Gen. 17:1-8; Heb. 6:13-20 (MSG)
South & New Life Presbyterian Churches – September 6, 2015 – Labor Day Sunday
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift
On May 25, 1977 … a little over 38 years ago … a movie was released that created a franchise which is still going strong today. Star Wars. The visual effects were ground-breaking, and one of them showed a little motion picture clip that was repeated over and over again … a distress call by Princess Leia. It’s where many of us were introduced to the concept of holograms … three-dimensional pictures. Since then, holograms have become a common part of our world.
According to Wikipedia, “a hologram is a photographic recording of a light field, rather than of an image formed by a lens, and it is used to display a fully three-dimensional image of the holographed subject.”[i] In everyday language, when we take a picture, we are capturing an image through a lens. The light waves get flattened out onto a two-dimensional surface … the film or the digital dic.
In a hologram, laser light (which is more pure, focus, and intense than regular light) is aimed at the subject. When that laser, pure light bounces off that which is being photographed, it creates a sort of light field depending on the shape of the object.
I kind of think of it as a shoeprint left on a linoleum floor or the same shoe as a footprint in 2” of mud. The shoeprint on the floor is two-dimensional. It is without depth and is pretty static. The footprint in the mud is three-dimensional. It has depth and it looks different from every angle.
With me so far? J
Just think of how our technology has changed in the last 38 years. The holographic projection in Star Wars was new to MOST of us who saw that movie in 1977. Today, it’s present in almost everything … certainly in movies that we see. And they don’t even have to be Science Fiction movies … holograms are everywhere. The paradigm of our thinking has changed when it comes to photography and holography.
Was it always possible to think of things and picture them in our mind’s eye as three-dimensional … to imagine what a hologram might look like? Sure. Architects have been picturing things in three-dimensions for as long as we’ve been around … thousands of years. But to have the masses … the vast majority of people develop that thinking has taken a while.
Well today I’d like to point out that that is the same kind of growth and change that we see in thinking about or picturing God.
In our reading of The Story for this week, we are in Genesis. It was the story of Abraham’s call and subsequent covenant with God: “You be my people; I’ll make you a great nation.” Jump ahead a few thousand years later than when that was written and you have the book of Hebrews in the New Testament …
We know that the Genesis account was originally oral tradition. For those of you in the Monday Bible group, it comes from the P or Priestly source[ii] of the oral tradition and was probably put in written form during the fifth century, BCE. It is the last of the four oral traditions to be added to the Bible because it came about when Jewish worship practices were evolving.[iii] This is important to know because it tells us as much about the way people were thinking about God as it does about God, him (or her) self. It’s like the early photography that existed on metal plates compared with today’s holography. Truth was represented just as a daguerreotype captured the appearance of a person in the 1800’s. But the full dimension of the person (or in this case, God) wasn’t able to be expressed and shared because there was no shared understanding of what the experience of God was really like.
Hebrews, on the other hand, was first attributed to the Apostle Paul, but scholars are almost unanimous that he didn’t write it. Since 1950, many believe it was actually written by a woman – Priscilla, who was a student and friend of Paul’s.[iv] And it originated in the first century, CE. Six hundred years or so after the Genesis story.
So while these two things are essentially about the same thing – our relationship … humanity’s relationship … believers’ relationship with God … those 600 years show us a different way of understanding the relationship. In the first, God is making direct promises to Abraham; in the second, God’s promise has been fulfilled by Jesus. Priscilla (or Paul) says that our relationship with God is “an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post as high priest for us.”
See … studying the Bible … reading the Story … is kinda like looking at religious development as a Cultural Anthropologist would. We always need to keep asking ourselves about the time and circumstances in which it was written. Frankly, that’s why there are so many contradictions in the book to begin with. It was written over the span of a thousand years with multiple authors and each one brought his or her own experiential bias to the writing. Inspired? Yes. Inspired by the Holy Spirit. But written by the literal hand of God? Well, it depends on how you define that, but NO, not in the sense that tradition tells us that Moses received the clay tablets that were created by God’s sheer power.
So it behooves us to not only study the Bible for the sake of reading it for content, but to look at it as an alive work that is still evolving for US through its interpretation (which we believe is manifested through the Holy Spirit).
So back to this hologram thing.
We have no trouble seeing the development of photography from daguerreotype … to film … to instant cameras … to digital … to hologram. But we seem to want to hold the Bible and the CHURCH to some older and more established way of being without allowing (and encouraging) it to enjoy a similar evolutionary arc.
Y’know, there are some interesting contrasts between photographs and holograms. A photo, as we know, is one-sided. We look at the picture and if we turn it over, the page is blank. Right?
Well, if you look at a hologram and go around to the other side of it, you don’t see a blank page … you see the hologram from the back side. It’s the same THINK but from a different perspective. How cool is that???? Depending on where you are looking at the hologram, you’ll see it from that perspective.
Those are two very different phenomena, aren’t they?
Here’s another one.
We’ve all grown up with photographs and y’know how you put them in albums with those little triangular corner pieces … or you tape the corner of a photo and when you take the picture up again … sometimes the corner rips off. We’ve all seen that. Right? Pictures with corners torn off … or the corners themselves and we don’t have the faintest idea what the rest of the picture was of.
Well with a hologram, if you break off part of the hologram and you put the lasers lights on it to show the hologram … you still get the WHOLE picture. No kidding. Any part of the hologram will give you the complete picture just as if you had the whole hologram there. Everything … ALL of it … the TOTAL of the picture is in every single part of it. Each part of it is total and complete unto itself.
There’s a lesson for us in holograms.
Let’s talk about it in terms of church and our community. The OLD way of looking at church said that Sunday worship was the most important thing. We STILL mistakenly call Sunday morning “church” when we SHOULD be calling it Sunday worship. “CHURCH” is everything … the totality of what we do. It’s worship and it’s study … it’s the social coffee hour and it’s service projects. It’s Monroe Milers and CLASS ACT. It’s prayer and it’s potlucks. All of it TOGETHER is church. Yet how often do we let each other get away with language like, “let’s have a meeting after church on Sunday?”
Church isn’t Sunday. Church is EVERY day.
Church is a hologram. One part gives us the picture of the WHOLE THING.
If church were a photograph then we could say it’s Sunday morning and if you walked around to the other days of the week … anything that WASN’T Sunday would be like looking at the back side of the photograph … blank … didn’t measure up … didn’t count.
But if we look at church as a hologram then Sunday morning might be looking at it from one angle and Bible study would be looking at it from another and choir rehearsal would be looking at it from a third … see what I’m getting at? When you’re involved with one PART of it, you’re involved with the whole THING.
And we can take it a step farther and say that when you’re involved with one Act of Faith you’re also involved withal of the ministries of UPT, and when we are involved with one ministry here we are really also involved with what’s going on with churches in Kentucky and Kenya because we are all part of the holographic church.
Mind-blowing, isn’t it?
JESUS is not a photograph. He’s even bigger than a hologram. He is multi-dimensional … he stretches throughout space and time in ways that we can’t even begin to explain or imagine yet but an awful lot of people these days want to make him small enough to be contained within their limited understanding and vocabulary.
I’ll admit it: he makes me uncomfortable because I want things to be predictable and understandable. I figure I’ve spent my entire life trying to understand and be faithful … and then he goes and says some crazy, whacked out things like, “forgive your enemies” or “the person who works 8 hours should get paid the same as the person who works one hour.” What IS that?
Well it’s radical love. And it’s radical justice and it’s hard for us to understand it because we’re used to looking two-dimensionally at photographs. We’re used to seeing things from one perspective only. We’re used to defining “church” and “faith” and “proper behavior” the way it was defined for US … and he didn’t DO that. He re-wrote the definitions because the world was a different time and place than it had been in Abraham’s day. TODAY it’s a different world, too, and he’s calling us define our lives according to HIS teachings … not according to our own.
He’s calling us to radical inclusivity … whether it’s in the form of marriage equality and a county clerk who won’t issue marriage licenses … or in the form of South and New Life sharing a choir rehearsal or a potluck worship service.
We are CALLED by our faith to do things differently.
And you may be sorry that I’m back from vacation because I am committed to keeping us all challenged and wrestling with our faith. There can be no comfort right now in the status quo because now more than ever our broken world needs a radical SHIFT.
We HAVE to move to a different understanding and manifestation of what it means to be the Body of Christ … the Christian Church … or we are going to die. It’s pretty simple.
The people in Charleston who wouldn’t hate but who forgave.
The Pope’s encyclical about the environment … we have to change.
Political candidates breeding fear and xenophobia … we have to change.
Elected officials who think that global warming isn’t a scientific fact because they don’t want to lose the support of the fringe right … we have to change.
And as Mahatma Ghandi said … “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
WE must be the change we wish to see in the world.
Not someone else … US!!!
It’s wrong to keep track of how many changes we make and how few somebody else does.
It’s wrong to bargain with God and say, “We’ve already done so much … we’ve already given up so much … we’ve already changed so much … we shouldn’t have to do any more.” Really? REALLY?
Tell that to Paul or Peter or Mary Magdalene … tell that to Abraham who waited for his son to be born and then thought he had to sacrifice him.
Jesus puts it pretty clearly in Matthew 16:25 … “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”
God is “an unbreakable spiritual lifeline,” but if we try to limit God to our little world view and justify the things we want in anything less than radical love, radical giving, and radical JUSTICE, then we are “wanting to save our life” or at least our WAY of life. And we will lose it. It’s only when we adopt the uncomfortable radical Way and feel that we’re losing everything that was familiar … what we call our life … that we are able to find it in Christ.
It’s hard, hard, interior work.
And it’s what we are called to do.
The holographic church. Think about it. The world has never seen anything like it before because we hadn’t evolved to where we could understand that that’s what Jesus was talking about. But now that we HAVE … we have no excuse for not BEING the hologram.
May the Spirit bless us as we wrestle with this all week … and may God bring us the peace that passes all understanding when we give up our safe and comfortable little lives in order to embrace the radical nature of Jesus’ example. Amen.
[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Documentary_hypothesis#cite_ref-33 , as of September 5, 2015: The Priestly source portrays Yahweh as a God who is interested in ritual. The covenant of circumcision, the dietary laws, and the emphasis on making a tabernacle according to a divinely revealed plan are all ascribed to the Priestly source (Genesis 17, Genesis 9:1-17; Exodus 25-31; Exodus 35-40; John Barton, John Mudiman, The Oxford Bible Commentary, Oxford University Press (2001) p. 28).
[iii] Culley, Robert C. “Oral Tradition and Biblical Studies,” Oral Tradition, 1/1 (1986): 30-65, found online on September 5, 2015 at: http://journal.oraltradition.org/files/articles/1i/3_culley.pdf .
[iv] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authorship_of_the_Epistle_to_the_Hebrews as of September 5, 2015: In more recent times, some scholars have advanced a case for Priscilla having been the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. This suggestion came from Adolf von Harnack in 1900. Harnack claimed that the Epistle was “written to Rome—not to the church, but to the inner circle”; that the earliest tradition ‘blotted out’ the name of the author; that “we must look for a person who was intimately associated with Paul and Timothy, as the author” and that Priscilla matched this description.
Ruth Hoppin provides considerable support for her conviction that Priscilla wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews. She maintains that Priscilla “meets every qualification, matches every clue, and looms ubiquitous in every line of investigation”. She suggests that the masculine participle may have been altered by a scribe, or that the author was deliberately using a neutral participle “as a kind of abstraction” ( Ruth Hoppin, ‘The Epistle to the Hebrews is Priscilla’s Letter’, in Amy-Jill Levine, Maria Mayo Robins (eds), A Feminist Companion to the Catholic Epistles and Hebrews, (A&C Black, 2004) pages 147-170.).