Elisabeth Gerle prédikaði í Neskirkju 13. janúar við lok norræna trúfræðiþingsins sem haldið var í Neskirkju. Texti dagsins, úr Markusarguðspjalli, var barnaguðspjalið – hvatning Jesú um að leyfa börnunum að koma, varna eigi – slíkra er guðsríki. Gerle lagði út og tengdi við atburði og ofbeldisverk. Prédikunin, sem flutt var á ensku, birtist að baki lesa áfram-smellunni.
What can we do with those stories that we know so well that our minds react as Teflon when we listen? The words slip away. Yet to know by heart is more!
There is a story about a child being told in the world. It is a story of vulnerability. Yet thIS story carries hope. Hope for another future. Hope that is seen as a threat to those with the power to continue and uphold unfair structures. It is a story with radical consequences. Sometimes it provokes violence. Because this story reveals oppressive structures. The child that was born in Bethlehem could not find a home there, only temporary shelter. And this child is not alone. Many of the children of Bethlehem today see their homes being undermined as safe, caring places. And not only there.
A girl is shot on her way to school for her struggle to allow girl children the right to education. Another girl, seemingly grown up, yet still a student, becomes a victim of gang rape. Why? Most likely because Jyoti Singh Pandey is visible in the public and is pursuing a professional career as a medical doctor. And we do not need to go to Asia to find examples of this kind of violence that emerge when oppressive structures are being revealed and challenged. Hatred and threats against journalists, editors and others who point out that human beings are different, yet all human, are rampant. To say that we all are vulnerable and need to be seen and treated with respect arouse hatred, especially if it is being said or written by women.
Epiphany, illumination, enlightenment reveals and gives courage at the same time. And it is very political. It changes the direction for the future. Wise magics from the East decided to take another way back home as they had a sense of what was in the mind of Herod. This is a story of hope and light, yet challenging. Herod did not want to be disturbed in his privileged position. Most of us do not. Yet, maybe this is why some of us have come to Reykjavík, not only to meet good friends and colleagues but to meet new thoughts that may inspire us to walk new paths. To inspire ourselves to be challenged. And on a deep level because of the story of the child.
Iceland, the place of the sagas. Stories with few words about lives being changed forever. Powerful sagas.
We know another stoy, the story of the child in the crib. The message of the manger is God with us, Immanuel. A countrestory to the message that you are on your own and that violence ettles evryhing and is a quick fix.
Many here are sophisticated theologians using their uttermost intellectual capacity to translate, communicate and convey mysteries beyond words. And then we hear this story about Jesus receiving the children and making them examples for all. What should we do with his indignation against those who want to prevent the children to come to him?
(“Let the little children come to me, do not stop them; for it is to such that the Kingdom of God belong. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” )
Where is the sophistication in this? The intelligence? Language? All these things we search for in our quest for transcendence. Here, everything is turned around. We are thrown back to earth, back to the small life, back to the ordinary. To the material.
Mystics in the intellectual tradition describe illumination where words disappear, as light, or as a great darkness, filled with light. Words are no longer possible. To say anything positive, affirmative about God is impossible. You can only describe God in negative terms, what God is not. Yet, this apophatic stage is not against knowledge. It is beyond knowledge.
And all of a sudden we see new aspects of the well known story. Parents brought their children to Jesus that he might touch them. And he took them in his arms…
It is a very physical, material story about bodies that touch and feel. Beyond words. Or before words. We do not need to be experts on the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty to know that our bodies sense and are being sensed at the same time.
Children as examples for us? There are many features we may point to. Children are open for the moment. Curious and with an appetite for life, with desire. Giving and receiving at the same time. Appreciating. Most striking however is that children are vulnerable. They are dependent and would die without nurture, care and love. As grown up we need to be in touch with the child inside, in touch with the depth of the story of the child. We need to realize that we are always in relation. We are never independent, totally autonomous. As every child we are vulnerable. Bodies in the world. In need of physical touch, care and blessing. The story of the child is a story about us.
And it is not far away, about the other. It is here and now and reveals our human condition. It is a radical story of interdependence, of being one body with different members.
The story of the child is a global story today. And it has local/glocal consequences. In every neighborhood we meet the vulnerable other, that we need to meet with respect, curiosity and care. And with generosity! Material tenderness. We are all “other” But God has made our otherness her/his own.
We are all part of this story. Drawn into it, whether we live here on Iceland or have come to visit. Because it is a story about our human lives and therefore a very political story. We are all born as creatures, dependent of love and care. This counter story that contradicts and challenges traditional interpretations of power is shimmering through the midst of the winter darkness. God is here with us. Immanuel. This story claims that we are not only minds. We are bodies, boys and girls and grownups, in need of physical care, touch and blessings. We are vulnerable but loved. God is not distant, hidden in the clouds but here, inviting us to share the feast and to find clever new paths against evil. It is a counter story against cynicism. A story of a future where the prophet Jeremiah envisions how “young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy. I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow”.
This is the future we hope for, long for, and expect! And this is not the last sentence, but the beginning!
Iceland January 13th, 2013. Sermon at the conclusion of the Nordic Systematic Conference in Neskirkja, Reykjavik, Elisabeth Gerle