, for which spiritual disciplines are helpful.
In my work I also do things that many people don't have patience for, such as number crunching, using all the maths that others learnt at high school but haven't used since. This way I can work on large concrete sculptures for everyone to see. Beautiful concrete bridges. As to how my beautiful concrete sculptures fit in with global warming and Peak Oil, well in that respect I remain a man of contradictions. Yesterday I drove my electric scooter to a Engineers for Social Responsibility conference on Peak Oil.
Peace to all of you. Shalom.