Monday, June 11, 2012

Towards a Theology of the Cloud

Today’s Gospel focuses on a time when Jesus’ family thinks he’s  really lost it. He’s doing things everyone knows you can’t do, and he’s going well beyond the local rules: so his family, his mother and brothers (Luke adds his sisters as well), are trying to bring back him home because he’s simply getting too big for his boots.

Astonished is the word that shows up a lot in Mark’s Gospel; Jesus, the disciples, the crowds, everybody gets astonished by what’s happening here; the local boy making good way beyond expectation: teaching with authority, casting out demons, healing the sick, preaching good news, even pardoning sinners! It’s almost unbelievable, and the people who know him best, his own family and the home town folk, are saying, this boy is getting above himself.

But what happens when you get above yourself? What happens when you see the horizon is higher, that life goes farther, that love comes closer than you ever knew?

This is a universal question. Some years ago a teacher in the Zen Buddhist tradition was asked if he could encapsulate his wisdom in two words, He was quiet for a moment, and then he answered, “Things change!” There’s a lot there, things do change.

Do you remember when computers were really big? In 1965, when I was in University, a friend used to spend one night a week playing chess with a computer that was as big as a room. Now I have a computer I can lift with one hand and an iPad that I can carry with three or four fingers and a phone that may very well be smarter than I am, but, as long as I remember the passwords, I am all right with that.

But things do change, and technology’s gone so far in such a short time! From the 1930s to the 1980s my father was a printer and typographer in California. He used to give tours of our small printing business to school kids, asking their names, tapping the keys and letting them watch as the machine manufactured a line of type with their name flashing in silver metal which he would proudly present to them.

And when computer typesetting came in the late 1970s he told me they could never match a well trained typographer and a fast linotype. Now when I play with my laptop, carefully adjusting the relationship between letter and word and page, between dark ink and light space, I think he would be very happy to see how wrong he was.

For finally he was able to see that the future would be bigger than the past, that what was coming might contain more  possibilities than what has been before. This is both a material and a spiritual reality, but it does takes a certain kind of faith to let the future be different than the past, to rest in the hope that God’s word and God's world, can be bigger then you know, and it’s often not easy.

For the crowd around Nazareth, and Jesus’ family too, figured that God was to be found in a certain way, following a certain direction, the tried and true traditional path, and, for the most part, they were right: but they were starting to see some things, right in front of their faces, that astonished them even more, that told them God and God’s word, God’s life in their sight might come to look like nothing they had ever seen before, and it scared them.

So their temptation was to split the world into two parts: on one side, “what we know, what we’re used to”, was good; and on the other side, what was new, surprising, “beyond us” was bad, damaged or demonic. But Jesus tells them that the world might be bigger, might be better, than they had thought; that the new answers might be larger, have more largesse, than those old questions. For Jesus tells us, as surely as he has loosened the yokes of those under oppression, he has also bound the adversary, he has also saddled sin and he has set us free.

Now, I will freely admit that it may take some time to see the fruits flower in this new creation, but it looks like God’s truth is that if Christ is risen from the grave and we are raised with Christ, then by the grace of God Jesus’ way has already won, and so have we. And then the question comes, how can we live with, how can we live out of this new truth?

St Paul gives us some of the answer in his Second letter to the Corinthians;

“the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus... so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day… preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”

And how do we get our heads around this?

Let’s go back to technology for a that. In the last few years there is this new thing called “The Cloud” where individual computers users can store documents and records offsite, in a central location, sometimes quite a ways away. And now we can put programs and plans and letters and documents on this remote cloud and share them more easily and access and edit them from various locations and with different devices at different times, and it ends up we’re working better together to store and share and keep our work and our life in the cloud, and that sounds, if not a little like heaven, then at least like something, once again, bigger, different than the world I thought I lived in.

So I am not saying God is like a computer: but I am saying that we, right now, in our very deepest ecology, are building an heavenly glory (somewhere beyond the clouds) in the realm of God’s eternal now.

But before we get too happy, lets realize that can be a tricky truth to live into, because there's a danger that we get so “spiritual,” that we end up caring less for our earthly ministry. I remember, in the early 70s, when I was a youth group leader, a young woman telling me that she hoped her father accepted the Lord before the rapture came (which for her was somewhere like Wednesday) and I wanted to say, “Listen, God’s family might be bigger than that; God’s love might be bigger we know, we might want a bit more time to work on this.” I didn’t say that, instead I tried to follow the old bumper sticker wisdom, “Be patient, God isn’t finished yet!”

But now I’d quote Henry Thoreau; "If you have built castles in the air.. that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." For I am convinced that what we build in our ministry here, day by day, just in time, is foundational for always, for what lasts forever.

So maybe the plain truth is that we just need to keep looking at Jesus, who gives and lives his life right here in sight of heaven: living with sinners and saints, healing those broken hearts, sharing bread and wine and tears and hope,and always reminding us that the family is this big, the world is this large, the victory is this sure; for our lives even now are hidden in Christ, and nothing can ever separate us from that eternal love.

St. John Chrystostom preached this one Easter some 1600 years ago, it’s still true:

“Rejoice today for the Table is richly laden...
Let no one go away hungry. 
Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,

for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; 
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, 
for the Death of our Savior has set us free...

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!

Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!

Christ is Risen, and life is liberated...

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

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