When is the Church not the Church?? A sermon

Sermon for Sunday 27th September 2015

Numbers 11 in the background?
James 5:13-end
Mark 9:38-end

When is the Church not the Church?

‘We’re not inviting people to join us for a game of Scrabble, but for a journey to Mordor’
Bishop Justin Duckworth

This has not been an easy week – firstly and perhaps necessarily, I haven’t been well. I say necessarily because when you’re not well, you are not caught up in the business of your normal occupation. You have time to think and reflect – and more time than usual to wrestle with the words of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And that is the more significant reason why it has been a hard week – leaving me to ask some very tough questions, questions to which I haven’t as yet got ANY answers. Questions which come from what is most important to me – that which I live for, that which I sense my life is about. It is a commonplace to call such things ‘Passions’, but as I said to a chapel surface at St Hilda’s in a week when they’d been ‘celebrating their ‘passions’’ the word ‘Passion’ has lost its deeper meaning – which is ‘that for which one suffers. And my Passion is The Church of Jesus Christ – a burning desire that she might be all that she is meant to be – that is a body brought into a perfect conformation to the Life of her Lord, Jesus Christ. As St Paul puts it in Colossians and Ephesians – ‘holy and blameless in His sight . . . without spot or wrinkle’ Which has lead me this week to questions such as ‘do my priestly orders actually do more harm than good to the life of the Church?’ Put another way – is my life as a priest actively supporting an understanding of Church which is not in conformity to Her Lord, but actually in radical conflict? For it is hard if not impossible to make a connection between the life of the Church as we know it, and the words of Jesus in and through the Gospels, perhaps no more or less so than today’s.

Last Saturday I sat through the committee stage of Statute 3 at our Diocesan Synod. Of course, Jesus didn’t get a mention there. Statute 3 – the former parish statute – now the parish, regional deanery and local church statute is about ‘ordering our common life as the church’. Two things came to mind. Firstly the words of Joseph Tainter, a social historian – who said, and I paraphrase ‘Civilisations in a state of terminal collapse are marked by ever increasing attempts at bureaucratic control, leading to ever diminishing returns’ In other words Statute 3 and its revision is the symptom of an institution in its death throes.

But that wasn’t my main problem – I’ve long said that considering the fragility of the church in this Diocese, our structures insofar as people cannot let goof them should be so light and maneuverable as to be ephemeral. No, my big problem was as it always is for all of us, the words of Jesus.
One of the neatest and thus most dangerous ways of getting around the words of Jesus is to work with the assumption that Jesus is addressing us as individuals. This is so common that I guess those who do attempt to speak on the gospel today may well do this without recognising that they are avoiding Jesus in so doing. So wealthy are we to have our own bibles that we are trained to read the Word as if it were primarily addressed to ‘me personally’, rather than what it is the Living Word of the Living God to the community of those who ‘bear the name of Christ’. And here is the real problem – the problem that has me wondering about my orders as a priest, and wrestling with God. Because on the One hand we have Jesus’ words to the Church – and on the Other we have the Church and it seems, to quote Father Abraham ‘between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ Put another way – I cannot find a connection between the words of Jesus to the Church and the reality of the Church which we know and are so familiar with. And for someone who has a Passion for the Church of Jesus Christ – that is no small problem . . .

I could take the easy way out, renounce the church as so many have done and taken off on some self centered fantasy to do with ‘Churchless Christianity’. Or take another familiar way out – or more truthfully a familiar ‘deceit’ and say – well the Church needs to change her language – we need to get rid of words like ‘Hell’ and ‘Sin’ and ‘Demons’ – we need a different language to the words of Jesus. Indeed avoid any mention of Jesus at all! A practice which is so commonplace to us in the Western Church that even the Pope does it, managing to speak to the US Congress earlier in the week without a mention of Jesus. And hardly anyone noticed . . . the speech being met with wild acclaim from almost all quarters. (Interestingly also, the only passage to be cut from his speech when he delivered it concluded ‘If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance’ . . .) – yet an earlier bishop of Rome may well rebuke us saying – but Christ has the words of eternal life . . . How can we speak to power as Christians except with Reference to the Only Life we have, Jesus Christ. To think we have better words than Jesus is to renounce Jesus. ‘Whoever is ashamed of me and my words . . .’ I can neither renounce the church nor the Word of Life which was from the beginning. My Baptism irrevocably connects me to Jesus, the words of Jesus, and therefore also to the people of Jesus, and therein is an at times almost unbearable tension, not least as I look at my own life and my own place in the Church.

When Jesus’ words make no sense to us, it is for one reason and one only, that we have strayed far far from Him, and thus from the Reality of the Church. The Identification of Jesus with His Church is so total, that when we do not understand his words, do not hear them, do not live out of them, in truth we are not the Church.
Look at the Church Jesus addresses John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. Whoever gives YOU a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ . . . Don’t try and push those away who are engaging in Kingdom work – YOU are going to need every friend you can get. If they’re not persecuting you, count them as on your side! As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ If you are following me, you are going to find yourself without a home . . .

It is perhaps no surprise at all that the most frequent lament heard in the circles of those who care about the Church is ‘but where are the disciples?’ when the life of a disciple of Jesus bears so little relation to the experience of any of us of what it means to be part of the church. For as Jesus addresses the infant church in the community of this motley band of disciples – he is speaking to those who have left everything to follow him and so find themselves marginal and poor – seeking as their Lord, hospitality in an often harsh world – grateful when they are not persecuted, Rejoicing to receive ‘even a cup of water’

And so it is as the marginal and impoverished – the Church is not welcomed by the powers that be, but rather dragged before them, their to bear witness to Jesus . . . I wonder how the news media would have covered the confrontation of Jesus Christ with the US Congress, or the apostle Paul – or Peter – all of whom face the powers that be in chains . . . a people bound to Jesus Christ – finding their Only Life in Him – utterly dependent on him and thus utterly dependent on one another.
Their Life in Jesus a Life Together – to be cut off from one another – to be cut off from Jesus . . . no life outside of the community of those who ‘bear the name of Christ’. It is in THIS context that the words of Jesus about Sin – about stumbling blocks – about Hell – make perfect Sense. Finding themselves on the margins of society, the disciple community is utterly dependent upon one another – for few outside will welcome or feed them or give them a bed for the night – some, yes, and for these they give thanks, even for a glass of water – but not many – therefore Anything that causes Offense within the community MUST be cut off! Their Life is so tenuous, nothing must threaten their Life Together, and those who seek to must be cut off. Jesus here uses the same body language as Paul employs. Here he is not speaking of a ‘personal morality’, rather of that which threatens the Life of the community. Those who scandalise (the literal meaning of ‘set a stumbling block’) these the little ones (in their vulnerability the disciples are like children living on the streets) – their Offense is so great that it is better were they never born than face the consequences of this action – of acting is such a way that someone left the fellowship of the Church. Jesus here uses a figure of speech he does when he speaks of Judas’ betrayal of him. It is because they are a community on the edge – utterly dependent on the mercy of others, utterly dependent upon Jesus Christ, that they have no choice but to radically confront anything which gets in the way of this their very Life blood

So so much of the words of Jesus, and indeed the rest of the New Testament makes obvious sense when we view the Church as a community living on the margins of society . .  as it did for the first three hundred years of its existence, until Constantine – when all of a sudden to be Christian was no longer to be marginal, but central – was no longer to be utterly dependent on Christ, but to wield the levers of power . . . and power is what it is all about. For those early Christians were powerless – apart from the LIfe of Christ amongst them, in the Holy Spirit. But we then became those who set about ruling – dispensing to the poor, rather than being largely the recipients of acts of mercy. In the community of the marginal – those with much were faced with a stark choice – to give up what they had for those amongst them who were hungry. They were brothers and sisters – Christendom effectively raised the Church from the gutter, and placed it on the throne, and so it found itself more or less welcome in the courts of Kings Princes and indeed Presidents. That is why for so many the idea that our shared fellowship in Jesus is more significant than for example our blood family ties is so odd . . . And it is not only this language of kinship which is odd

Thus also, as James reminds us, Confession . . . in a community on the margins, knowing life only in each other and thus in Jesus – unable to separate out being those ‘who bear the name of Christ’ from the community of those who ‘bear the name of Christ’ – mutual confession was not just a nice idea, but a day by day necessity . . .Christendom in elevating Christians to positions where they could begin to get along perfectly well without other Christians relegated Confession first to the Religious sphere of life – namely you confessed to a Priest – and then finally when the Individualism latent in Protestantism combined with a critique of the Church as waning powerful institution turned people away from Priests, one confessed ‘privately’ and to quote the Beetles ‘No one was saved’.

In a culture of radical individualism such as we inhabit – where we fail to see how dependent we are on myriad others, where we live with the deceit that our lives are our own – and that in the realm of the ‘spiritual’ we are all on our own personal journey – the idea of confessing our sins one to another, if not the very idea of sin itself has pretty much evaporated. The idea, as James seems to suggest that it is both necessary and radically connected to Sin and Sickness, Forgiveness and healing – seems absurd when our lives are so remote from one another. And in such a culture – bound together by little more than Statutes and shifting social convention, things fall apart. I am only too aware of how a church community bound together only by social politeness and a shared religiosity cannot stand even the smallest conflict – the idea of a shared mutually disciplined life where one watches over the soul of another in the terms James speaks of seems utterly alien. My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

We have on the one hand the reality of the Church which Jesus addresses – and on the other the reality of Church as we have experienced it. I found this partly and powerfully expressed recently by the words of Bishop Justin Duckworth when speaking to a group of young Anglicans about mission. He said ‘We’re not inviting people to join us for a game of Scrabble, we’re inviting them onto a journey to Mordor’ It is that Gulf which I live with – I trust I’m not the only one, and I hope that more and more of us might come to live with it too – and to face it.

As we consider the future of the Church, as the Christendom church wrestles with Statute 3, struggling for breath at the end of its days – we are left with the age old joke – How do we get from where we are to where we should be? Or more precisely back to Jesus as Our Life? The chasm – the gulf between the Church Jesus addresses and our own context seems so wide that the answer at present can only be as the joke says, ‘I don’t know, but I wouldn’t start from here . . .’ but we are starting from here . . . and I as a priest can only say – well we have Jesus present to us in Word and in Sacrament, if we can allow that to be our all, to be enough, then perhaps we might make this journey together.

Sermon on Stewardship

Sermon for Sunday 13th September 2015

James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

‘ . . .as those who will give an account’
Dangerous Faith

Anglicanism has more than its fair share of peculiarities, hardly surprising for a church which had its genesis in the determination of a King to marry whomsoever he wanted at a time of religious upheaval in the 16th Century.
But for the purposes of today, when we are considering Stewardship, I want to think about our Anglican posture of prayer. Not because I want everyone to pray that more money will come in – but because our posture in prayer says something about how we relate to God, and not only in theory. We are embodied, and what we do with our bodies affects our faith as much as our faith affects what we do with our bodies. You may like to spend time praying adopting different positions – pay attention to how it changes the disposition of your heart and mind . . .

So how does being Anglican affect our posture in prayer? Well, the fact is that by and large our way of praying is rather odd –  for historically and indeed until recently, pretty uniformly, Anglicans kneel to pray. OK so some more modern types sit – itself unusual historically, after all, only the relatively wealthy could afford to put seats into their churches – or adopt the shampoo position, which is sort of half way between sitting and kneeling whilst massaging your follicles, but as the prayer book repeatedly says – ‘the people all kneeling . . .’.

Whereas the way to pray most commonly observed and practised, and that of our Jewish forebears also, is that we pray Standing up! I’ll come to standing up in a minute, but why are Anglicans different? Well as far as we can tell it was because in the feudal times out of which the Church of England grew – one knelt before one’s lord and master, and so transferring that practise it seemed right and proper to kneel before God – but I suggest that that is not helpful. Not least because it leaves us entirely with a sense that we are supplicants in prayer, which is only a very small part of the story.
Our primary relationship to God is not one of begging. And certainly if we consider what it is to be a Steward, then begging isn’t primarily what we are about. For God in Christ has so dignified his people that he calls them to be Stewards of all that He has created, and in that dignity to Stand before him.

In the book of Job – after Job has poured out all his complaints, the LORD confronts Job with the words – ‘gird up your loins like a man and I will question you, and you shall declare to me.’ For 35 chapters Job has sat in the dust and pondered his plight, and now the LORD appears with the command – get up from the dust – face me like a man! Gird up your loins is a way of saying – get ready for hard labour – get ready for battle! ‘I will question you, and you shall declare to me.’ God invites Job to debate face to face. Astonishingly, God treats the human as in a sense an equal – and expects us not to cower but to Stand before Him. So we learn to speak with God as it were ‘Face to Face’ Standing. If you wish to enter into a deeper apprehension of your life before God, Standing to pray makes a huge difference – After all – is not God Present??!

Now at this point you may be asking – WHAT has this got to do with Stewardship??? Surely you need to be talking about how we need to be giving more etc. etc. etc. Or give us guidelines – or something.
Well I’m not . . . The Christian Life is not one in which we are spoon fed. God in Christ has forgiven us our sins and set us free from Sin. We don’t have to sin. God in Christ through the gift of the Spirit has taken us up from the dust and set us on our feet – he offers his Life to us that we might obey his commandments and do them – to love our neighbour as ourself, to love God with all we have and all we are. God treats us like responsible adults. ‘This is the way, walk in it . . .’

For example, as we have thought about over the last few weeks – when the wealthy young man comes to Jesus, Jesus tells him it like it is – he treats him as a responsible human being. This is the deal – sell your possessions give the money to the poor, then come follow me . . . over and over again Jesus says things that treat us not like infants, but adults. And sadly and too often, we seek to evade Jesus Word to us – the Word that gives Life . . .
So the parable to the talents, the man going on a journey  puts all his wealth in the hands of his servants . . . As the Psalmist says ‘The Earth is the LORD’s and everything in it’ Everything belongs to God – he puts it into the hands of the human. Let us make man in our own image, ‘according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’Each of the stewards is held responsible – it is the one who tries to squirm away, who seeks to evade his responsibilities who finds himself in the mire. As Jesus said – when the invitation to the Kingdom came, ‘one after another began to make his excuses . . .’ The call into the Kingdom is a fearful call for it is at once a call to our true dignity and therefore Responsibility as human beings – not by the deceitful standards of the World, but by the Command of the One who created the heavens and the Earth . . . our stewardship is not calculated to win us the admiration of society, but God’s Well Done, Good and faithful steward

When we are baptised into the Life of the Church – the time for excuses is over. Yes we may sin, and for that we confess our sins one to another that we might be healed – but no excuses now. God in Raising Christ from the dead has set us up on our feet – our Life, our very Existence is now Face to Face with the Living God, and thus as the Scriptures continually tell us – we must give an account . . . Baptism is not into some life where we are as it were held in cossetted existence, no it is a passage into Life before God, It is an awakening to the true reality of our lives and our Life Together – in all its Glory and all its Fear of the LORD.

Those who are called by the church to teach should know this accountability well, for we are called on me to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, and no other gospel. Not to as it were to try and find easy ways around the words of Jesus, but to face up to them for ourselves and to declare them to God’s people. As St Paul says ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!’ It’s of course tempting to say – God help me if I don’t, but it is to God that the preacher is responsible!!! There is no other defence!!! As James puts it in his epistle we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. Yet it is not only the ordained who are given the capacity for speech. Perhaps in no greater way does God give over Stewardship to man than in conferring upon him the terrifying power of speech?? As Paul says, Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And what terrifying responsibility – for as James tells us, the ongue is like the rudder of a ship – small but guiding and directing its course – our Speech creates worlds for Good or Ill – and it forms us also. As Jesus puts it I tell you, on the day of judgement you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.’
It is no wonder that James exhorts us – ‘be slow to speak’ – for we will have to give an account of our stewardship of the Divine Gift of speech. And Peter is reminded of that in the most forceful of terms. Responding to the words of Jesus hastily he says the first thing that comes out of his mouth. And Jesus treats his words with full seriousness – ‘Get behind me Satan!!’ As I have said before, our Life in Christ is a matter of LIfe and Death, to dare to call oneself Christian is to take the responsibility for our Life that he places into our hands

Jesus summons to Life could not be more serious “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For 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.” To follow Christ – to die to oneself is to be set free in Radical Responsibility. It is to live with the Command of God as our only guide. No rules no regulations, certainly no careful calculations. One of the insights I had about myself on Sabbatical was a tendency to try and be calculating in my Life before God. The only response to the Life of God is Yes, or No. There are no %ages. It is all or nothing. 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.” Simply all we have comes from God – and we are to use it for HIs Glory – the Glory of the One we Love – according to our unique abilities – to Love God with all we have and all we are, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
That is our Life – it is the meaning of our Existence. To be a steward of that which God has given us is to live with this Life giving Command before our eyes, day in and day out. It is to live knowing that we shall all have to give an account – it is to understand that nothing we have is ours, even our very lives, but everything belongs to our Father, as we ourselves are his Precious possession.

We are HIs precious possession – it is because we belong to Him in Jesus, that we have life; because we belong to Him in Jesus that we are set free to live in true Responsibility for our LIves. It is our sense of the reality or otherwise of our relationship before God in Jesus Christ which marks out how we respond to that. Whether, knowing Him and Loving Him we dare stand before Him, Rejoicing in Him and boldly stepping out in Life in His Name. Or, not knowing him, hearing words about giving an account with terror and fear

It’s not my place to tell anyone how much to give – or to what – but an obligation is placed on me to remind us that God in Jesus Christ has radically saved us and brought us into the kingdom of his Son, He has given us his life, breathing the Holy Spirit into each one of us, lifting us from the dust of death and setting us on our feet – facing Him moment by moment and day by day. Our Life is before God, and we will have to give an account to God of how we have used all he has put into our hands – so let us respond not with fear and excuses, with self serving calculation, but  – with cheerfulness – indeed as St Paul puts it in the Greek with Hilaritos – as Children of our Father bestowing gifts upon the righteous and the unrighteous – with Joy and Gladness in all of our Stewarding of the Good Gifts he has bestowed upon us.
For in truth all of us are accountable before God for what we have done with that which is his . . . Not taking responsibility before God for all he has placed into our hands is to deny the very Life he has given us – but let us not hide in the shadows of excuses and fear, but walk fully in the Light of the Life of Christ, so that on the last day when he shall come to judge the Earth, we may rejoice at his coming and Stand before Him, as we have learned to do. Rejoicing Always, Praying without Ceasing, and giving thanks in all circumstances – for this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.

What is an ‘I’??

One of the tragic ironies of our modern compulsion towards self definition, is that our lives have become at once more dependent upon others than at any time in history, whilst our Self proclaimed Independence is at an all time high. Everything tells us that we are the self authenticating authors of our own existence. Thus, perhaps more than ever, we live in the age of the primal sin against our neighbour, whose life has nothing to do with ours. [The late Oliver Sacks noted, the gift of aging and mortality was a necessary corrective to such a view, but we do all we can to deny either of these ‘neighbours’ . . .]

The first act of the human set free from obedience to the Author of Life is to kill his brother. It would not be too presumptuous to suggest that Cain’s questioning of Elohim, ‘am I my brothers keeper?’ is merely the voicing of the ‘thought’ which accompanied the slaying of Abel. For it is from the heart that things that defile come . . .

Whilst this condition is universal – modern existence seems to have refined its cruelty to a twisted art form – so much so that perversely we tell ourselves that we cannot love our neighbours as ourselves, ‘until we love ourselves’ [I respond to this Lie here]

The insight of the Church Fathers ‘My life is with my brother’, seems to have been all but expunged, which is a monstrous Delusion, and one which will not go un’rewarded’.

So, this morning, I rose from a bed I did not make, to put on clothes the provenance of which I have little or no idea, made by people for whom I have no thought. I sat down to bread baked by a local baker, but drink coffee grown on land and using water which may well be put to better use feeding those many who live nearby. If I use my car later in the day, I will have no idea of the detrimental impact its production made on the lives of probably hundreds if not thousands of others as Land was excavated, oil was burnt, and rivers were polluted.

We read that even in our post industrial societies people are dying in their thousands annually because of the pollution we cause. But we are of course post industrial societies. In the midst of our ‘Individuality’ driven consumption, most of the deaths are of those in China, India and other places to which we have exported our ‘Dark, Satanic mills’ with their accompanying choking smog. (And comfort ourselves with the decptive thought that ‘human ingenuity will find a solution’ – which I am sure must be a great comfort to the bereaved . . .) So we live with the myth of the Individual whilst our lives are inextricably linked with many many others whom we do not recognise as our brother

Yet here is the great irony – in the age of the myth of Self Independence,  we have been reduced to the state of almost total Dependency upon others.

The nursing homes and care wards of ‘advanced nations’, are but the revelation of what we have become. For were it not for the labour of others, if it were not for their economic servitude, we wouldn’t last five minutes. How many of us grow anything which we eat, let alone enough to feed ourselves and share with others? How few of us could? How many of us actually rely on others to chop our vegetables, or indeed cook our food for us? How few of us have made anything which we rely upon, or have the skills to do so? What moment of our very existence is not related to The Other?

How many of us are in truth no more Independent, than someone in an advanced state of dementia, the presenting symptom of this virtual age?

We proclaim our Independence, our Coming of Age as human beings, at a time when if anything our very existence has regressed to a level never before seen. As our neighbour has disappeared, ironically our capacity for life has all but vanished with him. Nihilism and Narcissism are of course but two sides of the same coin . . .

David Runcorn in one of his books relates the story of a time of retreat in an alpine hut. After a few days of solitude he found himself crying to God, ‘Who Are You?’ And in a moment of silent Apocalypse heard back the Interrogation ‘Who are you?’

This is the question Moses puts to the LORD at the burning bush, only to be replied to with the enigmatic and unhelpful reply ‘I AM’. Only God is self existent – indeed only God IS. We are at best ‘becomings’ and that only in enduring and suffering Love for God and neighbour. Not one of us can say ‘I AM’, but to this present age that seems to be nonsense, blasphemy indeed . . .

‘that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God.’ 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4


Pray for me, a sinner also





Sermon for 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B. ‘God’s Plan for your life’

Sermon for 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 22-23

‘God’s plan for your life . . .’

Well, in marketing spiel, that’s a sermon title to bring in the crowds :-) For after all, wouldn’t it be good to know God’s plan for our lives. So good indeed that one of the most oft quoted verses in the Scriptures, is Jeremiah 29:11 plans

It is so popular that it is plastered on a thousand devotional posters – ten thousand fridge magnets, and I have no way of counting how many bumper stickers it might perhaps be found on – which is odd. It’s odd for a couple of reasons. For the prophet Jeremiah is not exactly someone associated with a message which we’d all want to buy into.
God’s plan for Jeremiah was that he go into the heart of the darkness of God’s people to announce God’s impending judgement on their wickedness – and boy did he suffer as a result – one in the long line of those God sent to his people to call them to repentance culminating in his sending his Son whom they crucified . . . so quoting Jeremiah on ‘God’s plan for your life’ . . . well we might say that it is asking for trouble!

And Jeremiah, as one faithful to God’s plan for his life does not hold back – who is this people he is called to? Well by the time of the prophecy about God’s plan they are in exile and The LORD addresses these words to them : Your hurt is incurable, your wound is grievous. There is no one to uphold your cause, no medicine for your wound, no healing for you.

All your lovers have forgotten you; they care nothing for you; for I have dealt you the blow of an enemy, the punishment of a merciless foe, because your guilt is great, because your sins are so numerous. Jer 30:12-14

Apart from the use of oil etc. to produce such commercial tat, the real problem with fridge magnet theology is that fridge magnets aren’t large enough :-) ‘I have plans for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. . . . because you are incurably sin sick – all those false gods you have run after have let you down and I’ve taken you into exile because of them . . .’ These are the people that God has plans for . . .

And immediately we understand that God’s plans for us have little or nothing to do with ‘the house we’ve always dreamed of’, ‘things working out well in our careers’, or ‘finding the man or woman of my dreams and living happily ever after’. God’s Plan for his people is that he will save them from the consequences of their abandonment of Him – put another way, that he will save them from death and hell, in and through Jesus . . . and without wishing to harp on about a theme I have spoken of these past weeks, of all those ‘fridge magnet dream’ plans . . . where is Jesus in any of them???

So when Jesus comes, this is precisely to whom he comes, those who in their hearts are still in exile – those of whom the prophet Isaiah wrote “This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.”

Jesus puts it plainly You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition. The commandment of God, his Life giving word is abandoned – we saw this played out last week in the gospel – the words that Jesus speaks are Light and Life, but his disciples abandon Jesus words, for teaching more attuned to the darkness of their wicked hearts. Like people who avoid going to the doctor for whilst in their heart of hearts they know they are ill, they do not wish to be confronted with their condition – they do not wish to be well, so when the Light shines in the darkness it is for judgement  ‘that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.’

So, let us come to James the brother of Jesus and pillar of the Jerusalem church – and his meditation upon how God’s plan is worked out in us when we come into the light.

Firstly he begins with this acknowledgement – Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. When Jesus says to the wealthy man who calls him good teacher ‘Why do you call me good, only God is good.’ He is pointing to one of the most fundamental truths of existence, the Goodness of God. What else can explain God’s desire to rescue his people who have utterly abandoned him – what else can explain God’s plan for us, indeed a plan that extends to the whole created order as our abandonment of the command of God has led to a Creation which mirrors the humans who have sought to act as God within it. The Goodness of God we may well say is that which gives Hope, when humanly there is only despair – God’s Goodness is Life from Death.

James goes on ‘In fulfillment of his own purpose [putting his plan into Action] he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.’ He gave us birth by the word of truth – through His Living Word, His Word made flesh, God gives us new birth. ‘Into a living hope’ as St Peter puts it, ‘by the resurrection of the dead’ – there you are again, a people beyond hope are given Hope, a people who are dead in sin and wickedness are given new birth, by this Word – that they might become a kind of first fruits of his creatures . . . The Genesis narrative of ‘creation’ is nothing more nor less than a foreshadowing of THIS Creation. God coming to his people in Jesus is His plan, ‘since before the foundation of the world’ Jesus indeed is the lamb who was slain, from before the foundation of the world. Before ever there was sin, before ever there was a world, God’s plan has been to rescue his people and to reveal his Goodness.

Yet, this plan requires our participation You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.  Be quick to listen! Quick!! — the Living Word speaks – ‘This is my beloved Son – listen to Him!’ – The Words he speaks are Spirit and truth – they are Life eternal. Quick to listen. Slow to speak – as James will remind us in a couple of weeks, our words are dangerous – not least those who presume to be teachers, for too easily does the preacher end up teaching human precepts as doctrines. This is why I ask that you pray for all those who presume to teach that they may, both by their life and doctrine, set forth thy true and lively Word, and rightly and duly administer thy holy Sacraments. That my brothers and sisters is why we should pray for our clergy – not that their lives will work out well according to the standards of the world, but that they might ever hold fast to the Life giving word of truth and not descend into the evil of teaching human precepts as doctrines, which Jesus condemns.

Quick to listen – slow to speak – slow to become angry. The Church has always taught that anger is one of the wicked thoughts, the deadly sins (in Catholic tradition) – that the only valid anger was anger against our own sins. For too easily we stand in angry judgement of others and find ourselves, in the words of the crucified thief, under the same condemnation. ‘Man’s anger does not produce God’s righteousness’ – and who would dare presume to announce Their anger to be that of the Living God??

Noting all that – our slowness to listen to the Word, our alacrity to speech and anger, the apostle counsels Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. It is the language of New Creation – of gardening, tilling and keeping the soil of our hearts. In an echo of his Brother Jesus’ parable, James would have us tear out the weeds – all those things which Jesus lists which defile us – ‘For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’ All those things which strangle the Word of Life and truth. Seek to tear them out to make soil fit for ‘the implanted word that has power to save your souls’

The Word of Christ, in us, which alone has power to heal and save our souls . . . I will say little on this point, but to note that it is in this day when the language of sin and soul has all but disappeared even from the discourse of the Church, Lord have mercy on us, that the evil of euthanasia rears its head . . .

But let us be clear – this welcome for the word is not simply a meditative exercise – as we are to rid ourselves of the rank growth – active – so James says in receiving the word, Act on it!! But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. There are many many deceptions abroad in this age. As James points out, if we do not bridel our tongue, we deceive ourselves, our religion is worthless, for we are unrestrained, our energy is wasted. But  one of the most clever schemes of our enemy is that of encouraging mediation on the word as healing in and of itself – this is no better to us that gazing lovingly at the medicine in the bottle – or seeking to feed ourselves by reading ‘Good Food magazine’ but never cooking. It is the religion of nice thoughts, it is a vapour and a mist, and highly seductive for that for it requires no effort on our part. cf Luke 13:24 The man Jesus heals he commands – ‘take up your mat and walk.’ God has given us birth to be a kind of first fruits of his creatures and like new born babies we move from passivity, to the strenuous work of participation in His Life . . . Yes, Meditate upon the word – accept it – and Do it. Those who love me, obey me, Jesus says – again Those who hear my words and do them are like those who build their house on the rock, that in the day of Judgement, they may stand firm. As James, Jesus’ brother and our puts it – But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world . Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul mind and strength – love your neighbour as yourself – do this and you will live –

As I said – the Jeremiah fridge magnet is not large enough; wanting God’s plans for us to be about Our hopes and dreams,it is cut off half way through.

God has a far better plan for our lives – Hear the Word of the LORD For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. I will bring you to myself – I will give you my life, in and through Jesus my beloved Son – the Bread of heaven, the Word of Life

Sermon for Ordinary 20 – Year B – Irrelevant Church

Sermon for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69

Irrelevant Church

‘Make every effort to enter in at the narrow gate,
for many I tell you will try to enter and will not be able to’

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned at the end of the sermon the Church in Syria – which is undergoing the most horrendous persecution imaginable. To many of us no doubt, inculcated as we are in a secularised understanding of our faith, this may well seem to us to be little more than just another example of what is called ‘Religion’ gone bad – but is it? Or is there something far more consequential happening? For as I briefly set out last time, the Church in Syria is no ordinary Church – it’s not just another church.

The Scriptures tell us that St Paul, following his conversion set out to preach the gospel in Damascus which of course is in modern day Syria, and the Church which sprang from that teaching remains there to this day. Some of the oldest Christian writings, the New Testament aside come from that Church, most notably the letters of St Ignatius, the second bishop of Antioch, whom the Tradition teaches was himself a disciple of our own St John the Evangelist. These letters were written around the turn of the first century. Liturgically it has hardly changed for nearly two thousand years, and its language ‘Syriac Aramaic’ is thought to be the language which Jesus himself spoke.

The idea that there is nothing more troubling in the mass martyrdom which is being inflicted on this church than the World describes as Religion gone bad is, I suggest a failure to grasp the significance of the attempted anihilation of the One Church which can truly trace its ancestry directly back to the Traditions of the Apostles. Because they have barely changed

Compare and contrast the church in much of the West – by the Way there are Syrian Orthodox in Dunedin – here Churches left right and centre are driven along by the waves of history – changing form and shape to match the current culture. Seeking to be ‘Relevant’. Over just the last 20 years or so we have seen a whole raft of ‘new forms of church’ or new movements of church – one after the other after the other – seeker sensitive church, messy church, emergent church, liquid church, purpose driven church – and I’m sure folk could come up with other multiple variants – all established on an erroneous proposition, that is we come up with a ‘culturally relevant’ form of worship – people will flock in and become disciples of Jesus . . . but actually they don’t.

Which when you think about it isn’t all that surprising, firstly because it starts from a false premise, that Worship is all about the worshipper and not The One whom we Worship. Worship which is moulded to the worshipper cannot fail to be idolatrous – what is revealed is not the Living God, but the reflection of the worshipper.

I remember in one of my churches a middle aged lady used to go on at length about needing worship music which would ‘get the young people in, the sort of music which young people enjoy today’. Well that is problematic :-) For ‘Young people’ are not a coherent group – I know some young people who enjoy Bach, others who like Garage music – a growing number it seems, although I may be wrong who have little or no interest in music at all. Whilst it is not difficult to stereotype the attitude of consumer churches in terms of the French Revolutionary who saw the mob pass the sidewalk table at which he was drinking his coffee and said ‘They are my people! I must follow them!’ in reality the situation is even more absurd than suggested by that example. One who seeks to follow culture, be it musical or otherwise, is going to find not one, but a plethora of mobs going in 101 different directions – and consequentially following the one that most mirrors their own prejudices. Church in our own image.

I remember another young man in the village where I was Priest telling me not long after I’d arrived – ‘The Church needs to get with it’ To which the only logical response is ‘With which ‘It’ should the Church get?’

The Antiochene Orthodox Church should give we Western Consumer Christians pause for thought. They have lasted 2000 years without seeking to ‘get with it’ – in modern terms wwe might call them anachronistic, for they are utterly irrelevant – yet it is they who are the focus of yet another wave of terrible persecution, one which unlike any previous may possibly lead to their extinction. Apparently the only way their light could be extinguished through murder, sometimes crucifixion – bearing eloquent witness to their Lord, for whose sake they have lost all things.

Which brings us to our Lord Jesus HImself – who shows what is to our eyes a remarkable disinterest about accommodating himself to his hearers, rather unflinchingly calling his hearers to shape their lives to his.

Over and over and over again in the gospels, we hear Jesus speaking words which seem almost to be designed to drive people away. He says that he speaks in parables so that people ‘may not understand’!! He goes on ‘none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all you have’ – the sort of saying which left St Ignatius, even as he made his away across the East towards his martyrdom in Rome questioning whether even he, who had sat at the feet of St John was truly a disciple of Jesus. How nonchalantly the modern Christian assumes that he or she is a follower of Jesus . . .

Or again the encounter of Jesus and that young enthusiastic man – ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He says he has kept all the commandments – he’s kept his nose clean and led what to his surrounding society looks like a ‘good life’ – but Jesus tells him, if you truly want to be healed, sell your possessions and give to the poor, then you will have treasure in heaven, and then follow me . . . and he went away sorrowful for he had many possessions. And Jesus turning to those who were following him told them ‘truly I tell you – it is harder for a Rich man to enter the Kingdom of heaven, than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle’. The one thing Jesus didn’t do was run after him and try and change his teaching to adapt itself to the young man. Actually his teaching was perfectly adapted to him – he gave him the Truth – for He is the Truth.

Or Jesus response to the question ‘Lord will only a few be saved’ responds saying – ‘Make every effort to enter in at the narrow door, for many will try to enter and will not be able’ – how alien these words sound to our understanding of Jesus – it perhaps is not going to far to say that we imagine saying, ‘broad and easy is the way that leads to life and many their are that find it – for after all, all that is required is that we are true to our own version of the truth – but hard and narrow is the way that leads to destruction, because after all, most people are good . . .’ We find the words of Jesus an embarrassment and give people almost the directly opposite message. We think the words of Paul about fighting against powers and principalities odd – hey Paul! Dont be ridiculous mate – what’s all this about the quenching the flaming arrows of the evil one?? That’s SO medieval . . . and in smug contentment at our modern way of looking at things we stroll away, and from somewhere we hear muffled laughter . . .

We remember that this gospel reading comes at the end of a long sequence leading on from the feeding of the 5000. In the wilderness . . . Jesus begins by challenging those who have flocked after him ‘you’re only here because I filled your bellies . . .’ Someone, laughing sidles up to him and whispers in his ear . . . “Hey – just keep giving them bread – look at the crowd you’ve got – don’t get all spiritual on them. 5000 – a church of 5000!!! think of that!!! Go on – turn these stones into bread . . .” Who we might well ask is this peddler of Relevance??? “Do something to draw the crowds!! Bring them in Then you can stick them with the hard sell, when you’ve got them gathered – put on some spectacular show – jump off the Temple even!!! Or . . . look Jesus – you really need to get with it – and I’ll see they turn up for you Sunday after Sunday . . . just follow the techniques, get yourself a decent strategic plan, it will all come right, just do what I tell you, here by my book, here’s the strategy!!” – Or to translate and unmask the god of this age, “just bow down and worship me . . .”

But Jesus is not listening to Satan, Jesus caps of his unpalatable [sic] teaching with these words – Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. Jesus seems curiously unconcerned with trying to put the message in terms that are easy to take on board – Rather he confronts us with the Truth and once more we see Jesus as the Church Growth Failure he is, with his stubborn refusal to ‘get with it’, to be ‘Relevant’ When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” And Jesus’ pastoral response?? You think This is difficult to accept??? This is just the beginning!! Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. This message you reject – my words are Spirit and Life . . . But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” 66Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.

From 5000 to  . . . 12 . . . nice work Jesus . . . but he hasn’t finished. “Do you also wish to go away?”  For he knows that amongst the few who are left is one who will betray him, one who will deny him. Peter at least speaks the Truth we all need to hear and know deep within our hearts – “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. None will be saved without at first recognising this Truth, That Jesus body is Real Food, That Jesus Words are Words of LIfe – however much they seem pointing in exactly the opposite direction – for the way to Life is through our dying to ourselves, The way to life is through the Cross of Jesus and our taking our own up in self denial – try and sell that as an idea for a new church . . . So much if not all of this contemporary frenzy with ‘new forms of church’ has one root and it is a Rotten root. The root of ‘we must do something to survive . . .’ But the way to Life is only found in and through the Cross of Jesus – through our dying to ideas about relevance or 101 other deceitful messages whispered in our panicking ears . . .

Through the Cross comes Life. As Jesus looks at the 12 he knows that one will betray him, one will deny him, and nine who will forsake him. At the Cross, the only disciple is John . . . At the Cross Jesus says to Mary his Mother about John, behold your son – and to John, behold your mother. It is the disciples who goes to the Cross, who becomes the seed and pillar of the Church, the body of Jesus Christ.

The Way of Jesus has nothing to tantalise our consumer sated appetites. It has no USP – like its Saviour there is nothing in her that we should desire her – the Church that bears his name has no business chasing after the herd of cats that are our modern consumer preferences.

The Syrian Orthodox Church does nothing to draw the crowds, it never has – yes it does send out missionaries – and today there are from that first church 4 million believers world wide, even here in Dunedin!, but it has done nothing to adapt itself to the world around – rather by patiently and at times such as this, under fierce persecution, worshipped God in Jesus Christ through the Word and the Sacrament, Words of Life and the Bread of eternal Life. It has not turned to left or right, but rather enduring, to the end, faithful perhaps to The Very End.

May God in his infinite love and mercy grant that we too may be drawn in truth to Jesus Christ – and may we not be found wanting when he comes

Hungry for Jesus – Sermon for Ordinary Time 20 – Year B

Sunday 20th in Ordinary Time – Year B – 16th August 2015

Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

Hungry for Jesus

Perhaps one of the more significant things that we have to wake up to as the Church in these times, is the realisation that we do not know how to think as Christians. Not that Christians cannot think, but that when they do they largely do so in exactly the same way as people amongst whom they live. Indeed we may well be surprised to hear that their may be such a thing as Christian Thought at all.

To begin to think Christianly is as I suggested a few weeks ago to have our imaginative world Filled by the Reality of Jesus Christ, Crucified, Risen and Ascended. In other words to see Reality only in terms of that which it is, the realm over which we declare Jesus Christ to be Lord to the glory of God the Father.
As I recently pointed out, for many many years this was precisely how the Church did its thinking. And as a result developed ways of speaking of God in Christ, and being the Church. We call these The Tradition – and they include the Catholic Creeds, the teachings of the Church Fathers and certain ways of doing and being church.

As a shadow of the One who was to Come, Solomon, the son of David by Bathsheba, prayed for Wisdom. Christ in his coming IS the embodiment of Wisdom – and the Church as His body, as it grew Grew in Wisdom. The teachings of the Church and the Creeds being the embodiment of that Wisdom, the Holy Spirit leading her into all truth as Jesus said.

A very simple example of that was the way in which the Early Church Fathers understood the significance of our bodies for our Life in Christ. This to us may well sound very strange. We imagine Christian Faith as a set of ideas. That Faith might have a bodily aspect seems a little odd to us. Yes we might be able to understand that we need a body to live out our faith in. After all if you are going to share your bread with the poor, you need hands to do it with – but children of the Enlightenment that we are, we tend to understand that we are chiefly our minds, and that all that is happening when we feed the poor is that our faith – in our head, or brain – directs our inanimate body in a certain way. Now certainly that is in part true, but it is a very shallow understanding of the truth of the matter. Our forebears understood these things far better than we – indeed they understood everything it often seems to me, far better than the best of us ever shall. We have traded Wisdom for the riches of the world, we have eaten afresh of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – and the Church in the West has withered as a result.

But lets come back to that issue – that of the body and its place in our Salvation. A few weeks ago I was with someone who in passing had told me that his life was so full of appointments and busyness, that he had little or no time to be fed – he was not studying the faith, or spending long hours in prayer with the Scriptures. As it happened I spent the morning with this man and later that day something struck me – which was that in the time we were together he had eaten two large meals.
Now we might have thought nothing of this . . . but the Fathers, those early teachers of the Church would have instantly seen a connection, which came to me later that day and which I passed on to him. Which was this – that the Body and the Soul are so intimately connected, that if the body is full of food, the Soul is left hungry – for to be full is to be full, and if we are full of food, there is no room for the Spirit. My friend was substituting bread that perishes for the bread that one may eat and live forever. Having a full belly led to a contentment which made us slothful in prayer – I passed this insight on and told him that in part I recognised it because it was a discovery I’d made about myself. That if I’d had a large meal – my sense of the Spirit of God, my desire for reading the Scriptures, my thirst for study of the Traditions, and above all, my hunger for Christ was blunted at best and all but killed off at worst.

This of course was no news to those of the Old faith – they knew these things intimately, indeed it was my reading the Fathers that alerted me to this and brought me to myself in this respect. Regular, not dramatic, gentle fasting – was a part of their discipline of faith, for they knew that to be physically full led surely to spiritual emptiness . . .

Which of course leads us to the greatest challenge to us as a Church in this place and this time, that we are very comfortable – yes we grumble a little if some suffering common to all people comes our way, but generally we are comfortable. The words of Jesus – ‘woe to you who are well fed now’, at best bounce off deaf ears, at worst are reworked so that they mean something completely different and we don’t have to be discomforted by Jesus himself.

And yes I do mean it that way – it is better not to have heard, than to hear and twist the words of Jesus . . .And if we don’t want to pay attention to Jesus, he will not force himself upon us.

So to return to where I started, thinking Christianly for a start means listening to the Wisdom of the Tradition. Why is the Church falling asleep? Because she is too well fed on food that perishes, and busy lives – and because she is too well fed, too full, she has all she has and imagines, if she would never say it out loud that she has no need  to pay attention to Jesus. And he withdraws, he shakes off his sandals – after all, in our words and deeds we are making it clear, ‘We don’t need Jesus’.
As I said last week – I was recently at a Church conference where the Board in charge of this aspect of the Church’s life had produced a list of words to express the heart of what we are about – Jesus was totally absent from that list . . .

We are whole beings – Body, Soul and Spirit. The Spiritual and the Physical are interwoven and affect one another intimately. The Gospel reading today comes towards the end of a lengthy dispute between Jesus and those who have come looking for him. Immediately before it he has fed the five thousand – and now the crowds come after Him, but as Jesus discerns ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.’ . . . but that bread perishes – just as your physical body will perish. You eat, you are full, your belly empties, you are hungry, but you keep going back to the bread that does not satisfy – it keeps giving out – and eventually it will give out for good. The sheer fact that physical food keeps giving out on us is a sign that there is some other food!! Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.

Like myself and my friend the other day, we fill up over and over with food that perishes – yet we do not work for the food that endures for eternal life. To put it most sharply – we substitute the temporary fulness of food, of busy lives which only serve to bolster our sense of self importance – we substitute these things that are passing away for the very Life that Jesus offers.

And this substitution is a revolt against him. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

Whoever eats me will live because of me – Jesus cannot put it more plainly than this

Jesus Christ is our Very Life. What can we say of a Church body which in a hundred separate words does not once mention Jesus when it speaks of ‘the heart of what it is about’? It has surely found some substitute – it is not hungry for the bread that endures to eternal life but satisfied with that which perishes . . . and so it perishes.

God so loved the World that he gave his only Son that whosoever believes in Him, should not perish, but should have eternal life. That belief in Jesus goes way beyond thoughts about Him – to believe in Jesus is to Know in our very Souls that Apart from Him we have no Good thing – that in Him is all our Life . . . that we shall refrain from being full physically, or ‘busy’ for we know that to do so weakens our Love for Him

As I said last week, Christian Life is not a ‘way of life’ – nor is it a set of moral ethics or virtues – indeed the Romans saw this clearly and denounced it as not even being a religion! No it is none of these things – it is Life itself in the One who gives himself to us in Word and Sacrament. We feed on Him – He is our Life. This is why we should always come to the Eucharist – not with full bellies as those Corinthians whom St Paul denounced did – but Hungry. Hungry for the Word of Life – This is my Body – This is my Blood.

St Paul’s words as he writes to the Ephesians sound ‘too spiritual’ for our ears Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Giving thanks at all times to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – Giving Thanks – Eucharisteo is the verb – At the Eucharist we give thanks for Everything, for Christ is our Everything and in Bread and wine he gives himself to us

Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.

May the LORD awaken the deepest of hungers for him in our hearts that we might make every effort to enter in at the narrow gate


‘Love your neighbour as yourself’

I’ve just been reading yet another of those seemingly endless and interminable articles in the ‘Christian’ media on ‘why it is so hard to love ourselves . . .’, and consequently teaching us to learn to do so, in the hope that eventually we might love ourselves and then love our neighbours . . .

Brothers and sisters, heaven cannot wait.

Actually, with one or two exceptions, we all love ourselves and to a point where perhaps we have lost the plot – and as witness I cite the innumerable blog posts etc. cited above


So just to make it clear

Love your neighbour as yourself



I give an example

Do we have enough food to eat today?

Do we know of anyone who doesn’t?

Share our bread with them



Do we have enough clothes to keep you warm and protected from the elements?

Do we know of anyone who doesn’t?

Share our clothes with them



Do we have sufficient money etc to live in a house that is warm?

Do we know anyone who doesn’t?

Share what we have with them so that they also may be warm – indeed we might even welcome them into the warmth of our house – it will cost nothing – we may even find new friends and thus break the cycle of our narcissitic isolation which leads to the sort of articles we waste our time writing and reading.


You see, we love ourselves enough to make sure that we take care of our basic needs – this is the embodied understanding of love which the entire Scripture points us to in Christ who loves us in the flesh,  by the giving of his body.

Loving ourselves involves taking care of our physical needs – as St Paul puts it  in an aside ‘For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it’. By and large, we love ourselves plenty. Indeed many if not most of us have ‘ample goods laid up for many years’. (Luke 12 vs 19)

We have food and clothes and warmth for today, and tomorrow, and day after day after  day – we love ourselves so much, we even have planned for years down the line . . .

Our problem is not that we do not love ourselves, it is that our self love has blinded us to our neighbour  (Luke 16:19-31)


The irony of all this is that if we obeyed Christ in this regard – shared our bread with the poor etc. we may well enter into a way of Life in which our narcissitic obsession with self acceptance became nothing more than a dream that fades from our memories as the light shines into the darkness


. . . and pray for me, a sinner also