Lent Course 4 – The Jesus Prayer – We do not know what we are doing / The Jesus prayer as the culmination of prayer

A Lent course – for St John the Evangelist, Roslyn

Praying in the Name of Jesus

‘The Jesus Prayer’

  1. We do not know what we are doing

The Jesus prayer as the foundation and culmination of prayer

 

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.

This Jesus is

“the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;

it has become the cornerstone.”

 

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’

Acts of the Apostles Chapter 4 vs 8-12

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me”

Lent is perhaps one of the most helpful seasons to us in discerning our predicament, that which calls us to cry out ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me’.

For Lent is not a season which can readily be hijacked by our Passions, those desires of which we learned briefly last week, which have been distorted so that their focus is not God, but ourselves. Lent, doesn’t attract, and in this world where ‘everything and everyone has their price’ it is (almost) impossible to commercialise. Like our Saviour, there is nothing in Lent’s appearance that we might desire it . . . yet we notice two trends. Firstly that the classical disciplines of Lent, that is those rooted in The Tradition, have all but disappeared. ‘Fasting’ is largely reduced to ‘giving up things’. Recently someone told me of all the things they were giving up, and after a moments reflection said ‘I suppose that none of them are things I should have picked up in the first place’! In itself a lesson

Secondly that giving things up has been replaced by picking something up . . . and yet Lent was always a time for both. We fasted AND prayed AND gave alms. And we might note, like perhaps giving up things that we shouldn’t have picked up in the first place, these things we pick up are perhaps those things in which we should be engaged all of the time – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the lonely.

These practices of Lent should take root, change us – better ‘HEAL us’. It is after all a time for that most fundamental changes Repentance which is the Heart of the Jesus prayer, it is our responding to his presence and his command to ‘take up our mat and walk’. But what does that repentance mean? Why is the continual praying of the Jesus prayer understood as so central to that?

[Jean-Claude Larchet says this of The Jesus Prayer ‘[it] occupies an essential place in Orthodox spirituality and is considered as the most complete form of prayer, containing the qualities of all other forms of prayer. the Fathers designate this type of prayer as prayer in the strict sense, setting it above the other forms of prayer and, notably, above psalmody. . . Yet, a the same time as occupying the apex of spiritual life, this prayer appears as one of the latter’s foundations and as one of the principal means that allow man, by God’s grace to be purified of his sins and healed of his passions and to acquire the virtues. As SS Callistus and Ignatius Xanthopouli state, it is “the beginning of the whole beloved work of God” ’][1]

 

Let us take a moment to consider a well known, but perhaps oft misunderstood passage of scripture.

Now as they went on their way, [Jesus] entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’

 

What is drawn to your attention?

 

One or two points to note

 

  • Martha welcomes Jesus into her home. The home may stand as a metaphor for life or heart. Indeed we often use the language of ‘inviting Jesus into our life’ – but why? Why do we ask him in? And perhaps more importantly ‘Who is He anyway?’

 

  • Martha embodies us all – not in her busyness per se, but in her ‘distractedness’. Where is our attention? Caught up in Our Life?

 

  • Mary embodies discipleship which is a giving of her total attention to Jesus. In this she is like say Bartimaeus – who is intent on One thing [Note that Bartimaeus, once healed, unusually follows Jesus] Mary we might say ‘sees who Jesus is’

 

The method of the Jesus Prayer is to bring the distracted head, into the heart. to this end some people use certain postures and breathing techniques when praying the prayer, but these are not recommended without the accompaniment of a staretz. Through our baptism, Christ dwells in our hearts. Through the praying of the prayer we are to make find our home in him, and thus find our true home.

 

Lent, in stripping away those distractions which we use to insulate us from the presence of God in Jesus, awakes us to SOME of the sense of our predicament. As we noted previously, not all of it, for we would not survive the revelation, but enough to be going on with. And this stripping away is of urgent necessity. For we do not know what we are doing. We are largely unconscious in the most profound sense. And that lack of consciousness is compounded in the Western tradition where we have reduced sin to an individualised moral disorder. Like children we say ‘I didn’t do it!’ Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.

 

 

Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said,

‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’

 

Jesus, we will remember in his dialogue with the wealthy young man, says, ‘Why do you call me good? Only God is Good’. Yet we remember that in the beginning

 

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.

 

In the first week of this study we used the imagery of Resonance as Life in its fullness. That when we are truly Well our lives resonate with the Love and the mercy and the forgiveness and indeed the very Glory of God – as does the whole creation. St Paul reminds us that Our place in the Creation is of great significance when he says ‘ I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.’

 

If we might join for a moment in an act of imagining – a vast structure of beautiful glass threads, encompassing and threaded through out all of creation, such that as some uncreated Light reflects and refracts in and through, there is a glorious brilliance of colours and lustre beyond any human artifice. Such beauty as we cannot begin to comprehend, although we may have ‘seen’ a slight echo of it, seeing a view that ‘took our breath away’.

 

These glass threads or strings are not still, but as they are beautiful to behold, marvelously they also vibrate Sounding a symphony the like of which we have never heard but perhaps once again we have ‘seen’ the merest reflection of when caught in an ecstatic moment listening to a great orchestra.

 

And Knowing that in this Everything is related to everything else through the beating heart of it all – All resonating with One Life

 

This is the Goodness of the Creation – filled with the Glory of God . . . and then there is the human condition set out in the Passions[2] – wishing as it were to take it to ourselves, without any ‘Sense’ of who or what we are – like wild bulls let loose in a shop selling the most exquisite Limoges. We do not even know what we are doing, or if we do we push the thought deep down. Our Passions have so overwhelmed us . . . (and now they are on the verge of overwhelming the whole created order.)

 

But . . . let us return for a moment to Martha. Her condition is also ours. She is distracted, and she does not realise who Jesus is or where she is – thinking herself in ‘her house’. When we pray the Jesus prayer we are bringing our distracted minds into our hearts – making our way home.

 

Next Week: Praying in the Name of Jesus. Discovering who we are.

Further reading resources: All of these are accessible and helpful

‘The power of the name’ Kallistos Ware

‘Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer’ : Norris Chumley (The book of the documentary we watched)

And the classic – the book which was responsible for the modern interest in the West in The Jesus Prayer ; ‘The Way of a Pilgrim’

[1] ‘Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses’ Volume II p101. Published by Alexander Press, Montreal 2012

[2] Pride – Vain glory – Sadness – Anger – Fear – Gluttony – Lust – Acedia – Self-love – Love of money

Sermon For Lent 5 – Year B – 2015

Sermon for Lent 5 – Year B – 2015

Sunday March 22nd – St John’s, Roslyn – ‘Week in Community’

Jeremiah 31:31-34

1 Cor 12:20-26 (Alternative Reading)

John 12:20-36

While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.

John 12:36

So here we are, gathered together at the start of our Week in Community. A week in which we spend time considering the nature of our Life Together – Life Together. And what a great place to start: St Paul gives us a beautiful image of that Life Together in the language of The Body of Christ – where ‘If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.’ A body in which ‘the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour,’. How different from the World.

Many people nowadays have fallen prey to the idea that humankind is on some kind of evolutionary path – even within the household of faith we hear this talk, echoing the false confidence of the late 19th Century in Europe. There is nothing new under the sun when it comes to heresy. Yet Evolution, with which I have little argument as a scientific theory, works like this – Survival of the fittest, and the devil take the hindmost. If you are weak, you won’t survive – and however we dress up the World using the language of Civilisation, this is the underlying narrative of society, not ‘the weaker are indispensable and treated with special honour’. In the early years of the Church, the Emperor Julian broke into a Church demanding they show him their treasures. He was shown to a room where the hungry were being fed

I was particularly struck by the conflict between the Life of the Gospel and the life of the World in our Tuesday discipling group, where we were confronted by the Beatitudes. Those opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus – seeing the crowds walks up the mountain. We might imagine Moses ascending Sinai, leaving the Israelites behind – but in this case Jesus is followed, by his disciples. They come out from the crowd. And then Jesus, rather than receiving Words from God, sits down. He adopts the posture of the Rabbi. He Sees in the foreground his disciples, then further off the crowd – and the Greek text is unusual at this point. It says ‘he opened his mouth and spoke’. A most unusual construction. The Greek might have easily said, he began to teach them, but it says ‘he opened his mouth’ And so there on the mountain he opens his mouth and from it comes the words of God. ‘Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven, Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted, blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth, blessed, blessed blessed . . .’

Teaching his disciples, in the hearing of the crowd, These are those blessed by God. If you want an example of how the values of the Kingdom of God are utterly incompatible with the values of the world, you need look no further. His disciples come to him – they are separated from the crowd – and here as often with Jesus, there is the offer of Grace in obedience and conformity to the words of Christ, but the possibility of leaving him, dissolving back in to the crowd. The broad and easy way, or the hard and narrow. For living faithfully as the Church, as the Body of Christ it is not possible to at the same time live in the world without severe trial and conflict. Trials and conflicts from which we have been insulated for many years, but which now are becoming much clearer. As the disciple body we stand between Jesus and the crowd – they see us, we see them. It is not a comfortable place to be, to be part of a community which adheres to a way of living, a Life Together which is in complete conflict with the World around us – and to fall neither into pharisaical condemnation of the World, for we know our status as sinners also, yet not to succumb to the temptation to melt back into the world, as so many do without hardly thinking about it. Mourning for the World and the path it has chosen, but not condemning. Poor in Spirit, knowing our only treasure to be Jesus Christ, for whose sake we have left everything . . .

And I think of those institutions which seek to work ‘Christian values’ into their life, but what place do such values have in the World in which we live? The way of the world wins out again and again. And humanly speaking that only leads to the sort of hopelessness, the fruit of which we see around us in despair or its fruit, mindless hedonism. The Way of Jesus is not ‘one thread in the rich tapestry of Life’, it Is Life. Life in its fullness, and the secret of the Church is the eternal life in our midst.

In fact it is such a secret that all too often we forget it ourselves. That is why through Lent we have been learning the practise of praying continually ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me’, for like Martha we are readily distracted into thinking we might make a life for ourselves and then at the end present it to God, as a child presents their first painting, yet all the while God in Jesus is sat in our midst, offering his life to those who sit at his feet. Which is why we begin this week in prayer and Word and Sacrament. We pray in Christ Jesus, We listen to the Word of Jesus, We receive Christ in Bread and Wine

Our gospel passage finds us as it were at the end of the beginning of the gospel – a turning point. Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” So many have followed after Jesus wanting Bread, or healing of their physical infirmities, or justice in their suits with their siblings – NOW comes some who seek Jesus, for Himself. Greeks – proselytes probably – going up to the Temple to worship, but wanting to see Jesus. John does not tell us what happens to them – he wants us to hear those words, ‘we want . . .’ ‘We want . . .’ What do we want? What do we seek after here as the followers of Jesus in this place and at this time? What is the desire of our heart as the body of Christ at St John’s? This is the question Christ asks of us, every day, every week, and a question we must ask of ourselves. In our conversations these coming days it is perhaps worth holding that question in the back of our minds all the time ‘Are we looking for Jesus, or are we looking for the things of Jesus?’ ‘Do we desire God’s gifts or the Giver?’ God looks at the heart – what are we seeking after?

For if we are seeking after Jesus, let us hear his words clearly – . ‘Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven, Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted, blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled. . .’ Hear his words ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor’

The disciples coming out of the crowd, the Greeks seeking Jesus – the Gospel’s Grace filled, and utterly merciful contradiction of the World becomes clearer and clearer. The contrast – Light and Dark – harder to ignore. And as those disciples must surely have felt the pull, to sink back into the obscurity of the crowd, so too at these times in the Life of Jesus, people fall away, notably of course at the Cross itself.

But on an earlier occasion – when Jesus had spoken of his flesh as real food and his blood as real drink, and in the Light of this revelation, many of his disciples stopped following him, Peter once more spoke what might have seemed to him to be a desperate truth, but Truth all the same. So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.’ Even as others have gone the door is open to disappear into the dark, but Peter names the truth, ‘Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life’

May God in his inifinite Love and mercy kindle that same conviction within us in this coming week, may we seek all the more with the Gift of this Light believe in the light, so that we may become children of light.’ And that more and more the Life of Jesus is known and revealed amongst us His Body, in our Life Together.                                                                    Glory to Jesus Christ Glory for Ever

Sermon for Lent 4 – Year B – 2014

Sermon for 4th Sunday in Lent – Year B – 2015

Numbers 21:4-9
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

The Healing Cross

Our three portions of Scripture point us in a common direction, towards the human predicament and God’s answer to it.

When we consider our own lives, let alone the whole world, we may have many views on the nature of the human predicament, but whatever we see out there has a common source, one with which we are all familiar – our failure to Love God with all we have and all we are and our neighbours as ourselves. This failure is in the end a failure of belief. To believe in Jesus is to accept his diagnosis of our condition and to come to him for our healing.

Part of our particular difficulty in this regard is because we live in an age which, even within the church, divides out the Spiritual and the Material or Physical. So our faith only applies to certain areas of life. We see this in the Church – here in our Diocese the Church is on its knees, at least metaphorically, and we wonder what is to be done. But rather than Believe in Jesus, turn to Him in repentance and Faith and Prayer, we try to fix structures, or find money, or have initiatives, none of which address the Source of our problems, that of unbelief.
For most of us most of the time, our hearts and minds are far from God. We in our pride, buttressed by confidence in our modern technological triumph over God’s Creation, which has brought it to its knees, think we can pretty much fix things ourselves. But the problem is this. We are like blind Guides. We do not see the Spiritual depth of our predicament, many for example barely think Church in any sense necessary. We think despite all the evidence to the contrary that the world is full of people of good will and we can fix it all ourselves thank you very much.  We think we can get on without God, even in the Church.

The children of Israel had been rescued from Slavery in Egypt by a God who was pretty much unknown to them. They’d been there 400 years and the old stories of the patriarchs, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were but dim memories, so that as Exodus records, when they cry out under their suffering, they do not even cry out to God, they just Cry out. (Would many in the Church today know with Confidence to whom it was they cried out?)
The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob is all but unknown to them. And so as God in his love and mercy leads them out of slavery, he takes them into the wilderness there to learn that their lives are Gift and come from Him, that He is their life, that apart from Him they have no good thing, just slavery and death.

Certainly it would benefit us much in the Diocese were we just to spend the next year meditating upon that truth, God, made known to us in Jesus Christ, is our Life – apart from him we are nothing, apart from Him we have nothing, apart from Him, all our deeds are as nothing worth.

Here we are in Lent, which takes us back to the context of the wilderness that they and we must learn, and as we hear today, they like us prefer life on their own terms, so they turn against God, they turn against Life – and so snakes are sent amongst them, because turning from Life, all is death. Which explains why Moses is instructed to make a dead snake, a copper snake, a snake with no life and hold it before them. They need to see and believe that God has the power to conquer death. They see there death defeated, and believing, they are healed.

They have passed from death to Life – and so have we. As St Paul puts it – ‘You were dead through 9those deadly snakes of ) the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of the world’ – living pretty much as everyone else around you lived – and thus ‘following the ruler of the power of the air, the Spirit which is at work amongst those who are disobedient.’ He goes on to tell of our deadly predicament ‘in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of our senses, by nature children of wrath’ Why did we then not share all we had with all who are in need? Because we were held captive by fear which fed our our own desires for safety, for comfort, for life that was no life at all – what we might call ‘ordinary life’ which is under the judgement of God in Jesus Christ.

Of course, even though we have set out on the path of following Jesus, which we call being Christian, we too fall prey to those desires once more. It is all too easy to sit back and say, ‘well, the world’s not all that bad a place. People are pretty good really . . .’ and to find ourselves also back in slavery to fear and our own desires

Last week one of the youngsters on our confirmation course suddenly piped up ‘I’ve just had a thought! If everyone loved one another, there would be no need for money’. Just let that thought sink in for a moment. If everyone loved everyone, there would be no need for money – everything would like the Life of God which would be revealed, everything would be Gift. Think how different that world would look. Then think again about our evaluation of the world . . .

Paul having painted the picture of our predicament then goes on with two of his favourite words . . .‘But God . . .’ Israel was in slavery in Egypt, facing death daily, ‘But God . . .’ You were dead in sin and trespass ‘But God . . .’ God’s alternative reality is so Different, that in the midst of our stories of sin and suffering and death, His Word is like the most dramatic full Stop. All of a sudden in utter darkness there is a blinding light, Israel is rescued from out of the hand of Pharaoh, and we too experience God’s refusal to allow darkness to triumph in the life of his children . . ‘But God, who is rich in mercy,out of his great love with which he loved us even when were were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ’.

Jesus is the one who by death tramples down death. When we look to the Son of Man lifted up from the earth in Faith we see our truest healing. He is the One who takes upon himself all that keeps us from God, all our disobedience, all our contentment with that which does not give life, all our lack of Love for God and one another and takes it to the grave where it belongs, so that we who in truth do not belong there might be set free to Love God with all we have and all we are, and to Love our neighbours as ourselves, and, who knows, perhaps to live such a life together as the people of God that we begin to do away with our slavery to money . . .

For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world, through HIm might be Saved

Glory to Jesus Christ
Glory for Ever

Lent Course 3 – The Jesus Prayer. A more helpful understanding of Sin – The Passions or Desires

A Lent course – for St John the Evangelist, Roslyn

Praying in the Name of Jesus

‘The Jesus Prayer’

  1. A more helpful understanding of Sin.

The Passions / Desires.

 

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.

This Jesus is

“the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;

it has become the cornerstone.”

 

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’

Acts of the Apostles Chapter 4 vs 8-12

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me”

 

[This text is a conflation of two sets of notes which were used as the foundation of the class.]

 

We watched the first 15 minutes of this video

 

 

As we have prayed this ancient prayer, we have reflected on a simple song lyric. ‘Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart. Lord, I want to love everybody in my heart. Lord I want to be a Christian in my heart’ How these words touch the meaning of the Jesus prayer, in that we recognise be it ever so dimly something in the depths of our being which keeps us from that for which we were created, to Love God with all we have and all we are and to love our neighbours as if they were our very selves. That recognition may cause us to cry out “Lord Jesus Christ. Have mercy on me”

First we have considered that when we pray, we are entering into something far greater than our own senses perceive. St Paul paints a breathtaking picture for us of Jesus Christ who is our Life and the one to whom we pray.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:15-17

 

We used the illustration of Resonance – or lack of – it to think about our lives in the light of this Reality. In the same way that the better we were conversant with the culture of the song we heard in the first week, the deeper its impact might be upon us. So the more closely our lives conform to that of Jesus, the better they resonate, indeed Resound with His great hymn of Love and Life.

Then we considered how to some extent we knew within ourselves this separation between the Reality of the Life of the Risen Christ and our own. We reflected upon the powerful story of Jesus healing the paralytic. Of how Jesus’ deepest act of healing is the forgiveness of his sins, and how the physical healing was almost incidental. This relationship between Sin and illness is very significant, but we also were reminded that in our culture the tendency to individualise our existence, not to see our lives woven together, might lead us to either make simplistic connections ‘you are unwell because you have sinned’, or rejecting those suggestions, to suggest there is no connection.

 

But from the earliest times in the Church, Sin was understood in terms of a form of illness, indeed a form of madness – a terrible contradiction of our true nature as God’s children. [It is perhaps interesting to reflect that in this age where often people scratch their heads regarding physical illness and its relationship to the Love of God, our perception of Sin is very weak.] This understanding of Sin however is perhaps not the understanding we have been taught or grown up with in the home and elsewhere. However it is the understanding which continues to be the understanding of our brothers and sisters in the Orthodox tradition of the Church in which this prayer took root and continues to flourish.

 

Note the language of Peter when he addresses the Jewish leaders in the passage at the head of this paper. There is ‘no other name . . . by which we must be saved’

 

A parting of the ways and a new teaching

{A brief history lesson}

 

Our Western understanding of Sin owes much to something which happened almost 1000 years ago, when the church divided. To the East the Churches of Byzantium, to the West the Church of Rome. In the immediate aftermath of this split, the Church of Rome underwent several changes, one being that there was a move to what we might call a ‘Juridical’ model. Rome of old had been the seat of what we know as the ‘legal’ system, and the theology of the Western Church had always to a degree been influenced by this, but without the modifying effect of the Greek based Eastern Churches, ideas which have their roots in legal systems began to profoundly affect the teaching of the Church on Sin.

 

Sin as a Moral condition vs a Sickness

 

This is important re the words of the Jesus prayer. When we pray ‘have mercy on me’ it is not because Jesus stands over us about to punish us, but that he is near to us desiring to heal us. The word ‘Mercy’ in Greek is very close to the word for Oil, which of course is used in anointing for healing

 

So Sin as a condition took a back foot, and sins, the symptoms of the condition came to the fore. It was in this Juridical atmosphere that the idea that upon the Cross God was punishing Jesus for ‘all the wrong things we have done’ (as a Christian song has it) – the doctrine of Penal Substitution came to the fore. A ‘sinner’ in this regard instead of someone who is bound – paralysed – by sin and cannot do what they desire in the deepest part of their hearts, like a form of sleep paralysis, became no different to someone who had committed a civil offence and ended up in the courts.

 

This had multiple consequences. For example many of us grew up being told to ‘be good’ where being ‘good’ consisted in not doing anything naughty! But more troublingly, everything became a matter of transactions. You did something wrong, and you were punished. But because this punishment was ‘separation from God’, something had to be done, someone had to pay the fines! So Penal substitution – Jesus pays the penalty. Yet in our hearts we still know that separation from God . . . To come back to the illustration we used at the beginning of last week, the Western answer, Jesus pays the price for our sins, doesn’t deal with our deepest need – to be restored to the full Likeness of God

 

For many western Christians, the idea that ‘sin’ is a matter of ‘doing naughty things’ is so ingrained, often through our upbringing that we might readily agree with Penal Substitution or at least its premises, and like the lady we heard of last week, try not to be troubled by the fact that that we go on sinning – that we are not healed of the condition of Sin. And for some of us, we did so well at not doing anything wrong, that like the Pharisees, like the eldest son in the parable of the Prodigal, we really think we have no problem. Sometimes it is our fall into Grave sin which is the point where we realise we are not Good

 

The Eastern Church continues to teach that Sin is as it were an illness of the Soul – a form of Captivity or soul paralysis. We are held captive by Sin. Indeed their diagnosis is far deeper than that in the West, where Sin is ‘our ongoing tendency to do naughty things’.

 

We might paraphrase the Eastern Diagnosis thus – ‘Your condition is far worse than you might imagine. But the Healer is One who even raises the dead’

 

Seven deadly sins . . . or Ten paralysing Passions?

The idea of Seven Deadly Sins is well known, even to those outside the community of faith, but this like the Legal turn with regard to our sins, is also a product of the West. After all, if we are guilty, there have to be ‘sins’ we have committed. But these are actually a corruption of the earliest teaching of the Church on the Passions or Desires. [Desire is a more helpful word]

 

The Eastern Church teaches that the root of our problem is the distortion of our desires. Desire, which is create Good – gets distorted. Put simply ‘We do not Love God, we do not even want to Love God’ The distortion of our Desires are the Root of our illness.

 

Having set out on the journey to follow Christ in Baptism, the early Christians soon found themselves impeded and carefully diagnosed our condition most elegantly in terms of these Passions

 

Pride – Vain glory – Sadness – Anger – Fear – Gluttony – Lust – Acedia – Self-love – Love of money

 

It is important to note that all of these Distorted desires have the effect of distracting us from the Source of our Life, that is The Risen Christ. This is our problem. The Wages of Sin is Death, not in the sense of a penalty, but a natural consequence. Our Life is in Christ. All that distracts our attention from Him is cutting us off from Life.

 

Of course The benefit of our continual praying the Jesus prayer is in this respect two fold – it directs our attention to the source of Life, who is also the One who can heal . . . And it also points out something else which the Western View obscures. Obviously if we do something wrong, we commit a sin, there is nothing we can do to to undo what we have done – but if our essential problem is that we are sin sick, then as with any condition, we can participate in our healing. There are things we can do which either help or hinder the healing. Within the Eastern tradition, The Jesus Prayer is The prayer response, and we will look more closely next time at this – How do we take up our mat and walk?

 

But for now we must attend to one key aspect of praying this prayer which we must needs be aware of.

 

Last week I used the illustration of My heart as a pond! It was an image that had formed in my mind and which I took to my Spiritual director. The thing is this, and especially it may be true of those who have been brought up to ‘be good’. When we hear all about Jesus forgiving our sins, we can hardly come up with anything worth writing home about (this sometimes is why Grave sin can better alert us to our state)

Our Enemy, and the Eastern tradition is not coy about The Evil One, is very content with this state of affairs. Leave things undisturbed – but if we invite Jesus in, then things get stirred up!! So it is VERY common to start praying the Jesus prayer and realise that we are in deep deep trouble!

 

Look at these early verses from Mark

 

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ 26And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ 38He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ 41Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ 42Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 44saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ 45But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

Jesus steps into the world and all of a sudden sickness and demons are everywhere! We tend often to think of the presence of Jesus as far from disturbing, after all, what business does he have with us? He is here to comfort us in our difficulties, not make more for us :-) But of course he is not making difficulties – He is All Light. When we invoke him in prayer – light shines, which the darkness cannot stand and starts to kick up a fuss. The pond is stirred and all of a sudden we realise things are a lot murkier than we might have thought.

One Important note – Jesus never exposes more than he gives us grace to cope with and we pray MORE fervently Jesus Christ have mercy on me a Sinner.

Of Balrogs and Smaug!!

Our approach to Spirituality in the West – a word not used in the Eastern tradition – can leave us is a dangerous state. We do not do this walk together we need experienced guides. Even basic meditation should really be always an accompanied journey.

Older traditions are far wiser – such journeys are always accompanied

Jesus prays ‘Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ If we are blind to our sin – why do we have such pride in our capacity to understand what happens when we pray

 

One or two comments

Firstly, and we shall return to this, one of the great weaknesses of the Western Church is its lack of Tradition, or sense of the meaning and Significance of The Tradition. Anglicanism properly understood is well described thus – Based upon Scripture, interpreted by Tradition and applied to our context by Reason. But for many, perhaps most of us Anglicans we have little sense nowadays of ‘Tradition’ which is perhaps why what we call reason is let loose on Scripture, often to tear it to pieces

The Jesus Prayer as we have been exploring lies within a powerful apprehension of Tradition as ‘ the living faith of the dead’ – or perhaps better, ‘the living faith of the cloud of witnesses’ [Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad] At the heart of The Tradition is the Liturgy of the Church, both of which in modern terms are seen as somehow a barrier or irrelevant to the Spiritual Life. The Tradition understands them as indispensable, indeed that to journey without them is at best most unwise, at worst perilous in the extreme, or madness.

In both the East and the remnants of the once common tradition in the West, any ‘individual practice’ must be rooted in the shared life of the worship of the whole church. In this respect we think especially of The Prayers; Auricular Confession and the guidance of Elders; Study of the Scriptures (and we might add, the writings of the Saints); and The Eucharist. The Jesus Prayer is a practice of the Church and can only be fully apprehended within this context.

[Some Orthodox writers would say, within the tradition of the Orthodox Church, and we should be mindful of their counsel and slow to seize hold of a practice which until recently was barely known in the West. Our penchant for practices, as if they were technological tools, to be picked up and discarded at a whim, like a spanner, or worse something to be practiced until we grew bored or give up is at best most unhelpful.]

Second we have problems with words. What I mean by this is that certain words have unhelpful resonances for us. For example, as illustrated above ‘The Church’ is a phrase which generally as people with a largely Protestant heritage we have an inbuilt problem with. We may well think – what is the Church? In some respects we think ‘it may be helpful to me and my journey’, but in others it is like practices ‘disposable’. No doubt, some of this is a deep unconscious apprehension of troubling Church history, when as we all know, the Church has born little resemblance to The Body of Christ.

Or ‘sinner’. Again some of us may well have grown up being taught to ‘be good!’, and that to be a sinner was to be one who was ‘bad’, but ‘sinners’ are those amongst whom Jesus is to be found. It is sinners Jesus calls! Being a Sinner is actually the condition which draws Christ close to us. Of course we are all sinners, but perhaps lacking an apprehension of any particular sins we commit, being blind to our context, we may find this a difficult word to associate ourselves with

Or we might think of the word ‘mercy’. We think of someone pleading for their life, which in a sense we are as we pray the Jesus prayer, but in what sense. As we may well be aware, the sense of ‘mercy’ we are crying for from a Western perspective is that ‘God might not punish us for our sins’. Yet if we return to the Scriptures in which we find the Genesis of the Jesus prayer, the tone is very different

 

THIS is the Temple of the Lord – Sermon for Lent 3 – Year B – 2014

Sermon for Lent 3 – Year B – 2015
Sunday March 8th

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

st-marys-gisburn

‘THIS is the Temple of the Lord’

One of my churches in England was a little older than the other, 800 years older – roughly. Actually we have no idea how old Gisburn Church was, we only had the date of the first recorded Vicar in 1124. When we were considering some building alterations to the other church in my care including the possible removal of some pews, someone remarked – ‘why can’t we keep it the same, just like Gisburn has been over the years’ I wanted to laugh, but instead tried gently to point out that the original form of the building was unknown, buried under many many changes over the years. Not least the arrival of pews in the 17th Century – following the reformation.
Over the years it had seen many things, many changes. It’s tower was castellated as it was built in an era when the Scots were wont to roam that far South and so it provided a place of refuge and defence. Oliver Cromwell had stabled his horses in it prior to the battle of Foulridge in the English Civil War, and as most medieval churches it had served as a place for storing what passed for the local fire engine, and of course hosting the market. An imaginative Vicar would have had little difficulty summoning up the scene which confronts us in our gospel, as Jesus went into the Jerusalem temple, confronted by sheep, cows, doves and all the mechanisms of financial exchange . . . the Temple was the commercial hub of Jerusalem –  although it hadn’t been around nearly so long as Gisburn Parish Church :-) The Jerusalem temple that is, this great Edifice of Herod the Great, under construction these mere forty six years – it hadn’t even been around as long as this church :-) 500 years previously, the Jewish people had returned from exile and set about the task of rebuilding on the site of Solomon’s Temple, but Herod decided on a huge rebuild programme. It was Vast and said to be coated in Gold Leaf – such that it was almost impossible to look at as the suns light reflected from it.

temple-wide_1355306i
It was visible from Joppa on the sea coast and it was from there that all the many many goods associated with the life of the Temple made their way to Jerusalem. Its expense and upkeep led to what we may remember was called the Temple Tax. And we read in Matthew’s gospel how the tax collectors came to Peter to ask if Jesus did or didn’t pay the temple tax – and how Jesus instructed Peter to go and fish and find the two drachma coin in the fish’s mouth :-)
Keeping up the Temple was literally life draining from the people of God – indeed it was said that slaves were also bought and sold there. The Temple was in many respects a vast idol – which enslaved the people. As the Church in Gisburn was seen as in many ways central to the village, even by those who only darkened its doors for funerals, and many people helped pay for a new roof – so far far more so Jewish identity was inextricably linked to the Temple – this was why they had gone to So much trouble after the exile to rebuild it, and why those in authority thought nothing of the tax, or the other burdens of upkeep to the vitality of the people.

Jesus in his appearing is like a laser guided missile, aimed right at the very heart of this Identity. In every gospel THE confrontation with the Pharisees and the rest which provokes calls for his death is the Identity forming Day, the Sabbath. And second, the identity forming place the Temple. We might say that the Jewish sense of who they were rested on these two pillars one in time and one in Space, Sabbath and Temple.
The Temple’s significance of course was clear – it was the place where the God of Israel dwelt with his people. And it was understood literally as the Centre of the World – the Creation narrative from Genesis echoing in its six days the arrangement of the various courts of Solomons Temple. The Sea being figured by the great basin for the purification rites, the Lights in the Sky – the great Menorah, the great Lampstand in the Temple and in its heart, the Seventh Day, the Sabbath, the One who dwelt in the Holy of holies – the one in whom we are to find our hearts Rest (as St Augustine puts it)

From the beginning of the story of the forming of Israel, by God’s majestic act of rescue from Slavery in Egypt – He had dwelt in their midst. In the wilderness – which we travel through in Lent. No trappings of luxury. The Ark of the Covenant, containing the Ten Words on the two tablets of stone – overshadowed by a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night – there in the Tabernacle in their midst. But Israel did not listen to the Word, that the God who had brought them out of the land of Egypt and thus entreated them – you shall have no gods before me, was not a God who dwelt in houses built by human hands. The God who frees from slavery is a God who is radically Free, and commands the true freedom which is found in obedience to His Life Giving Word made flesh. Each of those Ten commandments was about Freedom. Do not be enslaved to other Gods, do not be enslaved to Idols, Do not try to enslave me by using my name to back up your plans, do not be enslaved to work, know who you are honour your father and mother, do not be enslaved to other identities, do not be enslaved by the passions and deisres that are murder, adultery, theft, stealing, false witness  – and do not be enslaved by things in covetousness. God is Freedom and His people should be, but in beuilding a house of stone, they themselves have once more become enslaved to the project of its upkeep . . .

St Stephen in his eloquent witness which will lead to His martyrdom again points to the Temple “Our ancestors in turn brought [the tabernacle containing the ark] in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our ancestors. And it was [in Jerusalem] until the time of David, who found favour with God and asked that he might find a dwelling-place for the house of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says, 
 “Heaven is my throne,
   and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
   or what is the place of my rest? 
 Did not my hand make all these things?”

And the significance of the Temple conflict is brought into sharpest focus in John’s gospel. John moves the clearance of the Temple from Jesus last week, to the beginning of His ministry, his first truly public appearance – the first place where he makes himself known amongst the crowds. After a quiet appearance at the Wedding in Cana, he Erupts onto the public stage, In the Temple. Consumed by zeal as Psalm 69 recounted ‘it is zeal for your house has consumed me’ – the prayer of a righteous man suffering untold persecution, the prayer of one who loves God with heart and soul and mind and strength and thus cannot bear to see what has become of the dwelling place of his Father. John is saying – THIS is what he has come for – the Sign? Destroy this Temple and I will rebuild it in three days . . .
You, in the slavery of your minds can only envisage death and destruction, but I am the Light and the Life of the World. Standing up in the midst of the Temple, upon the feast of tabernacles, when the poeple are celebrating their time in the wilderness – Jesus stands up in their midst and ‘cried out with a loud voice – bawling from the centre of his gut – Whoever is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scriptures say – out of his heart shall flow life giving waters

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.

And again from the end of the Book of Revelation  – that great picture of the presence of God where there is no Temple – Only the throne of God and the Lamb –  ‘It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.’
The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

Destroy this temple, and I will rebuild it again in three days – Jesus Christ. The place where we meet God. The word became flesh and Tabernacled amongst us. For all the brilliance of Herod’s Temple, it is as nothing to the brilliance of God made known to us in Jesus Christ and we have seen his glory . . . say John. Whoever has seen me, has seen the Father says Jesus as he tells of a house with many mansions . . . many many mansions – we dwell in Him and he in us.

And he comes with a refining fire. He Cleanses the Temple – drives from it all that keeps us from him. Through Lent we participate in that refining, that cleansing as we consent to have all that hinders us, we lay aside all that keeps us from Him and his nearer presence, we consent to have it stripped away, in our individual lives and our Life together. No longer slaves but finding our true freedom in obedience to the Word that frees, the Word that Lives for Ever, the Word made flesh – that we might be a fit place for the dwelling place of God, as the Body of Christ in This place.

Lent Course 2 Praying in the name of Jesus – The Jesus Prayer. Jesus and Healing

A Lent course – for St John the Evangelist, Roslyn
Praying in the Name of Jesus
‘The Jesus Prayer’
2. Jesus and healing. Sin and Salvation.

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.
This Jesus is
“the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;
it has become the cornerstone.”

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’
Acts of the Apostles Chapter 4 vs 8-12

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me”
First – a song 

(‘Lord, I want to be a Christian’ The Proclaimers)
And so we are working from the assumption that we want to be Christians from our hearts – although with St Theresa we may well acknowledge that that desire is at best a weakly flickering candle, if not a barely smouldering wick. Whilst the Spirit may be (barely) willing, the flesh is weak. Whilst our desire might be to Love, the words of St Paul resonate “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” Romans 7:18-19
Perhaps we might cavil at the word ‘evil’. After all we live in a society which locates ‘Evil’ out there. The ancient practise of scapegoating is alive and well. Societies need ‘Evil’ people in order to locate ‘Evil’ anywhere but where it resides, in us all. [A good scriptural example of this is The Gerasene demoniac. He is possessed by a Legion of demons, but when he is healed, Jesus the healer is driven from their society . . . or Jesus the scapegoat?]
We also spoke last week of Resonance. Of how God’s intention for all Creation, renewed in Jesus Christ is that it Resonates with his Life and his Love. That in and through our lives, He is perfectly revealed and made known within His Creation.
In that we recognise our predicament, we recognise that we are ‘out of tune’, ‘off key’, and we do not recognise the language of the song, as we did not to one degree or other resonate with Kate Rusby’s song. Yet, we often pray as if ‘we knew what was what’.
Here in New Zealand when someone asks how we are, we tell them ‘We are good!’ Recently I was speaking with someone who told me that their grandfather, A Christian man with a feel for these things would not take that for an answer, responding “You are not good, you are well!”, but the truth is that we are not even well. Actually if we were well we would be good. So we cry out
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me”
This ancient prayer has its roots in the address of so many of those whom Jesus met – yet one might note that it is never heard on the lips of those who plot his destruction. It is the prayer of those who recognise be it ever so faintly that they are not well and that Jesus the healer is in town.
When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them.
Then some people came, bringing to him a paralysed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’
At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and take your mat and walk”?
But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the paralytic— ‘I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.’ And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’

What do we notice in this passage? What catches our attention?


Some points to consider
o The Crowd – a sign of the evil that seeks to smother Jesus throughout Mark – eg Mark 5:31. The Jesus Prayer is the prayer of the one who wants to be healed – one who may well sense the evil pressing in, and even more, perhaps within.
o Note the order of the healing. Jesus sees deeper. He is aware of our deepest needs in a way we who ‘See’ are not
o The physical healing is a Sign of his authority to forgive sins. The healing which seems to us greater is actually here a Sign. Jesus heals the man physically in order to show that he has authority to make us truly well. The early church over and again refer to Jesus as ‘The physician’, and whilst there are many recorded physical healings, as throughout the gospel account, they are referring to the deeper healing, that from Sin.

But what is the nature of this healing? With the paralytic we are aware of the physical healing, but what is the outcome of the forgiveness of sins?
o Here note the reaction of the scribes ‘Why does this man speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ . . .
 Who can? Who is able to forgive sins? Are the Scribes making a purely ‘religious’ response here? How easy is it to say ‘Your sins are forgiven you’? Rather is there not a terrible affront? Being Unable to forgive sins themselves, they separate themselves from God – ‘only God can forgive sins’
 Jesus answer – ‘that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’
We might tend to think, understandably but erroneously, that Jesus natures, human and divine, are separate. That some things he does out of his divinity, and some he does out of his humanity. So, ‘he heals out of his divinity, but walks and eats and suffers in his humanity’ – but this is because we have lost sight of the nature of our humanity – of who we are. Jesus reveals to us who we are.
o the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. Upon the Cross, God in the human Jesus is forgiving everyone for everything.
o It is natural for the Human who bears the image of God, to forgive sins – it is their true nature. So we pray ‘Our Father . . . forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us’ To forgive is Divine and we are Children of God
o The Risen Christ, the first fruits of the new Creation, restores in us the Divine Image, the Divine Life in which we are to participate.
Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

Thus if we say with the Scribes ‘Who can forgive sins but God alone? in a sense we are right, but it is a dangerous half truth. For those who bear the Image of God are vessels of God’s Life. The Scribes question is a revealing of their captivity to Sin which prevents them from ‘Loving everybody from their heart’

And for us who are Christians, it is a denial of our Baptism which makes us Children of God. Having been set free from Sin we choose to allow ourselves once more to be taken captive by it

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me”

In some respects our state is worse than at first. Having been set free we have allowed ourselves to be tangled up in Sin anew.

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’

So quickly we jump to make this story something it is not, that is a story about the relative importance of two types of Christian life, the Active and the Contemplative. We are almost asked to decide which we will be, Marthas or Marys. But the meaning of the story does not require such a leap. Mary is paying attention to Jesus, Martha is not. Martha is distracted from Jesus. Martha is upset and worried by many things. We might see her as a figure of one who is tangled up in sin, so much so that she cannot see her own need. Yet notice how Gently Jesus rebukes her

Mary ‘listened to what he was saying’ This event is after the Transfiguration, when the voice comes from heaven ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, Listen to him’

Yes, we should have a childlike relationship with God our Father in prayer, but we can’t remember how to be children, how to be naturally Children of God. As Jesus sees into the deep need of the paralysed man, so Mary sees there is something more important than getting dinner ready. And how often a child seems oblivious to that which the parent thinks is so obvious. Homework to do, and they are captivated by butterflies :-)

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me”
This week, set aside say five minutes a day – find a quiet place and say the prayer over and again – with attention. Attention to Jesus, Attention to yourself.
Whilst this is a prayer one can pray all the time, if we are going to Resonate, we need to start gently and attentively. A ‘space’ in which to do this is helpful.
It is not recommended to go beyond this for now, especially if we are starting out

Next Week: A more helpful understanding of sin. We do not know what we are doing. The Passions

Recommended Reading : The Jesus Prayer. Frederica Mathewes-Green

Lent 2 – Year B ‘The meek shall inherit the Earth – Yeah Right!’

Sermon for Lent 2 – Year B
Sunday March 1st 2015

Mark 8:31-38

The meek shall inherit the Earth
Yeah, Right!

Fundamentals

A couple of years ago I had a dream. It was so striking that I wrote it down in my journal. In it I was in a canoe paddling up a stream. The stream, as streams do, became narrower and the water shallower, therefore the effort of paddling became greater until I grounded. Of course the obvious thing was to turn the canoe round, but the stream was too narrow

It must be said, when I ponder that dream and its meaning for me, the contemporary church also hoves into view. The stream getting narrower and shallower, perhaps a metaphor for falling numbers? And trying harder and harder . . . perhaps we need to get our bearings. To remind ourselves of one or two fundamentals . . .

1. God is not relevant to our lives

I have pondered often and long about why so many of us are at the very least hesitant about ‘sharing our faith with others’ – and the answer that came to me in the early hours of one morning this week was that we imagine the conversation in our head – a little like this.

I’m a Christian
I’m not
My faith makes a real positive difference to my life
Really? What? We have been friends for a long time. Your life and my life – they are pretty similar – indeed in many respects you might say I have a better life than you, no?
Well, yes, errm – I see what you are saying, err but I have a profound peace in my heart
Yes. Good. I’m happy for you. I find a walk on the beach does that for me. Isn’t it lovely :-)

So how are the grandchildren doing then . . .

When I say ‘God is not relevant to our lives’ I mean it. But what do I mean by ‘our lives’. I mean the lives we determine for ourselves. The life which is all about our life story – the story which people may tell of us after we die, of career and home and children and hobbies etc. etc. The lives into which we try to fit God rather like a new kitchen accessory – a Unique selling point in a house, or in this case a life

We have grown up in a culture which springs from Christendom – a world where ‘everyone was a Christian’ – God was in his heaven ‘watching over it all’, and all was well with the world. ‘God’ in this scheme was there to sort out the difficulties of our lives. Like a kindly chaplain, or a Spiritual plumber, or indeed a kindly parking attendant who found us that parking space we really needed or otherwise we’d be so stressed at that important meeting with the bank to discuss our mortgage . . . God is ‘there to look after us’. But of course, for our friend with whom we are in conversation, they pretty much manage to get along very well thank you very much without any of that, and also they have spare time on a Sunday to use as they wish . . . and of course should life’s circumstances become difficult then perhaps we don’t really need this church stuff anyway because God is there looking after us, or perhaps he isn’t and actually it doesn’t seem to really make any difference . . . after all there are lots of helpful guides to having a better life – some are religious, some aren’t . . .

2. Our lives are not relevant to God

Sorry if we find this thought troubling, but they’re really not. God does not spend every moment of his waking hours figuring out how to get our lives sorted out so that we can have the life we always dreamed of . . . indeed we may have noticed that :-) And vice versa, there is nothing we can do to ‘help God’. On the one hand the dominant expression of faith is that ‘god is up there somewhere looking over us’, and on the other, the Church seems obsessed in what Margaret of Sienna calls ‘solicitudo religioso pro Deo’ To translate roughly, ‘a blasphemous anxiety to be doing God’s work for him’. Whatever, ‘God’ is largely absent from the proceedings
Like in the canoe dream – people paddling harder and harder as the stream narrows and the water shallows. The church is busier than ever, getting the message out, endless committees, initiatives etc.etc.etc. ‘God’ becomes an ever vague shadow, out there, somewhere, perhaps??

Last week I concluded that we would do well from time to time, not to put ourselves in the disciples’ position, as they observe Jesus healing people, but rather to place ourselves in the position of those who are healed, in other words, In Jesus direct line of sight.
Well, let’s do that this week and where is Jesus looking, oh yes he’s looking at his disciples. He is telling them, quite openly that he ‘must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.’

And we all know Peter’s response – And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

Now let’s just pause at this moment. Immediately before our gospel reading, Peter has declared that which God has revealed to him, not what he has figured out for himself, what God has revealed to him, That Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed one, The King of Israel . . .

And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him?????!!!!!!

3. The problem is ‘Our Lives’ . . .

Jesus words seem like madness to Peter – but it is Peter who has the problem . . . turning and looking at his disciples, Jesus rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Jesus tells Peter ‘You don’t get it! You don’t have a clue! You are the One trying to destroy my work . . . and we, like Peter have So much confidence that we do get it . . . but as I said, we cannot give a coherent account of what IT is to those amongst whom we live

The problem is ‘Our Lives’. When we listen to what Jesus says, it seems utter madness, we are there with Peter. Jesus says ‘The meek shall inherit the earth’ – and we rebuke him saying, that’s a nice sentiment Jesus, but actually its the hard work and fine accounting skills, its our genius that will get us what we want . . . and the moth and rust will corrupt and if we store it all in vaults after our deaths, the thieves will break in and steal.

I was in a church meeting a long way from here earlier this week, where the wheels of power were turning. We were planning and proposing. And someone gave a very lengthy account of a significant event in the life of the church and credited one person with all the credit and said how much we owed them by way of thanks, and no one batted an eyelid . . .
No one – myself included – said, ‘Let us pause and offer profound thanks to God without whom Nothing is possible. It was as if God didn’t even exist.’ We’d pulled it all together.

We modern westerners are So in control of Our Lives – and thus the way we run them is in direct opposition to the way of Jesus – Jesus who says ‘The meek shall inherit the Earth’; ‘do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth’, ‘unless you become like a little child’ How could a child even begin to run the church as we do??? Jesus who says For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

4. Jesus response to the problem of ‘Our Lives’

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

As I was painfully reminded this last week by a friend, we miss the horror of what Jesus is saying here. The Cross has become a pretty item of jewelry – or we talk about it is terms of the sufferings that are common to all human kind, broken relationships, illness – ‘We all have our cross to bear’ we sigh. Jesus speaks to the whole people of God, who symbolised by Peter have their minds set on human things and faces them with something horrific. No one there, none of the readers of Mark’s gospel in the first 300 years will have not seen, in all likelihood Many Crosses, not hanging round people’s necks, but with people hanging on them. ‘You really don’t want to go there’, but Jesus says this is the Way.

Pontius Pilate wanting to let people know where the real power lay, didn’t always bother with wood, bit of a waste, he would nail people to the walls of Jerusalem. Everyone knew the horror of it and had seen how literally excruciating was the death of the Crucified, over hours in unendurable agony. The utter destruction of a Life – indeed bodies were left there to be devoured by wild animals and birds.  So horrifying that people could not bear to speak of it or write about it. Truly A Satanic tool.

Jesus takes Our Lives to the Cross, and we are called to follow him. Indeed this is the meaning of our Baptism – not some folk rite, so that we are in on this Chaplain God and can expect his services. Christendom neatly sidestepped the Cross and delivered up a faith of the irrelevant God, placing the human and our lives back in the centre of things. But our Lives are only the centre of things if w are In Christ, the Crucified One. We are baptised into his death so that He might be Our Life, Our All in All. As St Paul puts it in Colossians, ‘For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God’  Our baptism is the End of Our Life. The end of Our agendas, the end of Our plans. The life we now live we live by faith in the Son of God. For truly Christian life to begin, Our Lives must end. He must become Our Life. The Risen one

And So we come here, we confess our Sins, that once more we have lived for ourselves and not for Him who loves us, We feed on his word which is Life giving Like honey on our lips, we respond in words irrelevant to the World, the Creed, and in his infinite Grace and Mercy, he feeds us with His Very Life.
Glory to Jesus Christ
Glory for Ever