Is Christianity A Progressive Faith?

5 May
John 15:1-8
Do you remember when sending a letter by post was not called ‘Snail mail’ and when a human being said ‘you’ve got mail’ they meant something in the mailbox (remember them)? Today the post box at the post office sends you an email to let you know there is mail waiting for you. Cars were once only powered by a petrol driven motor, now you can buy a car that runs on batteries – the Tesla has recently been released in Australia. Why some people would say that the only constant is change and hint that change is not always progress. I would suggest that humans are wired for change and progress. Even in their faith.
Christianity is a progressive faith. It is never stagnant nor regressive. It’s very essence is to move into life not into death.  Each action, comment and teaching of Jesus is about transformation and resurrection.
We do not, cannot, must not, stand still.
For many years my father worked in a vineyard. He worked in the cellar nurturing wine for the winemaker. His product was a growth industry. The grapes grew on vines that had been well pruned and cultured. Then the grapes found their way to crushers separating the skins from the juice and then the juice sat in large vats sitting on top of the skins for colour and taste. This was a  journey and process of transformation that began with the secateurs of the vineyard staff.
Jesus uses the very same image here and it is a positive image. This is not about punishment and reward. If you fail to bear fruit you will be pruned and left to fall barren to the ground. Pruning is an imager of encouraging and enhancing transformation. What is dead is let go, what is alive is encouraged to be more alive, more fruitful. The pruner looks for the signs of life and ensures that it is given all it needs to produce.
In Jesus the vineyard worker is interested in the here and now. What is going to bear fruit in this place and time. It is earthy realism. Life lived in the present world. That is the Christian faith. It is about bringing justice and peace, God’s dream for the world, into being right where we are.
Over the years Christianity has, like other religions, been focussed on the other world, heaven in what ever words used to describe it. Early Christians saw it as their duty to be martyred so as to go and be with the Jesus in heaven. For many this was the goal up until relatively recently in historical terms. For some fundamentalists this is still the goal. To go and be with Jesus as soon as practicable.
Unlike Christianity, Islam is other world focus. As a result of the strict adherence to the Quran, history stopped with the death of the Prophet. Therefore there is nothing to live for here. Everything is focussed on their understanding of heaven and of martyrdom. In this sense, Islam is not a progressive religion and will, without a major reformation always struggle to be one.
For Christians, faith is an embodied experience lived in the here and now. Incarnation is key to a disciples understanding of the world. Faith is not an escape but an invitation to live here & now, in & of people and creation for that is what God did in and through the life of Jesus. The incarnation of Christ values our humanity. Jesus became like us so we could become like God.
The idea of working out our salvation here on earth is that we become more and more God-like and less and less ego-like. It is not that our works save us, but that our works validate and authenticate our status as children of God. Our works give evidence to our faith. We are on the journey to becoming one with God, what Julian of Norwich calls –‘one-ing’. Our lives are combination of little deaths, transformations and resurrections every day.
We grow and change, live and die to experiences, make mistakes and endure failures to learn and grow. Thomas Merton suggests that the only person who is inconsistent is the person who is all was consistent, whose views never change, whose perspective on the world always stays the same. He suggests we should not trust such a person because they have never experienced life or have experienced life and failed to reflect, contemplate and process what they have experienced.
This is the process of the vineyard John has Jesus use here. Life, in all its joys and sadness, success and failures, slowly cuts away the dead wood in our lives to allow us to leave behind the false self of the ego and to discover the true self of God within us. Marcus Borg suggests that the word repentance refers to going beyond our mind, the mind we have at this moment.  This idea suggests that sin is in some way attached to how we see the world through our ego, that it is all about our self.
What was seen as the norm in the past no longer is because we have gone beyond the mind, the thinking we had then. The world is round, not flat, the world orbits the sun, not the other way around, slavery is wrong, women are to be treated the same as men and more show us we have repented and continue to do so.

The events of the last few days in Bali point to the fact that this process is continuing and needs to continue. Some 52 countries in the world, including the US practice the death penalty. Nowhere in Australia does but there is still such a statute on the books in NSW. How we treat others who are different to us and come to this country for refuge asks us to repent and go beyond the mind of fear and control.
A life lived in Christ:
·      Values past experience – builds on the past, is grateful for what has been done by  and the example of  Jesus
·      Focuses on the now – values self, others & the experience of love in the present moment
·      Welcomes the future, but lives fully not dies gradually, for it.
Each Sunday, in the Great Thanksgiving we remind ourselves of the mystery of our faith, which is not exactly a mystery. The so called mystery of faith reminds us that we are a people of the past, of the present and of the future, not as separate categories but as a whole.  God’s time or kairos breaks in on us, not in a linear or horizontal way, but vertically, cutting through all categories of experience at once. We know Christ has died to deal with the fear of death in all its forms, that Christ is risen and present giving life and resurrection now, and that he will come again to herald in God’s dream for the world, the just and peaceful realm of God.
Let us repent and take on the mind of the incarnated God who through the life and death on the Cross embodied the dream of God in this world. Amen

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