Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Essence

Henry Neufeld has posted briefly on Finding and Protecting the Essentials. There is probably a ton of stuff on this subject - essentials and Christianity - on the web ranging from the turgid to the polemical. (In my earlier days, I even wrote on it.) It can be a divisive subject. Perhaps that is why there are as many varieties of Christian denominations in North America as there are varieties of cheese in France. "Come ye out from among them and be separate. Touch nothing unclean." And so on.

I began to wonder though what I do regard as Essence - note the singular. And the capital. This morning there were 5 sermons from five lay women at the parish I used to attend. (Besides some other issues, I can't manage to sing the hymns in that hymn book without getting angry - but that is not the Essence).  My wife was #4 of 5 and she was also singing the alto in the Et in Unum from the B Minor Mass so I decided to skip 'my' church this morning and attend at St John the Divine.

The third sermon was on the creative process of sculpting and was based on the healing of the leper. You remember (Matthew 8:1 and parallel)

"Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." And he stretched out his hand, and touched him, saying, "I will; be clean." And immediately the leprosy left him. And he charged him to tell no one
On the creative process, she emphasized the need to wait and in that one word, she communicated waiting on God for the inspiration, the aha moment. After that, she said, there is available all the necessary time for construction and there is no hurry. About this healing, she touched on the beauty of the choice of Jesus in healing the leper, that act of election that I have had coming into my mind these past several months, the freedom of God to act, and the recognition of that freedom in the leper. (Not to mention touch.)

As she said these things, I thought of the essence for me: (that's free association on my part!).

Except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (John 6:26 ff). This is part of a poetic chiastic structure which you can see at this link.

Let's see if I can copy it across - yup it's readable...

Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 
    Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal.
        Then they said to him, "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." So they said to him, "Then what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" Jesus then said to them,
            "Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world." They said to him, "Lord, give us this bread always." 
                Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.
                    But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.
                        All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out.
                            For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.
                                The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, "I am the bread which came down from heaven." They said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, 'I have come down from heaven'?" Jesus answered them, "Do not murmur among yourselves. 
                            No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.'
                        Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that any one has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father.
                    Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.
                I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die.
            I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.
        The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me
    This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.
This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.

This is Essence to me - but it can go by many names and it happens by the choice of God, not by my argumentation. As he lives, so I live, come what may. But there are others who do not know him as I have come to know him in part and who do not even know his name, who have no theology of incarnation. He is able to draw them to himself also, without turgidity or polemics. So may it be that the church might not water itself down, but also that it might not engage in defending its essentials with polemics and unreadable prose.

The ark will not stumble.


Henry Neufeld said...

Interesting, though I think one might need a little unreadable prose to hold a denomination together. After all, what would a denomination be without unreadable prose?

Bob MacDonald said...

What holds us together? ...Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Forbearing one another - this is not unreadable prose, but it sure can be difficult. Some things I do not forbear for ever.

I of course after long years of struggle, find thee words of the Bible full of such glue - but equally there are things in the Bible that 'ain't necessarily so' as Sportin' Life was known to sing.

Bob MacDonald said...

Henry - no sooner had I read this than I thought - if we must try to stick together, there must be forces pulling us apart - then Rachel posted this -

Henry Neufeld said...

Thanks for that link, Bob. Worthwhile reading.