The other week a friend who was coming over for dinner said I am bringing over someone you will really get on with as he is a radical Christian. My response was I doubt it and oh, no. As soon as I hear the word radical and Christian I know there will be dietary requirements and a boring evening feeling worthy and conversations around politics and causes. Now when a friend says to me I am bringing someone over but they are really naughty, you know you are going to have a good night. That is the theology of this sermon in a nutshell and why we need to develop a theology of the ascension.
In a previous job I knew a Vicar who lived in an authentic and naughty way. Sometimes people would knock his door unexpectedly and often people he didn’t want to waste his afternoon talking too: like Mormons and Jehovah witnesses. So as he would be wearing his dog collar he felt he had to invite them in, making them comfortable in the best room he would leave and fetch some cakes or biscuits, then leave the room again. But never come back. Gradually the guests would feel more and more uncomfortable and get up and leave. As they walked through the hall hidden by the coat stand with a hat on his head was the vicar who would then jump out at them. In his defence he felt why have a boring conversation which both parties would forget, this event they would never forgot. Sometimes he had to wait patiently up to an hour or more hidden but the reaction he felt was always worth it, screaming visitors, after receiving a parish magazine would walk out shaken never to return again.
Last sermon in this series (Why truth is never true) was very philosophical and I promise that this week’s bit will be over in a minute. Last time we explained that Modernity or reformation and the enlightenment gave birth to liberalism in various models critical, evangelical and catholic. That my belief that these variations are far away from what Christianity intended to be and that post-modernity gives us a chance of reigniting the views of the Jesus and the early church. They might have been partially helpful views but they put too much emphasis on the abilities of humanity and not enough on divine action. Post modernity gives us a change to address that balance.
For hundreds of years, right up to the second world war, humanity was gaining confidence, with the aid of science in its various forms we believed that it was our right to understand that we had the possibility under our own individual effort to understand. And then reality hit, questions were raised, science has no more answers than anyone else, just answers to the questions it decides to set (Thomas Kuhn, Michel Polyani etc) Even the power of language was finally defeated, that language/texts may never be understandable or at least in the way the author intended (Derrida, Levi-strauss, Baudrillard).
Now when we mention the word Post-modern, we tend to switch off or think it is a negative term. Well I quite like it and always found it cute and cuddly. Especially when it smiles.
Postmodern commonly is seen as stating that there is no objective truth, everything is relative, why bother, life is meaningless blah, blah. Sartre’s existentialism or Nietzsche etc. hyper critical post modernism.
There is another wing of post-moderism: positive and funny. The message is we possibly can understand but we cant not depend on own own individual strength and will. There has to be a helper (Mikhail Bahktin, Slavoj Zizek). We would argue the holy spirit through ascension. As a consequence of realizing that we cannot do it on our own means we take ourselves less seriously and have a laugh. Claude Simeon a French novelist thought it would be fun to write a novel without punctuation imagine no full stops. I tried to read his most ambitious novel triptych which was three novels intermingled without punctuation. Oh what japes!
In the gospel passages we often see the disciples asking questions and getting it wrong. Now you think writing a biography some years after the event they could have written it without dropping the disciples in it every time. But it reads so realistically, this are real people who are not afraid to be honest with their friend and ask the real questions however dumb, to live true to themselves/authentically.
Now the question: the church we now have is it as authentic as the gathering of disciples around Jesus. Are we all capabale of acting naturally and asking the questions or pursuing the desires that are true to us?
I our daily it is so easy to choose to spend all our time with the same type of people, with the same fashions, ideas, humour. But church should be the one place where we have a chance of spending it with the greatest variety of people. And we must be on our guard to not suppress other types then we can all live true to ourselves, authentically, and one test is are people allowed to be naughty at St. John’s if not then we are becoming bland.
I was in a nightclub the other night with some clergy friends and some students approached us and asked us what the secret was. That although they didn’t want to be Christians they were always amazed at how Christians were always ahead of fashion and dressed so creatively, were at every party, leading by example of how to have a fun time, life and soul and were such a laugh to be around. So wild you Christians, I wish I could be like them….. Compare Jesus image with the current image of church life.
To be authentic and naughty we need to learn to live like Jesus. That is not to grow a beard are act sweetly like the Sunday school painting, but Jesus reflects back to us the responsibility to live fully in the way which is unique to us. Children loved Jesus they were drawn to him. Children are drawn to people who are centred, balance and are living true to themselves, authentically.
Are we called to behave nicely? Are we called to be behaved boringly? Well yes some of us are but the church is a variety and so not all will called to act like that. Which behaviour is nice?
Illustration: Alexandra Fraser mop and covering canvas. Bad students, just told nice things, keep it up.
Children are naughty, yes I am using that word, but often it is not that they are determined to do something wrong but that they are inquisitive, I wonder what will happen if I do this … Whoops! They are living authentically.
Two wings of the church: the nice polite wing, and the radical earnest wing, and both are boring company. Beware that Christianity should not be driven by one set of personality types.
So often in life these days we can choose to spend all time with the same type of people, church is one place where we have a chance of spending it with variety. And we must be on our guard to not suppress other types then we can all live true to ourselves , authentically, and one test is are people allowed to be naughty at St. John’s if not then we are becoming bland.
I you are shy and cautious, be shy and cautious to the full. But if you like to be a bit edgy or naughty, go for it!