Sermon for Christ the King – 2015 – Year B

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

‘Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and her redeemer, the Almighty
I am the first ad the last, beside me there is no god’
Isaiah Chapter 44 vs 6

Just this last week I resigned from x x x xx . Not because I have too much on my plate – but out of a certain frustration  x x x xx . But as I have reflected on the theme for this week, the Kingdom of God, made present to us in Jesus Christ – I have come to the realisation that my frustration came from a most unhealthy place, one I suggest which is familiar to all.

x x xx xGet the right people x x x x x and, with what is close to a majority, well surely we could do anything . . . and that my brothers and sisters is a highly dangerous temptation. That of the desire for that which belongs to God alone, Sovereignty – being in charge . . .

I remember my first ever ‘Vestry’ meeting. ‘The new Vicar’ – and round the table those elected by the parish to ‘get things done’ – and I will never forget the words of one of the people there during a conversation on ‘what needed to happen’. I can’t for the life of me remember what the point was, but she said, ‘Well, if I were the King of the jungle . . .’  Sadly I lacked the wit to retort, ‘Queen of the jungle, surely . . . ‘ which might have lightened the mood somewhat, but we had barely met and it was my first Vestry meeting. That desire to enforce our own will – to get things done – to put the world to rights – is so very very deep rooted – ‘If I were King or Queen of the Jungle . . .’, ‘If I ruled the world . . .’, ‘If I were like God . . . the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ You’ll know how to fix everything . . . very, very deep rooted temptation . . . to be God . . .

At a personal level we like to think we are right and thus more or less subtly seek to ‘do it my way’ . And of course the more money we have the easier it is at least to establish our own personal fiefdom, where things are as we would wish. As we move from the personal to the public, when it becomes about an organisation, a church, a country, or indeed the world to which we belong, we begin to seek out The Leader. The one on whom we’ll dump all our hopes and fears – the one who best reflects our own prejudices – in ages past, and in many places today – a King . . .

And so dominant is this narrative in our lives, personal, public at work, and civic in wider society, so dominant is that deep rooted story, that when we hear Jesus announce The Kingdom of God – we tend unconsciously to imagine that the ‘god’ of our imaginings is ‘the King of the Jungle’, or to use an unhelpful phrase; ‘in charge’, and if he is ‘in charge’ then frankly, to our eyes, he doesn’t seem to be doing much to fix things . . . [the unexamined presupposition over the question of God and suffering], because, “believe you me, if I was the King of the Jungle . . .” and as events in Paris this past week have revealed, it Is a Jungle . . . all we see is our own ultimate helplessness reflected back to ourselves, because we have determined what a King is and should be about . . . and thus the rush to abandon any idea of the Kingdom of God as the Reign of God in a meaningful sense, and the thought that in 7.3 billion and mutually contradictory ways ‘we’ll put it to rights’ . . . in the same old tried and tested and world weary ways, which didn’t work last time or the time before that or the time before that, but we are SO sure that we CAN enforce our will on the world and if ‘God’ won’t then we will . . .

And in all of this we Christians ignore OUR strange story. A people, who didn’t have a king, but were desperate for a King, because after all that’s how the World works. So because THIS people wouldn’t give up on the idea, God gave them what they wanted . . . so they had one King after another who tried to fix it, who tried in their own way to put it right, the same old tried and tested and world weary ways, which didn’t work last time or the time before that or the time before that  . . . eventually leading people into exile – and then endless foreign occupation and we come to the end of the road . . . and we look at this bedraggled remnant, a few Galilean fishermen, a tax collector, a nationalist zealot . . . and at their head a dusty, hungry, battered and bruised rabbi – looking as if he’s had nowhere much to lay his head . . . and we see Him stood before Pilate the representative of the Global superpower, with all its armies, the World Order, then as now . . . we see Jesus, the one who says ‘My Kingdom is not from this world . . .’ When Jesus says this, we must understand – he is not saying, my kingdom is ‘spiritual’ ethereal, otherworldly – Rather ‘My Kingdom is not like any Kingdom you know . . .
Jesus says ‘If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews, [using the same old tried and tested and world weary ways, which didn’t work last time or the time before that or the time before that] But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ ‘My Kingdom . . .’  The Kingdom of God, My Kingdom . . .

Jesus says ‘He has a Kingdom . . .’ as he announces the Kingdom of God, somehow it is His – He is the King of it. When Jesus says ‘The Kingdom of God is amongst you . . .’ he is not declaring some spiritual truth about the nature of reality which he is pointing us to beyond himself, he is pointing us to Himself. I am here, in your midst, ‘My Kingdom . . .’ is at hand . . . this is it – this is God’s answer – Jesus of Nazareth. The real world flesh and blood answer to human history, God’s King, in the flesh . . .

We live in a world in which words are routinely emptied of any meaning – and the phrase ‘The Kingdom of God’ is similarly prey to such evacuation. It gets attached as a religious label of convenience to any and every human project for ‘betterment’, for ‘putting the world to rights’, a ‘spiritual message of human well being . . .’ ‘It’s, you know, spiritual, it’s ‘out there somewhere’ if only you look . . . you know, the Truth – that which science is opening up to us, so we’ll see – it’s out there somewhere, the truth, the truth that will set you free . . . but The Truth is that which in truth we avoid . . .

ISIL claims that it was behind the terror attacks in Paris . . . and in the blink of an eye ‘France’ declares war on ISIL and goes to bomb the hell out of them, because of course ‘that will solve it . . .’ wouldn’t it be helpful if just once in a while, a Prime Minister or a President, or a King would come on TV and tell the truth? ‘I’m really sorry folks, I have no idea how we can sort out this horrific mess . . .’ but of course that would bring the whole edifice, the whole human project crashing to the ground – in five minutes they’d be out of office and replaced by someone ‘with a plan!’. Then as now, the truth is to be avoided.

Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’ ‘What is Truth?? St Jerome who first translated the scriptures into Latin plays a lovely word game with this, translating ‘what is Truth’ ‘Quid est veritas?’, which is an anagram of ‘Est vir qui adept’—‘It is The man who stands before you’ [HT to Ian Paul for this insight]

And so this hapless and to our gaze hopeless wandering rabbi – who declares he has a Kingdom – stands before Pilate and declares  ‘Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice’ I am the Way, I am the Truth, I am the Life. I am the Good Shepherd – that ancient type of the King of God’s people, God himself come to be the Shepherd – My sheep hear my voice – they will not follow after another . . . I will lead them beside still waters . . . take my Yoke upon you and learn from me – the Yoke, the symbol of Kingly rule, the people under the yoke – learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart . . . Where is the Reign and Rule of God we might ask – where is this Kingdom of God? It is crucified – the world’s answer to Truth, the world’s answer to Love – but it is not overcome. Light cannot be. And God raises Jesus from the dead and sits him at his right hand . . . the place of authority of Kingly Rule – and here and there, people take him for their King, The King, The Truth, and here and there small communities form who take their authority, not from any ‘worldly ruler’, but from Jesus. And where his rule is acknowledged, there as in Galilee all those years ago – The Kingdom of God is born witness to. For this community which embodies the Rule of Jesus is his body, is the manifestation of the Rule of God in the World, in and through Jesus Christ.

The Kingdom of God takes fleshly expression – In the body of the Crucified One – and now in His body, that is, His people. A people saved by God from the consequences of their sins, to proclaim his mighty acts, revealed in Gentleness and Grace and Peace made known amongst us. The Kingdom of God is not an abstract unreal message about a world perfected by our efforts – an empty metaphor which we fill with our ultimately violent ideologies and agendas. The Kingdom of God only has reality in flesh – in the flesh of Jesus who only does what he sees the Father doing even to death upon a cross – and in the fleshly body of those who belong to the Truth who hear his voice and do not listen to another. We do not ‘build the kingdom of God’ – that phrase should be struck from our lips –
rather that we Hear His voice and obey his just and gentle rule – forgiving one another from our hearts – laying down our lives for one another – sharing all we have with one another – acting as that which we are The Body of Christ, the physical embodiment of the reign of God in Jesus, who is gentle and humble of heart.

“But will it make a difference to the world in which we live??’ you may ask. Frankly, that isn’t our problem. Our problem is living in obedience to Jesus – that is work enough. As someone once said, ‘it isn’t that Christian faith has been tried and found wanting, it has been found too difficult and so not tried’ Put another way, being the Church, Being the people of GOd requires all our energy, our imagination, our wealth, our lives. Directing our Life together with the One who comes into the World – that is our work. And we have the promise of Jesus, that in response to our obedience, the world might see and give glory to God. That is what it means to be the Church – a kingdom of priests, serving our God – to whom be glory for ever. Amen

Hear the prayer of Jesus for his Church :-
[Father] I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth. ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.’ Amen

Sermon for 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

Sermon for Sunday November 8th, 2015
32nd in Ordinary Time – Year B

From Temple to Church – Discerning the Body
(Or ‘We’re all in this together . . .’ or are we??)


Resource sharing
Tikanga Maori – Tikanga Pakeha – Treaty of Waitangi
[Pasifika???? Anybody????]
Scratching their heads
that’s not the problem –

Down a level – the Dioceses . . .
Wellington, Christchurch, Auckland . . .
Not sharing – well if the Dioceses aren’t sharing . . .

that’s not the problem

Down a level – Parishes within a Diocese
Not sharing – hanging on to their pots . . .
Not sharing – well if the parishes aren’t sharing . . .

that’s not the problem

Down a level . . .

A question I ask when I consider my recommendation for ordination is
Is this person known in their parish for opening their home
for it being a place where the church meets and eats together??

If not, then they do not discern the One Body of Christ so how can they presume to discern that body in the Eucharist – there is no way they should be stood behind the table of the LORD – they haven’t even begun the journey of this Sharing Life in Christ

Christianity 101 – sharing – not counting anything our own
If we do not share all we have with one another
Then we nullify the table of the LORD

Jesus comes to the Temple
He sees the wealthy – those totally secure in their existence
He sees the widow – barely surviving
He sees that the people of God are not sharing the Life He offers which the Temple signifies

The Temple – rather than the dwelling place of the Living God has become a human religious enterprise
Everyone told to do their bit ‘to keep it going’ – and the poor as always giving the most

And Jesus sees . . .
He sees rich people who don’t see the widow in their midst – who don’t discern the body
They’re not feeding her and sharing in Life with her

TM and TPk don’t see TP
AKL and WGT and CHC don’t see Waiapu
Parishes don’t see the their brothers and sisters
but the problem is in the root of it
The people of God are blind – they don’t see the widow

So they are deaf – they do not hear the command of the LORD – there shall be no poor amongst you . . . In the Christendom church it has become the norm –  The Eucharist is ‘the time when the Kingdom of God is revealed for the Rich and the poor – even the homeless are gathered together at the table of the LORD.’
NO!!!! That is the table of demons – why do the rich not welcome the poor to share in their homes and their lives??

And they are lame – not walking in the light of the LORD – and wondering why no one is following them

They are spiritually DEAD – playing religious games . . .
Devouring the houses of widows – money is a zero sum game – all riches come from the poor – enjoying the acclaim of others in fine clothes –
not sharing their goods with one another
They are denying their identity as the One people of God

For the people of God have ONE Life
not a religious life and another one
not a Temple life and another
Not a church life and another
Life Together – sharing all we have with one another

One Life – the Life of the Triune God
A Life given to the Body and Shared
Jesus sees
They are playing religious games
Their religion is a sham
Their teachers of the law like the acclaim
We might say
They preside at the Table of the LORD but Their table is not open to others
Their home is their castle
Their condemnation is deserved

I once heard a story which I believe to be true
He lived in a small house, with only basic furniture
and little more than the clothes he stood up in
A man was CEO of a large utility in the UK
And a follower of Jesus
He shared what he had with the poor
He had heard the gospel of Jesus
He was that what we might call unique being, a rich man who heard the gospel and followed Jesus

Just One Man

One Body

Jesus Sees the religious games

And next week we shall hear his response – remember when you hear the story of the destruction of the Temple – it is the End for Religious game playing – and it was under God’s Curse. It is the end for Church where people refuse to live in the abundance of God sharing with one another

Jesus says – Destroy this Temple and I will rebuild it
Jesus destroys religious games
And that judgement is being worked out amongst the Anglican churches in ANZ

For if we do not share all we have – we have no gospel – for the Gospel is the Life of Jesus amongst His people – the Kingdom is amongst you

Not to have all things in common is to deny the Gospel
It is to deny Christ

When we pray the LORD’s prayer – we are bold enough to say – Forgive us as we have forgiven. ‘We have forgiven others – get in on the Act, G_d!’

So too, we can only receive the Life of Christ shared with us in the Eucharist – the Life God desires beyond anything to share with us – if we are sharing all WE have with others
We come to the table saying ‘We have shared your Life amongst us – Share your life with us . . .’
Otherwise it really is just bread and wine – it is a sham

The age of going to church is over
God in his merciful judgement is bringing the Temples down
The age of being the church is ever new
The Gift of Eternal Life

God gave his very Life for us
If we are his children we will share all we have with others
Then the Table of the LORD becomes a place of blessing and healing

The Door is open
All that stands between us and life is our hearts

Sermon for All Saints

Sermon for All Saints

Matthew 5:1-12

“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down,
his disciples came to him.
Then he began to speak, and taught them”

Many years ago now, Sarah and I hosted a home group for our small church in Bradford. It was a very down to earth group with good honest down to earth members. There was Elsie – a former mill worker and clippie on the trams. She’d been ‘Born again’ in her late seventies, and glowed with the presence of Jesus – there was Sue and her husband John, who devoted their life to fostering children, and becoming so attached to them that they ended up adopting them. Sue always listened to the story of the Rich young man and said, ‘Jesus can have what he asks for, but I dread him asking me to give up my dishwasher . . .’ :-) John and his wife shirley. John had gone to Nicaragua on a mission trip and been so broken by what he’d seen that he never recovered. Then there was Cath. Cath who could recite the names of all the books of the bible without batting an eyelid, whose knowledge of scripture was unmatched, and had a deep gentleness of Spirit.

One year, the Vicar asked me to write some study material on Discipleship. I remember clearly the first night when I introduced the topic to the group, and Cath saying. ‘Ooohh. I’m not at All Sure . . . We’re not all called to be disciples you know . . .’ :-)

I didn’t see the parallel at the time, but I was teaching at a Roman Catholic high school where, despite the best efforts of the RE teachers, there was a similar attitude towards ‘The Saints’ amongst the working class Irish Catholic population from whose numbers most of our students were drawn. The idea which despite all endeavours it was hard to eradicate, the idea that there was some kind of ‘spiritual elite’. That there were ‘ordinary Christians’, and then there were disciples, that there were ordinary Catholics, and then there were ‘Saints’.

For Cath, ‘Disciples’ were ‘up there’ – on a pedestal – although, looking back I wonder if she, or indeed any of us could have identified one we actually Knew . . . rather like the Saints, these were people of history and myth, many of whom in the school where I taught were literally on a pedestal, or a picture on the wall with a candle beneath.
And of course, given the prevailing understanding of heaven, the Saints were quite literally ‘up there’ . . . The Elite . . . but more than that, the myth of The Elite, produced an understanding of the Christian Life which was as it were two tier. Not only was there Heaven up there, there was Earth down here . . . of course we didn’t like to think about down there . . .  and this sort of spiritual cosmology was replicated in a sort of Spiritual Geography, a hierarchy. Ordinary Christians, and the Elite Christians, the Saints, or for my sister Cath, a lady of Strongly Protestant inclinations, ‘Disciples’ . . .

And Jesus – demolishes this idea . .  he doesn’t so much not turn on its head any ideas we have of an Elite. He calls his people to something far more challenging, something as it were out of this World.  Which brings us to The Beatitudes . . .’ So wired together into our human psyche ares the idea of an Elite and Progress – as those who have Grown Upwards ‘Onwards and Upwards’ we say [Evolutionary thinking is the way our culture names this myth]. So hard wired is it that the Beatitudes come as a terrible shock.

Blessed are the Who??? The words of Jesus are SO hard to swallow, that I know of at least one American writer who twisted himself in knots to say that Jesus – despite the text being clear, wasn’t teaching his disciples at all. How hard is it for one soaked in say American culture, which is of course the one we’re all trained to buy into, how hard is it for one so trained – to hear the Gospel announcement of the Blessed?? The poor, the mourners, the meek, the hungry, the persecuted . . . This writer choked on this passage declared that Jesus MUST have been looking beyond the disciples, and declaring, ‘Hey! The Kingdom is for the losers as well . . .’ . . .  which is a problem as not all of Jesus words about the blessed can easily be translated as blessed are the losers . . . Blessed are the Pure in heart . . . Blessed are the peacemakers . . . BUT given that Growth MUST be upwards!!!! Then somehow we have to find a way to deny the words of Jesus . . . Certainly Jesus’ words addressed to his disciples, demolish all our ideas of Elite.

Certainly as far as the world understands it, the poor, the mourners, the meek, the persecuted are not those ‘who have made it’, but Jesus says, those who have made it are the poor, meek, mourners – those persecuted for righteousness sake . . . but surely we might argue, isn’t Jesus setting up a different idea of Elite??? Isn’t he purely reversing the direction and those who ‘make it’ make the best fist of ‘downward mobility’?? after all, didn’t he say ‘The first shall be last and the last first – whoever would be chief amongst you must become the servant of all – whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel shall find it . . . Isn’t it still all about some form of achievement by downwards progress??? After all, aren’t the Saints pictures to us of deepest humility, as opposed to Pride, or Poverty as opposed to Riches?? As if these things were to be understood on a continuum and all we have to do to understand Jesus is to tip things upside down??

Our difficulty I think comes from a misunderstanding of ‘Saint’. It’s a misunderstanding that we’ve been happy to live with – pertly because it fits our understanding of the world as we know it – a simple parallel between Worldly success, and Spiritual success, even if in opposite directions. But we may also be happy to accept this simple story of reversal,  because the actual meaning of Saint is far more shocking than any simple reversal of values which we might try to live out.
Christians, are not people with as it were a set of values which are simply ‘downward’ instead of ‘upward’ mobility – rather they are a people with a completely different form of existence, a New Life. Not an improvement on the old – not the old life with the bad bits taken out – not the old life tipped on its head, but a New Life.

‘Saint’ comes from the word for ‘Holy’ . . . well so far, so not useful – there we go again, another elite word. Holy we generally take to mean in terms of ‘at the top of the virtue scale’ As it were the opposite end of the spectrum from ‘Evil’. As if everything were some from of sophisticated moral gradation. Not just Good people and Bad people, we know that that is too simplistic . . . but Evil people through bad, through naughty, through rough diamonds, through good, right up . . . (there we go again with the up down language) Right up to Saints, the ‘holy’. But That is the meaning that we have given to ‘Holy’ – it is not the meaning that the Scriptures give.
‘Holy’ means ‘Set apart’. The things associated with the worship of God were Holy, but that was as it were a signifier, that The people of God were as set apart as the Holy Things. The people of God from the call of Abraham, a landless wanderer, through the calling of Israel, a people called to a land, to the disciples – were to be a people – are to be a people – set apart for the Glory of God. So set apart that they were not to be like the surrounding nations with their Kings – for God was to be their Shepherd King. A people with a land, but not like any other, that God might be glorified in and through them. And so The King comes and calls his people to separate themselves and gather round Him.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain;
and after he sat down,
his disciples came to him.
Then he began to speak, and taught them

Jesus sees the crowd, he sees Everyone, but those whom he has called to be with Him, his disciples, come out of the crowd – they come to Him, stood before Him and separated from the Crowd – they are set apart – and he teaches Them. He teaches them about the nature of their existence, their New life in and with Him. A life which in its Otherness, would be Light to the World, which is dark. Jesus tells them, your life as the poor in spirit, mourning, meek, persecuted, pure in heart, peacemaking, your Life Is Salt of the Earth, Light to the World. A Life which is radically for the World, but not of the World. A life in which their identity is completely bound up with Him. Set Apart – Holy – Saints.

To be Baptised is to become part of a people, the body of Christ set apart entirely for the purposes of God and the Glory of God. To be a disciple, to be a Saint. Not Better than the World, not to be a brighter light in the world, but to be different, to be The Light of the World. Not each in his various callings, you in your small corner, and I in mine, but Together as the community of the Saints, those called apart for the Glory of God and for the sake of the World.

Christendom, as we have been recalling, subverted that. There were those whom everyone said were ‘called into the Church’ – I must admit that I choked upon my ordination at a card from a colleague of a Catholic persuasion ‘upon the occasion of your ordination into the Church of Christ’. Denying that we are a Kingdom of Priests, together.     Then there were for my sister Cath, those special ones, the ‘disciples’, denying that there is only one form of Christian existence, which is to be with Jesus and taught by Jesus, to be a disciple, and of course The Saints . . .

And so St Paul as he writes to the churches of Asia minor and further afield writes ‘To the Saints who are in Ephesus’ or ‘To those called to be Saints . . .’ Those called to be with  Jesus, Together . . .

The call into Christian existence is not a call to huge moral effort – it is far far more challenging than that – to hear the call of Jesus is to belong to a people set apart for the Glory of God in the world. There is an old name for that people, an old name but a truthful one, The Communion of Saints. We are all called to be Saints

Status Quo and The Christian Imagination

Sermon for 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
October 25th 2015

Mark 10:46-52

Status Quo and the Christian Imagination

And I must begin with an apology to any denim clad disciples of 70s British Rock music . . . but it’s not That Status Quo . . . :-)

Nothing more threatens the existence of the word as we know it, that we have become so accustomed to, than the gospel of Jesus Christ

These last few weeks I’ve been reflecting on the Christendom subversion of Christian Faith and Life. That distortion made Christian faith publicly acceptable, respectable even – Although Jesus reminds us ‘Woe to you when all speak well of you . . .’. But a respectable religion is of course no threat to the Status Quo. Certainly nothing to get crucified over. We adopted a form of Civic religion which pretty much legitimised the world as we know it. No one need get crucified anymore – just follow the rules . . .
So ‘The Kingdom of God’ from being something which one knew by faith, supposedly became a visible earthly rule and thus legitimised the way of the world – ‘the Rich man at his castle and the poor man at his gate, for did not God make them high and lowly and order their estate . . .’ For the marginal in this world, there was of course the comforting idea of heaven when you die, but the idea that Jesus called us into a radically new form of existence, which would often find its adherents in radical conflict with the Status Quo?? This largely disappeared from view

And this disappearance led to what we might call a Constantinian imagination, in which Christian Life became reduced to Spiritual messages to comfort people in the midst of lives which were irrevocably fixed. The World was and always will be happy for people to dispense such advice, especially if you can turn a profit doing so . . .‘The little book of Calm’ anybody?? . . . just don’t let people begin to imagine that there might be something else, like the Reign of God which calls for you to a radically different life in the midst of those around you – calling the lives of others into question purely by doing so.
Oh, by all means See God in Creation, if it pleases you, understand your existence in terms of Love, but please make sure you pay your taxes on time and are back at your desk on Monday . . . and whatever you do, don’t announce the Reign of God in the world, now, and here!! Don’t go talking about a New Life in following Jesus, with staggering possibilities, blind people being healed, the dead raised, finding life in giving up your life!!! No, its a spiritual message . . . Sell your possessions and give to the poor??? – if people start to go after that, why, the world economic order might collapse . . . so say the jailers of imagination, even sadly in our midst . . . Church reduced literally to a ‘chaplaincy of the imprisoned’ – not a dangerous jailbreak . . .

The Constantinian imagination is one which imprisons, one which is full of fear, at root afraid of Jesus Christ, for the Good News of Jesus Christ is that God in and through Jesus has radically set us free. That it is True –  the Reign of God is present in Christ, in the power of The Holy Spirit – all bets about the nature of our lives are Officially off . . . The door is Open . . . With God, All things ARE possible . . .

In England – I acted as a mentor for a Christian drug rehabilitation centre. Holgate House was and is quite a remarkable place. Sat in a hollow by the River Ribble in Northern England – it was a place where people came and many were set free. At a surface level from their drug addiction, but deeper down, from their spiritual enslavement, without which the addiction would never be cured.
Underlying all addiction there is spiritual enslavement – its just that some addictions, some forms of slavery such as drugs, threaten the Status Quo, – others addictions, for example buying your identity through shopping, or ‘making a life for yourself’ by working every hour of the day, addiction to the self pity and bitterness, these are socially acceptable – indeed the Constantinian imagined church may well encourage you to shop for your True Identity – find fulfilment in your work whatever it is . . . or send someone round to you to say, there there, you poor thing . . . but NOT to announce, ‘The Jail doors are broken – you are free to go’ You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave (sorry – back to 70s Rock :-) )

But Holgate house was and is about annoujncing the doors are broken and you can be free  by confronting the Truth. When I first visited there I went home and told Sarah, I’ve just seen the Kingdom of God. What I encountered was a group of people who in their desperate plight reached out to God in Christ and engaged one another in living in the Light of truthfulness. There was no wallowing in self pity allowed, for no healing could be found there. They confessed their sins one to another, they held one another accountable for their actions in community, and 75% of them did not revert to their former life, a statistic which always draws incredulity from those who know the field well.

Of the 25% – well on the whole they didn’t engage, preferring the prison of the self to the Light of authentic Life, for which one had to stand accountable. Of those 25% a large number had become so accustomed to life in prison, that they truly understood how threatening the thought of true freedom was – but perhaps more tragic were the wealthier members of the community who imagined themselves to be free, yet who couldn’t see they were enslaved. They couldn’t in a sense believe they were there – they didn’t own their behaviour – ‘this sort of thing doesn’t happen to someone like me’. HArder for a Rich man to enter the Kingdom of heaven . . .
By and large they found themselves in Holgate house with people from a much lower socio economic background – not the sort of people with whom they associated. The idea of sharing their lives, of laying them open, of confessing their weaknesses, of being held to account by THESE people . . . But in truth, they were no different to those who had become institutionalised by life in prison. No different to those outside, enslaved in a thousand different ways. Denying the darkness of their lives, they were strangers to the Light which was offered. As Jesus said, ‘If the light in you is darkness, how great is that darkness’
This living in the darkness was fundamentally a failure of Christian imagination – a failure to See who Christ is, and to Know the Gospel of Jesus, who sets us free to follow Him in Joy. As revealed in the healing of Bartimaeus.

Bartimaeus is the opposite of the Rich Young man we heard of a couple of weeks to go. We might say that he has nothing to lose in following Jesus and everything to gain . . . but of course that is not true. Both are enslaved – It is true of each and every one of us that to follow Jesus we have to give up all we have. If the Rich man was like the wealthy drug addicts, Bartimaeus was like my drug addict friends who had been a long time in prison. Begging was not a great life – but it was a way of getting a living. There were enough devout Jews who gave alms to the poor. Life in some regards was better for beggars then – for our contemporaries who live on the streets there is no social pressure to help. In Jesus time giving money to the poor was socially ‘the right thing to do’. So in asking to See, Bartimaeus was relinquishing his worldly security every bit as much as those disciples who had left their nets.

There was a Status Quo to Bartimaeus’ existence – a form of comfortable existence . . . but as with my drug addict friends, it was no life at all . . .  So Bartimaeus is looking for Life, to be set free . . . whatever the cost . . .

Yet his story is about more than an individual freedom – it goes far far further than that. In many ways it is a story of finding true freedom in giving up the idea of individual freedom – for it cannot be found without others. And it is not safe! It is a way of existence that calls into questions perhaps everything that we have been trained to take for granted regarding the nature of our lives – about their stories. It is an existence which is not about worldly security – it is an existence which is disinterested in money, or career, or earthly citizenship. It is an existence which reveals the Truth of Mr Beaver’s words about Aslan – he is not Safe, but He is Good. If you are looking for a safe and secure existence then the world offers many varieties, all of them deadly and completely at odds with the Gospel. To follow Christ means that we must eschew the safe. Most dangerously, Daring to Know and be Known. It is Life together in the community of Christ, the community of the New Creation present in Jesus. Our fundamental problem is that our dreams of a better life are far too small, our imaginations shriveled, hiding from one another, hiding in the shadows.
Few, very few can imagine, and thereby desire anything more desirable than a good life on the worlds terms followed by what we call ‘heaven’. After all That is the story we have been sold since birth . . . But only God is Good . . .The Rich young ruler went back to his cell grieving, the wealthier clients of Holgate house returned to their illusory drug addled existence . . . and yes, many beggars continued to sit in the dust. How many beggars did Jesus come close to? Yet few took the Risk of crying out to Jesus,  My teacher, let me see again. In the end, they did not believe they could be free, or worse, having seen what true freedom in Christ meant, it was too Bright for them – they preferred the darkness. And in the illusory Constantinian imagined world we have created, the Risk of faith seems too much for us. It’s not a story we can control – Many do not believe . . .

But Bartimaeus does, and the people want him silenced, as in the end they seek to silence Jesus, so they will seek to silence all those who seek him in Truth. ‘Don’t tell us about another Kingdom! Don’t live in a way that calls our lives into Question! – In effect, be religious by all means, better be Spiritual, but don’t be the Church of Jesus Christ’  “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet . . . We might imagine that the crowds tell him to be quiet because he is making a noise, disturbing the peace, and indeed he is. As Jesus said, ‘do not think that I have come to bring peace but a sword . . .’ Bartimaeus is heralding The King – the One who is destined for the fall and the rise of many – and so threatening ‘the way things are’. What the Scriptures call, The World.

It’s an imagining we engage with and unconsciously absorb every moment we spend watching the Television, or reading the Newspaper – it is a World from which any announcement of the Kingdom of God, of the Rule of Jesus Christ is utterly absent. Of course the Constatinian Imagination teaches us that ‘its woven in their somewhere, you just have to look’, but without any explicit mention of Obedience to Jesus Christ, it is but another of the world’s lies, perniciously dressed up in supposedly Christian garb. For when Jesus turns up on the scene, Kings do not sleep, everyone is disturbed – when Jesus comes on the scene, the world has but one answer

Bartimaeus MUST be shut up because if Jesus is the King, then All earthly authority is radically called into question, and thus the very foundations of the lives we have built for ourselves on those authorities, those stories, those Imaginings. For those who were there this meant the Roman Empire. Rule #1 for a quiet life – a comfortable life – a safe life – don’t call the powers that be into question – keep busy, keep your nose clean, pray even, but DON”T go announcing that the World’s true King has stepped onto the scene. From Herod, to Pilate, to Nero, to Domitian, on and on the announcement of the Reign of God in Jesus Christ is Dangerous – and we have lived for many many years without realising that. Aslan is Not Safe – Life with Jesus is usually Not comfortable, not least because of the company we keep. The Christian Imagination is profoundly dangerous . . . it endangers everything . . . for the Son of Man must be crucified, and if He must be crucified, then so must all that follow him, and ultimately the very fabric of our lives in the world must go to the Cross. If the way of life is to follow Jesus, then Everything must Go
Life has many difficulties which are common to all – funnily enough . . . the world’s promises of a safe and comfortable existence turn out to be lies . . . but LIfe with Jesus has many more perils than that . . . Yet it is Joy!! It is True Happiness!! It is The Good!!! – it is worth everything, and it is more than worth crying out about . . . but it requires a renewed imagination and a desire for freedom which transcends any and all fears, even of death . . . For it calls into question that which we have come to call ‘life’

Funnily enough as I sat down to write this sermon, a friend posted a personal dream of hers. Rather cheekily, and with half my mind on what I was about to write, I asked, ‘So what is the first step? Or is it Just a dream??’ As we all know, the harshness of the World wake us from dreams – but what of the Kingdom of God, What of the Rule of Christ, what if That is The Reality. My friends at Holgate house, many of them Knew that there was another Life – Life in Christ – they did the dangerous work of imagining that Life,which kept them on track – but they would never have done it without one another, and mutually shaking one another awake – constantly calling one another to account – refusing to live with Sin in their life and confessing one to another – Crying out above the crowd which tried to silence them – ‘Jesus,  Son of David, have mercy on me’. Part of the Constantinian imagination in effect marginalised the Church refusing to allow it to be what it was and Is –  a people with a Different Existence – a Different Life – a New People – literally a New Race as the New testament called them – a people whose Life was that of the Crucified and Risen Jesus. A people who had refused the deceitful cup of the world, who had drunk from the Cup of Christ – who had thrown of the cloak of beggars, who had adopted the mantle of True Sonship in following their King.

What might it mean for us to live as such a people? That is where the hard work of dangerous Christian Imagining is done . . . or perhaps we just turn over and go back to our dreams?

The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Sabbath, Work, and Identity

Sabbath, Work, and Identity

Sermon for Evensong – Sunday October 18th, 2018

Joshua 14:6-end

Matthew 11:28-12:14

Just this week I was at a presentation at a local school where the guest speaker told us ‘I am living proof that it is possible to have a career in the Arts . . .’ I really didn’t know exactly what to make of this. For underlying the proposition was an imperative ‘You must have a career . . . we all have to have a career’ Or put another way – one cannot just be an artist, one has to earn a living . . . To say that earning a living is antithetical to the Good News of Jesus Christ is a truism, but to our modern ears perhaps it is an absurdity . . .

We live in what the German philosopher Josef Pieper called a culture of total work. He was writing 70 years ago – in many respects his work was as prophetic as it was contemporary. What with the advent of phones which carry your emails, not a few of us know an existence where work fills every waking hour . . . and work defines us, it gives us our ‘significant identity’, our value in the world. If you doubt this, look at the reaction  on people’s faces when Sarah tells them her work is to tend to house and home and garden and bring up our children . . . or note how many folk turn up at funerals to discover the truth of the person behind their work . . . even our latter days should we live that long are ‘Retirement’ – in other words defined by our work, and the idea that one must earn a living is of course a subtle if unconscious driver in terms of how we treat those who do not . . . for example children

When people ask our children ‘What are you going to be when you grow up?’ They will often be met by cheerful laughter. Laughter is the only way to deal with Totalitarian narratives about our existence. And of course it is a Totalitarian Narrative – be it Covertly in Capitalist systems, or overtly and more truthfully therefore in Communist systems ‘Work is good for you’, Work gives your life a sense of meaning, ‘Work makes you free . . .’

Contrary to this totalising narrative of Work and Identity, the Jewish people were given the Sabbath. This practise marked them out, and we might perhaps be tempted to say that therefore it is the most important practise for the people of God in this day of ‘total work’. Sabbath set limits to our work. As the LORD set limits to the sea saying to its proud waves ‘Thus far and no further’ [Job 38:11] so Work was held back so that it did not flood their existence. And indeed the children of Israel had every reason to practise Sabbath given their history. As the footnote to the fourth commandment said ‘Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and the LORD your GOd brought you out from there with a mighty arm . . . It was the occassion of the Egyptians groaning under the slavery of Pharaoh the Egyptian culture of ‘Total Work’ which had occasioned the LORD to reveal himself to Moses and set them free – to bring them out and form them into His people. To forget the Sabbath was for your self awareness to be drowned under the sea of Work, it was to forget who you were as a Jew, that is One who had been saved from ‘total work’ by God, and FOR God. It was to forget God, and all cultures of ‘total work’ are fundamentally atheist, however religiously observant they are.

The Sabbath was a multi dimensional claim on Existence itself. It was about who you were – your identity – NOT what you did. Sabbath told you that your Life was only with others. “YOU shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you.”

When the powerful do not rest, neither does anyone else. People who work all the time require others to do the same. When those with money will not rest from shopping,  others must be dragged from rest to serve them. When the CEO is sending emails seven days a week, every minion must pay constantly pay attention to their inbox . . . Pharaohs throughout the ages are tormented by dreams, and the whole empire must rush to serve them and calm the fears of the self made life.

And therein was the key to Sabbath, for Total work is the fruit of Anxiety, the refusal to accept life as a Gift, the deep rooted belief that life had to be earned. It is the failure to know yourself as the child of the ‘Father in heaven who knows you need all these things’, and who sets you free to seek the Kingdom of God. It is total amnesia.
Sabbath told you were a Child of the Father, Loving God with heart souls mind and strength (as a child loves)  identifying  with the One who rested. ‘For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day’.

You rest because God your Father rests. Nowhere in scripture is human work related to God’s work except in Jesus. Identifying human work with God’s work was but a covert attempt to secure our existence for ourselves, rather than accept the Gift of Sabbath. The Scribal tradition used one verb for God’s work, and another for human work, there is no 6-day a week correspondence. But there is one verb for Rest. It was in Sabbath that Israel’s identity as the child of God was known . . . The Sabbath had nothing to do with Work, except as restraint from the primal sin of forgetting the Father who knows your needs and instead making a Life for yourself.
And thus the Sabbath day alone was Holy. As God alone is Holy, to be invited to Sabbath is to be invited to Participate in the Life of God – to be His child.

For many many years the people of God had suffered under totalitarian regimes from North and East and South, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Greeks and now finally the Romans, the Jewish people had desperately clung onto their sense of who they were through Sabbath observance.

And the Pharisees  understood that it was Their role, their Sacred duty to act as the guardians of Jewish identity, and thus to secure the existence of the Jewish people, and thus they were Anxious about the ‘correct understanding of the Sabbath’, not least because that interpretation was one which ruling powers  had accommodated themselves to and allowed to continue . . .

So Jesus words ‘Come to me all you who are weary and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest . . .’ come, not like a comfort blanket, like a bumper sticker slogan for hard times, but high explosive claim for all of Identity and existence, in a situation which reeked of fear. Fear of losing their national identity, and fear of what the Romans might do to them if things were pushed too far . . . For of course it was eminently suitable to any occupying power that there was an agreement with the power brokers that after a day off, everyone would be back at their desks . . . (Middle management has always been a position of Curse . . . ) and here comes Jesus, talking of giving Rest, and No words about six days shalt thou labour . . . Jesus, as he had done with the law on Murder and Adultery, had revealed the Fourth commandment, the Sabbath also to be a limit on human evil, and consequently a limit on their participation in the Life of God, a limitation upon the Reign and Rule of God to just one day in Seven.

The fullness of Life which Jesus came to proclaim and to enact was prefigured in the Sabbath Command, like all the law, a school teacher to point us to the Good, but its total fulfilment was revealed in Jesus. ‘Come to me all you who are weary and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ I will. Jesus as he speaks with his disciples is pointing to himself as the one who truly reveals the identity of God’s people . . . In the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus we are invited to the participate in Holy Time – not one day in seven, but ‘Eternal Life’  – to a Life defined not by our work, but by our, parentage as children of our Father in heaven . . .

Jesus words were and are a total claim on the people of God and their true identity . . .and this is why the Pharisees ‘went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him’.

For surely They were the true guardians of the identity of Israel, and if they along with the Herodians and Scribes could deliver a pacified workforce, taught ‘six days shalt thou labour’, they could keep their position, and keep the Powers that be happy. God may have commanded rest, ‘but the world cannot work unless we work like crazy on the other six . . .’ and everything before the ‘but’ is always negated . . .
Matthew gives us the fullest account of how Total is Jesus‘ claim regarding himself and thus the  Identity of all of the children of God. Jesus’ conflict about Sabbath isn’t finally about Work and Rest, it’s about Everything to do with the Identity of God’s people, those who bear the name of Jesus Christ – those who Participate in God’s Holiness, in his very Life. It is the breaking of Sabbath Consciousness into all of existence, in and through Jesus Christ

At that time Jesus went through the cornfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.’  The Pharisees defined Sabbath and thus all of Israel’s existence. But Jesus completely reinterprets the fourth commandment, and makes himself the centre of it, this command that links the existence of God to the existence of the people of God.
Jesus said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. David and his companions. Jesus and his disciples . . .

When Jesus enters Jerusalem, the Pharisees rebuke him for allowing children and disciples to cry out ‘Hosanna to the Son of David, Hosanna to the King’. The crowd tell Bartimaeus to shut up when he cries out ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me’ Any word of a new King will bring it all crashing down and reminding the people that the king had eaten the Holy Bread when they were hungry. The people as we know from the feeding of the 5000 are hungry – Life under Roman rule is harsh for all the accommodation of the Jewish rulers with the Powers that be . . . As to this day, there is always a good market for ‘spiritual messages’ which make one feel nice when life is harsh, but do not threaten the status quo . . . But Jesus is demolishing the status quo. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? For indeed are not all God’s people priests?? A royal priesthood? A holy Nation they were called, ever before the Sabbath commandment was given . . . Jesus again calling his fellow Jews to their true identity I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. Sabbath – Kingship – Priesthood – Temple. Who truly is the King of the Jews? To whom do they belong? What defines them? Take my yoke upon you and learn from me . . . the yoke the symbol of the King . . . The Pharisees considered themselves to be the guardians of the identity of God’s people, and in so doing left them enslaved – denying that they were a people radically set free by God. Jesus takes all their precious signs of identity and says, these are mine, and My people are Free.

Finally this Sabbath Life, this Eternal Life is revealed in power, as Jesus heals,  ‘to show that the Son of Man has authority on earth . . .’. This is a total claim for Authority – a total claim on Identity. These, Jesus is saying are my people. , and ‘the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.’

And so the True existence of the people of God is revealed in the Resurrection, the eighth day, the day outside of the workaday existence, the New Time, the time that is Eternal – and for almost all the church’s existence, the body of Christ has not mentioned Sabbath. Augustine gives it the briefest of mentions, Aquinas too . . . but to this day Catholic and Orthodox theologians don’t mention it . . . Life was marked by Human work, growing food, tending for the sick, bringing up children, study and scholarship, art, the hungry fed, the elderly revered and listened to for their wisdom – and in and through all of it, Celebration and Worship – every day prayer and worship.
But following the Reformation ‘Sabbath’ begins to make a comeback . . . as do such phrases as ‘Hard work is good for you’, ‘Work makes you free’.  The ladies of C17 Holland were much taken with that new blue and white fashion, Delft China. This it is fairly clear was the root of Consumerism – and following hot on its heels ‘The Protestant Work Ethic’, after all, if one wanted all these new consumer goodies that the Industrial revolution was pouring out, one needed to earn more money, one needed to work for more than the basic essentials of life, and one needed to justify this new found zeal for work, for new forms of work and money making. The Scriptures called this Greed, but . . .  if one needed to do that , then there were and indeed are more than enough apologists to work out neat sophisticated arguments for more work, for denying that God’s work and human work are not the same . . . where of course people weren’t enslaved . . .  so we were brought Consumerism, The Work Ethic, and now a plethora of books on the Sabbath . . . for after all, in this brave New World we have Created for ourselves, everyone needs a rest from their work . . . as if that were the meaning of Sabbath . . . and everyone of those books as far as my researches suggest written by a Protestant writer . . .

As I have suggested over the past weeks, Jesus does not come to us as a ‘spiritual salve’ for when life is hard. ‘Come to me all you who are weary and are heavy laden and I will give you rest’ is the gentle demand on the whole of our existence, that we do not live to work, rather the goal of our existence is Love of God and Neighbour.

Yes. There is work to be done, the hungry must be fed, the sick healed, the elderly and frail cared for, children brought up to know who they are . . . did you know that the word ‘School’ literally means ‘leisure’ I’ve been telling one or two of my young friends this . . .The land must be cared for and tended, its wounds cleansed and repaired . . . food must be grown – but the goal of the whole creation of all existence is Life with God. Thy will done on Earth as in Heaven. As St Paul puts it – everyone should do some work with their hands, so that they have something to share with the poor. That is Human work

The Sabbath commandment which is a restraining ordinance, points to the deeper truth of the Life which is known in Jesus Christ. Knowing our existence is secure in Him. To refuse this gift is to refuse life itself. Our insistence upon Total Work – our refusal of Life not as something to be toiled for but as a Gift of our Father, leads us to a deep and destructive amnesia . . . forgetting that we belong to the one who ‘gives us Rest’ – and it is destroying us, and it is destroying God’s Good Creation
Work has overstepped its bounds and the whole creation is now led back into utter slavery and despoilation. As Isaiah prophesied, ‘The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers; the heavens languish together with the earth. The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant.’ [Isaiah 24]

Our reading from Joshua concluded – The Land had rest from war . . . our wretched Greed has meant that it is many years since the Land knew such rest . ..  Sabbath Rest included the land. Every seventh year the Land was to lie fallow. This was a sustaining ordinance. As Sabbath restrained our evil desires to make lives for ourselves, so for the Land to bring forth her increase, required us to be restrained in our work, restraining our evil. The Land had to have rest. And as the Gospel is good news for the poor, those enslaved, the Lord will see that the Land, HIS good Earth has Rest.

As the Sabbath Command was given to restrain evil, so too the Command of the Lord restrained the proud waves, and set their limits. We have thrown off the gentle yoke in our quest to earn a living – creating a world of ‘total work’ – and the waves are rapidly encroaching their bounds.

Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, forgive our foolish ways, reclothe us in our rightful minds . . .

Luke the Evangelist

Sermon for Luke the Evangelist
2 Timothy 4:5-17
Luke 10:1-16

She named the child Ichabod, meaning, ‘The glory has departed from Israel’

1 Samuel 4:21

I think that when we hear today is the feast of Luke the Evangelist we might have a couple of responses. Firstly we have a bit of a problem with ‘Evangelism’, and secondly we might ask – don’t we rather prefer to think of St Luke in terms of healing ??

Well perhaps our problem lies as much with healing as it does with Evangelism . . .

Over the past few weeks, I have referred on occasion to the complete distortion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ which was occasioned when ‘Christianity’ came into being. That is to say when the Way of Jesus Christ was turned into a religion, most effectively by the fifth Century Roman emperor Theodosius, although Constantine is the name most associate with this change.

From a mass movement mainly amongst the persecuted and marginalised followers of Jesus – ‘Christianity’ was born as the Religion of all. And because it was ‘of all’ the words of Jesus became ‘spiritualised’ As I said a few weeks ago the Church moved from being those who sought a glass of water, who were hungry and fed, who were naked and clothed, who were in prison and visited, to that Religious institution who carried out such good works, before often returning to comfortable homes . . .

No longer was one ‘not to resist an evil doer’. No longer was taking money on interest a bad thing . . . no longer did the ‘Church’ suggest one could not be a soldier and a follower of Jesus . . . Jesus’ message became a ‘spiritual message’, with a promise of ‘heaven’ hereafter, and business as usual before you died. No longer was anyone persecuted for their private belief – after all what threat is such a ‘religion’?? The Sermon on the Mount became a message about heaven, completely ignoring Jesus warning about hearing and doing or not doing in the story of the House on the Rock, and of course no one for a moment could think that the Poor were blessed – rather it was the pious, ever so ‘umble and self deprecating ‘poor in spirit’ who were truly blessed, despite the fact that for Jesus ‘the poor in Spirit’ the anawim, were those who barely scraped living on the land . . .

But, and here is the horrible irony . . . in spiritualising Jesus’ words, in getting all spiritual, the Spirit disappeared . . . And this is best illustrated by the famous story of St Thomas Aquinas and Pope Innocent II. The Pope was showing the great Doctor of the Church the splendours of St Peter’s Church in Rome, and said ‘Look, Thomas – no longer can we say ‘Silver and Gold have I none, and the St, well schooled in Scripture retorted – and neither can we say ‘in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up and walk’

Peter and John had neither silver or Gold – why would they? They were Jesus’ people, utterly dependent upon the hospitality or otherwise of the world, like their Lord, with nowhere fixed to lay their heads. So they cannot give the lame man alms, but they are not so much spiritual, as their bodies are full of the Spirit. So they declare to the lame man, stand up and walk – and he does . . . as St Luke reminds us . . .

Of course, God has not left himself without witnesses . . . amongst the poor churches, you still here of these things – or the Church in Africa and what I’m trained to call ‘The Far East’ The Bishop of Singapore I’m given to understand won’t ordain anyone who doesn’t have a ministry in raising the dead . . . but such messages from the edge, from marginal people, like the announcement of the resurrection of Jesus by women . .  these messages are easily dismissed . . . and we look for other understandings of The Kingdom of God, locating it in human ‘progress’, or ‘scientific breakthroughs’, or the like.

Luke is an Evangelist – he is one who announces Good News – and he is a doctor, so associated with healing, and the two, Evangelism and Healing go together.

The arrival of Jesus is the end of business as we know it. God has come to judge and to save his people – the harvest is being gathered. Some will hear and respond – others will dismiss it. Some will welcome the evangelists, take them into their homes, others will drive them out. They will all be judged by their response to Jesus – which is one with their response to his body in whom his spirit dwells. ‘Whoever listens to you, listens to me. Whoever rejects you, rejects me and the one who sent me’ Jesus totally identified himself with the Church. The arrival of the disciples in the villages and towns is the arrival of Jesus himself . . . and once again dare we begin to say that in these days?? No. Instead we are commanded to go out and find out what God is up to – ignoring the fact that were we Jesus people, the Spirit of God would dwell amongst us – the Kingdom of God would be completely revealed in our life together.

Jesus send out his disciples in twos – for when two or three are gathered he is there – he sends them out in utter vulnerability. Not from positions of wealth and comfort, not with great learning or any of the other things we arm ourselves with and defend ourselves against the very life of the One whose name we bear. ‘Go on your way. Behold!! PAy attention – LOOK – This is important!! I am sending you out – like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. (Don’t dilly dally on the way, you have urgent business to be about!) Whatever house you enter, first say ‘Peace to this house!’ As the angels pronounced, Peace on Earth – Good Will to all men – so your message is delivered in the Peace of God – soft and gentle like a dove – and if the message is not received in peace, then you will not lose your peace. It will be returned to you. Just leave.

Eat whatever your hosts provide, for they are blessing your work. The worker deserves his wages – and Heal the sick who are there and say to them ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you

We struggle with evangelism because we think it aggressive – but in truth we have more reason to fear because it calls us to go in total vulnerablity dependence and trust. In such vulnerablity, simple rejection and indeed worse are part and parcel of our existence. As St Paul tells Timothy ‘As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully’ The evangelist is one who is daily open to suffering and rejection for he carries the Life of Jesus who is crucifed by the World –  In that childlike vulnerability – with all defenses down, The Spirit of God can rest upon us, and be released for healing.

But we cannot become vehicles for this life, unless we have first heard the Good News and put down our defenses so that the life of God can flow in and out unhindered, and the Kingdom revealed in word and Healing.

Why do we see no healing? Because perhaps we don’t understand what it is to be an evangelist. St Luke stands by to remind us


‘Hell is locked on the inside’ CS Lewis

‘It was for freedom that Christ has set us free  . . .’ St Paul helpfully reminds us. And we need reminding, for too many who call themselves Christians are not free – enslaved as they are by their desires. Their lives are one continual ‘Oh, if only . . . I had this or that or the other, then my life would be complete . . . Then I would be happy’. And the demonic ‘god’ of our imagination says ‘there there, poor you, you deserve to have what you want, you have been mistreated haven’t you . . .’

Truly if this is our condition, we have not yet heard the Good News of Jesus Christ, and we have nothing of worth to share with others. We are like the Rich young man who ‘lacks one thing’, but will only find it in giving up that which he covets most.
Our covetous hearts are what keep us in Hell. (Hell like Heaven being as much a present reality as a future condition). And yes, it is our very selves, our hearts which deceive us, which delude us into thinking that our unhappiness is because we don’t have this or that or the other, or that it is the fault of others. It is our deceitful heart which feeds like Gollum on some ‘lack’ or some ‘wrong’ that was done to us, when someone ‘stole MY Precious’. For we do not have that which we covet most. Gollum is a type of the miserable one who cannot be happy because ‘so and so’ did ‘this or that’, or because ‘without X, I cannot be truly happy’

We will I am sure all be aware of this working as it were in reverse. Imagine a sunny day at the zoo. A careless visitor is stood with his back to the monkey cage, and the clever monkey, seeing his chance puts his hand in the man’s jacket pocket and removes a bag of nuts . . . but Alas!! The monkey cannot get his hand back inside the cage without letting go of the nuts!!!
Sadly of course the monkey is enslaved not by itself but by others – but the Good News is that Jesus Christ has released us from the bondage of sin, of covetousness which holds us bound. The human tragedy, doubly so for those who imagine themselves to be Christian is that we are outside the cage, and we have reached for something inside the cage, and cannot get our hands free. We have been set free, but chose to live in Hell rather than in the glorious liberty, the Happiness which Christ offers as a free Gift. We actually imagine that we are not free, that our dreary existence as Christians would be richer, more True if only we had this or that Treasure. We actually act as if we are inside the cage, and so distorted are our hearts we prefer it . . .

CS Lewis got it right. Hell is locked on the inside. All too many prefer the living death, the non-existence, the Hell of eternally licking their ‘Righteous’ wounds in preference to the Kingdom of God.

But for those who Know Jesus Christ, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field” and we abandon everything for it fills us with Joy, with Happiness which NOTHING can begin to diminish – for it is the Totality of Life. The Sadness is when we relinquish our JOY, our Life in Christ for ‘fading treasure’ . . . relinquishing our freedom for a bag of nuts.