"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

God’s Eternal Yes and Yes – mostly final

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SJE 2 Corinthians sermon series 1:12-24
17 June 2012

We just starting out on our sermon series through Paul’s second letter to the Christians at Corinth.  This week we hear Paul as he engages a Christian community that is living out the fruits of a cultural context that was more of Greek philosophy than of God.

 I always wonder how it is we can relate a 2,000 year old text to we modern (or post-modern) types sitting here secure in our certainty that no generation has ever been as knowledgeable or as wise as we are!  I mean, look at this smart phone!  Einstein didn’t have one of these.  The reality is that we are culturally and intellectually far closer to the situation of Corinth than we might like to think, and particularly in the modes of mistaken thought that we have all been in-cultured and saturated with.  Paul’s correction to the Christians of Corinth has great relevance for us today. 

 Our reading today is a snip of Paul’s introductory material, where he describes his travel plans.  There seems to have been a change in plans for Paul that resulted in a cancelled visit, and Paul’s adversaries in Corinth are making hay with that cancellation.  We can only infer what is going on, but Paul sounds like he is defending himself against a charge of being, well, flakey.  He begins by explaining his past travel and states that he is not making decisions in the way of the world, the way of the flesh, but rather in the way of God.  I’ll repeat the critical part:

Was I flip-flopping when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say, “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you…was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.

This snip is dramatic and powerful…and the topic of surprisingly few sermons which is curious, since in that text Paul affirms a core reality of God’s being – the eternal Yes and yes.  This is a fundamental truth of the being of God that is an antidote to the modes of wrong thought pushed on us from our culture.  That yes and yes tells us something central about God’s character – for example, that his grace is present for all, both the redeemed and the non-redeemed, for there is only yes and yes in God.  It is a message of great hope, for it means God remains accessible to us regardless of how we might try to drive him away.

 Just look at Paul’s opening line in that snip, and consider how relevant this is to our post-modern time.  This era specializes in being able to hold diametrically opposed thoughts at the same instant, and holding them both to be equally true.  In an article I often reference, a student named Samantha asserts that “just because something is true doesn’t mean that I have to believe it.”  Samantha states her right to deny reality.  You don’t have to look far to find those contradictory thoughts all around us, and in post-modernism we are truly in an age of irrationality, and this includes within the church.  You can hear this teaching within the church: Jesus was a great man, but only a man, certainly not the Son of God.  Salvation is more a metaphor than any form of a real thing…it only has meaning in the heart of the believer.  You can eat whatever you want, and still look like a super model.  You can adopt the dogma of junk science as your creed and condemn anyone who does not believe as you do as a heretic…and at the same time claim rationality as your sure defence.  This the yes and no of this world.

 Here’s a great example of this yes and no of this world I found outside The Bay yesterday, for a facial cleanser called ‘Purity’: “we come into this world with all the right instincts” really? The two days my mom saved my life, once grabbing me as I was about to run out into traffic and warning me before a sailboat mast dropped on my head, suggest that the instincts of youth are not necessarily all “right”.  “ “and therefore perceive things as the should be, rather than how they are” What!? Our natural innocence enables us to see the world as it should be rather than as it is? So, this state of purity (at least partly due to the use of the right cosmetics) allows us to apply over the world a perceptual filter that allows us to only see the world the way it “should” be. I think that comes pretty close to meeting the definition of a psychiatric disorder // when you are only able to see things in terms of your idealized image rather than the reality of that thing. This is what Paul is facing.  Our Brother Scott Peacock pointed out to me that the marketing is quite brilliant, they’re selling what we know we need so desperately – purity and cleanness, but we don’t want to admit our need for purity is caused by our own sinful nature, and offers us an easy path to purity, by saying yes to facial cleanser and no to real human nature.  Consider also the state of finances in the Eurozone at this point – much of which is based on an unwillingness to acknowledge the reality of limited resources, because the almost religious belief in the ability to spend without control.  It’s the same sort of dualism.

 Now note what Paul states is not his thought at verse 17…ready to say yes, yes and no, no at the same time!  Sounds like Paul was encountering some post-modern thought in AD 55!  In fact he is encountering this Greek philosophy which has some definite links to our era of irrationality.  The basic error comes through a world view that understands there are two differing realities: a rational, predictable mechanical world that offers us true reality; and a second, spiritual world that is the domain of the un-reason and God.  Bette Midler sang about this in her song – the name escapes me, but the line was “God is watching us, from a distance.”  This splitting of the world into two independent parts has some huge problems, some call this “fleshy wisdom” as it is a particular characteristic of our fallen world, and it was both a characteristic of the Greek mind encountered by Paul, and the present irrationality we experience.

 This split world view has caused Christians huge problems – a quick example rests in the incarnation, the coming of God as human in the person of Jesus.  There are only a few ways you can deal with the incarnation if you have a split world view: you can make the Scriptures into metaphor, analog, or pure symbolic fiction which takes only meaning in the heart of the reader…so the incarnation didn’t really happen; you can split apart Jesus, and make him fully human only when he is in this reality, but after he ascends he becomes fully God again; or you can state that Jesus exists as the only touchpoint between the two realities, the only place where the reality of reason and the un-reality of un-reason touch.  Perhaps he is split right down the middle, God on the right and human on the left?  You see quite quickly, that if you take the Scriptures seriously, a dualist or split world view leaves you with no choice but to engage in some mental gymnastics in order to encompass the incarnation.  There’s a reason why I state quite boldly that all forms of Christian heresy can be traced back to some attempt to split apart the human and divine, the Jesus from the Christ, God from man, and all that heresy ultimately traces back to this sort of split view of the creation.  Yes to the two worlds, and no to God’s presence everywhere.

 This is also present in the world view that places the dogma of Darwin as the true reality – I don’t think there is any doubt that evolution as a force of nature is taking place in the creation.  It is another thing to suddenly attribute every single thing in that creation as a result of natural selection.  If you want to engage some really whacky thought, take a look at what is coming out of social Darwinism – that which attributes behaviours as the result of evolutionary forces.  The one that caught my eye was the idea that rape, which is still present even in this enlightened age, must be a beneficial behaviour or it would have been selected out long ago.  Really? My daughter’s reaction when a car with one of the Darwin fish stickers on the back made a rather foolish and quite dangerous move in rush hour traffic the other day…she said, that’s funny – he drives like natural selection doesn’t happen.  If you want to accept Darwin as your saint, you can do that, but when you die a fiery death due to stupid driving, don’t be surprised when your friends all shake their heads sadly and comment, “well, it’s not really a tragedy since he obviously wasn’t the fittest.”  Yes to natural laws and no to God’s rule.

 Now, contrast this split view of reality with Paul’s assertion, backed up by the entire body of Scripture, that in Jesus Christ we see the realization of God’s eternal Yes, and all the promises of God find their Yes in Jesus.  This Christian worldview says that there is only one true constant in the creation, one underlying reality that serves to define the totality of creation, and that is God.  That unwavering, invariant, eternal I AM, the constant Yes, yes of God, is the ultimate source of order and an absolute reference.  Thou shalt have no other God but me, for I am a jealous God – a commandment that undoes all of the other deities for the reality is other deities are excluded when faced with the eternal I AM.  The only reason that we have an orderly, predictable creation that is open to allow us to plumb its depths through science is because of this absolute source of constancy that underlies and infuses the entire creation.  This is what Paul is talking about – Jesus is God’s unequivocal affirmation and the absolute reality, making clear to us, in the flesh, God’s eternal yes and yes.

We get this wrong because we’re caught up in a distorted view of the reality because we’re stuck in this physical understanding that doesn’t scale to understanding the Son of God in the way Newton understood an apple dropping on his head.  What we understand all too well is our essential humanness, our need for cleanness caught within a fallen creation, and so we live in a dual-view of the reality that places God in a place separate from us, and worse, we take our too-human understanding of ourselves and project that image onto the creator.  And so, all too often in bible scholarship, you find people writing lengthy articles not about what God actually said in the Bible, but why God didn’t actually say what he really meant in the Bible.  This is a projection of our own thought onto God, and it’s wrong.  We get this wrong with God, just like the Corinth Christians got Paul wrong, because they were working in a world of yes and no, a place where you can say one thing and do another, while Paul was working in a place of God, where there is only the eternal yes and yes.

 We get Jesus wrong because he looks like us, and so we read that God’s eternal yes and yes is manifest in Jesus, and yet we insist on projecting our fallen human yes and no onto Jesus.  This misplaced idea of the person of Jesus is at the root of just about all of our suffering.  We are the people of yes and no, and so we project that back onto God through the one true human, the only one to ever fully realize humanity, who we will not see again until the general resurrection. 

 Why do we get this wrong?  It’s because God, in many ways, is completely contrary to our common sense – give up your son for the sins of the world?  Really?  That’s not the business model I would choose.  When I was a kid, there was one toy I wanted more than any other, and I asked for it at every birthday and Christmas – and that was one of those 80 in 1 electrical experiment kits.  I was fascinated with science, and did have one of the pre-safety-rule chemistry sets that could produce some spectacular reactions and more than a few fires, so safety wasn’t my parent’s rationale for not giving me one.  Anyway, this was a topic of prayer for me…and it seems to me I even went so far one day to make a drink offering to God on my driveway…except I couldn’t open a wine bottle undetected so I think I used Vermouth.  All that prayer and spilled liquor, and I still didn’t get what I desired so sincerely.  Now what was I to conclude about God, except that he was both yes and no?  I think now that the reason I ended up in electrical engineering was to compensate for that early life wounding…

 As a more serious example, one of my dear co-workers died suddenly in late May at the young age of 68 – a healthy and robust 68.  I was praying intently for his healing and return to robust life, and instead I knew the exact moment that they had switched off his life support.  God, if you’re going to gift me through your Spirit, why does it have to do with detecting death and not with miraculous healing?  So you see again, when I rely on my experience and project myself back onto God’s being, my human conclusion is that God is very much yes and no, and seemingly no every time it is something of real importance to me.

 God’s eternal yes and yes stands in strong contrast to our understanding of the world, and of us as being people of yes and no.  Christ is the fulfilment of that eternal yes and yes, God’s final and eternal Word made human to bring us that light of God in a way that we could understand it.  This is the reason the pre-ascension, pre-Pentecost apostles don’t get Jesus, as they are caught up almost fully in the humanity of God incarnate and can’t see beyond the person – and this is the real danger of this dual world view for us, is that it ultimately and irreversibly leads us to the conclusion that Jesus can’t really act past our own ability to believe, or even worse, beyond our own ability to act.  If God is re-created in our image, through our projection of our creaturely self onto Him, then he too becomes a limited creature of yes and no, like us.

 Our call, given the eternal yes and yes of God made manifest in Christ Jesus, is to answer with our own yes and yes – Amen and Amen, let it be as you have said.  This is the reason Paul is hammering on this point, because what is at stake is the very understanding of God’s nature.  If Paul instead opted to argue his point using Greek fleshy wisdom (that is, the dual-world view applied through human reason), what would this say about him as God’s agent?  Instead Paul emphasizes the eternal yes and yes of God, and notes that he proclaims Jesus, the unequivocal solution to all of humanity’s searching for meaning. (R Clements) 

What we’re hearing Paul say is something rather dramatic.  Not only did Jesus come into the world as living Word and living Light, eternally yes and yes, but Paul, in Christ, becomes a living example of God’s trustworthiness.  It is this reason he is reacting so strongly to the charges from Corinth, for these questions about him are a challenge to the Word of God himself.

 We share in that mission, as members of the body of Christ, perhaps not apostles all of us, but we share in that role of being the living witness to the one we serve.  This is why living a life that has a soundly God-centred world view is so important, and why the rejection of the split view of the world is so key to who we are.  We stand, with Paul, as witnesses to the Light of God, and to God’s eternal yes and yes.

 There is nothing more central to our lives in Christ than understanding how God stands as that eternal Amen and Amen to and through all of creation, in contrast to our creaturely aspects, shining his light on all of that creation, Jew and Greek, free and slave, believer and non-believer, and pouring His grace over all.  Let us, with Paul, accept God’s anointing so that we too may be witnesses to the eternal Amen.  Amen.


Written by sameo416

June 16, 2012 at 7:35 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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