Sermon for Sunday August 24th- Church as Chosen People – Responsibility and Gift

Sermon for Sunday August 24, 2014.

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A

 

Isaiah 51:1-6

Psalm 138

Romans 12:1-8

Matthew 16:13-20

 

‘Church as a Chosen People – Responsibility and Gift’

 

 

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Eph 2:8-10

 

The poor bloody infantry

This year as we are well aware marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of what we have come to know as the First World War. This has been commemorated in a rash of events and of course television programmes. One, called ‘Our World War’ has been put out by the BBC and I happened to catch the first episode the other day. Entitled ‘The First Day’, it was a dramatised reconstruction of The Battle of Mons, the first in which British troops were engaged. In keeping with much of what followed, it revealed the chaos and terror of Total War, as British troops hopelessly ill equipped and poorly informed about the forces arrayed against them were overwhelmed in a day. The focus of the action was a battle to hold a key bridge across the Canal which lay to the North of the city – in the end coming down to the actions of a Private Sidney Godley manning the only machine gun for several hours against huge odds.

Eventually the British forces were forced to withdraw, and Godley covered their backs, left alone to face almost certain death – he was critically wounded, but survived and saw out the war in a prison camp, being awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in the action.

 

Heroic?

Of course one way in such acts are described is as ‘heroic’, but it was then and remains all but impossible to find a veteran of war who would accept the description. They were faced with little or no choice – as the war ground on, increasingly conscripts – fighting for their lives. To sustain the myth of war, the myth of the hero must be upheld, but of course it is sham, as attested by the continuing history of the abandonment of these heroes to homelessness, and lack of care when they return home. A form of collective shame placed on those asked to pay the highest price. Its hard not to think of them as scapegoats.

 

Now seeing the title for this sermon, you may be shifting a little uneasily. The myth of war and the myth of religion, at times finding themselves too close for comfort for those who are called to follow in the footsteps of The Prince of Peace, the one who calls us to turn the other cheek, love our enemies, and do good to those who hate us. But if we step back from the myth of War and its mythical heroes, to the reality, we find some significant parallels which we would do well not to ignore.

 

Of course it would be Very easy to say that the western church is like those poor soldiers at Mons ‘hopelessly ill equipped and poorly informed about the forces arrayed against them’ thus we are being overwhelmed in the historical equivalent of a day, and that is undoubtedly true in some respects. But another time

 

Chosen and not for ourselves

As the ‘poor bloody infantry’ had little choice but to fight. So it is with the people of God. They didn’t ask for this. As they complained in the wilderness, they didn’t ask to be rescued from Egypt, they didn’t ask to be put to the service of this strange God, they didn’t ask to be those who would be light to the world. But they were. And here we rub up against the difficulty of this language of Chosenness, not that it is wrong, but in terms of what it means. For Being the Chosen people of God is much more akin to the Reality of a conscript thrown into the front line of a battle which he did not desire, than of that of the myth of the happy volunteer living with dreams of a Glorious inheritance and Noble Victory.

The idea of ‘a Chosen people’ is a difficult one for us to accept, and thus it is so very far from how we perceive ourselves, in no small part because within the history of the church it has been most unhelpfully been tied to that curious and only faintly biblical concept of ‘going to heaven when you die’ , or being the unique objects of God’s love. To say the least if we consider what it means to be a chosen people in these terms, then it is little surprise that we wish to do away with the idea. God’s Love is not limited, and indeed for the first of God’s people, the Jews, the idea of a life beyond this one was at best hazy.

 

The Chosen One

As always, when we try and understand anything of what it means to be The Church we must look to Jesus, the Author and perfecter of our faith. To understand ‘Chosen People’ we must look to ‘The CHosen One’ When God inhabits human flesh to walk amongst His people – in his very being he is a stark reminder of this. The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head – he is dependent on the hospitality of an often hostile world. Being The Chosen People does not get you a table at the finest restaurants or a room at the swankiest hotels – not even something as comfortable as the lair of a fox. The Chosen One, The Son steps into the world in humility – and in truth, the weight of the world is laid on Him. So it is not at all apparent to the human eye, trained in the world’s myths of greatness, that this itinerant preacher with his motley crew of disciples is indeed The Annointed One, The One chosen since the foundation of the world. So caught up in the myths of chosenness, His own do not recognise him in his poverty.

 

‘You are the Christ!’

But one of this motley band does. Peter in response to the question ‘Who do you say that I am?’ responds – ‘You are the Messiah! The Son of the living God’ And Jesus replies ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.’ It is a Beatification, a Blessing to recognise Jesus for who he is, it is Gift. Of course there are many who in truth fail to see who he is – whilst making much of Jesus’ poverty and humility, in truth they’re still expecting God in a more splendid garb – perhaps as a fine politician who will really put the world to rights through the exercise of intelligence and power, making the world a better place. The pattern we always try to revert to. The idea of a crucified God ultimately too much of a contrast for us, as of course it threatens to be for Peter himself. But let us let Peter be for the minute, Jesus hasn’t finished with him yet.

 

 

Revelation and Responsibility

Jesus accepts this recognition – and then Reminds Peter that it was a gift from HIs Father, not anything to do with his own perception. Reminds him as it were of His Chosenness, and promptly makes the most breathtaking statement. You have been Chosen to see me for who I am – to see through the lack of worldly glory . . He renames Peter, the Rock for this confession of Jesus will be the rock on which the Church is established – The Church Of Jesus Christ – on this rock ‘I will build my church’ the One who has revealed himself as the true interpreter of the law – ‘you have heard it said, but I say to you . . .’

Jesus, The Chosen One, never shies from his responsibilities, from his identity – he takes the Law of God and acts as its true interpreter – breathtaking. And he declares that this new community is HIS church, and on the confession of himself as God’s Chosen one, the Son of the living God, he will build His church against which the gates of hell themselves will not prevail . . . but then gives then says to Peter these unbelievable words – I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

 

True and false humility

 

And at once we look at the church and say ‘Don’t be ridiculous, Jesus! How can you put that responsibility in our hands??’ We are nothing!! I’ll come back to the keys in just a moment. But to look at this responsibility from another angle we might take Jesus’ words ‘You are the light of the world’ Recently I’ve been working on adapting a service of Night Prayer that we might all use. I’m working from an existing adaptation of the NZPB service, which includes the words ‘we are to be the light of the world’ – Well the problem with that wording, however ever so ever so ‘umble it is, is that it is in contradiction with the words of Jesus, who says to his ‘Church’ – you Are the light of the world – let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Again we look at ourselves and say ‘Don’t be ridiculous!!’ YOU do the whole light of the world thing, Jesus, we’ll tell people about you – well if we’re trying hard anyway . . . We undo the connection between Christ and his church – we evade our responsibility. Or to put it in terms of Private Sid Godley at the Nimy bridge, we abandon our post, the place we have been put, the place what is more that we were told the gates of Hell would not prevail against . . . to be called is to put our hand to the plough of inhabiting that calling – of Being in Him, the Light of the World, of binding and loosing, in heaven and on Earth

 

However strange it might seem to us that Jesus gives into our hands such responsibility in His name, it is I suggest far less strange than the notion that this first century wandering Jewish Preacher should in fact be the Son of the Living God, no? This truth cannot be found out for ourselves – it must be revealed to us by God the Father. We are never Christians because we worked it out for ourselves, nor can we live as Christ’ people except in that same dependence upon him. And that is the Core of it – that we can only live out this responsibility as we offer ourselves as living sacrifices – saying we have no life apart from Christ.

 

Responsibility . . . and Gift.

Here we have perhaps to abandon the parallel with those conscripts – for our war is not against flesh and blood. Indeed it cannot be for we are poorly equipped for that – rather it is against the powers and principalities of this dark age – not the human aggressor, but that which fires him or her, and our weapons?

Prophecy – the gift of seeing things as they are – ministry – teaching – exhortation – generosity – diligence – cheerfulness – St Paul – ‘think of yourselves in accordance with the measure of faith God has Given to you – these gifts which ‘differ according to the grace given to us. These GIfts are just that – they are not of us, but of God – most fully the life of God made present in us by the Holy Spirit. And above all forgiveness – Love which covers a multitude of sins. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound, whatever you lose will be loosed – whomsoever sins you forgive are forgiven – whomsoever sins you retain are retained – the keys of the Kingdom of heaven – which we enter through forgiveness of sins and which we offer to those around us.

 

Responsibilities we never sought, Gifts we were given . . . underlying it all though the sheer wonder of the gospel of Jesus Christ that has Peter say ‘to whom else shall we go!’ As St Paul puts it, we are captivated, compelled by the love of Jesus Christ, revealed in costly obedience to Him. We rejoice in our calling, not because of anything to do with us, but the Glory of the one who calls us. We remain joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. because of the one who in Love has called and chosen us. Insofar as anything rests with us, insofar as anything springs from us, it arises out of a deep love for Jesus Christ, for whose sake we have left everything.

 

Paul expresses it thus I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Having in 11 chapters of the letter to the Romans, set forth the wonder of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – Paul encourages us to a glad sacrifice of our lives, not for national myths; not as so many are tempted to do within the church to perpetuate the World’s own story about itself; but as a cheerful and reasonable offering to the one who has given us His all, The Christ, The Son of the Living God.

 

As he puts it in the second chapter of the letter to the church in Ephesus It is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Responsibility – and Gift

Sermon for Sunday August 3rd – 18th in Ordinary Time – Year A

Sermon for Sunday August 3rd, 2014
18th Sunday in Ordinary time – Year A

Genesis 32:22-31
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

Deep Roots
Deep Church

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.
And David was the father of Solomon . . .
You cannot spend too much time reading the scriptures without becoming aware of the prevalence of genealogies. The people of God know where they have come from, and knowing where they have come from , and knowing this they know who they are. There Roots are the source of their sense of who they are. As the Pharisees protest to Jesus ‘We have Abraham as our Father . . .’ Who are we . . . not Who am I, Who are we – ‘We are the children of Abraham . . .’ Our Roots . . .
Of course that protest immediately alerts us to something, that roots can go rotten. Not that there is anything wrong with having Abraham as your father, unless it becomes nothing more to you than a name in a list – something you take pride in, but do not live out of. {For us moderns, the sense that we lived out of our ancestry is an odd one. We might take a certain interest, even a pride in our genealogy, but we think of ourselves as individuals, that our identity is personal, not given. ]
Paul’s gospel to the Romans is in some respects an extended meditation upon the question, ‘what does it mean to be a true child of Abraham?’ Our reading from Romans finds Paul in agony over his people who have lost touch with the lifeblood of their descent from Abraham. They loudly declare they are children of Abraham, but their lives belie that truth. I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. To Them, to Them! They are the True inheritors of the promises of God, but they have not inherited. This Life Giving Gospel message should be flowing through their veins, but the root has rotted . . . Like Esau, they have despised their birthright. Cutting themselves off from their past.  And losing touch with your roots is s serious matter – a tree which on the surface may look so secure will come crashing down in a gale if its roots are no more.
Of course we in New Zealand know a lot about felling trees, and not just the rotten ones. It is only recently that we have learned to value our native trees, although economics and those with friends in high places, continue to win out. Orokonui is a wonder, but how appalling is the thought that trees and native fauna need Sanctuary, a place safe from the ravages of human insatiability.
When we were holidaying in January up on the West Coast, it was horrifying to contemplate what had been done to the native forest, to see the only the odd solitary Rimu, above the canopy – somewhat bent of course, of no economic use. All that was left. That pioneering spirit which seeks to ‘establish a new land’ – had cleared the land, to leave its own mark upon a blank slate, a Tabula Rasa. Like in so many modern cultures – lacking a sense of place within the order of things, a sense of lineage, a sense of Place and History. ‘Out with the old!’ (language which increasingly we use of people – having run out of trees there is not much left to fuel our passions . . .) Out with the Old! is our mantra. Henry Ford is our prophet. History is bunk.  LIfe is what We make it. It is not a gift from the past.
And even in the church. How many even without meaning to, fall into the trap of saying ‘We are to build the Kingdom of God!’ – worse, how many say it and mean it . . . The past?? Even in the church, this spirit of the age, confused as it is for the Eternal Spirit of God, inevitably leads us into secularism.
And thus we live at a critical juncture in the life of the Church in the West. Perhaps like the Pharisees of old the root has gone rotten. Perhaps ‘Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees’ Because as some have noted the critical Schism, the critical divide in the church seems to be between those who in the spirit of modernity disavow the past, and those who see it as life and health, however strange to modern ears. And I do not here mean the recent past, not traditions of recent years, but Deep Past. Its disavowal in the refusal to acknowledge what God is doing in a first century Jew in Palestine.
I have spoken from time to time about how the modern church seems strangely divorced from Jesus, as anything [sic] more than a conventient hook for our own preoccupation. It is as if Jesus is for children, but more grown up Christians need to let him go . . . For, to be sure, in modern thought he is an embarrassment.
That God uniquely, once and for All, took on human flesh in the person of a Jewish man in first century Palestine revolts the modern imagination. It isn’t enough for those ‘cultured despisers’ the church has for years sought to persuade by copying them. A simple analysis of church writings of sermons on the web, of new and ‘more relevant liturgies’, of books on the false trail that is ‘spirituality’ readily exposes this abandonment, of the first century Palestinian Jew,  . . . Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. Everywhere we see the sidelining of His particularity, to reduce Jesus to one amongst many moral examples, or a teacher of timeless truths, or to carelessly refer to him as Christ, with no sense of the Roots of that name – Christ – Messiah – the annointed King of Israel, the King of the Jews, God’s chosen one for the Salvation, the healing of the entire cosmos. who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.
And so when we come upon this story of the feeding of the 5000 – it seems to be for us ‘a fairytale for children’ and as adults we may well be tempted to think it a shallow matter for our consideration from the gospels. Trained in the shallows of our culture, it is an entertaining story but has nothing to offer us.   Disconnected from our roots, ahistorical as we are, this tale, seems of little import. but in Truth it is a foundational story of our faith. A tale which recalls us to our Roots. For here as it happens that is precisely what Jesus is doing, recalling God’s historic people, the Jews to their roots. No person who was in anyway aware of the Roots of the Jewish story could see ‘a metaphor’, or indeed ‘just a miracle, because God can do that sort of thing!’. No – here in the feeding of the five thousand, the only action of Jesus recounted almost identically in all four gospels, Here The Lord, Yahweh, is providing manna for his children in the wilderness. This is a profound encounter of Israel with her God in the person of Jesus – Yahweh-yireh – The Lord provides. Here is Israel’s God doing what he has always done, feeding his offspring, his children. Revealing himself as their Very Life. Recalling them to their roots.
And more than a mere memorial, he is recalling them to the Life giving obedience of God his Father. When the disciples are confronted by the hungry crowd, although they have heard Jesus announcing the Life giving Law afresh ‘you have heard it said, but I say to you . . .’, they still do not remember who they are, they still do not remember that the Law Giver of Sinai is the same One who feeds his children in the wilderness. The one who feeds his people through their obedience – ‘This is a wilderness, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ they do not recognise the Life Giver – they too think that we make our own lives, ‘let them go . . . so that they might buy food for themselves’ They have forgotten the ancient words of the prophet – forgotten their roots, forgotten who they are
‘Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price . . . Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. Listen so that you might live. Israel’s teacher feeds his flock – and the disciples are supposed to understand ‘‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ Jesus calls them to obedience – a life giving obedience. ‘You give them something to eat’
Here is the heart of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus – in obedience to Jesus His life is shared. Obedience to God in Christ leads to Life for the whole world. But they still have to be taught this. ‘The Disciples replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ obedience to Christ is life giving for all. Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.
Between our house and Yvette Williams, there is a Sycamore in midlfe. But last year part of it had to be taken down, a branch died off. The problem? the Roots, As the field had been excavated to build the nursing home, a senseless digger had cut through the trees roots. A tree is a thing of Wonder  We are dull to Wonder almost like no generation before us. A tree takes that which is death to us, Carbon Dioxide and turns it into Life – in the form of Oxygen.
So a healthy church can indeed inhabit what is a highly toxic environment for faith. The difficulties of the Church are not to do with the toxic culture, for ours is the Life of the one who hung on The Tree – His Life in us is Life for the world, irrespective of how much the world denies that life. The problem of the church is that it has ignored its roots, it is shallow. It has paid little attention to its roots and rather sought to shape itself with regard to culture. The world produces Carbon Dioxide and worse, strangling all of Creation, the Church is often too eager to mimic the world is the endless and hopeless quest for relevance. But it need not be this way.
As roots stabilise mighty trees in great storms, so the Church who remains deeply connected to Jesus – who knows HIm as her life – who seeks only to do his will – who desires only to feed on him in Word and Sacrament, the Bread that comes from heaven, truly in the gales of this present age, it will stand firm.
The tree with no roots, fed from the toxic streams of individualised modernity . . . great is the crash thereof. As without Roots a tree cannot live, so our Roots must go deep deep down into Him, the one who says ‘whomsoever is thirsty let him come to me and drink. Out of the believers heart will flow streams of living water’
If we imagine one of those trees in our church, As it grows it adds girth which adds to its strength above the ground. Still utterly dependent though on the roots. So as the Church grows it acquires The Tradition – those things which come from Christ for our health, which make HIm present to us. The Creeds which remind us of the truth of Christ, The Scriptures which testify to Christ, the Sacraments, Baptism by which we are included in Christ, the Eucharist in which now and always Christ feeds God’s children.

Dying matters

theelvesareheadingwest:

Wise council from +Nick

Originally posted on Nick Baines's Blog:

The Church has got to face up to the reality of the world as it is lived.

So, Lord Carey has changed his mind about assisted dying by polarising ‘compassion’ and ‘doctrine’, and stating that the church had to come to terms with ‘lived realities’.

Set aside the fact that Lord Carey continues to do what his predecessor never did – keeps on queering his successors’ pitch and seems unable to let go – and we can focus on the nub of his argument. Millions of words are being poured into the media today, so I will put a sideways perspective I haven’t seen pursued in the debate so far today.

  • Who decides what constitutes ‘compassion’? Especially when we know from many terminally ill people that they might well have urged assistance in their dying at an early point in their process, whilst moving on as they came to terms…

View original 343 more words

Sermon for Sunday July 13th – 2014. 4 after Trinity. 15 in Ordinary Time

Sermon for Sunday July 13th, 2014
Matthew 13:1-9;18-23
Romans 8:1-11

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,
it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples”

What is the purpose of human life? What is its goal? The Apostle Paul had a very short and memorable answer to that – ‘For me,’ he said, ‘to live is Christ’. Jesus Christ was the purpose, the source, the compelling energy of his life. He understood his life as being for Christ. Christ was his life.

And he expresses that understanding in a very particular way that does not sit comfortably with us – as he says in his letter to the Romans But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ, does not belong to him. Christ was Paul’s life – in a way that went beyond many contemporary understandings of ‘Christian faith’. It was not simply that Paul believed some facts about Jesus, but acting on those facts he had repented, turned towards Christ and received the very life of Christ in his own being. ‘Repent, be baptised and you will receive the Holy Spirit’

So he will declare to the church in Corinth, your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. That, to use an old phrase, the church is made up of those who have received the very life of Christ himself. ‘To Live Is Christ’. So too, let us listen to our elder brother in faith, St John the Evangelist – Evangelist, one who declares the evangel, the Good News of the Kingdom of God which Is this new Life in Christ. How does John put it in that prologue which we hear at midnight each Christmas?  He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

To those who believed in the name of Jesus, God gives power to become his children, his offspring – born of God. To the question, ‘where is the Spirit of God, the Life of God in Christ to be found?’ the first answer is ‘within us’

Today we have that familiar parable of the Sower and as I’m sure we know, there are no parables in John’s Gospel. Parables are about things being hidden. Jesus uses parables a lot. And they are used as Jesus explains, so that those who want things on their own terms won’t understand, that is by and large the powerful, who are usually the wealthy. Those who want something they can turn as it were to their advantage. As the Word is made flesh in one who comes to us in weakness and poverty. Like ‘a child’. So the message isn’t heard by those who cannot become as a little child. As we heard in the gospel last week, Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

But John does not use parables – rather he confronts us with the reality of things. His gospel and The Apocalypse, the book of Revelation go hand in hand – both showing us how it is, Reality – a reality it is hard for us to comprehend or accept. Put another way, we might wonder why or even complain that Jesus speaks in parables which are to the powerful difficult to understand, but then not like what is said when he speaks plainly, such is our perversity. And I use the words ‘us’ and ‘our’ advisedly for Jesus parable of the sower, of the seeds, of the soils, does concern those who never come to believe, but it chiefly concerns those who do – that is those who would call themselves his disciples.

John presents the Reality of the parable happening in front of our eyes and it is about the disciples.  So the seed which falls upon the path. ‘When anyone hears the word of the Kingdom and does not understand it . . .’ In John’s gospel, Jesus is accused openly of being difficult to understand, or better, hard to accept – so the word which was sown on the path is snatched away by the evil one.

John 6:60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’ 61But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, ‘Does this offend you? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But among you there are some who do not believe.’

In the parable, Jesus then speaks of the seed which falls upon the rocky ground – the word is first received with joy; yet such a person has no root and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away . . .

John again, 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.’ Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.
Do you see? The parable being worked out in front of us. So there were those who had set off, perhaps even joyfully following Jesus, but when Jesus makes himself clear in his teaching, they disassociate from him . . . when Jesus makes himself clear, they disassociate from him . . . When it becomes clear Who Jesus is, they choose another path. How much contemporary faith pays little more than lipservice to Jesus Christ, how much contemporary Christianity is little more than Deism – that philosophy which understands what it calls ‘god’ to be as it were a chaplain to our lives, and one who often seems to fall down in his duties towards us – a philosophy which does not believe that one cannot know God except in and through Jesus Christ and indeed that Jesus Christ himself is our life, apart from whom we have nothing of true worth. So there are Christians who began with devotion to Jesus but when his teaching became too inconvenient for them, they chose another path . . . one that seems wiser in their eyes, more sophisticated.
Then of course there are the seeds which fall into the weeds – but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the world and it yields nothing. Amongst those disciples is one who betrays Jesus – Judas. Whenever we are tempted to think we can handle money – we should remember the one who handles the money for the disciples. Money and wealth distort our vision perhaps more than anything else. They promise us securuty and power – they take us away from dependence upon God in Christ. Previous generations knew this well, we with all our sophistication and yes, wealth, think we can handle it – but money always handles us. So the cares of life comes and the lure of wealth suggests to us that it might deal with them, rather than casting them upon Christ.
John is the one who reveals the Reality. This Word, this Life that is sown . . . the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us . . . the varied responses to the seed in the parable John reveals to be the response to the Word made flesh, their response to Jesus. For the teaching that people could not understand, which caused some to turn back and which in the end drove Judas to betray was this : Jesus said ‘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. 54Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.
Jesus the content of our faith, Jesus our Life, and for that reason, the Eucharist is the heart of our worship. This faith spread like wildfire in just a few brief years. Some might think that such close identification of the elements of the Eucharist with the body and blood of Jesus to be a late Roman Catholic change. But from the first there was devotion to Jesus exemplified in the Eucharist.
Listen to these words of St Ignatius of Antioch. Ignatius was Bishop there for forty years – from AD 69 until his martyrdom in Rome, fed to wild beasts for the entertainment of the sporting crowds. His letters to the churches we still have and what is clear is that from the outset THE dispute was around the significance of Jesus. He writes to the church in Smyrna – one of those to whom the Risen Christ speaks in the book of Revelation ‘Glory be to Jesus Christ, the Divine one who has gifted you with such wisdom. I have seen how immovably settled in faith you are; nailed body and soul as it were to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, rooted and grounded in love by his blood . . .’  ‘Let nobody be under any delusion (of course they suggested that the humanity of Christ was such a delusion) – there is judgement in store for those who have no faith in the blood of Jesus . . .’ He speaks of those who do not believe thus: they have no care for love, no thought for the widow and orphan none at all for the afflicted, the captive, the hungry the thirsty . . . They even absent themselves from the Eucharist and the public prayers, because they will not admit that the Eucharist is the self-same body of our Saviour Jesus Christ who suffered for our sins, and which the Father in his goodness afterwards raised up again . . .’ We do not know, but Ignatius in all likelihood would have known John – and they speak with one voice to us.
John does not deal in parables, but he does mention a seed. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus here of course refers to himself. His Life, The Word, the Seed, falls into the good earth and there dies to bring forth a crop, as yet uncounted. For what is in the Seed but Life, and that Life of Christ bears much Life, in Ignatius, in John and down through the ages to us – and in every generation the proclamation about Jesus goes forth, and some do not understand, and there are others who start out with joy but then when the teaching seems to hard they fall away, and others deny him seeking not His Life, but rather the life afforded by wealth or other distractions . . .
What is the purpose of our life?? To bring glory to God. How? “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples” And how do we bear fruit? By lifelong attentiveness to Jesus Christ, our life and light. I do wonder sometimes if we tempt people to think that they can move on to some more sophisticated faith by teaching the children all about Jesus? Except of course, what else do we have to offer, but his life in us??
Fruit bearing is our goal, our purpose. As Christ says to his churches, those who persevere to the end will be saved. There is no moving on from devotion to Jesus. And calling men women and children to active faith in him. We are here today because of the faithfulness of many generations of those who loved Jesus Christ – and like seeds bearing good fruit have passed that love on to us. People who endured terrible difficulties for the sake of Jesus.
As this year we remember 200 years of the preaching of the name of Jesus upon these shores it is worth remembering the terrible privations of those who first brought the Gospel to these shores. Of how they laboured for years, often seeing little fruit. Yet their Seed, falling into the ground has continued to produce the fruit of the gospel to this day, which is the life of Jesus amongst us. Holding on to Jesus is Good Work – the work the Father gives is to believe in the one whom he has sent. Listen to how Luke concludes the parable :- But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance. ‘But Why?’ an uncomprehending world might ask? Why? We can only give the answer that Peter did when others fell away ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’
Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God,
that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Amen

Sermon for July 6th – 2014 Matthew 11:16-end

Sermon for Sunday July 6th 2014

“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life . . . ” 1 Thess 4:11 (NIV)

John Knox, is reputed to have said ‘It would be better for a preacher to stumble on the steps up to the pulpit, fall and break his neck, than to fail to put into practise what he preaches’ I am very glad that we don’t use the pulpit here, and not only because I should by right have already fallen many times from its steps in the three swift years I’ve been here . . .

15 years ago, last Friday – I was ordained to the Priesthood in the church of Christ. Amongst other things I was charged to model the life Christian life amongst the flock. Authentic Christian life requires us to live lives which are transparent to those amongst whom we live, this is what Our brother John mean when he says ‘Walk in the Light’ – Christians don’t play that dangerously self deceptive game – ‘God knows me, so no-one else needs to’. We confess to one another, it’s part and parcel of the Christian life. Therefore, as the person charged with modeling this life amongst us I confess. I have sinned . . . I have been working too hard.

Just incase you’re worried, I’m not going to engage in public soul searching – just confess it, place it in the light.

I don’t mean to excuse this in any sense when I say ‘I’m not alone in this’. Whenever working people gather the question is – Are you Busy? I can’t recall anyone ever saying ‘No, I’m not’. Indeed I’m not sure what the response would be. Perhaps if you are engaged in paid employment you might similarly reflect upon your own work and fellow workers, and what response someone would give to being told ‘I’m not busy’. It is almost as if the Good answer is ‘of course I am busy.  We all are, aren’t we?’ Long hours in our culture are seen as ‘Virtuous’ – Or better we feel they MUST be virtuous. We do not try to think too hard about it. We all Know that no-one on their death bed says ‘if only I’d spent more time at the office!’, but that wisdom doesn’t percolate much into the reality of our lives.

Work has long been a research interest of mine. Amongst the research I note that all the evidence shows that working hours have been rising inexorably since the late middle ages, that is precisely since Western culture began its now completed uncoupling from a Christian world view. On average people work harder now than at any time in history. The less Christian we have become the harder we have worked. Long hours are declared by our political Lords and Masters to be a ‘good thing’. Our government rejects calls from the UN to address the culture of overwork New Zealand – despite the fact that contrary to the myth, Kiwis enjoy a much poorer work-life balance than in most developed nations – scarcely better than that self declared ‘light to the nations’ the USA which has what some learned commentators have called a culture of ‘total work’. ‘Work’ we are told, ‘makes us free!’ [Let the reader understand]

We are encouraged to find our life’s meaning in our work. Aunty Ada asks little Johnny, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ by which we all know she means ‘What paid employment would you like to be engaged in?’. Every time we ask this of our children we confuse their very existence with their Work as we have confused our own. We rephrase Rene Descartes – ‘I work therefore I am’. Therefore for someone to say that your life’s meaning is NOT to be found in your work – that hard work and long hours were not in and of themselves ‘a good thing’ or virtuous, is ‘The end of the world as we know it!’ It would radically call into question that which we hold most dear – to put it in biblical language – it would be an assault upon our idolatry. And it is idols which above all deform our existence.

Terrified of this challenge to our lives, we are trained in NOT condemning overwork as morally reprehensible, (as we did before the late middle ages). Consider had I stood here this morning and confessed to murder, or theft, or adultery – I have no doubt at the very least some would get up and leave, and others might send a quick text to the bishop. But Working too much???

Murder, theft, adultery, might direct our thoughts to the Ten Commandments. Funny how some we treat more seriously than others. I could confess to murder and everything would implode. But I could confess to covetousness (indeed I have done so publicly here in the past . . . :-) ) – or working too hard and its likely no one will call me to account in terms of Sin, so much is it part of the way of the world in which we live. Thus the Sabbath is rightly described as one of the Commandments we boast about breaking.  The Sabbath is given Precisely NOT as taking a day off, but as a critique of overwork. Sabbath Limits our work under the Old Covenant in which we live not by Grace but by the Law. It stops us allowing the world to shape us too much out of the way of the one who promises Rest

And of course clergy are no more immune to the ‘way of the world’ than others. A few years ago, a colleague of mine leading a Diocesan study day on a book he had written on clergy self care and rest. It was a wonderful day, the atmosphere amongst us changed, we really began to see there was another way as we began to see how we’d been led astray by the working in the way of the world, not as consistent with our faith in Jesus.
And Then right at the end, the Bishop got up to speak. He began by commending the author for a very fine and very thought provoking day, BUT . . . and you felt the sense of hopeful expectation dissolve as he re-inforced what the world had always told us – that we had to work hard!! Still under the Pharaoh – Still in Egypt – ‘the glorious liberty of the children of God’ no more than an illusion, or the hope of something better after we die . . .

Being so shaped by the world – is precisely what Paul is speaking of in Romans 7 – and what Jesus encounters as he comes to his fellow Jews. He has come to announce Life and Liberty in The Kingdom of God. John the Baptist, his herald has been trying to clear the way – but no-one is listening. ‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, 17‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ ‘For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’
Jesus comes announcing Judgement and Life! But there is no dancing to the message of Life he declares, nor is there mourning over the Judgement. John is too austere for their tastes, and Jesus too Free . . . and it’s very worth asking ‘are we any better?’ Do our lives – better our life together – declare that the world’s ways are under judgement? That ‘the way of the world’ has had its day? Does our life together reveal a life which in its freedom from the way of the world? A Life that might look like the kind of dangerous nonsense one might perhaps Crucify someone for? A Life that threatens our captivity?

It is a commonplace to look at Jesus and say ‘why crucify someone whose message was love?’ But that of course is to only tell half the story, It’s why we struggle to tell anyone the Good News . . . and our gospel has done this again – so we hear these words about dancing or not, about Jesus and John as eating and drinking, or not, but then the next few verses are missing – Then [Jesus] began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. 21“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.” In Word and Deed the flute – a New Song was being sung, and you did not dance – Judgement of the way of the world has been declare and you did not mourn. It will be worse for you than for Sodom.

For Jesus fellow Jews had by and large conformed their faith to the life they were living. It was easier to conform their faith to their familiar lives, than have their lives disrupted by their faith. Jesus embodied teaching was dangerous nonsense, to obey him – well it would mean the end of life as we know it. . .  which of course is true. It is why by and large Jesus teaching is still ignored to this day, even amongst those who bear his name. Jesus said – ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you’. Yet many Christians continue to say that someone needs to put bullets in another person to secure the State. Or rather they say ‘wars are just’ – but this is the same thing. Jesus says – sell your possessions and give alms to the poor – How many Christians see no problem with acquiring possessions? Jesus says ‘Do not worry’ and we think him a fool . . . Jesus says ‘Come to me – and I will give you rest’ How many think there is nothing sinful in our culture of constant work.  Jesus present in judgement, but holding out the gift of Life, and few respond. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa!

In conclusion I want to think briefly again about my role as a priest amongst us, that bishop  of whom I spoke, and the Sabbath.

‘I will give you (pl.) rest’ Perhaps nothing more marks the abandonment of the Hope of the Gospel by a culture than its abandonment of Sabbath – and in Christian circles its pietistic reduction to ‘a helpful individual practise’ at best. Why I must ask do Christian writers not see that an individual Sabbath is no Sabbath at all?? Perhaps because our notions of rest are more shaped by ‘the way of the world’ than by our story, Our Story.

The Sabbath was given to a people and only makes sense in terms of a people Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; 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. (Note, this command is addressed to the powerful – the wealthy! Telling them that if they do not rest, neither will those upon whom their lives rely. If you do not rest, neither does anyone else . . . I’ll come back to that in a moment. The Written word is Always addressed to those at the top. Prophets largely speak to Kings. It rarely if ever speaks directly to the poor and the weak, but to the rich and the powerful, because their lives are the lives on which the lives of the poor and the weak are understood to depend. If the King is anxious, if the CEO does not sleep, then neither will their workers – you are back in Egypt . . .) Remember that you (you heads of families and nations) you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.

Secondly, then, a powerful person, the Diocesan CEO – the Bishop . . . I still wonder what on earth possessed him to undo what my colleague had done. Why he couldn’t let it be . . . and the only answer I could come up with is that he didn’t trust his clergy. He thought the wheels would fall off if they paid too much attention to rest . . . well if he was that anxious about the church, then perhaps the wheels needed to come off

You see those at the top really do set the tone. In reality, no matter how much our individualised faith denies it, they are or they are not vehicles of Grace and Life for their people. Why else take so much trouble over choosing a parish priest? That is why my overworking isn’t just a matter for me but for us all. My life does affects all of ours and just this week God in his severe mercy showed me something I hadn’t seen.

I’d been aware – it had been mentioned a couple of times at Vestry – and I do keep my ear pretty well to the ground :-) that church life had become very busy . . . of course I should have heard that better and I didn’t. Why were we busy? Because I as your priest was – why were we overworked? Because I was overworking. Pharaohs and hebrews, CEOs and workers, Kings and nations, Priest and people . . .

You see, for all we may well at times act as if it isn’t true, we are one body, not a loose afiliation of religiously inclined individuals. We are the body of Christ. And some of us are called by the Church to be channel of Grace and Life to that body, or not. As the scriptures make abundantly clear, those called to lead are held accountable before God, for the life of the whole.

And so not only do I confess to my overwork, and seek your forgiveness, I apologise for it as well and seek Grace to find a better way.

Perhaps some time with the words of Jesus from today’s gospel would be a good place to start. I don’t generally go in for the Message translation, it is after all, very American :-) but how about this ‘“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

You see there is Good Work, but only Jesus shows us it – and supremely it is revealed in Who he is not what he does. Perhaps we might train our children better, so that when Aunty Ada asks them what they want to be when they grow up they might reply ‘meek and humble of heart – just like Jesus’ The HIgh Priest whose life, unlike mine, is only and always Good News.

Amen

Sermon for Petertide 2014 – St Peter’s Caversham

Sermon for Petertide 2014 – St Peter’s Caversham

Matthew 16:13-20

‘For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid;
that foundation is Jesus Christ.’ 1 Corinthians 3:11

One ‘benefit’ it might be argued of living in a house with members of ‘the younger generation’ is that from time to time they alert me to ‘things that are going on ‘out there in the real world’. So just a few days ago they drew my attention to the advertisement for paywave – that supposedly liberating mechanism for paying for all things whereby you only wave your debut card vaguely in the direction of the till and automatically money is removed from your account. Why we don’t see this as troubling in the extreme I don’t understand, but what I found compelling was the form of the advert, in which the mechanistic, indeed robotic actions of the people in the video all ground to a halt when some ‘less Advanced’ human decided to pay by cash . . . I will come back to this chilling description of the ‘Advanced’ human so mechanistically described in a moment or two.

Just this week, clergy and other members of the Diocese have been gathered at Holy Cross, Mosgiel for our annual Ministry Conference. During a lecture on the Acts 2 Church from the Revd Dr Christopher Holmes of Otago University, Father Hugh pointed out that Peter in his sermon at Pentecost breaks every rule in the preachers handbook . . . which is good news for me as your visiting preacher this morning. For of course if Peter does it, then why not me :-)

Peter of course is a most convenient clothes horse on whom we are all invited to lay all our own failings as disciples of Jesus, and thereby to excuse them. His refusal to accept that Jesus must die which led to the most stinging rebuke from our Lord; and of course his three fold denial – these amongst other things are held up as a reminder that this ‘Rock’ is far from rocklike, and that all our failings are thereby somehow perfectly acceptable behaviour . . .

This approach however does a disservice to Peter, and I say this not as an act of politeness to your Patron Saint rather that purely to understand Peter in terms of his failings is untruthful. Peter in and through the Living word reveals his devotion to Jesus, and calls us to the same.

You will remember the incident with the Rich young man, whom turns away from Jesus’ gracious invitation to follow – Peter declares truthfully ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you’, and he has, along with the other disciples. Peter three times declares his love for Jesus, yes haltingly but with increasing exasperation as Jesus encounters him following his resurrection. That Peter loves Jesus is in no doubt . . . and for this costly love alone, I think one might well say ‘If only we had more like Peter . . .’
Not primarily because of the virtue of devotion in and of itself, but because of its focus. Peter leaves his nets, at the call of Jesus, his devotion, albeit fragile when enacted, is to Jesus, and it is for Jesus that he will at the last bear the fullest martureia, the witness to Jesus Christ at his own crucifixion at Rome.
Peter, humanly speaking is the lens through which the evangelists most sharply focus our attention on Jesus Christ. And so for this aspect of his life, his witness, we may well cry out ‘Oh that we had more Peters!!’

A further presentation during the week was from Kevin Ward from Knox College on his research into the place of religion in our national life here in New Zealand. Amongst many all too familiar statistics of decline and the inevitable rehearsal of the line ‘people are Spiritual nowadays not religious’ – for which read, we are more ‘Individuallistic’ than ever before – in the midst of this were some findings on people’s ‘spiritual’ beliefs. That there is an increase in people who believe in some sort of life after death, and in heaven, BUT that belief in a personal God was on the decline; the understanding of God as ‘spirit or life force’ was on the rise; AND Belief in ‘Jesus as Son of God’ was also in decline.

Of course, one does not need to be too close an observer of the life and liturgy of the Anglican Church in New Zealand to recognise how deeply these changes in the wider society are endemic in the life of this church. So reference to God by that name which is revealed , Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, is sidelined for the deeply impersonal ‘Creator, Redeemer and Giver of Life’ – thus without a backward glance, Jesus Christ wiped from our liturgical consciousness.
Devotion to Christ becomes a rather quaint historical relic, as we shop for a psychotherapeutic, Christless and thus more advanced and ‘spiritual faith’ . And so the church withers . . . for as Jesus declares, it is precisely upon the confession of Jesus as Messiah or ‘Christ’, as the Son of the living God that the church is built, or better, that Christ himself builds his church upon that confession. The very foundation of the Church is the confession of Jesus Christ as Lord to the everlasting glory of God the Father. Without which there is no Life in the Church, for He is Her life

Now of course in focussing upon Peter’s confession, it may seem that I am coming down on the side of the confession of Christ in that age old dispute: that is ‘is it Peter or his confession upon which Christ promises to build his church?’ Not so! Peter and his confession cannot be so undone, however much we have been trained to think they can. That move, that determination to see this as ‘either-or’ is part of the philosophical undoing of word and person, of heaven and earth, of the disappearance of Sacrament – which has increasingly bedevilled [sic] the church since the late middle ages – and in that undoing denies us the very life which we seek to declare, the Only the one in whom Is Life, which is the Light of all people. The One whom the Father reveals to the faithful heart as the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Our words will be shouted from the rooftops – we are our actions, we are our words. Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Son of the living God goes beyond mere words – it is lived out in his ongoing witness. Person and word woven together; and through this, Peter’s witness, Jesus declares ‘whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven’. In the confession of Word of Life made flesh, the participation of heaven in Earth and Earth in heaven is revealed, most apparently to the eye of faith in the Eucharist. Everything held together.

We live in dangerous times. Those ‘Advanced’ thinkers amongst the flock who seek often with good intent to disconnect the person of Jesus of Nazareth from ‘the eternal spirit which we have come to call God’, in so doing deny our true humanity, which can Only be known in Jesus Christ. Formed from mud yet also God breathed – the pinnacle of creation, the joining place of heaven and Earth, human kind is made for fellowship with the Triune God, revealed to us in the Second Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ. Where, most especially in the Church, that is denied, we who are called to reveal the truth of human existence instead leave the door wide open to those who will redescribe human being in terms of the machine. Robots in a queue with our paywave cards.
Quite literally for our part, Everything hangs together in and on the embodied confession of Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of the Living God, the daily work of the Church in the pattern of St Peter.

Amen

Sermon For St John the Evangelist – VERY transferred . . .

Sermon for St John the Evangelist – transferred
Sunday June 26th
1John 1
John 21:20-25

Patron Saints – neglected friends?

Just the other week someone asked me a question, to which I didn’t know the answer and rather than do what everyone seems to do nowadays – go to Google – I just sat with it. The question was this – ‘How do churches get their patron Saints?’ It’s not entirely a question just of the moment for next week I’ve preaching at St Peter’s Caversham for their patronal festival. John this week, Peter next – rich fare. But how are they chosen, and does it really matter?

Of course there are some churches, such as we have here in Dunedin – who sort the problem by having the complete set, All Saints :-) Or those who denying the need for mediators ignore the Saints all together and go straight to the top – Holy Trinity – Christ the King . . . a sort of Patronal oneupmanship :-)

But what’s the deal with Patron Saints? A couple of weeks ago I remarked that we should say ‘Our’ St John the Evangelist. But why?? Why bother with a Patron St at all when for most of the year we treat it as a matter of no consequence. Why not just be Roslyn Anglican Church?

Over the years I’ve served under the patronage of St Lawrence – the patron Saint of toasters – and if you don’t know why, ask me later :-), St Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles, St Aidan The Apostle to England. St Margaret of Scotland. Oh yes, and St Mary the Virgin. I have to say that Mary caused me more than a little disquiet, and perhaps was the reason why I tend to think we are missing something important, treating our patronage as it were as an incidental, little more than the occasion for ‘a patronal festival’.
For a number of years I taught in a Roman Catholic High School. I was VERY Protestant at the time, which I failed to see was a HUGE problem, not only re the Saints, but also for being a Christian, period. When I was Year Dean I had to conduct a weekly assembly, and once a year the Head teacher would arrive unannounced to conduct the assembly. Which would be all about Mary. For it was well known that Mr Kyte’s year group did NOT pray the hail Mary!!! When the school building was being re-ordered, a large statue of the Queen of Heaven had to be moved from its pride of place, and my colleagues thought it the height of good humour to reposition it in my office, ‘so that Our Lady can keep an eye on you, Eric’ :-) And there she stood for six months, watching me. But there was something far worse to come when as the Vicar of St Mary’s I had to confess to my Spiritual Director that I had a worrying sense of attraction, even devotion to Mary. To which without a moments hesitation she replied, ‘well of course, she is the mother of God’ . . . My heretical Protestantism was at this time beginning to wear a little thin, but all the same, the idea that one might as it were begin to have an acquaintance with the Saint as friends, as someone you might possibly look up to was to me still an awkwardly novel one.

In the Catholic school in particular I was of course encountering that culture which gives us patron Saints – that throughout most of church history these matters were treated with far more significance – after all people thought that their patron saint might indeed be their patron, might be, indeed WOULD be praying for them . . .

Some years ago at theological college I remember one of my lecturers recounting a strange vision he’d had. He wasn’t given to such things and it was a vision, not a dream. He was wide awake. And he looked up and saw slumped in the corner of his study what looked to him like a Roman soldier, a most unkept Roman soldier. He was bedraggled and smoking a cigarette. My friend, at the time of the vision the Vicar of a large suburban church asked the man who he was. ‘I’m your guardian angel’ was the reply. ‘Well if you are,’ my friend retorted ‘why do you look such a mess?’. The ‘soldier’ looked up and replied – ‘because you never give me anything to do!’ He realised with a jolt that the world was not as he had been told

One of the besetting sins of Protestant faith, made worse by the way technology gives us so much apparent control over the world, is that sense of ‘I can do it by myself!’ I can have my Own relationship with God, I don’t need Saints to pray for me – I don’t need the Church. ‘I don’t need you and you don’t need me, and if you do it is because you are less than a whole person. You are incapable of standing on your own two feet’. As I said a couple of weeks back, the compelling aspect of that vision of heaven where people fed one another with 6ft chopstick was that it exemplified the fact of our mutual interdependence which the modern world strives with all its might to deny.
We who are Protestants have lost the awareness of The Communion of Saints – that sense that we are part of a Community of faith, a community of mutual interdependence in the here and now which is at the same time one that stretches back through the years – and is very present and alive to us, did we but know it.
As I often remark, ‘Oh that we could See what was going on as we came week by week to this table, with these people, in the presence of St John the evangelist and all the Saints’. Who better to pray for us than those who dwell in the nearer presence of God, of Christ? Who better than the one who reclines against Jesus at table – who enjoys intimate fellowship with Jesus?

One of the matters that is concerning me at the moment is this question of living as an intergenerational community. We take it as a given that young folk and old folk live in separate worlds, at least in the church – so we are separated now. But One way in which we might begin to address this is simply for those who are older to actively disciple those who are younger – to be as it were parents in faith, older brothers and sisters. And so ‘Our’ St John – like in my family we say ‘Our Hannah’, or you might say ‘Our dad’, so ‘Our St John’  – Whanau

Our brother John is the one who gives the lie to individualised faith. And so often portrayed as the one who makes faith ‘other worldly’, is actually the one who says to us ‘Reality is staring us in the face’. As we begin to explore what it means to be disciples of Jesus we learn from John – ‘by this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another’. What does Jesu say is the Essence, the core of the Christian Life, of being a disciple?? Reading your Bible? Praying daily? No. Having a wonderful time with God on Flagstaff?? No. our older brother John points us to Jesus – by THIS shall you be known as disciples, your love for one another. The mark of authentic Life is mutual devotion to the flock. We love Jesus no more than we love his body, and indeed ‘the least of these’. With THESE people. THESE people????!!!!Yes, they desert me, they will abandon me, they let me down, I feel as if no one cares for me here . . . me me me me . . . but of course you have done the same to them. None is without sin. Here is the thing John is trying to tell us. Life is found in the company of these sinners . . . open your eyes – Here is Reality
John tells us of that wonderful conversation Jesus has with Peter, where Jesus asks ‘Do you love me?’ and when Peter protests his love, Jesus redirects his gaze to the church ‘love them, then’. I don’t know if you are given to warm devotional feelings in the presence of Jesus?? They’re only as real as the warm devotional feelings you have to those people who deny you, let you down, abandon you . . . Love one another as I have loved you, they abandoned you? They abandoned me. Did I love them the less??? And you are saying that you NEVER did the same to them??? How many of my body go hungry and you dine sumptuously every day? How many of my body go naked and you are always dressed in the best money can buy? . . . do I need to go on?? . . . There is no devotion to Christ without devotion to the ungainly fleshly incarnation of his body. John like the big brother in faith he is shows us that there is no love for Christ that is not evidenced in love for his flock. There is no such thing as an individuals ‘spiritual’ relationship with Jesus, locked away from the realities of the Church – for Our John tells us, ‘The Word has become flesh’
Our Life is in the other.

And here’s the thing, miracle of miracles, it is precisely in that difficult, at times all but impossible devotion to the Saints that we encounter Christ in Reality, not the Jesus of ghastly emotional pietism, but the one who is The Truth. Devotion to the Saints always leads to truthful devotion to Jesus. All else is an illusion. I know of no authentic Christian whose life speaks Truth who is not devoted to the Saints – all of them, those we can see, and those who gather in myriad clouds with us around the table. Life. We have been taught, a relationship with ‘Jesus’ is easy – it is our relationship with his followers that is difficult. But that is a Lie – it is Unreality – illusory. Jesus makes it clear over and over and over again, to be his disciples is Hard. ‘Do you love me? Really? Show me – love my body – really Love me . . .’

Faith in Christ is only known in Community – in shared life. Listen again to Our John, to the words he has written to us . . . imagine him now listening, like a good elder brother hoping we will hear him, hoping we’ll get it We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

Listen to his language – rooted in the community of faith – We declare to you, what we have heard, we have seen, we have touched – we are writing these things . . . The Community of faith . . . The Rich fellowship of faith. We declare to y’all – can you hear the church that has gone before us speaking to us? We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us . . . Come! Join us! ‘so that you also may have fellowship with us – and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ!!

As I have said, we are trained in our culture in individualism, we may deny we are individualists but we lie. It is the air we breathe and only together might we begin to craft a different way of being b the Grace of God. But, I wonder how we heard those words of Peter as he looks behind him to John – ‘but what about him?’ We might be thinking, yes but Jesus treats us as individuals – which of course is true – he gives to each different giftings, to each there is a different calling. But they are to be worked out in the Community of faith. We all to easily miss the richness of Peter and John’s relationship. Peter at the last supper only has to motion to John for John to ask Jesus who is to betray him. Perhaps here too Peter looks back and sees John nod towards him, motion him ‘What about me?’ Peter’s question might not be one of ‘well that’s not fair what about him??’ It may well be, what about my brother John, what have you got for him?? After the resurrection, for a large part of the book of Acts, Peter and john are inseparable – Peter and John went to pray, Peter and John before the authorities, Peter and John in Samaria. Is not Peter’s question a mark  of devotion for his dearly beloved brother John . . . Our brother John . . . who is always finally doing one thing – directing US as his sisters and brothers towards Jesus. That WE together might enjoy the fellowship of all the Saints in glory – with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ . . . and note his love, or rather the love of the Saints for the church here below . . . we are writing these things that our joy may be complete . . . without you, he says, it is not the same , without you, without you, without you

That Christian Joy is completed when All are gathered in, when none are lost, when every one has Eternal Life in the Communion of the Saints, that is fellowship with the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ

Amen