Shuck and Jive
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
"For Simon and the others, "resurrection" was simply one way of articulating their conviction that God had vindicated Jesus and was coming soon to dwell among this people. And this interpretation would have held true for the early believers even if an exhumation of Jesus' grave had discovered his rotting flesh and bones." --Thomas Sheehan
Easter is central to Christian conviction. The earliest affirmation of faith was "Jesus is Lord." In fact, that statement is the only thing we ask those who join the church to affirm. "Is Jesus your Lord and Savior?" We let individuals interpret that however they can for themselves.
I affirm it wholeheartedly. My life's joyful duty will be to unfold what that affirmation means and how it calls me to live. You can read one of my previous posts that suggests some of what that affirmation means to me at this point in my life. But that isn't the point.
The point I wish to make today is that we have lost so many people to what John Shelby Spong coined "The Church Alumni Association" largely because literalism has entombed the faith with simplistic and incredible dogma. By literalizing the Gospel, we have robbed it of its power. As a minister I find myself helping people get rid of their beliefs because their beliefs are not helping them. In fact, their beliefs inhibit growth. To shake off simplistic dogma you have to rattle the cage.
I rattled the cage with my first post on this blog, What If We Found the Body of Jesus? My point was to raise the question, what is Resurrection? What did the earliest followers of Jesus mean when they said, "Jesus is Lord"? Thomas Sheehan, professor at Stanford University, wrote an article entitled: "How Did Easter Originally Happen? A Hypothesis." In this article, Sheehan offers a sidebar entitled: Chronology of Jesus' Alleged Easter Activities. All he does is to take the accounts regarding the post-resurrection stories of Jesus in the gospels and put them in order. It is impossible to do, because the accounts contradict each other. For instance, when exactly did Jesus ascend?
The point of picking at these things is not to destroy people's faith. Literalism has already done that. Thinking people have been avoiding the church in droves. Others doggedly hang in there, hoping that the preacher might say something that makes sense. They put up with the simplistic banter because they like the music and the community. Yet others are interested in growing but are afraid of being ostracized by the "true believers". They read books by Elaine Pagels and Marcus Borg in secret.
I find that to be a sad state of affairs. It is sad because I believe in spiritual communities. I believe in what Jesus called the domain of God. I believe we need faith in a god who is big enough to enable us to grow and to respond to the needs of Earth and Earth's inhabitants.
I find it heartening that there is a progressive movement taking shape both within and without established churches. The Center for Progressive Christianity is one such expression. Our congregation has affiliated with it. If you are curious what progressive means, you can read these eight points. This is not a "creed" of course, more of a spiritual orientation (whatever that means!) They are not meant to be dogmatic or to replace the particular historic confessions of any church.
When Hal Taussig and Perry Kea come to our congregation in November, we will be talking about the power of early faith communities and progressive movements in our time. Have you registered yet?
A question to ponder: As you reflect on Sheehan's article, what is Easter faith in light of the issues we have been discussing (energy, economy, ecology, empire, entitlement, exceptionalism, evolution, cosmology, war, etc.)?
Posted by John Shuck at 9/20/2006 05:03:00 AM