Sermon for Pentecost 2023
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear . . .
Whoever fears has not been made perfect in love
Fear kills Love
Fear puts up boundaries behind which we hide – it is the fig leaf behind which we hide – from God. God in Jesus calling us like Lazarus to rise from the death which is Fear, to the Light of Life
Last week we explored part of the work we had to do ahead of Pentecost – to embrace one another in love – to come heart to heart that the healing power of Christ might dwell amongst us – in that lovely image I shared from a colleague who dealt with a very difficult congregation member by hugging them – coming heart to heart . . . (we too readily understand that metaphors are always bodily because we bodily creatures. People talk about a heart to heart, because they know the power of the embrace of love.
And so fear is shown the door. Kicked into the lake of fire where it belongs with all of Satan’s works, for fear is the work of the devil, and the death of Jesus is about nothing if it isn’t about destroying the works of the Devil amongst which the chief is fear. My friend had a aggressive anti vaxxer in his congregation and in the imagery we used last week of Christs vulnerable embrace of All mankind upon the cross, he walked up to him and hugged him, and the healing started to flow between them. Our faith is SO bodily!
As I said the other week when Lisa shared her story about her flight attendant friend – we all have this power in us – for Christ is in everyone, and we are in Christ, the only difference is we know it and so are set free from the Slavery of Fear
Years ago my old diocese sent all the clergy to have a full medical checkup – sort of thing that would cost several hundred dollars. I remember being asked if I engaged in any hazardous activities – I laughed, ‘you mean, apart from my work?’ He was wise enough to get the joke, and then I walked into Dunedin Diocese, the first Boudaries coruse – ‘Keeping ourselves safe in ministry’ Jesus wept. Followers of ones who goes to the cross in the name of love? Or just fans?
One of the reasons we don’t see Pentecost – which is as we said last week, and again Lisa to pick up on that beautiful phrase, is that we haven’t inhaled Jesus DNA. We are stuck on the far side of Good Friday. When Jesus first appears to his disciples they are still there – rumours of life but they are gathered together with the doors locked for fear of the Jews. After all they were his fans, not his followers, not yet his disciples for they’d turned back from following because they were slaves to fear. If the Jews had killed Jesus, wouldn’t they also be out to kill his followers – indeed . . .
Peter we know is driven by fear. When Jesus says he is about to go the way of the cross, he rebukes Jesus, ‘Lord this must never happen to you’, . . . he’s a fan, not a follower – and Jesus sees his oldest adversary facing him with that old lie about keeping safe. Get behind me Satan. Satan controls Peter – he in slavery to fear . . .
Peter doesn’t get this – he wants to make up for his failure so bangs on about how much he loves Jesus – he really loves Jesus – I will never desert you . . . and then he does. He is afraid, and in that moment speaks a truth we miss – he says ‘I never knew the man’ – and that isn’t a lie – it’s the truth. The ‘Jesus’ he loved was not Christ in Truth. He didn’t know him or love him.
This is why Jesus knows Peter will deny him, because he sees Satan pulling Peter’s strings. Satan is sifting him like wheat, but Jesus loves Peter. As he says to Peter, and all the others who will not YET take up their cross and joyfully follow him for Love’s Sake – as he speaks with them at the last supper, he says ‘where I am going now you cannot come [because you are enslaved by fear], but you will come after’
Nd then on the cross, Jesus, who himself took on our frail human flesh which is the soil in which fear takes root, takes on fleshly fear and triumphs over it by Love. and he pours out his life on his followers – breathing on them, receive the Holy Spirit . . . receive the Indestructible Life, the Eternal Life that is Love. Breathe in my DNA – be born again as children of God, not ruled by fear, but compelled by Love. As St John puts it, this is how we know we are from God, that we love our brothers and sisters . . .
Fear kills Love. People refuse the Cross of Love because we are afraid. The fear of Peter abandoned Jesus to his fate, and the fear of the crowds, the fear of Pilate, the fear of the Pharisees killed Love incarnate . . . Fear kills Love – as St John tells us, the one who fears has not been made complete in love for Love casts out fear.
But, as St Paul reminds us, Love never fails . . . I often see love most clearly in the lives of those wmongst us who most people don’t notice, just quietly getting on with loving in often terrible circumstances – revealing love, suffering long, keeping no record of wrongs, rarely speaking about Jesus, because they have become Jesus . . . they have his DNA woven into them
For it is Love that is indestructible. You can kill it, out of fear, but it just gets up! And walks right back into the lions den . . . this is Pentecost. And look at the difference in Peter! Jesus has poured out his DNA and now Jesus is back! The Body of Christ, the disciple body is gathered – and Peter standing with the eleven, stands once more before the crowds. Here is Christ again, facing the Jews, the Jews whom if you remember the whole speech says ‘this Jesus whom you crucified’ – they are witnessing to Jesus by doing the Jesus thing – rising from the dead, turning the other cheek, coming back over and over relentlessly, doing good to those who hate, blessing those who persecute, revealing themselves as Children of God, living by the power of the indestructible life of Jesus.
The eternal Life of God who Is indestructible because he Is love
St Peter no doubt would now echo the words of St Paul
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In Peter, but more in the disciples body as a whole, Jesus is present once more. Going back to Love once more those who have slain Love once, Love returns. Love Resurrection.
And we know what happened next – the church starts to grow. Why? because people need to know that love is unconditional before they respond. They will hit out and thrash like a toddler tantrum wanting to know that it is true, that there is nothing that they can do that will separate them from love, for the world screams out the satanic lie ‘Love is conditional’.
For some that means over and over again suffering for their sake, ‘In the name of Jesus’ – but this is of course to use Lisa’s lovely phrase – Jesus DNA. They have received the Holy Spirit, breathed in his DNA – and have received the gift of Eternal Life – Life that can go on and on receiving all that fear will throw at it, and over and again rise from the dead.
Over the years as the church learnt, the blood of the martyrs was the seedbed of the church, but it wasn’t simply that death, it was the quiet patient acts of Christians who with the life of Jesus in them, blessed those who persecuted them, blessed and didn’t curse – who were not overcome by evil – by fear – but overcame evil by good. It wasn’t simply that they were doing what Jesus told them. No! We Must understand this – it was not simply that they were being obedient to Jesus, Jesus was inside them by the Spirit. They had the same Jesus who endured the shame and humilitation of the Cross in the name of Love, who would die for those who hated him, who knew the power of the indestructible power of Love.
So Peter along with the other disciples step back into the public square, not in their own power but that of the Holy Spirit, with Jesus DNA in them, driven to Love, facing death in the face of the Roman Authorities, maybe even some of those who had driven the nails into Jesus, acing death in the faces of the Scribes and the Pharisees who hated Jesus and wanted him dead – facing death in the faces of the crown, many who had cried out ‘Crucify him!’ Indeed St Peter says, ‘this Christ, whom YOU crucified’ . . . In the face of Death, Love gets up – Love Resurrection . . . Jesus is back.
For those who are united to Christ – The only thing to be afraid of is fear itself, which destroys the soul . . .
Love Crucified Arose. Jesus is back!
Sermon for Easter 2023
Strangers and Pilgrims
Sermon for Lent 2
You MUST be a Saint!
Teaching on 1 Corinthians 1 verse 2 – in two parts
The World’s delusion
Sermon for Lent 1
God – Your Life
Sermon for the Last Sunday before Lent
Paul to the Corinthians – 1
Sermon for Christmas
‘In Him was Life, and that Life was the Light of all people’
In the beginning when God began his creation of the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
When God creates the heavens and the Earth he is creating a place in which he will dwell – a Temple – and his first act is to separate Light and Dark, Day and Night. It is fundamental to the dwelling place of God, the one who dwells not only in unapproachable light, but also deep darkness – as the Psalmist reminds us –
If I say,
‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night’,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.. . .
and the prophet Isaiah asks –
Who among you fears the Lord
and obeys the voice of his servant,
who walks in darkness
and has no light,
yet trusts in the name of the Lord
and relies upon his God?
Indeed there is much in the Christian tradition to suggest to us that God is more present to us in these darker hours of night, or rather that daylight can obscure more than it reveals . . . after all, as St John tells us ‘The Light shines . . . in the darkness’. This light is Life . . .
In the same way that it is only in deep silence that we hear the gentle voice of the Dove like Spirit of God, the Light of Life requires the darkness for our perception . . . and yet we fill the Universe with noise, and flood the night with our own lights . . . [Is:50-11]
When as a family we first visited New Zealand in 2004, we spent a night in Reefton – and one image from there has remained fixed in my memory – the mural of a huge electric light bulb – commemorating the fact that in August 1888 Reefton became the first place in New Zealand and the Southern Hemisphere to have a public supply of electricity . . .
But with the advent of electric light – human agency, held back by the Darkness of Creation, exceeded its bounds, flooding every shadowed nook and cranny. Nothing was safe from its glare, or indeed the human acquisitive desire – Life became utterly explicit, nothing hid from the electric wonder – and the sense of the mystery of human existence seemed to vanish with the night at the flick of a switch . . . For the pitiless blaze of human light smears out lines and shade, everything is of equal brightness, so we too easily say ‘nothing to see here’ we see at best categories, but the mystery of each human person disappears in the merciless glare of the human light . . .
And with it the awe inspiring luminosity of the human person . . . that Wonder which the star canopied psalmist struggles to utter
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
What is a human being? What are you? Only the Silence, only the darkness allows a response . . . The blind light of the World says you are a mere biological machine, an accidental accretion of matter, and passes on . . . only the shade and the shadow brings a human life more fully into our apprehension
As God creates the Temple, he does so with a blueprint, he creates in accordance with a pattern. The underlying pattern of Reality. The Greeks had a word for this pattern – they called it ‘The Logos’ and this is made clear in the words from St John’s Gospel – in the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God and the Logos was God, The Logos was with God in the beginning . . . The Logos becomes flesh and set up his tabernacle amongst us . . . The pattern of God’s dwelling place is man . . . The light which enlightens every human being was coming to find its place the world . . . but in the glare of our own perpetual lights, can we see it? Do we Know it and welcome it?
Jesus is born as we know into a world much like our own – the whole Roman Empire is in uproar – everything is moving, there is no stillness, and in the busyness of human agency, of the business of the world, there is no place found . . . the ancient icons, following the Proto-gospel of Jesus’ brother James, finds Christ born in a Cave, in utter darkness – the Cave of the human heart – the place prepared from before the beginning of time. Light in the darkness – and to all those who in humility accept they do not see, they do not know, but who in the darkness relies upon God, light begins to stream forth.
This is The Gift of this Holy Night – God With Us, God born among us, God born within us – that we might be children of Light, and ourselves illuminate the World as Christ dwells in our hearts by faith.
O Holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend to us we pray, cast out our Sin, the sin that blinds and deafens, cast out our sin and enter in. Be born in us today . . . Fill us with your Life – with your Light
Sermon at a Service of Thanksgiving for Her Late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II
‘Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anointed Solomon King’
One of the more remarkable aspects of the events of the last ten days has been how many people who said that they were surprised to be caught out by and moved, at the announcement of the death of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second.
I’d like to suggest that there is nothing remotely surprising about this, and that the reason for this encompasses, yet lies far deeper than the simple surface assertion that her death connected us to the death of others we have known and loved, not least our own mothers and grandmothers.
For why we ought to ask, why this death? Why not the same deep response when we hear of any death? What is it that binds together so very many, even those who think the monarchy an anachronism, ‘out of place in the Modern World’? In this respect I’d like to draw our attention to the Queen’s Coronation, something which some of us gathered here might recall.
As I told a well educated young Christian man just the other day, to his surprise – what sets this ceremony apart, the creation of a new Sovereign, is that it is a religious ceremony.
It takes place in what is first of Christian worship, in a Church surrounded by Clergy. Politicians and other heads of State are reduced to the role of mere observers. This is first of all a Sacred Act, and the heart of the Coronation is that moment when the Archbishop of Canterbury anoints the Sovereign.
This Ceremony that goes back over a thousand years in the history of the British Isles to the Coronation of Athelstan, but in the deep memory of God’s people to the anointing of the Kings of Israel, David, and of Solomon about which we have heard this evening.
This deep root was foregrounded in Handel’s Coronation Anthem, ‘Zadok the priest’, written for the Coronation of George II, and which has been sung prior to that most sacred moment, not of crowning, but of the anointing of the Monarch at the Coronation ever since. The Crowning merely is the outward sign of the inward Grace conferred by the Sacramental anointing.
A sacred, a profoundly religious act.
The Church is that body which surrounds the Monarch – even to the grave. (The Bishop of Carlisle my home Diocese, is Clerk of the Closet to the Royal Household. Amongst his many duties which include oversight of all clergy for the royal chapels, he accompanied Her late Majesty’s coffin to its lying in state, will be in attendance at her funeral and will then accompany her to her final resting place in the Royal Vault at St George’s Chapel for the service of committal.)
Monarchy and Religion. Two ‘things’ which the received wisdom tells us are ‘anachronisms’ in this ‘Modern’ age, yet I suggest that this is a misunderstanding, not untypical of these days for they are in fact timeless. And that in itself is against the spirit of the age.
As one writer put it, during the seventy years of Her reign, “The Queen lasted. Nothing else did”.
This timelessness would direct our attention, were we are able to sustain it long enough, to that which Simply Is. For ‘Religion’ is that which binds together – it is about the very fabric of reality, the stuff of existence – that which Is.
Christianity is after all the very Structure of Reality – and from that structure, that fabric, ‘Monarchy’ speaks of the intersection of the Divine, and the Human – binding them together. The death of a Sovereign affects us all in ways we have perhaps lost the ability to speak, albeit ‘as through a glass darkly’. For The Sovereign is The Representative Human in so many ways.
My young Christian friend seemed rather troubled by the whole idea anyway – as if in some sense Monarchy was the conferring of absolute power, yet in that binding, the Divine right of Kings was not, the divine right to do as they pleased. That is to think purely humanly.
My young friend was confused by this very point. For to be truly human is to be Under God, not to carry our individual authority as in any sense separate. As Jesus, The God Man – reveals. ‘I only do what I see my Father Doing’
For the Primacy of the Worship of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ at the Coronation, and indeed in all that has followed the Queen’s Death including her funeral tomorrow, locates us all and binds us all, including the Monarch Under God.
As The Queen implicitly defined and gave coherence to this Nation, so the dominant theme of that is of Servant of The Living God. An explicit Sovereignty which spoke of The Implicit Servant . . . the God who washes our feet.
I wish briefly to consider three words which in various ways were spoken powerfully to us in the Life and reign of Her Late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth. All three themselves sound anachronistic to our ears, but again I suggest that is because they direct our gaze to timeless truths which were central to the Reign of Queen Elizabeth.
The first word is ‘Duty’. In a culture which emphasises above all autonomy, and individual liberty and choice, the word Duty is heard as oppressive – and yet its roots suggest simply ‘an accordance with the real nature of things’. To Live dutifully is to enjoy the Freedom to do what is Right, in accordance with The Way Things Are. Here again, That Which simply Is.
We might say, to illustrate this, that it is the ‘Duty’ of rain to fall, and of the Sun to shine, and of humans to live and die, Duty, however we might hear the world in these days is simply ‘doing what in truth you are’, the True Liberty.
And how much more clearly do we see this in Monarchy, in a lineage that is by birth. Duty is not Choice, it is the Path that lies in front of you, a Way Given.
Although as we know the Queen was not born to ‘the man who would be king’, the abdication crisis precipitated by her uncle, King Edward VIII, meant that in that moment her Father became King and she as the eldest of two daughters discovered herself to be born to carry the weight of Monarchy. Unlike the rather cruel lie held out before say the people of America, regarding their President – not everyone can be King or Queen, should they so choose.
There is no University course for prospective candidates for the Crown. However well you are acquainted with matters of state and proper protocols is utterly irrelevant. However ‘good or not’ you might be at ‘it’ is utterly irrelevant, you just Are . . . and so you must Do, as Rain must fall, the Sun Shine, and human beings live and die. (The Ancient couplet, Act AND Being, inseparable in any True Life – the most profound ‘Coming to your Self’)
The Queen understood this as she said “In a way, I didn’t have an apprenticeship. My father died much to young. It was all a very sudden kind of taking on and making the best job you can. It’s a question of maturing into something that one has got used to doing and accepting here you are and that is your fate, because I think continuity is very important. It’s a job for life”
The abdication crisis which precipitated the rise of Elizabeth to the throne was not simply shock at some abstract sense of setting aside duty as something one ought to do, as the abdication of the nature of reality itself. It was at the deepest level ‘a taking leave of the senses’ As I said, it is a facet of ‘The Modern World’ that even then that point was largely missed . . . Duty is simply Doing that which you truly are . . . A Way Given . . . and then , to come to our second Word,
Way to be Discerned. Someone last week expressed to me their frustration with a commenter who had said ‘the Queen did nothing’. At one level of course that is entirely the case – regarding duty, The Queen did . . . well Queen. At another it is of course a nonsense in that she embodied her Duty with manifest seriousness. Even when no doubt already aware that her days were coming to an end, she met with first her outgoing Prime Minister, and then her final British Prime Minister, both for 40 minute conversations. She did Queen to the End. Whether it were opening hospitals, or welcoming foreign dignitaries at Buckingham Palace, or her daily three hours over state papers she did what was Given to her to do. And that is the deeper meaning of discretion.
Discretion is very closely related to Discernment – One does one Duty ‘Discretely’ Discerning the nature of things. As Wind and Rain, as Air and Water do not shout themselves, being of the fabric which binds, Her actions were those befitting, well a human being.
Amongst the many many tributes we have heard – the one that to me particularly stood out was that from President Macron of France who spoke of her being ‘kind hearted’. To be known as kind hearted requires a large degree of Discretion, of having been moulded by a greater reality . . . holding one’s own vessel . . . For again Her Sovereignty was a Sovereignty under.
Her Reality was formed by daily prayer and praise, as her regular references to the Way of Jesus in Christmas and other addresses made clear, but without shouting. A Confession of Christ in Being that like Jesus’ service is without words in the first place arising from the web of existence which does not shout, it is simply there. (It does not speak, for it does not need to, being itself Spoken)
And finally to return to our beginning, the third word, Dominion . . . Gen 1
Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’
27 So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
The Role of The Sovereign – lived out by her gracious Majesty is to exercise Dominion, and here finally is the full significance of that Religious aspect, for unlike any other Ruler – The Religious Context of Birth, Marriage, Coronation and Last Rites, not simply as our Modern World would have it an accidental ‘choice’ – the Monarch Exercises here dominion ‘Under God’, and ‘in the name of God’ . . . that is ‘in tune with God’. It discerns the Deep Reality of the Sovereignty of God, as perfectly expressed in the Divine Human Image of God, Christ Jesus, The Way, the Truth and the Life.
In this regard Her Duty, well Discerned was to express the Dominion under God of each and every human being.
As someone with whom I spoke, trying to understand why she, having no reason known to her to, had been so moved by the Queen’s death, “Her Sovereignty taught me about my own”
The Image of God – The Human is also Sovereign – not as autonomous, as lost and harassed, but in place, Under God to be the vessel of Life to All Creation, the source of living waters. Dutifully and Discretely – expressing therefore that which is above and Beyond us all.
The God- Man Jesus perfectly expresses this life – as we are all made to, Under God. As The Queen was anointed at her Coronation, so we too at Baptism are made Kings and Queens, Priest’s and Prophets, to Serve God with Joy for ever.
And so let us now commend Her late Majesty to the mercy and protection of God – our Maker and our Redeemer
Almighty God our creator and redeemer,
by thy power Christ hath conquered death
and returned to thee in glory.
Confident of his victory
and claiming his promises,
we entrust thy servant Elizabeth into thy keeping
in the name of Jesus our Lord,
who, through death is now lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever. Amen.
The fruitfulness of Vulnerability – The Life of God
Sermon for the Third Sunday after Trinity – Year C – 2022
The Triduum – Jesus entire Life and Ministry
Lent 5 – “No accountants in the Kingdom of God”
Sermon for Lent 4 – Who IS the Prodigal Son?
If you are patient with them, words come together . . .
“Grandmother, let’s not have any godtalk while you are here, okay? I believe that God is everywhere. Let’s just get on with life” Charity – five years old. Reported to Eugene Peterson and recorded in ‘The Pastor – A Memoir’
‘The same Abba Theophilus, the archbishop, came to Scetis one day. The brethren who were assembled said to Abba Pambo, “Say something to the Archbishop, so that he may be edified.” The old man said to them, “If he is not edified by my silence, he will not be edified by my speech.” ‘Sayings of the Desert Fathers’ trans. Benedicta Ward
“It may be that the advent of language alone produces, and indeed requires, this distancing from reality, this degree of alienation . . .It has often been surmised that there is likely to be a relationship between language and psychosis. I believe that this is correct” Iain McGilchrist: The Matter with Things
“For God alone, my soul waits in silence” Psalm 62, verse 5
The Peacemaker Comes, riding on the Wings of the Storm
‘Whatever happened to sin?’ This question which did the rounds from time to time is not insignificant. By some it was thought that the church could be obsessed by it, yet certainly it has become less and less a focus of preaching. Something less and less part of our consciousness, to the point where in some circles, the Gospel announced as ‘Christ died for our sins, according to Scripture’ (1 Cor 15), indeed the significance of the death of Jesus Christ, except as a sign of God’s participation in human suffering, seemed a rather strange idea, with little or nothing to do with our daily lives.
Yet, apart from the insistence in some quarters that the Gospel and the teaching of the Church must be relevant to our lives, perhaps it is more the case that this seeming irrelevance calls our lives into question. Certainly as today’s gospel points us towards the rejection of Jesus’ by Jerusalem, with its own humanly directed salvation quest – not entirely disimilar to our obsession with political solutions to the human plight – it also directs our attention away from Jesus Christ as God’s response to us, and indeed the way of healing.
To understand better perhaps the centrality of forgiveness in life, we need to consider sin, and its effects.
Straightforwardly put, sin breaks the bonds of affection, or the ties of love by which all things are held together – perhaps this is Physics mysterious ‘weak force’ . . . ? For those of us living in highly technological, depersonalised societies such as here in New Zealand, or more generally Modern societies, the idea that my relationship with those around me is Essential to Life is a strange one. After all if I have money, why do I need people, except if I am of a gregarious, extroverted nature and like a party?
I can obtain the ‘essentials of life’ without attention (love) towards those around me. My life has the sense of something I sustain by my own efforts, in a not dissimilar way to the way in which Jerusalem understood that her Redemption would come by keeping the Law. Such a stance counter intuitively also suggests that Sin and Forgiveness have little to do with the Essence of Life. Where Sin is merely ‘breaking the Law’, as opposed to rupturing the ties that hold all things together in Love, forgiveness of sins is inessential to Life in its fullness.
In our society in which technology ever infiltrates the ‘between’ of human existence, and we move toward the uncontact society towards which we have moved far far further than there is distance left to travel before its completion, we move towards a state of affairs in which in a perverse sense ‘sin will be no more and sorrow and sighing also’, for we shall have no connection with one another, to break. Yet that connection Is Life. In another sense, we shall humanly speaking, be dead.
Imagine it you will instead a community which is as large a community as we might meaningfully live within – say about 150. It is one in which the community works together to grow its food and in which there is of necessity mutual interdependence. If you fall out with your neighbour, or are indeed cut off from the community, this is a matter of life and death. Or indeed if you as a community fail to live in some kind of mutual relationship with the land in which It’s life is understood to be literally vital, then also you will die. Sin as the breaking the bonds of affection. between yourself and your neighbour, or yourself and the land, leads to death.
Forgiveness in such a scenario is also a matter of Life or Death. And this is fundamental whether we recognise it, in a smaller, more personal society as sketched out here, or in a city – say, Jerusalem – which does not recognise it, not least because cities are always out of tune with their surroundings, except in Urban Planners dreams.
God is Love. It is God we seek to kill in our failure to love. In societies which do not understand that they are fundamentally, essentially dependent on love. God is sent outside the walls to die. ‘Life’ so called has no Holy Anima, and increasingly mimics that of those forms of ‘life’ we have ourselves created without love, that is the machines, or graven images of God, that which we imagine we control.
Jesus, the Hen, provides the shelter of His Kingdom of Forgiveness and thus Peace for those who will Live, having at least some sense of what life is, and knowing that nothing counts more than the Love which binds all things together. He provides the overshadowing as the Blood of the Lamb, from Fox, or fire. So that when the storm hits, those who live by his Love, will be those who see it out to the end.
Learning God – A Lent Course, 2022 – Session 1
Learning God – A study for Lent 2022
Matthew Chapter 4 vs 1-11, Chapters 5,6,7
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the Devil” Matthew 4:1 (ESV)
“He calls his sons and daughters to the wilderness” Michael Card
[Find a notebook and pen, or pencil (I prefer a pencil).
Together with the Scriptures keep them close this Lent]
Recently one of our grandchildren celebrated her second birthday. Via the miracle of modern technology Sarah and I watch as she discovers the present her parents have given her.
Miriam was told to go to the kitchen and as the camera followed we saw her discovering a model kitchen within the kitchen. Having unpacked the box with the pots and pans and plates and cups she just set about ‘doing kitchen stuff’. It reminded us of when her mother and sister had also been given a play kitchen. They just set to ‘doing kitchen stuff’.
Children learn by imitation, but it is unselfconscious. It is such a remarkable thing. Jesus calls us to become like children in our faith – without self-consciousness; Learning God.
In this Jesus is our model “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”
Pause in Silence
Sit in the quiet with these words of Jesus. He can only do what he sees the Father doing . . . like the child can only do what they see the parent doing.
Perhaps take a pen and notebook – what does this summon up within you? Is there a prayer which rises up?
This is the entirety of our Christian vocation. This is our Christian Life, Life in all its fulness. To do only what we see the Father doing.
To live this life requires we see God clearly, and that is the purpose of the wilderness . . to learn God.
Pause in Silence
What comes to mind when you imagine Wilderness? Take time to imagine . . .
God’s ancient people the Hebrews were led out into the wilderness. This is the place which to our eyes is empty. Just the Wind of God, Breath, Spirit. There is nothing to distract . . . from God, and indeed ourselves.
There’s nothing we can do in The Wilderness to make a life for ourselves.
In my native Cumbrian dialect, the opening of Genesis reads,
‘In the beginning, there were nobbut God’ In the wilderness there is a blank slate and ‘nobbut God’.
God fills our vision as a parent fills the world of the child who lives in the flow of unconscious vibrant imitation.
Pause in Silence
What do we make of the idea of learning God?
How does it resonate, or not with our ideas of ‘Being a Christian’?
“To all who received him, who trusted him; to all those he gave the right to become children of God, to become those born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but born of God.” John 1:12-13
Some writers suggest we can translate the opening of Genesis, ‘In the beginning, when God began to create the heavens and the earth’ This translation suggests a ‘coming into being’ of the surrounding world. But what of us? Of our Becoming into being?
Our study this Lent comprises the key elements of Jesus Wilderness life.
As the Hebrews spent 40 years in the wilderness, so Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness. There after 40 days of fasting – which sharpens our vision of what really matters – to be tempted, or more helpfully tested, judged, tried. (in the way one might try a metal to see if it was fit for purpose, in the fire.
‘Tempted’ carries a lot of unhelpful baggage . . . what is being tried here is Jesus’ discernment, his vision. Can he see right?
Seeing right the essence of the Life of God, as opposed to the death of Sin.
Then Jesus goes up on the mountain and there brings to fulfilment the encounter of God’s people with God on Sinai, when he gives ‘the Law’. Now from the Mouth of God comes Livingness in Jesus’ words.
For the rest of our time this week, read slowly through the ‘temptation’ story from Matthew and then the Sermon on the Mount . . .
Make a few notes as you go along. What strikes you? What attracts? What scares? What puzzles or confounds?
We have plenty of time. All the time we need to take is found in God’s hands . . . Let us know ourselves there in our imagination. And, what’s more, there’s nothing else we really have to be doing, is there?
Next week – Learning God – What do you see?
Transfiguration Sunday – What are you looking at?
CHRISTIANITY AND THE STRUCTURE OF OUR BRAINS – AN EXPLORATORY 3 LECTURE SERIES
Priests and a Kingdom of Priests
Evensong – Christ the King Sunday – Belshazzar’s Feast
Sermon for Evensong
Christ the King
‘the most remarkable aspect of [this] civilisation, . . . was the ability of even the poorest members of society to afford cheap and high-quality consumer goods, enabled by immense specialisation in production and an interconnected trading network that spanned the entire empire.’
‘even as they were living through its early stages, [people] were unaware their society was collapsing. Yes, goods were harder to come by, infrastructure was increasingly degraded, urban life was increasingly unsettled, economic growth was only a memory, and new religions boomed as people tried to make sense of their declining prospects. . . .For some people, great profits could still be made: for most, things went on much as before, though with a lower standard of living with each passing year. No doubt, things will improve soon, [they] told themselves: this is only a temporary blip.‘
Or so our cat might wish who has recently had to make do without his favourite, ‘Whiskas with Fish Selection’ . . . Is this a description of our current circumstances? COVID has caused massive disruption to our highly connected and intricate distribution networks, with containers scattered across the globe ‘like abandoned shopping trollies’ as one writer put it . . . ‘We’re out of EVOO! I cried on Friday evening as I prepared pizza . . .’ ‘there is none on the shelves’ my dear wife informed me . . .
Those descriptions however come not from a prophetic book about our days, but from a study on the collapse of Imperial Rome, a collapse which may have been in the view of St John as he struggled to record what he had been shown in his Apocalypse, or literally ‘Revelation’
What John sees is the underlying characteristics of civilisations as they collapse. ‘Great Beasts’ as we heard this morning, signify Nations or Empires, and their fall is the theme of Apocalyptic literature. Apocalyptic for when a civilisation collapses, it is ‘the end of the world’ This is why in these days in some Christian circles it has become and object of fascination, yet central to our attempts to understand this strange text has been the theme of repeated patterns. ‘What goes around, comes around’. Civilisations rise, and they fall. The higher the rise, the greater the fall . . . the fascination of some Christians with The End of The World, can perhaps obscure the repeated pattern. Jesus himself says that even the collapse of the Jerusalem temple should not be understood as The End . . . although for many it was ‘the end of the world’.
And so the Great Angel cries out, “Fallen, Fallen is Babylon the Great!” And the ‘four horsemen’, ‘plague’, ‘famine’, ‘war’ and of course the pale rider, ‘death’, are the great disruptors whose regular return is curiously unexpected, and whose appearances increasingly destabilise what was thought to be secure and indeed eternal . . . Hitler’s Third Reich may not have lasted 1000 years, but the conceit behind the thought is common to all ‘great’ human civilisations. (It is a matter of some interest to consider how one might properly pray in such days . . . but another time)
In a sense one might suggest that to God’s people these words are written as reminders that even the greatest of empires is but a breath, a day in the sight of God whose kingdom we heard this morning – is an everlasting Kingdom. For God’s people suffer under these kingdoms, Rome of course, and Babylon. Which takes us to the Book of Daniel.
The book of Daniel is set in a time when God’s people are suffering – and have been taken into exile. This is the occasion of that most notorious verse in the Psalms 137:10. ‘Oh that THEIR babies heads were thrashed against stones’ the howl goes up no doubt from the mothers of those who had seen such horror inflicted by the Babylonian armies. God’s people suffer and cry for justice – and relief. The End of the Age of Rome, and of Babylon.
Daniel has risen high through the gifts God has given him, but continues to worship God, and not King Nebuchadnezzar. Running through the first part of the book is a repetitive theme of the King requiring that which belongs only to God, only for God to save Daniel and his friends.
Human hubris is the symptom of the End. Nebuchadnezzar, the father of Belshazzar is driven away from human civilisation as a reminder that he is not above all. (Perhaps the idea that ‘we shall save the climate’ is itself a manifestation of such hubris?) Nebuchanezzar was troubled by a dream, as it turned out a dream of himself as a great tree, cut down – Daniel tells him – your kingdom shall be re-established for you from the time that you learn that Heaven is sovereign. Therefore, O king, may my counsel be acceptable to you: atone for your sins with righteousness, and your iniquities with mercy to the oppressed, so that your prosperity may be prolonged.’
From the time that you learn that heaven is sovereign . . . Does our Age Know that Heaven is Sovereign?
One cannot help but hear echoes of the words of St Paul in one of the early Christian writings to the persecuted church in Thessalonica, about the ‘end of the age’
As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God.
Nebuchadnezzar does not learn from his dream . . . and clearly hasn’t taught his son very well either
Belshazzar has destruction written all over him. At the apex of human power, Lord of all he surveys, he is drunk and orders that the vessels of Gold and Silver his father had pillaged from the Jerusalem Temple be brought forth. So they brought in the vessels of gold and silver that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.
The symbolic power of this action needs little commentary, just four words . . . a hand from God’s presence is sent and this writing was inscribed. And this is the writing that was inscribed: mene, mene, tekel, and parsin. This is the interpretation of the matter: mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; tekel, you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting; peres, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.’
That very night Belshazzar, the Chaldean king, was killed.
‘Fallen, Fallen is Babylon the Great . . .’ in one night. And down goes the global trading system with it
Hubris – Over reach – the cautionary tale of Icarus – or perhaps ‘tall poppies’? Or booksellers building rockets . . .
Fallen, Fallen is Babylon the Great . . .
‘Alas, alas, the great city, clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! For in one hour all this wealth has been laid waste!’
And all shipmasters and seafarers, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning,‘What city was like the great city?’ And they threw dust on their heads, as they wept and mourned, crying out, ‘Alas, alas, the great city, where all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth! For in one hour she has been laid waste.’
Today is the last Sunday of the Year, Christ the King. The Day on which we are to call once more to mind that here is no lasting kingdom, and but one to which we owe our entire allegiance.
Next Sunday is Advent and we begin Year C in the Lectionary Cycle, the year of Luke
With all this in mind, and to bring it from stories of Kings and collapsing empires down to the personal level, I close with a parable with echoes of Belshazzar’s folly and fall, and the End of all human civilisations from the mouth of the one whose kingdom is eternal
‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’
There is only one story. It is Always the Last Day. How then shall we live?
Bartimaeus – Entering the Land of Promise with Jesus
I somewhat butchered the poem in the sermon – you will find the true text here – https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/52298/we-are-seven
The Living God! Accept no substitutes! Sermon for Trinity Sunday . . .
The Living God – Accept no substitutes!
Sermon for Trinity Sunday
‘In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord . . .’
While Sarah was away, folk may possibly have noticed that I was a little more disconnected than is usual. That’s because I was incredibly busy. In her absence I gave every spare moment I had to writing a book about her. It includes some of her life story told from various angles, some of her funny saying, and some poetry I wrote to her. Of course I didn’t have to stop there in this age of technical magic – I put some photos in there as well. And then I got in touch with Netflix and asked if they could make a movie for me about her life, and having read my book they happily concurred. It was a bit of a rush job and I’ve been sat in front of my screen watching the final edits over and over and am really looking forward to when it’s on general release and I can binge watch over and over and over again. In any spare moments I have now, I go back to the book and re read that over and over . . .
At which point you might gently tap me on the shoulder, or perhaps Sarah herself might and say, excuse me, but I’m here . . . ‘Please don’t disturb me! I’m reading and look at this great movie about you! . . .’ Yes, ,you would think me mad, and rightly so
The other night I stood out in the garden for over an hour observing the near total eclipse of the moon. Others might have stayed in bed and assumed correctly that they would be able to look at the photograph the following morning . . . we live in a world where increasingly we confuse representations for reality. If you ask me to picture The Queen, I find it very hard to get the image of Clare Foy out of my head. The other morning I watched the sunrise and found myself thinking – it’s as beautiful as a watercolor . . . Increasingly surrounded by dead representations we lose touch with LIVING Reality. And this perhaps above all is the reason why the contemporary culture has lost touch with God.
Today is Trinity Sunday. Trinity Sunday comes with beartraps for preachers. Notoriously, Vicars decide to take this Sunday off and allow someone else to preach, lest they get caught in their words. Of course one trap is Heresy, that you might say something wrong about God – like for example the clearly heretical statement at the beginning of one of our prayer book liturgies – but the fact that many people think this is the biggest trap is a sign of what I’ve just said. That we have substituted a representation of God, our words about God, for God. The real trap is the delusion that we can substitute words and thoughts about God, for the living and the lived reality of God.
I chose those words carefully and I’ll repeat them ‘The real trap is the delusion that we substitute words and ideas about God, for the living and the lived reality of God’
On December 6th Thomas Aquinas went to mass . . . Thomas was The Great Scholar of the church. He had over the years written perhaps the great systematic theologies, the Summa Theologica. That is what he is remebered for, but were he here today, I wonder if he might be going around saying, No! No! Because on December 6th something happened to Thomas. He came home from Mass and said to his servant ‘all I have written is straw’. He’s been born from above. He had had some kind of experience of God for which all his words were utterly inadequate.
He never wrote another word and died the following March
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.’
One of the habits I find increasingly difficult is how people say ‘God’ this ‘God’ that, ‘God’ the other, to justify themselves, or in the church a particular policy . . . This is taking the name of the Lord your God in vain, to try to USE God . . . The people of Israel had a not dissimilar practise – they would cry out ‘this is the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord . . . Jeremiah 7. They had God contained – they thought they knew what God was about, and he lived in the Temple they had built, against God’s explicit prohibition . . .
Isaiah Sees the Lord – and the bottom edge of his robe fills the entire Temple building – the largest structure anyone in Jerusalem would ever have seen, and the seraphs declare ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts – the whole Earth is full of his glory . . .
To paraphrase St Paul’s letter to the Romans – God is Obvious! Why do you not see him as Isaiah did? Why are you strangers to him, and he to you? Why are you blind? Why do you use God substitutes and then just get on with your lives as if the Living God was somewhere else? Why do you talk about him, in a way you would never talk about a person who was sat in the room with you? Words, words, words . . . “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!” As Job says ‘but now my eyes have seen him! I repent myself in dust and ashes
The Christian Life is the Life of God or it is nothing. It is the Lived and living experience of God in the world which cannot be reduced to words. It is not even ‘a faith we live by’ for to reduce it to any kind of formula is to kill the life. The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life!
So to come to Paul again – For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. That is the mark of the Christian – not that they ‘live out their faith,’ a way we have come to say, but that they are born of God’s Spirit – and act in accordance with his movements.
Let me give you a simple example of this, which is very clear. As everyone is aware here, I face East during the Great Thanksgiving, and at other points in the service. Why? Because the Spirit of God in me compelled me to. I could do no other. It wasn’t that I had as it were figured out that I had to, rather the other way round. I was racing to keep up with God. My theology had to straighten itself out in the slipstream. I could give you now some reasons, but the danger would be that you might think I had figured it out ahead of time. I rarely if ever figure things out ahead of time and then put them into practise. ‘He does it because he believes this that or the other’
When I was called to ordained ministry I thought it couldn’t be right. Why? Because of my theology
When we were called to New Zealand I came up with loads of really good theological reasons why this couldn’t be right
When I first faced East I did so having for years thought it was theologically wrong, and still wondering, but I could do no other.
Isaiah stands in the Temple and all his God words are dust, straw . . . I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell amongst a people of unclean lips . . . the letter kills,
but the Spirit give life
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God
For those who Know God – God is their life. That is what it means to call God your father – that you are born of God
And this is for the entire people of God. I was so so dismayed when I received a communication from a member of the clergy which embodied what is called the Spirit of clericalism which is horribly alive in so many ways
The church has a patchy history of caring for its clergy, and burn-out and other health issues too often feature in the lives of passionate and committed followers of Jesus Christ
What??? Apart from the huge issue of people getting burnt out following the one who rpomises that if we are with him we will be given rest – whose yoke is easy, and whose burden is light . . .
I wonder if you heard that? Were you indignant? I kind of hope so. If I believed for one moment that as a church we thought that the whole people of God were not ‘passionate and committed followers of Jesus Christ’, or that somehow I was moreso, I would have to resign my orders. This is precisely what always troubled me about ordination and it does to this day. That it created a ‘passionate and committed class’ amongst the half hearted and patently wobbly laity . . .
Part of the reason for East facing I think, is that the priest should be anonymous – simply one of the people of God oriented towards the life of God coming to us in and through Jesus. Perhaps like one who sees pointing the gaze of others but certainly no more. Anyone who sees God can be a priest
Anyone can be a priest if the Spirit of Christ dwells in them, if they are born again and can See the Kingdom of God. If they have no desire to deal with dead representations of God, with books or movies – because God is Real to them . . . Anyone for whom God is not only a living reality, but their lived reality, Christ in them Alive!
Think for a moment as we close about someone you dearly love. Perhaps they’re sat beside you, perhaps you wish they still did for they have died. If I took them away, or if they had been taken away and I said – ‘don’t worry here’s a book about them’, or ‘here’s a movie we’ve made of their life with an actor who bears an uncanny resemblance to them’ Can such a thing subsititute? If that is true for the one you love, how much more true is it for God. Know God, If you Know Jesus – no substitute will do . . .We know we wouldn’t accept a book about a loved one – we know that it is no substitute. Stop accepting substitutes for God
We believe in the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but do not think for a moment that God can be reduced to a formula which the scholars can dissect, for to See him is to die to our own agency and life our own definitions, our theologies lie in the dust. To Know God is to be animated by his life – and the Spirit blows . . . where’er it will – we follow in his slipstream, chasing to catch up.
Sermon for Ascension Day – Why “Vicars” are a bad idea . . .
GK Chesterton once said “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting, it has been tried and found too difficult”
There’s a temptation to think that these words are aimed at an audience outside of the church, but Chesterton was a wise old owl . . . he knew the reality of the Church well enough not to romantically imagine ‘here are the people who get it . . .’
Judgement begins with the people of God, those who have the sacred scriptures, those to whom God offers the Spirit and the Eucharist . . . those without excuse
‘Jesus is coming for his church’ we hear . . . and those words should give us pause
I once had a church that over ten years I had helped to get along without me . . . then I left. Unfortunately they appointed a new Vicar who took charge and made himself indispensable . . .
I’ve always struggled with the idea of being ‘a Vicar’. I remember telling my own Vicar that no one should be a Vicar as Vicar was from the word ‘vicarious’ – in the place of . . . Jesus
Although that isn’t its actual historic meaning – the Vicar replaced the Rector – all the same the idea that the people of God need ‘someone in charge’ has a very very long history, and God’s rejection of that is the heart of the message of Easter, now made most clear as Jesus goes to be with the Father.
Down through the years Israel had wanted one thing above all else – ‘a king, then we can be like the other nations’ As Samuel the prophet tears his hair out, God speaks to him – it is not you they are rejecting, it is me. Whenever we hear a call for leadership in the church it is the same – God is being rejected and the way of Jesus abandoned. As Bishop Kelvin used to say ‘those who cry out for leadership want someone to support their position’
But, to use a not inappropriate metaphor, Ascension Day is the day that Jesus says to His church, ‘now it’s time to put on your big boy pants’.
For three years Jesus has been showing the disciples the Way – His Way . . . They have squabbled – they have fought for power – Jesus has shown them His way laying down his power . . . which leaves them speechless and uncomprehending, and on Easter morning plain terrified.
He was only here for a season – The work has been finished upon the cross he reminds his disciples. Sins are forgiven. It is time to grow up and follow me in laying down your power . . .
Yet, to develop Chesterton’s words – it is not that following Jesus has been tried and found wanting, it is that it has been found too hard and not tried . . .
For the way of Jesus is Very hard, but not in the way we think. It is not hard in the worldly sense that we have to flog ourselves to death in His service. After all Jesus says ‘Come to me, and I will give you rest’
Back to why Vicars are a bad idea . . . Those of you blessed with children know all about this. “Muuum . . . johnnie said a bad word! Susie hit me! ” Dealing with children is dealing with the inability of children to grow up and live authentic human lives. It requires ‘a parent figure’ who is ‘in charge’ and judges between one person and another . . . yet Jesus said ‘man, who appointed me as a judge between you . . .’ Hey, Jesus – aren’t you here to tell people how right I am?
The story of Israel in the wilderness is a story about children. Moses is worn out because all the people bring their disputes to him . . . “so and so did this, or that or the other.” But all of that came to an end on the Cross. There, the Judge dies . . . The King dies . . . The Cult of the leader is demolished.
Now there is only the Life of God, or death – except the Way of God looks like death to us and that’s our problem
Sometimes in ministry someone says something which reveals that they have seen the way of Jesus and rejected it, whilst still holding on to their self-righteous ‘Christianity’.
I remember well how at a Christian basics group I ran a young woman, the eldest of three sisters, on hearing the story of the Prodigal and how the Father went out to bring him home and dress him in the best robe, “After all he had done!” cried out “That’s not fair!” BLessed was she who heard. For once the horrible message of Jesus had struck home.
“Horrible message?” Yes, that is how it appears to us, the way of death, the Cross in all its ghastliness confronts us.
Another example – Corrie Ten Boom – whose family hid Jews from the Nazis in wartime Holland. Eventually they were betrayed and taken to Ravensbruck Concentration camp where with her beloved sister Betsie, who dies there, she conducted worship services and led many to the way of Jesus
After the war Corrie had a remarkable ministry – she went all over Europe preaching the gospel of forgiveness. As she recalls that message and ministry was most powerful in Germany and it was there one day she was confronted with the “Horrible” message of Jesus. After preaching in a small church a man whose face was radiant from this the transformation this message had worked in him came to her to thank her. As he held out his hand she recognized him, one of the SS officers from Ravensbruck. He had been set free by the announcement of the gospel . . . but had Corrie . . . well you can read all about it in The Hiding Place.
The counsel of Jesus is clear and terrible at the same time. I have known Christians ignore it. ‘If your brother or sister sins against you, go to them in private and show them their fault’ . . . “What? Grovel before that person? Humiliate myself?!” The horrible message of Jesus strikes home . . . His Life giving message is about dying . . . Notice Jesus did not say – “if your brother or sister sins against you, go and find the church leaders and get them to deal with it, as in the days of Moses. Get them to grant you justice!” The Judge is Dead – so is The King . . . No now it is the Way of Jesus – laying down your life, your dignity for the lost person. ‘insofar as it lies with you be in fellowship with your brothers and sisters’
This person had really heard the horrible Gospel at last. only one goal, to seek and to save the lost. To that end he will suffer the utter humiliation of the Cross ‘to win them back’ What does he seek above all? Restoration of relationship. That is all that matters. Without Reconciliation there is no justice. Reconciliation is the undoing of Sin – as St Paul puts it, it is ‘the gospel of reconciliation’ – to go out to those who have cut themselves off and so are dead, and restore them to fellowship . . . But pride gets in the way – ‘they’ve gone too far’ – or just further than you or I will go. So we leave JEsus to do it, but we turn round and . . . well he’s gone . . .
The end of all the old ways is the Cross. There Jesus dies. For a few brief weeks he appears to his disciples, reminding them of all that he has said – because he is going to the Father. Today he has gone away.
On the Cross the old way has come to an end – now there is only the way of Life, the way of the Spirit, the way of Jesus which looks like death. Yet we don’t want to hear this for as Paul says ‘the way of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing’
So, we try and find another Jesus to be “Father”, even though Jesus said – ‘you will call no one on earth “father”‘ Or in that vein we might add ‘VIcar’, or ‘Church Leader’. In the early days of the church, it is notable that the letters written to the churches are written to ‘all the Saints’, and the leadership is not mentioned, if of course it exists, and we should be wary of reading it back into the text . . . The Risen Christ addresses his letters to ‘the angel’ of each church and commands that We hear what the Spirit is saying to the church . . . but it is hard to grow up. It is hard to trust God to work in our brothers and sisters – yet that is the Only Way
That is why the Church has one thing to be given to – to pray for the gift of the Spirit. To pray that where there is death, Life will blossom. For apart from the Life of Jesus the Way of Jesus is not hard, it is impossible. Jesus has gone . . . Jesus has gone. It’s time to get those big boy pants out of the cupboard
What do we mean when we say ‘God’?
Sermon for Good Shepherd Sunday, 3rd after Easter, Year B, 2021
1 John 3
‘What do we mean when we say ‘God’’?
The Sundays between Easter and Pentecost are properly taken up with a struggle – struggling to come to terms with the resurrection. ‘Christ is Risen!’ we loudly, perhaps even joyfully proclaim. Perhaps like Thomas we doubt. And that is not wrong, for if Christ is Risen, then what? If Christ is Risen from the dead, then how we look at and understand the world is seriously wrong, and if the way we understand the world is wrong then the way we live in the world is wrong . . .
What’s more if as we pondered last week, Jesus the True Human is bodily raised from the dead – if having passed through death he walks and talks and eats fish – then what does it mean to be Human?
And as we considered a couple of weeks ago, if Jesus in his Deity is crucified, what does that mean about what we mean when we say ‘God’? What does the revelation that God is not some Image of perfection humanly speaking? If God is happy, joyful even to reveal himself as wounded for our sake? Such that Thomas can say not merely ‘you are Lord, you are God’, but ‘you are the Lord of me, you are the God of me’? If there is a self recognition of God in the wounds, if by the eye of faith, we are sharing in something with God?
So Jesus offers his wounds to Thomas – in utter vulnerability. Not healed over wounds, but gaping wounds . . . . How we try and pretend that they are anything else but a gash in his side, and great holes in his hands . . . Jesus says – do not be afraid. I am utterly vulnerable before you, as on the cross, naked before the gaze of the whole world. Do not be afraid. The door is as open as this wound in my side. Come enter into my life.
Jesus’ wounds are not there for identifying him, they are there for identifying with Him, seeing ourself in Him, Knowing ourself in Him, and so as we read today, The Sheep know their Shepherd and the Shepherd knows His sheep.
This Knowing is so close, it is the knowing we find so difficult if not impossible with one another. The closest we come to it humanly speaking is in the ideal of marriage, where the bride and groom declare to one another of their own free ‘All I am I give to you, All I have I share with you’. I lay down my life for you . . . I give you my life.
And so today we move to ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’ – and those familiar words of the 23rd Psalm should take deep root in us. ‘The LORD is my shepherd . . .’
Yet like the vulnerability of the wounds, we seek to cover this over as well. I wonder how many of us will be thinking – yes, the Shepherd, the King! Which do you want? A Shepherd who is defined by kingship, or a King who is revealed as a Shepherd?
In the same way that we might actually be terrified by Jesus weakness and vulnerability in his humanity, so much want ‘The Leader’ – The Strong King . . . Perhaps this is why we end up seeing the cross as some mere transaction, a price that has to be paid, because in so doing this preserves for us the Ideal we want for God – Strong, Powerful . . .
The Resurrection of Jesus puts us on the point of a dilemma here . . .
The is God on the Cross, or it is not . . . It is God at our feet washing them, or it is not . . .
So much Christian talk about the Cross, effectively sees it as God popping out of heaven on a rescue mission – a mission which then mysteriously has to wait for us to die before we can share life with him, rather than on a mission to share life with us, here and now. We who fled from him, he has come out to live amongst us . . .
God is the one who wishes above all to share his very existence with us. That’s why we are created . . . This goes way way beyond what we call ‘having a relationship with’, such words are inadequate. This is a mutual indwelling. This is the heart of the Christian Genius, which sets it apart from any human religion.
In Bhuddism, there is no God; In Hinduism there are many gods and all sorts of stories are told about them, rather like the Greek myths; in Islam the idea that God could share in human existence is impossible. God is utterly unapproachable. The version of Christianity which says that humans cannot ‘go to heaven’ unless Jesus dies to seal a deal with the otherwise unapproachable God, not only seems to ignore the God who sits down at table with sinners, but also sounds suspiciously like a form of Islam . . .
No. The death and Ressurrection of the Man-God Jesus of Nazareth reveals a God who is far from remote. We fail to see him, not because he is too far away, but because as St Augustine reminds us, he is closer to us than we are to ourselves, such is his identifying with us. When the shepherd brings us home to himself, he brings us home to ourself . . . Salvation is the Good Shepherd bringing us home.
But, as many Christians ask – how can we know? This is simple. As St John says, because in the same way that the Life of God flows out of Jesus, it also flows out from you.
We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
If by faith in Jesus, God dwells in you, then God’s life will flow from you – to pick up on a phrase in the verse previous to our reading – they have eternal Life dwelling in them
We pass from death to Life – we enter the Kingdom and feed with Him at His table – we are filled thus with His Life and Love one another as he has loved us, without reservation, in mutual sharing of all we have and all we are, and so with Thomas proclaim his to be Our Lord, Our God.
The Wounded God. Our Lord? Our God?
Sermon for Easter 2
1 John 1
The Wounded God
Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
So I am sure that people really want to know how my guitar lessons are going . . . As always there is a special FB page for folk who are doing the course and people are putting up their photos of their fabulous guitars, and videos of their amazing playing . . . There’s a video of someone a little better than me, which has no likes. . .
I look at it and think . . . I can never be like that . . . Fail!
I wonder what we make of the story of the disciples – have you ever heard folk say ‘The disciples failed’. When Jesus needed them, they fled . . . they are doubting, they make rash promises which they can’t keep . . .
I wonder, as we hear this familiar story of Jesus’ appearing to his disciples, if we are reading it through that lens? If the truth is perhaps so life altering that we can’t hear it?
I mean, Have you ever been let down by someone? What was your emotional response? Love?? Or anger perhaps?
When you encountered the person . . . did you put them right?
Or perhaps you are one of those ever so rare people who is aware of having let someone down . . . What would your response be? Shame perhaps – almost certainly. Perhaps you wouldn’t want to meet the person you had let down. A resolve to pull your socks up and try and live up to their standards for you . . . Like God, no?
After all – we come to church and sit here and ‘call to mind our sins’ . . . make a list of how we have failed . . . perhaps we make a resolution ‘to do better’, to try and live up to God’s standards, and because we are, in the same way we expect others to live up to ours . . .
Back in 1985 a huge concert was held at Wembley Stadium – Live Aid. I wonder how many folk here watched some of it? It was to raise awareness and money to ‘feed the world’ as our TV screens were full of images of starvation in Ethiopia . . . In terms of star names, everyone was there including Queen . . . With Freddie Mercury strutting his stuff . . . ‘We are the champions of the world . . . No time for losers, for we are the champions . . .’ I wasn’t the only one who noticed a more than jarring note . . . no time for losers played out in front of images of starvation . . .
The world has no time for losers . . . it is its motto. Idols of perfection surround us and dominate us from birth . . . and our failure . . . ‘Could do better . . .’ So we need ‘people we can look up to leading us in the church . . . despite the FACT that we have to look down to see Jesus . . . washing our feet’
Images of perfection . . . Letting people down . . . but according to that story, this story of Jesus makes no sense . . .
The disciples are hidden for fear of . . . the Judeans . . . not Jesus.
Because in the eyes of the world – Jesus, like his disciples, is a loser . . . The World has no time for losers, like the disciples, like Jesus . . .
Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
He showed them his hands and side . . . Jesus identifies with failures . . . They are so happy to see him . . . that seems to be all that concerns him . . . Peter, get over yourself, I know you failed, but I’m not interested in that . . . ‘do you love me?’
Jesus shares his life with them, he identifies with them.
Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
So the early church – life shared – instead of images of perfection which separate us one from another so we can only stand at a distance and admire, a community of those who have failed according to the world’s story . . .
And then Thomas . . . again we have a problem. If we read this through the lens of ‘the demanding God who calls us to live up to his standards’, we do not see Jesus . . . who loves and forgives and washes feet . . .
Someone wrote of Thomas – ‘John obviously has it in from Thomas – painting him as ‘the doubter’’ but to write that assumes the world’s standards . . . that being a failure by the world’s standards is a failure in the light of the gospel also . . .
Note Thomas’ response – ‘My Lord, My God . . .’ You are the wounded God . . . in the eyes of the world you are the failure God . . . You are the God with whom I can identify . . . you are the God who will not hold my failure over my head – you are the God who Loves me unconditionally . . .
If we take the Incarnation at all seriously we need to See the wounded God in the Wounded Jesus . . . his bodily imperfection. Jesus does not stand in front of them with his wounds healed – They are open – and so Thomas believes in truth – identifying himself with the God who is not ‘impossibly perfect’ . . .
From the wounds flow life – blood and water – the source of the eucharist is the wounded one – the lamb slain from before the foundation of the world – in other word’s God always was like this . . . pouring his life out through his wounds, by which we are healed . . .
You see, Jesus shares life in weakness . . . we are terrified of weakness – we are ashamed of our weakness in a world which demands strength, and success which has no time for human failure, for losers . . . which endlessly condemns and judges . . .
Why does Jesus call these disciples? Is he on some massive ego trip and doesn’t want to be outshone? If he wanted to set up a church in the image of the world, surely he would have selected people who were humanly speaking very gifted . . . or does he want to set up a church which is like Him? Like God? All too human
It is in weakness we are saved – at the end of ourselves . . . Years ago I had a major breakdown. I had been driven by images of perfection, of trying to please God, of working harder and harder and I blew up . . . Coming out of that was a revelation . . . all the old ladies of the parish gathered round – ‘oh it’s so terrible, those nerves . . .’ So many of them had been through that. Suffered from nervous exhaustion . . . all of a sudden there was connection we hadn’t had before in weakness – the Vicar was human
Playing the guitar, I watch videos of people who play so well. I can admire, but I cannot relate to them . . . recently someone posted a video which was much more like my clumsy attempts . . . a bond was formed . . .
A community of drug addicts is the closest I’ve ever gotten to see the Kingdom – like in Acts. No one counted anything as their own . . . a community of the wounded, surrounding the wounded Jesus, who points us to the Wounded God . . .
I wonder . . . how many of us live under these idols of the God for whom ‘we can never be good enough’, who are worn out as we drive ourselves without love or mercy? And how well do we as a church manifest the wounded God, the real God shown perfectly in Jesus – put your hands in my side . . . I am broken . . . recognise yourself in me.
My Lord, and My God
Knowing and Knowing – Sermon for Lent 1
Sermon for Lent 1
Evensong – Sunday 21st February 2021
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
“Have you not discriminated among yourselves, and become judges with wicked thoughts?”
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’
Why? Why does eating of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil lead to death?
Good and Evil . . . can We judge? Can we tell the difference between the weeds and the wheat?
Following the end of the Second World War, at the Nuremburg trials, the triumphant Allied forces showed a 6 hour long movie. Entitled, “The Nazi Plan”, it carefully spliced together film to show the horrors of Nazism. It was an act of judgement, of making the line between Good and Evil very clear. The official story of the war was simply that Good had triumphed over Evil. The judgement of History was clear. There must be no doubt about who the wicked people were.
Yet there was a problem with such a simplification. Rather than viewing from a great height – in ‘the great scheme of things’ – viewed up close the picture was not at all clear. As many many allied troops knew, they too had committed and been involved in atrocities. Those stories were not told. Not all of humanity was to be on trial at Nuremburg, although perhaps it should have been
Following the war in Germany, the shame of what had happened meant that the war was not spoken of, until a generation arose who did not have first hand experience of the war. They were angry when they discovered the truth. It was their parents who had been complicit – so in the 1970’s there was an attempt to wipe the slate clean. Most famous were the actions of the Bader Meinhof gang, yet they too came to a terrible realization. In condemning Nazism they had murdered people. As one former member said – “we too had become fascists . . .”
And despite many many attempts down through the years to produce Purity, the old problem remains. We have eaten from the tree and Know Good and Evil, but there is ‘knowing’ and ‘knowing’
We can ‘know about’. Or we can Know. And the difference is critical here, most particularly with respect to other human beings, but also the Creation itself.
To know about requires separation from – to know as it were from a distance. But to Know is to be woven into. “Adam knew his wife Eve and she conceived and bore a son”. Two lives become one, not in confusion but in Union. These are different Knowings.
To ‘Know’ Good and Evil is the human condition. Eating the apple, we take it into ourself. Yet, we are deceived. Our problem is that we confuse Knowing with knowing about . . . We set up an supposed objective distance from this or that person or act and declare them to be Good, or Evil. A curiously objective distance we even apply to ourselves . . . declaring ourselves to be Good . . . as opposed to that person or those people.
And it is that setting apart that is the root of the problem. By our distancing we think we can see properly. By judging we separate ourselves from others and indeed the world around us.
Jesus’ problem as he encountered people was with those who thought they were Good compared with others. We categorise them as ‘religious’ people, yet all people in those days were religious – it is a wrong distinction.
As some folk try to purify the world of religion, with all its attendant problems, they merely set up other versions of the same things, with sure dogmas of who is in the right and who is in the wrong. It wasn’t the Pharisees and Saducees who were entering the Kingdom ahead of the tax collectors and prostitutes, it was the other way round, and the first person to enter the fullness of the Kingdom was a thief . . . which brings us to the Cross of Christ.
To Judge is to undo the work of Jesus upon the Cross in making the two one. In his flesh uniting God and Human beings. He used the consequences of our alienation to undo the transgression of Adam, the sin of standing apart, from himself. He became a stranger even to himself. He is ashamed of his nakedness, his own being.
Now he has to cover himself. Separating himself from himself, he found himself separated from the woman – flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones. He no longer recognizes himself in his fellow human. The man and the woman hide from God, and become strangers to one another. The Good Creation becomes an enemy. Estrangement rules. And Estrangement is death.
Yet Death will not have The Last Word.
In the Resurrection of Jesus, God gifts eternal Life to humanity. Not how Paul speaks of humanity as a totality in his letter – from the one man all – how much more, from the one man all. For as in Adam, all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. Unless of course we don’t count ourselves as Christ himself did, amongst the transgressors. Amongst those people. Upon the Cross, Jesus hangs between two thieves . . .
We ate from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, thinking we might thereby stand as judge and jury – instead of which we found we took it into ourself – we were woven into Good and Evil.
Yet God in Christ wove himself into humanity – that we might Know not good and evil, but The Good, The Good One, and so share not in knowing about, but Knowing God
As Jesus Says. –‘Now this is eternal Life, that they might know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Not know about, but Know.
Our healing from the wound of the knowledge of Good and Evil is to eat from the fruit of the Tree of Life, the body and blood of Christ and thus Know Him. That is Life
Out of Control – Sunday next before Lent. Year B 2021
Out of Control!
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds
‘I saw in my dream that the man began to run. Now he had not run far from his own door, but his wife and children perceiving it began to cry after him to return: but the man put his fingers in his ears, and ran on crying, ‘Life, life, eternal life’
So begins the journey of the Pilgrim towards the heavenly city in Pilgrims progress . . .
I couldn’t help but think of this when a news item caught my eye. The newly elected MP Ricardo Menéndez who had travelled to Mexico for distressing family reasons. The powerful ehoes of the Government ‘advice’ – “Do not leave New Zealand”, yet something called him forth, and he has won few plaudits for it.
Similarly of course Sarah has left these shores to step into the thick of the current situation in the UK. Flying into a locked down country – against the stronger advice of some of her own family and to the bemusement of some here.
Stay Safe. Stay where you know. Stay in your cave. Stay where it is safe. But what if you have no choice?
Recently I’ve been in conversation with folks who are exploring a vocation to the ordained ministry of the church, both here and in the UK. There is only one failsafe test of vocation, which is having no choice. This is why I think the old ways of laying hands on people and ordaining them was far better, there was never any danger of self deception, they had no choice.
I’ve been considering those who have no choice in the world at the time of this COVID pandemic. Those who have no choice to work from home. The only choice is to go out to work or to starve. A choice between life and death, which is on the one hand no choice at all, and on the other the only ‘choice’ that matters. Those who have no choice in the world . . . Blessed are you poor – you who have no choice. For yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.
In our society, perhaps like no other time before, the idea of having no choice is understood as a bad thing. For those who are sufficiently well off we like to decide what work we will do – of course we might dignify it with the label ‘vocation’ – but in reality it is almost always our choice. We like having choice. It is a sign that ‘we are in control’ of the circumstances of our lives. To step into, or to fly into danger , in to the place where you are out of control, is seen as a form of insanity. The only people who do this kind of thing are those who have no choice . . . Something Summons them forth. LIFE calls. Follow me!
And so Peter, James and John drop the security of the life they know, the life where they have half a clue what is going on, the life they have in some respects. They left their nets and followed Jesus. Because when you hear the call of Life, you have no choice.
And so you relinquish that which choice creates, the illusion of control.
When we relinquish control we step out from our safe space, the shore of the life we make for ourselves. It is a death. It reveals itself precisely in the way people leave security because they have no choice. But as Christians we believe that it is precisely when we die that we enter Life in its fulness . . .
Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves
Jesus took them. He leads them. They are not in control. They have passed through the death of relinquishing control, and enter Life.
Note Jesus words to the three disciples after this event. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
So, after he has risen for the dead, the disciples are to tell people . . . about this!
Years later as Peter writes to the infant churches, of all the things he wants them to remember of his life it is this incident.
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honour and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.
After the Son of Man has risen from the dead, Peter is telling people about how Jesus has led them through death to life . . .
And it was a disorienting experience. They thought they knew what life and existence was all about, yet now . . .
Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.
Peter is babbling. He is like a new born child – he has passed into the Kingdom of Heaven . . . This experience has undone him. Crossing the boundary does that. Your world falls apart. And one way or another our world will fall apart. Through the cracks in our lives of quiet desperation to use Thoreau’s helpful phrase, light breaks in.
It’s always light – as with Paul on the road to Damascus, so too with Peter, James and John. Light – Terrifying bright Light – we die and enter Life in response to a call which we have no choice but to follow
There is Life. And then there is Fear which keeps us from Life. We live in a world dominated by fear, and fear creates the urge to control. An urge which has no space for those with no control. Think about cars. About how they are bigger and stronger and safer . . . but not for those who have no choice, the pedestrian.
The situation with regard to Covid only reveals this to a higher degree, the tightening grip of fear, fear which is the antithesis of life . . . And this happens in a myriad of ways. I saw something from the church officials suggesting that perhaps this was an opportunity to move to a new way of sharing the peace. Never mind that originally it was a kiss; handshakes and hugs are so yesterday in the ever so ‘Brave New World’, ushered in by those who are afraid. In which people get used to and then justify never hugging another person . . . This is not Life, it is a living death.
As our own beloved patron says, There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear: for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 1 Jn 4:18 Put another way, as I was sharing with our Wednesday congregation, when we fear we do not know what Love is. Rather our definition of love is one which works within closed in boundaries where we feel safe. Where we are in control. When we are in control, Love is our choice . . . when we enter the life of God, Love just Is. Perfect Love casts out fear. Perfect love doesn’t merely cross the boundary, it stops seeing it. It is Life – Life, Love drives out fear
But this requires a death – a coming to the end of our life, or perhaps better, the end of our self . . . the life where we think we are in charge and in control . . . Perhaps this is needed for the church as well. I know from personal experience about how the church has become about control, about ‘we know how things are and God has left us to get on with ‘it’, that old story about God leaving us to get on with it. ‘Never will I leave you – Behold I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.
Control has been given over to Jesus – Jesus takes them, Jesus leads them. And they discover Heaven on Earth, because they have given up on fear and control, they have entered Life on the Holy Mountain.
When we hear that voice calling us to Life, we must go and step through the fear barrier to be Life in the World. Our life is put in God’s hands, where it belongs for now it is not our Life but His.
Heaven on Earth . . . not pie in the sky by and by.
When you know the power of life, you step through the fear barriers. Hearing its call you can but drop your nets and follow . . .
Or stay by the lake shaking your head after those who have gone . . .
Compass stuck? Second Sunday before Lent, 2021
1 Cor 9:16-23
What are you looking for? life or Life?
From one ancestor God made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps reach out to grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. Acts 17:26-7
The North of England is a place of strange goings on and customs. From the obscure practices of hill farmers to old men in flat caps and whippet racing, there’s lots to confuse the merely curious.
On the outskirts of small towns in Lancashire and Yorkshire are huts, where for generations usually the male of the family in an effort to get a bit of piece has retreated to tend to his prize possessions – his racing pigeons. This is where ‘the little man’ lives his dreams, becoming the equivalent of sheiks and Rosthchilds with their thoroughbred horses.
Every few weeks a truck will collect baskets of pigeons and drive them to somewhere in Southern Europe from where they will be set free . . . and one morning the old man’s gaze will pass to the horizon where a dot becomes the prize pigeon, having flown almost unerringly home . . .
It’s thought this sense of direction is helped by magnetic particles in their beak . . . and humans are not dissimilar. We all have within us a homing instrument – the only problem we have is most people don’t know what it’s for . . .
Paul who has become all things to all people that he might by some mean save some preaches about this to those wise Athenians, saying, From one ancestor God made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps reach out to grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us.
We were made to search for God. It is intrinsic to being human. As much as the pigeon, we are made to search for home. Our problem is that we don’t always realise that. We put this ‘homing instinct’ to different uses. We don’t know what it is . . .
Years ago, Sarah and I were out on the highest fells in my home, the English Lake District. It was mid-summer and the weather was, typically, cold and very wet. We’d spent the day crossing mighty Scafell with it’s rock gulleys, all ready to swallow the unwary, then onto the highest point in England, Scafell Pike. Sarah was tired and a little hypothermic, so we were making our way down the Corridor route towards Borrowdale, when we spotted two youngsters coming up the hill from the direction of Wasdale. Realising they were either foolhardy or lost, we waied for them to get to us. They were lost. They, like us were looking for Borrowdale but had descended 3000 feet into the wrong valley. After we’d ascertained that we asked to see there map so they could get safely down. ‘Map? Oh we haven’t got one, but we’ve got a compass . . .’ Proudly they brought out probably the most expensive compass I’ve ever seen, a wonderful sighting compass, extraordinarily accurate . . . but entirely useless without a map . . .
We put them on the Corridor path, told them to follow it until they reached a lake, then turn left until they reached the emergency stretcher box. Pause there and give thanks you haven’t need it, then turn right alongside the path following the outflow stream of the Lake until you come to the valley . . . Their faces which had been wracked with worry lightened and they set off, much faster than us, and we hoped not too fast . . .
We all have that compass. We are all equipped to find our way home. The problem is the compass only makes sense with a map. Someone who has made the journey, who knows the way.
The prophet Isaiah gives us the map –
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to live in;
who brings princes to naught,
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
Wake up to where you are, and who is with you . . . And now, God himself has come to show you the way . . .
Jesus is on the move. He knows where he is going. As he goes like a compass swinging round in the presence of magnetic rock, that homing instinct wakens in those he encounters. First Simon Peter, Andrew, and James and John . . . following their deep instinct, not knowing why. They have to go after him.
As he goes Jesus draws a crowd. Reality – Real Life – springs into existence around him. Like those iron filings in school science experiments, the world is transformed around him, pointing people towards him. Demons come out of people. Simon Peter’s mother in law is healed. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. Like a compass needle that is stuck, then freed, Her life is immediately begins to orient itself towards Jesus and those around him.
She rises from sleep to serve Jesus and his disciples. She has found her direction. In the presence of Jesus her homing instinct finds its True North. Jesus then takes his time in leisurely prayer, checking out his own orientation, his own homing instinct, his Love for the Father . . .
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.
Yet Simon and his companions hunted for him. How could they do otherwise? In Him they’ve found life, as Jesus has to be with the Father in prayer, so they have to be with Jesus.
When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ Of course – Everyone is created to search for God, and God has shown up.
Jesus answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
And the disciples go after him.
‘Everyone is searching for you’ We all have that compass needle. We are created to Know God – intimately. To find our home in him. But our needles get stuck. We lose contact. That Orienting instinct sets out to try and find home, but instead settles for a career, or the right education for our children, or good health, or a million and one things. That essential part of us, the spirit which is for God, gets bound up with the world, our ‘fixations’ – those things we can’t help but think about, our sins. Literally Sin means ‘missing the mark’ That compass which is given us that we might seek after God and find Him settles on something else. Something which we think is more real. We’re created for the Life which comes from God – which we call ‘Eternal’ Life – Life which isn’t bound by time and place – but we settle down, our homing compasses stuck in the wrong direction
It is only when we encounter The Real One, The Human being, Jesus that that needle is set free.
The Apostle Paul had been very sure of what life was, what religion was. He’d ascended the ranks. He was a Pharisee of the pharisee, a Hebrew of the Hebrews. His worldly religious credentials were right up there with Bishops and Archbishops . . . His needle was stuck. Until he encounters Jesus. He’d set his heart on the wrong things, but in the presence of Jesus he is unstuck, he is undone. Serious work needs to take place in Paul. Unlike Simon Peter’s mother in law, he is very very stuck. Some people are far more stuck than others. Their hearts almost set in concrete, almost . . . but never entirely. Paul needs to be freed and this takes time. He is blinded by the presence of Jesus, it will take time for him to be reset.
But set free, all that ‘religious energy’ finds it’s true home. He loses himself. He is free and thus free to become the servant of all – I am free with respect to all, I have used my freedom to make myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
Paul is Free and now he lives for Jesus, his orienting beacon in whom he has found his true home. Are we similarly free? Or are our hearts and minds set on other things? What are we looking for. Are we content with life, or in the presence of Jesus have we awoken to Life and set out on the journey to where we don’t know, to never be the same, to come Home.
May we like Paul find ourselves freed from the world’s illusions. May our homing instinct awaken to its true North, God in our midst
Back to Basics – Hearing Jesus
Sermon for the fourth Sunday after The Epiphany
Year B, 2021
‘Let those with ears to hear, hear!’ Matthew 13:9
Well, it’s still January. Just. Did the turn of a the year fill you with a resolution to change something about your life? New Year, New start?
For me, it was a decision to learn how to play the guitar. This may surprise some of you. For the discerning amongst you, it may well be met with the reply, ‘and not before time’.
I remember years ago taking a baptism service back in England. It was in the afternoon and my organist wasn’t available, so we sang songs accompanied by yours truly.
Following the service a fairly elderly man as he came to shake my hand said, ‘you clearly don’t know how to play a guitar’. He was of course right. I’d been found out.
I am in truth an occasionally enthusiastic self taught strummer of a guitar, and any judge would find me guilty of a duty of lack of care and abuse of a fine instrument.
Self taught, making it up as I went along, I had picked up all sorts of bad habits, and my guitar playing looked little like the real thing. So this year I took the decision to go back to basics. I’ve enrolled on a course starting from the beginning, stripping our some bad habits and hopefully make a little progress . . . To date, all I seem to have for my efforts are sore fingertips!
Stripping back to the basics.
It’s when we strip back to the essentials that we discover the true nature of our existence. Buried deep under the accretions and the years of bad habits and wrong turnings we touch on something we’d lost touch with, Life itself.
Often this stripping back happens against any will. We thought life was fine, then something terrible happens. As folk have said to me so many times, it really showed me what was important . . . We are found out. We realise we don’t know what we thought we knew. The life we’d been living was not life at all.
We realise that despite everything we thought we knew, in so many ways we are powerless. We don’t have what it takes. We are found out. Exposed before God – we are naked and ashamed . . . and all too often we pile up all those things that keep us from that life encounter. The place is too painful, too boring, too awkward, and way too uncomfortable. Too stripped back, too basic . . . well, this is year B. The Gospel for this year is Mark and Mark has no time for comfort.
His is the Back to basics gospel. There’s no fancy accretions. It is utterly unpretentious, and its strange kindness is as blunt as that man who pointed out the truth about my guitar playing all those years ago. (This was the way amongst those with whom I grew up . . .)
Mark’s Good News of Jesus Christ is angular – it has sharp corners and edges. We keep getting jolted by it. It’s repeated word is ‘suddenly’. If we are hearing the words well then they jar. You think you know where it’s going, then ‘suddenly . . .’. ‘Suddenly’ is Mark’s version of Behold! Wake up! Something is going on. Mark won’t even smooth things out for us with a post resurrection sighting of Jesus. The disciples are told that he’s gone ahead of them, we have to follow, to Galilee . . . which is where we begin. Jesus has returned.
Jesus is passing by the sea of Galilee and seeing Peter and Andrew commands them, “Follow me!” And Suddenly, Immediately, they dropped their nets and followed him . . . our gaze follows them. Further along the lake He sees James and Andrew, the sons of Zebedee, hard at work fishing. Immediately on seeing them he calls them and they too drop everything and follow him . . .
Where does our gaze go? Are we left asking about Zebedee and the hired men? Has Mark’s gospel left our pretentions to be followers of Jesus on the rocky shore of Galilee? Hey Jesus, we shout after his back, what about them . . . and he continues to move onwards . . . what about me? Where are you going? Come back! . . .
Jesus seems unconcerned. He’s on the move. We can stay put or we can follow him, but there’s not even the time to choose, for he’s not hanging around . . .
We respond or we allow the accretions to gather once more . . . “But where is he going?” Questions, questions . . . hesitations, waiting, and slowly like the bad habits on my guitar playing, our faith settles down comfortably . . . We come up with lots of answers which secure us in our existence. Like the John Bell hymn, having asked ‘will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?’, we follow up with lots of answers not to where Jesus is going – but where he has gone, answers that leave us where we are . . .
Jesus is not hanging around and as he goes on his way everything he does wakens people in astonishment. What Jesus does is calls people from the sleep of death, to Life, but as the parable of the sower teaches, we can awake and then go back to the sleep of death. Reality breaks in, and we pull the covers back over our heads for we have no root. The desire for Life doesn’t go deep enough.
I may or may not improve at the guitar, it depends if the root goes deep enough, if I am thirsty enough, if I want it enough . . . I may or may not improve at the guitar if I don’t allow many other things to get in the way . . . Far more important though , I might find out where Jesus is going if I go with him to where I don’t know . . . Seek, Jesus says, and you will find . . . but am I thirsty for what he offers . . . Must I know where he is going?
In Jesus do I see or hear something which . . . which wakens me to something worth giving up everything else for, abandoning all distractions for . . .
The Good Shepherd comes looking for His lost sheep. The sheep follow Him because they know his voice. Knowing his voice entails following Him
Follow me, Jesus commands Peter and Andrew, James and John. Look! They go with him, where?
They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
Jesus speaks and things happen . . . this has never been seen since the creation of the world. God said ‘let there be light!’ And it was so! Jesus said ‘Follow me!’ and Immediately they went. Jesus words go deep. He casts his net into the depths of human hearts, to a place we didn’t even suspect existed. There we were, in charge of our own lives. Knowing what was right and what the day held before us, and where we were going . . . and then a voice. A voice from both beyond us and within us . . . We wake up! He gets his hook into us, and we go . . .
“The Scribes – well we hear them a lot, We sit around and discuss their teachings . . . What they say seems to make sense when we think about it. We can take it or leave it. It does not take hold of us.” I sometimes wonder if house groups are a bit like this . . .
We live in a world where we think it is all about us taking hold of things, grasping them, Figuring things out . . . for ourselves. But this is not the Kingdom of God.. The KoG is about our being taken hold of. The formlessness and void of our lives apart from God are taken hold of by this Word – and leaps upwards in response. ‘he taught them as one having authority’.
Authority! Authority demands a response. We know this at one level. When you see those flashing lights in your rear view mirror, you know this is Authority demanding a response. And you pull over! You don’t drive on thinking, well I need to figure this one out for myself . . .
That is the nature of authority. As the Centurion sad to Jesus, I say come, and they come: I say go and they go! He recognizes Jesus’ authority for he knows the nature of authority. Authority makes things happen
Authority is not about sitting around and deciding for ourselves . . . Authority is about letting go of that. We can endlessly ponder the plight of Zebedee and the hired men, we can wonder if there is another way . . . and sat by the shore we will come up with lots of reasons. The moment will have passed. We have failed to recognize Authority. We have ears, but we haven’t heard. That place within us that flickered momentarily goes back to sleep, and so do we . . .
Suddenly! Immediately! Look! there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’
Stripped back to basics – hidden away, terrifying things, and in the presence of Jesus the secrets of hearts are revealed – from the heart of this man comes uncleanness . . . He is exposed before God . . .
This is what Jesus does, reveal the secrets of our hearts, things hidden even from ourselves in the depths of our being. He casts down into the depths . . .
The hidden thing is brought into the light, the man is healed . . .
When we follow, we follow from death to Life, from darkness to Light. But for some the Light is too bright, the Life is too real. We return to the world of darkness and dreams. Of comfortable illusions about ourselves, about Jesus and about God. Stories that leave us where we are. We don’t want to be found out . . .
The Guitar Judge found me out. I had to return to the beginning . . .
Jesus comes to us. God is walking in the garden in the cool of the day – We are found out . . . do we hide? Or do we respond to his voice, and his invitation to us to let go of our ideas, and to go where we don’t know . . . to trust him that whatever is revealed in us he will heal us of . . . to go where we don’t know, and never be the same
Let those with ears to hear, hear
‘Don’t just stand there, Follow Me!’ – Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany
So I awake early one day this week and, unable to go back to sleep, switch on a podcast regarding the question of the body of God, as I am sure we all would After all, Scripture speaks of the face of God, the arm of God, and when God first shows himself in Scripture he’s out for a stroll . . .
Which set me thinking. About how despite all our attempts to keep him in His place, to nail him down – or up – God is always on the move in Scripture.
God is a God who is on the move. If you’ve ever read the bewildering account of Ezekiel’s vision of the Glory of God by the Kebar river, it is if nothing else a vision of God in Motion. Creatures, Eyes, wheels, wings, moving NSEW as the Spirit commands.
Right at the beginning, when God appears in Creation He is ‘walking in the garden in the cool of the day’ – the sound of which causes the Man and the Woman to hide. They’ve just sought to secure their own existence, but God is on the move. They hide after all a moving God might disrupt their incipient ‘life on their own terms’. God is not Safe.
When God rescues Israel from Egypt, to go with Him they must go on a journey, and always ready to move. The God of the Exodus asks only for a Tabernacle, a tent. For Israel must be ready at a moment’s notice to dismantle it as the people follow the pillar of cloud and fire.
And God seems less than impressed with attempts to build a Temple for his presence in Jerusalem, to ‘domesticate’ him. To give God a place to settle down in, so we can pay attention to our own lives without wondering where he’s going. We build a place in our lives, a quiet half hour in the morning, a visit or two to church each week to visit the domesticated God. The Rest Home God . . . But God is not having anything to do with our programmes of domestication
So significant is this aspect of the Life of God, that when Paul preaches the gospel to those wise Athenians, he begins with this very point The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands . . . You and I can’t do anything for God. We can’t be busy on God’s behalf and turn up once a week to give him a progress report on everything we’ve done for him. As God rebukes King David, ‘will you build Me a house?’
And then Paul finishes off, While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent. You got God wrong. He’s not your domestic household God, or even your State God with his fine buildings, he is the dynamic Living God!
The Living God is looking for a house, but not one made of stone, but a living house, one that moves, indeed that walks. It is instructive how in Greek the verb to Live is the same as that to walk, which makes one wonder if in our sedentary age – and sitting kills you – then we are less in the image of the Living God who walks, who is always and everywhere on the move, as the wind blows wheresoever it will, not according to our whims and desires . . .
So when the tabernacle, the dwelling pace of God reappears – The Word became flesh and tabernacled amongst us – he is moving. ‘after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee . . .’ ‘As he passed along the Sea of Galilee . . .’
As he passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake – for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘follow me’. – literally ‘Come along after me’, walk behind me . . .
The announcement of the Kingdom of God at hand and the call for repentance is followed up by a call to move, to Follow . . . of course for God is not a stationary God.
But what does that mean? What does it mean to Go after Jesus, to Follow him?
In the early years of the Church, before the faith became domesticated it was far from respectable. And so when ‘they were first called Christians’ it was a term of abuse. In these days, it must be said, for various reasons it is again becoming less than socially acceptable to be a Christian. So some folk look for alternatives, like ‘Jesus Follower’. Cool, eh?
But what does it mean? What does that phrase summon up for you? Hearing the words ‘Follow me’?
If we are at all alert, then that question begs another question, a question asked by Thomas Lord, we do not know where you are going! How can we know the way? Follow Jesus! Yes! But where?
We’ve just sung ‘Will you come and follow me, if I but call your name’ Of course in this case Jesus doesn’t even call them by name . . . But will you? . . . Are we up for being Jesus followers?
Yet the next line . . . ‘will you go where you don’t know, and never be the same’
(Much as I appreciate the ministry of John Bell, I think that if he’d left it at that, rather than supply lots of suggestions as to where this might lead it would have been a more truthful if less popular hymn . . . after all it’s a lot easier to come up with our own definitions of what it means to follow Jesus than to follow him . . .)
Jesus said to them ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men’. Jesus has fished for men, and they have followed him, they in their own part will fish for followers who will go with them . . . but where?
Come with me, where you don’t know, and I will change who you are . . .
To follow Jesus means changing location, it means moving from where we are to somewhere else . . . but where?
To move is to change. If we go somewhere else in any meaningful sense we change. Tourists never really go to the places they visit – they think that other countries exist for their benefit, and as we know all too well here in Aotearoa, we get by by existing to fulfil the fantasies of the tourists.
But when you go somewhere to live there, to live in and become residents of another country, you change.
Our story is that of Abram who is called to leave his country for a land the Lord will show him, to Live there.
Which perhaps is why we like to keep this God fixed, in a Temple, or in some convenient idea which is pretty much the same thing, so we don’t have to go anywhere. Certainly not go somewhere we don’t know.
If we know one thing about Jesus’ disciples they don’t see where he’s going, until it’s too late . . . but they go anyway.
Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately [Behold!] they left their nets and followed him. Mark’s ‘behold!’ word is ‘immediately. After all there are these fishermen doing what they’ve always done, and What?! Without a word, they just go after him? Their action would have jarred their family and friends, woken them with a jerk. The Living God is at work. Look! They left their nets and followed him . . .
To follow Jesus entails a journey of change – to become different people. Perhaps that’s why we prefer to worship a god who is happy to be in a Temple, rather than the one who moves?
On the other hand, perhaps we too like the fishermen might go with him? And allow him to make us to become different people?
Lent is soon upon us – our study material is on precisely this movement and change – we are all invited to the journey
St Paul says – ‘We look to things that are unseen, for the things that are seen are passing away. But the things that are unseen are eternal’
We gather upon this Holy Night in the darkness of a church lit only by candles. It is moment in time for faith, for faith looks to things that are unseen. It is when the glare of so much artificiality is taken from our eyes that we can begin to adjust to a different way of seeing that is at the heart of how we experience our Christian faith.
On this Holy Night, we gather to celebrate a Light coming into the World, a Light unlike any other, a Light which shines in the darkness, a Light which the darkness cannot overcome.
All the light we see, and think we see by, is eventually overcome by darkness. The light of these candles if we leave them will expire in a few hours. The light of our own lives, as Shakepeare puts it so poignantly, ‘out, out brief candle’. The light of the Sun – even this one day will expire.
But there is a Light which no darkness overcomes – a unseen Light which paradoxically may shine all the brighter in the darkest night. For faith does not look to things seen, but to things unseen.
The Light of Christ coming into the world – a light in the darkness. A Light which the blind see – ‘Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me!’, cries out blind Bartimaeus. The man who cannot see, sees!
But those who think they see . . . who see by the lights that are overcome, those who see by simplistic explanations for the Wonder of existence, which paradoxically remove all joy, beauty, hope and of course Love, everything that we know but cannot See . . . that which comes from the Light which darkness is powerless against
And a Voice, A Word, which the deaf hear, yet in a sea of words those who think they hear fail to detect. In the beginning was the Word, before any Light and beyond any Light.
We know much of course of false lights and voices – hopes and dreams we call them. We look forward to them, we place them in front of us to show us the way as we make our plans, but then . . . well 2020 did for an uncountable number of such illumination . . . Those lights we had lit for ourselves – Yet there is Light
The Light which shines in the Darkness . . . which shines out of Darkness
Recently I’ve been giving much thought to black holes. God has not left himself without testimony in His Creation, even if you have to look in the strangest of places.
Black holes – the centre of all galaxies from which or into which spiral untold millions of stars. Apart from which they would not exist. Light with darkness at the centre. Where does this light and life come from? Where might it go? Beyond our vision, beyond our sight – A Light in the darkness, a Light out of Darkness
Black holes in a sense are not properly named, for they do emit lots of radiation, but it is not visible radiation. It is if you like a light that we do not naturally see by, but light all the same.
We say we see, but we are blind to almost all of Reality
This theme of Light we do not see repeats throughout Scripture.
Scripture seems uninterested in Proving God to us – indeed He is the God whom no one can see and live. The God of Israel does not permit images to be made of him. He is not to be seen by our eyes, and thus subject to our control.
And He comes into the world but hidden from the glare of the false lights . . . He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He comes unseen as a babe born in an obscure part of the world, in an age lacking in mass media . . . relying on the testimony of a few unreliable and at times unsure witnesses . . .
The world came into being through him – yet the world did not know him, did not perceive him, did not see him . . . And Scripture seems unembarrassed.
Scripture lacks that passionate ardour of the evangelist – to prove it, to show us. Jesus says ‘a wicked a perverse generation asks for a sign’ – the only sign is that of Jonah, of walking into the darkness to emerge three days later.
In the darkness which grips so much of the world in these days – we would do well to listen to the voice of the angles echoing the most repeated phrase in these obscure Scriptures – Do not be afraid.
We would so well to ponder this Christmas tide the words of the prophet Isaiah who questions the people of God thus
Who among you fears the Lord
and obeys the voice of his servant,
who walks in darkness
and has no light,
yet trusts in the name of the Lord
and relies upon his God?
It is a question which all the baptised should ask, for at our baptism we are addressed with these words – ‘you have received the Light of Christ – Walk in this light all the days of your life.
Walk in this light
The Light no darkness can overcome
Walk in this Light
which was born into our world
Walk in this light
Even at the last as your eyes close to the light of the world
Walk in this light – which passes through the darkness of suffering and even of death,
To rise to be God’s bright new dawn
Jesus, the light of the world – to paraphrase CS Lewis – not a light to be seen, but a Light by which to see. The Light shining in the darkness . . . Eternal Light, Now and Always. Amen
Sermon for Advent 4
This week I was asked to preach at another church, and to pick my own texts, always a dangerous business! Anyway, here are my thoughts on ‘Space for God’
Sermon for Advent 4
St Matthew’s, Dunedin
Space for God
My thoughts this week are on ‘Space for God’. I wonder what those words summon up within us.
Perhaps the title of a book which was very popular about twenty or so years ago – ‘Too busy not to pray!’ by Bill Hybels, and other such ideas – fitting God into our busy lives.
In the C 17 in England, near Liverpool there was a battle in the Civil War, before which one Jacob, First Baron Astley prayed before his troops, ‘Lord you know how busy I must be this day. Should I forget thee, do not thou forget me’
We have such busy lives. How to find space for God? And I guess you might be expecting me to exhort you to find more space for God, but I’m not . . .
We are in the season of Advent and like each of the church’s seasons, it is given to us as an opportunity to remind ourselves of essential aspects of our faith. For Advent, that is ‘Waiting for God in Hope’. Contemplating the second coming of Christ. You might say that the primary way that the Church is different, that Christians are different in the world is that our minds are elsewhere
Yet, on the first day of this month I received an email from SUNZ. It’s opening was ‘ Well, it’s December 1st, so I can officially wish everyone ‘Happy Christmas’.
We ought to forgive the Prime Minister and Mike Hoskings for exchanging their Christmas presents way too early, but when the church loses touch with its own seasons? When it misses the point, but perhaps in thinking about Space for God, we too are missing the point. Perhaps there is something much more significant and life transforming hidden in that seemingly innocuous phrase?
Nd we begin to explore it in the second of our two readings.
I must admit I have a degree of reticence preaching on the story of Martha and Mary, for however carefully I exposit the text, without fail someone fails to get it. You proclaim the Word, and someone is guaranteed to push back on it – on this text . . .
It seems that few people really believe Jesus when he says ‘Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken away from her’ (I ought to add at this point that believing Jesus is Exactly what it means to ‘believe in’ Jesus. As he says in John’s gospel, ‘if you obey my words, you will abide in my love’. Jesus over and over says ‘Amen! Amen!’ ‘Truly Truly!’ I tell you . . . His word are Truth and we live by the words that come from his mouth)
So when Jesus says that Mary has chosen the better part, then that is the Truth . . . but somehow the world is full of apologists for Martha. People for whom books like ‘Too busy not to pray!’ were written. People like Baron Astley who has important work to be doing. I mean if your work is ‘really important’ – this story is a bit of a problem
For many many years, Martha has been held up as the example of the Active Life – ‘Busy for Jesus’. Like the car sticker says ‘Jesus is Coming! Quick look busy!’
Yet Jesus gently rebukes her – indeed he perhaps seems unimpressed by our work on his behalf –
After all, doesn’t He say ‘Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord Lord! Didn’t we do many wonderful things in your name?’ and he will respond – Away from me, you doers of evil, I never knew you!
Martha lets be clear has made a good start. She has noticed Jesus come to her village and has welcomed him into her house. Classic hospitality – which in itself actually was not at all uncommon, and amongst some people groups remains common. Welcoming in the stranger.
I think that to read this well, we could say – she has welcomed him into her life, the arena of her agency, her work. Yet, that initial welcome has been set aside – for her ‘many tasks’. Martha now sees Jesus not as the honoured guest, but as a means to her ends ‘Lord! Do you not care that my sister has left me to get on with all this work on my own? Tell her to help me!’
We can be ‘busy’ for Jesus in our ‘important’ lives, or we can be imploring Jesus to sort things out for us, but in both cases, we are at the Centre.
And we are empty of Life . . . There is a busyness that at the end of the day asks ‘What Was that all about?’ A good number of years ago now, I got into such a state. Working phenomenally long hours – reminding myself continually that I was ‘doing the Lord’s Work!’, until one by one, all the wheels began to fall off . . . After 6 months away from work, I finally awoke to the realization that it was the Lord’s Work, not mine. That I was meant to be the beneficiary of His Work of Salvation. That I couldn’t save a single soul . . . left me wondering what I had got caught up in. One can easily preach grace, but live works, not least in a culture which idolizes the self made hard working individual, who is lauded at their funeral . . .
My life was full, of me. And so those who see Martha as the one who does the work that must be done, fail to realise that Christ himself has done the Work that must be done . . . and welcomes us into his rest. ‘Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ – and how we need to hear those words, in Truth in these days.
We get So used to our own agency, we struggle to comprehend a life of Grace, and the Church is often dominated by those who in the world’s terms make a good show, hence I suspect Martha’s many supporters, despite what Jesus says . . .
Martha welcomes Jesus into her life, but her life is full, there is no space in it. She is Pre-occupied. Her life is meant to be a space for Jesus, but it is full of her stuff. Advent is meant to be such a space, but it has become full of Christmas . . .
That’s the point. It is not that she is to make space for Jesus, Her life is meant to be a space for Jesus, indeed that is what it is created to be, Space for the Living God.
Which brings me to the other reading, and the other Mary. Oh, yes, ‘That’ Mary . . .
Not long after Sarah and I were married, we welcomed a teaching colleague to our house to spend the night. John was unmarried but had a partner. We kindly asked them to occupy separate rooms. (Actually looking back, I’m not sure how this was possible as we had a tiny house!) John actually wasn’t put out – he rather liked the idea that people had standards which they kindly asked their guests to observe. Although jokingly he called me ‘a hot prot’
Well this hot prot was on the end of one of many God’s practical jokes when I was appointed head of department in a large Roman Catholic High School . . . Wherein during every assembly the pupils dutifully prayed words taken from our gospel, Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death . . .’ Well they prayed it every assembly until I became a Year Dean! And then it stopped – except once a year when the Principal walked in without notice to take the assembly, and I promptly walked out – I was a Very Hot Prot in those days.
The School as it happened was an old convent. My office was one of the former bedrooms of the nuns. One year, in a much needed building reordering, some work was being done on my corridor at the end of which stood the largest statue of Mary, in her guise as The Queen of Heaven from Revelation 12. (Funny how this ‘bible believing Christian’ hadn’t made that particularly awkward connection)
Anyway, the builders needed to move the statue and when they did, the colleague who shared my office, a Liverpudlian Catholic by the name of Paddy Devlin was the only person around. ‘Where should we put this?’ they asked. ‘Oh, I know Just the place . . .’ And so it was that The Queen of heaven spent six months right beside my desk – ‘Where our lady can keep an eye on you, Eric!’
You had to admire the sense of humour – teaching this Hot Prot a thing or two . . .
It is all too common for some Christians to have a less than easy relationship with Mary – yet from the beginning of our faith she has been held in the highest esteem, and her significance is huge.
Mary, put simply is the first true disciple and model for all Christians.
She consents to be The Dwelling Place of God. Space for God in the World
Where does God live? For many years the Jewish people had of course said that God dwelt amongst them, in the Temple in Jerusalem . . .
But Jesus opened his ministry with the declaration, ‘destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it’ . . . meaning the Temple of his body.
In his humanity Jesus revealed the remarkable truth that just as He is God amongst humans, he is also, being full of the Holy Spirit. God within the human being. As AW Tozer puts it in the title of one of his little books, ‘Man, The Dwelling place of God’
As St Paul says to those in Athens, ‘God does not dwell in a house made by human hands’ No he dwells within those who believe His Son. ‘
Abide in me, says Jesus, as I abide in You. ‘Your body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit’
Mary in the early church was referred to as Theotokos – God bearer . . . and as The Ark of The Covenant – indeed that very imagery is at play in several places. There is an old story, form the first century, of how as an infant, Mary danced in the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple. In those days of course it was a vast empty space, the Ark of the Covenenant long lost. The Ark wherein and above which the Glory of God dwelt. And now a young girl who will bear the Word of God herself comes and dances in that space . . .
She becomes Space for Jesus
Space for God
I guess that hearing the phrase ‘Space for God’ we might well think of that holy ald hour we give to God, Baron Astley’s prayer – but he desires much more. He has been born into the world in his Son that he might live in it in those in who believe his Son, who Hear his words, who live by his words, His Life in them. As Mary sat at the feet of Jesus . . .
You and I by grace not work, have become the dwelling place of God . . . and that I think deserves our attention
As St Paul says in his letter to the Colossians
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Christ in you . . .
As the Body of Christ, among you because he dwells in each of you
That prayer that we twitch at – ‘Holy Mary’ – That in which God dwells is Holy
We are Holy not by our own efforts, but made so by the indwelling of God . . .
Mary reveals to us the True Christian Life that we are God bearers . . . And that is I think is worth allowing ourselves to realise during this season. That we understand the centre of our existence is the living God – that it is not about finding time to pray in our busy lives, but allowing the Holy Spirit of God to pray in and through us. To discover the wonder of who we are created to be, Space for God in the World
Simple Faith that Saves
1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24
The Christian life is immensely simple – and paradoxically in an age of complexity, immensely difficult. We have perhaps lost sight of simplicity
The Christian life is Simple as it requires just One thing of us – that we attend to God, without distraction. That Is the Christian Life in its entirety.
Attentiveness to neighbour is simply the outflow of that life which comes to us from God in our attentiveness – as the flow of a river from its source. If we stand in the stream and look to the source, the river flows out behind us.
Jesus is the undistracted one. The Life flows from Jesus often without direct request – such as in the healing of the woman with the flow of blood . But even when it is by request it is the request of faith – which simply looks to him as the source, with nothing to give or to bring except attentiveness to Him that is Faith. Not a belief – but a direction of our life
Some understand the necessity of preparing for the return of Christ to be a call to action – Jesus is coming – Look busy!
Yet when he comes, Jesus seems unimpressed with our busyness. ‘Many will say to me on that day – Lord Lord did we not do this AND that AND the other in your name? And I will say to them – ‘Away from me, you doers of evil, I never knew you’’
I never knew you
Knowing him is what it is all about and you cannot know someone unless you attend to them – or put another way, love them It is the same thing. Attention is the one constant aspect of our lives – it is love. Our true loves are revealed in what we spend our lives doing, in that to which we give our attention.
Jesus says that knowing Him is eternal Life – it is the fount of blessings and it is the source of all God’s goodness coming into the world. As we attend to God his life flows towards us and through us
So we train ourselves in that attention, by following the advice of St Paul in his first letter to the church in Thessalonica. A church going through hardship the like of which we have but little inkling. Persecuted and weak, small and struggling – all they have is faith, which is why they are the Blessed. Yet, Paul calls them to that labour once more, to the undistracted gaze upon God in Jesus Christ in simple practice
pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
These seem to us like counsels of perfection which in a sense they are – perfection properly understood is simplicity – but we might hear them and cry out ‘but what about . . . this or that or the other’ – Like those this or that or the others we would parade before Jesus in our concern to prove ourselves to him – to place ourselves at the centre of the story, and look in a mirror rather than gaze undistractedly upon God, our life coming towards us
Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not stop that flood of life by averting your gaze . . .
Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything;
hold fast to what is good;
abstain from every form of evil.
It is Simple. It is we who have woven webs of complexity for we are tempted all the time to think that life is about us, and not about God . . . yet St Paul closes these words with the reminder that it is All about God
May the God of peace himself sanctify you – entirely;
The Work of perfecting your Life is God’s if we would turn to him in faith
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.
Just look to his appearing
In this season of Advent – we watch for his coming. This season is like every other season of the church’s year – given us to train us in our faith. So this watching for his coming is a daily, moment by moment work of our faith – it IS faith, you would truly say
And as we learn to watch for him, we learn to hear Him, ot despising the words of the prophets – and we hear him say Lo! I am with you always even unto the end of the age. I am Always Coming towards you if you did but have faith
Call of the Wild
Sermon for Advent 2
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins
There is a not uncommon way of speaking of Christian faith that supposes one might lead what are considered by prevalent standards a respectable life and also follow Christ. One might accumulate money and honour in the world and still be truly one of Jesus’ flock.
However in this year of Mark’s gospel evidence for this is to say the least, scant. Mark throws a bucket of cold water over any presumption that being a Christian is in any way in tune with ‘the ways of the world’, that it is a way of comfort. The Way of Jesus cannot be accommodated to our plans for ‘living a good life’. The paths diverge so radically in Mark that we are left with a stark choice – to face in one direction, into what the world calls darkness and in faith proclaim it as light, or to go along with the crowd bedazzled by its deceptive alure.
That is clear from its ending – Jesus last words in Mark are ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ After that we neither see him not hear him. Mark’s gospel ends in darkness which only faith can call light.
If you’re going to get on in the world’s terms, the Way of Jesus is a bad joke. We might say that to be a successful Christian is to be marked out as a failure – certainly that is true of Jesus himself.
The gospel begins with what sounds like that joke. ‘The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’. Son of God. We are so used to hearing those words that we cannot begin to imagine how they sounded in the ears of those who heard them first. For they in all likelihood lived in Rome under the Emperor, the Son of the Divine Emperor. Son of God in Roman terms, was to be at the top of the pile, and Mark has the audacity to claim that a homeless Jew, one amongst countless others, crucified on a rubbish heap outside the walls of Jerusalem, was the Son of God.
This message most deliberately disorients us. It has the temerity to suggest that what we call ‘the world’ with all its power and the rest is an illusion. That its light, its glory is a sham, and that it is in the way of darkness that true light is known.
Mark above all the evangelists speaks of Jesus in terms of the Servant of the Lord from Isaiah and the words of Isaiah in the 50th chapter speak of Him, and of the contrast
Who among you fears the Lord
and obeys the voice of his servant,
who walks in darkness
and has no light,
yet trusts in the name of the Lord
and relies upon his God?
But all of you are kindlers of fire,
lighters of firebrands.
Walk in the flame of your fire,
and among the brands that you have kindled!
So when the gospel opens it is with the call from outside of the world – away from the city, the place where we kindle our own fires, away even from the pastoral fields gold with corn and covered in flocks of sheep. It is a Voice crying in the wilderness, in the figure of the otherworldly John the Baptist, dressed as Elijah was in camel hair and with a leather belt round his waist, the one who had previously called power to account, who had declared that the LORD not King Ahab was God. Elijah who travelled deep into the wilderness before her met God. Away from the noise and the clamour, the deception of the world, where true encounter takes place. In the sound of sheer silence. The silence of God. And so
people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to John the baptiser in the wilderness
The wilderness is something that has all but disappeared from our consciousness and indeed the planet. The human footprint and desolation is seen everywhere. You cannot escape from wifi, from piped music. I was in Naseby last week, 2000 ft above worry level, but the sound of the chain saw, the lawn mower and hedge trimmer still filled the air.
I remember once sharing a car with Kelvin Wright and we were speaking about this very thing and he said he longed for a place that might possibly kill him. From my own experience the wild mountains of the far North of Scotland on my own, high on rocky ridges without a rope, where a slip would be my last were my experience of that, but such places are increasingly rare as we seek to domesticate the Wild. Increasingly one met folk on the mountains as if they were on the high street as GPS gave them a sense of ‘having never left home’
Here and there a few intrepid folk can still find the wilderness. A recent TV series – was about folk who were dropped off with basic survival gear in Northern Canada, to try and survive for 100 days. But even with their wilderness skills, they were competing with wild animals for the few fat rich animals which might possibly sustain them through three months of Arctic winter. Porcupine for example. And one by one, the wilderness proved too much and they had to be rescued.
In the wilderness you come to yourself – all the ways in which we hide from reality are stripped away and you are vulnerable. In the wilderness you discover your own insignificance, and in the wilderness you might possibly encounter God. As your own ‘I am’ is reduced to its meagre frame and I AM becomes Reality.
people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem
To go out from the artificiality of the city, and it is most literally artificial, to leave even the carefully tended fields – to go beyond the boundaries of what is ‘safe’ – to go off the edge of the map hedged around with warnings ‘here be dragons’ – that is where we are to go in response to John
That is the place of repentance. There you awaken to your true vulnerability. And in that awakening, awaken to the possibility of God.
Advent is a season of this stripping back
The promise is The Holy Spirit – the life of God himself, but The World noisily intervenes and distracts. Just this week I received an email from a Christian organisation. It began – Today is December 1st so I can now officially say ‘Merry Christmas’. Even Jacinda and Mike Hoskings have exchanged ‘Christmas’ presents on air.
‘Christmas’ so called invades the space – fills any void – like the relentless playing of ‘Christmas’ music. In this seaosn of The Voice in the Wilderness when we are called away from the clamour – The World pursues us relentlessly.
But for those who like the Pilgrim in ‘Pilgrim’s progress’ put their fingers in their ears, who ignore the siren cries of the world, and respond to the Voice in the wilderness, then and there they might encounter the one who will in time come and baptise with the Holy Spirit.
Unlike those TV wilderness experts, We don’t need to be rescued from the Wild, we need to be rescued from the illusion of life which the World provides. That is we will accept it is the gift of Advent
We wait for Him – For apart from him, we know that we have no good thing
Behold! Christ the King!
Sermon for Christ the King, Yr A 2020
‘Now you say you see . . .’
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints . . .
With the eyes of your heart enlightened.
How we see is fundamental to our lives. So much so that we talk of understanding in terms of sight ‘Oh! Now I see!’ we say. The problem is that sight, the sense which we put most trust in, is also the one most easily deceived. Think how many magic tricks depend on that, compared with your sense of smell, or hearing . . . and of course in the age of the captivating screen this deception is amplified.
Illusion in the magic sense depends on what you think you are going to see, because that is the controlling factor. We don’t talk about ‘the elephant in the room’ because we don’t expect to see the elephant in the room, because most of the time there is no elephant in the room. We have our stories about reality and without realising, we see the world as we are. Unconsciously (?) we filter out that which doesn’t fit our way of ‘looking at’ the world.
Which brings us to our parable, that of ‘the sheep and the goats’, but first we need to return to last week’s parable – of the talents. As I said last week I want to flip it on its head. Because what we see depends on how we see.
My brother was talking to a wealthy individual recently. He knew this man well and he epitomised one way of looking at the world. He looked around him at all he had and said ‘the fruit of all my hard work’. You might say he looked at the world and said, if you play by the rules, work hard, you will do well for yourself. So, he would perhaps read the parable of the talents and say, exactly! The hard workers, people like me get what we deserve, and the idlers . . . well they get what they deserve as well . . .
It’s a common enough story. But there’s another one. My brother, who is sensitive to these things remarked upon the person who cleaned for this individual. He knew that she held down three full time jobs, just to make ends meet . . . she certainly worked hard, but . . . He went on to note that this man hadn’t worked hard for a long time, rather having got a certain amount of money, his money was doing the work.
Perhaps you have enough money to buy a second house. You let it out. Now your money is making money.
Now, imagine you hear the parable of the talents and Jesus’ final words – to those who have much , much will be given, to those who have little, even the little they have will be taken away . . . first as my brother’s wealthy friend, and then as the cleaner? Perhaps not to enjoy a long happy retirement despite working her fingers to the bone to make ends meet?? To those that have will be given more . . . to those who have not, even the little they have will be taken away . . . And we look out at the world and . . . say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.
Which brings us to the second parable . . . you see those who have much, who see the world in a particular way, will hear this. The sheep are those who shared what they had, and the goats are those who didn’t. This is the way we are pretty much set up to hear this parable.
If as we do, you live in a hierarchical society then part of the story of such a society is that those at the top are supposed to help out those at the bottom – it is called paternalism. It is the way we see the world. So we hear it and think ‘I need to clothe the naked and feed the hungry and visit those in prison . . .’ But what if you are the one who is naked or hungry or in prison?? What then do you hear?
Regarding those in prison there is an eye opening book which I recommend called ‘Reading the Bible with the Damned. It is an extended reflection on what happened when the author started regularly to go into a high security prison amongst those on life sentences and read scripture. All of a sudden his ideas were stood on their head . . . these men saw the world very differently.
As we have been reminded these past weeks, these parables of Jesus are admonitions to his disciples to be ready for what is coming. But what Is coming? Who is shut outside? Who finds themselves in the placing of gnashing of teeth and outer darkness? Or, who finds themselves, to put it another way ‘hungry, naked, in prison’? After all, didn’t Jesus start out by saying ‘blessed are those who are poor? Those who are hungry? Those who mourn?’ Did he not say ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you’
Did not Jesus himself die ‘outside a city wall’?
Why is our focus on the sheep and the goats and their fate? Are we, as those who in one sense have done well set up to ‘see’ the whole story in terms of ‘just desserts’, ‘you get what is coming to you’. Is such a way of seeing, seeing in truth or is such an interpretation simply a reinforcement of our story about the way things are – to those who have much, more will be given . . . and perhaps ‘of those who have much, much will be required’?
Our attention falls on the sheep and the goats, their actions and their fates . . . which is odd, for Jesus’ says that neither the sheep nor the goats see . . . Hearing this gospel as a moral tale about helping those less fortunate than ourselves or else . . . copying the sheep to gain a reward or avoid ‘the other place’ is then simply the blind following the blind . . .
Neither the sheep nor the goats see, but Here’s another question – Do We?
More specifically, neither the sheep nor the goats ‘see Jesus’ . . . but do we?
You ‘see’, This parable is not the judgement of Jesus’ people, it is the judgement of the nations. The Judgement of those who have not seen him, yet, who as St Paul says will be judged according to whether they have obeyed the law written in their heart. Perhaps they have seen the people of Jesus in those days when to be Christian was to be shut out from the world’s bounty, often to be ‘hungry, naked, strange and in prison’ and so tended to Christ himself in his people.
The parable assumes that the people of Jesus are those who when Jesus sits down on the mountain are those who have come to him, those who Know Him, who See Him . . . for those who say they belong to Jesus, who Know Jesus, that is the assumption, that they See Him. For they are his and he is theirs.
We have come to the end of the church Year. Christ the King Sunday. It is the end of our year of Matthew, but if we step back from Matthew and look at it not merely as a collection of ‘bits and pieces’, but in its entirety, something stands out.
Bookending the gospel is The Command which calls us to Life, a command to the people of God; “Behold!”
Behold! the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’
And again, Jesus closing words to his people, even as he was taken from the sight of their eye . . .
‘Behold! I am with you always, even to the end of the Age’
And So St Paul prays for those who have faith in the Lord Jesus and their love toward all the saints,
“that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
That whenever and in whoever Christ appears, we who Behold might recognise Him in whatever guise he is hidden from the eyes of the sheep and the goats
Put another way, give up on your stories about ‘getting just desserts’ or whatever other story you have about the world, because if we can’t see Jesus, why do we think we can see anything else??
Our Duty, and our Joy – The Parable of the Talents
Sermon for the twenty third Sunday after Trinity
Year A 2020
The Fruitfulness of Joy, and of Duty
So the cry goes up – get out of bed, it’s nearly time for church! “but I don’t want to go to church!”, but you Have to go to church, Why do I have to go to church? Because you’re the Vicar!
Recently I was in conversation with the pastor of another church here in Dunedin, and he pointed out how so much in this day we are told to ‘follow our heart’, and that it was important to ‘live an authentic life, and be your real self’.
He’s right. If you follow the titles of popular books there are many on such themes . . . [individualism vs shared life] but such an approach privileges the individual over the group because it starts from the presumption that I have no necessary obligation or duty towards others.
This Zeitgeist can be ‘spiritualised’, and spiritialising things is very dangerous for us as Christians although it is rampant amongst us. We say ‘oh I have no call’, or ‘I do not sense the Holy Spirit prompting me to do this’ Without realizing what we are doing, we break the third commandment and take the name of the Lord in vain, using God to back up our often unconscious biases, or our captivation to the Spirit of the Age
Doing things out of duty seems is very much against the Zeitgeist, the Spirit of the Age, which is a huge problem when it comes to the Christian life for God’s commands are at least requirements. Loving your enemy and doing good to those who hate you is not something we do because we feel a sense of call.
Of course for some, the Way of God’s commands is the way of joy, but if we are ever to discover that joy, then we have at least to acknowledge the duty, even if we don’t understand, or ‘heaven forbid’, they don’t speak to our heart
Last week we heard the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. If you remember these parables are told by Jesus in the few days between the complete breakdown of relations between himself and his opponents and the events of Holy Week. So Jesus is warning his disciples to get ready to be ready, for The Day of the Lord is Now.
The Day of the Lord is like a wedding, and last week we thought about how getting ready for a wedding involved lots of people taking their obligations seriously . . . and to be honest, it is very rare in our familie sexperience for people who had a role to play to do so out of anything less than Joy. They en ‘joyed’ serving and stepping up to help. Now perhaps there may well have been people who only turned up because they felt they had to, out of obligation or duty, but turn up they did anyway . . .
So we are not told whether the wise bridesmaids filled their lamps with oil out of a sense of duty, or joy, but they knew what was required of them and so they were ready. The foolish knew what was required but didn’t prepare. The Lord of the feast said to them when they found the door closed, ‘I do now know you’ . . .
Which takes us to our parable this week. Again we need to remember that parables of Jesus are not simple stand alone stories. This is about The Day of the Lord, and the accounting that Jesus has already warned his disciples about.
Before he starts out on the parables he tells them Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that wicked slave says to himself, “My master is delayed”, and he begins to beat his fellow-slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Again, there is a work to be done, and again we have no insight into whether or not the hearts of the servants were in the work . . . whether your heart is in it is not it seems the most important thing.
So the parable of the talents is part of this. It is not simply a story about using or not using what you have been given, it’s a story about doing what is necessary, or doing the work you have been given.
Last time this came up I remember noticing something I hadn’t seen before – that the first two servants both have an element of joy about their service. Behold! I have made five more talents! Behold! I have made two more talents! They are excited about their work and how it has born fruit. They have served with Joy and their service has born fruit.
Again we remember that Jesus is merely reiterating his teaching from the Sermon on the mount – By their fruit you shall know them. The good bear good fruit, the wicked bear bad fruit and then tells them that bearing fruit is simply a matter of hearing the words of Jesus and doing them. Loving your enemy, doing good to those who hate you, loving one another as jesus has loved us. As Jesus says to the man trying to justify himself, ‘do these things and you will live. Whether you feel like it, or not. Whether you have a sense of call or not, if you do it it will bear fruit.
This explains the response of the master to the third servant. The third servant is clearly not interested in the work of his master. He has told himself a story about his master in order to justify his failure to do his will. Isn’t this what we do when we say ‘Oh, the Spirit has not moved me in this direction’??
He is alienated in his mind, he has become his own God, judging his master – And we do this, do we not? What we ought to do is often clear, but then we come up with a justification for not doing it . . . something along the lines of ‘oh, its not my gift . . .’, or ‘my heart isn’t in this . . .’ or some other such thing. And what we do is put ourself at the centre, not God. And when we are at the centre then we are alienated from God.
You see the master at base just asks that if for no other reason, you act out of a sense of duty. You should have put the money on deposit with the bankers . . . you work for me, you have an obligation. It seems that this grudging obedience would have been enough, but the third slave wasn’t having anything to do with his masters business, he cuts himself off from the life of his master and finds himself therefore cut off.
Jesus uses the imagery of fruitfulness a lot. We know the season is near for the fig tree is coming into fruit, I am the vine you are the branches – bear much fruit to show you are my disciples. Fruit bearing is at least a duty – may God so change our hearts that it becomes our Joy and gladness and we enter into His Joy
This is The Day! Trinity +22, Year A
“Behold! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.”
The Condemned man ate a hearty breakfast, we are told
On my wedding day, I ate a hearty breakfast . . . I ate a hearty breakfast because my best man, Mike, who faced a highly significant role in the day’s events, had never been to a wedding before. And he was nervous.
He was nervous because he took his responsibilities with great seriousness, as indeed he does to this day. So he couldn’t eat his breakfast
So I did . . . as well as my own
Of course a Wedding requires lots of people to show up not just in the sense of attending, but in the sense of playing their part, taking their responsibility seriously. Thus they honour the significance of the occasion. Not to do so is to fail to recognise and dishonour the significance of the day.
And the significance of the day is huge.
The condemned man ate a hearty breakfast – for to be married is to agree to die to the person you are, and to submit to the Way of love, which is to be changed. The two become one flesh. That cannot happen unless each dies to their own interests.
As we have explored from time to time, both in our evening talks and on a Sunday morning, to love is to be changed. To refuse to change is to refuse love.
So the wedding day is like a death . . . and a new birth . . . it is a day of great significance and everyone has to be ready to play the part appointed to them on that Day
Our Gospel is a Wedding Parable. Jesus has been talking about this day all along.
And now The Day has come! ‘The Rain fell, the floods came, and the winds howled and beat against the house, and the house on the . . .’ Was the house ready?? The Day will reveal it
So far in Matthew, this has been flagged up clearly in the sermon on the mount, Those who have heard his words and done them . . .’ they are ready. They are ‘The Wise’ Those who have heard his words and not done them; they are the foolish. Why? For the Day is coming
Jesus’ actions and words have drawn the attention of the Pharisees and others. They have been questioning him, over and over. By whose authority do you do these things? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar? If a woman is married seven times, in the resurrection whose wife will she be? But Jesus having confounded them, then flips the tables. Whose Son is the Messiah? ‘David’s’ Really? How then does David call him Lord? ‘After this they durst ask him no more questions’
The die is cast. We find ourselves now in a very brief window in which Jesus prepares his disciples for what is to come, the Day fast approaching. He tells them of the destruction of the Temple, and then over and over with symbolic actions like the cursing of the fig tree, or in parables he gives them one clear message – This is Near! Be ready! You, My disciples, the day is near – it is time for you to play the part I have appointed to you . . .
Having had more than a passing role to play in weddings – there are strong parallels. The courting, the engagement, the save the date, the booking of venues, sorting out how everyone will have plenty to eat, the dress, the flowers . . .The Day is Coming! The Day is Coming!, and all around people given roles and responsibilities. The Invitations . . . and so the day dawns, and everything is to click into gear, and it is time for those who have roles need to step up
“Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. These bridesmaids, or better ‘virgins’, have a role. They are to light the way for the bridegroom. Yet, When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them” . . . Jesus has given out this role to his disciples.
‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.’
This is their work – nothing else. Obedience to the teaching of Jesus. Many turn up at the end of the sermon saying, ‘Lord, Lord . . . haven’t we done all these [other] things’ He says ‘I never knew you’. So too the foolish bridesmaids – ‘Lord, Lord! Open to us.’ ‘I never knew you’
In a few moments we shall baptise Wyndelyn. Following her baptism, we shall give her a lit candle and call upon her ‘Shine as a light in the world, to the glory of God the Father’ We say to her, through Ethan and Sara, Christ has made you his own, he has made you one of his disciples, and he has given you a work
Christ gives that commission to everyone here. I am giving my Life for you, I am giving my life to you – Be full of my life – Be full of the oil of the Holy Spirit – Be full of God! To Know Him. That is your work.
It is huge. It is why we have this community the church, to encourage one another in this massive responsibility Christ has given to us. It is why we don’t baptise except into the church – into the body of Christ.
It is where we surrender our own lives to receive His Risen Life
It is the marriage feast of the Lamb – Death for the sake of Love which rises to new life
We stand upon the great Stage – the lights are going up and the curtains are being drawn. This is the Day!
“Behold! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.”
The Call – To Be Saints
Sermon for All Saints – 2020
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Today is the feast of All Saints.
In a sense it foreshadows the Great Feast at the End of the Age – the collapsing of time (for to me they are alive) – when all of the Saints who from their labours rest, shall share fully in the Life of God . . . but that begs a question, who are the Saints – what does it mean to be a Saint?
Again as with last week we have a problem with language and indeed our thoughts last week on holiness fit perfectly well, for the word for Saint, could be rendered ‘Holy Ones’ . . .
Which then leads us to a further question – How does one become Holy, Become a Saint? For as Saint Paul opens more than one of his letters to the people of God, they are those who are ‘called to be Saints’. It is a Vocation, a Calling . . . Put simply it is to hear and respond to the Call of God, or as St Paul again puts it, the Upward call of God in Jesus Christ. It is to live more fully towards and into the very life of God. ‘Be holy, for I the Lord your God am Holy is a Call, it is GOd’s Call towards Him, it is a, no it is The Vocation . . . God’s Call is always a call towards Him – ‘Come to me’, says Jesus . . . ’
Yes!’ You may well say, ‘but how?’ Well if you are asking that question that in itself is a hopeful sign – Hope is always directed towards the End of all things . . .
Yet in these times, one has to be very careful. We live in a world of ‘technique’, of How To . . . and as a good rule it is Wise to avoid, indeed to put into a large pile and set fire to any book on the Christian life which includes the words ‘How To’ in their title. It is a Life we are called to both individually and as a Church, there are no techniques, not ‘fail proof’ schemes in the way the world thinks of these things, except to pay attention. This is about Life – not mechanisms – So as we would be with someone we wished to know better, we only need to be attentive . . .
Or as Jesus puts it, let those with ears to hear, hear! (That is Respond! Obedience is another way of saying ‘really hear’)
Paying Attention is the great challenge of the Christian Life – no more so than in these days when everything is screaming for attention amplified by screens and literal amplifiers . . . We are surrounded by noise and images in a way unprecedented in human history, and paying attention is so difficult, especially paying attention to what is nearest to us, for Salvation, Life, healing and wholeness – or Holiness is utterly close, utterly surrounds us, and is Everywhere present . . . Just pay attention to what is present . . .
This week I was reading a powerful book on the ‘New Media Epidemic’. Written by a French Christian Orthodox Scholar, it included the following quote
When the remote gets too close, what is close becomes remote. —Gunther Anders, The Obsolescence of Man
Larchet, Jean-Claude. The New Media Epidemic (p. 47). Holy Trinity Publications. Kindle Edition.
Which put me in mind of this cartoon which you may have seen . . .
When the remote gets too close, what is close becomes remote. —Gunther Anders, The Obsolescence of Man
Larchet, Jean-Claude. The New Media Epidemic (p. 47). Holy Trinity Publications. Kindle Edition.
For it is our inattention to that which is nearest to us . . . that is God who is closer to us, than we are to ourselves. Perhaps this is why Jesus is called the stumbling stone?
For most of the time we spend in our ‘self-conscious’, and this is a form of remoteness, of alienation from others – and from ourself. There is no one more lonely than the self conscious individual – – –
We confuse our thoughts with our self. And you don’t have to be sat in front of a computer to do this. Have you ever, or perhaps this should be have you never had an imaginary conversation with someone, putting them right in your head? Or working though why you were so right and they were so wrong? Or or or . . . there are so many possibilities, so many ways in which we are distracted, and when we are distracted, we are as it were away from home . . . so the prodigal son is ‘living his dream’ . . . he needs to come home – the elder brother is similarly living a resentment story in his head, and is alienated from his father who is closer to him that he is to. Himself . . .
Saints, simply put, are those who know they are at home in God – those who have heard God’s call to be saints and respond are awaken to their home in God. They have come to the depths of their heart, and are learning to live from the deep wellsprings of life which flow from their, they have uncovered long neglected wells . . . wells of the very life of the one who is at the heart of all things . . .
So, the blessed are essentially the empty, those who do not have to dig deep to find God in their life, for they have little with which to hide themselves from him . . . you can think of possessions etc as fig leaves. Whatever fills our heart dan minds is God to us, for it fills the space that our lives are created to be, for God
These Blesseds of the Beatitudes are the empty, those poor in Spirit, they do not think themselves to be holy and righteous, those mourning, who have lost, those who are gentle who do not grasp to acquire, but are open to receive life as gIft, those who are pure in heart, who are not preoccupied with their many things of their busy life, those who are hungering and thirsting for this Life . . .
Finally the Saints Cry out “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
This is a cry of realisation – their healing, their life their salvation comes from God and the Lamb – little if anything blinds their sight, they know the source of life. To Know God, To Know Jesus IS Eternal Life
We are all called to be saints – to dig deep into God – to know and to live from his life which is present in the depths of our being
Be a tree . . . Trinity +20
Sermon for the 20th Sunday after Trinity
Being a Tree
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
2 Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.
You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am Holy.
Last week we considered the question ‘to whom do we belong’. Jesus, faced with the trap question about paying taxes to Caesar asked to see the coin for the tax. A piece of metal with the face and inscription of the Emperor. (The Pharisees who were scrupulous about ritual purity sent their disciples to handle the money, which was idolatrous)
Jesus says – well if Caesar puts his mark on the coin, give it to him, it is his. But render to God the things that are God’s. ‘The people of God’, That which God has marked as his own, by the anointing of the Holy Spirit – belong to God and are identified with him.
Perhaps this is nowhere more starkly expressed in these words which the LORD speaks to Moses, ‘speak to all my people and tell them ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.
Holiness is something which is poorly understood. Like so many things to do with God, we tend to think that it is simply an amplification of some common virtue.
So you have ‘bad’ people, and ‘Good’ people and up at the top of the tree – ‘Holy’ people. But this is not what it means – it does not mean ‘exceptionally virtuous’ in the context of God. Rather it means ‘quite unlike’ anyone or anything else. God’s ‘otherness’, the sense that He is not like us, that his ways are not human ways and his thoughts are not human thoughts, is most clearly expressed in the word ‘Holy’. When Isaiah sees the LORD high and lifted up in the Temple and the Seraphs called out ‘Holy! Holy! Holy!’ This Otherness of God struck Isaiah into silence. It was the fire of God which transformed him – the coal, the Spirit – The Life of God
God is powerfully ‘Other’. And so His people are not like the surrounding peoples. They are Holy. They are different – because they belong to God. Being His offspring His lIfe is their life, life which come from God and will return to God, Holy lives.
The Psalms open with a meditation upon what such people are like.
Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
Happy, or blessed, or fortunate we might say whose lives don’t just go along mindlessly with the crowds . . . as the LORD goes on in Leviticus – you shall not go around as a slanderer among your people – You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin, you shall reprove your neighbour, or you will incur guilt yourself.
Don’t go around talking about others behind their back – your life is with your neighbour. Don’t harbour resentment in your heart against others, go to them and point out their fault between the two of you whilst you are alone . . . if you have an issue with someone and you do not take steps to resolve it, you will incur guilt yourself . . . This is a different life to those of the wicked and sinners and scoffers – because it is the life of God . . . It is a Life rooted in God, from God and too God. You are different – you know the nature of what it is to be truly human. You don’t talk about others behind your back. The Law of God isn’t so much prescriptive – thou must not, as descriptive, thou shalt not
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
As we explored a couple of weeks ago – the Way – their mediation is on The Deep pattern of existence which is The Way of God, the deep river flowing underneath, from which we are to draw our life. Our life comes not from the media – it rises up from God
The Holy are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
Like Trees – drawing their life from hidden depths – the wellsprings of Life that is God himself. Drawing on Life from God and revealing His Life then as it were above ground. Rooted in the depths and reaching to the heights . . .
Trees are perhaps the most universal image of Life, the Tree of Life is known in many cultures. Both CS Lewis, in The Last Battle, and JRR Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings in different ways see cutting down trees as a mark of the end of the Age, of the end of Life on Earth. It is many long seasons since the Entwives were seen – the Age of the Tree shepherds draws to a close. Trees are cut down and the cry of the dryads which are their life fades on the wind . . .
But the Psalmist speaks of the person who draws their life form God – they are like a tree
It used to be a trope that drama classes began with ‘be a tree’ 🙂 But trees have much to teach us about our life as the people of God. Not least in these last days
In an age which is increasingly given over to and resigned to death, Trees are literally full of life
In an age which wants everything now – Trees observe full and fallow seasons – labour and rest – bearing fruit when the time is right. Trees teach us patience. Trees are not anxious
In an age of frenetic and haste and hurry, Trees are slow and even paced – they are never out of breath
In an age of mobility, homelessness and disconnectedness, Trees Know their place. They do not destroy their surroundings by moving around insensitive to where they are
In an age in which no one cares and we have to pay people to ‘pastor’ or as ‘carers’ for a job – In an age where ‘home’ means so little – Trees provide abundance shelter, home for flower and seed and bird
In an age where friendship means a wave on Facebook, Trees are always there as the most pleasant company
And in a world oppressed by the tyranny of words and noise they creation, Like God Himself trees speak only in silence
And as I wrote these words I wondered not only about us as individuals, but also as a Church . . .
Trees are Rooted in Life – The Holy ones are rooted in God
The wicked are not so,
Rooted rather in the illusory imaginings of a ‘self sufficient life’ a life which comes form nowhere and goes nowhere – a life which is not connected to the deep wells, dry and shrivelled – they
are like chaff that the wind drives away.
They will not stand in the judgement,
Or in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
This delighting in the law of the Lord is what it is to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength – to know and to love the source of your life
And when we rest in this, all boundaries disappear.
To return briefly to the silence of trees – we often hear the trope – ‘that which unites us is so much more than that which divides us’ And this is true, but it is hidden, hidden in the deep places. The Deep and Good Earth, the Silent place. Unity is to be comfortable with others in silence, the underlying silence which unites, which is the Life of God
When our lives are rooted in the God who is Silence, we no longer see our life as our own, but coming form the same source as that of our neighbour.
To slander our neighbour is to be blind to who we are, to hate our neighbour in our heart is to hate ourself, for at root we are all one – it is only when we are disconnected from our root – our life in God that we do not connect to others
So to Love your neighbour as yourself, is not a moral effort for the one whose life is rooted in God and stretched towards God in Heaven, who knows that the life that they delight in is the same life that is in their neighbour
Blessed are all those who Know this Truth
NB We have recently updated our course on John’s Gospel – Here is the link
Questions of Healing. A sermon for St Luke’s Day
Sermon for Evensong
On the question of healing . . .
Today the church remembers the third evangelist – St Luke
Luke’s words occupy more space in the NT than anyone except Paul and of course our own, St John. It is widely thought that his gospel and the sequel, the Acts of the Apostles were originally one, but papyrus technology being what it was, they couldn’t be put together (There is by the way an intriguing scrap of papyrus which suggests that all of St John’s writings were once bound together as one . . .)
So we have Luke start The Acts addressed to ‘most excellent Theophilus – Lover of God, ‘in my previous book . . .’
Yet due to a single phrase in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, which you may well have missed, Luke is associated with healing. The phrase? ‘Luke, the beloved physician’, or as some preachers style him, Doctor Luke.
So the Society of St Luke is a society given to the promotion of Christian healing . . . which of course is not something straightforward. It raises so many questions for us, not least when we or those we love are not healed . . .
I remember sharing with a friend accounts of spontaneous healings in a Christian community with which I have good links, and there was a veiled skepticism as she wondered why they did not allow in a team of scientists or doctors to validate these healings. ‘If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears, does it make a sound . . . if a person is healed and no one validates it, did it happen . . .??’
This whole area is clouded if not with controversy, at least endless questions. Why doesn’t God heal everyone? Indeed, why didn’t Jesus?? Or did he???
I want this evening to offer a different perspective on the whole question and put it into a larger frame wherein if at least we don’t get hard and fast answers, we might at least begin to understand that the questions we bring come from a very narrow perspective on the matter.
I’ll begin with a question ‘of the moment’. If we allow that everything the president of the United States is true about his recovery from COVID, is he a well man?? In other words, what does it mean anyway to be healed? We often only understand this in terms of the equivalent to the doctor prescribing a pill which cured an illness . . . but is that what Healing fundamentally is? Or is it perhaps something too large for us, something which perhaps we cannot begin to comprehend and indeed even want to seek . . .
A couple of brief comments, a very brief historical note, and then we’ll return to the theme directly.
First, in our faith, we talk of Salvation. Fundamentally this words means ‘healing’, a most profound healing. We might say perhaps that in the narrow terms we set someone was not ‘healed’, but were they in the far deeper sense, ‘saved’? The US President seems by some accounts to be healed, but is he ‘saved’? (And I DON”T mean that in the narrow somewhat fundamentalist terms by which some of his followers might suggest)
Second, there is something close to the heart of the church which gives us this same broader perspective. When a priest is inducted into his parish, the bishop in handing him his license says ‘receive this cure of souls . . . which is both yours and mine’ The old view of the church is that of a hospital – indeed hospitals as we know them owe their existence to the medieval church . . . These communities of faith are meant to be places of profound healing, or salvation, and those charged with episcope (oversight) are to manifest that, to be people of healing, relational healing etc. etc.
Yet, the heart of our problem with respect to healing can I think be traced to those same middle ages in which hospitals came about. About that time there arose a theological controversy, one the impact of which has pretty much formed the Modern world without most of us realizing.
Up to that period, the world was understood as a place of profound connection. You couldn’t alter any one part without altering another . . . somewhat ironically, modern science has just come to this same conclusion, about a thousand years to late . . . BUT there was a problem . . .
The word ‘couldn’t’. This seemed to therefore limit the agency of God! How could one say, God cannot . . . Now there are many threads we could pursue at this point, but time constrains somewhat, so lets just leave it at that. ‘Surely if God is God, then God can do whatever he wishes, and so God CAN change just one element in the Creation without everything else being affected’ and in a sense if the argument had stopped there, then the world would be a very different place . . .
Because, IF God can do whatever he likes without everything else being affected . . . why can’t a human being?? So arose an understanding of the world which was foundational to Science until the late years of the C19, a world where we might as it were see things in isolation and treat them as if we didn’t have to consider a multiplicity of relationships . . . except we do.
The Environmental collapse we are living through can be traced precisely to this sense. Put another way, seeing things in separation from one another we did not understand the consequences of our actions. The World is a remarkably woven together place. Just this week I read the words of an Amazonian Chief. A people who had lived for unknown years in harmony within their surroundings. She said
In all these years of taking, taking, taking from our lands, you have not had the courage, or the curiosity, or the respect to get to know us. To understand how we see, and think, and feel, and what we know about life on this Earth.
I won’t be able to teach you in this letter, either. But what I can say is that it has to do with thousands and thousands of years of love for this forest, for this place. Love in the deepest sense, as reverence. This forest has taught us how to walk lightly, and because we have listened, learned and defended her, she has given us everything: water, clean air, nourishment, shelter, medicines, happiness, meaning.
Which brings me back to the question of healing. And a question. When we think of healing, do we do so in a sort of unreal isolation . . . In other words ‘the only thing that matters is this healing’ . . . You see perhaps that is part of our problem. Certainly I think it is increasingly clear that much of our illness in so many forms has been brought about precisely because we have not realised how one thing interacts with and changes another. Or how everything affects everything . . .
And this I suggest points us towards the centre of the truest healing and indeed Salvation as manifested in Jesus
People often ponder – why did such a good man have to die? In a sense Jesus death makes no sense – after all as Scripture amply testifies ‘he went about doing good and healing many’ . . . but perhaps that is precisely the point. The world is woven together. You can’t expect such significant change and transformation just in one place, without it affecting everything. Indeed Jesus most dramatic healing, the raising of Lazarus is the event that leads directly to his death. The world moves around this event, nothing is ever the same again.
So often when we seek healing, we want things to be ‘just as they were before’ How often and in how many different ways do we want such things. How much do we want to live in a universe where nothing affects anything else, when we can simply change ‘this’ and a myriad of ‘thats’ remain in place. But the world is not like that. If the outcome of Jesus’ healings was to bring Salvation to the World at the cost of his own life, I guess the question which faces those who seek healing is that which Jesus posed to the man at the pool of Siloam, ‘do yo want to be well?’ or, put another way ‘are you prepared for nothing to be as it was before? To die to the world you think you know, in order to truly live?
Perhaps this is the faith we need if we are to be healed
To whom do you belong? Trinity + 19 Year A 2020
To whom do you belong?
N-Gram – my new discovery. As a newspaper article put it, ‘there is yet another way to spend endless hours on the internet’. Simply put, it uses Google vast index of books to show how the use of words and phrases has changed over the last 500 hundred years. It came to mind for a couple of reasons – first a book inspired by the loss of words in children’s dictionaries to do with the natural world, and their replacement with words like blog, voicemail, cut-and-paste and the like. This is troubling as it speaks of a consciousness cut off from anything outside of ourselves, but second and related to it, I was interested to know about the use of the phrase ‘autonomous individual’
What is ‘an autonomous individual’? Well according to some, it is the idealised human being. The person who is entirely in charge of their own life, and since yesterday, death. Autonomous – a law unto themselves – the Sovereign self. Well this phrase is perhaps a bit more recent than we might suppose. It hardly seems to appear at all before the C20, beginning to show sings of existence eon the 1920’s and 30’s. But in the last 35 years its use in literature has increased by 350%
To whom do you belong?? The idea that we belong to someone is perhaps not a popular one, ‘I belong to my self!’ Is the Modern cry . . .
Yet it is this question which is at the heart of Jesus’ reply to those who wish to trap him.
Jesus opponents want to destroy him, and to do so they want to get him to say something which will get him in trouble with the powers that be . . . so the question about taxes – this is no mere ‘philosophical problem’ – as usual these questions are designed to put Jesus on one side of the argument or the other – a not unfamiliar decide to us in this day and age. In some senses it is a question which asks – are you one of us, or one of them?
But here the question is one which whichever way he answers Jesus is in trouble. If he says it is lawful to pay taxes, then the pious Jewish leaders – who have accommodated themselves quite comfortably to Roman Rule, will tell their fellow Jews – he’s not one of us! And if he answers in the negative – then of course they can run off to Pilate and accuse Jesus of being a threat to the state . . . Divide and Rule! Divide the world into two camps and then you are the judge . . .
But Jesus knows what they are about – he knows their hypocrisy. He knows that in all likelihood they are ‘in bed with’ the powers that be . . . so he asks to see a coin.
Whose Image is this? And whose inscription? The inscription by the way said – ‘Tiberius Caesar, son of Augustus, son of the Divine Augustus’ – Son of God’ . . . and the Image was of the Emperor. So the answer to both questions is ‘Caesar’s’
And then Jesus makes the move about ownership – it bears his mark – it belongs to him.
Our cat marks its territory – my books, some of them have my name in them, we mark what belongs to us . . . [cf Like the number of the beast . . . to whom do you belong?]
And this is the level of Jesus’ reply . . . We get into agonies over legitimate or illegitimate government . . .
Although this text has been used over and over to justify our allegiance to civil authority, for any Jew, this was unacceptable, hence the sting in the question. Is it lawful to pay taxes – If Cesar has said ‘this coin is mine’, then give it to him . . . What is Casar’s? That which has his mark on it . . . does the coin have his mark? Give it to him. This thing, this scrap of metal . . . give to Cesar the Things that he has put his mark on . . .
We fall into this trap – the first part occupies our thoughts . . . but Jesus’ answer is dismissive of these tortured pondering – and it is his final words as always to which our attention would be drawn? Render to God what is God’s . . .
But what is God’s? . . . well, on whom has God put his mark??
Jesus as ever shows the way. Upon the Cross he render’s to God what is God – Himself
St Paul says of Jesus ‘he is the image of the invisible God’ – the question is ‘are we?’ To whom do we belong
Years ago a friend of mine stopped me for a faith conversation – brought up a Christian in a loving and devout Christian home, she had reached an impasse in her faith. Funnily enough it was at the bottom of a flight of stairs . . . ‘I’ve realised that it is all or nothing . . .’ And that is the point. There is no division – there is nothing of any consequence that belongs to Caesar, you certainly don’t . . . Jesus’ answer is simply a question, ‘To whom do you belong?’ God, or not?
Whose Image do we bear? To whom do we belong?
Resurrection? Love Knows The Way – Trinity +16, Year A 2020
‘Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”’ Isaiah 30:21 . . .
‘Where is your life headed?’ . . . We might well say, we do not know. But perhaps a more helpful question is – ‘towards what is your life directed?’
Knowing our Direction – to what we are directed is to know where we are headed, and it makes our life far simpler, even if often it makes it far more difficult
Most folk know of the difficult way our family is following with our daughter. Some might wonder why? They might be tempted to say, it is her ‘Christian principles’ which told her the way. But no, the principles, the rules if you like are the manifestation of something far deeper, that is The Way. For our daughter, to see a beating heart is to know The Way . . .
Early Christians were often called ‘followers of The Way’, in Scripture far more often than ‘Christians’ which is used only once. The prophet says ‘Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”’ It is deep within the fabric of existence and lies, usually buried in the depth of the human heart, for it underlies all of reality.
As CS Lewis explains Christian faith to those who might not know it, he speaks of this deep underlying Right Ordering of things using the ancient Chinese concept of The Tao.
We as the people of St John the Evangelist, know it as The Word – or as the Greeks put it – The Logos. The deep underlying Right Order of the universe. In the beginning – when God created the heaven and Earth, there it was – In the beginning was the Logos, the Tao, The Way.
As the children of Israel gather at Mt Sinai, God reveals himself, the unseen God, by revealing The Way. The ten Commandments or as they are perhaps more helpfully known in the Jewish tradition, the Ten Words, the Tao, The Logos. The Logos who is I AM reveals himself as The Way
I am, the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
These first three commandments are summed up in the Great Command we hear every Sunday – Hear, O Israel, O people of God, The Lord your God, the LORD is One and you shall love the lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength . . . Why does The Way begin in this Way?
We are commanded to Love the God whom we do not see so, not idols, or the gods of the nations – followers of The Way are never nationalists. Why Love the unseen God?
So that we learn the Direction of our The Way, The direction of our Life – or, for it is the same thing, the Direction of our Love. To Know this Logos, this tao, this Way is to Know the nature of Love and Life that is always and everywhere Towards.
Love is ecstatic – it is ‘Away from’. We love away from ourselves. Love flows towards – Love is not about acquiring or drawing to ourself. Love does not seek to possess – this is a tragic distortion of love. Loving that which we see all too often perverts love by reversing its direction – from away from like the flow of a River, from releasing and letting go, forgiving we might say, to eeking to possess and hold on to – to draw to ourself.
‘So and so ‘completes me’’ Oh, I saw that piece of furtniture and I just Had to have it . . . this is the perversion of Love.
We learn Love, The Way by loving that which we cannot see, so that we learn not to set our hearts on things that do not last, and so move away from life which is eternal. We learn not the false misdirected love which seeks to acquire – and we learn to love that which surrounds us as ourself.
Sin in Greek is hamartia – it means to miss the mark. Sin is misdirected love. It is against The Tao, against the Logos. Sin is to draw towards for our sake.
We are made to Love, but we are surrounded by many things which we seek to possess for our own sake. Rather than to direct our Love to the One thing necessary – the Love towards God which is the Way, the Way which orders and directs all Love.
Sin is misdirected love, for the moth and rust consume and thieves break I and steal. It is the Love that always ends in our loss, for it is the love of things that pass away, which is misdirected love.
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the rich man, who had many possessions. He had loved everything he had seen – he had set his heart on them. This is idolatry. In the early church it was called the spirit of fornication, to Love as God that which was not God. It was disordered love. Yes it had a sexual expression, but the deeper disorder was the problem, the sexual aspect was merely the most clear expression of the disordered love, as it strikes most deeply into our humanity. It reveals that to love is to become joined to, we become one with . . . We are created to be united to God, the young man had become united to his possessions
The Goal of the Christian Life is simple – it is to become One with God and so to become Love – The Direction of The Way is Up – that is why Jesus says – ‘take no thought for the morrow . . . rather seek his kingdom and his righteousness’
This is what we call Resurrection. It is where our lives are to head. Not forward in time, but upwards towards God so that within the realm of time and Space which God has called into being the Tao, the Logos, The Way is manifested. To become expressions of the Eternal in the world of things passing away
So St Paul in his letter to the Philippians
I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
In the beginning was The Logos – our Christian announcement is that the Logos, the Way has become flesh in Christ Jesus and Him Crucified. The Resurrection is the revelation of that – through dying to self, considering not the things that are passing away, but rather fixing our hearts and minds on the Eternal – God manifested in Christ (this is faith – that which we set our hearts on) – The Human is Revealed in the heart of Creation. This is the Centre of all things, the meaning of all things – it is the way through death to Life. It was for this that Christ came, to make the dead Live!! To become Love is Resurrection, it is as St John reminds us, the grounds of our hope ‘for as he is, so are we in the world’
This is to be restored to our true humanity, it is to find our life in accord with the deep pattern of the entire Creation. As I wrote in the parish magazine this month, Resurrection is written into the Creation – a true river always finds its course – And we, if we have come to know Christ have come to know The Way.
Our daughter sees a beating heart – her heart pours out – the River finds its painful course, towards the Sea – She Knows the Way . . . Those who walk in The Way, Know the Way
Resurrection . . .
Spring is in the air, in a sense it always is, but usually we don’t recognise the signs, which as Jesus tells us is a human deficiency. But all around for those with eyes to see . . .
Many years ago, one of my parishes ran out of people to mow the grass in the churchyard. In that moment a young couple recently moved to the village from Canada, came to the Vicarage. They were interested in the idea of a ‘Living Churchyard’ They had the right skills to actively care for the grass around the gravestones, that it was restored to meadow, with wild flowers, diverse grasses, and butterflies etc. etc. (From the place of death, Life)
This required very little work from them, except a gentle care and the occasional uprooting of gorse. ‘For the grass and plants know themselves best how to grow, and the wildlife will find its place’. I foolishly mentioned this offer in the next parish magazine. Almost immediately a delegation of well meaning village folk were on my doorstep – telling me that they would mow the grass . . .
We find it very difficult as human beings just to let things be. T S Eliott wrote – ‘Teach us to care, and not to care, teach us to sit still’. Our attempts to ‘manage things’, to put the world, and of course ‘those people’ right, seems to infect us all from an early age. And so new life is smothered under our ‘care’. The Care which we are called to in Elliot’s poem is that of attentiveness, the work of Mary, of beholding. If you take time to learn this way of Seeing the world, you discover as my Canadian friends had, that Creation Knows its maker and its own way. And it requires far less of us, perhaps simply our wonder? Resurrection wonder.
The other night in a time of darkness, something Sarah told me came to mind. She had been listening to a podcast about a beck (a small river) on the Eastern edge of the English Lake District. Some years ago, well meaning folk had straightened its course. (There was money in such things from city politicians who knew nothing of the ways of a stream). As a result the water ran far more swiftly down its new (dead) straight course. (There are no straight lines in the Living World) As the water ripped along it took with it all the gravel and small pebbles, which up until this ‘improvement’ had been the spawning ground for fish. These fish knew the beck as their home, their source, the place from which they came, and to which they returned, their place of birth, death and resurrection.
Some local folk, rather like my Canadian friends, wondered if there was a way to restore the stream and thus its Life. So they set about the task of diverting the river to its old course, starting from the upstream end. They had done very little yet arduous spadework, when one night there was the sort of rain which those parts knows too well. A late summer deluge. Under the ‘improved’ course, this water would have rushed down the river and possibly flooded out a village further downstream, and the labourers woke expecting to see not only flooding down the valley, but also their small work washed away . . . but they hadn’t counted on Resurrection. We never do.
The small change they had made, enabled the deluge to open up the older course of the river. Slow, meandering. The River Knew its course . . . it was written into it In The Beginning. And over time, back came first the pebbles and gravel, and then the fish
As I pondered this, I had one of those Mother Julian moments. Light flooded into darkness, ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well . . .’ Resurrection is written into the Creation, by the Logos of God, if we would just let it be so.
Our place as Christians in these days, perhaps more than ever before is Holy Saturday – to rest in the tomb. The old way of fixing things is over. This is the message of the Cross. We wait on new birth. Watch and Pray. Wait and Behold, the Glory of the Lord . . .
In the Church, in the World, and within ourselves . . . Resurrection is built in if we do but stop to See it
Your Money or your Life – on debt and forgiveness . . .Trinity + 14
How do you earn a living?
Interesting q. Not because of the answers, the q itself . . .
‘Earn a living’ – Why do we use such language?
Have you bought into the latest thinking in this area?
How do you spend your life . . .
The criminal must ‘pay their debt to society . . .’ I’ll return to debt shortly
Arguments ‘the bottom line is . . .’ I could go on almost ad infinitum. The language of Money is woven through our way of being . . . We work, to get money, to buy bread, to live . . . Money and Life woven together, which is a problem for us
Of course one might be very otherworldly about money
God will provide! Why is the church always talking about money, yet the next moment turn round and say ‘but you owe me an apology . . .’ This reveals in a sense that money is more than cash – it is . . . well some kind of Spiritual force – or Mammon
The mammon one way or another radically infects our language and thus our lives and indeed our faith . . .
And so it is with the issue of forgiveness – as anyone who knows presbyterianism will attest – we ask God to forgive us our debts . . . (but woe betide any customer of mine who doesn’t pay his bills . . .)
Which is odd, when you think about it for a couple of reasons.
Firstly because we live in a world where it is assumed that, you must pay your debts. I owe, I owe, its off to work I go . . .
Debt and the money system are a prison and an utterly unforgiving one – is that LIFE?
Secondly the language of debt in the prayer, takes it for granted that we can ‘owe’ God . And whether we use that language or not, the sense of ‘being in Gods debt or that of another overshadows our understanding of forgiveness . . .
Yet owing suggests a deficit in God . . . By our sinning he has lent us something and thus is diminished – so it is rooted in a wrong idea about God. For God is overflowing abundance – Life in all its fullness . . . yet we won’t have it
This approach in some respects has really kicked into gear since the Protestant reformation, although it was very alive in the church since the late middle ages – ‘As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs’ The Sale of indulgences, buying time off paying what you owed God – was one of the rampant abuses the reformers rightly railed against but unwittingly, as the man who kicked a demon out of his house found, it only made matters worse let the spirit of Mammon loose without retsraint – The Protestant work ethic and consumer capitalism are happy bedfellows . . . that anyone should get – Something for nothing . . . the underserving . . .
And it infected our language of faith – ‘There was no other good enough to pay the price for sin . . .’ And I as was taught regarding confession – you need to ‘keep short accounts with God . . .’
What is Peter doing in his approach to Jesus but the work of accounting.
Jesus has already told his disciples that as servants of God, their work is to seek and save the lost, to renew connection. To reconnect them to the ever flowing stream of the Life of God – To seek out the brother who sinned against you, not that your honour might be satisfied, not that they owed you, but because this is what God does – in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us
But Peter is still counting – Peter lives in the small minded world of Mammon – a world with an unforgiving bottom line – world of scarcity – there’s only so much forgiveness to go around. A world in which Life runs out . . . So you wouldn’t want to waste it.
This is a world in which secretly we don’t want to forgive, as if we will thereby lose something . . . yet Peter will begrudgingly push himself if Jesus requires it – How much do you require of me Jesus?!
He guesses that Jesus might go further than the rabbis who counselled that your forgave three times only, but ‘Jesus is better’, but ‘We know the story so the Jesus story is the same’, . . .of the same mould . . . so 7 times – after all that is perfection, but Jesus isn’t interested in ‘a better version of the world’, he has something New to say, or rather something original . . from the Origin of Creation, from the heart, from the heart of God
Jesus’ teaching is from the origin . . . from the source of the river of LIfe
And his shocking words expose the world for what it is – ruled by accounting, and limitation, harsh limitation, begrudging forgivness merely to keep the rules.
This parable of Jesus is often taught like this –
A tale of two debts. One owed by the first servant, one owed to the first servant. The debt owed by the first servant is 60,000 times greater than what he is owed. So . . . we owe God an unpayable debt . . . except that is something we have made up, assuming that the world of debt is normative.
Nowhere in scripture are we told we owe God, after all, if God is your father, does your parent lend you their life, their house, do they bill you for your sheer existence?? The language of infinite debt is the infection of the faith by those who do not know God – who understand faith in terms set by the money system – serving Mammon still – and so using the language of accounting in the world of faith
And if your brother really IS your brother . . . The words of Jesus are Shocking to our world . . . forgive 7×70 times – forgive and forgive and forgive . . . ad infinitum – If money is our picture of life, then it is limited, But if God is our picture of life, then . . . boundless forgiveness is the Reality
Note that the master has pity on the slave . . . He doesn’t see the debt, he sees the person – a person in trouble. He doesn’t see someone who has sinned against him, he sees someone who has cut themselves off from life and is in trouble . . . he loves the servant. He pities him . . . and he forgives him, he connects his Life to that of his servant . . .
But the first slave goes out and although he has not been treated according to the harsh unforgiving money system – goes and implements the harsh unforgiving money system . . . he has been given Life, but chooses limitation and death . . .
He only sees the debt . . . he doesn’t see the person. He is blinded by what is owed – by the offence, and has no pity . . .
This is not a story about the debt system – it is a story about Love, or not . . .
It is about Life – or death . . . After all, the wages of sin is death . . . the Gift of God is eternal Life
In our world Mammon – holds the power of life and death, and its doctrines infect everyday life, to the last cent . . . which is why we tend to see this parable in terms of the vast amount of money and the small amount of money, and miss the pity, the love. Why would the fellow slaves be shocked by the treatment of their fellow? Because they are servants of their master – and live a life according to love. If they lived according to money they wouldn’t be shocked – their is no sense that they know what happened between the master and servant – it is ‘of the heart’s inner room . . .
Forgiveness from the heart is a different life. Life that is a never ending stream – a river.
From the heart says Jesus – as he says in John’s gospel, out of the heart of the one who believes will flow rivers, rivers of living water. Wells run dry, but rivers . . . they are a flow of life throughout scripture.
It really is your money or your life . . .
You can serve God, and live a life of love, or live under the system of Mammon, which has a bottom line – Death . . .
Servants of God . . . Angels . . . Trinity + 13 Year A 2020
Sermon for Trinity + 13
Servants of God
‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself . . . and has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation’ 2 Cor 5:19
I wonder if you’ve ever encountered an angel? I’ve had one fleeting encounter, and my father also, just before he died, although it was only later as my mother told the story of a strange encounter on an evening walk hours before he died, that I understood this.
One of the gifts of returning to each of the Synoptic gospels on a three year rotation is that you see things you had previously missed. This year is Matthew and this week as I have sat with today’s gospel that I have realised that Matthew is the gospel of angels. There are considerably more angels in Matthew than in Mark or Luke combined. The angel who appeared to Joseph in a dream, the angels who separate the wheat from the chaff, the twelve legions of angels Jesus says he has at his disposal should he call on them.
But for our purposes today – two mentions are significant. One, which we may remember is to do with Jesus’ argument with the Sadducess over marriage in the Kingdom – for he says ‘in the Resurrection, they are neither married not given in marriage, but are like the angels’, and, a verse that has been important to me this past week as I have prayed over Hannah’s child – a verse from Matthew which comes a few verses before this week’s gospel reading and is part of its context.
Jesus has set a child in the midst of his disciples and said, ‘unless ye repent and become like one of these, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven’ – and further “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones, for I say unto you, that in heaven, their angels do always behold the face of my father in heaven”
Last week we considered the uncomfortable truth for those who think much of themselves, that God chooses the none-people to be his people . . . Put simply, it’s not about us, our talents and abilities, it is about God. Moses’s question, “who am I?” , is responded to with God’s I AM. (And we’ll consider this further this evening).
God is God of the none-people, and in most of history children have been none-people, indeed before birth they are not considered by the law of this land to be people, and in certain appalling circumstances, not after birth either.
Jesus places a none-person in front of the disciples – one whom we in the Significance and Importance of our busy meaningful lives overlook – one whom we overlook the more our lives are escapes from the vulnerability of childhood. He says, you must become like this to enter the Kingdom of my Father. Possessing nothing, and thus possessed by nothing – and those for whom it might be said, because of their vulnerability and openness, their angels always behold the face of God . . .
Last week we asked – “Who are the people of God?” This week we are confronted with a different but equally important question, “What are the people of God?” For as Jesus’ says, in the Resurrection they are like the angels . . . and Christ is Risen. We are the people of the Resurrection – as St Paul says, if anyone is in Christ, He is a New Creation, the old has gone, the new has come . . .’
Like the angels . . .
Well you may well say, “But what has that got to do with our gospel reading? After all it’s a sort of ethical injunction, isn’t it? A code of conduct for life in the church?” Well yes, but if you don’t know who and what you are, you will not understand it. Put another way, how we hear these words of Jesus are a measure of whether we have heard him at all . . .
“If your brother sins against you, go!” Jesus sends us with three levels of engagement. 1. Tell them alone, 2. Take on or two others, 3. Take it before the church . . .
“If your brother sins against you, go!” Note that this almost always works its way out the other way. Someone sins against another and if the person who is sinned against takes it badly . . . well do they go and tell the person privately? No, they go straight to Level 3 and tell Everyone!! You have no idea what this person has done to me! . . .
But here’s the question . . . Why? If another Christian signs against you, why would you go and tell them their fault . . . Why tell them their fault? Because they need to know what they’ve done wrong? Because they need to know how you are hurt? Because you have been offended? Because they are going to have to do certain things before you’ll think of trusting them again?? Because they need to say Sorry, and say it like they mean it? That they wake up to the injustice of their lives?? So that your honour, your story about the world is proved to be true? Why tell them their fault??
You see, all those reasons why the children of the world might tell them their fault, are all about them . . . My pride, my feelings, my offence, the wrong that has been done to me . . . and notice btw how much contemporary discourse is precisely of this nature . . . these are the reasons of the children of the world – but not the children of ‘my father who is in heaven’
But is this why Jesus tell us to go and point out their fault? And then if necessary to draw one or two people in? And then to take it to the church?? Why? To satisfy your honour? To deal with your hurt feelings??
Did Jesus cried out from the cross, “You have no idea what they have done to me!” ?? No, he said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do . . .”
You see, if we don’t know who we are and what we are as the people of God, we don’t know how and why we act . . . we do not know what we are doing . . . We have lost sight of the face of our Father in heaven, who says I AM, and it’s all about us . . . but God, but God uses the none-people because, it is all about God and God’s purposes, and God’s life which he wishes to share with all.
We talk very glibly about doing the work of God . . . but unless we know who we are and where we are, we do not know what the work of God is, the work of Jesus.
St Paul puts it the work of God like this – ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself . . . and has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation’ 2 Cor 5:19 The four verses before this weeks gospel read – ‘Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones – don’t overlook them, pay attention – ; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.
Therefore! If your brother sins against you . . .
The angels of the little ones, the none people – Jesus’ people always behold the face of God, and in the resurrection, they are like the angels of God in heaven . . .
So . . . to be one of God’s people is to be like an angel . . . which means??
Angels wait on God, Like Mary – they pay attention to God in Christ, and serve His purposes. They wait on his command. That is what they live for, the people of God . . . they are messengers, connection makers
Why like an angel in the resurrection? God in Christ has reconciled the world to himself? He has woven together heaven and earth in his Son. Christ on the Cross is lifted up holding heaven and earth together . . . Like an angel he dwells in both places – he moves effortlessly between the two . . . He stands at the right hand of God, yet is with us always . . .
When your brother sins against you, Go! Commands Jesus, go into the world to do the work of your father which I have revealed to you – GO! seek and save the lost, to restore the relationship. They have sinned and so have broken the life giving bond – they are thus cut off and lost from the household of God. They have become a lost sheep, go find them! Bring them home.
We do not go to point out the fault of our brother or sister because of what they have done to us, in the same way that God in Christ does not seek us out to tell us how we have hurt him. God’s own self forgetfulness – your sins and iniquities I will remember no more – is the Life of the Church which has been entrusted with the message of reconciliation.
We are like the angels who dwell before the face of God. That is what we are – in ourselves weaving heaven and earth together, so that whatever we bind on earth is bound in heaven and whatsoever we lose on earth is loosed in heaven. It is only in knowing who we are, what we are and where we are that the gospel of Jesus Christ becomes plain to us and we become its self forgetful, God serving expressions . . . Only those who lose their life will find it . . .
God of the non-people
Trinity + 12 – 2020
Exodus 3:1-15; Matthew 16:21-28
Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:10
What does it mean to be ‘The people of God’?
Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount starts out by naming God’s people – the poor in Spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the hungry, the thirsty . . . that is where God starts . . . These are the Blessed for from them God will create a people for his glory
The writer Dallas Willard in his book, the Divine Conspiracy, a book about The Kingdom of God, so chokes over these words of Jesus that he has to completely rewrites them. In Willard’s picture God obviously needs competent people, skilled people, talented people. ‘If we are going to bring in the Kingdom of God! . . .’
In short people like him. So these people . . . the nothings, the non-people he . . . well he says ‘Hey when Jesus is announcing his Kingdom he says ‘it’s even for people like this!’ We competent people we are the ones charged with the business, and so doing we’ll help these non people. So Sure is he of this that he spends an entire chapter deliberately these people as losers, as non-people . . . The losers, the people no one would look to if humanly speaking they were setting out on a great endeavour, let alone ‘The great Endeavour’ . . . Humanly speaking . . . That’s the worlds story – vote in the right government and the poor will finally be looked after – This is how We will fix things . . . We the competent and powerful will help out the less blessed.
Except Jesus has named the blessed, THESE are the blessed, and there’s no ‘also’
What is perhaps a little unsettling to consider is why Willard has to do this . . . Why? Because he is working from an unexamined assumption, that he and his fellow middle class Christian friends, the Movers and shakers, the people with ‘significant’ roles and the like – are OBVIOUSLY ‘God’s people’ – The story is so pervasive we believe it – It is our job as God’s people to look after the non-people . . . But Jesus says, the non-people are God’s people. And there are no ‘alsos’ . . .
If the ‘Blessed’s of Jesus aren’t like those people Willard knows . . . and Jesus says blessed are ‘those people’ . . . what of him, what of us?? (And you might like to take a moment to reflect on how like Willard we immediately try and hold our story together . . .)
The Jesus story tips the world on its head, because it is not about human glory except as Christ and him Crucified. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, people come to Jesus saying ‘Hey Jesus, look what we’ve done, what we’ve achieved ‘in your name’’ and Jesus is less than impressed – away from me, you doers of evil. For this is not about human glory, but the glory of God.
God’s work is always a work of Creation – and he caps out the creation by Creating His Image and placing it at the Centre – so that the creation would know what the Creator was like. God creates a people Like him, He does the creation, the work is all God’s. Even Jesus says ‘I only do what I see the father doing’ and that Creation is from that which is ‘nothing’, the formless and void of the waters of the deep, he forms a people from those who were not a people. They do not make a name for themselves, there are no laudatory memorials to those people – he places his name on them
As St Paul puts it in a text that has been much on my family’s heart these past few days – God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. A child growing in her mothers womb turns our world on its head . . .
[We have a society and culture which is set up by the powerful who may or who may not do good for the weak . . . but they dominate the story. And this story is also the story which dominates the church. So Synod, reduced to just a one day zoom ‘meeting’ will debate the usual well meaning motions about ‘helping the non-people’ – top down. But ignoring our Christian Story which is that the people of God are the non-people.
You see it’s only the non-people that need God . . . the rest of us can and usually do get by very well without God. Indeed we think so much of ourselves that we say that it is our job to ‘bring in the Kingdom of God’. Faith is hard not for those who have no other hope, it is hard for those who have a thousand and one alternatives]
So God comes to the raw material of the non-people. The enslaved Hebrews
‘I will send you to Pharaoh’! If we read further on, the LORD says to Moses, I will give you words . . .
And Moses Knows he is not up to the task . . . Who am I? I am NOT . . .
I AM has sent you. And I AM brings them out and makes a people for himself, to reveal his Glory . . .
But they looked around and sought to emulate other nations. Hey we need a King! If folk are going to take US seriously . . . so they fall into the failure of the nations who do not know God. They get their king- first David, who wouldn’t lay a hand on Saul but became king by popular acclaim as the one who slew his tens of thousands . . . Then the glories of the Solomonic era, in which the liberated people were ironically enslaved to their own imperial project. Imperial projects always enslave – as anyone paying attention to their own life might notice . . . Solomon intermarried with a gusto . . . he built an amazing temple and an even more amazing palace for himself . . . and following his death as with the death of any emperor, the succession led to a bloodbath and the separation of the 12 tribes.
And one of the most pertinent facts regarding God’s people is that they are largely absent from the historical record . . . even Solomon in all his glory . . . In vain do we look for the historic record of the non people. For all their glorious past, they barely deserved a footnote in the annals of the Human story . . .
From then the story had not been good, and at the time of Jesus, God’s people are waiting for ‘the Son of David’. . . An imagined glorious past . . . how we love to live in the past and fondly remember it . . . not really a good call. The powerful amongst them are trying to hold things together. The Pharisees are not narrow minded legalists – rather they long for the return of God’s King, and understand that only when Israel perfectly keeps the law will this happen . . . but their understanding of God’s Messiah is still one built not on God’s creative acts amongst the non-people. They are looking for the movers and shakers . . . The King, The Messiah to restore ‘the good old days’
So Peter’s cry ‘this must never happen to you! Is based on that story. He has just been graced BY GOD to see that Jesus is the Messiah, the long awaited one. He didn’t figure this out for himself for this is a story about God, not about how clever Peter is . . . note by the way that the gospels do NOT exalt the disciples . . . They are very raw material . . . We note the ‘joke’ that on this rock Jesus will build his church and like Sarah we laugh! Really? Peter??? That flippy floppy nobody?? Because it’s not about Sarah or Peter, it is about God
Jesus calls the non-people . . .
Peter is allowed to see who Jesus is, and then Jesus tips Peter’s world upside down . . . he must go to Jerusalem and suffer . . . and be killed . . . and on the third day be raised. The word Suffer is passive – he becomes a non person, the target of those who have a different story, he becomes the ultimate non person by being killed . . .
So Peter when he says ‘this must never happen to you’ isn’t saying out of his deep devotion to Jesus, but because that’s not the Messiah story. The Messiah is the top down ruler who will save Israel . . . the Messiah institutes an eternal reign – He comes to make us a GREAT nation! The Messiah does not die!
But that is the way of Satan, the Prince of this world. It is designed to leave us without hope, because we think – the next government, if only we had the right ruler . . . a world of eternal despair in the human – ‘Get thee behind me Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of Man. because we have not in mind the things of God.
It is perhaps the Great Satanic illusion which grips our hearts and minds – just get the right people at the top . . . (Which is why I have no time as a Christian for politics – its not the Jesus way, and the temptation for us is that it takes our hearts and minds off Him, and our neighbour, and through the power of the internet focusses us on false hopes . . .)
But more – if you would be my disciple, to be God’s people – you also have to give up on your story . . . Jesus takes the story back to the start – into the deep waters of death . . . it is out of that that life emerges. Our story as I said last week is Life through death, when we try and avoid that we try and solidify Our existence protecting ourselves
The disciples looked on the glory of the Temple and said, what fine stones – and Jesus destroys it. All Their hard work . . . all their self justification, all their self righteousness, because God needs raw material to form a people for himself who perfectly reflect his Glory – that is the purpose of The Image of God, to Manifest God . . . it is the vocation of the Church, the Body of Christ – but we do like our Temple building projects, those things which give us a sense of self satisfaction – of course inscribe it AMDG. – to the great er glory of God, but the glory of God is revealed in the non people
Which leaves me thinking about us, the people of St John’s
We have a long and it may well be said ‘proud’ history . . . When I came here and folk outside the parish realised who I was, they would say ‘Oh! The new Vicar of St John’s’ As I got to know some of the history I realised what they were talking about – This parish had achieved so much, but also that it had a darker side. Over the years we had let go of the small weaker churches and retreated to the high ground. During a polio epidemic in the 1930s, the Vicar sent people round the parish, not to pray for people and to share bread, but to raise funds for the church . . . The question I have is, do we cling on in hope, looking for a Messiah who fits, or are we prepared ourselves to become once more the non-people, the raw material for New Creation . . . to let go of our ‘glorious’ past??
Like Peter, and like the Pharisees we are So given to ‘clinging on’ to whatever gives us security – but God can only work with those for whom He is their security . . .
Some years ago I spoke of Two cities in Northern England – Bradford and Leeds. Bradford lived long on past glories . . . and collapsed. This seems to me to be the story of the Anglican church, at least in our Tikanga,, less so in Tikanga Maori, MUCH less so amongst our Pasifika brothers and sisters . Those who are little are by far the most vibrant and alive
We live in a time of shattered illusions. We who talk so much of ‘bubbles’ don’t realise that what COVD has shown us is that we were living in a bubble. Our technological prowess and scientific knowhow was supposed to protect Us from all of that – flee from the virus deeper into our bubbles, even more divorced form the reality of the world by burning phenomenal amounts of fossil fuels and building houses insulated against the storms they created.
To be Safe in human terms is to be separated from God. In our Scientific technical bubble we were separated from God, although he got a look in now and then, the occasional prayer, but really it was our job to ‘bring in his kingdom – We created a world – so as the creator of the world was the centre of the story – – – we became the centre of our own story – in which we, of course were going to ‘bring in the Kingdom of God’, because of course it would never occur to us that we couldn’t, after all, look at the fabulous things we humans have done!
COVID amongst other things is shaking things up – do we cling on and try and climb higher and higher up the mountain securing ourself, or do we follow Jesus into the waters of death, and allow God to raise us and reform us – do we cling on, or do we let go, let go and Let God . . .?
Changes – Becoming Bread Trinity +8
Dying to Live . . . Trinity+7
To fix or to heal? Weeds or wheat?
To Fix, or to Heal?
Sermon for Trinity + 6
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; Romans 8:19
The revealing of the children of God
Each Sunday as we prepare to pray in the words that Jesus has taught us, I preface our prayer with these words ‘As our Saviour Christ has commanded and taught us, we are very bold to say . . .’
Why? Because it is true. To dare to say to God, Father – is an act of extraordinary boldness . . . after all, what if it weren’t true? And how would we know? What if we called to Jesus, Lord Lord, and he said to us, away from me, you doers of evil, I never knew you . . . How do we know?
Jesus, in Matthew’s gospel, most clearly in the sermon on the Mount makes it very clear how we would know
I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Or as Luke puts it – ‘be merciful, as your father in heaven is merciful . . .’
Like Father, like the child . . . As I say we Are Very Bold to say . . . our Father . . . Indeed the prayer presumes this for it presumes for example that we are forgiving – forgive us as we forgive others . . . Whilst there are often sermons given over agonising over forgiving, to pray the Lord’s prayer presupposes it is ‘natural’ which it is for a child of God.
No wonder as St Paul says: For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; Romans 8:19
Creation is gasping, it can’t breathe . . . it longs for the revealing of the children of God, for those who in truth call upon God as Father . . . for those who look like God . . .
Jesus did not die to make bad people good – he died so that the dead might live – that we might become Children of God. Christian existence is not a matter of moral performance, it’s a matter of a new Life – that we might become pure wheat . . .
8:12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. Becoming Christian is not a matter of tidying up your moral performance . . . of loving and forgiving and being merciful because we have a different or better set of rules – not it is a new Life, the very life of God flowing in and through us. As Jesus says, you must be born from above – you must be born anew as God’s children, bearing his likeness and revealing him in the world . . .
Which brings us to our parable. We tend to assume that Jesus used parables of growing living things because he was a country boy, but the reality is that he used living things, for to enter the Kingdom of God was to become a Living thing . . . birds, trees, seeds, weeds, wheat . . .
Weeds or Wheat? How can you tell? And the answer is that you can’t – only God sees the heart. There are suggestions that the weeds that Jesus had in mind based on the word he used, were notoriously hard to tell apart from wheat. Perhaps he had the hypocritical pharisees in mind . . .
But how do you know? That’s none of our business!
You have to wait to find out. Good seed in Good ground produces God Life. Even good seed in the wrong soil can’t produce wheat as we heard lats week . . . But you have to wait, this is why Jesus uses the Last judgement imagery
Like the sheep and the goats, it’s only at The End that the truth of things is revealed. At The End – when the fruit is born. If these weeds were so hard to tell from wheat, it was only at The End, when they bore seed that it became clear . . .
So what should we do?? Well the answer is as old as time – every moment of every day, repent – turn towards God. Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and all of your soul and all of your strength – Loving the Father ‘above you’ Rise from the chaos and darkness of death into the glory and light of life . . . you must become children of God – Wheat, not weeds . . .
Which brings me to a question I am asked from time to time – What can I do to ensure that my children become Christians? (Even now that they are grown up . . .)
When faced with such a question it is tempting to come up with some ‘technical solution’. , and I’ve heard them all and seen so many try them out . . . often to no avail . . .
We try all the time to fix things – but unlike our food processor, which we managed to fix on Friday – you can’t fix growing things, you can’t fix living things – you can’t make the dead live . . . There is no technique, indeed it is evil to try and fix things like this. For we are not dealing with machines, but living breathing human beings . . . People can’t be helped by tool sets . . .
By attending to people, you can no more ‘ensure they become Christian’, than you can raise the dead . . . Only the Living can raise the dead
Can you raise the dead? I know of a bishop who wouldn’t ordain someone unless they had . . . Jesus sent out his disciples saying As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for labourers deserve their food.
These are Jesus instructions to his disciples – not to ‘put the world right’, not to ‘fix the world’, but to heal and thus direct the gaze of the world to the Father in heaven . . . .
We are not created to be machine and machine fixers – a living human being is no machine – there are no tools or tricks or techniques, indeed to use such things is evil. Yet we have been trained by the world to think that everything has its technical fix, and with the right rules, the right well, the right moral behaviours, the world will be saved . . . and after all, obeying Jesus and curing the sick and raising the dead and cleansing lepers and casting out demons??? . . . it is no surprise that these things only happen in non technical societies where people haven’t the power to fix things, and we think our society advanced and spiritually it is in ICU . . .
As I suggest from time to time, the real danger of Covid 19 is not the virus – it is what our response does to our souls . . . Jesus says do not fear the one who has power only to destroy your body . . . fear the one who can destroy body and soul . . .
As I said, these times reveal the truth about us, what we really love, and certainly as a society
We are in love not with the living God, we are in love with technique, with saving ourselves . . .
How can we fix the world? Vote for the right government? What will get the desired outcome? Vote out the weeds? Vote in the wheat? Can you tell the difference?
’What can I do to ensure that my children become Christians?? We are anxious, about . . . well about everything and so we are easy meat for technical solutions which promise success . . . So uproot the weeds – Clean it up! Vote for the ONE party . . . Make sure they go to ‘a bible believing church’ . . . Pray! Fast and pray! . . . What’s the technique?? What’s the fix?? Healing?? I can’t do that! Funny, Jesus disciples these simple fishermen and rag tag and bobtail didn’t say that to Jesus . . . but then they weren’t civilised like we are . . .
Yet were created to be healers not fixers – we were created to be the dwelling place of God, to have the Seed of His life in us, so that like Jesus we would heal, but that requires a struggle – a struggle to become chidden of God. For all who believe in Jesus are given the right to become Children of God
Jesus says ‘Do not worry about anything! Seek His Kingdom! Be drawn up and you will draw others up around you . . . Acquire inner peace and you will save a thousand around you – become Jesus sale in the storm! That is the upward call of God in Jesus! To be like him! SO make every effort to enter in through the narrow gate! Loving God with all you have and all you are requires your entire attention, for broad and easy is the way that leads to destruction . . .
And therein lies the answer to the question . . . Do we want our children to become Christian? We must become Christian ourselves! Wheat lives towards God with every ounce of its fibre and being . . .
You see, it is a matter of Life, of the Life of God . . . only the Living can do this, only those in whom is the life of God, because weeds beget weeds and wheat begets whea
Perhaps more than ever we need as church to realise that our faith is not a set of beliefs, or a set of morals, it is a life . . . and if the church is dying, then that life is missing . . . All over the Western world we see the same thing – folk coming up with techniques for pretty much every aspect of life . . . Like finding the right exercises to get the right abs, what do we have to do to inherit eternal life and Jesus says, leave the life you have behind . . . and follow me . . . so we go to the bookstore to find a better answer . . .
How can I ensure my children become Christians? How in the Life of the Father can we ensure anything?? Seek Him! Struggle – fight against all that wars against you soul – rise from the soil, Grow towards the Light
Make every effort to become a child of God yourself.
Life begets life. Wheat produces wheat, weeds produce . . .
Children of the Father produce the Life of the Father – for the healing of the world
Unhappy? 2 before Lent
Repent! Seek His Face!
Sermon for Epiphany 3
Repentance – Seeking God’s Face
My Heart says ‘Come! Seek His Face’
Your Face Lord do I seek
There is perhaps nothing more awe inspiring than a new born baby. It is a profoundly sacred moment -bringing Life into the World.
But new born babies are not as some would have it, blank slates. One of the ways the contemplation of new birth stops me In my tracks is the simple fact that we are born into this world seeking a face, and more, not only are we born looking for a face, within 3 days of birth we are looking for a face which according to our particular culture is thought to be beautiful . . . and we hadn’t even had time to learn how to use tik-tok or other social media to learn the stereotypes . . . We are born looking for a beautiful face . . . but then something happens to our sight.
Rather like the shepherd with his sheep, or the woman with the coin, we are born into the world looking for something we have lost . . . and then we forget . . . We think we learn to see, but increasingly our seeing blinds us.
We find ourselves as a family in the flood season of family birthdays. Our three babies hit the one year mark, Miriam is 3, Ella, Megan, Sam and myself also have birthdays around this time. And birthdays bring presents, and rather like the teddy bears I introduced you to last week there are a multiplicity, which seems to blind.
To this day I am almost haunted by a memory of Sam being given a small model helicopter – possibly at age 2 – and how his sisters just wanted to ply him with lots of other presents. Yet he was absorbed in turning this one thing over and over in his hand. As we get older we get trained out of the wonder of seeing things as they are and thinking we see and know . . . and seeking a face?
It’s curious, but from the face seeking of infancy we start to actively hide from faces. Even, tragically those of our own children – Paediatricians note how there is a huge increase in children at 6months who don’t smile – for their parents aren’t seeking their face . . . and again, have you noticed how you might be in a social context, say a café, and there are people whom you don’t know. You are absently mindedly gazing towards someone and then they look in your direction – we seem to know we’re being looked at – and immediately you look away. ‘Don’t stare, it’s rude!’ we’re told in our childhood and we learn not to see. Bizarrely, the more we are given to look at – Look Here! Look There! The less we see . . . The more faces, the more we look away.
I always remember one of my mentors, a man of much missionary experience saying how odd it was for him to return to England where people asked, ‘how are you?’ without of course being remotely interested in the answer. He compared this with his experience in Africa, where the standard greeting was ‘I see you’. We seem predisposed in our culture to flee from the connection of the gaze . . .
Last week we heard from our own St John’s gospel of how Jesus starts his mission, which is ‘to draw all men to’ himself, and Seeing is front and centre. How it begins John the Baptist crying out – Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Behold! – Open the eye of your heart . . .
Sin as I’ve been saying is disconnection. Disconnection brought about by blindness – we are groping for something, but in the wrong place. This is picked up in Jesus first recorded words in the Gospel of John. He turns, sees the disciples following and asks ‘what are you looking for?’ You might well say that ‘sinners’, those whom Jesus comes for, are those looking for something in the wrong place. ‘What ARE you looking for?’ What a question.
But first Jesus sees them – He is also looking . . . we’ll return to this shortly.
They said to him, ‘Where do you abide?’ to translate more literally – interestingly we are looking in the wrong place, and they ask Jesus to show them the place where he is staying -resting, abiding – and he invites them to ‘Come and See’ – and they came and saw where he abided, and abided with him . . .
This week from Matthew, we hear how Jesus, the light spoken of by the prophet, shining by the Sea of Galilee in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali opens his ministry with the words – ‘Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand . . .’ It’s near – it’s so close, just a breath away, if you simply repented, you would see it . . .
John in his gospel never uses the word ‘Repent’ – rather his language is of Seeing and Knowing, seeing and knowing God what is more . . . As Jesus says to the disciples – If you know me, you will know my father also. From now on you know him and have seen him . . .
Repent. A much abused word . . . This is not about ‘saying sorry’. In fact you will have to scour the scriptures to find this. Yes, there is sorrow for our sins, after all if you are missing the mark, looking in the wrong place, then you are also missing out on Life . . .
The word in Greek is metanoia – which we tend to translate as ‘change your mind’ – so influenced are we by the idea that what makes us special is our rational mind. But the Noia which we must meta – the nous which we must change – is the eye of the heart – redirect your sight
Redirect our sight towards the source of our life. The Lord is my light . . .
This is repentance – turning to seek the face of God.
The Psalmist hears his heart speaking to him, saying ‘Seek His face’ – this is the deepest voice within us, the voice of the heart – ‘what are you looking for?’ An answer comes from within our heart, seek His Face . . .
Each morning especially at this time of year, I like to get some early morning Sun. God blesses is in the Sun which is an agent of his life giving purposes as is all else in Creation. The Sun is sustained by God’s goodness, and so as we look towards the Sun in a real sense we see the goodness of God streaming towards us – we See his Goodness.
If we truly see, then we see the image of God walking towards us in every person. We see in our food, God’s Goodness coming towards us.
Yet, we grow up in a world of fishing nets, where we are told that it is our work that sustains things, and the curse of the secular age, a bitter poison drunk by so many in the church is that all things are held up by our hard work – but they’re not. Everything is sustained – held in being by God.
Then we think that all we have we have because we worked hard. We are not seeing right. Everything comes from you O Lord, and of your own do we give you . . . the words of the Eucharist.
All good things come from God – Look! Open your eyes
Let me give you a simple personal illustration. Did I acquire Sarah? Funnily enough when we got married this was part of the story. Because I worked two summers for her father, putting up marquees, and at the wedding I joked that I’d got off lightly as Jacob had had to work seven years for Rachel, and fortunately I went on, Derek only had one daughter!
But of course that was nonsense. I didn’t work for Sarah, I didn’t earn her.
So, what was the story. Back in 1982 a travelling preacher came to town. Luis Palau from Argentina. Well one night I came far more alive in Christ -woke up to what all this church business had been about, and straight afterwards I saw an apparition – a young woman in a blue dufflecoat and yellow wellies ran up and gave me a hug . . . God’s gift coming to me . . .
And the more I meditated on this, and all the goodness that has flowed from that, none of which I had much of a hand in – and then you see the Sun, and feel the warmth, and you realise that the world is alive with the goodness of God . . . always coming towards you . . . sheer Gift
It’s all Gift. The Life is continually coming from above – we look to The Sun, the source of Life – listening to the voice of the heart which says, seek his face – and THEN we start to grow up from the earth, to be lifted up. Not making a life for ourself, but receiving Life and Goodness from God. For the disciples, fishing had been their life, it was how they ‘made their living’, but leaving their nets revealed that Life didn’t come from their efforts . . .
When Jesus tells the disciples I will make you fish for men, he is invoking something made clear in John’s gospel. There, Jesus says – ‘when I am lifted up from the earth, I will drag all people to myself’ – it’s exactly the same verb used for the hauling of the nets full of fish out of the water when Jesus meets the disciples after his resurrection on the shore of Galilee. The more we grow up towards the source of Life, the more our lives become Life giving, and draw those around us in the same direction.
I started out speaking of two of Jesus’ three parables of the lost. The coin, the sheep, but then there’s the prodigal. The parable of repentance. And the prodigal starts home – looking for where his father lives, because he remembers it as a place of blessing, of life, where food came from – and he thinks it is all about him ‘Saying Sorry’ . . . that’s what he thinks repentance is, and perhaps you do too? It’s a toxic thought. I think we project our own sinful desire for those who have wronged us to come grovelling back onto God . . .
But The Father isn’t interested in our ‘how sorry we are speeches’ – he just wants us home. That is repentance – turning to see Him as the source of all goodness – for everything that is wrong in the world today can be traced to our not trusting God to be Good, not seeing, tryig to take it all into our own hands . . .
You see, Repentance is not about God looking for your apology – he is not looking for your apologies – he’s looking for your face . . . And deep within us, where he abides, in our heart a voice is saying ‘Seek my face’.