Introducing Elspeth and Between The Stools, and a prayer
Music to meditate to with pictures – all pictures and music are my own (c)
THE SERMON: 1
I planned this service for last year, inspired by the repeating images of planets in the BBC’s Nativity. I wanted to do a different kind of service – so there’s no traditional carols or readings here. A service away from the obvious and into the epic. I had no idea then how cosmic this Christmas of 2020 would be…
I was brought up with contradictory feelings about outer space. As a child, it was fine to have such an interest – in fact my first music was Holst’s The Planets suite. But I became aware of astrology – to be carefully marked from astronomy – and this was a devilish, sinful, erroneous pseudo science to be avoided. Yet, I have to say, for all those about to quote the Bible at me, that the Star of Bethlehem is literally star of the show – after Jesus of course, and perhaps Mary and Joseph – in this story. We only hear of it in one gospel, Matthew, but it’s captured our imaginations. Secular trees are often topped with stars. Carol sheets are adorned with them. This bright, bright star has a particular shape, a kind of cross-like four axis – is that any accident? The Magi were prescient with their gifts, including myrrh…but the Magi will get their day on epiphany. What I’m trying to set up here, before we go into a musical reflection, is that heavenly bodies are very much part of this heavenly story. Some of you will already be comfortable with that and you’ll be celebrating the Solstice tomorrow as much as Christmas. Some of you may actually be celebrating something other than Christmas – I’m aware that it’s Yule and Hanukkah too. But despite my faith’s broad apron, I make no apologies for this being a service about Christmas, the Christian festival; but I also have no qualms about celebrating Solstice, and about talking about the planets in this service.
This year, I discovered solfeggio and healing sounds. Sounds for otherworldly, epic. I have these on my instrument. I even have sound called Jupiter – sad Jupiter, although he’s meant to be bringer of jollity. I think that this year, the by-passing of Jupiter is about joy. I’m going to play some sounds for us to reflect on whilst we look at pictures of planets I made and think of the epic nature of the Christological Christmas event. [Note: I don’t claim that these are healing or tuned to solfeggio frequencies – I hope that other pieces will be]
In my upbringing, the main attraction was always the sermon, and I make no apologies for mine being evangelical length. I’d also have time for discussion in many of my services, but those parts won’t ever be recorded, and nor will anyone who comes, unless they volunteer to lead and choose to be. There will possibly be more music – the shape of the services is fluid, although they will be unlike established ones, and I won’t be using liturgy. So the services will actually be a little longer and there’ll be a chance to mingle and get to know each other.
It’s horrific that worship has been so restricted and interrupted this year; that Easter didn’t really happen, and that carol services are being held far apart with masks, and you’re expected to leave straight away without socialising. No mulled wine and minced pies! And no singing! I must say that I’m disgusted at this, and at churches for complying without seeming to challenge. If you want to hear more about why I feel that, please read my open letter to Christians which is on the top of my blog, underneath this service. I have much to say about the events of this year and also the systems to be broken down – for they’re crumbling – and what we should do instead. Note that I don’t say ‘replace them’.
[And if you’re interested in why I left the C of E, read here… there are follow up posts]
When we meet next year – and I do hope we’ll meet again – the world will be very different. In a good way. Many of the familiar structures, including church, will not be recognisable.
I’m inviting you to get settled for Cosmic Christmas – the sermon.
It’ll be epic in its scope and snaky in its logic. Prepare yourself….
Karl Barth, the German theologian of the last century, was another who spoke out against the established churches of his land during the Nazi years. For that alone, he feels relevant; but for the rest of tonight, I wish to focus on cosmology, although it will necessarily involve some demonology. Barth changed his theology quite drastically throughout his life, ending up in neo-orthodoxy. As an undergraduate – I am now an overgraduate! – I came across Karl often, so that I feel I want to be on first name terms.
All this surname business links to deeper imbalances I’ll bring up another time, so I’m resisting it here. In his tertiary theological period, he wrote a huge multi-volume Church Dogmatics. Interestingly, Karl did not start his systematic theology with creation, as is standard; he began with Jesus. Although Christians divide their Bible into two testaments, for the two covenants God made with his people, for Karl, Jesus is the only covenant that God made with humans.
I now don’t agree with Karl Barth on many things, but I am interested in his unconventional starting point, which makes sense to me. Like many, I see Jesus as being queued up from that Garden moment – hence we sometimes have a Genesis reading in carol services. Here began the Matrix, and here the seed of our Neo was born. That movie of 20 years ago starring Keanu Reeves feels very apt this year, and the phrase ‘taking the red pill’ has entered popular culture, often standing for those groups who are awake to the Matrix and the need to break free of it. When I saw it at the cinema, one of my companions was less impressed by this dark, stylised action thriller: “Why didn’t he take the blue pill, and we could all have gone hum [Norfolk for ‘home’]”. Indeed, comedian JP Sears has made a sketch this year about Blue Pill people – those who choose to carry on doing what they always did, believing the illusion, even though it is clearly harmful, and trying to pretend that there is no illusion. For them, the blue pill is the safe option.
I used to think that Jesus was actually present in the Garden of Eden, and his first line was ‘hath God said?’ It was on the premise that snake – who is never named as anything but… Snake, is also translatable as The Shining One, the Wise One; and Jesus likened himself to the story of the Children of Israel receiving their first homeopathic healing from snake bite by gazing upon a serpent lifted up. That word for shining was used again. Was he not therefore catalyst and cure? Whereas no lightning struck when I published that blog post, I am revising my view a little.
But I did see that moment as the invitation to stop walking in the park, or garden, and begin an adventure. Humans could drift around in a state of unknowing, or experience it all – the dramas of the human experience. So yes, I believed – unlike Barth – in an upward Fall, to gain more than was lost after Jesus’ act of salvation, not a mere restitution.
But then I felt: look at all that suffering we’ve all been through. Look at the horrors that some have endured. Call this an invitation? What was so bad about the blue pill? And was the Matrix already there, or didn’t that moment create it? Is God playing with us, like in the book of Job, seeing if we can be tempted out of relationship with him, and to find out just what our breaking point is? I felt like CS Lewis said of God after he lost his wife, Joy. Are we rats in your celestial laboratory, Lord? Do you enjoy ‘teaching’ us through pain? A state you invented, along with the frailty of our bodies, the intensity of our emotions, the delicate balance of our natural world…which makes our demise so easy.
And then, you supposedly gave us free will, but that means that we have the capacity for the greatest horrors, of greed, violence, control… and its ultimate expression: enslavement.
I am starting to see how much we are enslaved, and that some familiar Bible verses about our state are not, as ancient too influential teachers have said, about human’s intrinsic sinful nature, but about the way the world operates.
Was this operating system already present in the Garden? Is the Garden literal, you’re wondering, and do I believe it is? Yes and no, I say. There is certainly rich allegory here – I did a whole course over 2 terms on just these chapters. There is much more, especially if one starts to explore Jewish mystical interpretations, and be aware that there are not dissimilar stories in other ancient cultures, including that tree – or rather, the pair of them.
Did God not want us to know the difference between good and evil? Were we innocent, and therefore good, or just ignorant? Isn’t this God who walked with us – for we are encouraged to see ourselves in that first pair – somewhat of a controlling nanny of a God, like our rulers are being to us now? Moral complexities are not something that we are to get involved in. We are told ‘don’t share, not true’ and expected not to need a discussion or evidence – just compliance.
Usually, this story is seen as ‘we couldn’t even keep God’s first commandment’ and thus that our disobedience, our rebellion, required God to send his own Son into this world that so drastically fell in that one act – the eating of the apple, and then lying and hiding – that cosmology was changed in that one moment.
I want to think about that: how precarious our environment, our relationship of walking with the Lord in the cool of the day. All this trouble to create a world, to especially make us in His own image – Their own image – note the plural – and then, it seems five minutes of not yet being recorded time later, and we’re sinning, being cursed and expelled.
And says the apostle but not very saintly Paul, we all died in Adam in that moment: all of us since became sinners, unfit for that perfect garden and walking with the Lord in such intimacy and also plain sight. Just as Adam and Eve felt the need to hide their bodies, now so did God, from us; when he later appeared to Moses, the patriarch law receiver had to turn so that he may not look on God; and traditional Jews will not even name Him.
It’s often seen as brilliant original theology for that early church planter and letter writer to have seen Jesus as a second Adam, the inverse image of the fallen first; the refraction of those squash your painting together and make a two sided butterfly picture. The dark, abysmally human Adam, as prototype to us all, is now mirrored by the perfect Spotless Lamb of God, taking our sins like a scape goat, ending the need for animal sacrifice to appease an angry God, so holy that it’s OK for him to get that angry about our sin and demand that others of his creation are slain to make it alright again.
But I am going to challenge Paul. I am aware that the Bible is a collection edited at a meeting that had we chaired, we might have decided differently. Typically of the ruling class, a few got to speak for the many, and that council of Nicea chose but excluded certain texts to make up the ‘true’ canon of scripture, which even the established church argues over, for some books they left out – the Apocrypha – appear in some Bibles, and the myriad of translations leaves even greater queries.
I am a strong advocate of discernment, of using my intuition and letting my God speak to me: Lord, is this really you? Was this just how a new, word spreading believer entrenched in Jewish and judicial ways understood you, or is this what you would like us to know of you for all time? Was your will really done in Nicea for once and for all, or are other forces at work in keeping us from your true message? Could it really have got so distorted? And why question now?
Forces are at work, absolutely, in keeping us from truth on so many levels. Yes, God’s message could – and has – got badly twisted along its 2000 years journey since Jesus – and the thousands before that, to the Jewish people. And there’s a reason that so much is being questioned, so much coming up for release at this extraordinary watershed. It’s why Mary Magdalene is being rediscovered so powerfully, and why others are speaking of the need for the reclamation of the divine feminine.
On a course I’m taking about Mary’s gospel, one of our group said that Christianity was ultimately unappealing to her because half of God seemed missing, at least in the mainstream telling. We are told that our world is made up of male and female and that these opposite complementary energies are needed to create life: but that God our Creator is only male. He’s 3-in-1, sounding like modern advertising and convenience devices than a godhead, but none of the Trinity are women.
Of course, there’s plenty of Mother in God. She’s Mamma Chook to her chicks, the Shekinah Glory pillar of leading and protection is female, Wisdom is a Woman, and so is the Holy Spirit. In this city, a woman 647 years ago saw that God is indeed our Mother – we call Julian ‘mother’ too. But some of us don’t realise this, in either sense of ‘realise’, and if we do, it’s a buried side note. No wonder that some find more succour and connection in faiths where there are multiple gods. I’ve been wondering about the personas of the Old Testament, and the uneven and ungodly behaviour of God and the different names – as I discussed in June. I’m not alone in this enquiry.
Yes, Jesus, who we think about each December, was a male child – I’ve not heard that disputed. He did have a human MOTHER – note that it was the father’s role that was done angelically, and he had a close companion in the other Mary – Magdalene, the tower of enlightenment. And he had other women friends and followers, as well as a band of brothers. I like to think that Jesus had a developed divine feminine side as well as being divinely masculine – and we’ve seen some of the worst distortions of both those this year.
And I believe that Jesus was planned at the start. Who was he? The pre-existence of Christ was an essay question that I chose not to answer, but it’s a common conundrum. Was Jesus present in any way at the garden (or was that Lucifer and just who is – and isn’t – this Devil character? I’ll be asking that in the New Year). Surely he [Jesus] is the serpentine head crusher of Genesis 3; is he Melchizedek, mentioned in Hebrews 7, the great High Priest? Was he Enoch, who ascended to be with God without dying? And when will he be back?
Lots of us are turning our eyes to the skies and to the Book of Revelation at this time, and I think rightly so. Is the Lamb going to appear imminently? What is this Great Conjunction of tomorrow, when our two largest planets move as close as they’ve been in 800 years? Was there a strange conjunction in Adam and Eve’s time? We’re aware of a great astrological event – or a miraculous sign – when Jesus was born. Out of the attempts to answer what that Star might have been, I like the observation that if it was another Great Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter (and possibly Mars too) that it rose in the time of Leo, the sign of Israel and kings, or at the time (my truth telling Sunday) that the end of the Flood was celebrated by Jews. [see 1996 article by Craig Chester]
This was another covenant that God had, and yes, it’s the first rainbow – a symbol stolen this year, not just from the LGBT community, but as one NHS worker too afraid to name themselves said, stolen because it’s been used to create fear and hide what’s really happening. I will let you read that testimony in the Off Guardian yourself, but I have heard others like it. My applause is for those whistleblowers and those who refused to be swept into that flood of fear and sweep others into it.
I’ve long had an issue with the Flood – not the possibility of it actually happening, for I am aware of those who say it’s scientifically supported, the prevalence of a similar story in all ancient cultures, and the oddness of alternative reasons for why the dinosaurs died so suddenly and fossils created. My issue is: why did God do that to his own creation? Five chapters after creating us, he’s planning on destroying us all – animals too. Not only has he flushed us out of the garden hardly ere he put us there, but now, he’s intent on not just letting us become perishable, but making us perish.
And what was this crime, what were these people doing that was so awful? Why was God grieved he’d made us all, save Noah and his family? We’re not told. And yet so many crimes of and against humanity have been committed since – and are being done now – but isn’t this one, perpetrated by God? Who will hold him to account?!
Why didn’t God send Jesus then, to Noah’s world? Why wait perhaps 4000 years – late in time, Hark the Herald writer Wesley thought. Why destroy it instead? Especially if you believe that Jesus was planned all along. And why not destroy us? Has God changed since the Flood days? How did Jesus coming to Earth and dying sort this problem out, and just what is this problem of evil?
There are many sermons worth of material in these questions, and yes, I’ll be preaching them, and yes the material will overlap.
But I believe that Flood is very relevant to now.
I’m going to take a wee break and I’ll tell you why that boat is part of a Cosmic Christmas service, and why it matters.
Note the pink light and single band and the shape made by the overlapping planets (thanks to Louisa for the idea for the latter)
Sermon Part 2
So: why am I weaving in Creation and the Flood to the Atonement at Christmas? Because we need to understand why Jesus came, and also about his coming again.
And I’ve had some very surprising news to assimilate this year. You’ll hear more in the next sermon, and others. One is something that may make the more Christian among you seek refuge in the hills. It’s not mainstream theology or anthropology, but it isn’t just me either. When I first read this notion six years ago, I wanted to dismiss it. Too weird, too ridiculous, too uncomfortable. It was the last that got to me. I was already a believer in some kind of matrix, but this….? If that’s fully taking the red pill, I’ll hold out just now.
But this year especially, some things have begun converging – things that I was already cognizant of. I had come to believe in the presence of an unseen controlling group, for though I have not knowingly encountered one, like the missing source Q in biblical criticism’s synoptic problem (what problem?. Moving on…) I had come to posit their existence by the shape of the evidence around it. Something, someone, a group of someones, was doing something very evil to this world. Was I to resurrect my belief in Satan and his band of banshees, prowling like a roaring lion – or was he a snake after all? Seems like snakes are not far out…
I oddly retained just one superhero artefact from my youth: a Superman annual of 1982.
Yes, the second movie released at that time was very much hinting at a Father sends his only Son to show us the way… we have a great capacity for love…. but need some help…
But I’m not doing a Superman comparison this sermon. I love to mix in popular culture – often much more than I have here. I said that I’d stick to Jesus this time. I didn’t say that what I said would satisfy the Westminster Catechism, or Confession of Faith.
This annual had a story by Joe Pasko “Race to the End of Time” where Superman and The Flash meet aliens who have been warring across the universe for so many centuries, that they’ve forgotten the cause of the war. They’re semi human, more like mean gnomes, and they’ve got scales. I hated this tale as a child, where Superman is told that these races impregnated our world with the exhaust from their living spacecraft.
God is my Father, I thought passionately. And I still do. And my Mother. Not these tight costumed big eared things, technologically advanced but capable of much cruelty and chaos – and seeming little concerned about what their pursuits do the earth. Battle and power is glory in itself for them.
That God made me ‘fearfully and wonderfully’ and deliberately – is essential. That the God who made me came into his own creation incognito, born as we are, feeling as we do, teaching, and then giving his life for us before returning to Glory – this it what makes the Christmas message, the Christian message, good and wondrous news.
I recalled this Superman story recently and read it again. No, it doesn’t bear the names I was expecting, but this ridiculous and unbiblical story – or so I thought – is born out in other sources. I don’t mean historical ones – not that science and history, especially as we do them, are necessarily more true. But others were saying similar things about the way our world came to be, what the Flood really was, who is ruling – or trying to rule us.
And I’ve started to see Jesus differently, not buying us back, not atoning for our sins through sacrifice, not even as I put it on my website, saving us from our own anger, not God’s. But what was this problem that God dealt with so drastically at the Flood?
And why did God need to intervene in human history with his own son?
And – why is He going to do it again?
I was directed to read the start of Genesis 6, the beginning of the Flood story. The Nephilim, the giants, the sons of God who mated with the daughters of men. This, I am told, is They. The real THEY – The Hierachy Enslaving You. Here are your real baddies. These powerful people were so great and so troublesome that God had to think how to get rid of them – quick. So no sending Jonahs to preach to these Ninevites; no haggling with God a la Abraham to spare more people. Although in the Quran, Noah does preach and his large scale vessel brings attention – mostly negative – these beings aren’t given an opportunity for mercy. God clearly wanted the extant other creatures to survive, hence his 2 by 2 (or 7 – for sacrifices had already begun) policy. We’re also not told what the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah are – certainly not homosexuality, as we’d understand it, but something truly dark.
I’m starting to get a picture of what both might be – for they happen still.
I’ve also heard that the Flood might be caused by one of the alternative, lesser gods; or that rather than a divine punishment, it was caused by planets coming near, or atomic explosions; and that the world created in Genesis 1 was in fact a remodelling of a burnt out globe destroyed by the greedy overreaching of a careless people. This how many see the story of Atlantis – not as myth, but history, and that we are heading in a similar way…
Speaking of advanced civilizations which burned out, I’m noting that Babylon appears in the Bible a few times; Babel, the first story after the Flood, is based on its name, which means ‘confusion’. We read that Lucifer, king of Babylon, fell from heaven. This is often seen as Satan’s backstory. Some argue that no, it’s a real king; now I think: this really connects to the essence of evil. The Babylonian empire was a time of slavery for the children of Israel, a time which inspired the famous Psalm 137, ‘by the rivers of Babylon’, where slaves yearn about their homeland and singing the Lord’s song in a strange land. (here the divine mmms and steel drums of Boney M’s 1978 hit).
Babylon is like Rome in that way – the oppression that Jews hoped that their Messiah would end. And Jesus did come whilst Judea was under Roman rule, and he predicted the fall of their great temple (note it was the Jewish temple, not Rome itself) although both came and he precipitated neither.
In the end book of the Bible, popularly thought to be about end times, Babylon appears again… and this is significant. Babylon is a dinosaur-like beast, like the encounters that Job has that modern scholars – even the evangelicals who compiled the NIV – mocked, for humans did not share with dinosaurs. Thus the behemoth and leviathan must be elephants and crocodiles, says the study notes.
But could much of what we think we know be wrong?
How do dragons and behemoths relate to Jesus? What am I really trying to say here?
That I believe that other species may have had a hand in human history and may live among us? That although I’m not sure I still believe in a literal Devil, that there are dark forces who God and the angels and we must battle, and we’re soon facing the ultimate cosmic crusade, here in our skies, even on our earth? Might I be one of those people who believes in reptile aliens who have been enslaving us since the Babylonian era, and that the Bible makes hints about this, and that this year’s events will reveal and ruin this forever? Am I saying that I not only think that Christ’s coming was written in the stars, but that the stars again are converging to show…a second coming? The second coming? That Jesus was born at the start of the Piscean era, and now it’s the Age of Aquarius? And you bet I believe those mysterious monoliths appearing are the work of extra terrestrials. Look at the picture in the poster. Yes, it’s the Earth being bombarded with long straight bits of light, and I had those in mind. I think we’ll start seeing what they do tomorrow…
Aren’t I going to feel stupid if I’m wrong? Didn’t those who said the world would end eight years ago feel like muppets? Well, something did happen in 2012, and New Agers tell me that that was the beginning of the Era of Change, Light, Peace. This is its culmination. People laughed at Noah, who was making something conspicuous. I also like that film “Evan Almighty” where God asks a newsreader – not even a believer – to build another ark. When there appears to be no rain, his wife says: Maybe it’s a flood of consciousness. [She actually says awareness and knowledge – still relevant].
And this will be – in the first instance. Remember what happens next in that movie?
But there will be other levels of flooding: light and love.
And doors will burst open, dams will burst, and we’ll see what’s been hiding under the surface for so long. It and they will have nowhere to hide.
Will Jesus return? Is this angel train time? I hope it’s something tangible, but this is an exciting time. And Jesus is definitely at the heart of it. He’s not working alone. I think he is calling on his angels from the realms of glory, but he’s also calling on us to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, the opening of eyes, the release of prisoners (including from mass house arrest and from under masks). I think there’ll be some new captives instead… and God will be doing some judging, but I’ll leave that part of His work for another time.
I’m nearly done now. Thank you for being with me, and listening, especially if this has been very far from your own beliefs, and there’s been a lot to take in.
I want to send you out in joy, in hope, in confidence. Whatever you’re being told your Christmas, your 2021 and beyond will be like, I want to proclaim that something profoundly different, profoundly new is here. This is its eve. Can you feel it? A friend once said that this – Christmas – is the time that God intervened and changed history.
I think he’s going to do it again. And we are witnesses and co-workers.
I’m not going to wish you a happy Christmas, and certainly not a merry one. I will issue you a brave one, a surprising, and extraordinary one… and I think there will be joy. I pray for you all, especially if you think that joy is impossible for you. Our God specialises in overturning ‘impossible’ prognoses and diagnoses. He also specialises in healing and making all things new. He is not only being birthed – he is birthing.
Jesus didn’t come to make us good, he came to make us free – and we are free!
I pray that you will experience Jesus this Christmas. I think you may have a job not to…
OUTRO: ‘Behold I am making all things new’
I’ll be back on 10th January, same time, same place, for Epiphany
Between The Stools now has a video channel set up on Brighteon – a trailer is coming soon