Jesus’ Marketing Strategy

Let’s try a change of pace … let’s talk marketing and business. As your eyes glaze, and your finger poises to click to the next page, may I beg your indulgence, just for a moment?

There’s a term I have heard a few times, which I ran through Wikipedia as I was writing this. It’s “creative disruption”, and the gurus describe it as “… a phrase that has been used in the marketing world … to describe the desired break in existing patterns of behaviour of the target audience in response to a highly creative message.”

This is, of course, about advertising, about selling stuff. I want to apply it, briefly, to Jesus’ ministry in John’s Gospel; specifically to the five great narratives which traverse the gospel itself. A Pharisee, Nicodemus, meets Jesus in the dark; a Samaritan woman greets Jesus at midday; a blind man moves from darkness to light; a dead man, Lazarus, moves from death’s darkness to life; and Pilate meets Jesus in history’s darkest hour.

At each event, Jesus disrupts everything we know. People can’t be re-born; outcasts can’t be welcomed; blind people can’t see; dead people don’t come alive; the truth is shaped by Caesar’s hands, and not by an itinerant preacher.

Perhaps the last is most relevant at this moment. We know how the world works; it is shaped by those who have power and money and voice, not by those who have none.

Pilate asks the prisoner Jesus, “What is truth?”

As we watch the machinations of the American empire and the divorce and probable decline of its European and British cousins, we know that truth is ordered by those who have tweets in their hands and obsequious media at their feet. Scientific and historic knowledge are held to ridicule by those who have little, or none, and statements recorded yesterday are denied today. What – where – is truth?

Here we stand, with the itinerant one, numbered with outcasts and criminals. And because we stand here, we assert a truth which disrupts everything – creation and history alike. Death, and blindness, and darkness, and despair are never beyond the healing resolve of God. Our hope in this life, and in the one which awaits us, is that God’s love disrupts it all and creates a truth for which we hunger and thirst.

This creation urges us to live forgiveness, to embody justice, to welcome the stranger and to confront the powerful. It is not true that death is the last word; the truth is found in Jesus Christ, whose word and love returned life to Lazarus.

As long as hatred stifles truth
and freedom is betrayed by fear,
we stand with Christ; give us no peace
till his peace reigns in triumph here.

Roadblock Theology

john 9 powerpointIs it at all surprising to you that a miracle which takes almost three verses of Jesus’ time takes up more than forty verses of consequence in John’s Gospel?

This wonderful, extraordinary event is cluttered with the kind of theology which likes to preen with its own self-importance, but produces little of anything worth admiring.

Occasionally when I am sitting beside someone in their hospital bed, either prior to an operation, or following one, a member of the medical staff may arrive, and begin to talk with others as if the person in the bed is not there.

I have even had conversation directed at me, and not towards the person waiting – usually with apprehension – beside me. The patient has become abstract.

The disciples in the gospel story sound like they are considering this disabled person as a theological curiosity, and not as an opportunity to offer mercy, or grace. Jesus attends with both, and within an earthy, miraculous moment, the man sees for the first time.

All over, it seems, in a matter of minutes.

The poet, Peter Steele, makes the attempt to describe the transformation, as the man opens his eyes entirely for the first time,

to find the day
Open around him, the people strange and tall,
The musing healer up against the wall.

Because this is the heart of the story; not the miracle, but the response.

The newly un-blind man, his parents, his neighbours, the wider community, the clergy are all wrapped into this wonder and not one of them, apart from newly-seeing bloke, says anything positive. Not even a broken Hallelujah.

Instead, there is doubt, confusion, anger, judgement, denial, generally poor theology, and worse, bad humanity.

The miracle is lojohn 9 testst because almost everyone else is.

A man who has gained everything has, by the end of the story, been shut out of the community. As the story closes, he sees even more clearly, and worships Jesus, an act which evades everyone else.

Where do we find ourselves in this story? I am not convinced that John’s community records it only for the miracle. It’s possible that the man became a founding member of John’s community, which is why it so important, but there’s more.

The fear of the parents and the hostility of the Pharisees is as much a part of the story as the mud and spittle and miracle. Is this part of the story echoing us? Is the doubt of the Jews something we know?

Or is the man’s new life one we have also grasped with both our hands, seeing more clearly every day?

And the best theology in the story? When the man formerly known as blind says, “All I know is, a few minutes ago I was blind, and now I can see. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

Here’s mud in your eye!

Born Blind: After Tiepolo | Peter Steele

The hands about his brow and jaw, the smear
Of dirt and spittle pasted on his eyes
Came to him in the darkness: also, fear
That after all the failures, no surprise

Could visit him, no magus usher in
The blessed light of which his mother spoke
As if it had the potency to win
A world that should without it go to smoke.

Obedient, he fumbled to the pool,
Heart in his mouth, and washed the stuff away,
Kneeling in shelter. And began to mewl,
Big-boned as he was, to find the day

Open around him, the people strange and tall,
The musing healer up against the wall.

The Gossip & The Wine

Remembering the Giver

How do you imagine her? When Jesus asks this woman, foreign and unknown to him, for a drink, what do we expect?

If she was cast in a 1940s movie, it is likely Rita Hayworth would be sashaying with her bucket to the well, her auburn hair cascading down her shoulders.  As each decade progresses, we can imagine the stereotypical casting choices for “such a woman as this”.

Why do we assume this of her? The story offered to us is coloured by generations of culture, assuming the worst, or simply the least, of her. We have heard any number of men (and the occasional woman) preach about her weaknesses and failings, neglecting to ask about the plight of any woman in such a patriarchal world.communication-project-manager

Rather, a woman with a scarf across her face and shoulders, defying the midday heat and, probably, the glares of her community, steps cautiously to the village well.

What person, even now, would elect a life with so many fractures? It is possible that her scarf disguised the consequences of such a life, common knowledge – and seed for common gossip – in small rural communities. This is not a life of choice, but one forced upon her, and perhaps her children. I wonder if her last de facto relationship gives her a fraction of freedom to choose, which none of the others – husband, Law, or community – would permit.

The poet, Seamus Heaney, [see the previous post] may be inviting us to consider her as someone even less similar to how she is typically cast:

She came every morning to draw water
Like an old bat staggering up the field …

And at that moment, we are free to brush aside the poet’s image, or discover the courage to consider it.

When she finds the voice to reply to Jesus, is it one of confidence, or is it barely above a whisper, for fear of who might be listening; or that one more man is asking something of her?

Does she glance warily around, as the conversation with Jesus reveals more than she would ever inteSamaritanWomanAtTheWell-HeQind?

Does she discover the depth of Jesus’ mercy, that he offers life to her, with nothing required in return?

Is her fear quenched when, braced for the customary assault, or blame, or barter, she is simply and only offered life?

Jesus gives her everything, when she, perhaps, believes she deserves less than nothing. Perhaps, even worse, this is reinforced for her every day.

Until this day.

What can it mean that Jesus knows everything we have ever done, and still welcomes us as loved?

What does it means that, despite the expectations and demands of everyone, Jesus speaks to us, offering life which fills our emptiness to overflowing?

What a story we have. The unwelcome welcomed. The unloved loved. The outcast gathered in. The broken healed.

A story worth the telling, is it not?

A Drink of Water | Seamus Heaney

She came every morning to draw water
Like an old bat staggering up the field:
The pump’s whooping cough, the bucket’s clatter
And slow diminuendo as it filled,
Announced her. I recall
Her grey apron, the pocked white enamel
Of the brimming bucket, and the treble
Creak of her voice like the pump’s handle.
Nights when a full moon lifted past her gable
It fell back through her window and would lie
Into the water set out on the table.
Where I have dipped to drink again, to be
Faithful to the admonishment of her cup,
Remember the Giver, fading off the lip.

Well Seasoned In Deed

Being marked with ash. Giving up chocolate, or alcohol, or something else you enjoy. Piggy banks. In some traditions, no flowers in church, no songs of praise, no baptisms … what on earth is going on?

For most people, and much of the church, it’s just another week, at the beginning of Autumn. In the tradition of the church we’ve walked into the season of Lent, which comes from an original word lencten, the season of Spring (which is what’s happening in Europe right now).ash-wed-3

So what?

Seasons are part of who we are, especially in rural areas. The burden of Summer’s height is relieved by the arrival of Autumn, and Spring’s arrival heralds the crop ready for harvest.

Most of us just get on with our work and families and gardens and friends, and that’s valuable. But for some of us, it’s a valuable time (forty days with built-in RDOs) to work on our discipleship with Jesus. It’s the discipline of not drinking beer, or eating chocolate for six weeks, and reflecting on what our small sacrifice might mean, especially as we journey towards Easter.

Anyone who says, “why bother?” might want to consider what even small sacrifices entail in a community where so much sits at our fingertips, or within reach of “tap & go”.

What about the idea of no flowers in worship, no songs of celebration?

Let me ask this another way. When are we given permission for seasons of difficulty, challenge, or doubt? If worship is only and always upbeat, where is the opportunity to acknowledge a God who is with us when the chips are down? Where is the liturgy which explores doubt and faith together?

If the worship in which we share fails to reflect the reality of our life’s journey –  or worse, denies it – then what are we saying about faith, about God?

Being marked with ash might seem archaic, but a couple of things come to mind. 30% of people under fifty years of age in Australia have at least one tattoo, so what does a smudge of ash on our forehead, or our hand matter? At the same time, we are claiming something impositionfor ourselves which we can no longer conceal.

A handful of us went to dinner at the pub after the Ash Wednesday Service, marked with the cross. It’s easy to feel self-conscious, even vulnerable, being so obviously and deliberately marked.

When the seasons of our lives have been completed,
when the time comes for the harvest to be gathered in,
may the fruit of our labours, and our living and loving
be pleasing to you, our heavenly Father.

A few of you are still wondering about the piggy banks, aren’t you?

In centuries past, people used clay pots to save money, and during Lent they were used for the money saved as people made their sacrifices. The Latin for clay is pygg. And so, after a linguistic journey of a several hundred years, clay pots, become piggy banks. Something for your local trivia nights …