Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
‘Returning to God after God’
Difficulty, challenge, impossibility, faith. The passion of Jesus. Letting go, learning, reimagining, doubting and believing. The passion of God. Speaking forth, speaking up, silence, speaking out. The passionate way of freedom and justice. Real life in the Spirit. God be with you ...
Our readings for today trace a movement of faith. William Blake’s sketch of Job, his wife and his friends tells the story. Job seeks the God of comfort and justice. His friends try to help but can’t help blaming Job, the victim. Their theologies are rigid, their images of God fixed in place. Still, Job, with his wife, faces the difficulty, embraces even this opportunity for learning, for reimagining. In the name of freedom and justice, Job speaks. He says he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know where God is, who or why. To his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, this hardly seems theology at all. The final words of chapter 23 are remarkable. Job lets go a God he has once known in hope of a God who knows him.
The book of Job is complex and perplexing. These brief words are woefully inadequate to its theme of freedom and justice, and yet there’s something to this. Again and again, Job lets go a God he has known in hope of a God who knows him. Blake was one who read the book as charting a course from false to true faith. At book’s end, Job’s faith and speech are validated by God. His tormented passion is contrasted with the rational theologies of those who would comfort him. Job’s not knowing is preferred to their knowing.
Similarly, Psalm 22 moves from “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” to a surprising proclamation of hope in God, spanning generations. This hope’s concern, above all, is for justice. The song clears a space for justice as it renews desire for freedom as it freely expresses difficulty, pain, the experience of doubt, anguish and loss.
The movement is discernible in the Gospel, too.
A person eager for life approaches Jesus and is challenged to let go dependence on familiar security, namely wealth and property, that a new freedom might be experienced the freedom to receive “everlasting life” or love or the kindom. There are many words for the promise. The story is about letting go an idol, letting go what one knows or thinks is known, letting go the anxiety that wants to “do” heaven’s work or “build” God’s kingdom, that one might live differently. The invitation is to give away possessions and to follow the way of Jesus, which is a certain intimacy, freedom from fear, a way of living the impossible.
The story is political. It’s about class. And it’s also about religion. The invitation to love egalitarian and ecological, mutual and respectful love entails, always and already, a letting go. We let go a God we have fashioned or imagined in hope of a God who will refashion us and inspire our reimagining the world as a place for peace, for justice. It’s about giving up possessions that we might be possessed, repossessed, by a Spirit of love.
Philosopher of religion Richard Kearney has coined a term for this quality or movement of faith. He calls it anatheism. “Ana”, meaning after or again. “Theos”, God. Faith is a returning to God after God. It’s fitting that Jesus would pray from the cross the opening verse of Psalm 22. His passion, like the song, clears a space for justice as it renews desire for freedom as it freely expresses difficulty, pain, the experience of doubt, anguish and loss.
Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar Job, first of all relinquish faith in a prosperity doctrine that aligns wealth/health and blessing. In its place, comes something altogether more wonderful: the sheer dignity of hope, however passionately expressed, and the blessings of a world created wild and free.
Unlike Job, the wealthy seeker of life in Mark’s Gospel is unwilling to let go, and goes away downcast, a prisoner to both possessions and the conventions of prosperity doctrine. The alternative, we might surmise, seems all too wild, too free.
Jesus, however, lets go. Only in Mark do we see that “Jesus looked at the person with love”. And love does not control. Jesus lets go, that a chance might come again for the wealthy person, in hope of God’s kindom or commonwealth. And Jesus instructs his disciples regarding the wild freedom of God for whom nothing is impossible; in whose Spirit living the impossible is a new way of life with others in the world.
Let go and let God. Let go God and receive God. The high priest is the victim of religion and prosperity doctrine. The high priest is the lover with empathy for all. When we say that Jesus is the firstborn of God, the God after God, might we see this anew as an icon of love? When we profess our faith now, might we hear the Creed anew as affirmation of the impossible and invitation to receive life, without fear, wild and free? Amen.