The Deconstructing of Mystery

Australians seem to love mystery. One of the most popular television and film genres is the murder mystery. The literature world thrives on mysteries of one kind or another. The secret of a great script is to keep everyone in suspense and suspicion for as long as possible. Mysteries are about the secretive and the inexplicable event. In an age of technology, precision and predictability the mysterious has great intrigue and great appeal about it.

In a fascinating kind of way “mystery” has always been part of the Judaeo/Christian heritage. Nearly a century ago a Lutheran theologian Rudolf Otto became disenchanted with the theological liberalism of his day with its emphasis on the reason and tradition. Drawing on Luther’s insistence that faith needs a special religious category beyond the rational and  influenced by Schiermacher’s “Sense of the Eternal”, Otto published his classic work “The idea of the Holy” (1917). He spoke of the “mysteriosum, the “fascinans”, and the “tremendum”. Here was a new way of talking about absoluteness, grace and wrath of God. God for Otto was more of an experience, an encounter, a sacred connection. Otto rejected universalism and pointed to the non-rational dimension of religious experience. He spoke of “the feeling of the numinous” that must be awakened in us. Building on the experiences of the prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, Otto wanted to stress that God is awesome, breathtakingly holy and beyond our mere intellectual comprehension. Such a Biblical insight has been found down the centuries with Christian mystics from Francis of Assisi to Teresa of Avila and in more recent days Thomas Merton.

In my view all this emphasis on the mystery of God is healthy and life giving. We can never fully understand or compute or Google ‘God’. There is always the unknown factor when it comes to God. The brightest minds never even get close to fully describe or articulate God.

Having said this I find it mildly disturbing that the mysterious side of God is being overplayed in Christian literature and sermons. I hear people who reduce almost everything about God to mystery. Recently in a conversation a colleague of mine spoke about “the Mystery” and was unable to talk in Trinitarian terms of God being Father, Son and Holy Spirit. On another occasion baptism was described as a mystery and a ritual, without any reference to the clear teaching of Scripture that baptism is strongly connected to belief in Christ, belonging to Christ’s community and sharing in Christ’s mission. I have similarly heard the resurrection of Christ described as “mystery” and not something to believe in.

By contrast the gospels and the preaching in Acts present the resurrection as a historical event, God’s greatest miracle and an affirmation of Christ’s ministry and mission. Clearly the early church believed in the resurrection, and they were prepared to go to their persecuted death rather than deny its truth and transformation. Similarly several of the creeds speak of belief in resurrection. When the role of mystery is overstated the role of revelation is overshadowed and devalued. It is not all mystery because God has revealed God’s self to the world, through creation, the prophets, and supremely and uniquely in Jesus Christ. The unknown has become known. God has been revealed. The light has come. Hence Paul writes in Romans 16 that the mystery of God is now no longer as mystery since Jesus has revealed to us the nature and purpose of God. Of course there are things about God that we will never understand and will always be a mystery to us (Ephesians 5: 32). We need to remain humble at this point. But the good news of the incarnation (God becoming flesh) and the gospel of Christ, is that God is not all shrouded in unknowable mystery. God has clearly and powerfully shown us the way, the truth and the life in the one Lord Jesus Christ. So we are to in Paul’s words “proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:20). That is graciously tell people what we do know of God from what we have learned from his Son, Jesus Christ. Or in the words of the letter to the Colossians 1: 26 “the mystery hidden for ages and generations is now revealed to the saints…God’s mystery which is Christ” (Chapter 2 verse 2).

The cat is out of the bag, the mystery of God is solved in Jesus Christ. Mystery has to some extend be deconstructed in Christ. So rather than just shrug our shoulders and say “all this God stuff is just a mystery”, because of what God has done in Jesus Christ, we may fall on our knees and confess that Jesus is Lord and live in his glorious light. 

Rev Steve Francis
Moderator

Uniting Church WA says uranium is best left in the ground.

Rev Steve Francis, Moderator of the Uniting Church WA says that he is very disappointed that the Western Australian Labor government will allow the four inherited uranium proposals to proceed. While Rev Francis welcomed the reintroduction of a ban on all future uranium mines, allowing the existing proposals to proceed was still a matter of great concern.

“For a Labor government to allow uranium mining to proceed while it maintains a moral and ethical opposition to the approval of new uranium proposals is, in our view, a hollow moral position.”

The Uniting Church in Australia is committed to the development of environmentally benign, renewable energy sources and the cessation of uranium mining. Recognising the complexity of the issues the Uniting Church has called on individuals, churches, industry and governments to work together to end involvement in the nuclear fuel cycle.

The Uniting Church Western Australia has repeatedly expressed its concerns about the four uranium proposals due to the potentially significant and long-lasting impacts on the environment, nearby communities, and the workforce which would be involved in its extraction, transportation and processing. Furthermore, the unavoidable contribution of uranium mining to the nuclear fuel cycle, including the proliferation of nuclear weapons, remains an issue of great concern to the Uniting Church.

In 2014 the General Council of the Uniting Church Western Australia agreed to call on the Federal and WA State Governments to ban the production, deployment, transfer and use of nuclear energy and weapons and reintroduce the uranium mining ban in Western Australia.

The Uniting Church, nationally and in Western Australia, continues to hold deep and abiding concerns about the social and environmental costs of the nuclear fuel cycle, including concerns regarding the pressures placed on Aboriginal communities to accept uranium mining, the safe disposal of industry waste, the safety of nuclear reactors and the economics of nuclear power.

Rev Francis stated, “If the Government’s concerns about uranium mining are such that it will not approve new uranium mine proposals, it would be inconsistent to allow any mine to proceed regardless of any approvals previously granted.”

The Uniting Church in Australia is an active member of the World Council of Churches (WCC), which released its statement Towards a Nuclear Free World on 7 July 2014.

Please click here for full media release: Media Release 20 June 2017 – Uranium best left in the ground

 

Working on the Building

I’m going to show my age – do you also remember Elvis’ song, “I’m working on the building”? It’s a gospel song about discipleship – building your life on the true foundation of Jesus. The lyrics add, “I never get tired, tired, tired of working on the building.”

Eugene Peterson, used a similar idea in his commentary on Jeremiah entitled “Run with horses: The Quest for Life at its Best” when he wrote about “a long obedience in the same direction” (which is also the title for his commentary on the Psalms).

I am drawn to these thoughts today by some words heard in a staff meeting about “working in the system” (implying a church head office) and “real” ministry in a “normal” ministry setting (probably meaning in a congregation). I can identify completely with the idea. I often feel trapped in “the system” and about every third day, I wonder what it would be like to be back in “real” ministry again. And then I am jolted back to reality. This too is ministry, as is the work undertaken by anyone in the service of the Gospel, whether it is the preacher in the pulpit, the welcomer at the door of the chapel or those who find themselves in the ivory tower of the system.

We all serve the cause of Christ, and together we are the Body of Christ – we are all, “working on the building.” Some are bricklayers, some are plasterers and some painters – each is important in achieving the intended goal. It is a challenge though. It is unhelpful, for instance, to have impatient painters painting the bricks before the plasterer has arrived. It is however always helpful to offer assistance when required, to stand back when the pressure is on and to step up when the real person doesn’t turn up.

For two Sundays, I was asked to step in to assist where the minister was unable to be there (for Holy Communion in both cases). I must honestly say that I loved it. I enjoyed the preparation of the message and the liturgy, I found myself in a wonderful place in talking with the congregation both before and after the services and I was energised in leading worship. It was a “third day” experience again. I felt that I was in “real” ministry and wondered if I should hang up my hat in the Synod office and look out for a congregation seeking for a minister.

Then I remembered! “Real” ministry is not only what happens on Sundays – that’s the glory bit. Real ministry is every day, in every place, bringing the peace and hope of Christ into a variety of situations. It is a long obedience in the same direction and it can happen also in the ivory tower!

The Uniting Church Centre exists to resource people so that they can fulfil the ministry of Christ wherever they may find themselves – in a school, church, hospital, even remote areas in the Pilbara. It is in this resourcing work that those in the ivory tower are also able to fulfil the ministry of Christ.

We are all “working on the building!”

I want to encourage everyone out there in “real” ministry to access and use the resources that are available in the Uniting Church Centre. We have people with many skills and we are able to “serve those who serve” with gladness of heart. And I want to encourage those in the “system,” including myself, to think afresh about God’s call to service and to “never get tired, tired, tired of working on the building.”

Rev David de Kock
General Secretary

The Art of not Holding Back

When I was growing up I warmed to rock, blues and jazz music. I found these expressions of music full of vibrancy, spontaneity, creativity and imagination. I am old enough to remember the release of the epic Sargent Pepper’s album by the Beatles. It broke all the rules of the pop music industry with lyrical verve and musical inventiveness.

As a young adult I never really got classical music. It seemed stuffy, elitist and dull. The musicians seemed obsessed with technique and perfectionism. Somehow they failed to stir my soul.

Then I came across the cellist Jacqueline du Pre. She was not like all the others. While she had flawless technique she did not hold back. Watching her play it was obvious she put her heart and soul into each performance. Her body would caress her instrument. Her movements were full of emotion and elation. She gave herself totally to her art with an enthusiasm and dedication that filled concert halls across the world.

She did not hold back.

I want to live like that, giving myself totally to God and others. Too easily we hold back. Enthusiasm and passion are often viewed with suspicion by those who love the rational, the ordered and the predictable. I was at a worship service recently where a most beautiful prayer was prayed.

At the conclusion of the moving prayer I wanted to shout out hallelujah but I feared if I did I might be ejected. It is sad to see that worship can be an expression of suppression of the emotions. Where the cerebral rules the spontaneous is out of order. God would not be happy unless every word is scripted and performed to perfection.

I read of a different God in the Scriptures; a God who is breath takingly creative, boldly imaginatively and full of surprises. Jesus did not hold back. He broke the stuffy Pharisaical conventions. He wept, he hugged, he touched, and he partied. He did not hold back in loving, praying and serving all the way to the cross. He even described his purpose as helping each of us to live life to the full (John 10:10).

 Lord, help me learn the art of not holding back.

Steve Francis, Moderator

School of Ministry 2017

School of Ministry 2017 brochure

The theme for School of Ministry this year is the Minister as Educator and Dr Deidre Palmer, President-Elect of the National Assembly, is our keynote presenter. The event is open to all educators both lay and ordained. The dates are July 17 to 21 at the Billabong Uniting Church, Canning Vale. Cost of $200 includes all meals and materials. Please follow brochure link for more details, including how to register.