Of Love, and our loves . . . 23 after Trinity, Year B, 2018

Sermon for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity, Year B, 2018

Deuteronomy 6:1-9
Psalm 119:1-8
Hebrews 9:11-15
Mark 12:28-34

‘How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead observances to worship the living God! ‘
Hebrews 9:14

‘Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.’ Ephesians 5:1,2

The Christian Life is from beginning to end a life of Worship of the One true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, held in existences we are In each and every moment by the Love of God.
It is in God and through God that we have life, and our worship is the rational offering of ourselves as ‘living sacrifices’ to use the words of St Paul, offering that Life continually to God as He continually offers His Life to us. The Flow of Love from God and to God is the fullest meaning of our existence, revealed to us in Jesus, who only does what he sees the Father doing. His very Life lived as the dearly loved child.
This is the entirety of Life free from sin. Truly to Love is to worship. We find an echo of that in the old marriage service where the husband is called on to worship his wife. Worship is Love set free from the distortion of Sin.

Love of God in all through all and above all is our human vocation, and for many many years we knew this. It was the clearest vision of our life in the Church. After the Psalms the most preached book in the Scriptures was the Song of Songs. The Song of the Lover to the beloved and that Love returned.

Yet, sin above all, distorts our vision, and so distorts our Love. Sin fractures, breaks apart. The word diabolo, which we use for Devil means to throw apart, to separate out. Love is thus fractured. It is not One, it breaks up and turns Love into loves. It suggests as all things diabolic do, that love is a matter for our choice, or, for it is the same thing, our power.
Do I love this? or that? or the other? Will I? This is of course to understand oneself as separated from Love. Will I take up Love, will I walk in the way of Love, as if it were an option, rather than the very essence of Life, rather than its very Flow.

Through Sin, we love what we see, or we do not. We learn to love by sight and not by faith. So this or that or the other thing, this or that or the other person captures our gaze. Depending on our decisions. Of course we might blithely assert, I love everyone! Until that everyone become the person who suggests to you that love is something you can choose, and we choose not. Love in the General, doesn’t boil down of all in all and through all. We see, but we do not See, and thus we do not love.

As we remember last week, the consummate disciple is the blind man, Bartimaeus. The one who does not see as others see – but who Beholds God in Jesus Christ. He does not see a world of things which possess his sight, captivating his eye, and thus holding him back from this Life with Jesus.
But it is those who think they See who have the problem – for our eyes are captivated by many things – we are like Martha distracted by them. They hold our attention, and thus we are held by them. Like Martha we are divided, pulled apart – the literal meaning of distracted. But this is not the Love of God. For this Love is the Love of pure freedom, Love itself Free. The One Thing Necessary.

Love’s best visible examples as so often, because of course it points us in the direction of the deepest truth, is the love of a parent for a child which becomes the free love of the child for the parent. This reveals to us the deep reality before Sin gets in the way of our Life, first loved by the Father, and then ‘loving because He loves us. In those early days before Sin distorts the picture and from time to time makes love a matter of will or choice – of our power.

Just at the moment, one of our daughters’ is learning just how Lovely she is, as our grand daughter loves nothing better than to gaze at her mum, at EVERY hour of the day and night!
How has she learnt this loving gaze? Well of course the is returning the gaze of love which she has received since the hour of her birth. As St Paul puts it, ‘there is no compulsion in Love’. Love cannot be demanded. Worship, Love is the return of that gaze of Love of the Father

In a deep sense this is why God comes to us in such unlovely form. His Love manifested in the crucified One, of whom the prophet says ‘there was nothing in him that we might desire him’ God does not compel us to love him, so when he appears it is in a form which we may miss. We are to Love by faith, not our distorted sight.
Thus he reveals the true nature of Love – it has nothing to do with things that are seen, but those which are unseen. ‘You did not choose me, I chose you’ Says Jesus.

Throughout Mark’s gospel to date we have noticed how over and again, the disciples fail to see for their eyes are fixed on things seen, that are passing away, not on the Eternal One. They fail to see the hidden unseen way of Jesus, and in truth fail to see Him for who he is, except very occasionally.
Finally it is the Blind Bartimaeus who reveals the nature of true discipleship, going to be with Jesus, as Jesus fills his vision, his imaginative world. The Eye of his Heart is pure and clear, and thus he is in a sense safe to see.

So they come up to Jerusalem and we have skipped a little bit of the story – Jesus has cleansed the Temple, causing a bit of a ruckus. And then he is asked a series of questions. our gospel reading is the last of those questions. As the story of Bartimaeus brings to an end the quest to reveal the true nature of the disciple, so this last question puts an end to the questions.

Briefly the other two questions, for the illuminate the final question.

First term is the familiar question of taxes to Caesar. The Pharisees ask this. There lives are tangled up in a sensitive relationship with the Roman authorities. They depend on Rome for their power and influence in Palestine, most notably in Jerusalem. They are wary of upsetting this relationship – it fills their view. We might consider this like those who spend their time on the internet, troubled by the state of the world, constantly worrying that this or that or the other will cause things to fall apart. Living in fear.

Of course the question is also a trap, but Jesus handles it with ease, for Caesar does not fill his vision. The Pharisees do not love God – they are terrified of Caesar. Yet Jesus reduces him to his place, a two bit tyrant who feels the need to stamp his image on bits of metal . . . whose image is this? What do you see? Of course the Pharisees notoriously, like us, love money. Money gives you power, you can choose how you use it – you can giver it away, or you can keep it for yourself . . . this of course is how we think of it as well. And like the Pharisees, taxes and Caesar’s loom large in our mind. We give ourselves in devotion to them out of fear . . . better get the right government, or it will all turn to custard. We are careful with our money . . . we worship it, we love it. God disappears and our neighbour disappears – we carry devices which tell us moment by moment how much money we have . . . For our vision is fragmented, we see many things, but one thing is necessary. ‘You do not love God’

Then the question from the Saducees, not seven brides for seven brothers but one bride for a succession of seven brothers . . . They do not believe in the Resurrection – Jesus tells them, ‘you do not believe in the power of God! God doesn’t fill your view! You do not Love God!
As St Paul puts it again when he is being tried ‘Why would anyone think it extraordinary that God raises the dead?’ Of course if your eyes are not on God, then it Is extraordinary. In the same way that the rich man acted in accordance with what he saw, but acted wrongly – so the belief in the Resurrection depends on whether you See the One God! But their vision is fragmented! Seven to choose from. Whom will she love?

In the same way that Bartimaeus receives the sight that in a sense he already has – his faith reveals his Sight – so the Resurrection is also Seen, by those who See God – for to See God IS Resurrection life. Barnabas, although he is blind Sees! He leaps up – he Comes to Jesus, he Comes to Life with Jesus, he throws away his funeral shroud cloak, and sets out into Life

So Jesus rebukes the Saducees – you do not know the power of God – you do not see him – you see your thorny metaphysical and theological problems – they fill your view. We could say a great deal a this juncture about the church and her obsession with this or that or the other – no Vision of God . . .

The Pharisees see Caesar – they do not See God, the Saducees see problems, they do not See God. There are so many things, so many many things which obscure our vision – holding it captive. In the church we get consumed by issues – it is as if they hold our vision – not God.
This is what it is to give up on worship, and thus our giving up on Life itself. We invest heart, soul mind and strength in this aspect of church life, or that campaign – we are consumed by it . . . when we are called to invest our all in God. To Love him with all we are – ‘that my whole being may proclaim, his being and his ways’ It is to live The Life which is from God and for god and Too God.

So the question in todays gospel is The Question. And here we find something most remarkable – Jesus is commended for his answer by the Scribe and in a sense reveals himself to be a disciple in repeating Jesus’ answer to him – revealing that he is not far from the Kingdom of God

BUT . . . it seems to us perhaps that there is a problem. The first one is simply this – we might be tempted to think that Jesus adds to the Great Commandment. That Love of Neighbour is an additional command, to Love of God. We might say ‘well the Pharisees or the Scribes were very religious but not lovers of neighbour’. Yet the two earlier questions rule that out – their problem is that they don’t love God – they fear Caesar – they do not believe that God can raise the dead. God is Small in their eyes! In the words of the writer to the Hebrews, their religion is dead observances. They observe correctly all the feasts, but their heart, soul, mind and strength are not focussed on God. They do not Love God

It’s like putting all your effort into Christmas for the sake of Christmas and not for the sake of God himself! Dead observances

But the second problem is more worth considering – ‘if I love God with all my heart and soul and mind and strength, what is left over for my neighbour?’

We come back to what it is this Christian Life – it is the worship of God – it is the Life of God flowing out and returning – it is that Love which moves the stars, that Love which calls everything into being and sustains them – it is the totality of Love. To Know that Love of God, to return it, is to live in Love as St John puts it, to begin to Know Love as existence and Love as something which can only be shared. We are not held captive by it, it flows – it is like a might river flowing, we share in it – as does everything and everyone else! To Know Life, to Know Love is to Know that our life is with our neighbour. For that very Love and Life which by the grace of God Is our Very Existence, is also our neighbours. My brothers Life is my Life!

To See clearly is to See the same Life in our neighbour as is in us – ‘it is to See our neighbour as ourself’, a vision made possible by the Love of God, by the Life of Worship. It is no longer to love by choice, by an effort of will – it is to become that which we love – which is the End for all of us.

We become what we love. If we love things that are passing away, we will too pass away, but if we set our hearts and minds and souls and strength on God who IS Love, we by Grace Become Love also, and thus the love of neighbour is the most natural thing in the Universe, which is how it is Created to be

Amen

‘Gone to be with Jesus’ – Sight Restored. Sermon for 22nd Sunday after Trinity – YrB2018

Bartimaeus reveals the true nature of discipleship – going to be with Jesus.

Sermon for the 22nd Sunday after Trinity – Year B, 2018
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52


‘Gone to be with Jesus’


At the beginning of this past week, a friend told me of the death of Eugene Peterson, someone whose writings I’ve closely read, a most gifted pastor, but above all, in all and through all, someone who deeply loved Jesus. We Might say “he has ‘gone to be with Jesus’”, but is that really what has happened?

I was forwarded some words from his family which I think teach us something about reality as we Perceive it as Christians.
Speaking of the time of his death they said – “During the previous days, it was apparent that he was navigating the thin and sacred space between earth and heaven, we overheard him speaking to people we can only presume were welcoming him into paradise.”

I have to say that I wasn’t surprised – this isn’t the first time I’ve been privy to such accounts. I remember the death of a dear friend, whose last days according to those who sat with her, were given over to speaking with and encouraging those who were making the same passage.

In both cases, I knew that for these people, it would be perfectly natural for them to see things so clearly in their final hours, for they lived with a deep sense of the closeness of the realm of the eternal, indeed a vision of it.

I don’t mean by that that they ‘visions of heaven’, as if this was something ‘supernatural’ or ‘out of the ordinary’, but rather that their hearts and minds were naturally and in their ordinary lives set on God and the things of God. It was the natural ordinary air that they breathed - the air of the eternal woven into the temporal. In this way their lives were not only receptacles of but also pathways of Eternal Life into the world, in the pattern, in the deepest sense, of Jesus Christ, in whom heaven and earth are woven together. They lives being woven into His, the intersection of Earth and Heaven was not alien to their life. Eternal Life was something Present to them in their 

It is a matter of note that so many of Jesus healings are those of the blind – those who cannot see – for it is our Vision which needs awakening. We live day to day in the world in the way that we perceive it. How we See is fundamental to how we live. To Live the Christian Life is to See the world at the intersection between Heaven and Earth, to See the rich tapestry of the Eternal pervading the Quotidean, it is to See Jesus as Present, to the end of the Age.
If like Peterson and my friend we have Seen Him and live with eyes fixed on Him, if we perceive the world freighted with the Glory of God as revealed in Christ and Him Crucified, if we See aright, then there are times when we realise that boundaries between heaven and earth are not as concrete as we might have otherwise assumed – that is that there is little but our blinded sight which ‘separates’ them.

I don’t mean by this, to repeat myself, that we go around having ‘heavenly visions’, but rather that we know the truth of our faith that in Jesus Christ, Heaven and Earth are woven together. Put another way we learn to set our hearts and minds on Jesus . . . we learn to Love Him, in all, things through all things, and above all things.  And we see things as they really are - having left all things for Him, we discover that we have all things in Him. We discover that our life is in him and his in us - woven together. Following Jesus, we Know and Experience Real Life as that Gift coming  to us from God in each moment of time, the eternal flow of the Spirit.

This is an act of learning to see the world aright – and as I corresponded with someone regarding Peterson’s last days a description came to me, of our Christian life as a journey of learning to see – of Imaginitiation – our initiation into the Christian Imagination. For as we See, so we Live, so we Walk to use the Greek verb for Life. In the same way as our daily path in directed by our sight, so Life in its details is ‘Walked’ in accordance with our Seeing.

This put me in mind of some words I referred to when we first came here seven years ago. They are the words of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Paris, Suhard.

“To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.”
We Walk according to Sight of Jesus, we Walk with Jesus

If God n Christ is always before your eyes, if we love him with heart should mind and strength then your life takes on a different direction. It doesn’t follow the well worn world weary grooves of existence ploughed by so many around us. We find our selves in more ways than one at Cross roads, at Cross purposes. Standing at the Intersection between heaven and Earth – (St Paul uses the phrase ‘standing before God’) – Where others see barriers, we See God. Where others see impossibility, we See God, where others See anything other than God, we See God. Your life takes trajectories are unthinkable to those who do not as yet See.

If we consider the gospel from a couple of weeks ago, Jesus’ encounter with the Rich man. His actions make perfect sense if he does not See God! If we don’t See Him in Jesus then the man’s failure to give up al he has and follow him makes perfect sense, it is the height of reasonableness. Perhaps this is the sting of this story for us – his behaviour is too reasonable to us who have an abundance of possessions, which possess our attention. It causes us to ask, do We See Jesus? Do we see the Eternal woven into flesh and blood?
The man sought eternal life – yet he didn’t recognise it stood in front of him . . . He just didn’t have an imagination filled with God, he didn’t in the deep sense of the word Fear God. His possessions possessed his imagination. He couldn’t See – his Stuff stole all his attention. (Some wonder if ‘demonic possession’ is real, if demons are real – they seem not to be anything we come across, yet demons don’t need waste their desperate and limited energy with possessing those who are possessed by their possessions)

As we have been journeying with Jesus in Mark’s gospel, we have constantly come across instances of the disciples failure to see. When Jesus rebukes Peter with those stinging words ‘Get behind me Satan!’ he follows up by saying ‘you are setting your mind not on the things of God but on the things of men.’ For having acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, He still doesn’t See. God doesn’t fill His vision – you do not Know Him – you only see as the world sees.

And so another encounter. Jesus has passed through Jericho – he’s not stopping there he is on his way towards Jerusalem. And as he passes by the gate, the place where in times of old the ruler of the city would sit in judgement over the cases brought to him, there sits one Looking – Looking for Mercy – the blind beggar, Bar-Timaeus.
We come here in many respects to the climax of the journey so far, the End of the continual failures of the Disciples, brought to an end by True Discipleship. As Jesus is about to go up to Jerusalem, after all the failures of his disciples to See, and to Follow – to go with Jesus in truth, here finally is a disciple.
‘One of those little ones’. A man like a child – without any power – utterly dependent on alms from passers by, uncluttered by visions of power and possessions, for all his blindness he ‘Sees’, in contrast with all those who have think they see . . .

And just as the disciples hinder the little ones being brought to Jesus, so too many people try to quieten him. You can imagine the dynamic, like the self important disciples dreaming of power – what place does this nobody have in the story? We’ve come to watch the Jesus show, Be Quiet!But that is just it! They have just come to watch – Bar-Timaeus wants in on it – He is the one who enters fully into the story, he steps into Life.

At the command of Jesus he leaps up from the ground, throwing away his cloak, his security, his cover for the night, as day light breaks in. He abandons what is in effect his life – for Real Life.
And his cry is so unlike any other made to Jesus. ‘Son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me’ – not a theological question, unlike the disciples asking for seats of authority – indeed he cries out for something Only God can do.

The words of address Jesus uses to him are exactly the same as to James and John with their request for seats of power. “What do you wish that I might do for you?” James and John don’t understand Jesus or See him truthfully for what they ask of he cannot give. ‘To sit on my right or on my left is not mine to give’ You can share my cup and be baptised with my baptism, you can share my death and so share my life – for that is all I have of mine own to give, my Life, but who gets crucified along with me, well I guess that that is in the hands of the Romans.

But Bartimaeus asks according to true sight. For all he cannot see Jesus, he can See him. “What do you wish that I might do for you?”
‘Rabbouni’ he cries out. Robbouni – the cry – heard only on the lips of Mary Magdalene in the Garden on Easter morning. The word of her shocked recognition – My Teacher! My Life – Eternal Life is Seen by Mary – it is Seen by ‘Blind’ Bar-Timaeus.
Faith has been awakened in Bar-Timaeus. Rabbouni, my teacher, he Recognises Jesus – “Rabbouni! That I might see again. And in a sense all Jesus does is to name that awakened faith – he as good as says to him, ‘There is in truth nothing wrong with your Sight – you See well enough’ Your faith has healed you. Your Vision is Fine and Good 🙂 Go!

Well where do you go? You’ve left your life behind – you’ve begun the heavenly journey, where He is your Life. You follow Him, you go to be with Him . . . think of those words – ‘gone to be with Jesus’ – Oh that that became our way of speaking of the Christian life!! In the days that follow the crowds may wonder. I doubt they will have seen – they hadn’t given much consideration to him in the past. ‘Where’s he gone, that beggar? Bar-Timaeus??’ ‘Oh, I think he’s gone off to be with Jesus . . .’ He no longer fits into the imaginative life story of the World. He’s gone off into another story.
When we look to Jesus, what do we see, but the place where Heaven and Earth are woven together, the place where the Life of Heaven, the Life of God re-enters the Creation, and we go to be with him, in the between place, the woven together place. Betwixt heaven and Earth – manifested in the Cross

The author of the epistle to the Hebrews puts it like this
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, [again a matter of heaven vision] let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

What do we Fix our eyes on? This is the great question of human Life and Death. In the garden our forebears, surrounded as they were by the Glory of God fixed their eyes on the apple. We fix our eyes on that which we love. What is our Love? Is is Love Himself?

The Rich man had so much that his eyes were fixed on. His vision was full of his Stuff. Bartimaeus has only his cloak. With so little between him and the heavenly vision, like the finest of gauzes, he threw his cloak, his old life away, he leaps up and comes to Jesus.

What obscures our vision of Jesus? Are our eyes fixed on him? Has our Christian image Initiation been growing? Has it begun?

Where do we fix our eyes? Eugene Peterson loves Jesus, his eyes are fixed on Him, the joining place of heaven and earth. It was not a sign of his piety that he was blessed with this encounter between places – rather it was a sign of his Loves.

To fix our eyes on him is to begin to See Heaven, to see it woven into Earth, to See the Eternal as illuminating the Temporal – it is to be initiated into Christian Imagination. It is to Go! To be with Jesus.
Amen

Of Metaphysics and Marriage

Sermon for Trinity + 18, Year B – 2018

Genesis 2:18-24
Hebrews 1:1-9
Mark 10:1-14

‘More things in Heaven and Earth’
Of Metaphysics and Marriage’

Having listened to the gospel, it may be that our thoughts are on Jesus’ teaching on Divorce and Remarriage – just at the outset, let us remind ourselves that Jesus’  words about not entering the kingdom, are addressed to those who do not receive it like a child . . . We ignore the words about children at our peril thinking that it is the ‘Adult’ words which are Obviously more significant . . . and thinking of children directs us towards those words in Hebrews, about angels . . .

Listening to the reading from Hebrews I wonder how many of us pondered the place of Angels in the great scheme of things?
You may remember Jesus dramatic warning regarding the little ones from last week – words, I should add addressed to us all – regarding ‘causing these little ones to stumble’? If we followed these words in Matthew’s gospel we would read this ‘And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire.‘Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.’

The role of guardian angels is a mysterious one. I know of three experiences of encounters with these creatures, one my own, but perhaps the most striking was a conversation with an elderly parishioner when I was a curate. As a young mum, perhaps suffering from post-natal depression, she had gone to take her own life, and had placed her head in her gas oven when she saw ‘two enormous feet in front of me, stood in the kitchen’ She had caught a fleeting glimpse of that which lies beyond our usual sight.

Yet Jesus speaks of what we call ‘guardian’ angels in particular with respect to children, or at least ‘little ones’. ‘their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.’

Angels belong to a branch of science, largely forgotten called metaphysics. We have all heard one ‘Metaphysical question’, concerning angels, namely ‘how many angels might dance on the head of a pin’. A question which perhaps sounds ludicrous to us, but to those who asked it wasn’t unimportant – the question was essentially, do angels take up space in the world in the way we do, or could you place thousands of them in the same space, the head of a pin? What is the nature of this unseen reality which surrounds us?

Such questions are questions of metaphysics, or put another way, if we remember the famous quote from Hamlet – questions of the ‘more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio’. Questions of the very nature of our existence. Even ‘ordinary’ physics speaks of aspects of our existence which make no sense at all – are impossible to our way of understanding things.
When I trained as a physics teacher, half those training with me were Christians – perhaps as Christians we had more time for the weird world of quantum mechanics and special relativity, for the holographic nature of the universe, or the notion that every solid object is full of light . . . perhaps we were more open to the mysteries of physics, because we were comfortable with its older brother, metaphysics

Yet, as I said, Jesus speaks of guardian angels in particular with respect to children. And he speaks of children here in the context of speaking of marriage.

As I have said once or twice these past weeks, our habit of chopping the scriptures up into segments according to topic, destroy the fabric of the picture where themes are woven together throughout the gospels. They are a narrative, not a ‘collection of sayings’. So we might think that our gospel today we have ‘a saying of Jesus about marriage’, followed by ‘an incident with children’, as if, perhaps conveniently they were unrelated, but inconveniently perhaps, they are not. We may well sing that ‘love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage’, but perhaps at least as significant if not more so, do children and marriage.

We have noted these past weeks how there is a too and fro between the disciples and their assumptions about power, and greatness, and Jesus repudiation of such power, and over and again Jesus brings a child into their midst . . .

There is a discussion about marriage and divorce, we might say a conversation between adults as all these conversations seem to be, as if children don’t have a stake, yet ‘their angels continually see the face of [the] Father in heaven.’
There is an ‘adult conversation’ going on – and then the disciples try to block the children from coming to Jesus, from getting in on this adult conversation . . . it is hard not to feel the significance of this. Adults arguing – children kept out of the picture, Those with power deciding their own lives, but not only there own lives – the powerful deciding for the powerless, and the powerless the innocent victims of it all . . .

Of course our society is full of such conversations. Recently as you will be aware there have been conversations about Euthanasia going on in our country. What sticks most powerfully in my mind when this topic is raised is the look in the eyes of elderly people . . . for this is a discussion happening amongst the powerful. Those who have control of their lives as they see it, and who want to keep it, and listening in, those who sense that the determination of some to have power of their lives over their lives will have consequences for them . . . after all, in a world dominated by money and economics, by usefulness, by ‘the working life’, what we mean by a meaningful life takes on a very different hue . . . so it is the vulnerable elderly who have good cause to fear . . . despite the ‘adults’ the powerful ones saying – ‘there there it will all be fine.’ Being powerless helps one to see much more clearly what is going on . . .

Well so too, the children. But let us first look at Jesus teaching on marriage and divorce – and again we shall turn to metaphysics. Here Jesus is confronted by the pharisees – although we have skipped a verse. The context is that Jesus is teaching the crowds – so here we have a teaching session and the pharisees use it as an opportunity to place a distance between Jesus and the teaching of the elders.

‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ Of course in the culture of Jesus, that a woman might divorce her husband was simply not a possibility . . . but where in either case are the children?
Jesus answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.’ . . . and Jesus replies ‘Because of your hardness of heart [Moses] wrote this commandment for you.’ Because you were determined to have it your own way . . .

‘But,’ says Jesus, ‘but from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.”

Perhaps the two most powerful words in Scripture, But God . . . and then Jesus quotes from Genesis. Not only have they lost sight of the children, they have lost sight of God. Perhaps when it is issues of power we lose sight of all that seems to us powerless . . .

‘but from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh.

And here we come to metaphysics of marriage. This is no mere human contract between two autonomous individuals – In the joining together of the man and the woman something which is at once New, and as old as Creation itself comes into being – or something Old is revealed once more – in that the two are made one flesh as of old the one became two. Where the unseeing eye might look only at two individuals who have chosen a way of life together – what is seen to the eye of God is something He has made, a marriage.

A New thing is made - there is still the man and the woman, but now they are husband and wife - a new thing has been made, has come into existence - the one flesh, the marriage - and it is God’s Creation! Thus the metaphysical significance of the declaration at a marriage which are the very words of God himself in Jesus ‘That which God has joined together, let no man separate.’

Through the self giving of one to the other, the man to the woman and the woman to the man, God creates a marriage, God does
The couple gives their consent to the marriage – marriage must always be freely entered into – but it is God who makes the two, one

As he makes the water, the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the baptism of Jesus, as he makes the bread and wine the body and blood of Christ, as in Christ he joins together things heavenly and things on Earth, so in the same way he makes of the man and the woman a Sacramental Union, a one flesh . . . a new creation – can a human undo what God has done?? Can one separate a child into two parts?

. . . and the blessing of that union? The one flesh fruit of it? The child. Here we might say is the visible manifestation of a marriage – Called forth from God.

As I said last week, Jesus constant reference to children lead us to sentimentalise his saying. Jesus blesses the little children, declares them blessed. The fruit of the marriage, is its blessing. But ‘in the real world’ . . . in the real world we come up against the harsh realities of life for children, of life for those whose ‘angels continually see the face of [the] Father in heaven.’ The disciples, the adults, want a ‘real world conversation’ – Jesus in speaking about marriage, in speaking of divorce, in blessing the children shows them The Real World, of things which we do not see, but are so very real.

In this light we must be so grateful for the words of Jesus from the Cross, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do . . .’ yet we need also to remember, that the words of Jesus are the very words by which worlds are created – when he declares ‘the two shall become one’, then he speaks that which is so . . .

We who are adults are so full of our stories of ‘the real world’, once more Jesus takes a little child, those whose angels continually see the face of [their] Father in heaven, and reveals the true nature of things – for Christ is Himself the fullest manifestation of the true nature of things

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen

‘Making Life Difficult . . .’

Sermon for 18th Sunday after Trinity, YearB 2018

Numbers 11
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

‘Confess your sins, one to another and pray for one another that you might be healed’

On (not) making life difficult . . .

Years ago I remember a chance remark my Spiritual Director made to me about her own perspective and how it was changed. She had been visiting her own director and in a conversation about her parish said ‘well at least I’m not responsible for their salvation’ – to which her director shot back, ‘what on earth gave you that idea?’

As James says ‘My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.’ . . . ‘confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.’

James the brother of Jesus seems clear enough on this responsibility for one another’s Salvation life, yet, starting from Cain, humankind has tended to ask over and again ‘Am I my brothers’ keeper’, and if we listen we might hear the Lord reply, ‘his blood cries out to me from the ground’. Our lives are intimately woven together – we ignore this at our great peril, indeed the challenges we face in the world in this hour are deeply rooted in this loss of consciousness amongst us.

We are responsible for the life amongst us. And our lives can either assist the flow of this Salvation Life, or impede it, and sheer ignorance of our responsibilities in this regard lead us far more often to the latter, rather than the occasional ‘accidental’ moment when by the Grace of God, our lives intersect those of others in a way which causes faith to spring up . . .

The prophet says of Jesus ‘He grew up before the LORD like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.’ Easy to miss, easy to pass over, easy, all too easy to crush as Jesus keeps reminding his disciples, yet they seem not to get the message.

Last week we considered character of the Servant – and prime amongst the characteristics of the Servant is gentleness – Wisdom from above comes to us in humility and gentleness and it is easy, tragically easy to crush it, by following the way of power.

As we have said Jesus follows the way of powerlessness, in the way we understand it, in the way we use it without reflection. But as I was reminded by someone on the way out last week,’but we have the power of the Spirit!’ To which Yes, and Amen! The power of the spirit, gentle as a dove . . . all too easy to impede. All too easy to make life difficult . . .

We continue our readings in Mark’s gospel and the narrative of powerlessness, and of following the path of gentleness with the disciples again getting it wrong. Jesus has just put a child amongst them, he has said – ‘he who welcomes one such welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me’ Jesus comes amongst us in many ways as a little one, as a child, yet John seems not to get it. “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.”

Perhaps one of them was a disciple on the edge of the group, seemingly unimportant to the apostle John, who after all has recently been on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus, so OBVIOUSLY is a Very Important Disciple – and he throws his weight around . . . like all those who think themselves important – the irony is that having come down from the mountain they come across some of the disciples who can’t cast out demons! So here is someone who can and they are stopping him . . . Making life difficult – opposing the power of God . . . Perhaps the one casting out demons who John stopped is literally a child – after all isn’t this what children do? They See Jesus casting out demons, and they copy him . . . in simple faith

Jesus commands them not to stop such as these, for if they are channels for the life of God, they will soon know the one from whom that life comes . . . done as it is in the name of Jesus.

But Jesus goes on to issue a warning – ‘If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.’ Those who have any sensitivity to matters of faith in Jesus Christ know how very very easy it is to crush it . . . the words of Jesus are the starkest of reminders of our responsibilities towards those young in faith, both children and adults . . . we can permit the gentle work of the Spirit space, we can refrain from laying heavy burdens, we can seek always to encourage ad to build up . . . or we can do the other, and we are responsible. When Jesus says ‘great millstone’ he’s talking about one that a donkey would have turned . . . it is so easy to make Life difficult

What is more e often do this in a way that makes out we are helping . . . we get in the way. Often we might do this by seeking to please a third party. Why after all does John tell Jesus what he has done? The subtext is, ‘we knew you wouldn’t like this so we put a stop to it . . .’ It’s a stark warning not to act on behalf of others, especially to please them

It is so easy to snuff out this Gentle work of the Spirit – God does not impose himself. I remember speaking with a doctor friend about some wonderful healings I knew of that were taking place. She was a little sceptical – she wondered if those who claimed such things would open them up to ‘scientific’ testing . . . not understanding that this was entirely contrary to the hidden small work of the Spirit . . . Not realising that she was asking God to bow to her command . . . which is of course what is going on . . .

Finally there are Jesus’s stark words about cutting off hands and feet and gouging out eyes . . . It is so very easy to get in the way of the Spirit in the lives of others, to crush the tender shoot – and it is very easy in ourselves. If carelessly crushing the work of God in a child or young disciple bears such consequences that it would be better we were thrown into the depths without hope of return, then we need to do all in our power Not to do it – for our lives are woven together,

Jesus’ words on cutting off feet, and hands and gouging out eyes come into focus when we realise the huge responsibility we bear for one another, not putting obstacles in the life of Grace in them for the consequences for us of doing so are terrible for them – and us. This only makes sense when we see our lives are woven together

The word translated Hell here, is Gehenna – it is the name of a valley close by Jerusalem – it was until the time of King Josiah a place of Child sacrifice – although the story goes that to put a stop to it, he turned it into the rubbish tip, so the imagery of fires and worms would be very clear to the disciples.
What is Jesus saying here? That in ignoring the work of the Spirit, amongst the least of these, amongst the children and those new to faith – you would be in danger of going to the very place where at one time all the nobodies were sent for sacrifice. The announcement of the Justice of God is one of the great reversal. In the words of Mary our Mother – He hath cast down the mighty from their seat and raise up the humble and meek He hath filled the hungry with good things and the rich he hath sent empty away.

Jesus is saying you are so casual about getting in the way of others, but equally casual about your own sin! You should take great great care over both! Yes, we are responsible for our own Salvation and for that of those around us. The two are intimately woven together.

For everyone will be salted with fire – here the idea of Salting is that associated with purification in the old rites of Israel – the refiners fire of Malachi. Don’t lose that purifying salt in your life, for how can you result salt? Keep Salt within yourselves and be at peace with one another

The words of James point us to this peace. Peace which is no simple absence of conflict – that is no different to death! No Peace in the Scriptures is Rich fullness of Good Life, Shared life – and how is it achieved? Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. This is how we know God’s life amongst us

Like cutting off hand or foot or gouging out eye it sounds hard, but in truth it is the way to healing and wholeness – putting our lives in the hands of those amongst whom we share in Christ’s life – like Christ, allowing ourselves to be handed over

Amen

‘The Way of Jesus – and the way of the world’ Trinity +14 Year B 2018

Sermon notes for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity – Year B 2018

James 2:1-17
Mark 7:24-37

“The Way of Jesus, and the way of the world”

‘Hi brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples will see the work that you do; For no one does something in secret and expects to be in public view; if you do these things reveal yourself to the World” for his brothers did not have faith in him’ John 7:3-5 DB-H

I once received a phone call from Buckingham Palace. (Not because the Queen wanted me to form a new government . . .)
My Church Warden had died and he had been a Lord Lieutenant of the County – the Queen’s Official Representative – so the now Lrd Lt was coming to the funeral, with Mrs Lrd Lt – and there were ‘protocols to be observed’ Special chairs at the front – I was expected as the Vicar to be on hand to show them to their seats – meanwhile the villagers had been crowding in from early to find a seat anywhere – cramped up at the back . . .

The Words of James seemed ‘other worldly’ – My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? . . . Do you really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ . . .??

I was at a church gathering recently when someone said, ‘we must be careful here, or we will become counter cultural’ the person to my knowledge seemed to assume that this would be ‘NOT a good thing’ . . . but the way of culture is precisely to be enamoured of wealth and position . . . it is a human given, and we ought to ask why?

Perhaps an answer can be found in the temptations of Jesus, who throughout shuns the way of the World – once again we hear how he ‘ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’’ Of how after he had fed the 5000 ‘they tried to make him king by force’ . . . take power Jesus, step up! After feeding the 5000 Jesus comes into conflict with his brother

‘Hi brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples will see the work that you do; For no one does something in secret and expects to be in public view; if you do these things reveal yourself to the World” for his brothers did not have faith in him’ John 7:3-5 DB-H

Power – in so many different ways we all crave it. Even the idea that ‘if we just elect the right government . . . everything will be right’ – With Harry Secombe we all sing, ‘If I ruled the World, every day would be the first day in Spring . . .’ This narrative feeds the myth that ‘it is our place to build the Kingdom of God’, or ‘for the love to go on we must make it our song . . .’, or ‘Make America Great Again . . .’ All built from the same presupposition that ‘we can make the world a better place – If I ruled the world . . .’ After all, all of us know what’s wrong with the world, don’t we . . .

As we head into Diocesan Synod next week there is a motion to sell Selwyn College. I’ve listened long and hard to all the arguments, but they all boil down to the same sad old tired story – ‘Don’t sell! We will change the college culture!’ Do Sell, we don’t have the right people in these days to be able to . . . or, if we did obviously we would . . .’ All based on the World’s Sad tired story . . . the myth that if we only did this or that or the other, everything would be right . . . and it is a story that Jesus rejects. Turn the stones into bread . . . leap from the Temple, show everyone how amazing you are . . . only worship me and all this will be yours . . . well its pretty fair to say, it is all ours now . . .

The Way of Jesus is the way of hiddenness – it is the way of poverty in the things of the world – Jesus says, ‘Blessed are you who are poor now, for yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.’

We have a diocesan Prayer which says words to the effect of ‘we need to be doing our bit for the last the lost and the least . . . ‘ it never occurs to us that the people of Jesus ARE The lost, the last and the least . . . ‘Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?’

The poor are the rich in faith – why, because they have no power and cannot succumb to the blandishments of control – what is the prayer of God’s children? Give us this day our daily bread . . .

Which brings us to the gospel and the collision of Jesus with the Syro-Phoenician woman and it is a collision

[Jesus] went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Jesus is once again not showing himself – indeed he has left Judea and Galilee and gone into the territory of the Greeks – Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’

You can almost hear the tutting – you can imagine the shock – perhaps a Synod motion requiring that we do not hear Jesus referring to this woman in this way! And I have heard many a sermon agonising over this text . . . but Jesus is the one who relinquishes power.

What happens?

Firstly Jesus treats her with enormous honour! His opening remark is exactly the way a Rabbi speaks with a disciple – there is a request, he responds with a saying – he is seeking to elicit from her faith. And she acts as a Rabbi’s disciple, she responds to him. On the one hand as someone has said ‘Jesus drops his own honour code, his own honour to respond in the first place’ but more than that he elevates the woman who knows that as a gentile woman she has no call on this Jewish man. He by putting the statement, like God responding to Job, says to her – stand before me, lets have this out . . . Here’s a saying ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ – What do you say to that? And her response is so very illuminating ‘Yes, Lord; and the dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs . . .’

What is happening here is an act of mutual recognition – she has seen the truth of Jesus – the one who has nowhere to lay his head – who has come into a hostile world entirely dependent on hospitality – who says to his disciples 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. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide’ I have no call on you, and you have no call on the world . . . we are in the same position

The disciples of Jesus go out into the world in a position of vulnerability – like the dogs under the table, living off the scraps that are thrown to them. They go out into the world in the way of Jesus. The woman Knows who Jesus is – she recognises one who lives off the scraps himself – she claims kinship with him – and he shares with her what he has – LIFE – and her daughter is healed

So again he goes back towards Galilee and in the region of The Decapolis – an area not under Herod but having some autonomy – a mixed area of Jews and Gentiles. And they brought to him one deaf and mute – and Jesus heals him – and orders them to tell no one but the more he ordered them, the more they broadcast his name – after all – if he can do this, think what he can do, and after all, hasn’t he performs those works we’d expect of the Messiah? The mute speak! The Deaf hear . . .

But Jesus will not put himself in their hands, for they are consumed by the old story – ‘here is someone to rule – here is someone to put it all right’ the old story of power, vested of course in wealth

This Old Story is pretty much the story we live by – it is woven into all our assumptions.

It is a fact little remarked that we seem unable to free the tongue of the dumb, to make the deaf hear and the blind see, let alone raise the dead . . . but is this mot perhaps because we have chosen the wrong story? For ten centuries Western culture has been dominated by the story of power over as the way to ‘make things right’ ‘to build the Kingdom of God’ if you will . . . but as the Catholic philosopher DC Schindler puts it ‘Pure power and utter powerlessness now converge into one, and man becomes the abject servant of his own limitless freedom, a passive object of active power: a slave of modern liberty’

We have so much power – and as we look out on the Creation – we are helpless

Of course, that is not the end, and as always we are offered another way – Follow Me says Jesus, who empties himself of all power, to reveal the Life of the Spirit. He comes to us in hiddenness, in words we may not wish to hear – he comes to us in a crumb . . . a crumb of bread – from where did this crumb fall? He comes to us in a crumb of bread and a sip of wine – he comes to us in powerlessness – and offers to share His Life

To Life! The Command of God . . . and the tradition of men T+14 Year B 2018

L’Chaim

Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity – Year B – 2018

Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-9
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, [9-13] 14-15, 21-23

On Life and Tradition

‘If I were a rich man, Daidle deedle daidle daidle daidle deedle daidle dumb’

So some of us may have gone to see Fiddler on the Roof – you’ll excuse me I hope for my none attendance, but I was privileged many years ago now to see Chaim Topol on stage in Leeds reprise his performance from the film . . . suffis!

I guess, if you know the film version of the play of Joseph Stein’s 1971 book, you may perhaps expect that in the light of Jesus words, “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” I might reprise the words of the song ‘Tradition!’, and say, ‘if only Tevye had listened to Jesus . . . but I’m not going to, for frankly that would be a cheap shot and an ignorant one  – not least because the story is written through the filter of Modern assumptions about the nature of reality, and Modern assumptions tend that ‘Tradition is a bad thing – we must throw off the past’

[Whenever we read modern books or films about ‘The Past – which as LP Hartley reminds us, ‘is a foreign country – they do things differently there . . .’ we need to remember we read books or see films, and the books and films are usually written through our own cultures assumptions about what is good . . . and our culture is not shot through with a Christian vision of the nature of Life . . . but like those of us who wear glasses we usually forget we have them on . . .]

Instead, of ‘Tradition!’ – my song text from the play would be L’Chaim – the Wedding blessing – To Life! It is no coincidence that our Jewish forbears sing ‘To Life!’ for the God of Israel who is The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Commands us ‘To Life!’ His Command is a call To Life!, to Life from death, to Light from darkness. ‘You Must be born again!’ . . . yet it is a command we resist.

Last week I mentioned our grand daughter Naomi, and how she like any young baby doesn’t like having clothing pulled on over her head, because Birth was traumatic enough – she doesn’t want to be born again . . .

What is birth but the calling forth at God’s Creative Command ‘To life!’

The Command of God is always ‘L’Chaim! To Life!’

As we heard from Deuteronomy – ‘So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you.’ . . . give heed . . . so that you may LIVE! . . .

Which is why Jesus is So angry with the Pharisees – for “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition!” . . . Responding to the Loving Command of God which is to Life, you reject it . . . you reject Life!

And Again we reject part of the command – the text is again butchered . . . SIGH . . .

What we didn’t hear was Jesus’ example of this – not watching hands, but the following

Jesus said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘to him who speaks abusively to father or mother, let death put an end’
But you say that if a man says to father or mother, ‘Anything that might have been owed by me to you is qurban’ (that is, a consecrated offering)— then you no longer allow him to do anything for a father or mother. So you Make powerless the word of God why your tradition which you have handed down. And you do many other things of the same kind . . .’ [Following DBH translation]

Well this sounds strange to us, a little obscure, although the command to honour Father and Mother isn’t . . . so perhaps that’s why those who devise the lectionary excluded these words, but in reality they go right to the very heart of what Jesus is talking about

The Command of God is a Command to Life – this is why Jesus is angry with the Pharisees – they have Set aside the Command that gives life – and thus they have chosen the alternative to Life, to Existence . . . death, non  existence

They have done this in two ways – firstly in not honouring Father and Mother they reject their own life!

What is your Life – where does ‘your life come from?’ Can a person truly cut themselves off from their whakapapa? . . . it is like the branch off a tree cchopping down the tree – honour your father and mother, honour your Life coming to you from God.

The Command of God is not as it were a set of obscure and arbitrary demands of a lazy and capricious deity – the Command of God is the Word which calls us into Life and Love, into Grace and Mercy and it is revealed in and amongst us. ‘Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.’ What does parentage, whakapapa tell us – how does it help us to understand and See God?

Why did Moses say ‘to him who speaks abusively to father or mother, let death put an end’ . . . well that’s not very loving!! But all that the law enacts is the choice you have made – not because of the law itself, but you have cut yourself off from life abusing your father and mother, abusing your own life . . . the source of your existence

And we know this – we know this as Christians for it is shown plain to us in the very centre of our faith – What do we see when we see Christ dead upon the Cross? We see the outcome of our rejection of God’s Word of Life. When the human rejects the Command of God, we die . . . there it is on the Cross . . .

Well this comes back again to what we have been considering over and again these past weeks and months – that is we direct our Lives, we Orient them towards God, Life Comes to us from God. And that flows out through us

Here is the second problem with the way the Pharisees conducted their affairs – in their turning from the life giving command of God which embodied in the person of their whakapapa, they then hoarded the life – like those Israelites who clung onto the manna – they ‘consecrated it’ – they told a story about why they couldn’t obey the common of God – they spoke a death sentence not only to themselves but to those around them

Repentance is that turning from non life, a life which denies its life and hoards – towards God in Christ who Is The Way of our Life, towards God, the Truth of our Life, as Children of God, and the very Life of our Life. A Life that enjoys all things but possess nothing knowing that it is given in order to flow through them.

James speaks of The seed of the word – which is planted. it is like a tender shoot, this life giving command of God – it must be nurtured – it needs to be placed each day in the light of the Sun and thus it grows to bear good fruit – the outflow of the heart.

What is that outflow? Again we have missing verses. Jesus tells us nothing going into us can make us unclean – it is what comes out – and he refers to what happens to food when it passes out of the body – but we perhaps are a little to sensitive to think about sewage . . . 🙂 And then speaks of the outflow of the heart – the heart which is not oriented to Light and life but to darkness and death, which does not give place to the Command L’Chaim, to Life, but which is directed towards itself and death

This Life comes to us from God – it is His command – it is embodied in our whakaapa – and James the brother of Jesus and Moses in Deuteronomy echo one another –

‘take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children . . .’

L’Chaim! To Life!

On Reality – Some thoughts

On the self, The Source and what is

Going down the rabbit hole

So a recent fb thread raised the old conundrum. There ‘you’ are thinking something, then ‘you’ observe ‘yourself’ thinking this thought, then ‘you’ become aware of ‘yourself’ observing . . . (well who??? ) thinking this thought, before ‘you’ wonder who is it that is aware of your awareness of observing ‘your’ thought . . . and then to spin that on its head – in what sense is it ‘you’ thinking the thought anyway??

So we chase the rabbit down the hole, in an ‘infinite regression’ [most unhelpful – see at end of piece] to . . .?

The Source . . . where does ‘it’ all come from – where do I come from? Who am I anyway?

The Source. The singularity. the place where everywhere is Here and everywhere in Now. The Eternal . . . ‘outside of time and space’ . . . except this is another problem of our language as Modern Physics is suggesting.

Take for example quantum entanglement. So a pair of tiny wee particles, twins, are separated at birth, and sent in ‘space’ ships to the opposite sides of ‘The Universe’ (clue in the name, btw . . .) where we invade the personal space of one of them, and tweak it to make it spin. Instantaneously and in perfect accord, its twin, an unimaginable distance away spins identically. Perfect synchronisation across any distance is given our perception of time and space impossible. For the action to be synchronous, and identical, they would have to be in the same place. Where everywhere is Here . . . and Everywhen in Now . . . so they must be . . . so . . .

 

“Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.”

 

[BTW this is why evolutionary theory is now disintegrating into fractious communities, because 100+ years after the event biology is catching up with the physics . . .]

 

You shall love the lord your God with all your heart and with all your should and with all your mind and with all your strength . . . Love the Source (in whom everywhere is Here and everywhere is Now) . . . and (then) you shall love your neighbour . . . as yourself . . .

The Old wisdom said – ‘my life is with my brother’

. . . or ‘my spin is with my twin’  – apologies for this, but it tickles me 🙂

 

As The Old Prayer puts it

O heavenly King, The Comforter, Spirit of Truth
Who art everywhere present and fullest all things
Treasury of blessings and giver of Life
Come and abide in us, cleansing us of all impurity, and save our souls, O Good One

 

The First Christians were so excited, because The Source had found them . . .

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

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.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

[btw – 1. we now understand that everything is made of light 2. Big Bang Cosmology is the projection of our own existence onto ‘Reality’ . Everything moving further and further away from the Singularity – the Source – We See as we are.]

 

On why ‘Infinite Regression’ is ‘most unhelpful’

This is the hopelessly [lit.] abstract language of mathematics. it is most unhelpful as it posits an idea that we can conceptualise ‘infinity’, something which relates in more ways than one to nothing, and that ‘regression’ is a very negatively value laden idea in Modernity, especially Anglophone Modernity, where ‘you don’t want to go back to . . .’ is the usual knee jerk reaction to any questioning of the way things are . . .and ‘are going’ (more value laden language – also ‘Progress’ which is a ‘good thing’)

 

On the falsity of (modern) mathematics

What is six take away seven?

‘Minus one?’

I have six apples – I take away seven apples – how many apples do I have . . .

‘errr . . .’

OK try this.

You have six apples
I take away the six apples
How many apples are there?

‘none of course’

No. there are still six apples – it is just that I have them and you do not. [See above on loving your neighbour as yourself . . .]

This is called the conservation of matter and it is the reason why there is no thing we can call nothing, or put another way ‘zero’ relates to no thing. It is abstract, unreal, yet modern mathematics don’t work without non existence, nor does modern science – which we allow to become our descriptors of reality . . . hence ‘we live in a meaningless universe . . .’ because its all based on ‘nothing’

 

This is why 6-6 is none sense [sic]

 

 

 

 

 

The Gracious Invitation – John 6 part 4 – Sermon for Trinity +12 – Year B 2018

Sermon for 12 after Trinity – Year B 2018
Proverbs 9:1-6
John 6:51-58

Gracious hospitality
Where do we live?

Earlier this week we had a curious and telling juxtaposition of readings at Morning Prayer. On the one hand there was a reading from 2 Samuel where David has it in mind to build a house for God, yet through a dream the LORD speaks to Nathan the prophet, telling him, briefly, not to be so presumptuous . . . Against this we read in Acts of the martyrdom of Stephen, and his speech which led to him being stoned to death. In which he recounts this very desire to build a house for God as the culmination of his indictment of God’s people.

He concludes with words inaccessible to David – those of the prophet Isaiah – “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?”

Did not my hand make all these things??

The image that comes to mind is that of a very small child receiving a lego set, and building a house for their parents to live in – but even a toddler would at some level understand that it was insufficient. David’s problem, and to a similar extent ours is – we have lost sight of where we live . . . It is not that God is too vast to live in any house we might build him, it is We who live in his house . . . we are as it were stranger, pilgrims, passing guests . . . yet you would not know. We treat it as if it is ours

If we understood that ‘The Earth is the LORD’s and all they that dwell therein’, would we have brought the house of the LORD, his creation, to the point of destruction. God provides a house for us, and we have trashed it. As we consider the growing climate chaos, with fear and trepidation, one note absent even from Christian discourse is the fear of the LORD – any deep sense that this is God’s house. The skies are my throne, the earth my footstool? What kind of house will You build for Me?? We are perhaps the AirBnB guests from the other place . . .

This failure to see where we are – to live out our lives in the light of this is our failure to Know God – manifested in our failure to Know who Jesus us – to recognise Him. As Isaiah goes on “But this is the one to whom I will look, to the humble and contrite in spirit, who trembles at my word.” To the one who hears and sees me – whose vision is filled with me. This is the heart of the message of repentance – ReOrient your gaze – look to God, for your life is a breath, it is all a gracious gift, and you dwell in his house

And all this comes to a focus in Jesus, and our seeing, or not seeing who he is.

As we have explored a little over the past few weeks, all of scripture is pointing in this direction and towards the person of Jesus. As John reminds us, Jesus invites us to see where He lives – the disciples follow him and ask, were are you staying, and he says, ‘Come and See’ – his first public act is precisely to do with where we live. Destroy this Temple and in three days I will rebuild it . . . they did not understand that he was talking of the Temple of his body . . . the skies are my throne, the earth is my footstool. Life itself flows from Him.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”

He Is Life! He is the Centre of all things, in Him all things hold together.

So the Words of Scripture like those bicycle wheel spokes point us towards Christ Jesus. We gather hear to hear words which direct the gaze of our hearts, that we might See Him and Love Him. Then we feed on Him in bread and wine.

As the old dialect of my home county has it – in the beginning, there were nobbut God. Nothing.

But then God, out of Love, called into existence that which was not God. The Creation. A place where he would walk in the cool of the day, and share it with all that he had made. The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and whatsoever moves in the paths of the deep.

And then, in Love he bound Himself to this Creation. In Christ Jesus, through the obedience of Mary, God as it were wove himself into this Creation in Love. In Jesus the human and God share in Life together, and all who believe in Him, all who See Jesus for who he is are invited to share in the Life of God, a life manifested by the banquet Wisdom has spread.

When we come together to worship as those baptised into the Life of Jesus, God feeds us with His Life, the Life of his Son in bread and wine, and we come to live truly in His house.

So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me – God has built a house – the body of HIs Son, the Church, the body which fills all things, which rooted in the Earth yet touches heaven. the home of all the baptised

Yet God condescends – not only does he invite us to live in him, as revealed through the pregnancy of Mary, in great humility he lives in us.

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me – and I in them.

Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’

The Judeans then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ In bread and wine. This is my body, given for you – this is my blood shed for me – come eat and drink. In bread and wine, the divine life of Jesus is woven into the Creation. this is what we call Sacrament – it is a participation of the things of the Creation in the things of the Creator

When by Grace we are born into the World, a gracious invitation is given us, it is True Hospitality. Everything is laid on. The Banquet is ready – a table is laid for guests whom God desires to make his friends. As the old cultures knew, to accept and invitation to eat together was to accept an invitation into the life of someone else.

The word hospitality in Greek actually carries the sense of making friends of strangers. through our blindness we were strangers to God – God in Christ, heals our blindness and sets a table for us, and wet by week we take up the invitation, to sit and eat with Him. To share in the life of our Divine Host

The question as always remains, will we accept the hospitality of the living God and feed on his Life in Jesus – or will we opt for self catering?

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Amen

Caesar, Food and work – Sermons on John 6 (Part 2)

Sermon notes for Eleventh Sunday after Trinity
Year B 2018

Work, Life, and Food

‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you’ – perhaps amongst the most challenging if not the most challenging words of Jesus . . .

Why? Well because they require us to completely change our economic order

it’s interesting that they come at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, as sermon about Economics – that is how we live together, and then Jesus gets down to ‘the bottom line’ Don’t fret about that stuff everyone else is absorbed in – like what you will eat and what you will wear and what you will drink – for your father in heaven knows you need all these things – rather seek His Kingdom and his righteousness – and these things will come to you.’

Orient your life towards God, and enter His economic order

it is perhaps no surprise that Christian faith so often collides with issues of money – or it should, for money is about the world economic order . . . and it is the order of Pharaoh, or of Caesar, or of the nation state, or big business – it doesn’t really matter when we speak of this – they are all one, in their way of running things, of ordering our economy, our way of living together, which is the way they proscribe for us, in which money and food and work are inextricably linked. And its all directed towards those in power.

[As an aside – this is no clearer than in Matthew and the conversation over taxes – Caesar’s image on the Money – the link between this and ‘the mark of the beast’ in Revelation is clear -without Money, without Caesar you don’t eat, and you eat on his terms]

Well you might think that our gospel today is a world away from all of that – in a sense it is, for the whole of Chapter 6 points us away from all that, to a different economy – one entered on and drawing its life form God in Christ Jesus – but the themes are the same.

As I said last week, Scripture is like a bicycle wheel – all spokes coming together, convening on God, in Jesus Christ. All of scripture is in all of Scripture, but the focus becomes clear in the gospels, where their focus is . . . well, focussed, and most especially in John’s gospel

Some think John ‘other worldly’ a spiritual gospel, but no. It draws together all of the themes of scripture as the spokes converge.

You may remember last week – how we saw the parallels between some old testament stories and what is played out on the shores of Galilee. How Jesus feeding the 5000 on the mountain was the manifestation of that meal of Moses and the elders with God on Mount Sinai

And the event? Well if we remember, John tells us ‘and the Passover of the Jews was near . . . the Passover is near. The Passover, when God set his people apart through the blood of the Passover lamb, and rescued them from the Economics of Pharaoh.

What were those economics? Well oddly enough they had come into being through on elf God’s people. Joseph. In time of plenty he ordered that part of the harvest be put into Pharaoh’s barns. Then in times of famine, Pharaoh graciously sold it back to them, to the extent that in the end, in order to work, they sold him their labour. No longer did the people labour for their own food needs directly, they worked for pharaoh on his projects and pharaoh then would give them money to buy food from him . . . As the French say ‘plus ça change . . .’

If you want to see examples of this in the world today consider those strains of GM wheat etc which are sterile. ‘Hey! come buy our seed! but don’t get any ideas about storing some for next year, because its modified to be sterile in its second year . . . but you can always come and buy some more, at the price we set . . .’

Or Something we have become so used to – 750ml of water . . . $2.50.

The Earth is the Lord’s says the psalmist, but you wouldn’t know it – and so accustomed have we become to this story – that we spiritualise our faith. We dream of another world – after we die. Seek God’s Kingdom – Try and live life here so you get to heaven at the end of it all . . . and if we think John’s gospel is spiritual, and not about the real world, then that merely reinforces that . . .

But you might say. where is Pharaoh, or his incarnation in John 6? John sets him before us as he tells the story – staring us in the face . . . as we heard last week . . . ‘Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.’

As we heard again this week – Then some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.

As Luke tells us ‘In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea . . .’

Do you want know who was truly in charge in Galilee – why they even named the lake after him, and just a few years earlier, Herod Antipas had built a city in his name . . . Pharaoh Economics, Caesar Economics . . . are in full view here. They fill the imagination of the disciples

‘When Jesus looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ He said this to test him, Jesus has one test and one alone – ‘do you see who I am? Do you Know me?? for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip [not knowing who Jesus was] answered him, ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’

Philip only knows the order of Pharaoh and Caesar – you work for money, and with money you buy food . . .

So in the centre of Caesar and Pharaoh economics, where ‘popular acclaim has built a city in the name of the one who supplies food, at a price, on the hill above the lake named after his honour – Jesus feeds the crowd . . . for free . . .

As i said, the scriptures are like spokes – directing us to this very point .. . where the word of the prophets come true

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.

And so it came to pass – When they found Jesus on the other side of the lake, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. You just thought it was a miracle – you thought to make me your king by force because I fed you – you’ll make anyone king who feeds you – you’ll vote for anyone who will set the economy right – as long as your belly is full . . . you didn’t see that the food was pointing you to ME!!

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.’

What is the food that endures for eternal life?? It is the very life of God himself – given to us in Jesus – for This we are called to labour – make every effort to enter in at the narrow gate, for broad and easy is the way that leads to destruction, to the end of life and many follow it, but hard and narrow is the way that leads to life and few they are that find it.

Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ What are they asking here – ‘How do we get bread??’ Work = Money = Bread

Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’

And it is a work – all of the Sciprutres testify to this – throughout God’s perplexity is expressed thus, after all I have done for you – why do you still live under the old economic order . . .?

God rescued his people from egypt – then for forty years they were applied to learning to believe in Him, to trust him – to seek His Kingdom and His righteousness – and yet as they went into the land of promise they forgot and soon looked around them at all they had and were saying – it is my work that has acquired all this for me . . . and so they were given into the hands of another pharaoh and another and another that they might learn . . .

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.

Seek after him with all your heart and mind, and all these things will be given you as well – Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life – set you heart on Hgod in Jesus Christ – desire Him in through and above all things and he will satisfy you – but do not seek him because you want a full belly or an easy life – Pharaoh is happy to sell that to one or two so that the rest can imagine that that is the way – no – seek him for himself

What is the world? to believe in the one he has sent

We have oriented our worship towards God – let it not be an empty gesture. Let us desire God in through and above all things and together let us begin to live out of a different economic order where freely sharing all that God has given us is the natural order of things

in the name of the one who has come down from heaven, Jesus the bread of Life

Food and Life – Part 1 (Sermons on John 6)

Sermon notes for the eleventh Sunday after Trinity
Yr B 2018

John 6:1-21

Food and Life

Part 1

Sermon notes

House prices continue to say in Dunedin . . . a good sign? A healthy Economy?

Economy – a word the meaning of which has so changed that we might ask if it has completely reversed.

The health of the economy . . .

The Economic Trinity?? GDP?? No

Economy – Oikos-nomos – the law of the household – how we live together
(Econ Trin – the inner life of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit)

Rising house prices a sign that how we live together is improving ???

We’ll return to this idea again and again in the coming weeks as we listen to John 6 – Jesus feeds the 5000 and what this means

What is it to live together??

Scripture is like a bicycle wheel – all the spokes necessary for it to hold together – all pointing towards the hub – God – manifested in Jesus Christ, the Anointed One . . .

So this event, this feeding has so very very many echoes in Scripture, for here we are so close to the hub of it all

Jesus comes up on the mountain – God’s people come to the mount of the LORD – as they had come before at Sinai

So the people of God met with the LORD in Sinai – following the first passover – and there’s an incident which man of us may not be aware of – Gen 24 ‘Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. God did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; also they beheld God, and they ate and drank.

they ate and drank with God on the mountain . . .

But the OT is but a shadow of the new – for at Sinai it was just the elders – Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him – not just the leaders, not just the elite – now the people are coming up the mountain

This is the Salvation of God! being enacted – Salvation – Life!
And at the heart of that Salvation – at the heart of Life is food

Another word distorted – Company.
Economy – about how we live together becomes about Work and money, so to Company

What is Company??? Latin- Com Panis – Together with Bread

When you share bread together – when we sit together at table – we share Life . . .

Note last week – I spoke of how we oriented ourselves to the Sun, to Life
It is the Same with Food – it give us Life and it points us to Life
Something happens when we face the Light of Life
Something happens when we share food

One of the prime house price drivers in Western countries is simply this – more and more people live alone . . . our relationship with food is distorted in so many ways, but perhaps no more than the fact that we eat for fuel, often alone – when Food is for our shared existence – for it is Life Shared!!

Food is Life Shared

Most especially when it is the life of another . . . So the lamb of God comes up on the mountain

And we are back in other scriptures as Abraham had come up onto the mountain of Moriah

Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt-offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place ‘The Lord will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.’

Behold the Lamb of God – upon the mountain . . .

Jesus takes the bread – blesses and breaks it, and it never runs out. Indeed it overflows! We come to this table – we sit and eat with God – and the overflow, the twelve baskets full, enough for each of the disciples, flows on out into the world

All things come from God – he invites us to His table to share in life with him – this is God’s Economy – Keeping Company with God

The Faith of The Church in an age of Personal Faith – Trinity Sunday 2018B

 

Sermon for Trinity Sunday 2018
Year B

Isaiah 6:1-6
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

The Faith of the Church
in an age of Personal Faith

At a recent forum, the following question was put to a panel of priests in the Anglican Church, ‘What is your faith?’ What struck me as odd, and which disturbs me all the more, the more I think of it is this, that no one seemed to think it an odd question to put. Indeed it may be that we don’t think it an odd question to put to a priest, indeed anyone baptised into the Church . . . after all, we all have our own personal faith. Some things we choose to believe and some we choose not to, and that is ‘my faith’

We live in an age dominated by the idea that we can choose. To be free to choose is the ‘supreme good’ which we have been trained to worship. The Supermarket with its array of over 150 types of cereals, represents the Cosmos to us, it is our Temple – it places Me the shopper at the very Centre of my own personal Universe of choice, wherein we cry Glory!
Choosing tells us who we are – ‘I choose therefore I am’, and this choosing reaches even unto the most personal matters of my life, indeed of my faith. We not only shop for cereal, we even shop for churches. Is the music to my taste? What of the style of the building? Comfortable chairs or ‘traditional pews’? Is the Vicar nice? Modern emotionally moving songs with a band and a good drummer, or meaningful hymns with a robed choir and aesthetic sensibilities. The choice is yours and as to what you believe . . . If of course your Personal faith includes church going. It may be that in your faith that isn’t necessary. And who is to argue with that! Faith is after all ‘just my opinion’ – Faith on the terms you set.

We live in the Age where ‘The Consumer is King’ failing to recognise that we think this precisely because we have been trained to think that way, that we are at the centre of things with power to choose . . . Yet, Life is not something we choose – it is a Gift, not least manifested in the fact that the very thing that makes us most truly who we are, our parentage, place time of birth . . . these are things we have no choice over – yet they truly make us who we are – something we had no choice over whatsoever. Life is a Gift We are Born into it – and that is the truth of Our Faith

The Israelites cried out in their slavery and oppression in Egypt – and their cry was heard by this strange God who came and rescued them and determined that they would be his people, they would be his children, He trained and taught them his ways . . . and so we must hear the words of Jesus ‘You did not choose me, I chose you, and appointed you to go and bear lasting fruit’ . . . Our Faith – Our Life is spoken to us by Jesus.

Nicodemus came to Jesus in the Dark. In the Dark about Jesus. He was if you like in the womb of Faith – He thought it was all about his understanding Jesus, about his capacity to grasp what Jesus was on about, but Jesus doesn’t clarify things for Nicodemus, rather he seems to confuse him . . .

it is hardly surprising that often coming upon the Church of Jesus Christ, people are confused . . . for it is not about us grasping faith, it is about Faith grasping us!
You Must be born again! Unless a man be born again he cannot See the Kingdom of God! And Nicodemus at least gets the point that this is something outside his control – ‘but how can a man be born after growing old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’

Jesus points him to the New Birth – the Work of God in Saving you from your own personal Egypt – , ‘you must be born from above, born of The Spirit’ The Wind blows wherever IT chooses . . . So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit, they didn’t choose . . . It isn’t down to you . . . The Wond blew towards YOU, and you were caught up in this Life, this Faith – – – and this is deeply troubling to us who are children of the age of choice and being at the Centre of things . . .

. . . and how much more troubling that none of the priests who were asked the question ‘What is your faith?’ answered ‘the faith into which I was baptised, the Faith to which I assented at my ordination, the Faith of the Church which confesses The One God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit as he has made himself known to the Church, which is the Spirit breathed Body of His Son, Jesus Christ, and as set forth in the ecumenical creeds of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic church in which by Grace and through no dessert of my own, I have been included’

A faith which displaces us from the centre, the faith in the God who reveals himself to Isaiah in the Temple – a revealed faith, given to us. A Sacred deposit – not to be tampered with according to our tastes or our moods and whims, according to the Spirit of the Age, but rather a faith which we are called upon to declare afresh to every generation, Faith in the One God, Father Son and Holy Spirit.

This is the faith of the Church – it is the Faith into which each one of us was baptised – it is what makes us The Church, that community not ‘stuck in the past’ as some would have it, or ‘chasing to keep up with the modern world’, but Like a Tree Rooted, by a Stream, not the stream of history, but the Living Water of Eternity. We are a people Rooted in the Eternal God, Father Son and Holy Spirit. This God is our Life. We exist through Him and for Him. We worship only Him. This is Our Faith, flowing down from the Apostles and prophets

The Faith of the Church – Yet still a Personal faith – just not how we think of personal – and a Personal God – just not how we think of Personal . . .

I remember when God finally got hold of me and that faith into which I had been baptised suddenly sprang to life, through no doing of my own . . . what I noticed was how unbidden the cry of my heart instantly became ‘Father!’ It was to be several years before I noticed what St Paul had written ‘When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God’
Since then that cry arising within me from where I do not know, has been at times a reminder of whose child I am, and at times when I have to my everlasting shame strayed from Him, its absence has been a sharp reminder of my true identity and my loss of direction. I remember once, stumbling terribly, the memory haunts me, and realising that that cry had fallen silent, yet in response to its absence, I cried with my own voice, but it wasn’t the same until finally being found once more and taken hold of by the Father

You see it is Personal, Deeply personal – it is an encounter with the Divine Three Personed God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To be baptised into the Faith is to be baptised into the very Life of God, and it is no light thing, and nothing we would choose! See! Behold the response of Isaiah in the Temp
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.’
The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’

Who in their right minds would choose that!!

This is no carefully and comfortably, made to measure faith – we don’t get to make God up, which is to some a seemingly insurmountable obstacle.
Why can’t I choose the god whom I serve? Why can’t I make up a creed which suits me? And of course the answer is that nothing is stopping you, and you may have a ready answer to that question, what is your faith? But this is not The One who makes himself known to us in and through Jesus, and His body, The Church

Our Creeds set out this three personned God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Every time we recite them we are reminding ourselves of The Personal Faith of The Church as carefully handed down form generation to Generation, the faith of the apostles and prophets, the Spirit breathed, Christ embodied Faith in God . . .

We all indeed may have difficulties with this faith – we are the people of God, and we are notorious for chafing at his gentle yoke, for grumbling that He doesn’t fit what we would look for in a god catalogue, but He is not a god amongst many, He is not the god of the cereal aisles – He is the One whose voice breaks the cedars;
even the cedars of Lebanon.
making Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.

flashing forth flames of fire.
shaking the wilderness;
even the wilderness of Kadesh.

causing the oaks to whirl,
and stripping the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, ‘Glory!’ And all fall on their faces and worship

Our Faith, that is The Faith of the Church SHOULD disturb, for it is not about us. From time to time, perhaps even on a daily basis we will find one person or another of the Trinity troublesome to our prideful discrimination, failing to live up to what we look for in ‘a Modern god’. (conveniently forgetting that what is today Modern is tomorrow passé and out of date.)

As I have reflected on this myself, surprisingly I found that it was the Son, Jesus himself whom I find most difficult . . . I remember a priest once complaining that the words of Jesus ‘doesn’t sound like my Jesus’ and perhaps that is true of us all, that when God faces us in Jesus he doesn’t fit our agendas. That Jesus the social revolutionary, whose attitude towards women overturned so much, still ‘blind to the Patriarchy’ called us to baptise in the name of The Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . . Jesus troubles me still – many of his words I’d rather not hear .’loving your enemies, doing good to those who hate you’

We can’t let Jesus be who he is, and still have our own faith – that is why they killed him, they wanted a faith of their own making – happy to carve yet another golden calf . . .
but The God raised him up and so still He disturbs us – even now we have to stand before him as did Nicodemus in our Bewilderment, and either flee and decide on a faith of our own which will perish with us, or fall before Him as The Son whom the Father has sent into the World, not to condemn the World, but that the World might be saved through Him, freely giving the Spirit to raise us to all who call upon the Name of the Lord.

Amen

Pentecost Evensong – 2018 – Following Jesus all the way through death to Life

Ezekiel 36:22-28

Acts 2:22-38

‘when they heard this, they were cut to the heart’ Acts 2:37

That wise old sage, GK Chesterton once observed, ‘it is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, rather it is that has been found too hard and so not tried’

We tend to think he may be overstating it, but did not Jesus say ‘ ‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.’
Matt 7:13-14 Suffice to say the words of Jesus mean little to us in these days of our ease . . .

As we have explored through Lent and on through the season of Easter, the seasons of the Church year are given that we might follow Jesus. Not admire him from a distance, but follow him where he goes. When we hear sermons on this topic we tent to romanticise this and ignore the literal command of Jesus – ‘follow me’ – where I am going, you cannot now come, but you will come after.

Today is the Feast of Pentecost. Jesus has if you will, disappeared from the scene, taken from the sight of the disciples, but in strict obedience to him, they have waited in Jerusalem and the Holy Spirit has been poured out on them.

As I said this morning, Pentecost is perhaps in Truth, the Easter of the Church. That is it is the Day when the people of God, following Jesus are raised from the dead. To use Paul’s language ‘you were once dead in your sins and trespasses, but God has made you alive in Christ’ Eph 2:1,5-6

So We might ask, what of us?? Why do we not see these things?? Perhaps the answer is that the Way of Jesus is too hard. For to know the Resurrection, one must have died and descended to the dead, as The Apostles Creed teaches us.

Jesus dies on the Cross – He tells us that we too must die to ourselves – he then visits Hell, and harrows it . . . but do we follow him there, or do we merely wait for Him to return?

One of the very few who have followed the hard and narrow way that leads to life, who have followed Christ into Hell, is the Russian Writer, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. (Other examples I could name are also Russian, it is a hard land 🙂 ) Solzhenitsyn went to Hell and came to life as a Christian, quite literally

He was in his younger years an enthusiastic party member, a Communist, so when Hitler invaded his country, he joined up to ‘fight tyranny’, not realising that the tyranny he was fighting was more than mirrored by the bloody regime he fought for . . . always beware of ‘righteous causes’. The inexorable logic of the Marxists (copied by Capitalists . . .) sought to purge the state by killing the ‘class enemies’. Eventually, having killed the middle classes and the farmers who made a decent fist of things, the beast started to eat itself, and party members were accused and sent to the death camps, the Gulags. Slave camps where people were worked to death, in their tens of millions ( story of which most of us live in ignorance of ).

Of course Solzhenitsyn was at first shocked, after all, he had been a good party member and played by the rules – in his own eyes a good man and now being oppressed by the very system he had supported. He could easily slipped into resentment and hatred. Broad and easy is the way – after all, didn’t he have a right to be angry with ‘those people’? Instead he chose the hard and narrow way.

He undertook a fearless moral inventory. He went back over his entire life with a fine tooth comb, exposed everything to the light, and what he found there at first terrified him, but later became the source of his Wisdom. He realised that he was every bit as bad as those who had sent him there. He realised that radical evil flows not through particular people, it flowed through the veins of every human being. He had been in ignorance, supposing the troubles of the world were ‘those people’ – he found the very source of Hell was within himself.

Yet, thus exposed to the Light and the Truth of himself, he faced the Light, rather than fleeing it – he found a New Life, a previously unimaginable capacity. He could look even on the camp guards with Love and Compassion, for in them he saw himself as he had been. The one who looks with judgement on others, has either not known the truth of himself, or else has forgotten it, and lost that gift of Life

For one must NOT forget . . . One would think that Solzhenytsyn, having got out of the Gulag alive, in the fullest sense would have rejoiced to see the back of it – yet that isn’t his story. He carried it with him, again quite literally. For several years in the Gulag his bed had been a rough wooden cot made of old package cases – on leaving the Gulag he finally exposed the story of the Hell of ideological Marxism writing his famous work, the Gulag Archipelago. In several respects this book played a significant role in deromanticising the Left in the eyes of many in the West, and to the very end of Communism. He went to live in America and was much in demand as a speaker, giving a famous commencement address at Harvard University . . . yet the Gulag went with him. To the day he died, he slept in that same wooden cot. Its lesson was too precious to him. It was through Hell, that he had discovered Heaven. The cot a constant reminder of the Strange Gift of the Gulag

Solzhenitsyn had been resurrected. And it was no surprise that he became a Christian . . . for that is the path to becoming a Christian, it is to Know that Hell is not as Sartre puts it, ‘other people’, it is much closer than that – it is to realise that Hell lies within us – and turn in Hope to the healer, the one who has gone before and reveals the way out. It was as Carl Jung suggests, ‘that which you most truly desire is in the place you least want to go’

Of course, realising that which is within us may not lead to repentance and resurrection if we are turned in on ourselves, if we chose the path of bitterness and despair, rather than that of facing our truth. In the time between the death and Resurrection of Jesus, Judas chose that route, but Peter did not

And so having gone into Hell, it is the resurrected Peter who addresses the crowds on the Day of Pentecost and His bright Light illumined message opened wide his hearers who ‘were cut to the heart’ – the evil of their heart laid bare.

‘let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified’

The evil of their hearts was laid bare – subjected to the dazzling brilliance of Truth and Light. From the darkness of death they cried out ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ and Peter replied ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’

Repent . . . ‘turn away from your wickedness – turn towards the Brilliant light which has exposed you, for it is the Burning Sun of the Love of God which forgives yes, even you, for He has forgiven Me! Take your place with St Paul who also knows himself to be ‘the chief of sinners’ – and you will receive the Life beyond all human hope – the Very Life of God himself – The Holy Spirit, the Life which death itself is powerless to contain.

Like the Gulag for Solzhenitsyn, the Resurrection of Pentecost is a Strange and disturbing gift. Tongues of flame – burning truth in preaching from these unlearned Galileans.

We are faced with a question we never thought of – ‘do you wish to be raised from the dead? Is the Truth something to be fled from in the sleep of death, or faced in all its burning and healing Light?

These Strange Gifts come to us in strange readings. This morning we heard of the vision of Ezekiel – of the valley of dry bones and the question of the LORD – ‘Son of Man, can these bones live?’ A vision of a people coming to life beyond all human hope – a people who were saying “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” Would they want to . . .

Tonight we hear from the same prophet, the Word of the LORD – ‘I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.’ It is that promise of Resurrection, for all those who have followed Jesus into the place where in human terms all hope is cut off, into Hell . . . we may well ask, why do we not see the promise of the Father? Is it because in truth we do not want to?

Is not this us? Beyond Hope? Perhaps we need to take Jesus at his word and follow him.

Seek the Light which exposes the heart – dare to face the Light and the Truth – and you shall be saved . . .

Pentecost 18 – Awaiting the Resurrection of the people of God

Pentecost 2018
Ezekiel 37
Acts 2

Awaiting The Resurrection of the people of God

At Easter, reflecting on the experience of the women at the tomb who ‘fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; saying nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.’ we were reminded that the Resurrection of Jesus dismantles, shatters and devastates all our ways of understanding the world in which we believe we live. But we should be very careful of merely reflecting, of pondering and wondering, of casual day dreaming . . . before we, getting on with our lives, before getting back to what we have become accustomed to calling ‘the real world’, and move onto the next thing. Of course we are quick to dismiss the Resurrection of Jesus, to infantilize it into a vague wish for the future and ‘a better world’ for it calls into question nothing less than our very existence
Rather we need to sit with it, to Wait on this Word of life which was from the beginning – to ask, ‘what does this mean?’ – to allow it to do its work in us. This isn’t our work – it is God’s work and we must allow that space, or ignore the Resurrection, to our eternal loss. And we have been commanded to this waiting.

Last week we considered the Lord’s command to us, to Wait! To Wait for the promise of the Father – to stay put, until we were clothed with power from on high and in the Church Year we see what happens when we are thus obedient to the LORD – the Day of Pentecost – a Day equally marked by terror, amazement and bewilderment

‘When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability’.

Only the most casual amongst us would pretend that we understand what this means . . . indeed if we dare face the Truth, we find ourselves not amongst the disciple community, but in and amongst the crowds. Even we who unthinkingly bear the name of Christ find this beyond our Knowledge . . .

We are in the crowds who see this disciple community, declaring the mighty acts of God, each of us hearing it without any need of translation, and with the crowd we ask ’What does this mean?’

Perhaps the greatest distortion of the Christian message is to transform it into something about ‘what happens when we die’. In a sense it is, but not in the sense we have comfortably taken into our lives. Treating out faith as a pass for a nice future ‘after this life’ causes us to dismiss it entirely – it is literally a ‘grave’ deception.

If we truly seek an answer to the question ‘what does this mean’? We must go with the disciples on the Emmaus Road, and allow the Risen Christ to ‘open [our] minds to understand the scriptures’. We by baptism the people of God, have been given the Scriptures that we might know what this means. How quick we are to turn to anything except the Scriptures to come us with an explanation for ‘these things that have happened’ Perhaps we find the question all but impossible to answer from the Scriptures, for they like these things that have happened are alien to ‘life in the real world’

Of course if we are to turn to the Scriptures, we must of course first recognise who we are, the people of God, baptised into His name. That apart form Him we can do nothing, that apart from what he reveals we know nothing. That the Scriptures are not just ‘another source of wisdom we can dwell on,’ but that they are God’s gift, they are our very life support. For the answer to the question, ‘what does this mean?’ is found in the Scriptures, over and over again.

We might say, well Peter explains from the prophet Joel . . . as we have heard so many times, and become accustomed to it, yet not questioned why this Pentecost outpouring is so alien to ‘our own lives’ – so perhaps another Scripture might wake us once more. And here we come to our OT reading from Ezekiel. ‘What does this mean’?
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ Before we respond from either naive acquaintance ‘Yes of Course!, or from the cave of ‘life in the real world’ ‘no’ – we ought to pause – If the strangeness of Easter and Pentecost has taught us anything, at the very least it ought to teach us humility in the face of existence – so perhaps in humility we may respond with the Son of Man – ‘O Lord God, you know.’

Why the dry bones? What are they? Who are they? ‘Son of Man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.”

We are cut off completely. We have been captivated, enthralled, literally been enslaved by the lives we have made for ourselves, lives which can only wither for their source is in themselves. They are not trees by streams drawing life from beyond them. Indeed perhaps in this age unlike no other we have lost sense of life beyond us which we may draw upon

Who are they? As we have pondered often, what do we see of the church in these days? Would we not also cry out “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.”

It is of note that this reading is used in the Easter dawn vigil – as we wait on the resurrection of Jesus ‘early on the first day of the week’, for it concerns mot the resurrection f an individual, but that of a whole people . . . what is the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, the King of God’s people the Jews, if it is not the Resurrection of the whole people?

They lie in the dust of death, through ‘ignorance and unbelief’ – choosing ‘life on their own terms’ they have not listened to the voice of the one who addresses them from heaven, that Life, and so they are dead. Dead in trespasses and sin.

‘But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive – together with Christ’

The disciples Wait – because they know they are dead in trespasses and sin. Dry bones do not live of their own accord – they must Wait!

There is a clue to this in what we have come to call Jesus’ restoration of Peter. Actually it is better to call it Jesus confronting Peter with his sin. Why is Peter distressed because jesus asked him the third times ‘do you love me?’ because Jesus is confronting him with his sin. Peter wants to forget, wants to think that it never happened, that he really can do it on his own, if only he is given a second chance. Jesus reveals to him that he cannot. It is the Word of Jesus to Peter – so he has nothing but the command of Jesus to rest on now, to Wait till Life comes ‘from above’, till he is norm again. That Life is the source of the tongues of flame, of the proclamation of the mighty acts of God, and of Peter’s boldness in preaching, in answering the question ‘what does this mean?’ because he himself has known what it is to be raised from the Dead. He has been there, and the Lord has lifted him up

This is the meaning of these things – the disciple community, knowing themselves to have no hope apart from Christ, knowing themselves to be dead in trespasses and sin, began the journey of obedience, Waiting for the promise of the Father, and God made them alive – together with Christ. Easter and Pentecost are one. Jesus the Obedient one is raised to life in triumph, so to his people – those who show themselves to be his people by Waiting on him

Here is the dilemma we face. A problem created by the Church year – which is a gift, but can be a hindrance. For if we are not careful, we will just move on, in part we will listen to the voice which sees the Apostles clothes in power and subtly suggests, ‘move along, nothing to see here. this is nothing to do with you . . .’

But if we are the people of God, then it is EVERYTHING to do with us.

Maybe it is precisely because this Day of Pentecost is such a day marked by terror, amazement and bewilderment,  demolishing our impoverished way of understanding, that we move so swiftly on . . .

May we be a people who WAIT. Wait like Lazarus for that voice that calls us from beyond ourselves and our the live we have made for ourselves, that calls us out of the illusion we have come to call ‘The Real World’, which is never more than our vain imaginings . . May we be a people who Know that apart from that Word we can do nothing. May we like Peter Know our condition and wait for the voice until it summons us forth until it Raises us.

The Voice of Jesus to Lazarus is also the voice of Jesus to all those called by His name in this day. A Loud Voice crying out to us from beyond the grave, the sleep of death which is the life we have made for ourselves, summoning us to something beyond our understanding, a world where Christ is all and is in all.

Amen

Do not harden your heart!

Sermon for Evensong – Sunday March 18th, 2017

Psalm 95
Exodus 7:8-24
Romans 5:12-21

‘Harden not your hearts’

As today is Passion Sunday, it is worth reminding ourselves of some words of Jesus from the cross – ‘Father, forgive them, for they now not what they do’, a saying which is echoed in our confession, ‘we have sinned in ignorance’. The reality is that we have very little idea about anything. The world is complex and subtle far beyond our imaginings. The people we live amongst, even those we think we know well, are profound mysteries to us. Not one of us has the remotest inkling what it is like to be another person, let alone a tree, or a dog, or a stone. We are phenomenally ignorant, which goes some way to explain the state of the world we inhabit – the metaphor ‘bull in a china chop’ always seems appropriate as we consider the Creation and our place in it. Strangely in an age when in a sense human knowledge has expanded hugely, it is as if this has got worse not better. The illusion that ‘we know better nowadays’ is not born out in the world as it is. Modern humans are more out of balance with the Creation than in any age in history. We know very little of what seems to matter to our very existence.

This is why the Scriptures are full of warnings. A very few, like the commandments, are explicit and clear – murdering or committing adultery, lying or failing to rest – live like this and things will turn out bad for you. But most of life is complicated beyond our capacity to comprehend, and so the Scriptures weave their deeper warnings into story – for in a sense that is precisely what we live in, Story. Reading the human story in Scripture teaches us who we are and where we are and how we should then live.

One example of these warnings is ‘beware of those things which ‘look pleasant to the eye’’ – or ‘you are not very good at judging what is good and what is not!, so learn a deeper discrimination’

So Eve ‘seeing that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, took of its fruit and ate’ . . . She saw, she grasped and she would not let go . . . and it did not turn out well

Again there is a moment in the story of Abraham where his herdsmen are falling out with the herdsmen of his nephew Lot and so they separate and Abraham gives Lot the choice of where to go – ‘Lot lifted up his eyes, and saw that the plain of the Jordan was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar; this was before the Lord had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. So Lot chose for himself all the plain of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastwards’ Despite finding himself in a short space of time in a war zone in which he and his family are taken captive and require to be rescued by Abraham, he continues to ‘sojourn in Sodom’ He sees, he grasps, and he won’t let go, and at the last when Sodom is destroyed, Lot’s wife cannot let go of this Dark place and is turned to a pillar of Salt.

Warning – beware of your ability to see well – do not grasp – choose wisely – and learn to let things go . . .

Well this evening’s Old Testament reading carries a serious warning to the one who listens, ‘who listen to the voice of the LORD’ Ps 95:8 What is the story trying to tell us, if we have ears to hear.

Pharaoh is in his own eyes ‘Lord of all he surveys’ – it is all HIs – he Possesses it and that includes the Israelites whom he has enslaved – they are his property. So when Moses and Aaron come before him with a request to ‘let go of the thing he has grasped’ he dismisses them. He will not let go and through the ensuing plagues of which we heard a little, earlier, he grasps tighter and tighter.
As the story tells us – ‘he hardened his heart’ – and Here is a very severe warning here.
If we are alert to the narrative as it goes on, repeatedly we hear ‘Pharaoh’s heart was hardened . . .’ It is strange that often people will not let go of something which is harming them – and the greater the harm the more we might hold on . . . it may only be a small thing – a harboured resentment perhaps, but we can all too easily cling to such a thing and its power for evil grows and grows. This is one manifestation of what the scriptures call ‘the demonic’, for all to often such things literally take on a life of their own. They become ‘the desire of our heart’

Indeed we may be able to trace something of it within our own hearts. Bitterness, greed, resentment, deception, a grudge . . . these things which we think we control, have control of us – or to use a much maligned word, Sin reigns . . . and like grasping things – it doesn’t lead us to a good place. We’ll return to Sin in a few moments, but first we need to unpack the Dire warning in the story of Pharaoh which is this

As we follow the narrative through the gradually increasing plagues we read over and over ‘Pharaoh’s heart was hardened’ but towards the end there is a terrifying change. First we read that Pharaoh hardened his [own] heart. That is it became conscious for him – to put it in the explicit and terrifyingly accurate vernacular, he says in his heart ‘I’ll be damned if I let them go . . .’

We might say that at this point, what was unconscious, knowing not what he did, became a conscious decision. After the next plague we read ‘Pharaoh’s heart was hardened’ In other words there is nothing he can now do to reverse things, his heart is ‘set as stone’ . . . and so to the denouement in Genesis 9:12 – following the plague of boils – ‘But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart . . .’ God gives us the true desire of our heart . . . the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart . . . Pharaoh will not let go and goes deeper into corruption until it is revealed that that is what he truly wants and seals the wish of Pharaoh’s heart This is one of the most terrifying verses in the Scripture . . .

As Dante sees the souls bound for perdition he sees that they curse God – no longer might they cry for mercy for they are intractably bound to that which they will not let go. It has become for them a consuming passion and leads only to death . . . and the LORD hardens their hearts. Or as CS Lewis puts it – ‘Hell is locked on the inside . . .’

So Pharaoh in all his wealth and power is set before us as a grave warning . . . What is the remedy?

BUT GOD . . . As we read in St Paul’s letter to the Romans – a remedy for Sin has been provided, in that God in Jesus, While we were yet ‘dead in sins and trespasses’ died for us . . . Paul goes on to explain how though through one man, Adam, Sin entered the world, by the death of one Man, Jesus Christ, Grace, forgiveness and righteousness abounded to many. Miracle of miracles – that which brought death to us, Sin, is overturned and Death becomes the Gate of Life . . .

So, then we might say – why worry about the story of Pharaoh? ‘if it all turns out right in the end’? This was what Paul was accused of preaching ‘What shall we say then? Shall we continue in Sin that Grace may abound? By No Means! How shall we who have died to Sin live any longer in it . . .

This is the clear teaching of Jesus. in John’s gospel, twice Jesus heals and forgives and then warns the person – ‘leave your life of Sin’ – or ‘stop sining or something worse will happen to you . . .’

It is a very false reading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – to say that because Jesus died, the overwhelming love of God is revealed – and so sin no longer matters . . . but this is a fools paradise. One moments reflection on the Hell of so much of the world, and perhaps the Hell of our own hearts reveals that this is not so. Sin, like the bull in the China shop, does untold, often irreparable damage. Rather we look to what it cost God in Christ to save us from our Sin, to save us from ourselves and we resolutely set out, in the power of God’s Holy Spirit, strengthening, encouraging ud, driving us forward, Comforting us in the true sense – no longer to live in Sin. We do not look back. We let go.

This failure to respond to the Saving Love of God is laid out for us in the Old Testament as well as the new. God in his Love and Mercy for Israel, rescues them from slavery in Egypt. From wretchedness and Hell – and brings them out into the wilderness that there they might learn of Life – rather like young children – having to learn that which leads to life and that which does not. ‘Eat Well!’ ‘Don’t put your hand in the fire!’ ‘Seek the Good everywhere and always,!’ ‘Shun that which is evil . . . ‘but they, although they had been the recipients of such a great Salvation, such a rescue, start to whine and complain and also harden their hearts and so do not enter the promised land . . . St Paul says ‘all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition upon whom the end of the ages has come’

So the psalmist having given glory to God – ‘Come let us sing unto the Lord . . . ‘ goes on

O that today you would listen to his voice!
Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your ancestors tested me,
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they do not regard my ways.’
Therefore in my anger I swore,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’

Today – Hear his voice – harden not your hearts – for God in Christ approaches his Passion – to die for the Sin of the World, to bear its consequences, that Grace may abound.

Let us not neglect so great a salvation – rather let us set our hearts and minds on God’s Goodness revealed, reach out to take hold of THAT – and let go of al that would hinder us

Amen

 

Where are you from . . . Advent 3 – Year B 2017

Sermon for Advent 3 – Year B – 2017
1 Thessalonians 5:12-24
John 1:6-8,19-28

‘Where are you from?’ This is a question which most of us are asked at one time or another, not least if you have a ‘foreign’ accent! The other day Sarah and I were in a local shop and the owner, who was obviously English asked us this question and we took great delight in replying ‘Roslyn’ 🙂

Of course it is in a sense a not entirely truthful answer, perhaps we ought to have said, from England, but then the more you think about it, the more we realise that ‘where are you from?’ is a very deep question – a question that ought to give us pause. Like the polite enquiry, ‘how are you?’, it requires a deeper more significant answer than we often give it . . .

Of course in a sense here in New Zealand we might be aware of a sense that there is a deeper answer, for Tangata Whenua introduce themselves in deep terms of who they are in terms of where they come from, my mountain, my river, my waka, my iwi, my whanau – a sense of ‘coming from’ or having our roots in a much bigger story than ‘where I live at the moment’, a sense of coming out from a river of human history that has a source in the deep past – a way of self understanding that is almost diametrically opposed to our Modern way of understanding, where a little like the Prodigal Son our roots are something we put little store by, where we come from is a place we are trying to get away from, to forget our Home, our Source – trying to ‘make a life for ourselves . . .’ Where are you from?

Advent, a season of preparation to receive one who is coming to us – but from Where . . . ?
When Jesus stands before Pontius Pilate, who is growing increasingly panicked by the crowd but also by the silence of this Galilean prophet, he asks in his anxiety, ‘Where are you from?’ It is as if he sees something in Jesus which suggests that Jesus is ‘not from around here’ . . . and so it is with the one sent to prepare the way of the Lord whom we remember on this 3rd Sunday of the season. John, John the Baptist we are introduced to him as one sent ahead . . . but from where??

Mark in his gospel, a gospel which as Bishop Steven said last week is abrupt – it pulls us up – it lacks the niceties of the other gospels – Mark introduces John thus ‘John . . . appeared in the wilderness . . .’ Just like that! It’s as if he just pops into existence – where are you from John?

But our own John, the Evangelist gives us an answer to that question ‘There was a man, sent from God, whose name was John . . .’ This question, where are you from which is so significant to our identity is one which John answers unequivocally for his namesake – John the Forerunner is ‘sent from God’ He comes from God

A couple of weeks ago I asked if we realised where we were? If we had a sense of our place in the Creation – how we fitted in – how our existence was woven into the life of the trees and the birds. Certainly on the whole, to be a Modern person is to have lost that sense. Just in the way we move around so freely, the very idea of Home is one which is disappearing from our senses. Home of course is one way of answering the question ‘Where are you from?’ – but where is Home?

Jesus comes to ‘bring us home’ To bring us to our sense, to reveal to us who we really are, and John who bears witness to Jesus, like Jesus comes from God. John isn’t sent ‘by’ God, he is sent ‘from God’

This reminds me so strongly of a story I told just a few weeks ago of an elderly lady who was dying and who was asked by her doctor, ‘where are you from?’ To which she replied without a moments hesitation ‘From God’ – and being baptised and knowing her faith well she might have used the words which described Jesus, ‘knowing that he had come from God and was going back to God.

The ministry of John the baptist is marked by a remarkable freedom – he wears strange clothes, he eats strange food, he lives in strange places. When asked who he is, He proclaims without fear that he is ‘just’ the voice of one who cries in the wilderness – or put another way, he is the mouthpiece of God himself – that the Life in Him is the very Life of God bearing witness to that Life coming into the world in Jesus Christ – a Life that comes from somewhere else – Where are you from??

We can ourselves only bear witness to that Life of Jesus, to the Good News, if we ourselves have that same life in us, or put another way, if we know from where we have come from. If like the old lady we know we have come from God and are going to God – if our Life suggests we are from somewhere else . . . to know as Jesus says that we have been ‘born from above’

As we shall hear once more this coming week – to whoever believed in his name Jesus gives the 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 be Christian is not as the wider world puts it, to belong to a certain religious group – no, it is to be one who has been brought home, to know who we are, and where we are and where we are from, to where we are going – it is to hear the words of Scripture as God our Father speaking to us, and to know his life flowing through us – it is to know that in this sacrament of the Eucharist, God feeds us with His Life in Christ

Home – a place of rich stories, a place of wonderful meals, a place buried deep in our human memory. As this season of the year awakens so very many memories, may we Know deep within ourselves the answer to the question . . .

Where are you from?

And so, ‘May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.’

Amen

The Widows Mite

Sermon for the 24th Sunday after Trinity, Tear B 2018

1 Kings 17:8-16
Mark 12:38-44

“The Widow’s mite”

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength, and your neighbour as yourself’

I started out in ministry as a parish priest in two villages in the North of England – from which we came here. One of them was a little unusual. Certainly to folk who don’t know England well, it didn’t fit the picture postcard idea of an English village. Cut in half by a busy trunk road along which thousands of vehicles a day poured – there was a great deal of poverty there, including our share of drug dealing and other aspects of life which don’t fit notions of roses round the door and thatched cottages. If it was the Shire, it was the Shire after Sharkey’s mob had got hold or it.

In ancient times it had been a very small settlement in reasonably decent agricultural land. Then the railways came. Hellifield grew up dramatically around the rail junction which was also the sight of a large auction Market, from which stock were loaded directly onto the trains. Many of the houses were railway workers terraces. It wasn’t a place of much wealth, but a place where a few people made their wealth.

When roads and trucks supplanted railways, the auction mart ran down and the village went into decline. It’s children, sons and daughters of rail workers who’d moved out from the town found trade in what we used to call blue collar occupations. It was definitely working class. Good honest folk many of them, running the various village institutions including the church, but struggling. Then came the government with a promise to build a by pass. The few older pretty properties became targets for wealthy folk from the towns. They of course being wealthy were used to being in control and the village institutions were quietly taken over by the ‘managerially competent’, who saw that ‘we could make this a lot better’. The village however continued its decline.

Then just before we went there, the auction mart was sold and a new set of ‘executive style town houses were built. The properties were priced out of reach of most of the locals and attracted people wanting to live in the countryside. Early retirees and folk happy to commute for an hour to work in one of the big cities. This group of people largely supplanted the previous generation of incomers who by now were 20 years older and had less energy . . . again, the folk who had lived there entire lives there were largely overlooked as ‘managerial competence’ was the name of the day.

Folk who sat on boards and got awards for this that and the other. Found themselves seated at the table with honour, and who expected to be greeted with respect for their manifold ‘good works’, and of course to have these duly celebrated in the media.
Finding ways to raise money, all too often from the pockets of those further down the pecking order. The Important people – as the older poorer members of the community were largely overlooked and forgotten, except to be dragooned for this or that project . . .

Of course this is an old story. When the church was built in 1906 it was by public subscription. A list was published of the major donors, who gave out of their abundance large amounts of money - i found an old copy of it. The list only included those who had given more than about £80. it was a printed list. The top five donors all gave £100 and had their names recorded or posterity. over the printed list a new name was added, and written at the top - they gave 100 guineas . . . no one remembers those who scraped in their purses for a few bob . . . 

As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.

The widows mite . . . a few years before we went to Hellifield I was serving my curacy in a typical Northern English town. Mainly working class. The church decided it needed to re-order its building – architects were employed with their big fancy schemes coming in at $3million . . . we coughed, thanked them, and paid them handsomely for their time and thought again. Eventually we came up with something more modest – and then wondered how to raise $750 thousand.

Somebody placed a box at the back of church . . . and put a label on it ‘The Widow’s mite’. I’ve rarely felt more uncomfortable about something in a church than that box. Into it we were encouraged to put our small change – cupboards were emptied, purses searched, sofas were checked out for loose coins . . . and the box filled with coppers, many many pennies – out of our abundance. No one it must be said was running to count it – it was easier to count the £10 notes . . .

The widow’s mite wasn’t her loose change, it was ‘all she had, whatsoever, her whole livelihood’

Jesus you’ll note before he sits down to watch what’s going on in the Temple treasury tells folks to beware of the scribes . . . funnily enough he’d just commended a scribe – almost. You remember last week, the scribe asks Jesus ‘What is the first commandment?’ Jesus reply we should know by heart ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength, and a second is you shall love your neighbour as yourself’. The scribe tells Jesus ‘you’re right!’ and recites both commandments. Jesus says ‘you’re not far from the Kingdom of God – not far. like the rich young man who stands facing Jesus . . . not far . . . but not there. “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!” You need to give up on your need for human affirmation and seek that which comes from God, alone.

You need to learn what it is to love God with all you have and all you are . . . like this widow here. The one everyone overlooked. A life devoted to God in its entirety is seldom seen in the world. Seldom noticed . . . like the little children whom Jesus continually places before us – what do they add to the world? Do they build fancy buildings or indulge in this or that or the other? Are they masters of ‘managerial competence’? Are the movers and shakers in the world we are focussed on?? No, but we train them up to be so . . . and all the while – not far from them is the one no one notices – wholly devoted to God. In her own way loving God with all she has and all she is . . .

As I started out by saying last week ‘The Christian Life is from beginning to end a life of Worship of the One true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, held in existences we are In each and every moment by the Love of God.’ This thing that we gather together to do Sunday by Sunday is the beating heart of our life together, but more than that it is the very means by which God in Christ upholds all things. Hidden away from the gaze of the world – un-noticed, unregarded. We feed on the Word of God, which is our life – these scriptures – held in disrespect by the wider world – to their gaze irrelevant, out of date, not much use if we’re going to manage things . . .

We pray – we enter into conversation with God. Unknown to the world this love sustains all things

We then come to the Lord’s table. The place where as the body of Christ, we are in Jesus as he offers himself to the Father and the Father offers his life to us. We go away sustained by a crumb of bread, and a sip of wine. Not seen by the world, for we have learnt to live by faith in the things that are unseen, knowing as we do that the things that are seen are passing away

The Italian poet Dante takes us on a journey through the inferno, and purgatory to Paradise. Right at the very end he speaks of beholding God and understanding – my desire and will were moved already—
like a wheel revolving uniformly—by
the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.

When our eyes and heart are fixed on God in Christ – Loving him with all we have and all we are, we become fixed points in the Universe through which the life of God pours.

The wealthy put in large sums out of their abundance . . . and then went on to other things, to ‘Important’ occasions, in the glare of the media, making important speeches, unveiling plaques, leaving their mark – their lives full of ‘many things’.

The widow poured her whole being in – we don’t know her name – there’s no plaque. The Temple itself is no longer there – Yet it was through the widow that God moved the material universe – the love that moves the heaven and the stars.

Let those with ears to hear, hear

The Gentile rulers Lord it over them…

Some incoherent thoughts – Sermon for 21st Sunday after Trinity – Year B 2018

Isaiah 53:4-12
Mark 10:35-45

‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you . . . Mark 10:42-3

A couple of weeks ago, we considered angels, guardian angels to be more precise – today I want to return to the angelic realm, but this time its less presentable aspects, that of fallen angels . . .

Jesus you may well remember in Luke’s gospel declares, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven’ Luke 10:18. But why does Satan fall, and indeed all his angels ‘fall from heaven’?

Well we cannot know for sure, but here and there we have hints – for example we may consider the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness – all about assuming power in one way or another, over the creation, over people, over the whole cosmos . . . change stones into bread, leap from the temple, bow down and worship me . . . When we assume power over, we separate ourselves from . . . even ‘if it is for your good’, perhaps the subtlest of diabolical temptations – for diabolic literally means to set apart . . . the diabolical angels want power – they want to be associated with a God of Power – and so they too can have power – sat at the right and left hand of God

There is a very ancient tradition in the church in this regard – that the angels fall because of their Pride, because they cannot bear not to be unimportant. God in Christ takes on human flesh, and sets his face towards the most disreputable of callings, that of a servant, and the most disreputable of deaths, that on a cross – and they cannot stomach that . . . for the angels continually see the face of God.

Put another way, they are full of pride. They want a God who fits their self image! They secretly desire to be the centre of all things! (In this respect I think it is worth considering if this is not what we all too often do when we speak of the human as ‘The image of God’ without any reference to the God of whom the human is the Image . . . All too often we veer dangerously close to the cliff of placing ourselves at the centre of things, if not indeed fall ourselves. Insofar as I understand it which is not very well, this also is the fundamental place of separation of our faith from Islam. For to the Muslim, the idea that God might assume human flesh is anathema, for God is so wholly other . . .)

This attitude, of the fallen angels – that it is all about Power. And thus to be separated out from the Creation – to Lord it over . . . Perhaps this attitude is at the heart of the disciples request, that one sit on the right and one on the left of Jesus ‘in his glory’. After all – they know that He is the Messiah. James and John have seen him transfigured on the mountain. He is the One who will be ‘in charge’ – the one who will have power, and they want a bit of that for themselves . . .

Yet what is staggering is that Jesus has just reminded them for the third time of what his mission is
“They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “Behold! We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.” Mark 10:32-34

He is going to enter into the depths of our human condition, even death, even death on a Cross, so that he might lift it up. He shares in our Life that we might share in His. Share, not have a bit of it for ourselves, but share. Joined together – not split apart.

We may remember a couple of weeks ago, Jesus teaching on marriage. About being joined together – One flesh – and the words ‘those whom God has joined together, let no man separate’

What does Jesus say you should do to your enemies? Serve them – share what you have with them. If they are hungry, feed them. Give your life for them . . .

So Jesus’ response to James and John and their request to be in power – is to ask, do you want to share in my life? Can you drink the cup I drink, and be baptised with my baptism? – -We can they confidently assert – thinking perhaps that the reward is the power they seek – but the result is not that. Yes, you will share in my life, my death, but as for sitting at the right and left hand. That has already been prepared for someone . . . and of course it has, the two thieves

All we have is the request of James and John, for the seats of authority – for some of the glory, for power – to Lord it over . . .

this Way of Jesus is So strange, even to us . . . we still fall for the old deception, that one can take up Power, for Good, but to assume power over is to be separated from, it is diabolical. The Good we assume power for is always abstract, it isn’t a Real Good. For we do not know God, we do not Know the Way of Jesus

Three times he tells them, and three times they fail to understand – foreshadowing the threefold denial of Peter ‘I do not know him’ – yet it is clear that this is not so much a denial as a Confession. I don’t Get Him! I don’t Understand Him. I do not Know him. I am separated from Him – Peter does not so know Jesus as to know what he is about. Jesus’ words he does not understand . . . Jesus is God come into the world, and in the eyes of the world making himself of no reputation . . . he doesn’t come into the world in any way which suggests to us that he is God, because we are strangers to who God is . . . For we may know about, but to know about is to be separate from – to Know, to Share in the Life of God is truly to Know God. Peter doesn’t want to share in the life of this Crucified one . . . And this is a trap for us too – that what Jesus does for us he does in separation from us. So many versions of this story exist in the Church. We watch and admire Jesus from a distance – but that is not to know Him

This perhaps is why we find so many more or less ingenious ways to separate the person of Jesus from the Triune God, secretly we don’t want Him to be God, because if he is, and if we are made in His image, then His way is our way – his Life is our Life, and we who claim to know Him can only follow him by likewise making ourselves of ‘no reputation’

We are called to proclaim Jesus as LORD – the manifestation of the God of the Universe – Jesus, the Galilean peasant who dies on a Roman cross, who comes amongst us not to be served but to serve – and to give up His life as a ransom for many . . .

This is the significance of Jesus’ earlier words to the crowds “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

“Those who are ashamed of me” who cannot own this homeless bedraggled Jewish preacher as their God.

Well the Tradition tells us that some of the angels couldn’t bear it. This God wasn’t good enough for them in their pride, they were ashamed to own him and so rebelled against Him

And so when he was revealed in Glory, there were two one to his right and one to his left – two thieves . . . God on His throne

The Servant King, the God of no repute

Always the temptation is to dress this all up. For some we do it by needing good arguments to back up our faith – for those who would despise the God who reveals himself as a Servant and dies upon a cross, we seek to make it reasonable . . . but blinded by our pride it cannot be so. The rich the powerful – they find it too much and turn away . . . for to follow Him is to turn from Power to Love. From separation (the diabolical) and power over, to union, to Life with

Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians drives the point home thus . . . For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. The Power of God is the Life of the Spirit which Raises the Crucified Jesus from the Dead. It is the Life of God amongst us, the Kingdom of God amongst us. It is the weak yet Triumphant Power of Love

Jesus comes to us in weakness and humility – the lowest of the low – not one who seeks to be served, but who comes only to serve, to give hie life for others. if he is our God – if being made in the Image of God means anything at all, then it must mean that this is the posture we too are called to adopt in the world. If truly we are to Know Him.

Amen

The Character of a Servant

Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity – Year B 2018

James 3:13-4:10
Mark 9:30-37

The Character of a Servant

In North Wales, a part of the world dearly loved in my family, there is a saying which goes back to the end of the C19 “Steal a sheep from the mountain, and they hang you. Steal the mountain, and they make you a lord”. . . This was in reference to Lord Penrhyn, who made his vast wealth mining the mountains of North Wales for their slate. I’ve recounted before how the teams of men who risked life and limb and faced an early death from silicosis, if rock falls or accidents with dynamite didn’t get them first – were only paid for every 100 slates out of every 125 they made . . . because the journey by rail to the port from the quarry meant a breakage of 25 out of every 125 slates due to vibration . . .

Character . . .

I may be wrong but my perception is that the higher up a job is in an organisation, the less likely you are to be asked for a character reference, and vice versa. Large organisations are anxious to acquire managers with high skill sets and matters of character seem to take a back seat – lower down the scale, questions of trustworthiness come more to the fore

So were you perhaps to employ a cleaner, you may well want a character reference, after all can you be assured leaving them with ‘the family silver . . .’

The character of a servant

A couple of weeks ago we reflected on the Way of Jesus, vs the Way of the World. and noted that the way of Jesus was one of powerlessness . . . it is perhaps why he has many admirers but few followers. Today our gospel reading sets out in the same vein, one that will be repeated over and over in the coming weeks as his disciples fail to get the message.

‘he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”’ Remembering the stinging rebuke Simon Peter received ‘get thee behind me Satan!’ it is perhaps not surprise that we are told ‘But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.’

The choice of ‘betray’ to translate a word in our reading this morning is unfortunate – the word literally means ‘handed over’ The Son of Man is to be handed over into human hands . . . Jesus renouncing the way of power allows himself to be handed over – but again the disciples miss his point and argue about who is to be greatest . . . and Jesus, not for the last time, will place a child in their midst – and say ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’ and because we are given to sentimentalism it is easy to hear that as ‘Jesus cares for the least’, but that is not it, for as we know he says ‘it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.’ He is showing us a child to teach us how to follow him – Why does Jesus say ‘whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me?’ Because he comes among as as one with no power – as a child . . . and the Kingdom belongs to such as these . . . those with no power . . .

“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all’ – must renounce the way of power . . . so, as we all know – it is an important question – ‘What is the character of a Servant?’

Here we turn to James. As Father James expressed it last week, James is not an easy read! His words on the tongue and that powerful parable on how words once out of our mouth spread out of our control causing what?, we know not, will stay long with me.

So too this week ‘Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. ‘ Ouch! Actually those words were removed to spare our discomfort . . .

And as James points out, friendship with the World is friendship with its narrative of power – ‘if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition within you’ Envy and Selfish ambition are the source of ‘disorder and wickedness of every kind.’ Envy and ambition are the fruit of the desire for power – power over things, and power over others . . . ‘If I ruled the world . . .’

Ambition is so normalised in our culture, in the World that we wish to qualify James words . . . to speak of good ambition as opposed to ‘selfish ambition’ but we ought to tread with fear in this regard. If the way of power and influence is the cultural air we breathe, we would be wise to hang loose to any talk of ambition – from what does the ambition flow?

Conflicts and disputes – form where do they come? . . . ‘they came to Capernaum; and when Jesus was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.’
As I said, we will come back to this again before we have finished with Mark.

‘Conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

As we heard a couple of weeks ago, it is what springs up within us, from the heart which makes us unclean . . . that which does not come form above, ‘but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.’
What we need is a new heart. The Centre of the Gospel is the Gift of the New heart – a new character, a new person, a new creation. Jesus gives his life as a ransom for many, his life is given for us – he offers his life to us . . .

This Change of heart James puts like this ‘Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.’

Humble yourself before God – become once more the soil of which you were first made, humus, Earth – become that soil into which the seed of the Word might be planted, the Seed which is Christ himself. Christ in laying down his Life makes His Life available to us – His Heart – His Character – which is beautifully expressed by James.

‘Who is wise and understanding among you?’ Do you think you are wise? ‘Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.’ Wisdom is in Scripture a personification of God – and especially of Christ, who as St Paul tells us ‘has become for us Wisdom From God. So being born of God, the first fruit is Gentleness. In the soil of a humble life, the life of one who does not take hold of power, gentleness is the first fruit. Gentleness born of Wisdom, of Christ who allows himself to be handed over to sinful men.

‘the wisdom from above is first pure . . . then peaceable . . . gentle . . . willing to yield – that is as St Paul speaks of Love, it does not insist on its own way . . . full of mercy . . . and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. (If anything a child cannot be a hypocriite, for until it attains a certain age, it has not learned to hide, to conceal its true nature) . . . this is the character of a Servant – it is the character of The Servant

Let us pray – and as we do, let us consider each of these fruit of Wisodm, of the life which Christ offers us, as he offers himself to us, putting himself into our hands in the Sacrament

Create in me a pure heart O God, and renew a right Spirit within me, the Heart of a Servant, which is pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. Amen

And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.