St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary
“A Ray of Darkness” by Rowan Williams
Chapters 7 and 10
“The Covenant in Our Flesh” and “Palm Sunday”
Sunday, September 22, 2002
This is the second in a series of five informal discussions led by Rev. Mike Kreutzer, which will attempt to analyze and more thoroughly understand the book of sermons and reflections entitled A Ray of Darkness written by the Right Rev. Rowan Williams. Bishop Williams, who is of Welsh origin, has been elected to become the next Archbishop of Canterbury. He has served as Professor of Theology at both Cambridge and Oxford.
The group discussion began by analysis of the concept of obedience or response, i.e. to see God’s presence in each situation. In fact, can we dare to say “the obedience of God”? God indeed made himself obedient to human beings. The concept of connecting circumcision with a covenant with God was then questioned. It was noted that this was something from the “law” in the Old Testament. The Jewish people felt they were the chosen people and this was an identifier. It was also noted that this left women out of the picture as well. This concept is somewhat abstract but it is also in line with other ideas conveyed in the book. If the premise is that God must operate within the laws of the universe, then chance and risk will always be present. Another argument could be that God made the laws of the universe, therefore he could alter them as needed. It was suggested that the covenant between God and man was like a contract. But it was pointed out it was actually much more than that as noted from Old Testament scripture. The example given was where Abraham cut an animal in half and walked through the two halves with the one he made the covenant. If the covenant was broken, then the person was promised to receive the same treatment as the animal! In this case, God has made the covenant with himself, thus binding himself to it. So the question was raised is the covenant between God and the Jewish nation still valid? St. Paul writes in Romans that God will not abandon his people! It was also pointed out that there are a number of different covenants discussed throughout the Bible including the “new covenant”.
God binds himself to us and respects our free will as people. This is one reason why he doesn’t prevent disasters and unpleasant situations from happening. Sometimes we ask, “Why did God let this happen?” A noted author wrote, “God is not interventional, but God is intentional!” What is it that God really needs us to learn and do? We as people do not know all the answers, but continue our search. This is a decidedly Anglican viewpoint. Many other religions such as some of the more fundamental types, seem to provide more “answers”. Just follow these steps and that’s all that is necessary.
The discussion then turned to the concept of transfiguration. It was explained that it is the process of being transferred into participants of God’s kingdom and all its fullness. This is what Jesus did. Jesus broke through the rules of “table fellowship”. That is, only being allowed to come to the table with the others after you had learned to follow and obey a prescribed set of rules and regulations. Jesus’ mission was to break down these “entry” rules and do it “right now” within his ministry, which included allowing the entry of outcasts and groups of people who were never allowed in the past to “come to the table”. People can choose to be spiritually well or not. The Christian hope is that the entire world will be healed and transfigured. That means we would all be participating in God’s covenant and living peaceful and meaningful lives here on earth. There would be no more evil forces at work. This provoked discussion on the concept of good and evil and that there will always be evil in this world. If no evil exists, is there any work for us to do? Will there be evil in a transfigured world? Will our good works be rewarded in the next plane of life in heaven? How much good work is enough? These are some of the answers we keep searching for!
Next, group discussion turned to chapter ten. It is commonly interpreted that Jesus was driving out the people in the temple who were involved with wicked dealings with the church. The answer lies deeper than that. He was involved with driving out those who made all of the preconditions to enter into the church. It was noted that archeologists believe that much of the commerce of the day took place in the vaults below the temple. God is everywhere, thus making rules and regulations to enter his house is wrong or anything we do to make people feel unwelcome to come to church is wrong in God’s eyes. It seems very difficult in today’s world to get all people to want to come into God’s house and embrace his teachings. Even within the same family, some children embrace God and others reject him. Sometimes this can be the result of a bad experience at one church or another.
The group was then asked to consider the correlation between the destruction of the World Trade Centers and driving out the evil persons from the temple. Was there a connection between Jesus’ punishment of them and the fall of these buildings? Many people both within the Christian and Islamic faith find fault with business. Is this always fair? Business growth has allowed this country to prosper and enjoy a high standard of living for its people. Islam teachings today are different than they were many years ago. During the Middle Ages the Islamic world brought many new and progressive ideas into the fields of science and mathematics. There were also periods when Christians were not allowed to speak their thoughts. It was suggested that the Islamic world is poised for some major changes in its thinking in the next fifty years or so. If we believe that everything in life is a gift from God, including some of the tragedies that befall us, then this can help us achieve an inner peace. As Christians, we need to continue to strive to make our church more and more accessible to everyone in the community. Anyone who comes through our doors must be able to participate in the celebration of God.
Next week’s discussion will focus on chapters eleven and fifteen (“The Forgiveness of Sins” and “Building Up Ruins”).