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Article | March 31, 2024

Sermon: Repairing Our Worldview at Easter

Blog|The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm Clemens Young

Watch the sermon on YouTube.

“Living and true God, open our eyes to your mystery, open our hearts to your love. Amen.”

What do you love and why? At the midpoint of his life the poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), overcome by exhaustion, loses the true path and finds himself in a terrifying existential wilderness. Thus begins his journey through hell, purgatory and heaven to rediscover his true self. In paradise, the beauty and brightness of Jesus’ closest friend John is like the sun. It causes Dante to temporarily go blind. St. John gently asks that simple question. What do you love and why? My translation of the Italian says, “declare the aim on which your soul is set.”[i]

At Easter we step back from the busyness and distractions of our lives to rediscover and celebrate what is truly good, what we really love. This morning’s sermon has three chapters called worldview, resurrection and transformation.

1. Worldview. I love the German word for it – Weltanschauung, literally world-perception. It reminds us that our individual idiosyncrasies mean that we experience the same world in very different ways. Every week someone says, “you must be freezing riding your bike around here.” And I think to myself, “the air is so clear, the views so spectacular, that hundreds of people from around the world are renting bikes right now to experience what I get to do every day.”

Michael Guillen is the former ABC Science editor and has an interdisciplinary PhD in mathematics, physics and astronomy. For many years as a student he called himself an atheist because people he relied on seemed to believe that science and religion were at odds with each other. Like Dante perhaps, over time the question began to nag him.

He began to put together spreadsheets that compared scientific, atheistic and religious thought. He concluded that on questions like “Does absolute truth exist?” “Are their truths that cannot be proven?” and, “Is the universe designed for life?” a scientific view, with its value of wonder and open inquiry, far more closely matches a religious view than an atheistic one.[ii]

I don’t know if this is the case. I’m not sure that I would agree completely with his reasoning but the important thing that Guillen points out is that people hold vastly different worldviews and that these are crucially important to the quality of our life. What is a worldview? It is the answer to the question, what do you love and why. It is that deep subconscious self that determines how you see the world and how you react to it. Everyone has a worldview.

Guillen notes that you may see yourself as smart, sophisticated, modern. But do not think that this means that your worldview is based on logic. Your worldview, like everyone else’s, depends on what you believe to be true. It is based on faith. Atheists rely on faith, on assumptions that cannot be proved. Fundamentalist Christians rely on a faith that they may not really understand.[iii]

Guillen writes that many people especially young people today believe that opinions and feelings are more important than facts and that for them faith is dangerous. He connects this with today’s unprecedented levels of loneliness, suicide, addiction and despair. Guillen asserts that your worldview should be your most treasured possession because it is central to becoming fulfilled, to a meaningful life. Easter Sunday is an opportunity to tune up our worldview.

2. Resurrection. James Alison is one of my favorite theologians and will be preaching here on June 16. I find his ideas immensely helpful as I try to work on my own worldview. In the Forward to one of his books Archbishop Rowan Williams writes, “The resurrection of Jesus makes it impossible to take for granted that the world is nothing but a system of oppressors and victims, an endless cycle of reactive violence. We are free to understand ourselves and each other in a new way, as living in mutual gift not mutual threat…. [and this] sets in motion relations of forgiveness, equality and care.”[iv] How do we adopt this worldview and begin to be free?

Alison starts with a question that we sometimes hear, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” This means something different to all of us. It might sound like its excluding you, or a kind of boasting. It might fill you with joy. But Alison points out that we do not have a relation to Jesus in the way that we do with ordinary people. He writes that thousands and maybe hundreds of thousands of indigenous Guatemalans have been murdered. At least one was likely to be a thirty-three year old man who we might call Francisco. Does anyone claim to have a personal relationship with Francisco? What is it that makes the way we talk about Jesus different?


The answer is the resurrection. “[S]tarting from a Sunday morning in the first century a group of people began to make extraordinary claims about someone who was killed the Friday before.”[v] We hear their testimony as they come to understand what happened to them, and to finally comprehend what Jesus taught them during his life. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, Salome, Peter, Thomas, Paul, Mark, etc. are not merely making the point that the resurrection happened. They also witness to the fact that it, “profoundly changed them… causing them to rethink the whole of their lives, their relationship with their homeland, their culture, its values…” their understanding of God, and in short their worldview.[vi]

Everyone agrees that no one saw the actual moment of resurrection. Also, it did not happen to people at random. Jesus appeared to particular people in a particular context. That is, these were mostly friends, with great hopes, many of them thought that he was going to overturn the occupying powers. They felt disillusioned. But even more than that they felt guilty about abandoning him. Their relationship with Jesus ended when he was crucified on Good Friday. You cannot have a mutual relationship with someone who is dead. There was no closure, just tragedy, confusion and guilt.

We might be tempted to think of Peter as the good disciple and Judas as the bad one, but both betrayed Jesus – Peter by letting him down when he promised to be steadfast and Judas by actively working with his enemies. The sin that destroyed Judas was not treachery but his inability to believe in the possibility of forgiveness.[vii]

The people who encountered Jesus began to see their lives from a completely new vantage point. Suddenly their worldview had to accommodate absolute grace. Alison calls this gratuity, a shocking gift that comes to us from completely outside the realm of our relationships. Those friends of Jesus received a gift totally independent and beyond what we deserve or can control or manipulate. It is something beyond what we are owed or can earn or pay back. It is forgiveness. In Rowan Williams’ words, we are being freed from our, “prison of self-absorbed, self-referential feelings beyond the reactive and repetitive world sustained by sin.” We no longer have to pass on or return the wounds that we have received.

3. Transformation. Our former Dean of Grace Cathedral Alan Jones was by nature a bit of a sceptic. And yet, the older he grew, the more strongly he came to believe in resurrection. He felt convinced, yet uncomfortable, because he knew it required him to change, to be transformed.[viii]

Alan tells a story about a dandelion growing in a forest clearing and asking nutrients from the soil if they want to become a dandelion. The nutrients shrug their shoulders, if nutrients can do that and ask “what does this involve?” The dandelion says, “I’ll draw you up into my roots and you will become a dandelion.” Since transformation is the name of the game they agree, and are drawn up by the roots and transformed into a lush thriving dandelion.[ix]

Then a rabbit comes hopping along (you probably were wondering when you’d eventually hear about a rabbit in an Easter sermon). The rabbit says to the dandelion, how would you like to become a rabbit? It says “what will that entail?” The rabbit answers, “if you let me eat you, you will become strong and fast.” And sure enough it agreed and the rabbit did.

Later along the forest path a hunter came along and said, “Rabbit, how would you like to be a human?” “What will that involve?” I’ll make you into a stew and you will become part of this great chain of transformation. The rabbit thinks about it for a bit but finally says, okay. The hunter eats the rabbit. Feeling refreshed and strong he goes walking in the forest. The story ends rather abruptly. A voice from heaven says, “Human being. How would you like to become God?” I guess that’s the reason Alan resists resurrection.

Alan’s point is that resurrection is not just about us being forgiven, it is about being changed. There are words about not judging others and forgiveness in the Bible like, “Let anyone who is without sin cast the first stone.” (Jn. 8:7), or “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt. 5:9), or, “Forgive others their trespasses” (Mt. 6:14). It is difficult but we can choose to let these words become part of us, part of our worldview.

A Quaker was with his friend at the store when the sales clerk treated him rudely. The Quaker responded with care and love. Afterwards the friend said, “that sales person was a jerk, why were you so nice to him?” The Quaker replied, “why should I allow his behavior to set the agenda and tone of my response to life?”[x]

What do you love and why? Whether you are in darkness dangerously losing the true path or are feeling almost blinded by the light of Christ, your worldview should be your most treasured possession. The resurrection offers us a gift outside the rewards and consequences of all our relationships. It offers us a chance to leave the prison of our self-absorption with its system of oppressors and victims, and to be transformed. We do not need to pass on or return the wounds that we have received.

This week in my memory I have been revisiting the most beautiful Easter Sundays of my life. I found myself imagining childhood in the backyard of my grandparents with my great aunts and uncles. And I have been remembering nine beautiful Easter Sundays here with you and so many others who have passed on. This is what I love – being with you as we give thanks to God.


Let me close with a few lines from Dante’s Paradiso that sum up my feelings. “Amazement overwhelming me, I – like / a child who always hurries back to find / that place he trusts the most – turned to my guide; / and like a mother quick to reassure / her pale and panting son with the same voice / that she has often used to comfort him, / she said, “Do you not know you are in Heaven…”[xi]

Images:

Dante or Dante’s Paradiso

Women on bicycles in SF?

James Alison

Mary Magdalene and Mary Mother of Jesus at the tomb

Alan Jones

A Dandelion and/or a Rabbit I’m likely to skip the last p


[i] “Then do begin; declare the aim on which your soul is set – and be assured of this: your vision, though confounded is not dead.” Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy tr. Allen Mandelbaum (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982) Inferno Canto I (2), Paradiso Cantos XXV-XXVI (222-228)

[ii] Michael Guillen, Believing Is Seeing: A Physicist Explains How Science Shattered His Atheism and Revealed the Necessity of Faith (Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale, 2021) 39.

[iii] Ibid., xvii-xviii.

[iv] James Alison, Knowing Jesus (London, The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1993), viii.

[v] Ibid., 5.

[vi] Ibid., 7.

[vii] Ibid., 9.

[viii] In a sermon long ago Alan described the human genome as a book with one billion words, that is as long as 800 Bibles. At the rate of one word per second for eight hours a day, it would take a century to read – all in the microscopic nucleus of a cell that fits easily on the head of a pin. It is the four billion year old story of dandelions, rabbits and every form of life that inhabited our planet.

Alan Jones, “The Road to Damascus,” Grace Cathedral.

[ix] Alan Jones, “The Road to Damascus,” Grace Cathedral.

[x] “But as W. H. Auden reminded us once, he said, we’re all by nature actors who cannot become something until they first pretended to be it. They are therefore to be divided, not into the hypocritical and the sincere, but into the sane who know they are acting and to the mad who don’t. You might act as if you’re a decent human being. Give it a try. It might be catching do it.” Alan Jones, “The Road to Damascus,” Grace Cathedral.

[xi] Dante Alighieri, Paradiso tr. Allen Mandelbaum (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982) 192.

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