Posted by on Sep 9, 2018

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Has Created, and is Creating—Do We Imagine God as Completeness or Potential?

Isaiah 35:1-10, Psalm 125, James 2:1-17, Mark 7:24-37

Sunday, September 9, 2018 – The First Sunday in the Season of Creation/Emergence

Knox-Metropolitan United Church – Regina, SK – Treaty 4 Territory

Cameron Fraser

“Ha—yom harat olam” — “Today is the birthday of the world.”

As the sun sets this evening, Rosh Hashanah begins, and our Jewish siblings enter into a time of introspection and repentance preparing for Yom Kippor 10 days later. The two days of Rosh Hashanah are a commemoration, not only of a new year, but of the creation of the world.

“Ha—yom harat olam” — “Today is the birthday of the world.”

I have also read this phrase, which is repeated throughout the liturgy for Rosh Hashanah as — today is a day of gestation.

Something is growing within, we do not yet know what, but we know something is growing and we prepare for its emergence.

Rabbi Sharon Brous is the founder and leader of Ikar which means “core”, a thriving Jewish Community in Los Angeles centred around the idea of the meeting together of spiritual engagement and social justice — prayer, ritual and tradition meets with contemporary questions and moral and ethical imagination and engagement.

She speaks of this time of year like this…

And Rosh Hashanah is this moment in which we celebrate the creation of the world, which meant nothing to me, you know, when I heard that growing up…But what does mean something to me is the fact that each one of us participates in creation every single day, when we make a choice about how we want to live in the world…there are ways in religious practice, in which every single day, we strive to kind of identify the things that need to be transformed in our lives…Are you the mother you want to be? Are you the friend you want to be? Are you the human being that you want to be in the world?’

…each one of us participates in creation every single day, when we make a choice about how we want to live in the world…

“Ha—yom harat olam” — “Today is the birthday of the world. Today a new world is preparing to be born…”

Hearing these words while preparing this week brought to mind the line in the New Creed of the United Church of Canada,

We believe in God: who has created and is creating.

I am not sure how closely those who attend scour the bulletins that we hand out during services here but perhaps you have noticed that we list two different ways of tracking time, there is listed the month, day, year, and time of day, but listed above that is another way of tracking time, listing today as the 16th Sunday after Pentecost The Season of Creation & Emergence.

The Christian Tradition, as has Judaism (which today mark Rosh Hashanah), has since its emergence marked the passage of time according to the Liturgy, the worship and prayer of the church — we call it the Liturgical Calendar, and in this space we mark the passage of Seasons with the changing of banners, art and other decoration in our spaces, as well as with changing elements in the services themselves.

If you happened to be here last week, you would have seen red banners and cloths where today you see green, as we move from the Season of Pentecost to the Season after Pentecost which is in many mainline churches now becoming known as the Season of Creation or the Season of Emergence.

There is a lot to say about the practice of marking these seasons or special days, and I would suggest it goes well beyond the need to change the decor periodically, and even that it goes beyond tradition or “the way things should be done” — another perhaps we might explore how the Christian Tradition cycles through the seasons of it’s Liturgy, what are the different seasons and special days that are marked, and we could in another reflection ponder what effect that has (or could have when practiced thoughtfully and with intention).

For now might I suggest that we might view these changes as invitations, that as these seasons change we are invited to ponder and pray in different ways, and that the genius of tradition, whichever tradition that may be is to usher us as human beings into ways of thinking and being that we might not otherwise enter.

So today then, is the first Sunday of the Season of Creation or the Season of Emergence, a modern development within the Tradition which has a two-fold invitation. One is to bring to mind how worship, prayer and faith and the natural (or created) world are connected and what implications the Christian way might have on our personal and communal approach to issues and questions of environmental ethics.

The other invitation is a bit more abstract and I believe connected to that core theme of Rosh Hashanah, that Rabbi Sharon Brous lifts — a time to ponder that which is being created or we might say emerging, within ourselves, within our relationships, within our communities/societies, and within our world — and the connected invitation, I might suggest is to ponder how we are or are not actively engaging in this.

Our readings that we heard this morning offer, I believe, an interesting and perhaps paradoxical space from which to ponder this. The Hebrew Scriptures we heard and spoke offer two different images, from the Psalm, a mountain “which cannot be moved”, and from Isaiah a desert which shall become fertile and lush and upon which be a highway where those who have known sorrow and sighing shall know instead joy and relief.

Our reading from the Gospels (the narrative accounts of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth) offers the story of two healings, of which I’d like to focus on the first.

While these two episodes are placed quite close together in the narrative, the geographic locations through which Jesus is travelling cover a lot of ground, really moving from one end of Jewish Palestine to the other and back again — and I bring this detail up to allow us to place ourselves in the shoes of those first hearing these stories who would be familiar with these place names — so they’re picturing a cross-county journey which while only about 40km either way is a pretty big deal when travelling on foot, and also worth noting that it is moving around the outskirts among the non-Israelite communities.

Now I would suggest that this is significant because in this time and place, the people of Israel have for many generations been living under Roman occupation and are in a moment of deep unrest and one of the major narratives about this is that the presence non-Israelite converts to Judaism, and the inter-relationships between these communities is to blame — that the Roman conquest was divine judgement, and that if only the community became more ethnically pure, they would be delivered.

So Jesus, intentionally ministering in these areas is controversial and one of the threats his movement (and the story of this movement) represents to hardliners is the emergence of a Jewish community (not yet a Jewish religion) that is intentionally expansive beyond ethnic boundaries perviously considered insurmountable.

But as the narrative of this first episode suggests, even Jesus shows reluctance. The text overtly notes that the woman who approaches him is a Gentile (a non-Jew) of Syrophoenician origin (which means from the region in which this is happening) whose daughter is tormented by demons. Though unnamed in the text itself, by the second century this woman had become known as Justa.

The exchange happens quickly but the implications are clear as Jesus responds:‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’

Justa, undeterred by Jesus clear show of prejudice, replies: ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ And I would suggest that this is not her accepting the de-humanizing moniker but in fact challenging it and insisting on her (and her daughter’s) fundamental humanity.

Jesus relents, stands corrected, and the child is healed — although Jesus could have perhaps also apologized and vowed to learn from this interaction, but maybe that is in the unabridged version.

Among so many others, I think this story invites the question — does God change?

Or as we put it in the title, Do We Imagine God as Completeness or Potential?

Is God like the mountain of the Psalm or the highway of Isaiah — promised but awaiting realization.

When we pray Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done to what are we appealing?

When we approach God (and that phrase itself is worth exploring and unpacking) are we approaching that which is static, immutable, or that which is ever evolving, dynamic.

When God names Godself in the Hebrew text as I am some have taken that to mean solidity, I am that which I am, while many Rabbis and then Christian mystics have picked this up as a declaration of dive potential — I will be.

For divine potential can I believe, nurture within a vital discontent, and since it is unrealized potential rather than unmet expectation it can move us beyond and call us further. It does however require I would suggest a fine balance as we tread ground between complacency and self-condemnation, acknowledging at once our own capacity with of mind and body and spirit to do extraordinary things in the world while also naming and owning our limits. I think this paradox is why the soul, the moral imagination, is best crafted in community in conversation and companionship, helping us navigate these tensions.

As we continue exploring this season of emergence, next week we will pick up the oft criticized phrase — thoughts and prayers — and ponder it from within this perspective.

As our siblings in Shul and Synagogue this evening declare “Ha—yom harat olam” — “Today is the birthday of the world” and as we enter into the Season called Creation or Emergence, as we enter a new school year, a new year of church programming, as we as a community of Knox-Metropolitan United Church ponder what it means to be there when the future comes, may we be a place where all who come might ponder — as I live my life, in all its complexity, as I seek to navigate this world, sometimes confusing, paradoxical with new demands, calls and questions, what is the right next step — not the full road map, but a spaciousness for the spirit to listen and engage, and find the strength and if needed, the companionship, to make that step, be it big or small…held by or perhaps tapped into divine potentiality.

We believe in God: who has created and is creating.

“Ha—yom harat olam” — “Today is the birthday of the world.”

And in life, in death, in life beyond death.

God is with us. We are not alone.