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2014 07 20 Sermon by Emily Martin (20.1 MB)
2014 07 13 Sermon by Jeremy Garber (21.7 MB)
2014 06 22 Sermon by Vern Rempel (22.1 MB)
2014 06 15 Sermon by Vern Remepl (19.6 MB)
2014 06 08 Sermon by Vern Rempel (19.6 MB)
2014 04 20 Sermon by Vern Rempel (48.6 MB)
2014 04 13 (8.0 MB)
2014 04 06 Sermon by Theda Good (18.1 MB)
2014 03 30 Sermon by Tory Doerksen (20.5 MB)
2014 03 16 Sermon by Vern Rempel (25.4 MB)
2014 03 09 Sermon by Vern Rempel (22.4 MB)
20124 02 23 Sermon by Vern Rempel (28.0 MB)
2014 02 16 Sermon by Vern Rempel (15.1 MB)
2014 02 09 Sermon by Vern Rempel (28.1 MB)
2014 01 26 Sermon by Theda Good (15.7 MB)
2014 01 19 Sermon by Vern Rempel (25.5 MB)
2014 01 12 Sermon by Vern Rempel (61.2 MB)
2014 01 05 Sermon by Vern Rempel (18.2 MB)
2013 12 29 Winter Count (62.6 MB)
2013 12 22 Sermon by Theda Good (14.1 MB)
2013 12 15 Sermon by Vern Rempel (13.8 MB)
2013 12 08 Children's Program Part 1 (14.7 MB)
2013 12 08 Children's Program Part 2 (33.4 MB)
2013 11 17 Sermon by Vern Rempel (16.0 MB)
2013 11 10 Sermon by Deb Schaffer (12.3 MB)
2013 11 03 Reflection1 by Theda Good (4.6 MB)
2013 10 27 Sermon by Vern Rempel (16.1 MB)
2013 10 06 Sermon by Vern Rempel (11.9 MB)
2013 09 29 Middle East Trip Report (43.0 MB)
2013 09 22 Sermon by Vern Rempel (25.2 MB)
2013 09 15 Sermon by Vern Rempel (20.9 MB)
2013 09 08 Sermon by Tory Doerksen (18.6 MB)
2013 09 01 Vern Rempel and Artists (39.4 MB)
2013 08 25 Sermon by Dan Wessner (26.3 MB)
2013 08 18 Sermon by Darren Knowles (19.3 MB)
2013 08 11 Vern Rempel and Jeremy Garber (18.6 MB)
2013 07 28 Sermon by Vern Rempel (23.9 MB)
2013 07 21 Meditation by Emily Martin (22.3 MB)
2013 07 07 MYF Convention Presentation (15.1 MB)
Fine Arts Series 2014: “Poetry, Poiesis, and
Making Really Cool Stuff”
Texts: Genesis 1:1-5; John 1:1-14
The Holy Spirit is more than what we sense. When we look at what the Bible says about Spirit of God or Spirit of Jesus, the images and stories point us beyond our senses and beyond our notions of knowledge and scientific measurement. The Hebrew words rűa? and Greek p?e?µa point us toward such invisible and intangible phenomena as breath, spirit, and wind. As Scripture itself points out (John 3:8), we can feel the effects of all these phenomena but cannot encounter them primarily.
In the Hebrew Bible, the Spirit is often represented impersonally as the power of God. That is, the Spirit does not have what we might think of as human personality, will, or emotions, contrary to how God is often portrayed in the Hebrew Bible. This impersonality is a key part to a fuller understanding of the Holy Spirit and its connection to other intangibles such as meaning, language, and interpretation. The Spirit then is the impersonal action of God in the tangible world.
For example, references to “spirits of all flesh” in Num. 16:22 and 27:16 seem to portray the spirit as something within human bodies that animates their physical bodies, perhaps related to consciousness or merely physical movement. It is something that God grants or takes away, not something generated by humans (Gen. 6:3; Ezek. 37:1-14). More generally, Spirit is connected to power itself (Zech. 4:6; Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8), that which is at the root of any action or movement.
When the apostle Paul thinks about the Spirit, we have to be careful to understand what he means. For Paul, the vices of oppressive power structures are connected to the flesh, while the virtues of God’s community are explicitly connected to the spiritual (Gal. 5:16-25). The spiritual person, moreover, does not merely have the movement of desire, but possesses or enacts the creative spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:12-3:4). To simply inhabit the static realm of the flesh is death, but to move according to the flow of the Spirit is life (Gal. 6:7-8; Rom. 8:1-17)—to move, to grow a rhizome, to interact with God, the world, and with the community of meaning attached to life-giving spiritual virtues rather than deathly empires. To trace the movement of the Spirit is the same as to trace the flight of desire out of static orders, through government bureaucracy and life-stifling religious stagnation, into the creation of the new.
Likewise, the concept of “inspiration,” or being literally “breathed into” by the animating Spirit/flow of desire, is reflected in early biblical materials as a very specific way of speaking. The very concept of prophecy, or speech occurring under the influence of God’s spirit (e.g. Num. 24:2), is directly connected to the manifestation of “peculiar” behavior (1 Sam. 10:6)! In the ebb and flow of sedimentation and disruptive behavior in the governmental assemblage of Israel, the ongoing tension between king and prophet reveals itself in the narratives from the pre-exilic period right up to the formation of the early Christian church (Acts 2; Heb. 6:4; 1 Cor. 12:4-11). Prophetic “speech” includes not only actual speech acts but also street theatre and fantastically creative writing (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16, possibly Heb. 3:7 and 9:8). So inspiration is spoken and acted in the world through the performance and transmission of new, creative and bizarre modes of behavior – what we nowadays might call art.
So what about the title of this sermon? Let’s look at
the three ideas I’ve mentioned. To continue our look at the spirit and art, I’d
like to look at the poetry of medieval images of the Spirit. Unlike the very
systematic and logical arguments about the ontological and economic workings of
the Trinity (I’m not making this stuff up), medieval theologians almost always
find themselves using images and metaphors to describe the Holy Spirit. I’m just
going to read several of them, and invite you to picture them in your mind as I
o “Just as the flower (Jesus Christ) was born in
the Virgin’s womb and breathed forth a perfume of justice by deed and word, so
the Holy Spirit awakens human minds mystically and secretly. As the Spirit
rested on the flower in a sevenfold manner (Isa. 11:1-3), so too will the Spirit
give gifts to those born from the womb of baptism.” (94)
German philosopher Martin Heidegger refers to it as a 'bringing-forth', using this term in its widest sense. He explained poiesis as the blooming of the blossom, the coming-out of a butterfly from a cocoon, the plummeting of a waterfall when the snow begins to melt. The last two analogies underline Heidegger's example of a threshold occasion: a moment of ecstasis when something moves away from its standing as one thing to become another.
In their 2011 academic book, All Things Shining, Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly conclude that embracing a "meta-poietic" mindset is the best, if not the only, method to authenticate meaning in our secular times: "Meta-poiesis, as one might call it, steers between the twin dangers of the secular age: it resists nihilism by reappropriating the sacred phenomenon of physis, but cultivates the skill to resist physis in its abhorrent, fanatical form. Living well in our secular, nihilistic age, therefore, requires the higher-order skill of recognizing when to rise up as one with the ecstatic crowd and when to turn heel and walk rapidly away."
Furthermore, Dreyfus and Dorrance Kelly urge each person to become a sort of "craftsman" whose responsibility it is to refine their faculty for poiesis in order to achieve existential meaning in their lives and to reconcile their bodies with whatever transcendence there is to be had in life itself: "The task of the craftsman is not to generate the meaning, but rather to cultivate in himself the skill for discerning the meanings that are already there."
Whew. A long time and a lot of philosophy to get us here. But hopefully you get the idea: how poetry moves to poiesis to making really cool stuff. That’s what our summer art series is all about: Quilting. Hymns and Pete Seeger. Television and films. And, I hope, Scripture and sermons as well. So for the last part of our thoughts together today, I want to look at how God makes really cool stuff.
Genesis is the Beginning. The Hebrew name for Genesis is “bereshit,” in the beginning. Appropriate for the first discussion in our series! So let’s look through this verse and connect the poetry of Genesis 1 with the poiesis of God’s creative Spirit in action. Verse 1 tells us this simple but revolutionary mind-boggling fact: God is a creator. Things begin in chaos – but the Spirit is present in the chaos. The word used here in the lovely poetry of the first chapter of Genesis is the same word used in Deuteronomy for an eagle in relation to their young, sometimes translated “brooding” (Anchor 5). Verse 3 reminds us that God is the creator of differentiation – that being different and not all the same is not only good, but is at the foundation of all creation. God loves to create and calls it good!
Our reading from John 1 reminds us that not only does God make really cool stuff (i.e. everything), Jesus Makes Really Cool People. The intro to John is really a theological hymn, written in different, more intricately poetic and theological language than much of the gospel. Scholars say that it is “An early Christian hymn, probably stemming from Johannine circles, which has been adapted to serve as an overture to the Gospel narrative of the career of the incarnate Word” (Anchor 1). The poetry of John 1 connects with the poetry of Genesis 1, “The choice of the eagle as the symbol of John the Evangelist was largely determined by the celestial flights of the opening lines of the Gospel.” (Anchor 18) John wants to remind us that Jesus is there in the beginning with God and identical to God: Jesus is part of the creation process too. “The fact that the Word creates means that creation is an act of revelation.” (Anchor 25) Jesus gives life to all people: in a creative reversal of the Genesis story, Jesus gives the fruit of life that was denied in Eden! (Anchor 27) Jesus’ light is stronger than darkness – a reminder that the creative way of Jesus is stronger than the life-killing ordinary ways of the world.
Unfortunately, as many artists and other countercultural people know, being creative isn’t always very welcome to people who don’t like change. Verse 10 reminds us that the world does not recognize Jesus. Even Jesus’ own people and context didn’t recognize him. The good news of the gospel, though, is that those who recognize and believe in Jesus are part of the power of creation. This adoption is through the power of God [the Spirit]. The central belief of Christians, I would argue, is that Jesus came to the world and lived with us and showed us God’s intentions for creation. That’s the gospel – the good news. And the further good news is that we are invited to make really cool stuff along with God and Jesus.
God is a creator. The Spirit is present even in our chaos and frustration of everyday life. God is the creator of differentiation – a celebrator of difference in gender and skin color and hair color and sexual attraction and our ability to paint and write and film and do complicated accounting. God loves to create and call it good, and since we are made in the image of God, we get to create and call it good too.
The further good news is that we don’t have to do it alone – we have a whole community of connection to help us out. We also get to make cool people with Jesus. This, in a nutshell, is what the church is all about. Jesus, as creator with God, shows us the way to give life to all people. Jesus’ way is stronger than the way things ‘ought to be.’ There are witness to the light today – even in art and pop culture! But these are not necessarily the same as Jesus, or Jesus’ way. Jesus is part of the world, not apart from it. As we know, the world does not recognize the Jesus way – even a lot of Christians don’t recognize the Jesus way! But those who recognize the Jesus way are part of the power of creation. We are part of this power of creation through the power of the Spirit. Jesus’ way is the way God wants people to live – and to create.
As you’ve all heard me say before, being Christian is being weird – or in more positive terms, being creative. The majority is that conception of reality to which most people ascribe—because it is imposed by the hierarchical State as a standard by which to measure deviation. “Common sense” represents the affirmation of the power workings of a particular political assemblage that is far from universal. In the majoritarian understanding of medieval Europe, it was “common sense” that a “subject” was born into a particular occupation and social class because God had willed that subject to be born there, just as the subject’s parents had been born into that occupation. If your parents were farmers, you were a farmer, and your children would be farmers as well; if they were meant to be something else, they would have been born to different parents. Those who might have dared to question their seemingly inevitable positions in the complex structure of production and consumption would have been regarded as both insane and heretical. (If indeed, because of the ubiquity of majoritarian understanding, that cognitive option would even have presented itself to the average peasant.) To follow “common sense” was to embed oneself in the static stratification of reality.
If philosophy is descriptive, theology is creative; if study tells us what is, religion additionally tells us what might or ought to be. Creative beliefs and practices assemble those who think/feel/do them into a community, not just an accidental collection of individuals. Religion thinks something and in turn creates it—not as an illusion, as evidenced by religion’s immense longevity and creative power. But we can’t create a reality unless it is shared; religion creates a set of beliefs and practices through symbolic thought and action that transport the individual beyond the self. This is why religion is so often connected to art.
The movement of the Spirit of God in Christ is the flight of desire out of death-dealing order, the fundamental winds of change at the heart of existence that are constantly moving toward creating something new. The prophets of the Hebrew Bible like Samuel and Ezekiel preached this movement of the new toward the dangerously radical life-giving creation of God and warned against those who would try to contain it in a worldview that satisfied those who already had and took away from those who had little. Coming from the Creator of the World, the Spirit always creates. The Spirit cannot be seen, touched, heard or felt, but its effects always can, and can always be judged by their movement on the surface of the world. And the Spirit is the animating principle of human life itself, particularly in human life’s abstract form, those modes of emotional connection, intellect and creativity which as far as we can tell are unique to humans.
God is a creator. Jesus is a creator. We are creators with the Holy Spirit in the poetic poiesis of signs and symbols of love, peace, justice, and joy. Isaiah spoke of the spirit’s hope for transformation, the desire for renewal that cannot come without the rűa?. The Spirit brings blessing and life, creates the new thing . The Spirit brings the people of God together in a community, an assemblage, without distinction for gender or race, social class or financial success, an assemblage-of-becoming that is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, but one in Christ. No one owns the Spirit in the minoritarian community, but all are free to participate in its creative endeavors. In the midst of a starkly sedimented community of stratified distance, the Spirit provides the power for the people to symbolically reimagine what a community of equal becoming might resemble—and to empower them to move their own assemblage toward such a community in the midst of majoritarian resistance.
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