There is a quote from the introduction of Brian McLaren’s book, We Make the Road by Walking, on the cover of your bulletin:
What we all want is pretty simple, really. We want to be alive. To feel alive. Not just to exist but to thrive, to live out loud, walk tall, breathe free. We want to be less lonely, less exhausted, less conflicted or afraid. . .more awake, more grateful, more energized and purposeful. We capture this kind of mindful, overbrimming life in terms like well-being, shalom, blessedness, wholeness, harmony, life to the full, and aliveness.
I’m not sure that I agree completely with McLaren’s assessment of what we all want. I know some people who want safety, predictability, order, and some sense of control. How we understand Jesus—who we think he is or say he is—depends a lot on what we want.
I grew up in a church that taught its children a catechism, a series of questions and answers that were designed to teach the Christian faith to the uninitiated. It was a catechism for those who like order and safety.
Question: Who is God?
Answer: The creator of the universe.
Question: Who is Jesus?
Answer: The only son of God.
Question: Why were human beings made?
Answer: For the pleasure and glory of God.
Even as a child, I was dissatisfied with the simplicity of the answers. The answers to big questions seemed to fit into very small boxes. And for some people that works. Not for me. Many years later, the first question on my ordination exam was “What is your understanding of God?” I thought, “How many pages do I have?” Whole books have been written! If you can answer that question in a paragraph, your god is too small!
When Jesus asks his disciples who they say he is, the most creative response came from Peter, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” The term “Messiah” was one of those words that held a multitude of meanings in Jesus’ day. And to say the Jesus was the Son of the living God made room for God’s continuing interaction in the affairs of human beings. This was not the static construct that we have made it, but an imaginative dynamic whelmed with possibility. The disciples had experienced firsthand Jesus’ trust in God’s goodness and compassion—in action. They had tasted life in the Kingdom of God. They felt the electricity and energy that attracted crowds who listened in wonder to stories of a new way of living; about a God whose love reached every hopeless corner. When they heard Jesus talk about abundant life and eternal life, they knew he was talking about now, right now.
If you are one of the people that McLaren is talking about who really wants to feel alive, not just to exist but to thrive, to live out loud, walk tall, and breathe free, then this sermon series is for you. Along the way we will have to lay to rest some of the misperceptions, misinterpretations, and mistranslations we have accepted over time. I want to read a footnote from the introduction to We Make the Road by Walking about aliveness:
Zoein aionian, a Greek term in the New Testament, is often translated to English as “eternal life.” Sadly, that translation suggests “life after death” to most people and is equated with going to heaven rather than hell. The term means, literally, “life of the ages” (zoe—as in zoology; aionian—of the aeons). It should be understood in contrast to “life in this present age,” which could in turn be rendered “life in this economy” or “life in contemporary culture” or “life under the current regime.” My suspicion is that “true aliveness” is a good contemporary translation of the term. Luke (18:18-24) uses zoein aionian as a synonym for kingdom of God, and in the Gospel of John, kingdom of God seems to be rendered as life, eternal life, and life to the full. In Paul’s writings, terms like fullness, freedom, new life, life in the Spirit, and life in Christ seem closely related if not synonymous. All point to an excelling quality, intensity, expansiveness, meaningfulness, fruitfulness, and depth of life.
So we are going to undertake a new catechesis together. We are going to learn the faith together systematically and in a richer, deeper, more expansive way than I learned in Sunday school. We are going to use the best research available with McLaren as our inquisitive guide. I’ll be honest. The questions and answers I learned as a child did not change my life, but allowed me to live comfortably within the status quo of my culture. Learning to read the gospels without the interpretation of the dominant culture (as it has been for centuries) has changed everything for me. I’m excited to share this journey with you. Your stories are alive with the powerful presence of God—some so powerful and incredible that we hesitate to share them. We’re going to share our stories this year and learn the wonder of the living God. And we’re going to look for deeper meaning.
As human beings we are always seeking meaning—for the events in our lives and for our big questions. Humanity’s big questions have led those who have come before us to tell stories in an attempt to answer those questions. The stories we encounter in scripture are our faith ancestors’ responses to questions such as:
Why are we here?
What’s wrong with the world?
What’s our role, our task, our purpose?
What is a good life?
Is there meaning and hope?
What dangers should we guard against?
What treasures should we seek?
How will we answer those questions in our time? What have the events in our lives, our stories, taught us about the living God? What give us life? What makes us alive at the center of our being? Less lonely? More courageous? What gives us hope and purpose? What enables each of us to have a life that is mindful, overbrimming, full of well-being, blessedness, wholeness, harmony, and aliveness?
We’re going to begin our faith journey, our catechesis of wonder, with being alive in the story of creation. Hands in the good earth; feet on a gently rolling deck; wind in your face; sun on your back; eyes to the stars—what does it mean to be alive in creation? Who is this creating God? And what does it mean to be fully human, alive at the center? Cindy Haverkamp is going to start us off next Sunday and Bob Ellis will follow on September 7. I’ll pick up the third week when Steve and I return from vacation. Steve and I are going to spend the first week of our vacation exploring the created world with our two year old grandson—seeing fresh through his delighted eyes. I hope you will find a fresh lens to see the world over the next few months.
I can hardly wait to share this journey with you!