This is a sermon I’ve prepared to preach at the Erickson Lutheran Church tomorrow.
14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed,
knowing from whom you learned it, 15and how from childhood you have
known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through
faith in Christ Jesus. 16All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for
teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that
everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good
work. 4:1In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living
and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge
you: 2proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or
unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in
teaching. 3For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound
doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers
to suit their own desires, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and
wander away to myths. 5As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the
work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
2nd Timothy 3:14-4:5
I want to respond to the 2nd Timothy text this morning, but I’m going to arrive at the text in a round about way.
Two weeks ago, I was on pilgrimage to the Isle of Iona, Scotland. This island is a place where the ancient history of Celtic Christianity bridges a gap into the very ancient indigenous world of the Hebrides and Scotland.
I sat with other pilgrims in the ruins of St Columba’s hermitage and learned that when Columba and his brother monks went off to evangelize on mainland Europe in the 5th Century, they went around recognizing the light, the essential goodness and giftedness, of everyone they met. Almost like being a Christian was more about bearing witness to God’s beauty and holy purpose in each person, rather than “witnessing” to them.
These days, a part of my journey is digging back into my own heritage, Scottish, Polish and British, to understand, to heal trauma, and so on.
Back in 2009, I was performing a concert in Ullapool, Scotland and was able to travel north from there, to Achmelvich, which is far west and north of Inverness, by the ocean. That is where my McRae ancestors come from. Where my great grandmother grew up.
There was some strange pull there, like my cells were somehow tied to the place, and really ever since then, I have been drawn to understand not only my Christian roots, but also my pre-Christian roots. Like there are pieces to the puzzle that were dropped as we began to tell our story of separation from God and each other.
There has been traditionally, an inclination to interpret this reading in 2nd Timothy, as a shutting off of our pre-Christian history. This text has been used to shy us away from being tempted to mine the wisdom and practices that were passed down from our ancestors.
I want to tell just a few stories I’ve been exploring, to show you the beauty we can find in prehistory.
After the last ice age, in the Scottish highlands and in the Hebrides, there was a people who began venturing there in the summertime. Other inhabited regions between the mainland of Europe and the British isles, which were once attached to the mainland, were eventually covered by the sea and it is believed that some of the people who began hunting and gathering in the summer months in the land we now call Scotland came from lands and cultures that are now under the English channel.
As the region began to warm, and the land, although harsh and challenging, became more inhabitable, and huts began being built and ways of life became more solidified, expressions of culture and spirituality began to emerge. First through rituals held in caves, invoking more feminine gods, and then through standing stones, stone carvings and eventually timber pole circles.
On one island, from around the 4000BC, there are mass, grass covered mounds to this day, that contain the shells of various shell fish, which it is thought, represented a ritual expression of gratitude for the bounty of the sea. Human bodies are buried within the mounds, and due to other burial expressions it is thought these burials are an expression of people giving back to what sustained their lives while they lived. A sort of circular invocation of gratitude.
In other tombs, people are buried with their hand holding a seal fin. It is thought, this most likely indicates that the seals would bring the spirits of the people into the deeps of the sea that fed them.
Another burial site was found in Northern Scandinavia of a mother and her baby, who probably both died during childbirth, and the baby is buried in the cradle of a swan’s wing.
It is interesting that the word inhabit, holds the word “habit”. Historians use the term “enduring habits” for expressions of culture that cannot be traced back to their origin, but have been practiced by a people for a very long time.
In the Shetland Islands, the practice of a bird hunt has been going on since the folks on the island can remember. The hunt involves men scaling down vast vertical cliffs to get to the area where they catch the birds. The practice of this develops a certain set of muscles and skeletal structure in the men.
More recently, a tomb was found where the men buried there, along with skeletons of this particular bird, had the exact same body development as the men who practice this bird hunt today. It indicates that this ritual has been practiced at least since about 4000BC, and until that tomb was found, it was simply a habit practiced by the people, because they carried the tradition within them.
In my research, I've also learned that the last of the tribal Picts in Scotland, were found living in a cave in 1915. These people, living in a traditional way, were forced out of their home, and cave dwelling was immediately outlawed.
There is in each of us, a wildness that was punished, shamed, and “put to rights”. But something that comforts me is that I see this very wildness, in the person of Jesus.
In the 2nd Timothy reading, because we’ve been trained to take the word at its word, to a fault, most of us will be very quick to hear it as a teaching that would tell us to remove our own cultural history from under our feet. In that context, these enduring habits that have been passed down from generation to generation, quickly and flatly become the myths we’re are told not to have itching ears for, and not to wander away to. In other words… this text, and many others have been used out of context, to annihilate the cultures of people. To disempower the ways and stories and habits that enrich our lives and connect people to community and to our ancient past.
But what happens when we place this same text within the context of the myths of the Greco Roman power structure instead?
When Rome invaded Britain in 46AD, Britain didn’t go down without a great fight. One of the leaders who fought, was a woman named Boudica. The reason I bring Boudica up, is because she actually led a charge on the Temple of Claudius, which brought it to rubble.
Now, what is interesting about this, is that once Constantine had Christianized the Western Roman world, the very first church in Britain was built on the foundations of the Temple of Claudius.
It stands today in Colchester, England.
See, Constantine’s Christianity is about exceptionalism and victory. It is about the church triumphant. In other words, by building a church for Christ on the foundations of the temple of Claudius, he superimposed the Jesus figure onto the Roman teaching that once a Caesar had died, they became a god to be worshipped. It perpetuated the hierarchy of royalty and oppression. This is not to say that Jesus wasn’t God incarnate. It is to say that we’ve generally followed the lead of worshipping Jesus like a Caesar, instead of as the self-emptying, outpouring, interwoven God Jesus exemplified.
What if we were to read this 2nd Timothy text once a day for the next week, and examine how we "wander off" to the myths our civilization tells us?
Or rather, because I love the word “myth” so much, I’ll say, how do we wander off to the lies our civilization tells us?
Here are a few of the lies.
That there is never enough.
That life is a race to be won at whatever cost.
That we are not intricately connected.
That the suburban family nucleus is the only model for living that has ever existed.
That everything must and always be, institutionalized.
That we are either “totally depraved” as John Calvin taught us,
Or as science often teaches, that we are generic blobs, in competition with each other, and there is no inspirited nature to the universe.
What if we considered that these are the lies that we wander off to?
What if doing the work of evangelism and not wandering off to the lies, is, like Columba and his brothers, and I daresay Jesus, to recognize the light and abundance of gifts in ourselves and others?
What if the very “myths” we have been told to be rid of, are the rich, cultural stories we actually ought to be developing? Many of our cultural stories are the ones that tell us that we are, as Charles Eisenstein says, “people of the Gift”. People of life. Of sunshine. Of water. Of the earth.
Julien of Norwich even says “we are made of God”. Not just by God.
I was recently at a friend’s place and he has this beautiful, elongated mask from, I believe, an indigenous tribe in South East Asia. Hanging on the same wall, is this complete, elongated nerve gas mask from World War 1. And I was struck by how quickly we’ve made one mask “savage”, and the other one “civil”. Almost no stories or ritual belong to the WW1 mask. And it comes from the result of believing the lies of our civilization. The other mask, no doubt, has a rich, deep ritual, and probably a story… most likely pointing to interconnection.
The Waterboys have a great song that simply says,
I’m gonna look twice at you
Until I see the Christ in you
Till I’m looking through the eyes of love
Till I’m looking through the eyes of love
That is true evangelism. It isn’t persuasion. It is simply the way you look at the world.
And the way we look at the world is the story we tell ourselves. What if there really is joy, texture, richness and inspirited truth in every atom in the universe?
The way we collectively look at the world is how the world is.
Carrying out our ministry fully, is more about not living the lie that we are truly and completely prosperous, when others are enslaved. It is about no longer saying matter and spirit are separate. And in that case, I will go so far to say, carrying out our ministry is about encouraging the recovery of myths and stories and languages that were lost, quite possibly at at the hands of a bad interpretation of this very 2nd Timothy text.
If we can remember our original instructions of interconnectivity, we will be able to move forward into a more Christ indwelling world. “For I shall put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” “No longer will they teach one another, or say to each other “Know the Lord”, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord, for I shall forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.”
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on a regenerative farm on the Canadian prairies.