Sermon for Christ the King Sunday, 2014. Year A. ‘Breathing’

Sermon For Christ the King, 2014. Year A

Matthew 25:31-46

Breathing

It is undoubtedly a good thing that the most fundamental acts of our humanness are almost always entirely unconscious. Since we woke this morning. Each one of us will have breathed somewhere in the region of 3,500/7,000 times, and until I mentioned it, hardly any of us will have given our breathing a moments thought. That and our heart beat, another fact of our embodiedness which pretty much we rarely experience or give thought to, are those things which are at root ‘how we live’. The stopping of the heart often signifies the end of our lives, our last breath is just that. The unconscious actually delineates our lives.

As natural as breathing. Natural. Unconscious. Indeed the neuro scientists tell us this. There is perhaps no such thing as a conscious act, only a consciousness of acting. We become conscious in the act after it has begun.

And we know this in our everyday existence. We are hungry, we go make ourselves something to eat. We are cold, we throw another log on the fire; we are thirsty, we put on the kettle; we feel as if the walls are closing in, we get out for a walk. Without thinking.

Just the other day I was taking time out to try and write up a paper for a conference – when some of that became less than straightforward. Firstly, I noted that I hadn’t taken as much food as usual on my break – I was hungry. I was having to eke the food out. Eating and Food became suddenly a more conscious part of my existence, these things mattered ore than usual, indeed they mattered. Then, thinking to take a shower, I fell foul of a shower that hadn’t been used for a long time and had limed up. As a result, having switched it on, I couldn’t switch it off and it was draining a neighbour’s water supply. So I resorted to switching it on briefly at the outdoor main, filling a bucket. And using that for all necessities – including drink. Again, I was more conscious of that part of my existence – these things began to matter – for me. I woke up to the reality of my existence. It is sobering to note how ‘life’ slips us by

I haven’t any scientifically verifiable evidence to prove this, but I suspect that it is the truth, that we say Grace over fewer meals  I sense that this is the case, I may be gloriously wrong, but I don’t think so.
One of the oddities of abundance is that Gratitude disappears. We live unconsciously. When food on the table becomes something utterly unremarkable. How often do we give thanks for our breath or the beating of our hearts? How often for food, drink, warmth, freedom . . . except of course when we are made aware of our lack of them.

There is a rather strange phrase which, on those occasions we give thanks, is often used to modify the prayer – one which I am not sure I am comfortable with. ‘and make us mindful of the needs of others’. Well I suppose that it is a start, but using the discomfort of the other as the occasion of our own gratitude, at the very least is perhaps a signifier of how isolated and separate our existences have become. We are awoken to those who do not have food, or drink or are cold, or those who are imprisoned by their lives . . . and we give thanks that we are not . . . we don’t go out into the highways and byways and bring them in . . .

And I think that perhaps we say The Lord’s Prayer less than we once did. Spending time preparing candidates for Baptism and Confirmation, I am always reminded of the centrality of Prayer. When Jesus’ disciples ask him ‘Lord, teach us how to pray’ his answer wouldn’t exactly fill my one hour session on ‘The Life of Prayer’; ‘when you pray say ‘Father, hallowed be your name. ‘Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.’’ What?? Perhaps some in depth teaching on meditation? Or Intercession? What about praying for others?? Is that it?? There is nothing grandiose or large about our asking. It is just for that which we need – bread and foregiveness, the stuff of Life. It is little, and it is everything. We miss the little, we miss everything

It says much we don’t say Grace every time we eat. It says perhaps more that we perhaps only infrequently use The Lord’s Prayer when we pray alone. Again as I think about preparing people for Baptism, I think of this prayer. In the early days of the church, preparation for Baptism took up to three years. And the Lord’s prayer was one of the last things taught . . . strange that. Why leave it to last? Well I guess because it was such a staggering prayer. How staggering to pray ‘Our Father’ One becomes a child of God through Baptism. it was as if just before the baptism, you were let in on the biggest hidden thing, that through Baptism you became a child of God, one of His.
Or perhaps it was because of the politically dangerous nature of the prayer. Hallowed be Your name – no other kings. Or perhaps, that it was so demanding . . . forgive us as we forgive. Give us your breath as the breath of life flows from us – Give us this day our daily bread.
Often super spiritual types ciriticise prayers that we say without noticing, but I wonder? Perhaps they have a point. Do we linger as we pray, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ – or do we just let the words roll through us.

Of course we must note that in a sense this is a prayer we cannot pray apart from others. We do not pray,‘give me mine’, rather ‘give us our’ In that petition we recognise that this is all about US, not about Me. That we are praying for bread for all God’s people . . . whether we recognise it or not. Do we hear what we pray?

This parable of the End has an element of uncosciousness writ large about it. Neither the sheep nor the goats recognise Christ in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked and the prisoner. It would be a poor hearing of the text which suggested to us that we might ‘see Christ in one another’, indeed I am not at all sure that that is what in the background. Rather there is an unconsciousness to all of it. If the point were to see Christ in the neighbour and thus act – the point of the teaching would be missed.

Those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoner have no awareness, they are not living out some moral code. They’re NOT walking round thinking ‘I see Christ in everyone I meet’. Just as those who do not do these things are not consciously ignoring Him.

One of the metaphors Jesus often uses of those who are his is Child. As I have said several times of late, it is a powerful and significant metaphor. There is something of the entirely natural about a child. A young child does not respond in life as a set of moral codes – rather to use the words of GM Hopkins, ‘What I do is me!’ Their lives are as natural as breathing.

Early memories are funny things and of course notoriously unreliable, but one very early memory I have is of being at ‘kindy’. It was perhaps my first day. I seem to remember it was run by nuns, but those who might enlighten me in that regard are now long gone. I seem to remember being upset – and I remember another child giving me a piece of his chocolate . . . I also remember that peculiar combination of apple and chocolate – but I remember him sharing. It was Grace. Pure gift. Nothing I suggest self conscious – I don’t remember the shadow of a nun telling him to share. I just remember the Gift. i look forward to meeting that boy again one day.

I don’t know how many times we’ve been told to see Christ in the hungry etc. and no doubt many will hear that today, and to any avail?? Others will be called to ‘challenge the unjust structures of society’ that there may be no hungry. The words of Jesus come back to me, unless you become like a little child, you will by no means inherit the Kingdom of God. Are children going to ‘challenge the unjust structures of society’? I wonder why we did not have the boldness to make that mark of mission the words of the prophet Isaiah – ‘to share bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin’?

Nothing less than the radical transformation of our hearts will effect this unconscious response to the need of others. For it is out of the overflow of our hearts, for good or ill come, and no moral exhortation to ‘see the face of Christ the King’ in all will change that.

Of course within the covenant community of God’s people, it was unthinkable – Had not God said, ‘there shall be no poor amongst you’? Surely it is unthinkable that in the midst of so much excess, there should be scarcity?

If they do not hear the word to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’???  Our self love, our self care is unconscious. Transforming society happens not primarily at the structural level, but deep down within our hearts – transformed that we see our kin, whom we feed and clothe and share with them the little we have.

How easy it is to wish the hungry well, to pray to remember them as we eat and to ‘seek to transform the unjust structures of society’, but the eye of kinship, the simple eye of the child, sees only their kin and acts simply. I’m not sure that if we saw the hungry as our kin we would be able to pray ‘keep us mindful of the needs of others’, or having prayed that to eat.

By all means let us seek justice, but let us not tell the hungry and the naked to just wait for the day when it is all sorted out. The church has been playing this game since the dawn of Christendom and indeed often before. Paul berates the church in Corinth for the rich feed well and ignore the needs of the hungry. Then down through the ages,the game of telling the poor and the hungry to wait for heaven – if the hunger of my kin took precedence then perhaps the wider society would take notice. If God’s people identified with one another.

At the heart of this tale of the end of the ages is a radical Identification. The child of God sees their kin. The Son of Man, Christ the King, radically identifies himself with his people that that which is done to them, he  takes as done to him. This is the model of Kingship whi He alone embodies, He spends himself for his people, pouring out his life for them. Identifying with them in their plight as those who are lost ‘insofar as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me’ God in covenant Love takes hold of a people and identifies himself with them, and takes their fate upon himself. This perhaps is the greatest wonder of all. He sees himself in his people. It is a staggering thought. They are his Life. We participate in this Life when we similarly identify ourselves with our kin. And this is the childlike faith, the basics of our life together, like breathing

For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 16I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

All Christ’s sheep will be fed. It is as natural as breathing. It will be so

The terrifying abundance of God – (Parable of the talents). Sermon for Sunday 16th November 2014

Sermon for Sunday 16th November, 2014
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Ephesians 4:25- 5:2 (This reading is used as we are having a special service later in the morning)
Matthew 25:14-30

Recording includes illustrative comments from CS Lewis “the Great Divorce” not included in the text below

The terrifying abundance of God

When we hear these last words of the gospel For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. It would not be unreasonable to hear an alarming degree of dissonance with regard to the closing words of our epistle Therefore be imitators of God, as dearly loved children . . .

To be a dearly loved child is as we have explored these past weeks to be absorbed in the life of the parent, and learning to live through imitation. Those who have children will know how much play takes the form of copying parents, whether it be pretend driving a car, or playing at cooking in the kitchen. Who cannot have known the delight of being given a lovingly made mud pie with a side order of grass :-)

Yet hearing the words of the master to the third servant ‘You wicked and lazy slave!’ we may be brought up short. Certainly this text has caused a flurry of correspondence amongst clergy this week. ‘What do we make of this text?’, ‘can it really be Jesus?’ One alternative reading which has become almost commonplace is that this is Jesus decrying the world as it is – where ‘Bosses’ hold all the strings of power, and those who blow the whistle on the operation are condemned. And of course that is an alluring suggestion, for we see this so clearly, Jesus is only condemning what we see in front of us and which we agree is evil. Jesus agreeing with us and condemning the World . . . yet ‘God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world . . .’

Such a reading leaves us as petty moralists – and more importantly it leaves our eyes fixed on the condemnation of the world, which is not life giving. It leaves us as moral agents, charged with bringing in the Kingdom of God, rather than upon what God in Christ has done and continues to offer to us, as dearly loved children.

The relationship of master to slave in the time of Jesus is not as clear to us as we might like to think. ‘Slave’ is a very loaded word in our culture and understandably so. We cannot claim that ‘slavery is a good thing’ (yet we continue to allow it in many and diverse forms required to keep us in the manner to which we have become accustomed. Slavery in all its forms is as rampant as ever. Every person who works for less than a living wage is in a form of slavery. It is the only work they can get, and it doesn’t pay enough but it keeps Our world ticking over.) Actually for many of the slaves of the time of Jesus, many – perhaps not most – we do not know – for them their service was a form of social security. In a world where it was and is ‘devil take the hindmost’ – to have the security of work and usually food and shelter, was a better deal than for many. Jesus parable of the workers in the vineyard showed how it was for those who were not in a form of regular service, waiting in line on the hope that they might get a day’s work, and often not for a day’s pay.

So here is a master with three slaves and ‘he entrusted his property to them’ as he goes away on a journey. He puts it into their hands. Immediately we are told, their is an expected relationship of trust. ‘He entrusted his property to them’

But then WHAT PROPERTY!!! Five talents – probably as much as 100 years of wages at usual rates!! What trust the master has in his slaves. Immediately we see that there is a different relationship here than we might think of ‘master-slave’. Even the slave who was given one talent – 20 years worth of wages – still a huge trust.

So let us think for a moment of the first two. In clear sight in this parable is Jesus going away, and entrusting his life to his servants, the disciples. Huge treasure.

Part of our problem as we read this story is that we do not recognise what God in Christ has done for us – we fail to see in these huge amounts of money a clear Revelation of the Glory of God in Christ Jesus and the truly amazing nature of His Life. We have developed amongst ourselves over many many years in the church, ‘the myth of scarcity’, as if we have to be careful for everything, as if God is not Yahweh Jireh, The God who provides imaginably more than all we can ask or conceive.

God’s Love and mercy and forgiveness and sustenance is Superabundant. It overflows to all those in need. His Life is like a HUGE wellspring bursting up – irrepressible. He is the God who gives and gives and gives.

The first two slaves Know their master – and they get in on this almost terrifying superabundance. They live out of the masters abundance and produce more life. As Jesus says ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” They like dearly loved children are rejoicing in the abundance of the life of their master – and so upon his return they gladly return their version of mud pies and grass to him. They already know their Lord, they know his Joy and he just amplifies it Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master. The slave has proved worthy of his masters trust. He Knows his master . . . he knows Him.

Jesus, twice in Matthews gospel uses the chilling words ‘I never knew you’. Once, last week about those who were not paying attention waiting for him, Once in the Sermon on the Mount where he says “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.”

And so it is with the third slave, except here we see, he is the one who does not know his master – it is the same difference.

“Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” He calls his master a harsh man – yet his master has entrusted vast wealth to his care – we have already seen that he does not even reappropriate to himself the gains the first two slaves have made. The fact is he does not know his master at all. He believes him to be a Master of Scarcity, not a master of abundance. His master replies “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.  ‘You knew me?’ Well if you believe me to be the man you say I am, the thing you should have done was to put the money to work at the bank. The master is not agreeing with the slave, the statement is a rhetorical question? If you knew me to be like this you would have behaved thus . . . The fact is you are hiding behind your own deceit – your actions betray you. You are a liar and untrustworthy.

How often in the presence of the Overwhelming abundance of God people hide – Adam and Eve hide, people ask for the mountains to fall on them. At Sinai the people, tell Moses to deal with God, He is too much for them. God’s mercy Love forgiveness and provision are too much for those who live in fear and assume scarcity, who do not rejoice in God’s provision of Daily bread, but seek to hoard and to hide.

When we refuse to believe in the Abundant Goodness of God, we show we do not know who he is. It is perhaps salutary to note that interpretations which avoid the call to the abundant life made known in Jesus have risen and risen as the church has shrunk – perhaps shrunk back in fear? As we think about the Church in this place and time, do we see a church which rejoices in the Abundance of all that God provides, or one whose story is of Scarcity – which is a lie about God, and a Lie about His Life made known to us in the Creation and fully in Christ, Risen and glorified.

The parable is about the end, but also about the ongoing judgement of God’s people when they prefer to hunker down with a small view of the Goodness of God and do not step out as dearly loved children, Imitating the glorious abundance of the Life of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sam Wells in his staggeringly beautiful book ‘God’s Companions’, says that our situation has at its heart four disorders: sin, evil, collusion, and poverty of imagination. This last speaks I think most clearly into the current state of the church, which in its life is far closer to the third and last slave, than the first two.
Does our Imagination stretch far enough to See the abundance of the Father’s love for us? As always, if not there is a simple remedy, turn to face Him. Allow his Presence to fill our imagination and absorb us wholly – and then as dearly loved children live in imitation of that which we See and Know.

Amen

Sermon for ALL SAINTS – 2014 Year A

Sermon for ALL SAINTS 2014 – Year A
Revelation 7:9-17
Psalm 34
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

Uncomfortable clothes . . .

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God;
and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
1 John 3:1

For those of you who are following its progress, the beard has got to the itchy stage. :-)

I’m informed that this is the stage at which a lot of men give up – we don’t like discomfort!! But discomfort is at once a non-negotiable aspect of the Christian life, and one which is intensified in this present age.

We will all have seen comedy films where a boat is sat by a deck and someone tries to get into the boat, but as they do, they have a foot on the deck and a foot in the boat – I will allow your imagination to fill in the details :-)

But in this age, that is also a profound illustration of how we experience our lives a Christians. For large parts of the lives of most of us, we have lived in the long shadow of Christendom. There was a sense that most people amongst whom we lived had some inkling of the Christian story, and after all didn’t we share the same set of moral values?? And after all, wasn’t that what it was all about???

Wasn’t it? Yet there is a sense of drifting apart – The church often tries to fix this – to ‘try to be relevant’ as if the answer was to be found in chasing after the world – we don’t like the discomfort.

I wonder how many of us have known a profound discomfort upon plucking up the courage to try and give witness to our faith. Our children I suspect know this far better than most of us as adults. We tell someone ‘I am a Christian’ – ad quick as a flash the rejoinder comes back ‘I live a good life’, or ‘I don’t need such things, my life is very fulfilling’ And we are uncomfortable . . . where do we go from here? Is that all there is? A vacuous sameness? A comfortable nothingness?

Come back to that boat – let’s call it our Waka. For many years, to our eyes it has sat by the dock, but now it seems to be drifting off, or is it? Is it not that the dock is drifting away? We thought our ‘values’ were somehow universal. If we could at least live in a world where we shared values, then we could be comfortable. But who said that the Christian Life was about values??

This is not what Jesus tells us ‘you must be born again – unless you are born again you cannot see the Kingdom of God’. St Paul when berating the Galatians tells them with regard to their conflicts on circumcision –  ‘What counts, is a new Creation!’ We might say ‘Values?? What counts is a New Creation!’ And our own St John speaks these words to us – to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. – And again in the epistle this morning ‘See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.’ These words are to say the least ‘uncomfortable’ especially when we have grown up in a culture where we have been told over and over : ‘we are all God’s children! That is why we have these universal shared values, that is why it isn’t essential to be Christian, that is why we shouldn’t try and share our faith – because let’s face it we have nothing particularly distinct to share, and after all, trying to share our faith does makes us very uncomfortable’ We find great comfort in the crowd, however illusory it is . . .  yet, as the world abandons its pretense of Christian faith, One calls us to be with Him . . .

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; (Jesus walks away from the crowds – indeed he is often doing this) and after he sat down, his disciples came to him . . . Jesus is in the Waka – the disciples step off the dock. They are called apart . . . and that ‘called apartness’ is Essential to what it means to be Christian – those who are called Apart – this is the root of the word Saint!!

Next time you pluck up the courage to have that conversation about our faith, try and use a better word than Christian – a more helpful word – a word that won’t have folks telling you what good people they are – a word that has less unhelpful cultural baggage – a word that won’t have people thinking ‘well so am I’  – a word which might find you mocked and ridiculed . . . try telling them the Truth – ‘I am a Saint’

Of course, immediately we are confronted with seems to be a similar problem . . . but perhaps a more truthful one . . . that while we are comfortable calling ourselves Christian, after all for much of our lives that was not a contentious thing to do, referring to ourselves as Saints feels very uncomfortable to us . . .

It is not only our illusions about the world which are called into question – our Christian imagination is also in need of serious remedial attention. Following the death and resurrection of Jesus, nowhere are his brothers and sisters called sinners . . . something we would be comfortable with, indeed we are. If I were to say ‘you are a Saint!’ you might blush and demur – or you might say, no I’m just a common or garden sinner . . . but to be called apart – called to be with Jesus is to find ourselves in the company of those who are either called Saints, or ‘those called to be Saints’ . . . But how might we understand this? So infected is our imagination by images of ‘Christian heroes’ whose lives seem to glow with the Life of Jesus in a way we cannot see in ourselves. Well firstly of course we have to say that our vision is defective, in that we are Always looking at ourselves!

During the early part of the middle ages there was the great controversy over Ikons – they were being smashed left right and centre – Iconoclasm . . . and we have replaced them with mirrors . . . but a child, that constant ideal Jesus holds up to us his disciples, a child is absorbed in this powerfully sensate world . . . like a Saint – paying attention to what is Real

To understand what a Saint is, come back with me to last week and this photo I shared with you. I invited you to put yourself in the place of the child – whose whole imagination is taken up with God. Our Psalm today expressed it thus The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him. O fear the Lord, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want.

those who fear him have no want – to fear the Lord is to have ones life set on a completely different course – as Moses is described in the letter to the Hebrews who ‘persevered as if he saw him who is invisible’. Jesus calls us to himself, like Martha’s sister Mary to be utterly attentive to him – and this means we are called out and this feels uncomfortable.

One of the reasons my school days weren’t the happiest of my life was because my parents elected to send me not to the local Grammar school, but to one ten miles away. Everyone in my village went to either the local Grammar, or the local Secondary Modern as it was called, based on the results of the 11+ exam. So I was the only child in my village to wear the Blue blazer of Heversham Grammar, rather than the Green of Queen Elizabeth’s or the Black of Milnthorpe. Many was the time I could have happily disappeared, but my blazer marked me out as different. And of course dressing differently continues to this day :-) But as we have been at pains to remind ourselves these past weeks, my priesthood is merely a visual reminder of the priesthood of us all – those called out – to be bearers of the Glory of God in the World which God loves. Called to be Saints

That as Jesus tells his disciples is a blessing – in these words addressed to those who have stepped out from the crowd – who have stepped off the dock and into the Waka. Blessed are the poor in Spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the peacemakers, those persecuted for the sake of Righteousness . . . A strange blessing – a powerful symbol of being set apart – not a blessing which finds much resonance in the world . . . surely these blessings of Jesus explode any illusion we might have about ‘a shared set of values’. Who is blessed in the world? Who is blessed in the Waka of the Kingdom of God?

And if this feels uncomfortable? Well I ask you to cast your mind back to The First Story – The Creation – How does God bring Life into the world? By setting apart. Day from night, Water above the earth from water upon the Earth, . . . Darkness from Light – First there is the formless and void primeval chaos, so like the modern world in which we live – incoherent, directionless, shapeless – but then God says ‘let there be light’ – and there was light.

St Paul – ‘What counts is a New Creation’

Jesus calls his disciples out from the crowd, to know their life in him. Now they see the crowd, the crowd see them – they are set apart – and, thus set apart Jesus says the most extraordinary thing to them: he blesses them with these strange blessings, so unlike the deceitful blessings of the world – the Poor, Mourning, Meek, Hungry and Thirsty, The Merciful, Peacemaking, Persecuted and Crucified One breathes his Creative Word, his very being upon this group of his disciples – making them his sisters and brothers – making them children of God and announcing this new creation of those called to be with Him in these words “You are the light of the world.”  “You are the light of the world.” Saints.
To the Glory of God the Father

Let us pray
We bow our knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. We pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that we may be strengthened in our inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith, as we are being rooted and grounded in love. We pray that we may have the power to comprehend, together with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:14-end

Chastity: Of the right ordering of affections. Sermon for Sunday October 26th – 26th Sunday in Ordinary time, 2014 – Year A

Sermon for Sunday October 26th 2014
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
20th Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 22:34-46

‘Chastity. On right ordering of the affections’

It’s always useful to have, shall we say a ‘suggestive title’ for a sermon :-)

A few weeks back I spoke about ‘the priesthood of all believers’ – that my priesthood was only always and ever an expression of the shared priesthood of the Body of Christ, the Church. That we are a Priestly community – and in a sense anything we ever say about Church must be capable of interpretation in this respect. This is very important to us as Anglicans, for we are at once a Catholic Church, and also a Reformed Church. We seek always to be faithful to the deep tradition of the Church and therefore where unhelpful emphases arose in the Roman Catholic Church, the church was called to express a more truthful apprehension of the Gospel made known to us in and through Jesus Christ.
And so when Thomas Cranmer wrote the prayer book we now know as the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, he took a prayer which to that point was only said by the priest before the Mass – and included it as the first prayer we have until of late always said at the opening of the Eucharist. the prayer known as ‘The collect for purity’

It is a most beautiful prayer and hopefully we all know it by heart, either in 1662 English or its contemporary form. We should know it by heart – and pray it from there also. Yet I wonder how many of us have as it were paused and taken time to PRAY it. It is a prayer of the Church down through at least a thousand years, and like all good liturgy it should bring us into a deeper and more truthful apprehension of our Life in and before God

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hid, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts, by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

And I want this morning to take a few moments to meditate upon one clause in particular – ‘that we may perfectly love thee . . .’ We come to worship – before the Living God – in a few minutes we will partake of the Bread of Heaven in the Sacrament of the body and blood of Jesus, our Saviour Redeemer, our friend and brother. So we pray in preparation that God will prepare us – we remember before God that we are utterly known by him – and in that light we pray that as we inspire – breathe in The Holy Spirit – our hearts might thereby be cleansed in order that as we move deeper into the sacred mysteries our love for him might be perfected and thus worthily we might praise his name

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadduccees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

And Jesus orders these two commandments. He does not put them side by side the second is ‘like’ the first. But it is not the same. And the order matters

Jesus says “You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment – if we are to keep any commandment we must first keep this one. We say, well there are so many – I take tiem to try and concentrate at one at a time. But This commandment is First – There is a heirachy and it is one of Life giving necessity. It illuminates all of the others, even the second, indeed we cannot begin to keep the second if we do not seek to keep the first, to Love God with all of our heart, soul and mind, or as I sometimes paraphrase it – To Love God with all we have and all we are.

These words of Christ to the Church in Ephesus illuminate our predicament
1 To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lamp stands:
2 I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. 3 I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. 4

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.

You have abandoned your first love – That primary Love – for God in Christ with all you have and all you are.

But what is it to Love God with all we have and all we are??

I want to offer rather than some words, a picture

childicon

And I invite you not to think about, not to be watching, but to put yourself in the place of this child – absorbed in  contemplation

For this child this is their Reality – like looking into the face of a parent – Our First Love. That when we first knew Christ – he was our reality – he was our night and day – everything we saw reminded us of him . . .

And then we grew up and many things crowded in – many of them good – many of them praiseworthy . . . but we have lost the love we had at first . . .

And what does Christ say? I – Christ Jesus, have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.  Remember then from what you have fallen; Remember – Come back to your senses – Repent – reorient your life to that total absorption in God – and do the works you did at first. Do the things that come naturally to one who loves God

you see all the other commands – they all come naturally to those who love God
What does Jesus say? ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments’ – not with a stern wagging finger – That manipulative word that says, ‘if you really love me . . .’ Rather he is stating a purely existential truth, that as we orient our lives towards God in Jesus Christ, so that a at first we are absorbed in him, He is our Life – then His Life flows out through us.

This is what it is to be born again – We return to our true parent, God our Father in and through our brother Jesus – Repent – and then it is as if we have awoken from a bad dream – we see our brother, who has no food, and we have food, so we feed him – we see our sister who has no home, and we have a home so we welcome them in – we see our brethren poor and out of our abundance we bless them – why wouldn’t we?? Why is this so hard?? Because we have lost the love we have at first. Why is it so hard to do what God calls us to? Because we are so tied up in everything else – we have many many loves and try and fit love of God in and amongst the rest. This is what we call religion. Fitting God into our otherwise busy days – for many of us this is what we call prayer – fitting God into our otherwise busy days and often not for there are more important things, more pressing demands . . . we are upset and worried about many things and wonder why Jesus doesn’t send someone to help us, so absorbed are we in these things – so absorbed in our crazy busy lives

Love the Lord your God with all you have and all you are? This is either utterly impossible – or it is the only possibility.

Chastity – our total devotion to God in Christ is the vehicle by which our disordered affections are re-ordered. It is the means by which we enter the life we were always meant to have – as Children of the Living God. And thus absorbed in God, like this child gives utter delight and joy – and how much children are vehicles of delight and Joy – thus absorbed in God we become vehicles of blessing to the world.

In this age over and again we hear ‘the church must be outward looking’ – no ‘but then surely it can only be inward looking?? No. The Church is always and everywhere called to be Godward looking – we are called back again ad again to our first Love, the Primal Love. The Source of Life. For the World – for it is only in our paying rapt attention to God, that we can know what God calls us to

To you I lift up my eyes,

O you who are enthroned in the heavens!

2 As the eyes of servants

look to the hand of their master,

as the eyes of a maid

to the hand of her mistress,

so our eyes look to the Lord our God,

until he has mercy upon us.

Amen

Sermon for Evensong – Sunday October 19th 2014 – ‘Of inheritances . . .’

Sermon for Sunday 19th October 2014
Evensong

Proverbs 4:1-12
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:12

‘Of inheritances . . .’

Listen, children, to a father’s instruction,
and be attentive, that you may gain insight;
for I give you good precepts:
do not forsake my teaching.
When I was a son with my father,
tender, and my mother’s favourite,
he taught me, and said to me . . .

As most if not all of you know, when in England I was a very keen walker of the Lake District fells – knowing most of the 200 of them well enough to be able to wander around them in the mist without map or compass. The irony is that I had grown up very close to the Lakes but only rarely ventured out upon those hills in my youth, even though amongst my prized books were beautifully hand drawn guides to all of those hills. It was only when I lost contact with them, moving away for college and work, that I started to feel their draw.

And how much those sentiments echo what we all to often sense in remembering ‘those whom we love but see no more’. Of late my thoughts have returned often and with increasing frequency to the person of my father – and specifically to the months, days and hours leading up to his death at the age of 63, and it ha been a journey of unearthing treasures I had not seen, or seen and discounted.

Six months before his death, my father had major heart surgery. the surgeon had intended to do a triple bypass, but on closer inspection ended up bypassing all four coronary arteries. He also noted some severe damage to various valves. My father recovered very well from this surgery, so well that his own doctor expressed her great surprise with how well he was doing. So it was that he was fit and able to come to my maternal grandmother’s 80th birthday celebration. I was there too, but very very unwell . . . which as it turned out was no bad thing.
I had been, and to some extent remain a not untypical ‘eldest son’. And as the scriptures remind us, the relationship of the eldest son and the father, from Adam on through, Esau, Absalom and of course the characters in Jesus’ parables, well they are not always the easiest. My father was a very frequent business traveller, and especially in my teenage years his absence allowed me space to flex my muscles as the Alpha male of the pride, taking over the territory. Many of my memories of my father in that period are of him being very tired, and of how his return frequently led to small scale, but not insignificant conflicts as we battled over the space.
Thus I at least had had difficulty being in any sense close. And it was at my Grandmothers’ party the Lord kindly supplied me with a fairly drastic dose of food poisoning, brought on I suspect by a large plate of whitebait. Thus incapacitated and weakened, my father came to sit with me, and with my strength for a while subdued managed to speak with me in a way I suspect he had often wanted to. How much we need to be weakened to truly hear.

I remember how he told me, he wished he had made much more of his Christian faith as he told me he had seen me do over the years. Foolish pride blinds you to many things – I was heart blind and so I confused gentleness and deep humility for weakness. My father’s comments strengthened my pride and reinforced my self perception as the stronger of the two of us. I never stopped to ponder ‘Where did my faith come from? What was its root?’

Less than two months later, he was dead. I still remember that night, more than 20 years ago now, in great detail . . . but that does not mean that I had necessarily attended to the details.

It was about 11:30 on the night of August 5th, 1993. I’d gone to bed as usual at about 10:30. I wrote up the day in my journal (which I still have) – pondering God’s movements in my life, reflecting on the scriptures I’d been reading, and wrote some words, about the NT reading we had this evening to which I shall return momentarily.

I was on the edge of sleep when the phone rang. It was my mother and the tone of her voice told me something was terribly wrong. My parents had been out for an evening walk in the Dorset countryside – there had been a somewhat unusual encounter which I may relate at another time, but they had not made much of it – they had returned home – my father had read the paper, gone upstairs, knelt down by the bed to say his prayers as was his custom, got into bed and suffered a massive heart attack which killed him almost instantly.
It was very difficult to say much – I remember saying I’d come straight down, and hanging the phone up. Immediately the Alpha male kicked in. I remember saying to Sarah, ‘big brother time’ – now was the moment that my life thus far had prepared me for. I was the one who was to run things, and of course first of all I needed to be the one to see to my mother’s needs and to look after the funeral details.

I remember lying in bed, praying. And the most profound Gift, God saying clearly to me ‘It is OK’ – I KNEW in that instant something of the Joy which passes all our understanding – which keeps our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God and of his Son Jesus Christ – followed by a terrifyingly intense sense of the profoundest grief and loss – but how oft do incohate sobbing and howls come from places we have not yet explored?

As the days unfolded, I was wondrously upheld – there was in some sense an incredible joy that made no sense at all to me, but was very real. In the midst of grief Joy. As my brother and I did the rounds of banks and funeral directors – making arrangements, tying up knots – both of us knew something which seemed to flow out of us and at times had a profound impact on those we met. One poor young bank teller having to flee the room in tears. In a sense we’d lost so much, yet in that emptiness, God seemed to flow out like a river.

It was actually only two or three years later, looking back in my journal that I uncovered some of the treasure. The night my father had died, as I said, I had been reflecting on the passage from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians we heard tonight. Where Paul describes the Apostolic life thus : We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing . . . I had written ‘I am not sure I know the reality of this in my own life’ Searching back over the chronology of the evening, I realised that I had been writing and reflecting on that passage as Dad had died . . .

Of late as I have been connected back to elements of the faith of my youthfulness – I have been forcibly reminded once more of my own weakness, that this isn’t ‘my faith’ as much as something that has been granted to me as gift, and that God used my father in ways I had not seen in that specific regard.

Just this last week I was out praying, in particular over this stage in the life of our church, I having a cup of coffee and reflecting that my father had constantly told me, ‘The Lord will provide – he always has done – he has never left us destitute’. His gentleness – his humlity had made his life very very uncomfortable – he was ‘a businessman’ – hence his frequent overseas trips and so much of what he encountered in the world of business grieved his soul. Despite his amazing gifts, he could more than get by in a wide range of languages from French to Arabic, from Swahili, to Greek –  he never ‘got on’ in the business world, precisely because of his Christian faith. At one juncture he knew that he would have to leave his job. What was being demanded of him, he could not do. But as he said, at that very moment, God sent a visiting African bishop to our church. He needed a lift to a nearby town and my dad on an impulse went to visit someone he hadn’t seen for many years, who told him ‘I don’t know if you are looking for work, but my company has something that may very well suit you . . .’ God always provided – he always does. I know that deep within, otherwise we would not be here, but where does that faith in me come from??

As I further reflected I went back in my mind over the events of that night in 1993 . . . they had returned home – my father had read the paper, gone upstairs, knelt down by the bed to say his prayers as was his custom, got into bed and . . . I was stopped in my tracks. I had always known but not Known, always seen but was so blind ‘he knelt down by the bed to say his prayers as was his custom’ – And I saw him there, 63 1/2 years old – doing what he had always done – kneeling by his bed to pray . . . and I thought of how many times he must have gone to bed wearied by his eldest son, and prayed . . .

And I saw that I’d been blind. For the first time for many many years, I saw him in a completely fresh light, and my heart was filled with deep deep gratitude for my father, which as I left the coffee shop I was expressing to God in prayer. Turning towards home . . . I lifted my gaze to see a red sports car, registration THXDAD. And I rejoiced in a gift that cannot rust or fade or be stolen by thieves . . .

As I wrote these words, my mind went to words of St Paul to his ‘true son in the faith’, Timothy – I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. Where did that faith come from? From my father – on who’s knee I learned to pray, who’s last act was the act of his life, to kneel in gentleness and humility, and to pray

Listen, children, to a father’s instruction,
and be attentive, that you may gain insight;
for I give you good precepts:
do not forsake my teaching.
When I was a son with my father,
tender, and my mother’s favourite,
he taught me, and said to me . . .

What did he say? What is your inheritance?

Many are called, but few are chosen. Sermon for Ordinary Time 28, Year A

Sermon for Sunday October 12th, 2014
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Exodus 32:1-14
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

“For many are called, but few are chosen.”

The writer to the Hebrews says this, “But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.” Last Sunday we were blessed, and I use that language advisedly, we were blessed by the presence with us of Mother Keleney and her friends from the Community of the Sacred Name. Once more we were confronted with the truth of Jesus’ brother James observation ‘Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?’ People who have little, and indeed since the Christchurch earthquakes far far less, yet RICH in faith, as exemplified in Mother’s preaching urging us ‘Church, push on into God and his Kingdom!’
A group of people who in our terms have EVERYTHING to worry about, a living example of lived obedience to St Paul’s words ‘do not worry about anything!’ Fearfulness throughout scripture is revealed as Sin. Those who shrink back are lost. Like the man who hid his talent – Jesus asks can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? One of the reasons we worry is not because we have so little, it is because we have so much! Our home contents insurance renewal has just come up – and once again I am asking myself, why??? After all, nothing I particularly value is replaceable :-) Whilst there are hungry to be fed, and naked to be clothed, what am I doing spending money insuring my possessions?? What exactly am I afraid of? Perhaps not The One who commands me to live with an open hand to the poor??

If you remember Mother’s sermon, you will remember that she spoke of the leadership of Moses – and his singleness of vision and purpose. Such it was that he was more than prepared to leave the people at the foot of the mountain for what seemed to them a complete age to learn from the Lord upon Mount Sinai – a reminder again to those who are ordained that their work is not  to be rushing around ‘holding things together’ but primarily to do with God.  When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” I must admit, hearing these words again, and the call of the people, I can’t help acknowledging my own anxieties about taking Sabbatical next year. Setting off on a journey with a community and then disappearing for three months! The echoes are clear :-) Will I come back to find the people running riot? Will Andrew have erected a golden calf in my absence!! :-) Clergy and I cannot say I am immune to this, all too often live responsively to the anxieties of those they are called to lead – rather than in faith, especially when the journey of the Church is one into uncharted territory, as we are currently exploring. God does his most important work with his people in the context of such uncharted territory – where we have nothing but Him – It is there that we learn faith. Of course it is so often the Poor that have vibrant faith, for they have no-one else in whom to trust
So it is in the uncharted territory of the wilderness of Sinai, away from  comforts that God tests his people – tests their metal – sees if for all their words of faith, their faith is enacted – performed – lived out. Whether they trust in the LORD, or whether their faith is a sham, idolatry masquerading as faith. ‘Having the form of religion, but denying its power’ They can say they trust God until the cows come home, but never step out to show that that is true.

The temptations are always the same – in the absence of a visible God to put your trust in what you can see. This story of Aaron in his anxiety throwing in his lot with the people is one which is not only old, but ever new. We might read this and think, what on earth has this to do with us? A golden calf??
But as St Paul reminds us, using this very incident ‘I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. [What is Paul saying here?? He is pointing us to a profound mystery, they like us were baptised into Christ, they like us partook of the Eucharist, the life of Christ, even though in temporal terms this was long long before] Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness. Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.’

This story has EVERYTHING to do with us.  Idolatry is always the way of false faith, cross avoiding faith, faith which knows nothing of sacrifice. Faith which does nothing. But here also is the twisted genius of Idolatry – that it masquerades as the real thing. Listen again to the reading from Exodus Aaron said to [the Israelites], “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD.”

The memory of the Exodus is still fresh – they cannot deny that a god  or gods have rescued them from the Egyptians So Aaron making the calf says – ‘Here they are!’ How much easier to believe in a god you can see and feel and touch . . . and of course as the years go by and the memory of what The LORD had done for them, how much easier to begin to believe it was all a dream, and not to be trusted . . .  indeed one might speak thus of the Church in our day – how long is it since we have seen the mighty hand of God acting amongst us?? Have we forgotten? Has it all become nothing more than a half remembered dream?? Who will stand up amongst us and give testimony to the saving power of God amongst us? Mother Keleney and the sisters? Did not the prophetic word leave its mark?

As for Aaron and his anxieties mirroring those of the people, the  amazing saving act of God was only five minutes old – only a few weeks ago had the horse and rider been thrown into the sea and slavery in Egypt become something that had been definitively been left behind. So the memory of The LORD is still strong for all that , and Aaron invokes the Divine name over the gold calf “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD” By sleight of hand, the people are now not worshipping The LORD, but a calf whom Aaron calls The LORD. He fears the people more than he fears God . . . which is always the way of it. The people of God have an alarming predisposition for the comforting narcotics of idolatry, rather than the challenge of life changing faith. Easier to stick with what we know than face the difficult realities of living by faith . . . inconvenient faith. After all, a golden calf won’t ask any difficult questions of you, won’t require you to go on life changing journeys. It is a pale and ghastly imitation of The Living One.
And this golden calf cannot save us. Oh the irony of those churches in this diocese, and indeed across the Province and the Western world that have closed their doors with a healthy bank balance. Oh the mountains of chalices tarnishing away locked up in safes – oh the glorious robes which the moths are eating away at. All the idols, turned to dust.
Two weeks ago I preached on the theme ‘No Buts!’ The word BUT  is a hallmark of an idolatrous heart – Of course we trust God, BUT . . . Everything before the But . . .

Jesus Life is Invitation – Invitation to a life unknown to those who live not by faith but by trusting in what they can see. And perhaps here is a huge challenge for us – if we have never known what it is to live by faith – And this Life is expressed in terms of a marriage. What more can we ask than to be United with The One who calls all things into being?? God comes to his people and the metaphor is marriage – so a King ‘gave a wedding banquet for his Son’ He sent out the invitations, Everything is Ready!! But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, [Too busy for the demanding life of discipleship . . . How often is the word of life held out and people make light of it??]  ‘while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them.’ Let us never forget that the world crucified Jesus. The Crucified One is a ever present reminder of what the World thinks of the Kingdom of God, which is why the Church in its anxieties is continually tempted to come up with a more palatable version of The Kingdom of God, an idolatrous and perverse sham, rather than the call to the Obedience that comes through faith, which calls all of our lives into question. That calls forth from us a totally new way of living . . .

This Kingdom invitation is denied. The messengers murdered – The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. it not the case that we get all squeamish about the wrath of God, because we have such a vapid bland perception of the Love of God? A love which requires nothing of us – a wrath that cannot harm us?? Eternal life a vague wish, but nothing worth changing the path of our lives for, and Eternal perdition? Well who believes in that anymore??

But This Love will not be denied!! The World Crucifies Love – THERE is the figure of our failure to understand Love. But God Raised Jesus from the Dead! The Wedding Banquet Will take place he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. This gift requires a response, the response of faithful obedience – as the Kingdom is announced by John the Baptist and the Jesus, the message is the same “The Kingdom of God is at hand – Repent and believe the Good News” This LOVE requires a changed life!! You were following in the way of death – your Life has to change . . . And one who has turned up hasn’t got it – when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ As our own St John puts it in the Apocalypse And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, and all who fear him, small and great.” 6Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. 7Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready; 8to her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. Without the response of faithful obedience, no one will enter the Kingdom of heaven . . .

And it is all there in the story of God’s people in Exodus who all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink . . . Not long after the incident at Sinai with the Golden calf they came to the borders of the Promised Land. The rescue from Egypt fresh in their memory, they sent spies into the land, amongst them Joshua and Caleb. When they came back they were full of all the wonders they had seen . . . but, there were giants in the land. The anxieties kicked in – faced with potentially costly Obedience to the LORD, or playing it safe, they chose safety. And the LORD said to them, have it your way, none of you (Except Joshua and Caleb’s families,) will enter the Land – you can stay put here in what you call your safe place until you’ve all died. Well as this message is conveyed back to them, they think – perhaps we ought to give it a go – but the door is shut – remember the foolish virgins with no oil??

Many Many were called out of Egypt – Many many were called to learn faith through obedience in the wilderness, but only a few were chosen to enter the Land. God’s banquet, the fullness of Life in the Kingdom, a life of obedience and faith is set, many are called, but some make light of it, others think they have more important things to be doing, others get angry with the messengers – still others turn up, not thinking that the invitation requires anything on their part . . .

I close where I begin, with that encouraging word from Hebrews – Encouraging – giving Courage – Giving a New Heart – a Heart of Faithful Obedient Love – This is the heart of the Church – the heart of God’s people – Faithful Obedient Love. Hear this word

“But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost,
but among those who have faith and so are saved.”

‘Church! Push on into God and his Kingdom!’