Will it blend?
Dr Simon Perry
Once upon a time, someone somewhere on the research and development team of a kitchen utensil company, must have wondered what it would be like, if you powered a food blender using a Saturn 5 rocket. Well, the result – it seems – is the appliance produced by Blendtec. In fact, the Red Brick café here is a proud owner of a Blendtec foodblender: which can be used to blend almost anything imaginable. It will transform a rock-hard grannie smith into baby food, turn ice into dust, and reduce a frozen mars bar into yoghurt. In fact, it is so powerful, its marketing department conducted a series of online experiments entitled, ‘Will it blend?’
Candidates for blending have included a baseball, an iphone 5, and Justin Bieber. Now, if this were a Sunday School – I would want to look at the Blendtec equipage and say, ‘that’s a bit like Jesus’. Of course, it’s a crude and stupid illustration – but it seems that one theme that has emerged throughout this series of sermons on the presence of God, have been that God considered out there, in the abstract – at a safe distance from who I really am, at arm’s length from my spirit, is a pointless, irrelevant, tedious, predictable deity. And.. debates and questions about whether this kind of deity exists are as tedious and predictable and inclusive and pointless.
Because the god who emerges in readings and sermons of this term, is a God who is present: not present in some fluffy, eiderdown, please feel comforted and uplifted way – but a God whose presence spells discomfort, disruption and violence. We began the term looking at belief in resurrection, not as subscribing to a divine fairytale, but as radical exposure to that which is radically other. Ascension speaks of a God who, though no longer present in the person of Christ, is made present through the subversive action of the church in the world. Professor Hooker spoke about the Holy Spirit’s presence in Pentecost as a mighty wind, in Hebrew, the ruach Adonai – a violent hurricane. Sister Ann from Fisher House spoke of the Trinity not as an abstract God up there, but as a divine unity that draws humanity into the dynamic relation between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Dr Brian Sloane spoke of the ambiguities surrounding the provision of care, drawing attention to the impossibility of making trite Christian claims about the practical care in action of the God of Scripture. And on several occasions, reference has been made to a point made by the Marxist literary critic, Terry Eagleton, who famously said, "If you follow Jesus and don't end up dead, it appears you have some explaining to do."
The presence of God, is not meant necessary to be the unquestioning support of an omnipotent do-gooder, nor the unconditional positive regard of a divine counsellor. In the Jesus of Scripture, we encounter a figure who does not offer us peace but invites us to inhabit a world of violence – I did not come to bring peace, he says, but a sword.
Equally, in the writings of Paul and his claims about the law – for Paul it is easy to treat the Jewish Law (and today, we might say the Christian Scripture) as something outside me, something at a safe distance from who I am, something outside me by which I can measure myself, some external principle or ideal or value. But when Paul talks of the Spirit as against the law, he talks about a divine presence that reaches inside who you really are in all your humanity, and uses language of labour, and groaning, and convulsions, and struggle and resistance – because only then, only on the far side of this violence, does the kind of peace offered by this god have any genuine meaning.
Historically, this is supposed to be what education is. Not a set of information about the world that we struggle to process so that we can go back into the world after three years of training, able to understand everything better and thus lead an efficient and productive life. The point of education, is liberation – the ability to abandon long-cherished views if we encounter something new, the readiness to allow one worldview to displace another, the capacity to engage openly with that which is radically other.
And this, at root, is the message of Easter around which this term has been phrased. The Byrd anthem today was concerned with the real presence of Jesus – the theme we have followed this term. That is, we celebrate the presence of Jesus with a radical, bodily, physical remembrance of a monumentally violent act. Not to say that if you follow this Jesus, it is violence, doom and gloom all the way to eternity. The point of celebrating the body and blood of Christ – is not to venerate it as an eternal truth, or take it as a sacred snack – but with our eyes wide open, to consider the body and blood of Christ and ask, Will it blend?
Will this set of doctrines or truths or myths or stories or whatever we want to call Christian belief – will it become part of who I really am? Will I allow it to challenge my ideologies and convictions? Will it make a difference to what the world really is?